Category Archives: Marriage Research

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

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

Think of your sweetie, and boost your mood

love on hand by David Castillo Dominici freedigitalphotos.netWhen you spend time thinking about your romantic partner/spouse, your body chemistry is positively impacted, say researchers from Western University.

Study participants got a boost in blood sugar/glucose levels by just thinking of their partner, giving them a boost in energy and happiness. It wasn’t just people in the early stages of young romance who experienced these benefits; long-term relationships and marriages benefited as well.

If we think about our romantic partner, we get a boost in glucose and a boost in our mood. And those who get a boost of glucose are the ones feeling really happy, explains psychology researcher Sarah Stanton. The researchers call the effect eustress, positive, euphoric stress.

Stanton explains, “It seems that no matter how long you’ve been with your partner or how happy you are or how old you are, if you think about them … you can still get that little stress response.”

These results are added to findings that thoughts about love stimulate cortisol and bring health benefits.

I wonder if the researchers considered only happy relationships in this study, because it seems couples who are having difficulty may not be able to get this easy boost. For example, if thinking of your partner reminds you of your most recent argument, it may negate the eustress effect.

However, it seems like good news that a zero-calorie, zero-side effect method could bring about these pleasant results, at least for many couples. Give it a try, focusing on positive aspects of your spouse, and see if you agree.

Read the last post about how letting glucose levels fall can impact your relationship.

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for more than 18 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

Great news about marriages: 80% are happy

wedding kiss morguefileWhat if I could snap my fingers and make 80 percent of marriages happy? And cut the divorce rate for first time marriages in half? Consider it done.

What if everything you thought you knew about marriage statistics was wrong?

How often have you heard people—journalists and even counselors and pastors—cite the 50 percent failure rate in marriage? The true divorce rate is much lower and always has been. What percentage of marriages do you think are happy?

Harvard researcher Shaunti Feldhahn and her husband Jeff were marriage counselors and authors who used to cite incorrect data that is commonly bandied about. After being unable to support the data, they spent eight years digging through complicated marriage research and revealed the results in their new book, The Good News About Marriage.

They report that between 20 and 25 percent of first marriages end in divorce. While this is more than we would like, it’s better than what most believe. Divorce rates are even lower among active churchgoers, whose chance of divorcing is more likely in the single digits or teens. (Active churchgoers have divorce rates 27 to 50 percent lower than non-churchgoers, they say.)

The 50 percent divorce rate commonly cited came from projections of what researchers thought the divorce rate would be come if they stayed on trend in the 70s and early 80s. However, those numbers were never realized, and the estimates stuck in popular culture.

BIG problems resulted from this false assumption. First, many couples avoid marriage entirely because of their incorrect belief that half (or more) of marriages fail, AND that those who do stay together are mostly unhappy. Why bother? Popular belief is that only 30 percent of marriages are happy. Again…wrong. Four out of five marriages are happy. And even for those who are unhappy, the researchers point out that if they stay married for five years, almost 80 percent of them will be happy five years later.

Second, the high (false) rates of marital failure cause a sense of hopelessness among couples who struggle. If they feel a happy marriage is not attainable, they may throw in the towel.

“That sense of futility itself pulls down marriages,” Feldhahn said. “And the problem is we have this culture-wide feeling of futility about marriage. It’s based on all those discouraging beliefs and many of them just aren’t true.”

She hopes that these new insights will give couples hope that they can be successful. Indeed, they have a good chance at being successful.

Changing the way we think about marriage and talk about marriage is meaningful and helpful. When you hear discouraging comments about marriage, Feldhahn says we need to say, “No, wait. Most
marriages are strong and happy for a lifetime.”

When a friend is struggling in his or her marriage, remind them that the odds are in their favor. Change the conversation in your corner of the world to shed light on these false assumptions.

Source: Divorce Shocker: Most Marriages Do Make It, CBN News

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for more than 18 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 does your spouse think about sex so much more/less than you do?

candles by Christ Sharp at freedigitalphotos.netMany couples blame vastly different libidos for a variety of marriage problems. Some who have higher levels of desire use it to excuse the use of pornography or straying from their marriage vows. Others have an underlying current of conflict due to this difference. It is more than possible to live happily in marriage with a difference in levels of desire.

In The Passion Principles, author Shannon Ethridge shared some helpful insights and suggestions on the issue. Often, it is the man with the higher desire, but sometimes it is the wife, so she is careful not to stereotype. The mismatched sex drive is the issue, not which spouse is higher or lower.

First, related to why this difference in libido frequently occurs, both spouses may find their libido goes up and down depending on stage of life, level of health, hormones, focus on work or kids, and many other factors.

They key to surviving the fluctuating seasons and pendulum swings from one extreme to the other, says Ethridge is NOT to take it personally. “If you are the one feeling the sting of rejection, it is most likely not about you at all. And if you are the one experiencing a temporary lull in your libido, it is not a sign that your relationship is sinking like the Titanic. Most likely, these difference in sexual thought patterns have more to do with hormone production than anything else, and hormone production is not always something we are able to control,” she says.

Ethridge cites brain research by Dr. Louann Brizendine to explain some biological reasons men generally have higher levels of desire. These include:
1. The sex-related centers of the male brain are twice as large as those of the female brain (explaining why men think about sex more frequently).
2. Testosterone is the hormone responsible for fueling sexual thoughts, and men produce between 10 times and 100 times more of it than do females.
3. Men’s response to stress leads them to think about sex more often. Women’s response to stress is to produce more cortisol, which shuts down their desire for sex and physical touch.

This third point should be very important to both men who want their wives to desire sex more, and to women who wish their libido was higher. The woman needs to have the house, the kids, and the work stress under control to be able to relax and have the cortisol levels come down. That is likely why women frequently say they could enjoy sex more if their husbands helped more in the home. It’s not just a quid pro quo sort of comment, it’s an explanation of how she functions. If the husband can’t or won’t help out in the areas causing too much stress, it may be worthwhile to hire some help if it is financially feasible. It may be a good investment in your love life.

In addition to these differences, our hormone levels change after we have been together for a while. During the passion phase (lasting maybe 6 months or as long as two years), we have high levels of bonding hormones dopamine and oxytocin. Eventually those fall to lower levels as our relationship matures. We simply can’t expect the passionate feelings to be as high as during the honeymoon phase, but that doesn’t mean sex isn’t an important part of the marriage.

Ethridge shares advice from her personal experience that couples don’t need to only have sex when they both have high levels of desire. Instead, she says it’s great to use sex as a way to de-stress from a difficult workday, to use it to recharge your batteries when feeling lethargic, to help celebrate all good news (from a promotion to answered prayer), to provide sexual intimacy when one spouse or both are feeling blue, to bring one another comfort, and of course as a release from sexual desire.

“Thinking of sex has become a way of bonding ourselves together in a very intimate, powerful way—through both the good times and bad,” says Ethridge.

Many people who comment here on the blog say have great difficulty understanding their spouse’s way of thinking about sex. Do you feel that understanding the biological difference helps you understand your partner’s viewpoint? Has differing sexual desire been a frequent conversation or conflict in your marriage? Marriage therapists can help couples understand one another’s needs and feelings about the issue if it is causing considerable trouble for you. Do you have similar levels of desire? Do you find that is unusual? Whatever your situation, don’t give up hope in finding common ground on this issue.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.
Photo courtesy of http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

How to be a better marriage helper

friends talkingAlmost three-fourths of adults have been marriage confidants, according to a USA Today survey of 1,000 adults aged 25 to 70. More women (78%) than men (69%) have had a friend or family member confide in them about their marriage or long-term relationship struggles.

In fact, most people (64%) would rather confide in a trusted friend or family member than in a professional. Less than half would talk to a professional counselor (47%) and still fewer would confide in a member of the clergy (37%).

With this being the case, a program was unveiled a few months ago to help individuals gain the skills and knowledge to best support marriages around them. Because, honestly, it’s not always easy to know what to say or do when someone comes to you with a marital issue that is bothering them.

The program, called Marital First Responders, was developed by William Doherty, a longtime marriage and family therapist. He says that while not everyone is “qualified” to help someone through a rough patch in the marriage, even basic skills can be helpful. In addition, the training helps the “helper” to know where to set boundaries and direct the person or couple to a professional. Doherty says he called it first responder as a reminder to not get in over your head. (A first responder helps stabilize a situation then refers someone for professional treatment.)

You are a marital responder if:
-Friends, family members, and coworkers confide in you about their marital struggles.
-You enjoy the role of confidant, though it may be stressful or frustrating at times.
-You are sympathetic to the ordinary struggles of married life.
-You don’t run the other way then a problem comes up.
-You know you aren’t a marriage counselor, but would love to be more helpful to married people in your life.

Here are a few tips to be a better confidant if a friend or family member talks to you about a marriage issue:
1. Listen for feelings, not just complaints.
2. Empathize without taking sides.
3. Affirm strengths in the confider and in the marriage/relationship.
4. Offer perspective as someone who cares about them and their marriage.
5. Challenge with gentleness and firmness.
6. Offer resources when more help is needed.
Source: William Doherty, psychologist, marriage and family therapist

There are risks associated with getting family or friends involved in marital discord. One problem is that the couple may not receive effective assistance in a timely manner. Another risk is that the confidant takes the side of their loved one (instead of the marriage) and by doing so may worsen the situation by adding to the divide. So, if someone does confide in you (particularly an adult child, sibling or close friend), be careful not to take their side; instead, try to remain objective and supportive.

The top 5 marital issues that are brought up to a confidant (from the USA Today survey):
Growing apart—68%
Not enough attention—63%
Money—60%
Not able to talk together—60%
Spouse’s personal habits—59%

If you have marriage issues of your own you want to discuss, choose carefully whom you decide to confide in, and ask yourself if it wouldn’t be safer to talk to a professional than risk making that person jaded against your spouse in the future.

If you are interested in training in the Marital First Responders Course, Doherty is making some in-person classes available in different cities—the next one is in April in St. Paul, Minn.—and interactive online webinars are available.

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

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com