Category Archives: Happiness

Are Society’s Standards Hurting Your Marriage?

cruise ship morguefileI recently read about a family’s decision to leave an expensive city lifestyle and move to a rural, laid back community to reduce stress and have more time together. It was a reminder that our lives are full of choices, and that our lifestyle is not a permanent decision. Societal standards for most Americans are putting an immense strain on families and marriages; many couples are too exhausted for physical and emotional intimacy.

The pressure to live in a large home filled with expensive furniture, to wear fashionable clothes, to send children to the best schools with private lessons, and to take nice vacations and drive new cars contributes to a perceived need to work longer hours and attain promotions. Many couples believe they can’t live on one salary, even when one of the salaries is quite high. High-end desires are promoted by the culture (through advertising, movies, Facebook, etc.) and lead to either debt or the need to earn more. The result: increased stress, and less time.

Families with children have to face additional societal pressures to join artistic, educational, and athletic teams and activities. A generation ago, a baseball team would practice perhaps one day a week in addition to a weekend game. Today’s sports teams often require daily practices and most of the weekend. Many kids I know practice before and after school every day, plus weekends. Ballet, piano, swim, French, band, soccer—the options are endless and costly, and the pressure to join starts very early. Family time suffers, and budgets are strained. Parents often divide on weekends to cover all the activities, making weekends as much work as the weekday.

Where does the marriage fit in when you haven’t had time to connect during the week or the weekend? Resentment can build when one or both spouses feel they are doing more (of the childcare, of the chores, or earning the money).

If only one spouse is working, he or she may feel compelled to focus on work to fulfill the family’s needs and wants. A lack of connection can develop if not enough time is spent with one’s spouse and family, hurting the relationship and getting in the way of a good sex life.

Millennials are starting to pave the way with prioritizing work/life balance above climbing the corporate ladder. Building balance into our lives allows us to nurture our relationships.

There’s nothing wrong with living in a nice home, driving a nice car, and taking your kids to soccer practice. However, if societal pressures are preventing a quality family life, consider what changes could be made. Are you willing to live in a smaller house to have more time together? Could you drop out of some activities and have more free time together?

When my family found ourselves spread too thin and separating for sporting activities on the weekend, we pulled my son out of the travel soccer team. Instead, we found ourselves enjoying relaxing Saturdays as a family, and able to go to church at our regular time on Sunday. We adjusted our lives so that I could work part-time, allowing me to do much of the shopping, laundry and chores during the week.

I don’t think we have won the battle against all of society’s expectations. One struggle we often have is the high volume of homework and studying our kids complete each night, sometimes requiring our support. The pressure to help our kids succeed is high and time consuming. This stress can also bleed into the marriage relationship and keep us from having time to relax as a couple.

We are blessed to have our children at home, and we also look forward to different phases of our lives. To be successful and have a happy marriage once our children are gone, we need to make time and space for one another now. We make frequent changes to try to achieve better balance, and at least question the activities in which we are involved. Balance is a moving target.

If you think your marriage is getting put on the back burner, sit down individually and as a couple to determine what changes are possible to give you more of the life you want.

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.

Avoid Cognitive Traps for a Happy Life and Marriage

memory morguefileBeing happy in your life and being happy with your life are two different things. The former has to do with the actual experience, and the latter equates to the memory or conclusion of events. For example, most women aren’t happy during childbirth, but they are very happy having given birth.

We can become confused between these “cognitive traps” according to Daniel Kahneman. (Check out his TED Talk here if you like.) He calls confusion between the events and our memories of them a “focusing illusion”. Experiencing 20 minutes of a glorious symphony that ends on a dreadful note can distort our memory of the night.

I can relate to focusing illusion, because a few years ago I had an amazing vacation with the ladies in my family at a resort in Mexico. The week after we returned home, the resort violently exploded from a gas leak, killing many (newlyweds, children, employees, and more) who stood right where we had stood. So, the memory of that trip is now marred for me, but the experience was a good one.

In the same way, we can overlook a good evening with our spouse with a small argument at the end of the night. Our negative emotions are stronger and more likely to overshadow the positive ones. A nice dinner out can be ruined by a sarcastic remark or offhanded comment. Our memory of the event overtakes the experience.

Kahneman explains that the difference between experiencing suffering and the memory of that suffering is how things end. I interviewed a husband who spent years overcoming his drug addiction. He was separated from his wife and son and suffered greatly, as did they. However, after getting clean and rebuilding his marriage he says everything he went through got him to where they are today. So their memory of the suffering is tempered by their happy reconciliation.

Time certainly affects our memory of experiences. We make decisions about the future based on these distorted memories. When we think about the future, we often think in terms of anticipated memories, for example what it will feel like to be retired or have grandchildren.

Conflict can exist between the “remembering self” and the “experiencing self”. I recall having a great time in Rome last summer, but I experienced a great deal of exhaustion and some ill health during my trip. My memories fade the negatives away based on the photos and stories we tell. Kahneman asks, if you were told after a two-week vacation that all of your photos would be destroyed and your memories would be deleted, would you choose a different vacation? Would your spouse? If so then there’s the conflict or rub.

How pleased and satisfied you are with your overall life is much more important than how happy you are during each minute of your daily life—meaning vs. pleasure. People rate their happiness much higher when they have greater meaning in their life.

Other things that affect your happiness:
1. Spend time with the people you love and like. This has a high contributor to happiness according to researchers. Of course, spending more time with your spouse will also help you have a better marriage, and that will help you be happier as well!
2. Climate is not very important to happiness (even though I complain about the cold incessantly). Interestingly, people often move to find a better climate, then recalling the terrible winters where they used to live, they rate their current happiness level higher.
3. More money doesn’t buy more happiness. Incomes below $60,000 are related to lower happiness levels. However, higher income levels don’t equate to higher happiness levels.
4. Recall happy memories with your spouse—your engagement, dating life, wedding day, children’s births, celebrations and holidays. By focusing on these positive emotions, you can balance out those small negative things that can happen in your day, like forgetting to run an errand.
5. Remember the meaning and purpose in your life. Changing diapers may not be fun, but being a parent brings tremendous long-term joy. Sacrificing for your spouse may not be easy, but building a great marriage is very rewarding.

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.

Will men helping with chores lead to more action in bedroom?

vacuum morguefileResearch shows that when men do their share of the chores, divorce rates are lower, their partners are happier and less depressed, the relationship has fewer conflicts, and they tend to have more sex. The last point seems to be the most written about, as in “help with the laundry to get more sex.” More on that in a bit.

Being an active, involved father has its own share of benefits, both for men and their children. Participating in childcare helps to make Dads more patient and empathic, and it reduces rates of substance abuse in men. Fatherhood is correlated with lower blood pressure and less cardiovascular disease. Active fathers in Fortune 500 companies have higher job satisfaction. (See NYT article below.)

Benefits to children of involved fathers are numerous: fewer behavioral problems, more likely to succeed, happier kids. Dads who do an equal share of housework demonstrate to daughters that they shouldn’t limit themselves to stereotypically female jobs. “For a girl to see that she has the same opportunities as boys, it makes a big difference to see Dad doing the dishes,” say Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant in the New York Times article “How men can succeed in the boardroom and the bedroom.”

With all these advantages, it’s a wonder that husbands everywhere aren’t tripping over themselves to load the dishwasher and vacuum the family room. However, it’s the talk of “choreplay” that leads some women feeling a little less than, umm, satisfied.

The latest high-profile conversations are telling men that helping out in the kitchen will lead to greater action in the bedroom. And maybe it will. But probably not if they are looking at it in a quid-pro-quo fashion.

Jessica Valenti explains the rub in her article “Women don’t need ‘choreplay’. They need men to do some chores.” She explains,” My husband does not do laundry because he wants to have sex. He does the laundry for the same reason I imagine most people do: because the clothes are dirty.”

Men should be involved in the home and promoting domestic equality because it’s the right thing to do—not as an incentive for sex, she explains. While the laundry-for-sex campaign is meant to be cute, Valenti says “in a culture where men are already taught to feel entitled to women sexually, I don’t find it cute in the least.” In addition, it creates a transactional view of sex within the relationship. (Should women also provide sex for new furniture?) It also communicates that the responsibility for all the chores was on the woman in the first place.

The truth about what women want is closer to this: women don’t want to be so exhausted with work and home responsibilities that they no longer have energy for sex. They are turned on by loving men who view them as equals and want to be helpful at home and supportive of their efforts outside the home.

So, yeah, husbands should help in the kitchen. But not as an exchange for sex in the bedroom. Helping with the kids and in the home is the responsibility of both partners. Men who do their share of chores will have happier wives, fewer conflicts, lower rates of divorce, and yeah, probably more sex. Go forth and vacuum.

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.

Researchers find a huge advantage to friendship in marriage

happy young couple morguefileMore benefits to being married have been revealed, especially if you’re married to your best friend. The National Bureau of Economic Research has found more reasons to get and stay married—and they don’t all have to do with economics.

Their findings suggest that marrying your best friend can give you greater life satisfaction and help you navigate the stresses of life, cushioning the difficult periods. The economists controlled for pre-marriage happiness levels to separate the issues of whether marrying actually makes people happier or whether happier people are more likely to marry. They found the former was true.

People who are married are happier and more satisfied with their lives on average than are people who stay single. This is especially true during times of stress, such as during a midlife crisis.

They confirmed that college educated individuals with higher incomes are more likely to get and stay married (we knew that). Researchers further added that married couples gain family stability, financial stability, higher happiness levels and lower stress.

Happiness levels were maintained long-term, not just immediately after the marriage, particularly when couples found friendship as well as love in their marriage. As marriage has changed in recent decades, spouses have broadened their roles from merely economic and social partnerships and have become friends and companions as well as lovers. The researchers found the benefits of marital friendship were greatest during middle age, when demands of career and family are high and life satisfaction tends to ebb.

Some interesting conclusions:
*Individuals who consider their spouse to be their best friend get about twice as much life satisfaction from marriage as others.

*Women benefit more from being married to their best friend, but men are more likely to call their wife their best friend.

Being married to your best friend may be a wonderful way to keep life’s stressors at bay for the long haul. Positive long-term relationships, especially marriage, can help buoy us in troubled times. Unfortunately those for whom marriage seems out of reach (financially or culturally) may be at an even greater disadvantage in life, making the bumps in the road feel that much harder. The economists wrote that those whose lives are the most difficult would benefit the most from marriage.

Read more in the New York Times: “Study Finds More Reasons to Get and Stay Married.”

Cultivate not just the love in your marriage, but also your friendship with your spouse as you grow older together. And if you’re married to your best friend, count yourself fortunate and give your spouse a big thank-you today.

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.

How to trade loneliness for connectedness, and how did we get here?

lonely person morguefileWe’ve passed the Stone Age, the Space Age, and the Digital Age. We’ve entered a post-social age our ancestors would have believed impossible. We’ve entered the Age of Loneliness. This is the age in which independence is valued over connectedness, where going it alone is the road more traveled. So argues George Monbiot in his Guardian article “The age of loneliness is killing us”.

During this holiday season, those who are lonely may feel it all the more intensely. This feeling makes us want to retreat, but instead, we need to reach out. We might be the ones offering help, or the ones asking for help. Either way, reaching out can benefit us as individuals and as a society.

Loneliness is an epidemic affecting young adults as well as older people, according to researchers. At times we may feel alone even among our family and friends or with our spouse. American society encourages isolation as a strength. We begin to believe that no one understands us—our deepest selves—and our fears and desires. Social media and the ubiquity of phones, computers, TVs, and ear buds makes true daily interaction much less likely.

The truth is we as human beings thrive on connection and are shaped by social interactions, says Monbiot. We are more alike than we care to admit. Yes we are each unique, but we are eating away at ourselves by pretending to be so different from the rest of humanity. We were not meant to cope alone, so to improve our lives, we need to focus more on truly connecting with those around us. That means putting down the phone, shutting off the TV, and opening our hearts and minds to one another. Sadly, two-fifths of older people report the TV is their principal company.

Individualism has become the American religion. Monbiot says more people less likely to talk to a higher power and more likely to seek the one-eyed TV god. More kids aspire to “become rich” than to engage in careers that serve and help others. He adds that TV encourages competition, hedonism and a drive toward materialism. Those who watch a lot of TV gain less satisfaction on the same income as those who watch a little. Further, acting in a competitive manner doesn’t make us richer. Even if it did, it wouldn’t make us happier.

The richest 1% with average net worth of $78 million reported they were filled with anxiety, dissatisfaction, and yes, loneliness. They even felt financially insecure believing that they needed 25% more to feel secure.

“For this, we have ripped the natural world apart, degraded our conditions of life, surrendered our freedoms and prospects of contentment to a compulsive, atomizing, joyless hedonism, in which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. For this, we have destroyed the essence of humanity: our connectedness,” Monbiot says.

Our efforts to turn inward and away from others has only resulted in extreme loneliness among various income and age levels. It will take strong effort for us to reach out to others in need, to make attempts to connect with our kids, our partners, our siblings, our parents, to not hide out behind our screens. It’s not easy to share your real self.

If you are feeling that no one understands you, that your spouse, your friends and your extended family aren’t connected to you at a high level, that’s a sign that you may be retreating more than reaching out. Check in on your neighbors. Ask questions about your friends’ dreams and passions. Talk to your spouse about their biggest fears and hopes. It’s amazing when we really connect with one another that we find we have more common ground than we thought.

Through your deeper connections, may you find love and joy this season.

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.

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