Category Archives: Marriage Research

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.

Why this may be the most important week of the year for your marriage

heart of seaweed  morguefileDo you think it’s a coincidence that National Marriage Week (Feb 7-14) and Random Acts of Kindness Week (Feb. 9-15) overlap this year? If it is a coincidence, it’s a happy coincidence and a reminder that daily acts of kindness are essential to a happy marriage.

I prefer the term “deliberate acts of kindness” rather than “random” ones, because if we are not deliberate about acts of kindness, they just don’t happen. Even if you want to turn your acts of kindness toward random people, you still have to be deliberate about it don’t you? Otherwise you’ll get distracted by your busy day and your “top priorities”. Your spouse deserves your special efforts both to be kind and to do kind things for them. Make a list of three small acts of kindness you can do for your sweetheart this week. Then, later brainstorm things you can do on a monthly basis. (Read Researchers say successful marriages come down to kindness.)

While we are on the subject of February holidays, Valentine’s Day is the most obvious. Even if you wanted to forget it, the flood of red and pink hearts at the grocery store will be an overt reminder. But don’t let the singles have all the fun. Remember it’s an opportunity to communicate your love, and it doesn’t have to be celebrated on Feb. 14th.

Rather than thinking about these separate holidays as items to be checked off a list with gifts to buy and actions to take, think of February as a time to take stock of your marriage and determine if romance, kindness and thoughtfulness are a part of your usual week. How were the holidays for your family? Are you spending time together each day, with a larger block of time each week, such as a date night? Is your home a happy place for your family to be? I know I often worry more about getting everything done than making sure I have positive interactions.

Talk about these things with your spouse. Discuss ideas for making things better, but don’t place blame.

If you’re having a night at home for Valentine’s Day, consider reading your marriage vows or looking at your wedding pictures. Similar to a company reviewing their mission statement; it might help you stay on track and recall your promises. (Check out Do you wish Valentine’s Day never existed?)

If you haven’t had much time together, ask yourselves if you could make a marriage retreat or weekend getaway a reality. For those with children at home, is there a family member or close friend who could manage them for a night or two? Offer to do the same for them if they have children.

Be as deliberate and non-random in your marriage as you possibly can, being generous in your time and thoughtfulness throughout the year.

“I didn’t marry you because you were perfect. I didn’t even marry you because I loved you. I married you because you gave me a promise. That promise made up for your faults. And the promise I gave you made up for mine. Two imperfect people got married and it was the promise that made the marriage. And when our children were growing up, it wasn’t a house that protected them; and it wasn’t our love that protected them–it was that promise.” –Thornton Wilder, The Skin of Our Teeth

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.

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