Tag Archive for relationship

Is Your Marriage Under Siege

Is your marriage under siege? Has an invisible enemy cut off the essential emotional and relational supplies that give life to your marriage? Maybe your own actions have unknowingly put your marriage under siege. It’s easy to do. Whether under siege from within or without, you need to recognize the siege artillery used to sap your marriage of the loving nutrients and sustenance it needs to survive. Then you can respond and overcome the siege to build a healthy marriage. Here are four strategies the enemy of marriage uses to set siege on your marriage…so you can address & defeat them!

  • TV, phones, and other screens. If you find yourself sitting in the same room with your spouse in silence as you both scroll through social media apps, your marriage is under siege. If you watch TV more than you interact with your spouse, your marriage is under siege. Excessive screen time will sap your marriage of the necessary interactions and emotional connection you need to build a healthy marriage.

Turn off the TV. Put down the phone and forget about social media for a while. Look your spouse in the eye and talk about your day, your dreams, your life. Converse with one another. Dream together. Doing so will nurture the emotional connection every marriage needs to survive.

  • Defensiveness. If you find you and your spouse caught in a cycle of blame and defensiveness every time something goes awry, your marriage is under siege. We reap what we sow, even in marital disagreements. Blame and defensiveness prevent growth. They create an environment in which both parties deny responsibility and so become powerless to change, powerless to strengthen their marriage. Instead, blame and defensiveness poison marriages with anger and resentment, slowly draining it of health.

Stop blaming. Look at yourself. Take the log out of your own eye. As you do, your spouse is more likely to do the same. Your marriage will grow as both people take responsibility for their contribution to the problem and so take hold of the power to change themselves as individuals within the marriage.

  • The primacy of “my.” When one or both people in a marriage focus on “my wants,” “my way,” “my desires,” “my,” “my,” “my…” your marriage is under the siege of pride and selfishness. It will soon die of starvation for real connection and mutual regard for one another’s needs.

Take a step back. Remember what you love about your spouse. Recall what you did when love was young and do it again. Show kindness. Give preference to your spouse’s wants and wishes. Serve them. Seek to please them. Your marital joy will be nurtured. And your relationship will grow stronger as a result.

  • Unrealistic expectations. Many people enter marriage with unrealistic expectations. We learn unrealistic expectations from family and TV. Unrealistic expectations may include things like “my spouse completes me” or “we will live happily ever after—all the time” or “we should want to spend all our free time together” or “my spouse will change to be everything I want and need.” Unrealistic expectations will drain your marriage of joy and build walls of resentment.

Face the truth. You and your spouse are two different people, each with your own faults, shortcomings, and eccentricities. You will make one another angry at times. You will feel lonely at times, even though you’re married. Accept these truths. And accept your spouse for who they are, shortcomings and all. Focus on those aspects you love about your spouse and celebrate those strengths. And intentionally work to grow as a person your spouse can love more.

Materialism is Robbing Your Marriage

Some, like Madonna, might say “we are living in a material world” so the one “with the cold hard cash is always” the one I love. That may be the world in which we live, but is it the world of happy marriages? Researchers at Brigham Young University decided to find out. They asked 1,300 married people a series of questions to measure their level of materialism as well as a series of questions about their marriages. They discovered at least 3 things.

  1. The more materialistic a person was, the more dissatisfied they were in their marriage.
  2. Those who reported money was not important to them scored 15% higher on measures of marital satisfaction and stability. In other words, they were happy with their marriage and their marriage was more stable than those who thought money important.
  3. If both partners were materialistic, their relationship quality was lower than couples who had only one materialistic spouse. So even if both partners agreed about materialistic values, they were still dissatisfied.

Makes sense when you think about it, doesn’t it? A person who excessively values materialistic things (money, possessions) expends their physical and emotional energy gaining wealth and working to appear wealthy. They expend less energy learning how to spend quality time with their spouse and family. They expend less energy on developing healthy communication skills and effective conflict resolution skills. And so, their relationship suffers.

This is not to say that money itself is bad. We all need enough money to live. But the “love of money,” prioritizing the material life above relationship, can rob your marriage of the intimacy it needs to survive. Unfortunately, many people say they value family above material goods but live a life that begs to differ. We must all honestly answer some hard questions to make sure our lived values match what we believe to be our values…after all, our actions speak louder than our words. So, ask yourself:

  • Do I act as if “things” inform others of my success? Do I have a secret desire to “keep up with the Joneses”?
  • Would my family say that I value work more than I value them? Do my actions suggest that work is more important than family? (You might want to ask a few people to make sure you hear the truth.)
  • Do I struggle with a desire for immediate gratification?
  • Do I put the desire for more possessions above emotional and relational goals of connection?
  • Do I think I need more things to be happy?  Or have I learned to be content with what I have?

It takes courage to answer these questions honestly. If you find yourself sounding like a “material girl (or boy)” in your answers:

  • Start reevaluating what you truly value in your life.
  • Practice daily gratitude.
  • Intentionally practice generosity.
  • Declutter and give things away.

Each of these practices can help you escape materialism…and keep materialism from robbing your marriage of intimacy and joy.

The Two Become One

Parents operate best as a couple rather than two individuals. In fact, researchers from Nanyan Technological University (Presence of spouse alters how parents’ brains react to children stimuli) found that husbands and wives who are in the same location show greater brain synchrony in response to their children crying or laughing. In other words, when their children cry or laugh the two parents become one as far as brain activity goes.

Interestingly, the synching of brain activity did not occur between random couples, only with the other parent of the children.

It did not occur in response to static noise either. Only in response to their children’s emotional expression.

And, it only happened when the parents were physically present with one another—in the same room at the same time.

What does all this mean? It makes me think of a couple of things.

  • When couples raise their children together, they become more united. Their brains synch, especially in their “attentional and cognitive control mechanisms.” In other words, they become more attentive together and they begin to “mesh” how they respond to their children. Similarity in the brain translates to greater similarity in parenting. This will help them parent more effectively and lovingly as a “united front.”
  • As parents’ brain sync up, they will also grow more intimate with one another, more united in their love. They will gain understanding of one another as they work together on the common goals of raising healthy children. Seeing their parents’ love grow will also strengthen a child’s sense of security. Greater security translates to greater confidence and less misbehavior.     
  • As parents respond to their children together, they will experience greater success and growing confidence in their parenting. Who doesn’t want to feel confident in their parenting?

There may be more benefits for this growing synchrony between parents’ brains as they parent. What benefits can you think of? I just found it interesting that when two people who have developed their own lives work together to raise a child, the two become one…literally.

Two Tips For Better Marital Communication

“That’s all you did today?” With those words the marital conflict began. Heart rates quickened. Pulses started to race. “You never appreciate anything I do around here!” Now both partners started talking over one another. Winning (and thus gaining of sense of safety and control) became the goal of this “heated discussion.” Criticism increased. Defensiveness turned to accusation. Both people jumped to conclusions and both said things they never really wanted to say. Why? Because one statement, perhaps poorly phrased, was misunderstood and triggered the fight or flight response. Their rational brains were no longer running the show. Instead, their “fight-or-flight-to-save-your-butt-brains” were running things. But what could they have done differently? It’s hard to do things differently in the moment of defensiveness and anger. However, there are skills you can practice in the daily life of your marriage that will prime you to make a better response in such a moment. Practicing these two tips with your spouse when you encounter minor disagreements or during everyday conversation can prepare you for a better response in the “heat of the moment.”

First, practice thinking about the words you use when talking to your spouse. Some words come across as privileged, patronizing, or moralizing. For instance, “I need you to…” can come across as though my need is more important than your need, especially in a moment of conflict. It sounds entitled, as though “I” am entitled to having “my” needs met even at “your” expense.

“You should…” is a moralizing statement. It sounds as though the listener is wrong if they do otherwise. It induces guilt. In the words of Albert Ellis, “Don’t ‘should on people.”

“I encourage you to…” sounds patronizing, especially during the heat of an argument. It sounds like a way of saying, “I’m really right and ‘I encourage you’ to take the time to recognize that.”

So, what can you say instead?

  • Try “It would really help me if you could….” Or, “I would like it if you….” These statements offer invitations to possible solutions.
  • You might even try switching the “I” to “we.” “We might need to….” Or, “maybe we could….” These statements recognize that the marital partners form a team with no single partner more important than the other.
  • An even bolder approach is to take ownership for our own part in the conflict and the solution. “I need to….” Or, “tell me again so I can better understand what you mean” are statements that help with this. 

Second, practice recognizing the difference between the content of what your partner says and the relationship message underlying the content. The content merely refers to the topic of discussion or disagreement. The relationship message speaks to the connection between you and your spouse. Many times, a statement about content becomes a misunderstood relationship message because of tone of voice (which may be impacted by mood, tiredness, other people), the context, or the emphasis placed on certain words.

  • For instance, “That’s all you did today?” can easily be misunderstood to mean “You should have done more.” When it might simply mean “I didn’t realize it was such a big job and would take so long.”
  • “You’re home late” can be misunderstood as “You don’t care enough about me to get home earlier.” It might mean “I didn’t realize you would be so late. What happened?”

The only way to know is to check your initial reaction of defensiveness and anger so you can ask for or offer clarification. “Yes, it turned out to be a bigger job than I thought.” “Can I show you how much I did? It’s surprising.” “Sorry, traffic was heavy. I wanted to get home earlier.” “Yeah, I got a last-minute phone call at the office. Did my late arrival mess up any of your dinner plans?”

Think about the words you use and what they might mean during conflict. Recognize the difference between the content of the message and the relationship message inherent in a statement. These are subtle practices. However, paying attention and practicing these two tips can bring reduce conflict and bring greater intimacy to your marriage.

Is There a Hole in Your Marital Roof?

Roofs are important.  More specifically, roofs that don’t leak are important. Roofs with no holes. Roofs that protect. My family and I stayed in a cabin at St. Johns. We liked to eat on the deck. It had no roof, but it really wasn’t a problem until an iguana climbed onto a branch above my daughter and well… “relieved” himself in her cereal. A roof would have been nice.

Or, the time my family and I went camping when I was a kid and it started raining. I mean pouring. It always did when we camped. Of course, we had the tent and a dining canopy to keep us dry. But they were old school and as soon as you touched them, they started leaking. Drip…drip…drip. Drip on my head. Drip on our game. Drip on the table. Yeah, a solid roof would be nice.

Recently my wife and I visited a beautiful location in Cartagena.  They had a nice outdoor dining area. A mango tree grew just outside the walls of the roofless dining area and its branches offered some shade. Nice…until mangoes started dropping off onto peoples’ heads.  Needed to add a roof for protection.

Yes, it’s nice to have a roof…even in your marriage! Paul, a first century Jewish evangelist, tells us that “love bears all things” (I Corinthians 13:7). Interestingly, the Greek word for “bears” (“stego”) means to “cover, to protect.” It’s the verb form of the Greek word for “roof”! In marriage, love is like the roof over our heads. Love takes action to cover, to protect, to preserve. A roof protects the security of our home by keeping weather, animals, and other harmful menaces out of our house. But what does love protect our marriage from? More specifically, what does love protect in your marriage? 

  • Love protects our reputations. Rather than talking trash on a spouse, love lifts a spouse up. Love elevates a spouse to others. Love speaks words of admiration about a spouse. Love does not broadcast a spouse’s shortcomings or mistakes but works first and foremost to resolve them in the private intimacy of their relationship. Love stops the gossip that threatens reputation and seeks the truth that can replace that gossip.
  • Love protects us from hurtful words. Love offers words of blessing rather than words of cursing. It offers words of encouragement rather than words of discouragement. Love does not drown a spouse in impolite, angry words but showers them with words of kindness and love. Rather than criticize and put down, love lifts up and encourages.
  • Love protects from outside forces that interfere with a healthy marriage.  Love keeps those things that do not belong under a marital roof out of the marriage—things like pornography, unhealthy people, and overscheduled lives. Love strives to keep the marriage a safe haven, a place where nothing interferes with a growing love and intimacy.

Yes, a roof protects. It covers. It keeps the unwanted out and enhances safety and security within. It allows us to be vulnerable and grow more intimate without fear of outside factors interfering. Love does the same. Love is the roof over your head.

Kissing for Health? Hmmm…

If you’re looking for a way to have a more intimate relationship with your spouse and a way to promote your spouse’s health, look no more.  A 2009 study completed by researchers at Arizona State University suggests kissing your spouse can do all that…and it’s fun. The study involved 52 couples. Half were asked to increase the frequency and duration of kissing their partner “to a notable degree” for 6 weeks. The other group made no change in their behavior. Both groups completed various surveys as well as having fasting bloodwork taken before and after the six-week testing period.

The couples that increased the frequency and duration of kissing one another reported an increase in verbal affection and overall relationship satisfaction. They also reported less conflict, less difficulty communicating, and less arguing in general. In other words, kissing increased their intimacy as a couple and their satisfaction with their relationship overall.

The couples that increased the frequency and duration of kissing one another also exhibited a decrease in total cholesterol between the bloodwork taken before and after the 6-week “kissing period.”  Kissing actually correlated with a decrease in cholesterol. In other words, kissing promoted health!

Let me say again: if you’re looking for a way to have a more intimate relationship with your spouse and a way to promote your spouse’s health, look no more. Just start enjoying some good old-fashion kissing!

Build-a-Spouse

I’m sure you’ve heard of “Build a Bear.” If you have children (or, if you’re the romantic type), you have probably even visited “Build a Bear” shop and…well, built a teddy bear for the one you love.  Imagine what it would be like to “build a spouse.” You’d have your budget already set as you walk into a store filled with various traits you can purchase. You’d allocate your finances for the traits you desire in a spouse—a large part of the budget toward those traits you desire most, the deal-breakers, and a small part of the budget toward those traits that are nice but simply not necessary. And, poof…out pops a spouse, built to specification.  Sounds crazy, but….

Researchers at Swansea University actually did this (well, metaphorically speaking, without actually “building” a physical spouse). They gave over 2,700 college students from across the globe (Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Norway, the UK, and Australia) a budget and a list of eight qualities they might like in a spouse. Armed with finances and a list of attributes available, these college students “built a spouse.” The eight attributes included: physical attractiveness, good financial prospects, kindness, humor, chastity, religious involvement, the desire for children, and creativity. (I would have added a few other traits, but I wasn’t creative enough to think of the “build a spouse” study.) Each participant had three opportunities to “build a spouse” based on these attributes: one time on a low budget, one time on a medium budget, and (you guessed it) one time on a high budget. Comparing the choices made on various budgets allowed the researchers to determine traits that participants deemed necessary verses traits deemed a luxury.

Overall, across cultures and genders, kindness received the lion’s share of the budget (22-26%). Physical attraction and good financial prospects were the next two most desired traits. Physical attraction, however, was rated as a “necessity” for men more often than women (22% of the budget for men vs. 16% for women). Good financial prospects were deemed an important trait for women more so than men (18% of the budget for women vs. 12% of the budget for men). Still, neither rated as high as kindness. (For an overview read Kindness is a top priority in a long-term partner.)

Kindness was the number one priority to have in a long-term partner in this study. Chances are, you and your spouse put a high priority on kindness in a spouse, too. So, if you want to have a happy, healthy marriage, practice kindness in your marriage and family. To help you get started, here are 31 Acts of Kindness to Strengthen Your Marriage. (Read the Mighty Power of Kindness for Families to consider how kindness will impact not just your marriage but your family and our world.)

I would have added a few other traits to the list of possibilities for purchase—traits like honesty, trustworthiness, and loyalty. I wonder what would get the lion’s share of the budget then? What traits would you add to your “build-a-spouse” project? What are the most important traits to you in a spouse? Why not spend a little time discussing these qualities with your spouse this week—perhaps over a cup of coffee or a dinner date?  

Are You Planning a Wedding…Or a Marriage?

The average cost of a wedding in the United States today is $33,931. That is a lot of money. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with spending money on a beautiful wedding; but, it does raise an important question: are we investing in a beautiful wedding or are we investing in a long-term committed relationship? In 2014, two people collected data from 3,000 people in the US that helps to answer that question…and the statistics did not give a great answer to that question.  They found that the length of a marriage decreased as the price of the wedding increased! To state that the other way around: the greater the cost of the wedding the shorter the marriage lasted. Perhaps this is due to the increased debt of higher priced weddings, but really debt related divorce is more about how couples handle the stress together rather than the stress itself. These results are more likely related to whether the couple and their families prioritize the marriage or the status of the big wedding more. Either way, these results should make us think twice about our wedding preparations, to lead us to focus more on relational strength than on just the wedding ceremony itself.

On the other hand, this same study suggests that the higher the number of guests in attendance, the less likely the divorce. In other words, a relatively inexpensive wedding (one that fits the budget) that is highly attended, is a predictor of a longer marriage. I believe that this “attendance factor” provides a couple of advantages. One, it reveals the number of people invested in helping this couple succeed in marriage. Second, it allows the couple the opportunity to make a public commitment to one another and to their marriage before loving witnesses. This public commitment invites those witnesses to support and nurture their marriage.

As you prepare for marriage ask yourself: are you planning a wedding or a marriage?  Planning for your marriage involves much more than simply planning a beautiful wedding. Planning for a marriage means investing less in the ceremony and more in ways to build your relationship skills and relational strength. It means investing in your ability to resolve conflict, work as a team, develop a marital purpose, sacrifice, and serve. Planning for a marriage means inviting other long-term married couples into your life as mentors and supports. It requires humbling yourself as a couple to learn from other successful couples. Don’t worry…you’ll still have a wonderful wedding day and a fantastic honeymoon…but you can also have a long and happy marriage.