Tag Archive for marriage

Put on Your C.A.P.P. to Build Trust in Marriage (or, Kindness in the Prison of Mistrust)

I recently asked a couple what daily acts of kindness they could share with one another. Sadly, they could not think of any. After a few minutes of silent thought, one of them said, “It’s hard to think of kind things to do when you don’t trust the other person.”

That is sad, but true.  A lack of trust in our spouse locks our marriage in a prison of insecurities. It binds us behind bars of despair and shackles us with the fear that our vulnerable offers of kindness will be rejected or, worse, used to manipulate us.

Lack of trust also blinds us to any kind acts our spouse does share. It causes us to misperceive those acts of kindness as an attempt to exploit us.

If you find your marriage in a prison of mistrust, how can you begin to build trust? Try the CAPP method.

  • Commit to building trust in your relationship. Trust grows through small daily moments of connection with your spouse. Commit to looking for and initiating those moments. Trust grows when we follow through on our word so commit to following through.  Show yourself
    trustworthy in making daily connections and in keeping your word.
  • Admire and appreciate your spouse. Resentment or anger may have blinded you to those things you admire in your spouse. In this case, you will need to expand your view of your spouse beyond your resentment by intentionally looking for those things you can admire and appreciate in them. A lack of trust may also keep you from voicing what you appreciate. It will demand courage to risk voicing your admiration and appreciation. Commit to diligently searching for those things you truly admire and appreciate about your spouse. Every day, courageously express genuine admiration and appreciation to them.
  • Practice small positive moments. We already noted that trust is built on small, daily moments of connection. Practice making those connections. Practice doing kind things for your spouse—things like washing their dish, getting them a drink, offering a compliment, opening a door. Practice noticing when your spouse does a kind deed for you and practice thanking them for that kindness.
  • Prove your devotion. Let your spouse know you “got their back.” Don’t laugh at your spouse’s expense. Encourage them instead.  Take your spouse’s side. Even if you disagree, don’t disagree in public. Instead, talk in private and search for an intent or motive with which you do agree. Start with the agreement. You and your spouse are a team. Don’t let anyone or anything come between you. Prove your devotion.

These four actions will begin to build trust as you practice them over time. As trust grows, kindness will become easier to share. As kindness to shared more often, trust will grow. (For more on building trust read Building Trust in Family Relationships.)

Marriage in a Box: Nasty, Neutral, or Nice?

Every marital interaction falls into a box according to Dr. John Gottman. One box is the nasty box. Even happy couples find themselves in the nasty box sometimes. We’ve all been there—frustrated, critical, defensive, blaming, and even contemptuous. But unhappy couples get stuck in the nasty box. They live and die in the nasty box. Couples who get stuck in the nasty box have about 4 positive interactions for every 5 negative interactions. Read that sentence again. They have more negative than positive interactions. This ratio contributes to a lack of emotional connection. (For more on how to use this ratio to strengthen your marriage and family read Family Bank of Honor and Making Deposits in a Topsy-Turvy Bank.) Couples in the nasty box are not only emotionally disconnected, but they are also afraid of to express the vulnerability needed to “open up” emotionally. And they lack the skills needed to resolve conflict. No one wants to live in the nasty box. It’s…well, nasty and miserable. We all want to live in the nice box.

The nice box is filled with mutual respect, affection, cherishing, and trust. Unfortunately, no one lives in the nice box 100% of the time. But healthy couples offer expressions of repair when they step out of the nice box into the nasty box. These expressions of repair help decrease the tension during conflict and confirm their affection for one another. Repairs are made possible because each spouse is aware of the other spouse’s inner world. They respect their spouse’s inner world and respond to it in a loving way. Expressions of repair can include a smile, an open-ended question, an inside joke, a touch, a gesture…anything that communicates love and commitment.

Still, happy couples only spend part of their time in the nice box. Surprisingly, happy couples spend most of their time in the neutral box, even when having a disagreement. In fact, Dr. Gottman’s research suggests that happy couples spend 65% to 70% of their time in the neutral box. Unhappy couples spend only 47% of their time in the neutral box, leaving much more time for the nasty box. The ability of a married couple to sit with one another in the neutral box reveals a trust nurtured by engagement and responsiveness. It is the byproduct of work done in the past to proactively grow a healthy relationship.

In which box does your marriage reside? You can learn to live in neutral and nice box by learning about one another’s lives, expressing adoration toward one another on a daily basis, turning toward one another to overcome life’s obstacles and celebrate life’s joys, and planning a future of celebration together.

Death by Marriage

Don’t get me wrong. I love marriage. I am an advocate for marriage. A happy, healthy marriage is a little taste of heaven. Studies even suggest that people sharing a happy, healthy marriage live longer, have fewer strokes, and survive major operations more often, and more ( 10 Science-Based Benefits of Marriage for Your Health – Healthy Hints). But those are the consequences of a healthy marriage. An unhealthy marriage, one in which partners are “dissatisfied,” can kill you, especially if you’re a male.

A study published in 2021 followed 8,945 men for 32 years while assessing their medical data, lifestyle choices, and marital satisfaction. After 32 years, 5,736 of the men had died. Men who were dissatisfied with their marriage were 19% more likely to die than those who reported being satisfied with their marriage. This increased risk of death was similar to the increased risk of death for smokers compared to non-smokers or for physically inactive people compared to active. More specifically, fatal strokes were 69% more common among those who reported an
unsuccessful (AKA—dissatisfying) marriage compared to those reporting having a very satisfying marriage. In other words, an unhealthy marriage is a health risk factor.

Rather than risk death by marriage, commit to improving your marriage and act on that commitment.

  • Read a good book on marriage with your spouse. More than simply reading it, put the ideas and principles discussed in the book into action. A great book to start might be John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (read a review here).
  • Find a good marital therapist. Many couples wait until they are at their whit’s end to find a marital therapist. By that time, they harbor resentment, and one person has often already decided to leave.  Find a marital therapist before it gets to that point.  Start working to improve your marriage when you find yourselves feeling just a little disconnected and don’t know how to fix it.
  • Attend a marriage education seminar or workshop every year. Take the ideas and principles you learn in the workshop and apply them for the rest of the year. Make them the habits of your successful marriage.

These ideas are ways for you to learn about one another and strengthen your marriage. Each one can teach you to turn toward one another and work as a team. They can help you rediscover and express what you admire in your spouse. And they can help you learn the importance of daily habits to keep your marriage strong. That may not fix everything immediately. You may still argue and have bad days. But you will find your marriage on an upward path of growing health, happiness, and life…rather than stumbling down the path of death by marriage.

Look Into My Eyes, See My Soul

Some say, “The eyes are the window to the soul.” Researchers at the University of Geneva took that saying to heart when considering the impact of making eye contact with another person. They found that when a person makes direct eye contact with another person, they perceive time as shorter than it objectively is. As a result, we may stare longer than we realized. They believe this occurs because meeting someone else’s gaze impacts our attentional system. We are drawn to another person’s gaze. We attend to their gaze and lose track of time. In other words, we hold the eye contact longer than we imagine. 

Although people lose track of how long they have held eye contact, most people find it difficult to maintain eye contact for an extended period of time…and by extended period of time I mean a mere 1-2 minutes. However, when we do look into one another person’s eyes for a period of time, we experience a new level of emotional intimacy. Just check out this 4-minute video to see what happens when people maintain eye contact for 4 minutes.  

So, here’s the challenge. Take 3-4 minutes right now and lose track of time with your spouse. Look into her spouse’s eyes. Make eye contact and hold it. You might be surprised at the feeling of vulnerability you experience but you will also enjoy the intimacy it creates. So gaze into your spouse’s eyes. Get lost in their gaze. Allow yourself to feel vulnerable and grow more intimate…Because when you look into one another’s eyes, you share a vision of your soul.

The Blessing of a “Royal We”

My spouse and I live alone in our house now…just the two of us. Our children have grown into beautiful young ladies, each of them living in their own homes. We can even have a pillow fight without anyone interfering or telling us to “settle down.” In addition, when my wife asks,” Did we run the dishwasher?” or I inquire if “we bought eggs?” we know what we are talking about.  Still, questions like that give me pause.

Why? For starters, it’s obvious that the person asking the question knows they didn’t do the task. The objective truth of the question asks if their spouse did the task. But rather than using the pronoun “you,” we both use the “Royal We.”

But that’s not really why the “Royal We” give me pause. The “Royal We” gives me pause because it reminds me how grateful I am to be part of our marital team. The “Royal We” reminds me that I am not alone. I live with a spouse who loves me and works with me to create a joyous marriage and life. Sure, we have our individual interests and strengths. We enjoy individual hobbies. We have our personal sensitivities and struggles. But, encompassing all our personal nuances and idiosyncrasies is the protective, loving “Royal We.”

As charter members of our “Royal We,” we have each other’s happiness in mind. We weep when the other weeps and rejoice when the other rejoices. We support one another in joyous times and in times of sorrow. We protect one another emotionally, mentally, and physically. We nurture one another’s dreams. Yes, we plan a future together.

Research suggests that a healthy “Royal We” is good for a marriage, too. Specifically, couples with a strong sense of “we” are more positive toward one another and feel less stressed. In other words, the “Royal We” supports happy, healthy marriages that nurture healthy individuals. So, how can you build the “Royal We” in your marriage?

First, be responsive to your spouse. John Gottman refers to this as “turning toward” one another. People within relationships make multiple bids for connection with one another. These bids may be as simple as eye contact or a comment about the weather. Or, they may be as direct as saying, “We need to talk.” In whatever way bids are made, couples who respond 86% of the time become “master couples” who experience greater joy and intimacy. Those who respond only 33% of the time are “disasters” and at risk of divorce. So, the first step in becoming a “Royal We” is to respond to your spouse.

Second, create rituals of connection. Build a ritual for reconnecting with your spouse after having spent time apart. The ritual can include a simple verbal greeting, a hug, and a kiss. It might also include an exchange highlighting anything important that happened while apart. So, take the time to reconnect after being apart. It’s simple…but it will have a powerful impact on your relationship and the strength of your “Royal We.”

Third, dream together. Look to the future and what adventures you would like to experience with your spouse. What do you want to do as a couple in five years? Ten years? What vacations would you like to enjoy together? What dreams can you nurture in your spouse and enjoy with them? How can you work toward these dreams and activities? Not only will you enjoy the dreams and activities in your future, but you will also enjoy the time you spend working toward those dreams and activities.

The “Royal We” fills me with gratitude…which leads me to one final aspect of building a strong sense of team in your marriage. Express gratitude to your spouse and for your spouse. Thank your spouse often for being a part of your team, the “better half” of your “Royal We.”

Climbing the Social Ladder of Adolescence

A recent study from the University of California—Davis explored teens who bully and who they bully. The study followed 3,000 eighth, ninth, and tenth grade students over the course of a school year. They discovered that teens who bullied often bullied their friends not strangers or those of lower social status. In fact, they uncovered five interesting patterns.

  1. Teens who were friends in the fall but not in the spring were three times more likely to bully or victimize each other in the spring. 
  2. Teens who remained friends for the entire year, however, were four times more likely to bully one another in the spring. Interestingly, teens bullied those who remained their friend more often than those who did not remain friends with them.
  3. Teens who had overlapping friendships were roughly three times” more likely to bully one another than those who did not have overlapping friendships.
  4. Teens who share the same bullies or the same victims are more than twice as likely to bully each other.
  5. Finally, being bullied by a friend is painful. It is associated with a significant increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The researchers believe that this information suggests that bullying behavior comes with social rewards. It leads to an increase in social status. In other words, teens were climbing the social ladder of adolescence by bullying their friends. Teens get caught up in popularity. They base their self-concept on the popularity of their social media posts and their popularity at school. They seem to equate popular with acceptance and will do almost anything to get accepted…even if it means bullying a friend to move up the ladder of acceptance in the popular crowd.

With this in mind, what can a parent do to help decrease bullying? 

  • Develop a secure relationship with your child. Spend time with your child. Let them know that you love and accept them. Learn about their interests. Support and encourage their dreams. As you develop a strong relationship with your teen, they will feel less pull to “need” the status of popularity among their peers.
  • Involve your children and teens in groups that encourage teamwork. Rather than competing for popularity, teamwork encourages teens to cooperate and work together for a common goal, to encourage one another and support one another’s growth for the good of the team.
  • Involve your children and teens in groups that encourage community and service. This might include church groups, scouting groups, or service groups. These groups can teach your teen to work with others in serving and accomplishing goals rather than competing to be more popular than the other guy. Teens can also learn to accept and appreciate one another’s gifts in working toward a common goal while volunteering in the community.
  • On a slightly different note, keep your marriage strong. At least one study reveal that teens who see their parents as loving toward one another are less likely to engage in cyberbullying. Invest in your marriage.

By implementing these three tips, you lessen the chance of your child becoming a bully to “climb the social ladder” of peer relationships. They’ll be kinder. They’ll be happier. And so will you.

Caring for the Gift of Your Marriage

Your spouse and your marriage represent two of the most precious gifts you can ever receive. I know this is true for me. They are wonderful gifts. When we take care of these two gifts, they bring us a lifetime of joy. But, if we neglect or abuse these gifts, they result in a lifetime of pain. So how do we take care of these precious gifts? Many things come to mind, but here are a dozen things you can do every day to take care of these two gifts.

  1. Tell your spouse what you need. Your spouse is not a mind reader. Don’t expect them to read your mind and then get angry because they can’t do it. Politely, lovingly tell them what you need.
  2. Take your spouse’s sensitivities and vulnerabilities seriously. This means you becoming a student of your spouse. Learn about your spouse’s sensitivities. They often stem from life experiences. Do not make light of those sensitivities. Do not use them against your spouse. Instead, acknowledge them. Respect them. Treat your spouse with care, keeping their vulnerabilities and sensitivities in mind.
  3. Make it a habit to express adoration and admiration to your spouse every day. Say “I love you” every day. Look for opportunities to not only recognize traits you love about your spouse but to tell them what you love about them every day. Share physical affection—a hug, a kiss on the cheek, holding hands, a touch on the arm—with your spouse daily. Appreciate your spouse every day.
  4. Recognize and express gratitude to your spouse every day. Once again, look for opportunities to thank your spouse for the daily, multiple things they do for you, your family, and your home.
  5. Take responsibility for any mistakes you make. We all make mistakes. We say hurtful things. We forget to complete tasks. Take responsibility. Admit your mistake. Then “bear the fruit” of repentance. Your spouse will love you for it.
  6. Treat your spouse with respect and dignity in your words and actions. Speak with kindness. Engage in polite deeds toward your spouse. Serve your spouse.  
  7. Support and encourage your spouse’s dreams. Once again, this means becoming a student of your spouse to learn about their dreams and how you can support those dreams.
  8. Share emotions with your spouse. Weep with your spouse when they weep. Rejoice with your spouse when they rejoice. Take time to share in their emotions. And, have the courage to express your deep emotions to your spouse so they can share in your emotions as well. 
  9. Set boundaries to protect your marriage. Remain faithful. Do not let people, work, children, or even volunteering come between you and your spouse.
  10. Pursue peace. Strive to create a peaceful, relaxed home for your family.
  11. Encourage your spouse and build them up. Compliment your spouse. Acknowledge their strengths as well as those things they do in the home and community.
  12. Turn toward your spouse when problems arise. Turn toward your spouse for times of joy. Turn toward your spouse simply to connect in everyday life. Turn toward your partner and work as a team to navigate the complexities of life.  

Yes, marriage is a gift. Your spouse is a gift. Treat both with care and love. When you do, you will experience a lifetime of joy.

For Your Marriage’s Sake, Get Serious About Play

If you want a long and happy marriage, you may want to get serious about play. A sober review of the research on playfulness offered a thoughtful reminder of play’s far-reaching effect, what did this review reveal?

  • Playing as a couple facilitates the experience of positive emotions. Sharing positive emotions enhances relationship satisfaction.
  • Play also influences how couples communicate. Specifically, play helps couples communicate in ways that better deal with stress and resolve tension. This, in turn, can build trust.
  • Play strengthens intimacy and connection. Some suggest playfulness even serves as a positive ingredient of a satisfying sex life. What married couple doesn’t want that?

As you can see, play serves a crucial role in building a long and happy marriage. So, here is the prescription you’ve been waiting for. Enjoy a healthier marriage and have fun doing it.  Get serious about play. Grab your spouse and have some fun. Seriously, go PLAY for a better marriage.

What Motivates You in Your Marriage? And…So What?

Psychologists speak of two “motivational systems” that people exhibit. In one, we pursue positive growth and meaningful experiences. In the other, we avoid distressing experiences. For instance, a person may be motivated to work to gain income, as an opportunity to learn and meet new people, and to have meaningful experiences. Or a person may work to avoid the distress of not having money or the stress of boredom or loneliness.

A study completed through the Universite of Basel and published in 2020 explored how these two motivational systems impact people within a marriage. The study involved 456 couples who completed two 14-day assessments. These two 14-day assessments were 10-12 months apart. During each 14-day assessment, participants submitted daily reported about how often and in what ways they had worked to avoid distress and conflict in their marriage OR to pursue positive meaningful experiences in their marriage. Results indicated that the motivational system one person used one day (either to avoid distress or to pursue positive interaction) influenced the motivational system their partner used the next day. Specifically, their partner used the same motivational system the following day. Also, the total daily levels of each type of motivation recorded in the first 14-day period predicted their partner’s actions during the second 14-day assessment period 10-12 months later. In other words, one person’s actions and motivations influenced their partner’s actions and motivations. When certain motivations were acted on consistently, the resulting actions developed into consistent patterns of behavior. 

In this study, the effect occurred regardless of relationship satisfaction. But the authors also cited previous studies that suggested behaviors aimed at enhancing the relationship (behaviors motivated toward positive growth and meaningful experiences) led to greater relationship satisfaction over time. Behavior aimed at avoiding distress and conflict, on the other hand, led to decreased relationship satisfaction over time because the root of the conflict was avoided and not resolved. In other words, the avoidance pattern, the “shut up and put-up strategy,” did not contribute to a happy marriage. It  decreased relationship satisfaction.

Putting this together suggests a wonderful way to improve your marriage—create a cycle of influence that will increase marital satisfaction. How? Begin with step one and what steps 2-4 unfold.

  1. Invest time and energy into behaviors that will enhance your relationship. This includes, among other things, expressing gratitude, sharing non-sexual physical affection, engaging in simple acts of service, and expressing fondness and admiration for your spouse.
  2. Your investment of time and energy to enhance your relationship will influence your partner to respond to you in a similar manner.
  3. Ironically, as your partner responds to you in a similar manner, their behavior will influence you to respond in the same manner to them…thus creating a cycle of positive influence.
  4. Over time, this cycle of positive influence will develop into new, “consistent patterns of thoughts, behaviors, and feelings” aimed at enhancing your marital feelings.

Isn’t it time to begin today?

Do Expectations Help or Hinder Your Marriage?

I heard an interesting quote the other day: “Expectation is premeditated resentment.” Consider the truth of that statement for a moment. When our spouses do not meet our expectations, we become angry. That anger, if left unresolved, combines with continued unmet expectations to grow into resentment. That resentment will destroy our marriages.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that we have no expectations in marriage. After all, not all expectations are unreasonable or negative. At the very least we all generally hold the expectation that our spouse will remain faithful and committed to us. But even positive expectations, when not handled wisely, can lead to resentment. So how do we make sure our expectations are not “premeditated resentments”? Here are 3 steps.

  • Make sure your expectations are reasonable. Sometimes we enter marriage with unreasonable expectations learned from past dating relationships, our family of origin, or even movies we enjoyed as children. A few examples of unreasonable expectations include:
    • “My spouse will make me happy all the time.”
    • “Marriage means I can have sex anytime I want it.”
    • “My spouse thinks about money the same way I do.”
    • “My spouse will always do the activities I like.”
    • Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married by Gary Chapman can help you explore some potentially unrealistic expectations. Even if you are married, you can find this book a great discussion starter.
  • Make your expectations known to your spouse. Talk about your expectations with one another. This can help assure they are reasonable as well as making sure you & your spouse understand one another’s expectations. Use the information in Expectations, Skills, and a Happy Marriage to start the conversation of expectations in your marriage.
  • Negotiate and compromise to reach an agreement regarding expectations. You and your spouse will agree on many expectations.  Sometimes, however, you and your spouse may disagree about an expectation. When this disagreement becomes known, talk about it. Ask: What makes this expectation important to you or your spouse? What does my spouse not agree with? Negotiate and compromise. Remember, part of an effective compromise is keeping in mind your desire to add joy to your spouse’s life. Come to an agreement you can both live with.

When you follow these three steps, expectations are not “premeditated resentment.” Instead, expectations are an opportunity to grow more intimate with your spouse by knowing him or her more deeply. They become an opportunity to express the depth of your love for your spouse by meeting their expectations.

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