Category Archives: Communication

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.

Marriage Negotiating Tips from FBI Top Negotiator

dog fight morguefileI came across this Forbes article that gleaned negotiation and communication tips from Gary Noesner, former Chief Negotiator for the FBI, a man who talked many a deranged individual out of their destructive plans, including David Koresh.

I was intrigued by the concept of the Paradox of Power he discusses. This means the harder you push, the more likely you are to be met with resistance. I think we know this deep down, and we display defensiveness and push-back when others come at us in an attacking manner. Yet, we sometimes forget that the key to a successful negotiation or outcome is often in the way we approach our spouse or coworker or child or boss or whomever we have an issue with. Instead of a calm, conciliatory manner, we may approach in an angry or hostile manner. Displaying power may work well in the animal kingdom to throw off predators, but it doesn’t work too well in family life.

What works? Staying calm. Listening. Acknowledging. Then moving forward toward a solution. Noesner says it very well here:

“If the communication skills we developed in the crisis negotiation arena are successful in convincing the most desperate people in the world to cooperate with a 90% success rate, then surely some of these you know active listening skills, these de-escalating cooperation building skills certainly have applicability in the world of business and in people’s personal and family lives. If you’ve got somebody you’re dealing with that’s angry, remain calm and in self-control, listen carefully, and acknowledge their point of view. Then, once you have a calmer atmosphere, you can work towards resolving the problem satisfactorily. I think that is a tremendous diffusing tool that people can use.”

I’m certainly going to try to take his advice to heart. What communication strategies seem to work best in your marriage? Do you find they help you at work also?

Photo courtesy of morguefile.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.

The Parenting Lesson that Works Wonders in Marriage

blogpicSometimes a great parenting technique works wonders in marriage, too. Not that we should treat our spouses like children—we shouldn’t. But it’s more a reflection that children’s needs are in fact human needs. A need recognized in children often exists in adults as well.

Case in point, Seattle marriage therapist Claire Hatch, LICSW, recently wrote “Marriage Advice You Can Learn from Your Kids.” Her advice struck a chord with me both in how I should interact with my children and with my spouse, particularly when expressing a problem or complaint.

She explains that a child who thinks she is “bad” is not going to be interested in self-improvement. Instead, when she is treated like a “bad girl” or criticized, “she has to raise her defensive walls high to protect her ego from messages that feel critical. Which means she’s not really listening to you.”

That comment was a strong reminder to me that the way in which we complain or criticize may in fact be closing the other person off to us. We may be ensuring that they don’t listen to us, which is of course the opposite of what we want. Bad feelings may turn into hopelessness and a lack of motivation to change.

On the other hand, if the child feels loved and accepted, she can relax that defensive wall and hear you out. Your suggestions just might make it through that wall.

While our spouse is hopefully more emotionally mature than a child, he or she still has the need to feel appreciated, accepted and loved. But when we’re upset, we don’t communicate any of these. (Well, maybe you’re better than I am.) We usually just focus on our criticism or complaint.

What your spouse might conclude when hearing regular criticism is “I can’t make her happy,” or even “I’m a failure as a husband,” says Hatch. While you need to address issues in marriage, you’ll be much more effective in getting your spouse to listen if your loving messages outweigh your critical messages, she adds.

Her ideas for you to try to soften criticism include:

1. Verbalize appreciation regularly so the criticism comes off as less harsh.

2. Be curious and invested in what is on your partner’s to-do list, supporting and helping him or her as a loving spouse.

3. When raising a complaint, verbalize the difficulties you recognize your spouse faces.

What do you think? Are there other parenting tricks that you use in your marriage?

Check out Claire’s web site at http://www.clairehatch.comand read her full article at Marriage Advice You Can Learn from Your Kids.

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.

Minimizing the Combat Zone in Your Marriage

man woman on beach morguefileWe all have our negative patterns in marriage that may be based on our personality tendencies and our common reactions to one another. I found a recent New York Times article that provided some helpful hints for avoiding the “combat zone” or at least minimizing it.

Counselors teach conflict resolution skills and better communication skills, because they know sometimes the way we react or even phrase something can make a big difference in the outcome of what can become a heated conversation. Conflict isn’t always to be avoided; in fact, it can help bring us closer when used appropriately. So, here are the tips from Bruce Feiler who wrote “Lessons in Domestic Diplomacy” for the NYT:

  1. Beware of the transitions in your day. The times when people are either coming or going are the source of the biggest fights within families, say researchers. For example, getting yourselves and/or your children ready to head out the door, or coming in after a long day of work, wondering what will be for dinner and who will be making it. These are the vulnerable times. The “most highly charged” time of day was between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. So, give one another a bit of space and time and don’t bring up difficult topics until things are calm.
  2. Sit at the same level, with the same posture. This is important, particularly if one partner tends to adopt a “power position” i.e. in a higher chair, standing over the other, or with laced fingertips behind the head and feet up. Higher positions create elevated testosterone, reduced cortisol and increased feelings of superiority.  On the flip side, sometimes a spouse adopts a frequent “lower position” i.e. slumped, slouched, or arms crossed. Instead, sit alongside your spouse in your discussions.
  3. Select your seating surface well. Researchers found when people sit on a soft, cushioned chair, they are more accommodating and generous, while those who sat on a hard wooden chair were more rigid and inflexible.
  4. Go to the balcony. When things begin to escalate, imagine in your mind that you are on a balcony overlooking your interaction, suggests Bill Ury, founder of a Harvard program on peace negotiations. From the “balcony” you can see the macro view, calm yourself down, and see alternatives that you might not see if you didn’t disengage. Often there are other alternatives you haven’t considered. “The goal is to expand the pie before dividing it,” says Ury.
  5. Keep it short. The most important points in an argument are found in the opening minutes. After that, it’s just repetition and escalation. So say what you need to say, then take a short break or walk to prevent the escalation.
  6. Avoid saying “you always” and “you never.” In fact, switch from “you” to “we” so that you don’t sound so accusatory.
  7. Say you’re sorry, and most importantly, take responsibility for your choices/actions, even if you aren’t feeling very sorry during the argument.

What tips do you have to keep your disagreements from creating divisions in your family?

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.

Don’t be Afraid to Underachieve in Life to Better Achieve in Your Family Life: Lessons from a former Indpls Colt

smith-hunter-01Last week, I attended a talk in Indianapolis given by former NFL punter Hunter Smith and his wife, Jen. One of his biggest messages was this headline. The former Colt advises those who want to be good spouses and parents to not be afraid to underachieve by the world’s standards, in order to make the time to succeed in your family life.

“I’m never going to be all I could be, and I don’t want to be. In America that’s counter-cultural,” says the former Indianapolis Colt. “Achieve in your marriage and with your children, and not in what the world expects of you.”

Other pieces of advice from their talk at Better Together included:

  1. Keep good company—trusted friends who will help keep you from making wrong decisions.
  2. Be who you say you are—live your life well.
  3. Understand that men have the tendency to be lustful and passive, while women have the tendency to be controlling. As men, don’t abdicate leadership in the home.
  4. Be willing to show your true self to your spouse.
  5. Be willing to share each of your needs honestly with one another.
  6. Place your spouse’s needs above yours. If you both practice giving, you will both receive more.

Hunter and Jen have four children, and they aren’t afraid to “miss opportunities” for their kids to develop in sports or other areas. Instead, they focus on the priorities of their family and their faith life.

Hunter shared openly about life in the NFL both with the Colts and with the Washington Redskins. He also expressed how much impact one person can have, using the example of Tony Dungy changing the culture of the Indianapolis Colts team by calling all the players to be authentic men full of strong character.

You can read here in an Indianapolis Star article about how Hunter calls the life of NFL athletes “tragic” with false images and frequent divorces and bankruptcy following the end of their football career. Hunter took a different path and retired to follow his interest in music and singing. His wife shares his love of singing.

Is his advice to underachieve difficult to hear, especially from someone who at one time made a multi-million dollar annual salary and who has a Super Bowl ring? My opinion is that he seems genuinely interested in using his platform to share the lessons he has learned. What are your thoughts on the other suggestions?

My next post will be about how earning more money does not usually make us happier. Instead, working more takes time away from activities that would probably give us more happiness.

Photo credit: Indianolis Colts

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.

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.