Category Archives: Communication

Are there secrets in your partner’s life?

secret lovers sign morguefileMany folks think if you live together, you’re guaranteed to know your partner fully. Not so fast. The New York Post reports more engaged individuals are hiring private investigators to uncover potential secret habits or deal-breakers in their fiancé’s life. Whether you are married or cohabitating, merely living in the same home doesn’t equate to sharing the deepest parts of yourself.

While it may be easier than ever to Google a potential mate or scroll through their social media networks, it’s much more difficult to get to know one another below the surface. The Post reported that many engaged couples hadn’t even discussed financial struggles, debt, or other challenging topics. Only half of couples in interfaith marriages discussed how they planned to raise kids before they married. Many couples who ended up divorced said they didn’t receive honest feedback from their parents about their potential mates; instead they were supported “as long as they were happy.”

One of the downsides to cohabitation, reports clinical psychologist Meg Jay, is that it often gives people the illusion of true intimacy while allowing partners to keep to themselves important pieces of information or parts of themselves. (Isn’t that true in marriage as well?)

“You can chat endlessly about whether they leave dirty laundry on the floor or whether they’ve ever mopped a kitchen floor but having those serious chats about finances or children don’t get any easier just because you both collapse on the same couch at the end of the day,” writes Pamela Paul, author of “The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony.”

Engaged couples can benefit from premarital counseling to ensure they are entering marriage with their eyes wide open, aware of their strengths and challenges.

Whether married or engaged, putting our true selves out there is the only way to achieve intimacy and to feel we are loved for who we are, warts and all. Don’t expect your partner to feel safe about sharing their true selves if you’re unwilling to do it first. Does your partner know your insecurities, current struggles, most difficult choices, regrets, dreams and goals?

Other notes from the article for engaged couples: The more relationships an individual has before marriage, the more likely they are to cheat on a spouse. Having many relationships makes it harder to decide whom to marry. And once married, it can make it harder to be satisfied with the choice of spouse. Read “Marriage-wary singles turning to private eyes before saying ‘I do‘.”

Do you think it’s hard to find the time to really connect with your spouse in the midst of your busy life?

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.

This one thing will improve your marriage in 2015

angry-woman morguefileDid you ever notice that TV shows feature the clever wife rescuing the absentminded, not-so-bright husband? To do the opposite would be politically incorrect, but somehow it’s cool to crush on the guys for their ineptitude. They just never seem to do things the way we would.

Unfortunately, this cultural tendency has probably creeped its way into many homes with wives/moms showing our men “how it’s done” when it comes to caring for kids and the home. (There is a right way to fold the towels and load the dishwasher, after all.) That’s why this article called “I wasn’t treating my husband fairly” should be an aha-moment for many of us wives. Check it out; it’s worth the read. In a moment of clarity, this wife realized that a husband bringing home the wrong kind of hamburger was not a great enough sin to deserve her long diatribe. She began to realize that she criticized so many areas that were not critical to the family’s success, and didn’t often notice all the things he was doing right (changing the oil, fixing the computer, being a great dad). It was a hamburger moment to remember.

While nagging and criticizing may be more often female territory, it can easily go both ways. Think about it, when your spouse goes the the store and brings home the wrong brand, are you mad about the mistake or thankful you didn’t have to go to the grocery? If your spouse handles the kids differently, is that a problem or just a difference of opinion? Remember that most men value respect very highly, and criticism can make them feel less respected.

My husband will tell you I’m a little controlling about which cutting boards are used for what purposes (meat vs. veggies) as well as what laundry items are hung versus put in the dryer. We all have our hang-ups! This year, make sure you express gratitude more than nagging. Watch out for over-the-top, unnecessary criticism.

Look for your hamburger moment of clarity. Then turn it around.

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.

Bring deeper touch to your marriage through couples massage

oxytocin massage
Happy New Year! As a gift for the new year, I’m sharing some insights from a massage expert to help you incorporate couples massage into your marriage. Thanks to massage therapist Yasuko Kawamura for these helpful tips!

Do you wish you had more physical touch in your relationship? For those who feel touching is important as an expression of love, lack of touch in marriage can be interpreted as lack of love. How can you avoid this unnecessary misunderstanding?

We express love in different ways, and there are different kinds of intimate touch available for your relationship. From casual touch to intimate touch:
Casual touch is something you can easily do, such as holding hands, hugging, caressing, and putting your hand on your partner’s back when you sit or walk together.
Intimate touch is something you do in your privacy behind closed doors, such as sexual touch.

Deeper Connection through Massage
Learning how to massage your partner is a great way to connect with your partner and be healthy at the same time. Couples massage brings many benefits to your mind and body, and helps to produce pleasure hormones and reduce stress hormones. It relieves tight muscles and knots, reduces aches and pains, and improves range of motion. In fact, massage also helps you digest and sleep better, and causes the production of white blood cells, making your immune system stronger to fend off common diseases.

A gift certificate for a one-hour professional massage at a spa is great, but it lasts only for that session. Learning how to give your partner a good massage, however, makes for an even greater birthday, anniversary, Valentine’s Day, or Christmas gift. Couples massage training is the gift that keeps on giving to your massage-loving partner.

Couples Massage is also a great bridge between casual touch and intimate touch. The loving touch from couples massage causes the production of oxytocin (a.k.a. bonding hormone or cuddling hormone), which makes the person crave even more touch.

Three Essentials to Good Massage
Here are three tips on how to give a good massage:
1. Save your thumbs
The number-one complaint in giving massage is suffering from sore thumbs. If your thumbs are in pain, you’re not doing it the right way. Using the forearm, fist, and heel of the palm are all good alternatives to save your thumbs and deliver pressure. Learn how to use your body weight instead of your finger strength. Massage giving becomes so much easier. Do not hurt yourself to try to give a good massage–it’s just not worth it.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Another popular complaint is that the partner hurts during massage. Communication is the key to a good massage experience. You may think the massage giver is solely responsible to make the couples massage experience great. however, the massage receiver is equally responsible in contributing to the experience. Unless your partner is psychic, you need to communicate clearly what you want and how you want the pressure, location, and speed during the massage.

3. Happy thoughts
Touch is a very powerful communication tool. Your thoughts and feelings can transfer through touch. When you touch your partner, think of at least one thing you love or appreciate about your partner. It’s a good idea to clear the air if necessary so you can be in a pure giving mode.

Couples massage at home doesn’t have to be full hour or even 30 minutes. Leave those long massages for the professionals. It can be just few minutes while you watch TV or as you wind down before you go to bed. Find few minutes a day to give a quick massage to your partner to show your love and appreciation. Your partner will feel your love and love you more.

Here’s more info on how to naturally increase your oxytocin levels from a previous Marriage Gems post!

Yasuko Kawamura is a National Board Certified Licensed Massage Therapist and the author of “You Knead Me: 10 Easy Ways To Massage Your Partner” video book series. Besides giving and receiving massages, she loves to teach couples easy and effective massage techniques to enjoy at home.

Researchers say successful marriages come down to this trait

rose morguefileSocial scientists and marriage experts have been gathering data since the ‘70s on what separates successful marriages from unsuccessful ones. John and Julie Gottman, both psychologists with The Gottman Institute were forerunners of this work and continue to help couples learn how to have stable, loving relationships. By observing certain interactions, they can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples will be broken up, together, happy or unhappy years down the road.

How we are predisposed toward one another, how we respond to requests, and how good we are at kindness and generosity all play a part in a marriage’s success.

Physiology
A recent article in The Atlantic called “Masters of Love” divulges the differences between the masters of marriage and the disasters. Couples associated with the disasters were markedly different down to their very physiology. When they talked, their heart rates were quick. Their sweat glands were active. They were in fight-or-flight mode all the time, waiting for the next argument. They were more aggressive and defensive. The physiology demonstrated how they were negatively predisposed toward one another.

Couples who were masters of marriage felt calm and connected, had slower heart rates, and warm behavior and language toward one another. It’s not their physical make-up that changed things, says John Gottman. Instead, they created a climate of trust and intimacy that made them both feel at ease. The way in which they created this positive climate was through kindness, generosity and responding positively to bids for attention.

Responding to Bids/Requests for Attention
How you respond to subtle requests for attention or “bids” throughout the day from your spouse is another major factor for marital success. Whether one person shares a funny story from work or asks the other to join them on the couch, we respond in different ways depending on our mood and activities. Maybe we share a laugh, or we may say (or show) that we are busy reading. Even small actions add up, particularly if they are rebuffed or ignored. Couples who divorced after six years only responded favorably to their partner one-third of the time, while couples married after six years met these bids 9 out of 10 times. By ignoring your partner’s requests for attention, you can make them feel worthless or ignored, eventually killing the love they feel.

Types of Kindness
Kindness is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in marriage, say the Gottmans. It makes each spouse feel loved, validated, understood and important. Some people are naturally kind, but kindness is a muscle that can grow stronger with practice. Kindness can have many meanings.

Kindness can mean responding in a pleasing way to your partner’s bids for attention. For example, if you’re watching a show (even a big game), reading the news or busy with a hobby when your spouse comes in the door or asks you a question, do you give them your attention or act annoyed? How do you respond to bids for intimacy?

Kindness can mean how you act during a disagreement or fight. Avoid words of contempt, rolling the eyes, raising your voice, acting aggressively. The way we express our anger or feelings is critical, as is the type of language we choose.

Kindness can mean small acts of generosity—a cup of tea, a backrub, an offer to go to the store or clean up.

Kindness can mean assuming the best intentions for your partner. If he forgot to pick up the dry cleaning, left his towel on the floor, or was late to a date, we don’t assume the worst.

Kindness can mean celebrating life’s joys and good news together—being genuinely excited for the other person when things go well (and of course being there when things don’t go so well).

More than all these, kindness in marriage means how you interact on a daily basis, the affection you share, the feeling that you’re in life together and happy about it.

Relationships fail for a variety of reasons, but the breakdown of kindness drives the unraveling of many of them. “As the normal stresses of life together pile up—with children, career, friend, in-laws, and other distractions crowding out the time for romance and intimacy—couples may put less effort into their relationship and let the petty grievances they hold against one another tear them apart,” says Emily Esfahani Smith, author of The Atlantic article.

Master or Disaster?
Taking this research into account, are your behaviors more in line with the masters or disasters of marriage? What attributes are bringing you down or holding you up?

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

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

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

How Stress Can Help Your Marriage

stress morguefile While it was not a stress-free summer for my marriage, it wasn’t a bad time either. I’ve seen several reports that indicate some stress can actually be good for us and for our marriages, and I have to say I agree in some respects.

In my case, the stressors were outside the marriage, and I think that makes a big difference in staying positive. My husband was in training in another city for several months, meaning date nights were out of the question, and even 15-minute phone calls a day were usually not available. Instead, the kids and I made the best with one or two day visits, or longer when that was possible. I think we viewed it more of a family challenge to handle the circumstances in the best way we could, knowing it would be best for the family in the long run.
Now, three months is much different than an 18-month deployment by a soldier. And unfortunately, a recent RAND Corp. study showed long and frequent deployments hurt military marriages, often leaving them feeling disillusioned. The longer the deployment, the greater the risk of divorce, it said. Often, it had to do with unmet expectations. “Couples who married before 9/11 just didn’t expect that deployments were going to be amped up,” said the study author. Read the study details here. Thankfully, resources are available to help support military marriages, as well as help from family and friends.

Other stressful events that can impact marriages may have to do with traumatic life-events, which 75 percent of us face at one time in our lives. In fact, in a given year, 20 percent of people are likely to experience some kind of a trauma in their life, according to The Greater Good Science Company. So, the odds are not in favor us living free of pain and suffering.

How can we either insulate our marriage from the negative effects of stress, or somehow extract some positive from the experience?

Be a Team
As much as I hate sports analogies, teaming up with your spouse against the problems you face is critical. None of us wants to feel alone, particularly when things are difficult. We went to be heard and have our feelings validated. We want to be encouraged and cheered on. During my husband’s stressful training, we sent him a barrage of encouraging cards and notes to let him know we were behind him. If financial stress is a problem, the couple must work together to attack it bit by bit. “We will get through this together,” is the message that is expressed, whether “this” means a serious illness, a loss of a loved one, a robbery, a job loss, etc.

One couple I interviewed who grew close after being very argumentative early in their marriage describe the shift as moving from opposite sides of the tennis net to playing side by side against an opponent. We as married people have to feel like our spouse is on our side in life.

Even if you can’t physically be together, you can feel like you’re a team, each playing an important family role, and each respected and valued.

Look for Growth Opportunities
“Our success and happiness depend on our ability not just to cope with (stress) but to actually grow because of it,” says Christine Carter from The Greater Good. She explains that the stress we experience as a result of adversity—and how we respond to that stress—tends to predict how much we will benefit from it. The individuals who benefit and grow the most are NOT the ones who are able to avoid the stress. Those who grow the most are the ones who may be shaken up, and then grow as a result.

In my experience, I would agree that people I have known who have overcome cancer or faced dire circumstances often have a unique perspective and wisdom about what is truly important.

And many of the couples I interviewed for First Kiss to Lasting Bliss experienced a great amount of adversity but grew together as a result. That is not to say your spouse must be your only support system in times of stress and need—certainly not. Friends, family, pastors, doctors, neighbors and others in your life often want to help when you are facing a tough time, and they can be part of the learning and growth process when we are ready to make those advances.

It kind of stinks that it takes tough times to truly grow and appreciate the good times, but isn’t that truly the case?

If day-to-day stress is affecting your marriage due to over-scheduling, family conflict, household disorganization, etc., then take action to address the issues. This kind of stress will deplete health reserves and will rarely offer growth opportunities.

What has caused the most growth in your marriage?

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.