Category Archives: Personal Growth

How Stress Can Help Your Marriage

stress morguefile While it was not a stress-free summer for my marriage, it wasn’t a bad time either. I’ve seen several reports that indicate some stress can actually be good for us and for our marriages, and I have to say I agree in some respects.

In my case, the stressors were outside the marriage, and I think that makes a big difference in staying positive. My husband was in training in another city for several months, meaning date nights were out of the question, and even 15-minute phone calls a day were usually not available. Instead, the kids and I made the best with one or two day visits, or longer when that was possible. I think we viewed it more of a family challenge to handle the circumstances in the best way we could, knowing it would be best for the family in the long run.
Now, three months is much different than an 18-month deployment by a soldier. And unfortunately, a recent RAND Corp. study showed long and frequent deployments hurt military marriages, often leaving them feeling disillusioned. The longer the deployment, the greater the risk of divorce, it said. Often, it had to do with unmet expectations. “Couples who married before 9/11 just didn’t expect that deployments were going to be amped up,” said the study author. Read the study details here. Thankfully, resources are available to help support military marriages, as well as help from family and friends.

Other stressful events that can impact marriages may have to do with traumatic life-events, which 75 percent of us face at one time in our lives. In fact, in a given year, 20 percent of people are likely to experience some kind of a trauma in their life, according to The Greater Good Science Company. So, the odds are not in favor us living free of pain and suffering.

How can we either insulate our marriage from the negative effects of stress, or somehow extract some positive from the experience?

Be a Team
As much as I hate sports analogies, teaming up with your spouse against the problems you face is critical. None of us wants to feel alone, particularly when things are difficult. We went to be heard and have our feelings validated. We want to be encouraged and cheered on. During my husband’s stressful training, we sent him a barrage of encouraging cards and notes to let him know we were behind him. If financial stress is a problem, the couple must work together to attack it bit by bit. “We will get through this together,” is the message that is expressed, whether “this” means a serious illness, a loss of a loved one, a robbery, a job loss, etc.

One couple I interviewed who grew close after being very argumentative early in their marriage describe the shift as moving from opposite sides of the tennis net to playing side by side against an opponent. We as married people have to feel like our spouse is on our side in life.

Even if you can’t physically be together, you can feel like you’re a team, each playing an important family role, and each respected and valued.

Look for Growth Opportunities
“Our success and happiness depend on our ability not just to cope with (stress) but to actually grow because of it,” says Christine Carter from The Greater Good. She explains that the stress we experience as a result of adversity—and how we respond to that stress—tends to predict how much we will benefit from it. The individuals who benefit and grow the most are NOT the ones who are able to avoid the stress. Those who grow the most are the ones who may be shaken up, and then grow as a result.

In my experience, I would agree that people I have known who have overcome cancer or faced dire circumstances often have a unique perspective and wisdom about what is truly important.

And many of the couples I interviewed for First Kiss to Lasting Bliss experienced a great amount of adversity but grew together as a result. That is not to say your spouse must be your only support system in times of stress and need—certainly not. Friends, family, pastors, doctors, neighbors and others in your life often want to help when you are facing a tough time, and they can be part of the learning and growth process when we are ready to make those advances.

It kind of stinks that it takes tough times to truly grow and appreciate the good times, but isn’t that truly the case?

If day-to-day stress is affecting your marriage due to over-scheduling, family conflict, household disorganization, etc., then take action to address the issues. This kind of stress will deplete health reserves and will rarely offer growth opportunities.

What has caused the most growth in your marriage?

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.

Marriage Negotiating Tips from FBI Top Negotiator

dog fight morguefileI came across this Forbes article that gleaned negotiation and communication tips from Gary Noesner, former Chief Negotiator for the FBI, a man who talked many a deranged individual out of their destructive plans, including David Koresh.

I was intrigued by the concept of the Paradox of Power he discusses. This means the harder you push, the more likely you are to be met with resistance. I think we know this deep down, and we display defensiveness and push-back when others come at us in an attacking manner. Yet, we sometimes forget that the key to a successful negotiation or outcome is often in the way we approach our spouse or coworker or child or boss or whomever we have an issue with. Instead of a calm, conciliatory manner, we may approach in an angry or hostile manner. Displaying power may work well in the animal kingdom to throw off predators, but it doesn’t work too well in family life.

What works? Staying calm. Listening. Acknowledging. Then moving forward toward a solution. Noesner says it very well here:

“If the communication skills we developed in the crisis negotiation arena are successful in convincing the most desperate people in the world to cooperate with a 90% success rate, then surely some of these you know active listening skills, these de-escalating cooperation building skills certainly have applicability in the world of business and in people’s personal and family lives. If you’ve got somebody you’re dealing with that’s angry, remain calm and in self-control, listen carefully, and acknowledge their point of view. Then, once you have a calmer atmosphere, you can work towards resolving the problem satisfactorily. I think that is a tremendous diffusing tool that people can use.”

I’m certainly going to try to take his advice to heart. What communication strategies seem to work best in your marriage? Do you find they help you at work also?

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com.

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.

A Marriage with No Regrets

TearThe phone call out of nowhere. The shaking voice. The bad news comes. We’ve all been there. You will likely remember exactly where you were when you received the news. I can recall several instances of losing loved ones like this, the hardest when I lost my sister suddenly.

Last week was another time of grief for my husband and I as a good friend and fellow pilot died in his sleep while on a layover in a city far from home. We were blessed and crushed to stand with his wife, also our good friend, who is left with two young daughters. It’s a helpless feeling to know that something shocking and sad has happened, and that time cannot go back.

Thankfully, theirs was a marriage that everyone admired, full of humor and adventure. No one is perfect, but he was a father who enjoyed spending as much time with his children as possible. He was not the distracted dad staring at his cell phone. He was the fun dad, the husband who was happy to help out in the yard or the kitchen. He read books that his 12-year-old daughter enjoyed so that they could discuss them. He took his wife on many getaways, just the two of them. He spent time relaxing with his family on their pontoon boat. He made time to laugh with friends. And when he kissed his wife goodbye to leave on his last trip, he had no idea that would be their last kiss.

The point of this post is that we never know when that last day will be.

-It is our responsibility to have our affairs in order for our spouse and our children. (I wrote a post a while back on this called “What is in your legacy drawer? Are you prepared?” Please refer to it to ensure that you are prepared.)
-Take the time each day to let your loved ones, particularly your spouse, know how much they mean to you.
-Kiss hello and goodbye like you mean it.
-Invest in your marriage with time, money, and attention. It takes effort to not drift apart, but if you find yourselves drifting, get in the boat and paddle back to one another.
-Keep an eye on the big picture, and don’t let the little things get you down.
-Be prepared spiritually, mentally and physically through daily effort.
-Spread love and joy.

While we were technically “prepared” before this happened, this loss has brought about many conversations between my husband and me regarding funeral wishes and discussions about our children and assets. They aren’t easy topics, but it’s better to have them than to wonder what your spouse would have wanted. Don’t leave any regrets.

It is actually a gift to be reminded every so often that how we will be remembered has nothing to do with how much work we produce or how clean our house is or how many activities our kids are involved in. The things that often stress us out will not matter in the end. What matters is that we learned how to love.

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.

Is Your Family Choosing Money Over Time?

traffic morguefileFollowing up on the last post suggesting we “underachieve” so that we have time to achieve with our family, you might ask whether not putting most of your energies into career and financial achievement might end up reducing your happiness in the long run. In other words, won’t you be less happy with less money and/or career advancement?

It seems justifiable that we need to work enough to provide a comfortable home and to care for our family. However, many of us become competitive and want to be “the best” and to earn as much as our talent and opportunities will allow. We also decide as a family that we “need” more and more, requiring more money to satisfy these demands. Spending more time working usually means less time for your marriage and family. And if those bonds are strained, the stress will certainly mean less happiness for you.

A new study reported in CNN called “Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending” by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton finds that we often get so much in the habit of working and earning that we don’t stop to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Even wealthy people spend too much time overworking and doing things they don’t enjoy, such as driving long commutes to work. Researchers say we should use some of that money to “buy happier time.”

While we’re at it, we should ask ourselves before spending money how the purchase will affect our time. For example, buying a nicer car may seem like a great reward, but not if you have to work more hours to pay for it. Drivers get no more pleasure from commuting in an expensive car than in a cheap one. And the average American spends two hours a day just working to afford his car.

Another bad investment is an improved home entertainment system, according to researchers, who say watching TV is a clear happiness drain. On the other hand, they say investing in a dog pays off in happiness dividends, encouraging you to take daily walks and socialize with other dog owners.

I can relate to the research. Before starting my own business in 1998, I put in long hours at work, only to feel I could never get ahead of the work load. I think many Americans feel they don’t have a choice but to participate in this rat race, particularly with the weak economy.

So a focus on smarter spending of time and money on things that will improve your happiness and your family’s happiness is key. Our family enjoys time in nature, trips to the library and cooking at home. My husband has always been one to make time to enjoy life and encourages as much time together as a family as possible. If you think about your happiest memories, they probably weren’t the most expensive days of your life.

Think about ways you can spend enjoyable time with your spouse, friends, and family without spending a lot of money. Brainstorm things you’d like to do together this summer and keep the list handy. You might also want to keep a list of books or movies you’d like to enjoy together.

Do you feel like this is a difficult tradeoff for your family? Do you and your spouse agree on how to spend time and money? Feel free to share any tips you have.

For newer readers here, I’ve written lots of research articles on happiness. If you’re interested in learning more about creating a happier life and happier marriage, search the archives.

I hope you have an enjoyable Memorial Day weekend. Take time with friends and family to enjoy life and give thanks to the service men and women who helped to make our freedoms possible.

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.

Is Marriage Easy or Hard?

Easy hard by Stuart Miles freedigitalphotos.netDo you find it interesting that many marriage experts say marriage is work—maybe even hard work—while others say it should be easy? Well, which is it?

That’s why the article Making Your Marriage Easy from Hitched Magazine by Dr. Corey Allan caught my attention. Dr. Allan says he used to believe marriage was hard, but the hard part is the difficulty of interacting with an immature human; when we both act like grown ups, marriage can be easy. He says we often get bogged down with the nonessential, or lose sight of the fact that we each get to make decisions. This isn’t a bad thing! It means we are free to choose each other, free to grow, free to embrace change and not get stuck in a rut.

Essentially, Dr. Allan says marriage is about growing up. And your own growth is your own responsibility. So, relax and enjoy your marriage.

To summarize some of his tips:

  • Focus on what you can control. (You. Period.)
  • Simplify your life so that you can savor more of the good things in your life and marriage.
  • Slow down. Enjoy your conversations and interactions. Breathe.
  • Remember married life is easy.
  • Think of yourselves on the same team—not as opposing teams.

Read the article at Hitched here.

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 all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

MARRIAGE RESEARCH STUDY

Please let me digress for a minute to briefly tell you about a marriage research student who could use some help from you wonderful readers. A graduate student at Clark University in Worcester, MA, has asked for help in distributing this information. Thanks to those who qualify and can help.

Participate in a survey on couples and alcohol use and enter to win a raffle!

Are you and your spouse legally married and at least 18 years of age?
Do you or your partner currently consume alcoholic beverages at least once a month? Is alcohol use an area of disagreement in your marriage?

If you answered yes to the above questions, you and your spouse are eligible to participate in a research survey regarding the relationship between your marriage and your alcohol-related help seeking behaviors. When you both complete the survey, you will each be entered into a raffle for one of four $50 Amazon.com gift cards!

The survey will take each participant approximately 20 minutes, and survey responses will be anonymous.

https://surveys.clarku.edu/AlcoholUseSurveyStart.aspx

Photo by Stuart Miles copyright by freedigitalphotos.net.

7 Tips to Help You Achieve Your Goals in 2013

excited teens by Ambro freedigitalphotos.netIf you’re feeling like “a change would do you good” this year, what specific things would you like in your life to improve? Why has it been tough in the past to improve in that area?

This is the time of year when our New Year’s Resolutions may already start to be forgotten, or get pushed to the side as other more urgent matters come up. A friend of mine made what I thought was the best resolution:  to show more love. I’m sure his wife, kids and friends will be the happy recipients of his efforts and that better relationships will bring that love right back.

Many people have a goal to get more fit or to lose weight, and most of them will fall back into old habits. I read a few years ago that it only takes 21 days to make a new habit second nature. To that end, I got up and got on the treadmill for a workout for three straight weeks. I can tell you on day 22, I did not enjoy the workout any more, nor did I feel like it had become a natural habit. It took a force of my will do continue even a few days a week.

So I don’t believe in gimmicks when it comes to making changes. But I also think more change is possible than you think, in your relationships, skills, your body, your diet, or whatever you are hoping to improve.

As I was preparing this post, I read an article from The Generous Husband called You are going to change. Why choose now? He cites a study that concluded that we change a good deal more over time than we would have predicted. Looking back 10 years, you have probably changed a great deal more than you would have predicted back then. When I think about how different my husband and I were a decade ago, it makes me laugh. And you will probably be more different 10 years from now than you think you will be.  If you’re going to change, hopefully you will move in the right direction on the issues important to you.

Here are a few strategies that have worked well for me:

  1. Have clearly stated goals that are incremental. For example, “I will take my spouse out once a month” might be the first step toward infusing your marriage with more romance.
  2. Have an accountability partner. This is probably the most      important suggestion if you really want to get something done, at least it has worked very well for me. You will check in weekly or monthly with each of your goals and have to report whether or not you have done what you have said you will do. I suggest this partner would not be your spouse, but could be an encouraging friend who has something he or she also wants to achieve. Don’t pick someone who will make excuses right along with you and excuse your lack of effort. Even if you have a month that doesn’t go well, get back to your goals, and help one another get back on track. Celebrate small successes together.
  3. Put it on the schedule. It’s easy to overlook things on the schedule if you don’t have that accountability partner. Only schedule what you really intend to do. “Romantic evening with wife” or “hike with hubby” are things that may not happen if they are not on the calendar.
  4. Give focused time, then rewards. One procrastination expert I’ve read, Rita Emmett, suggests you select one thing to do for one hour. Ignore everything else going on during that hour. Take no breaks during that hour. Then, give yourself a small reward after one hour, such as a cup of coffee or a small break on Facebook. I’ve found this works quite well. We are so easily distracted; turn off email, phones and close your door during that hour.
  5. Make the first step easy. Then take the next step. For example, my friend might stock up on greeting cards or small gifts so he’s prepared to express his love when he has a few minutes. Taking a walk with a friend is an easy way to get started with improved fitness.
  6. Read and think about the issue you are working to improve. If you want a better marriage, read about strong marriages. If you want to lose weight, learn about nutrition and fitness. If you hope to deepen your faith, read the Bible or religious books. If you want a better job, study and practice the skills you will need to move up. If we spend all our complaining time focused on visualizing success, we will see more positive change by the end of 2013.
  7. When you come up short, start again. Don’t let your inner voice speak negatively.

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 all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo by Ambro courtesty of freedigitalphotos.net.

Keep Choosing Right for Your Marriage

The truth is you already know most of what your marriage needs. You probably come here for inspiration or reminders, but deep down you know what keeps your family thriving. The hard part is making the effort, making the time and keeping your priorities straight.

So, today is a day for some simple reminders that aren’t so simple to keep in practice. I’m going to include two links—the first is from a divorced man named Dan Pearce who learned the hard way what he should have been doing all along to save his two failed marriages. It’s humorous and entertaining, yet husbands and wives alike are praising his advice as the ticket to more bliss and fewer divorces.

His feedback on what he would do with a do-over is here at 16 Ways I Blew My Marriage. Sometimes a good laugh will help us remember the message. From the serious, “Tell her what she is doing right,” to the not-so-serious, “I’d wait to fart until I was in the bathroom whenever possible,” Dan covers a lot of ground.

For other useful reminders, check out: 10 habits to keep marriages strong from Redbook Magazine with advice from David Wilk, a couples therapist in Vancouver. I think his #10 tip spoke to me loudest—remember it’s the little, everyday behaviors that mean the most.

“When it comes to relationship satisfaction, you can’t just ride on the big things like, ‘I don’t drink, I pay the bills, I don’t beat you, we went to Hawaii last year,'” says Wilk. “This stuff is not really what keeps couples happy in their daily lives.” What really matters is all the small stuff that adds up, such as being there for each other when one needs to vent, or noticing when he needs a hug, or making him his favorite meal just because. “It’s also giving up on the idea that you have to feel in love all the time. Marriage is about trust and commitment and knowing each other,” says Wilk. “That’s what love is.”

From my own perspective, I know that family dinners and family walks help us connect, and that carving 15 minutes a day to talk to my husband is important. I also regularly have to remind myself to say out loud the things he is doing well, to express gratitude and praise. It’s all too easy to become too ships passing in the night, especially when he is traveling or working the night shift, and sometimes we have to work harder to be affectionate partners not just parents, workers and homeowners. Some days, all it takes is a longer-than-usual hug and kiss to get us back on the same page. Other days, actually scheduling a date night out is needed.

Take the reminders that help you most, and put them to use today and tomorrow, next week and next year. When you’re on the right path, surprisingly good things can happen. If you get off the right path, do what it takes to get back.

Which of these reminders speaks most to you? What do you do to keep your marriage moving on the right track on a daily basis?

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 all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo credit: Lori Lowe