Category Archives: Books

Why does your spouse think about sex so much more/less than you do?

candles by Christ Sharp at freedigitalphotos.netMany couples blame vastly different libidos for a variety of marriage problems. Some who have higher levels of desire use it to excuse the use of pornography or straying from their marriage vows. Others have an underlying current of conflict due to this difference. It is more than possible to live happily in marriage with a difference in levels of desire.

In The Passion Principles, author Shannon Ethridge shared some helpful insights and suggestions on the issue. Often, it is the man with the higher desire, but sometimes it is the wife, so she is careful not to stereotype. The mismatched sex drive is the issue, not which spouse is higher or lower.

First, related to why this difference in libido frequently occurs, both spouses may find their libido goes up and down depending on stage of life, level of health, hormones, focus on work or kids, and many other factors.

They key to surviving the fluctuating seasons and pendulum swings from one extreme to the other, says Ethridge is NOT to take it personally. “If you are the one feeling the sting of rejection, it is most likely not about you at all. And if you are the one experiencing a temporary lull in your libido, it is not a sign that your relationship is sinking like the Titanic. Most likely, these difference in sexual thought patterns have more to do with hormone production than anything else, and hormone production is not always something we are able to control,” she says.

Ethridge cites brain research by Dr. Louann Brizendine to explain some biological reasons men generally have higher levels of desire. These include:
1. The sex-related centers of the male brain are twice as large as those of the female brain (explaining why men think about sex more frequently).
2. Testosterone is the hormone responsible for fueling sexual thoughts, and men produce between 10 times and 100 times more of it than do females.
3. Men’s response to stress leads them to think about sex more often. Women’s response to stress is to produce more cortisol, which shuts down their desire for sex and physical touch.

This third point should be very important to both men who want their wives to desire sex more, and to women who wish their libido was higher. The woman needs to have the house, the kids, and the work stress under control to be able to relax and have the cortisol levels come down. That is likely why women frequently say they could enjoy sex more if their husbands helped more in the home. It’s not just a quid pro quo sort of comment, it’s an explanation of how she functions. If the husband can’t or won’t help out in the areas causing too much stress, it may be worthwhile to hire some help if it is financially feasible. It may be a good investment in your love life.

In addition to these differences, our hormone levels change after we have been together for a while. During the passion phase (lasting maybe 6 months or as long as two years), we have high levels of bonding hormones dopamine and oxytocin. Eventually those fall to lower levels as our relationship matures. We simply can’t expect the passionate feelings to be as high as during the honeymoon phase, but that doesn’t mean sex isn’t an important part of the marriage.

Ethridge shares advice from her personal experience that couples don’t need to only have sex when they both have high levels of desire. Instead, she says it’s great to use sex as a way to de-stress from a difficult workday, to use it to recharge your batteries when feeling lethargic, to help celebrate all good news (from a promotion to answered prayer), to provide sexual intimacy when one spouse or both are feeling blue, to bring one another comfort, and of course as a release from sexual desire.

“Thinking of sex has become a way of bonding ourselves together in a very intimate, powerful way—through both the good times and bad,” says Ethridge.

Many people who comment here on the blog say have great difficulty understanding their spouse’s way of thinking about sex. Do you feel that understanding the biological difference helps you understand your partner’s viewpoint? Has differing sexual desire been a frequent conversation or conflict in your marriage? Marriage therapists can help couples understand one another’s needs and feelings about the issue if it is causing considerable trouble for you. Do you have similar levels of desire? Do you find that is unusual? Whatever your situation, don’t give up hope in finding common ground on this issue.

Lori Lowe 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, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.
Photo courtesy of http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Harvard Study: What Makes Men Happy for Life

morguefile walking coupleI do not refer in this article to what women can do to make men happy. Nope, men are responsible for their own happiness, as are women. That being said, a 75-year-long Harvard study provides some great insights into what it takes for men to live a happy life. And not surprisingly, relationships have a great deal to do with this earned happiness.

The study began in 1938 and followed 268 male undergraduates into their old age. Many factors, of course, influence their happiness. Following are some of the more surprising, helpful or interesting findings:

1. Alcohol use is by far the greatest disruptor of health and happiness among the study’s subjects. Alcoholism was also the single strongest cause of divorce between study participants and their wives. Together with cigarette smoking, it was the #1 greatest cause of morbidity and death.
2. While some of the participants successfully recovered from a lousy childhood, memories of a happy childhood were a lifelong source of strength. (This should help parents understand the importance of those early days with our children.)
3. Marriages bring much more contentment after age 70.
4. Habits developed before age 50 were more important to physically aging well than heredity.
5. Having “warm relationships” was critically important to health and happiness in later years. Even more surprising, those who scored the highest on the warm relationships scale earned $141,000 a year more during peak salaries than the men in the lowest scale.
6. Men who had warm childhood relationships with their mothers earned much more than men whose mothers were uncaring. Those who had poor relationships with their moms were much more likely to develop dementia in elder years.
7. Men who had warm relationships with their fathers had lower levels of adult anxiety, enjoyed vacations more, and had increased satisfaction with life after age 75.
8. Men who did well in old age did not necessarily do well in midlife, and visa versa. (There is always time to make a change in your life.)

Study director George Vallant summarized that the $20 million study boiled down to one conclusion: Happiness is love. Vallant details the findings in a book titled Triumphs of Experience. While money and social class did not impact lifelong happiness, the ability to “take love in and metabolize it” certainly did.

You knew that already, right? With so many goals to consider for 2014, a renewed focus on love may be the most important to your happiness.

Lori Lowe 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, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Can Marriages Survive Infidelity?

haltzman book coverFollowing up on my last post, Why do affairs happen?, I want to share some responses from psychiatrist, author and marital therapist, Scott Haltzman, M.D, to my questions. He recently released The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity, which has certainly shed light on some new areas.

The short answer to the question, “Can marriages survive infidelity?” is “Yes.” They can, and they do. He estimates half of all marriages stay together after infidelity.

Here are some questions I asked Dr. Haltzman related to the book:
Q: Can you briefly define flame addiction and explain why the brain chemistry affects reasonable decision making?
A: Flame addiction describes the psychological and chemical process by which a person become infatuated with another person who is not his or her spouse. This person is a “flame,” and, like a moth circling a candle, he or she provides an irresistible pull to the married individual. Flame addiction is based on the phenomenology of infatuation, in which excitatory brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine are elevated, just as they are when people are abusing drugs like cocaine. It’s further complicated by a dip in brain serotonin. When people have normal levels of serotonin, their brains get messages to relax, but when levels are low, a person can feel restless, unsettled, and have increases in obsessions.

Q: Why is breaking off all contact with the affair partner the hardest step for the offending spouse?
A: A very strong attraction develops between the spouse and the one he or she is having an affair with. This third person might be seen as source of enrichment or excitation for the spouse, there might be powerful feelings that the flame is a soul mate, and the possibility of losing him or her may feel like too great a loss. Or, the person having the affair may simply feel a duty or obligation to the paramour. Often the position of the unfaithful spouses is that the third party didn’t do anything wrong, so they can’t justify hurting feelings by breaking things off.

Q: How can you tell if you’re in a relationship with someone who made a serious—but one-time—mistake versus someone who will hurt you again? Or in other words, how often is “once a cheater, always a cheater” true?
A: There’s no surefire way of predicting who will end the affair, and who will continue to have trysts. Good predictive indicators include individuals who are willing to take a careful look at their behavior, minimize defensiveness and blame, and make sincere efforts to put energy back into the relationship once an affair has been discovered. Those that insist they still need to maintain all of their Facebook friends, or their own private cellphone, are simply asking to hold on to their old ways. That’s not good.

Q: Why do your odds of an affair go up each year you are together?
A: The best reason is that simply the longer you’re married, the more chances you have to cheat. In the first 10 minutes after your wedding vows, there’s about a zero percent chance you can fit an affair in, and in the first day, about the same. But each day you are married is another day you go out into the world and meet possible affair mates. Another reason that the chances may go up is that couples tend to get into ruts, and the excitement of infidelity seems particularly attractive if you are bored in your marriage.

Q: In your experience, you believe half of couples stay together after infidelity. Why is this fact helpful to others? And why do you believe that is the biggest secret for surviving infidelity?
A: Secrecy is the hallmark of infidelity, both during the affair and afterwards, so many people have no idea that their next store neighbors (or their parents even) have had to deal with infidelity. Knowing that you are not alone helps reduce the feelings of shame—and knowing that people can survive infidelity gives you options when the culture may be insisting that you should leave the marriage no matter what.

Q: Is there one piece of advice you have for couples to prevent affairs from occurring, particularly for couples who have been together for more than a decade?
A: Don’t take each other for granted. You should always be working on maintaining a good quality marriage, in which your partner feels like you are making his or her needs a priority. One of the advantages of being with someone more than a decade is you really get to know him or her. You can see that as a negative, as in, “Now that I know my partner, I realize what a pain in the butt he/she is.” But I believe this knowledge can be used to your advantage, as in, “I realize that my partner sees things differently than I do, and I have often assumed I know what he/she needed when I really didn’t know him/her. Now that I know my partner better, I can really see the ways I can improve the quality of our relationship.”

Thanks to Dr. Haltzman for these insights! Leave a comment if you wish to be included in the drawing for a free book.

I feel fortunate that infidelity has not impacted my marriage directly, however, the book is a reminder not to be complacent and to keep proper boundaries in place. I’ll have a followup on these prevention tips from Dr. Haltzman at a later date. For those who have been impacted, pick up a copy for yourself or a loved one.

Lori Lowe 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, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Why Do Affairs Happen?

shadow couple morguefile
A new book written by Scott Haltzman, M.D., sheds light on The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity. You may remember Dr. Haltzman from one of my most popular posts, “We all married the wrong person.” Dr. Haltzman, a psychiatrist and marital therapist, has written a helpful and hopeful book for couples who have been or may be impacted by infidelity. If you want to learn why people have affairs, why they are so difficult to stop, how to protect your marriage, and how a marriage can recover from it, these are all addressed.

I’m going to give a copy of the book away on the blog this week, so if you’d like to read it, leave a comment below. Today, I want to give just a short intro from the book on why affairs occur. Strangely, Dr. Haltzman says most affairs take place between two people who had absolutely no intention of cheating. That’s why we must be careful about the kinds of interactions we have with people outside of our relationships.

People of course have various reasons for affairs—sex, curiosity, excitement, companionship, an ego-boost, career advancement, or getting even with a spouse are some of the reasons given. But in order for an affair to take place, three elements must be in play: (NOD) Need, Opportunity, and Disinhibition.

Need—As for the needs, Dr. Haltzman says spouses spend too much energy determining which exact needs were not being met when the affair happened. In truth, we all have needs that our partner will not be able to meet. In addition, there may be confusion about needs vs. desires and what we believe our partner should be fulfilling in us.

Opportunity—Not everyone is prone to cheating, but those who are may find an opportunity almost anywhere, from meeting someone at the gym, at PTA meetings, church, bars, work, on Facebook, or any other location we happen to be. “If no one is around to cheat with, cheating simply will not take place,” says Dr. Haltzman.

Disinhibition—In medical terminology, this means the inability to inhibit an instinctual reaction, says Dr. Haltzman. These are people who have been trained or trained themselves that “I want what I want when I want it.” They may be impulsive, unthinking of the consequences of their behavior. Some medical issues may contribute to increased disinhibition, including ADHD, substance abuse, bipolar disorder, brain illnesses, and other psychiatric problems. Others simply justify one choice after another, leading down a slippery slope into an affair.

Dr. Haltzman explains in detail the role of neurotransmitters/brain chemicals that affect our emotional balance, particularly during affairs or potential affairs. The bottom line is that the excitement produced in a new relationship affects our emotions and energy levels, and they make it difficult to make good judgments. Therefore, someone in an affair will conclude that this person is their “soul mate” and believe they “need” them. This is because when they are with this person, the tension that has been developed is relieved, the level of worry and sleeplessness decreases and they feel “complete.” It’s not because the relationship or the person is ideal, it’s because the brain chemistry (low serotonin, high dopamine, high norepinephrine) has been affected. But of course, this state of mind can’t be maintained, because that brain chemistry level can’t be maintained.

The book is definitive on affairs being wrong and bad for the marriage, but it’s also relatively compassionate toward the person having the affair, helping them understand the reasons they find it so difficult to untangle themselves from this other person while insisting on it and explaining the steps. It’s almost half intended for the spouse and half for the person who had the affair, helping couples to both prevent affairs and to recover one. I thought the book was really well thought out, and I would highly recommend it, having read many others on the topic.

Tomorrow, I’m going to share some questions and answers directly from Dr. Haltzman based on my interview with him. Remember, if you would like to be in the drawing for the book, add a brief note below and I’ll put your name in.

You can find Dr. Haltzman at Facebook.com/ScottHaltzman or at secretsofmarriedmen.com. His book, Secrets of Surviving Infidelity is available in bookstores or at Amazon.com.

Lori Lowe 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, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

How Does Your Marriage Compare? More Interesting Findings…

The Normal BarMy recent post called “The #1 Thing Men Want More of is Not What You Think” caused quite a debate, with many disagreeing with the research findings or explaining what they feel as a combination of needs. The findings were based on “surprising” relationship secrets of 70,000 individuals surveyed in The Normal Bar, a new book.

I promised to give away a free copy of the book, and then I went on spring break. So, because of my delay, I’ll give away two copies of the book—one drawing held from commenters of the last post, and one from comments on this one. So, if you’d like a copy, just leave a comment, and I’ll throw your name into the hat.

I wanted to share a few morsels of some of the other results that surprised or interested me. Feel free to share your feelings on one of more of the following findings:

  • Two-thirds of couples do not agree with each other’s politics. Fewer than 10 percent of these couples say this seriously strains their relationships. That surprised me, because I wonder if this has to do with common values and worldviews being different in these couples, and also because so many couples I know seem to be similar in this way. But I’m glad they can work through this area of division.
  • Be more romantic. It bothers almost 29 percent of women “a lot” that their partner is not more romantic. But even more surprising is that a lack of sufficient romance bothers more men “a lot”—44 percent of them. Talk to your spouse about what they feel is romantic, and try to make a better effort in this area. Too often this advice comes to men, but women need to practice romance as well.
  • Three-fourths of all American couples have never taken a romantic vacation. What? Not even a honeymoon? This seems pretty deplorable to me, but I recognize that once the kids come, traveling without them (and without worrying about them) becomes such a challenge that many don’t find it worth the effort. If you’ve benefited from romantic vacations in the past, please share how they have impacted your relationship. Can you get a weekend away together?
  • Interrupting your partner is a big problem. People who are often interrupted by their partners are twice as likely to be unhappy in the relationship. This affects many couples—59 percent of both men and women say they are sometimes or frequently interrupted by their partners.
  • Laugh more! On the other side of the coin, happy couples laugh much more; 66 percent of happy couples laugh together often.
  • Criticize less. Sadly, 12 percent of couples who have been together more than a decade are criticized daily by their partner. Women tend to be the more critical spouse. Two-thirds of men say they are criticized “a lot”; slightly over half of women say the same of their spouse.
  • Having more money did not make relationships happier. In fact, the most wealthy couples were slightly less happy.
  • Going back to my last article, it’s true that men said they wanted better communication more than anything else. However, the surveys also reported that most men also wanted more sex. Sixty percent of men and 30 percent of women feel their sexual frequency is too low. On the other hand, 36 percent of men and 56 percent of women feel their frequency is just about right.
  • We all know that one of the most important characteristics of happy couples is that they spend time together. Surveyed individuals say they don’t spend enough time together because they are so busy, but 80 percent of these same couples said they typically spend an hour or more on the Internet daily for non-work matters. Twenty-six percent spend more than three hours on the Internet a day.  Can you consider cutting back Internet/TV or other screen time to invest some needed time with your spouse?

Which of these bullet points resonates with you or strikes you as odd? Of course there’s a lot more research in the book, so check it out if you like. Remember, though, what is “normal” for one couple is not helpful for another. The thing I do find helpful is to ask yourself if something you read about (lack of fun, criticizing your partner, etc.) might be holding your marriage back from being all it can be.

Lori Lowe 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, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

The #1 Thing Men Want More of is Not What You Think

The Normal BarBased on survey results from more than 70,000 respondents, the new book, The Normal Bar, provided a number of surprises. But the most surprising result I read about was when men in unhappy relationships were asked what they want most from their partners that they’re not getting. The authors/researchers expected to find that sex topped the list, but it didn’t make the top two.

Male respondents instead want more and better communication, saying their partners don’t listen to them attentively enough. Coming in second, they wanted more affection. In third place, they said they desired more sex.

Unhappy women also ranked communication at the top of their wish list, and for more affection in second place. Their third wish was for financial stability.

Remember that these were the responses from unhappy couples. Another surprise was the response from happy couples as to what they wanted more of. The number-one answer was “nothing.” In fact 35% of satisfied women and 40% of satisfied men say all their relationship needs are being met.

These results were not just true for Americans, but were true worldwide. Communication is apparently a bigger issue than most of us realize, being the most important relationship issue for many couples. Only the French reported affection as more important, which was surprising because the French were number-one in romance.

Take-Away

What can we take from these results to help us in our marriages? First, if your spouse is asking for better communication, don’t roll your eyes or belittle its importance. In your partner’s eyes, the way you speak to them and listen to them out may be one of their top concerns. Second, better communication may mean less talking and more listening. Reflect back what you hear to make sure you are understanding them correctly. And third, remember that it can be easy to drift apart. Make daily effort to reconnect on an emotional and physical level. Show affection and demonstrate your love with small daily efforts.

Are you giving your spouse enough time and attention? Are you talking only about the day’s agenda or about deeper issues, desires and concerns? Can you carve out time for a walk together or to have a cup of coffee in the morning or a glass of wine in the evening? Try to bring a fun topic or question to your chats, such as dreaming about a future vacation, or guessing what famous person you would each like to have over for dinner.

Communication is a skill we can all learn to improve. If communication is an area of dissatisfaction or dispute, seek out a class, a counselor or even online tips for how you can take your communication to the next level.

I’ll be providing some additional insights from the book. You can learn more by reading The Normal Bar by Chrisanna Northup, Pepper Schwartz, PhD, and James Witte, PhD. Let me know if you’re interested in having your  name added to a drawing for a free copy of the book by leaving a comment below.

Do you agree or disagree with the survey results?

Lori Lowe 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, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

The Next Big Thing

NextBigThingLast week a friend of mine, Beverly Willett, a great writer with whom I work on the Coalition for Divorce Reform, asked me to participate in the Next Big Thing online event. I’m always up for some online camaraderie, and am happy to join in. The Next Big Thing is a way for authors and bloggers to share the news about their most exciting upcoming projects.

Beverly is a former lawyer, but don’t hold that against her! She is working on multiple writing projects, and you can meet her here at her blog: http://beverlywillett.com/blog. I think you’ll agree that her lively writing style is very entertaining. In addition, she is clearly passionate about helping to improve family stability in our country. She’s not afraid to look at all possibilities to achieve this. Here’s her article in the Huffington Post on the number-one problem facing our country.

So here’s my attempt at answering these questions about my current writing journey:

What is the title of your book?

For those new readers here, my book is called First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the stories of a dozen couples who found that adversity could actually strengthen their marriages. It’s available on Amazon.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I was inspired by a few amazing couples I knew who had gone through difficulties that most couples could not endure. As a GenXer, I realized that few in our generation have great role models for how to thrive in marriage when the going gets tough. As a journalism geek, I’ve always loved interviewing people and telling stories. That’s how the idea came together.

What genre does your book fall under?
Creative Nonfiction.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

It took about a year of interviewing and locating all the couples and another year to write and edit.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
With two dozen characters in the book, there is room for nearly every Hollywood star, from the southern Belle to the military hero to the sweet older couple.

What is the synopsis of your book?
Life and marriage rarely go exactly as we had planned, but marriage can thrive even in the most difficult circumstances. Learn from couples who have experienced child loss, infidelity, drug addiction, cancer, financial crises, brain injury, stranger rape, separation for military service, infertility, opposing religions, unsupportive families, raising special-needs children, and much more.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I started a publishing company, Geode Publishing, so it was self-published. You can learn more at http://www.LoriDLowe.com.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation has a similar story-telling vibe although my book covers multiple generations. Another book that has the same feel is Why Do I Love These People? by Po Bronson. I love the way Po uses creative storytelling to relay real life stories. My stories also use creative nonfiction style to allow the reader to immerse themselves in the stories and understand what factors got them into their troubled period, whether it was through poor decisions, such as infidelity, or harsh life circumstances, such as the death of a child.

What’s your next big thing?
My next big thing is to focus on the most important things in my life at this moment, to live in the present and to enjoy and treasure my family and nourish my spiritual life. During the research and writing of this book, I gave up many everyday things from TV and leisure reading to spending extra time with family. I don’t miss the TV, but literature is an important inspiration for me. My two kids traveled from toddlers to tweeners in the blink of an eye, and I don’t want to miss a day. I plan to nurture my own marriage and family life while also blogging and balancing my “other job” in healthcare marketing communications.

I’m also making a little more time for me! That’s hard for writers to do, but I ran my first 5K and learned to play tennis in the last year. I’m trying to make my own health and wellbeing a priority. We writers can’t feel guilty to indulge in a long walk or a great book, rather than spending more time on Facebook and Twitter.

So, 2013 will not be the year I become rich and famous (especially since I don’t play the lottery), but I hope to continue to balance the use of my talents with spending my time on these activities and with the family and friends I love, who as I get older seem more and more precious to me.

Thanks to all the bloggers and writers out there who have been supportive in my own writing adventures!  And now I would like to pass the torch to two writers whom I would love to introduce you to, Eve Gaal and Neil McNerney! 

Please meet Eve Gaal…

When Eve received  a typewriter at age four, it set in motion a cycle of creative writing starting with stories, poems, newsletters, advertising copy, non-fiction articles, essays and fictional stories. Then after a high school friend actually commissioned a poem, her destiny felt written in stone.

Eve’s writing has appeared in various anthologies such as Fiction Noir-13 Stories, God Makes Lemonade, My Funny Valentine and Goose River Anthology.  Online magazines and journals include the September 2012 issue of Rusty Nail literary magazine. Short stories, Kidnapped Writer and Front Page Kiss, both available on Amazon. Recent publications include: Open Doors-Fractured Fairy Tales, Epiphany Magazine, Wit and Humor magazine on iTunes and a humorous tale about her puppy in Not Your Mother’s Book on Dogs  out in time for the holidays. Watch for her upcoming novel titled, “Penniless Hearts.” Find more of Eve’s writing and read her Next Big Thing at: http://thedesertrocks.blogspot.com

And introducing Neil McNerney!

As a school counselor, and a licensed counselor in private practice, Neil has seen many kids and their parents struggle with homework issues. In the last twenty years he has developed a technique that has helped hundreds of families deal with issues of motivation, student stress, disorganization, and a number of other things that get in the way of doing well in school.

Neil hopes his book: Homework – A Parent’s Guide to Helping Out without Freaking Out! will show parents a clear plan to increasing your child’s success while decreasing your own frustration.

You can read Neil’s Next Big Thing post right here!

Aim for Meaningful, not Perfect, Holiday

Christmas tree Salvatore Vuono freedigitalphotos.netIf the holiday season makes you jump for joy, you just might be in the minority. I work very hard to get into the “holiday spirit” and keep a positive outlook even as the season becomes busier. However, we should all remember this season is a time of struggle for many.

Following the Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year celebrations, January rings in the highest divorce rates of the year. Could it be too-high expectations that go unmet? Or holding it together so the family can enjoy one last holiday together? Or is overspending in December creating additional stress in the New Year?

Even if your marriage is strong, be aware of setting unrealistic expectations during the holidays. For example, if you are hoping for a certain kind of gift, make sure it is within your family budget and let your spouse know. He or she is not a mind reader. Try not to aim for perfection with decorating, entertaining, gift giving, etc. Instead, focus on the deeper meaning of the holidays to you. For us, religious significance and celebrations are key.

In addition, try to focus on generosity toward individuals in need or charities that help those in need. It’s well known that helping others will give you a boost in happiness. Helping as a couple or a family can give you a collective boost while also doing good. These acts keep us focused less on creating the perfect material holiday and more on what the spirit of the holidays should be about.

Social connections are good for our mental wellbeing, and in general the holidays and their respective gatherings are helpful to those who are isolated or who suffer from depression. (It’s a myth that suicide rates are highest during the holidays.) However, you probably know many people who long for family members who are no longer around to celebrate. Try to include a neighbor or friend in your gathering who doesn’t have family nearby. Listen to those who are grieving and offer a hand to someone who seems overwhelmed.

Many people are struggling financially during the holiday season, either unemployed or underemployed, or simply living beyond their means.  So even if you manage to put together an extravagant holiday, don’t post about in social media. Instead, focus on gratitude not just for the material things you have but for the meaningful relationships with which you have been blessed.

Let your spouse know that just having them nearby makes each holiday a time of joy for you. And may you and your family be blessed this Christmas.

———————————————————————————————-

Lori Lowe 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, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats atwww.LoriDLowe.com.  Great for holiday stocking stuffers! Contact me if you would like one mailed in time for Christmas.

Photo by Salvatore Vuono courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

12 Great Communication Tips from Ronald Reagan to use in Your Marriage

With the U.S. Presidential election only days away, and both parties not shy about bringing up their fondness for Ronald Reagan, it seemed an appropriate time to talk about The Great Communicator. Thankfully, this post has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with marriage.

As we’ve turned the corner into November with the holidays fast approaching, I wanted to share a bit about the treasure that former President Reagan left not to our nation, but to his wife, Nancy. She kept a huge collection of personal love letters that he wrote her over the years of their marriage. She’s shared many artifacts with his national library and along with telling their story, shares many letters in the book “I Love You, Ronnie.”

Ronnie, as she affectionately called him, wore his heart on his sleeve where Nancy was concerned, and wrote almost daily affirmations to her wherever he was. His heartfelt notes are a lasting legacy, especially to his wife. They were a reminder of his love after Alzheimer’s disease prevented him from communicating it as he so eloquently did, and of course are a great remembrance for her after his death in 2004.

In our throwaway era of fast communication, Nancy says it’s “all too easy never to find the time to write letters,” calling this a great pity. She decided to share his letters to allow others to see how wonderful it can be to express what you feel to those you love.

So here are some ideas and excerpts to inspire you. This season, don’t think of the daunting task of writing one perfect love letter. Instead, select at least three different days this season where you write in a card or jot a note, or attach a letter to a gift, expressing love to your spouse.  Here are some techniques he frequently used:

  1. Sometimes he used silly pet names like Nancy Poo, Nancy Pants, Mommie or Career Girl, and other times he used formal names like First Lady or Mrs. Reagan. He signed them also with personal nicknames (Pauvre Petite Papa) or more formal names (The Guv, Mr. President). But he seemed to always view these terms with endearment and a twinkle in his eye. For example, on leaving the Governor’s office, he said, “’Lame duck’ or ‘ex’ you are still my first lady—now more than ever.” Tip: Use personal terms that will make your spouse smile.
  2. He varied the length and format of his letters from writing a note in a greeting card (which he frequently gave) to scribbling a note with a doodle or writing a long note on White House stationery. He often used hotel stationery, and there are examples from The Plaza Hotel in New York to Plankington House in Milwaukee. Tip: As you look back, writing on a postcard or hotel letterhead can convey the memories from trips or places you lived.
  3. His notes were nearly all hand written, except when sent by telegram. Texts and emails written with heart are certainly welcome today, but try to make the three special notes for this season hand written. Tip: Even if your handwriting is messy, write your special notes by hand.
  4. Some letters included literary references. For example, “Browning I’m not, but believe me I do love you to the breadth and depth of all my being…” You might think it sounds cheesy, but I bet Nancy liked it. I was more impressed by his reference to Anne of Green Gables, although he misspelled her name. “Just think:  I’ve discovered I can be fond of Ann Blyth because she and her Dr. seem to have found something of what we have.” Tip: Use songs or books or movies that mean something to the two of you, especially if you have a hard time coming up with romantic language on your own.
  5. He sometimes included a gift, and often included a funny note or explanation. Tip: It can be a small treat or something more extravagant, but a gift accompanied by a note is always fun.
  6. He sometimes included personal memories or stories of their early days.  Tip: Sharing personal memories helps bring back the memories and feelings of those passionate days.
  7. He was constantly telling Nancy how much he loved her, adored her, missed her, and needed her. Do you think she ever got tired of it? Here’s one example: “I’ve always loved and missed you, but never has it been such an actual ache…I’m all hollow without you.” Tip: Don’t be afraid to share your feelings. Work hard to express your love.
  8. He never missed a special note for Valentine’s Day, anniversary, Christmas, birthdays, Mother’s Day, etc. He sometimes treated ordinary days like a holiday, and holidays like an every day. For example, on their March anniversary in 1963, he wrote, “This is really just an ‘in between’ day. It is a day on which I love you 365 days more than I did a year ago and 365 days less than I will a year from now. But I wonder how I lived at all for all the 365s before I met you. All my love, Your Husband.” Tip: Any day is a great day to give a note. Try to take a little extra care on special days.
  9. He used a letter to make up at least once, although Nancy says they rarely argued. And after reading it, I don’t know many women who could stay mad. Here’s an excerpt:

“A few days ago you told me I was angry with you. I tried to explain I was frustrated with myself. But later on I realized that my frustration might have been a touch of self-pity, because I’d been going around feeling that you are frequently angry with me. No more. We are so much ‘one’ that you are as vital to me as my own heart—with one exception; you could never be replaced with a transplant. Whatever I treasure and enjoy—this home, our ranch, the sight of the sea—all would be without meaning if I didn’t have you. I live in a permanent Christmas because God gave me you.”

    Tip: Sometimes saying I’m sorry in a letter allows your  apology to sink  in. And the other words of love and affirmation can’t hurt.

  1. He often shared with her his daily frustrations of work or being separated, just daily details and things that upset him. Tip: Sharing these frustrations and letting your spouse into your life and thoughts can help keep you feeling close.
  2. He sometimes played with words or used analogies. He referred to their wedding day as the day he received a heart transplant. And he often expressed surprise at how the happy years have flown by. “Others would have you believe we’ve been married 20 years. 20 minutes maybe—but never 20 years. It is a known fact that a human cannot sustain the high level of happiness I feel for more than a few minutes—and my happiness keeps on increasing.” Tip: Use language in different ways, or use a play on words.
  3. He knew best how to keep it simple. One favorite letter on White House stationery Nancy kept framed for many years over her desk read:

I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
And besides that–
I love you.

Instead of roaming the malls for the perfect gift, spend a little time remembering the days when you first fell in love. Share your feelings from the early days and from today.  Repeat regularly.

What tips do you think you will use for your next love letter?

Lori Lowe 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, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo source: Ronald Reagan Library

Book Source: I Love You, Ronnie:  The Letters of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan

Are You Focused on Productivity over Warmth in Your Family?

In today’s post, I’m continuing some thoughts on the book The Self-Centered Marriage by Hal Edward Runkel, LMFT. You can read part I here: When a Self-Centered Marriage Isn’t a Bad Thing.

In the last post, I shared several misconceptions about marriage that Runkel debunked. An interesting insight he writes about has to do with the family unit and our American culture’s desire to make our family life as efficient, productive and equitable as our work life. We want the wheels to run smoothly, and if there is a problem, we want to make the repair and get those wheels back on the track of life. So, here’s the problem, written so aptly by Runkel:

“You’re a family, not an office. You can’t operate on skill sets charted out and replace the person who doesn’t fit well. We are not simple machines and gears, working together toward a goal of increased efficiency and productivity. We are men and women, living together as a way to feed one another’s souls and create a warm home that is anything but mechanical and operational.”

I do think we need to be reminded of how our cultural desire toward productivity can get way out of hand. I’m often guilty of this. For instance, after my kids get home from school, the gears/tasks of homework, cooking and serving dinner, cleaning, making lunches and bedtime routines immediately begin. I’m often the productivity driver, constantly assessing progress on each task. When my husband is home, I delegate some of the tasks or supervision to him or he simply jumps in to help. Sharing warmth during the evening is often not a priority, at least until the above items are complete. Sometimes we carve out time for one-on-one discussion with each other or with each of the children, but often we are so concerned with completing tasks that the nurturing and loving feelings in the home can be hidden.

We need to refocus our energy and priority on the things that matter most, which should include accomplishing what we need to do in the midst of a loving home environment.

One couple dynamic which seems fairly common writes Runkel, is that one spouse is focused on productivity and is “over-responsible” to make up for the spouse who is “under-responsible” and does little to help. The overresponsible partner’s actions may help in the short-term by preventing some arguments, in the long term it creates a worse dynamic that pulls the couple apart. So, I appreciated Runkel’s examples and steps that help couples solve this sort of conflict not by changing their partner, but by changing their own actions and responses. (We can’t expect different results without changing our actions, right?) What I also very much appreciated was that these changed actions are done in a very loving, calm, mature, positive manner that doesn’t push the spouse away. No passive-aggressive behavior, no asking for “help” simply apologizing for contributing to the problem and acknowledging the co-responsibilities. Then, moving forward in a new way. (Check out the book for anecdotes.)

The next step is to grow in gratitude, which is something I preach here frequently. Expressing gratitude has been shown in research to be very effective at improving a couple’s bond. Thank your spouse for all the ways big and small that they help you in life. Do this instead of focusing on getting recognition for your own efforts. Waiting for your spouse to change only keeps you stuck. Be responsible for your own actions, and let your spouse be responsible for his/hers.

After focusing on yourself and experiencing personal growth, pursuing your partner with your truest self, then growing in gratitude for your spouse, we can learn to truly love one another.  That means we want the absolute best for that person. It means you will try to be the best spouse for them, even if you feel they won’t reciprocate in the same manner.

When you become a person of integrity, you become more attractive to your spouse, says Runkel. This replaces scorekeeping and resentment and helps you grow together.

Above all, this focus on the self means holding yourself to a higher standard, no matter what is going on around you.

What’s your take? Is it difficult to maintain integrity and commitment when you feel your spouse isn’t pulling his/her weight? Do you agree that changing your own attitude and actions can help transform the relationship?

Lori Lowe 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, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com. Pick up your copy today!

Photo by ddpavumba courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.