Category Archives: Marriage Research

Join your Partner to Achieve Fitness & Health Goals

walker morguefileI admit it, I feel guilty when my husband goes out for a five-mile run and has a healthy dinner. The next day I’m likely to put in a few miles myself. When he skips dessert, I don’t usually order it either. But when he’s indulging in some peanut M&Ms, you can bet I’m right there with him. It turns out my experience is a lot like other couple’s experiences in that our partner’s fitness and health behaviors rub off on us.

A British study published by BBC News explored how big of an effect partners have on negative health behaviors. For four years, researchers tracked 3,700 couples aged 50 and older who had some unhealthy behaviors. They noted if any of them had quit smoking, lost weight or become more active. They found if one partner engaged in healthier behaviors, the other was likely to make the same change. For example, a smoker whose partner quit was 10 times more likely to quit smoking as well. A couch potato partner who became active greatly increased the likelihood that their partner would also be more active.

This may be one of the reasons happily married or cohabiting people have a lower risk of heart disease and better cancer outcomes. Having support from someone close to you appears to help a lot, even if that person is a friend.

The study did not examine whether unhealthy partners can drag you down, but it makes sense that partners would influence us in both directions. This may be a key reason people achieve or fail at New Year’s health resolutions.

So if you are hoping your spouse will make more positive health changes, one of the best things you can do is engage in healthy behaviors yourself. That in itself is a great driver. You can also invite them to participate in an activity together. I might complain when my husband drags me out on a cold Indiana winter walk, but I’m usually glad after we got the exercise and fresh air.

And then we can justify dessert.

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.

Why divorce rates are declining

love tiles ring PixabayDivorce is on the decline according to new research announced in the New York Times. Rates have been declining for three decades, after peaking in the 70s and 80s. “The divorce surge is over,” says the paper.

That’s the good news. However, marriage itself is experiencing a significant decline.

Still, good news is good news, and additional reasons are given for the decline in divorce. These include:
*later marriages, which appear to be more stable;
*fewer couples choosing to marry, and the ones who do make the commitment are serious about marriage;
*less stringent gender roles with more sharing of child care and home care; and
*more couples choosing to marry for love (say the researchers).

There’s another caveat though. The divorce decline is concentrated among people with college degrees. Of the college educated couples who married in the early 2000s, 11 percent had divorced by year seven of their marriage. Of couples without college degrees married around the same time, 17% divorced by year 7. These rates are still probably lower than you thought, though, with the pop culture myth commonly repeated that “half of all marriages end in divorce.” Not even close.

As a result of fewer divorces, many more children may be able to witness their parents’ stable marriages and perhaps learn how to create their own stable families. On the flip side, simultaneously, a record number of children are being raised in one-parent homes—by both never-marrieds and divorced parents.

Unfortunately, poverty rates and income inequality can become huge problems for children in single-parent homes. According to the National Survey of Children’s Health report, only 6 percent of children in married-couple homes have no parent who works full-time. For kids being raised by never-married single mothers, the comparable figure is 46 percent. The Boston Globe provides details in “Two Parent Families have Decreased, and Economic Inequality Grows.”

We’ll take the good news, but keep in mind we have some work to do before we can claim family stability.

Still, don’t believe the hype that marriages are doomed to fail or that most of them fail. Work to make yours a success. And remember, the good news isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, particularly for those in the lower economic and educational spectrum.

For more details, read “The Divorce Surge is Over, but the Myth Lives On” from the NYT.

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.

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

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

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

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