Category Archives: Happiness

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

Looking for happiness in all the wrong places

dancing couple morguefileWhat are you looking for in your life and marriage to make you happy? Researchers have done a lot of work analyzing particular kinds of goals and whether they led people to happiness. They found that those with “intrinsic goals” (i.e. deep relationships, personal growth) tended to be happier than those with “extrinsic goals” (i.e. wealth, fame). It appears Americans are looking for happiness in all the wrong places.

Arthur Brooks detailed multiple studies in his article for the New York Times called “Love People, Not Pleasure.” For example, psychologists have concluded through many studies that people who rate materialistic goals like wealth as a top priority are significantly more likely to be anxious, more depressed, and frequent drug users, as well as to have more physical ailments than those who are seeking intrinsic goals.

A 2009 study by the University of Rochester looked at 147 graduates’ success in reaching their stated goals. They found graduates who were pursuing extrinsic goals experienced more negative emotions, such as shame and fear, as well as more physical maladies. Whether it’s popularity on social media, or to become famous or rich, their goals ended up making the subjects less happy rather than making them feel fulfilled. Career success, power, or self-promotion are other common extrinsic goals. Graduates who were seeking intrinsic goals were associated with happier lives.

After finding that neither fame nor materialistic success fulfilled people and made them happy, Brooks assessed whether lust might do the trick. Does experiencing a variety of sexual pleasure make people happy? Brooks cites a 2004 study in which economists analyzed whether more sexual variety led to greater well-being. Data included 16,000 Americans who were asked confidentially how many sex partners they had in the previous year, as well as their happiness levels. For both women and men, researchers concluded the optimal number of partners to experience happiness is one. In other words, the happiest people had only one sex partner in the previous year. (This is certainly contrary to our culture’s and media’s messages.)

So why do we as a society pursue lust, materialism, power and fame if they don’t lead to happiness? Brooks suggests that just because something feels good doesn’t mean it will fulfill you. Many of those instincts may only be residual desires based on our need to pass on DNA. “If you conflate intergenerational survival with well-being, that’s your problem,” he says.

“If it feels good, do it,” is bad advice from idiots in society, he adds. It may lead you to pass on your genetic material, but it won’t lead to a feeling of long-term well-being.

But there’s more to our longings. We are dissatisfied; want more from life. We aren’t sure what the problem or the solution may be. “Without a great deal of reflection and spiritual hard work, the likely candidates seem to be material things, physical pleasures or favor among friends and strangers,” says Brooks. But it is never enough.

This leads us to Brooks’ formulas for life: To love things and use people—this is a deadly formula too often attempted in the search for happiness. “You know in your heart that it is morally disordered and a likely road to misery,” says Brooks. An example is using people to find a better job, a bigger house, or greater influence.

Invert that advice to find the virtuous formula: Love people, use things. This means placing love above pride, only denying love to things that are actually objects; condemning materialism; and being skeptical of our own desires. It means using things to express your love rather than to fill an emptiness. It means seeking spiritual and emotional maturity so that we can have mature, meaningful relationships.

Apply this formula to your marriage and your life to find deeper fulfillment.

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

Marriage offers proven benefits to both men and women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is your parenting style destroying your marriage?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big wedding = happy marriage…and other recent findings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do millennials want marriage without commitment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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