Can you be simultaneously happy and unhappy? Yep.

smile-face-wallpaper morguefileI write a lot about happiness and unhappiness, because many people think if you’re unhappy it may be time for a divorce. But it turns out happiness and unhappiness are complicated, and the blame for unhappiness is often misplaced (on a situation or a person, like your spouse).

A New York Times piece by Arthur Brooks called “Love people, not pleasure” sheds more light on the topic of unhappiness and how we often seek it by following our “natural desires”—which paradoxically does not lead to happiness.

“What is unhappiness?” Brooks asks. “Your intuition might be that it is simply the opposite of happiness, just as darkness is the absence of light. That is not correct.” While the two are related, a person can be both happier than average and unhappier than average. It’s not a sum game but rather a collection of feelings (happy feelings and unhappy feelings). You might feel a larger than average amount of both, depending on the day or moment.

Most unhappy people will blame their circumstances, and often they are justified. For example, poverty, physical ailments and feeling oppressed (as with racism) are linked with unhappiness. Twenty percent of Americans blame loneliness as their major source of unhappiness. (I hope that reminds you to reach out to older relatives and neighbors or others who may be lonely.) Regular daily activities can also make you feel unhappy, such as meeting with your boss—the number-one unhappiness-causing event in a typical day.

Sometimes these circumstantial causes of unhappiness (don’t like your job, boss, neighborhood, kids are unruly, etc.) get internalized and may cause you to think you’re unhappy with your relationships as well. Or at a minimum, they can make you feel stressed and tired and looking for a scapegoat. If he/she could just help out a little more you wouldn’t be so unhappy, right?

In the next few posts, I will explore some of the ways Brooks says we go seeking happiness and how they usually backfire. But today, I’m thinking about how when we are feeling unhappy, it doesn’t mean we aren’t also happy. (Weird, huh?) And, yes, we can have a stressful day but also curl up on the couch with our sweetheart and just be glad for the companionship, glad that we are not alone in this world, glad that when we are having a down day, we have someone with whom to commiserate. When you feel the weight of the world pressing against you, think of your spouse as the one on your team rather than another one against you.

How are you feeling right now? Happy? Unhappy? A little bit of both? Chances are you have a certain longing within you and even a certain loneliness inside you. That’s part of our collective human experience and not something to blame on those closest to us. Learning to share those deepest parts of ourselves can deepen our marital intimacy.

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 19 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Marriage offers proven benefits to both men and women

wedding ring morguefileAs fewer Americans are choosing to wed, a common discussion is why committed couples should marry rather than simply live together. Outside of religious reasons, people often focus on the benefits of children with married parents. This is valid, as children and adolescents are shown to have myriad advantages.

However, it’s also important to point out that men and women enjoy a long list of proven benefits when they marry instead of merely cohabitating. Even when a couple does not have children, a marriage protects them and strengthens them as individuals and as a family unit.

Married women generally enjoy the following (as compared with unmarried peers):
*More satisfying relationships with their spouse/partner and children
*Greater emotional happiness with less depression
*More financial resources/less likely to end up in poverty
*Decreased risk of domestic violence, sexual assault, or other violent crimes
*Decreased risk of drug and alcohol abuse
*Better physical health
*Longer life

That’s all well and good for women, but why should men commit to marriage? Many benefits have also been proven for married men as compared with their unmarried peers. These include:
*Improved physical health
*Faster recuperation from illness
*Longer life
*Better emotional wellbeing
*Improved relationships with children
*More satisfying sexual relationship with their wives
*Wealthier
*Higher wages and greater employment stability
*Decreased risk of drug and alcohol abuse
*Less likely to commit violent crimes
*Less likely to contract a sexually transmitted disease

If you are considering marriage or have children at that stage, don’t be fooled by cultural trends to avoid marriage because it’s “too risky”. If you think marriage is risky, the above lists should demonstrate that cohabitating or engaging in serial relationships also have risks and downsides.

What scares you the most about marriage? What is the best part of marriage? I would really like to hear your input on these two questions.

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 19 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.
Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Is your parenting style destroying your marriage?

mom daughter morguefileParenthood in America has become more of a religion than a relationship with our offspring, argues Dr. Danielle Teller, a physician and researcher, in an article called “How American parenting is killing the American marriage.” Dr. Teller explains that in the last generation, being a parent has required complete devotion above all else, something akin to a religion.

The kids come first. Period. That’s what we see if we watch families today. Kids know it, and parents know it, even if they think they don’t agree with it. My kids’ activities are prioritized above my own, for instance.

In America, we are not allowed to say our marriage is more important than our relationship with the children, but if we do our jobs right, the children will be gaining independence and confidence at each stage. With gray divorce on the rise, it’s clear that many parents don’t have much to say to one another after the kids have left the nest.

In making another religious comparison, Dr. Teller explains parents are not allowed to speak poorly about any aspect of their children or their behavior; that would be considered a heresy. Parents of young children often excuse poor behavior by saying they are tired or hungry. Parents of school-aged children no longer believe the teacher’s word against their child in the classroom. Instead, children are treated as mini-gods who can do no wrong.

Mothers are often called to a higher level of devotion and focus than are husbands. They are to look for any and all beneficial opportunities for the child—academic, athletic, musical, social or cultural growth opportunities that may give him or her an advantage in this highly competitive world. Not surprisingly, we may feel challenged balancing the demands of the marriage and family, careers, hobbies and exercise regimens. However, it’s expected that parents keep up the pace, even if sacrifice is required.

This isn’t an argument for not having kids, it’s simply an argument to give some perspective to the vocation of parenthood—what should and what should not be expected as we attempt to rear healthy and well-adjusted people.

Some pitfalls of this common parental philosophy include:
1. Children think they are the center of the universe, because parental words and actions have demonstrated their importance. Kids can become devastated when they experience failure or when they realize that others’ needs are just as important as theirs. It’s harder to learn to share and compromise later in life.

2. Parents who are unable to speak honestly about their feelings (of struggle, worry, despair, anxiety, exhaustion, resentment as well as joy and success) and are unable to have their own important needs met are less likely to resolve problems at home and less likely to be the best parents they can be.

3. The marriage weakens with little time and attention to devote to it. Children may miss out from the great benefit of two parents who love each other and who prioritize the relationship. A neglected marriage will negatively impact the children.

“We choose partners who we hope will be our soul mates for life,” says Dr. Teller. “When children come along, we believe that we can press pause on the soul mate narrative, because parenthood has become our new priority and religion. We raise our children as best we can, and we know that we have succeeded if they leave us, going out in the world to find partners and have children of their won. Once our gods have left us, we try to pick up the pieces of our long neglected marriages and find new purpose. Is it surprising that divorce rates are rising fastest for empty nesters? Perhaps it is time that we gave the parenthood religion a second thought.”

What do you think about this concept of parenthood as religion? Do you think parental expectations have gone too far or not? Is your marriage getting the time and attention it needs?

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 19 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.
Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Words that can make or break your marriage

brain morguefileWhich words do you use in communicating with your spouse that make the discussion worse, and which words cause you both to calm down? Researchers have the answers.

Some words increase your stress level, and can even heighten your risk of cardiovascular disease and other health problems. Other words and phrases can actually reduce your stress and calm your body down, allowing your brain to think more rationally instead of in anger.

One study revealed that couples who used the words “think,” “reason,” “because,” “understand,” “why” and other analytical words during an argument lowered the body’s stress. When using these words, they experienced lower levels of proteins that help aid the body’s immune system. Research led by Jennifer Graham, PhD, from Penn State University was published in Health Psychology.

Men experienced a greater benefit than women, but women tended to use more of these analytical words and phrases. (Isn’t that interesting, when women are thought to be the more emotive gender?)

The reason these words can help reduce stress and diffuse anger, is they cause us to think rather than relying on our anger or first response, often the fight-or-flight response.

Experts suggest two other phrases to use during a discussion/argument. The first is “I wonder…” which allows you both to consider the issue or problem rather than placing blame. The second is simply “Hmmm…” which allows you both to be uncritical in that moment. It can often shift the energy to a more positive one, helping you consider possibilities and solutions.

Trigger words to AVOID include: “You always…” or “Your never…” and “There you go again.”

In addition to words, consider your non-verbal communication. Are your arms crossed, are you glaring? Do you use sarcasm or express contempt, or roll your eyes? Do you have aggressive gestures, such as arm waving or raised voice? Or are you calm, sitting next to, maybe touching gently?

When you feel the disagreement escalating, breathe deeply and slowly from your belly. Quicker breaths from the chest are more common when we are upset, and this helps calm you down. And practice better communication. These are skills that can be learned.

Each day, practice gratitude and try to avoid complaining. “Thanks” is always a welcome word to express your spouse.

Are there words you have learned to avoid with your spouse? Or words that help you calm down?

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 19 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.
Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Big wedding = happy marriage…and other recent findings

wedding cake morguefileThe more people who attended your wedding, the better your odds of marital bliss. On the flip side, the more premarital relationships you had before marriage, the lower your odds of being happily married down the road.

These are findings from the University of Virginia-based National Marriage Project report called “Before I do: What Do Premarital Experiences Have to Do with Marital Quality Among Today’s Young Adults.”

While the study doesn’t address causation, here are some of its findings:

• The wedding ceremony had links to marriage quality. Couples who invited a lot of friends and family tended to have happier marriages. Researchers theorized a possible reason is that couples had a larger network of friends and family to help and encourage them. They also suggested that a larger ceremony may reflect a clear decision to commit to the marriage and demonstrate the commitment. Financial resources were not the reason for this association, because they controlled for income and education. While this isn’t reason enough to put yourself in debt, it may help justify inviting all the people who are important to you to your wedding to witness your commitment.

• Individuals who had more experience cohabiting or more sexual partners were not as likely to have high-quality marriages compared with those who had fewer. Researchers speculate that “having more partners provides fodder for comparison and reminds one there are other choices.”

• Couples who had a child before marriage or one on the way at the time of the marriage were less likely to have a formal wedding, and having a child before marriage was associated with lower marital quality.

• Couples who “slide” rather than “decide” their way through major transitions—Including having sex, getting pregnant, living together and marriage—are less likely to have high-quality marriages. Sliding into these decisions, in particular living together, “creates a kind of inertia that makes it difficult to change course,” say researchers. They may end up getting “stuck with” someone they might not have otherwise chosen to marry.

• Premarital education, i.e. relationship education, was linked with higher marital quality. This is great news, because such education is widely available.

The study followed 1,000 participants aged 18 to 34 for five years and controlled for race, ethnicity, years of education, personal income, and religiosity.

Study co-author Galena K. Rhodes concludes “people need to talk about their relationships and make deliberate decisions, and couples who live together should consider relationship education.” Couples should also understand that serial cohabitation may lead them further from eventual marital bliss.

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 19 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.
Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Do millennials want marriage without commitment?

fingers crossed morguefileMillennials are a so-called generation raised on tech, overwhelmed by choice, primarily concerned with FOMO (fear of missing out) and fearful of long-term commitment. At least that’s what a recent Time Magazine article claims, suggesting that millennials support “beta” marriages.

The magazine reported in July that 43% of the 1,000 18- to 34-year-olds surveyed said they would support a marriage model that involved a two-year trial period, after which the marriage can be formalized or dissolved (no divorce necessary). The researchers called this a “beta marriage.”

Interestingly, 69% of this surveyed group still want to get married, but being jittery about entering into a two-year phone contract, are they seeking ways to reduce their commitment in marriage?

The survey further reports:
*33% support the real estate approach—marriage licenses granted on a 5-, 7-, or 30-year basis, renegotiated after this
*21% support a presidential approach—marriage vows last 4 years but after 8, you can “elect” to choose a new partner
*10% support multiple partner approach—marriage can be with more than one person at a time, each of whom fulfills a need in one’s life

First, I’ll address the study. I have to question the seriousness of a study that is done by trend researchers in conjunction with a new television drama called Satisfaction. I would also question how these “researchers” phrased the questions with catchy nicknames for each category, and whether respondents were answering in gest or seriously.

If they were serious, what would be wrong with these approaches? Other than the fact that a true marriage cannot be successful under these terms, and the fact that the children born in these unions would be destined to lack any family stability, what more could be wrong?

These young people could be cheating themselves out of greatness. Out of happiness. Out of love. Out of the opportunity to give real and lasting love.
In exchange, they get to keep the focus on themselves forever—their pleasures, their desires, their wants. But research shows these are the people who never find happiness. So good luck with that.

Nothing new
The idea of “test marriages” was bandied about in the 60s, 70s and 80s; it’s not a new concept. And while some respondents claimed in this survey that the idea of “beta marriages” is not about fear of commitment but rather an opportunity to test and deglitch relationships, I think most of us married more than 10 years would scoff at that. You don’t deglitch relationships by threatening to leave your partner every 2, 7 or 10 years. On the flip side, it’s the nature of commitment itself that allows partners to trust, relax and grow together. And it’s that promise that allows us to give ourselves completely, not holding a portion of ourselves back in case the contract is not renewed.

Do you think even churches haven’t talked about these “new” ideas and how changes in marriage may affect citizens? John Paul II, one of the world’s most beloved faith leaders of our time, specifically addressed “test marriages” in 1981, calling them unacceptable and an experiment on human beings, “whose dignity demands that they should be always and solely the term of a self-giving love without limitations of time or of any other circumstance.”

If you belong to a church, I’m sure your pastor would agree. And if you don’t belong to a church, I’m sure your grandmother would agree. And I have found grandmothers are usually right about these things.

We look for the easy road and find it’s not very fulfilling. The irony is that the people who might opt for a short-term marriage would hope that their spouse would be working to “earn” that contract renewal. Instead, the spouse would be counting faults and mistakes as well, wondering if it’s worth their time and effort to stay with this partner. Forgiveness and love would be pushed to the side in favor of counting the costs. That’s not a marriage I would want. And I don’t think millennials are dumb enough to fall for it. How about you?

Related Links:
Chris Gersten has a few words to say about this study in “Note to millennials—It’s not about You.” “I think we are insulting an entire generation when we say that they need more options, including the availability of short-term marriages,” he says. Our goal must be to strengthen the institution of marriage in order to give more children a chance to be raised in stable two-parent married families.”

And here’s Greg Griffin’s “A beta marriage isn’t a better marriage” He points out some important shortcomings to beta marriages and poignantly adds, “I ask forgiveness of those younger than me because I’m part of a culture that has failed to show the great value of marriage to those who come after us, and has left them looking for better alternatives.”

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 19 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.
Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Think of your sweetie, and boost your mood

love on hand by David Castillo Dominici freedigitalphotos.netWhen you spend time thinking about your romantic partner/spouse, your body chemistry is positively impacted, say researchers from Western University.

Study participants got a boost in blood sugar/glucose levels by just thinking of their partner, giving them a boost in energy and happiness. It wasn’t just people in the early stages of young romance who experienced these benefits; long-term relationships and marriages benefited as well.

If we think about our romantic partner, we get a boost in glucose and a boost in our mood. And those who get a boost of glucose are the ones feeling really happy, explains psychology researcher Sarah Stanton. The researchers call the effect eustress, positive, euphoric stress.

Stanton explains, “It seems that no matter how long you’ve been with your partner or how happy you are or how old you are, if you think about them … you can still get that little stress response.”

These results are added to findings that thoughts about love stimulate cortisol and bring health benefits.

I wonder if the researchers considered only happy relationships in this study, because it seems couples who are having difficulty may not be able to get this easy boost. For example, if thinking of your partner reminds you of your most recent argument, it may negate the eustress effect.

However, it seems like good news that a zero-calorie, zero-side effect method could bring about these pleasant results, at least for many couples. Give it a try, focusing on positive aspects of your spouse, and see if you agree.

Read the last post about how letting glucose levels fall can impact your relationship.

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for more than 18 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.
Photo courtesy of morguefile.com