Category Archives: Research

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

Confidence can impact your marital success

confident woman morguefileA growing body of evidence shows how devastating a lack of confidence can be. “Success, it turns out, correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence,” say Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of The Confidence Gap, written for The Atlantic’s April edition.

I believe confidence also has a great deal to do with the success of our marriages. That’s one reason why I don’t like to read the (often false or misleading) divorce statistics. It leads young marrieds to thinking they are so unlikely to succeed that they shouldn’t even believe in themselves and their union.

But you know what it means to have someone believe in you, don’t you? Maybe it was a coach or teacher or parent. You know what it’s like to cheer someone else on even in the face of despair or difficulty. You know the difference that it makes to root someone on and to believe they will succeed.

Kay and Shipman have researched and written about the gap in confidence that has been found between men and women in the work world, to the detriment of women’s advancement. They share their own struggles and doubts with professional confidence (despite their impressive experience and credentials). They conclude that confidence can indeed be gained, and that the “confidence gap” can be closed. And they write about how that lack of confidence fails women in the work world, leading them to not go after promotions, new jobs, raises, and other opportunities. It’s not because they lack the skills, they often don’t go for it. Why? Because they don’t believe they will succeed.

Researchers have shown that being overconfident will aid you in your success more than being very competent or skilled in your area of expertise. We don’t want to believe this! “Overconfidence can get you far in life,” concludes researcher Cameron Anderson from the University of California at Berkeley. However, faking confidence just does not work.

Perfectionism is another confidence killer. In fact, striving for perfection hinders our performance and productivity.

What are some of the causes of lack of confidence? The researchers say women tend to ruminate over what has gone and worry about future consequences, whereas men have been more indoctrinated into the male competitive world of action more than overthinking things. I wonder if these contribute to the fact that two-thirds of divorces are initiated by women.

Our brains are fairly plastic, and we can learn to be more confident. We can even boost one another’s confidence. For example, researchers told random individuals in a group that they did very well on a previous test. The individuals who received that feedback scored much higher on the next test, showing that confidence can be self-perpetuating.

The choice not to try was one of the biggest reasons that researchers found people didn’t succeed at various tasks. How about your marriage? Do you have confidence in your marriage and in your abilities to succeed? Do you encourage and lift your spouse up and believe in him or her? If you have children or know children, you can clearly see how confidence can affect their performance in school or sports.

Now for a taste of realism: Being confident doesn’t mean that you believe all your problems will disappear, any more than women ignoring the glass ceiling will make it disappear. But most marriage problems can be overcome, and you can do challenging things. Be confident. Be hopeful. Take positive actions to keep your marriage growing together.

Do you agree or disagree with this premise? Why or why not? I admit I would rather success be based on skills and effort than on something so nebulous as confidence. Are you a confident person or do you struggle with it?

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, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Harvard Study: What Makes Men Happy for Life

morguefile walking coupleI do not refer in this article to what women can do to make men happy. Nope, men are responsible for their own happiness, as are women. That being said, a 75-year-long Harvard study provides some great insights into what it takes for men to live a happy life. And not surprisingly, relationships have a great deal to do with this earned happiness.

The study began in 1938 and followed 268 male undergraduates into their old age. Many factors, of course, influence their happiness. Following are some of the more surprising, helpful or interesting findings:

1. Alcohol use is by far the greatest disruptor of health and happiness among the study’s subjects. Alcoholism was also the single strongest cause of divorce between study participants and their wives. Together with cigarette smoking, it was the #1 greatest cause of morbidity and death.
2. While some of the participants successfully recovered from a lousy childhood, memories of a happy childhood were a lifelong source of strength. (This should help parents understand the importance of those early days with our children.)
3. Marriages bring much more contentment after age 70.
4. Habits developed before age 50 were more important to physically aging well than heredity.
5. Having “warm relationships” was critically important to health and happiness in later years. Even more surprising, those who scored the highest on the warm relationships scale earned $141,000 a year more during peak salaries than the men in the lowest scale.
6. Men who had warm childhood relationships with their mothers earned much more than men whose mothers were uncaring. Those who had poor relationships with their moms were much more likely to develop dementia in elder years.
7. Men who had warm relationships with their fathers had lower levels of adult anxiety, enjoyed vacations more, and had increased satisfaction with life after age 75.
8. Men who did well in old age did not necessarily do well in midlife, and visa versa. (There is always time to make a change in your life.)

Study director George Vallant summarized that the $20 million study boiled down to one conclusion: Happiness is love. Vallant details the findings in a book titled Triumphs of Experience. While money and social class did not impact lifelong happiness, the ability to “take love in and metabolize it” certainly did.

You knew that already, right? With so many goals to consider for 2014, a renewed focus on love may be the most important to your happiness.

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

Are you or your spouse being taken for granted? Check out these obstacles and keys to gratitude.

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Do you feel taken for granted, at least some of the time? Who appreciates that you get up early to make lunches or do laundry? Who appreciates how hard you work to provide for the family? Who appreciates the dinners, help with homework, paying the bills, doing the chores and the countless things you do each day? Or the fact that you haven’t given up and run off to find an easier life?

Maybe no one.

That’s because we mostly take for granted the good stuff we have. I don’t wake up and give thanks for the fact that my husband didn’t have an affair, or that my kids didn’t throw up in the night, or that my house didn’t burn down. I don’t give thanks that my children’s are not starving or suffering from a debilitating illness. By default, we seem to focus on the negative instead of the positive, to dwell on our problems and concerns. Sure, we often give thanks for our food and our health in a generic sense, but that’s different from noticing how richly we are blessed in all the ways we take for granted.

It stands out when you say thank you to your spouse for the usual things they do, because we are so used to not being thanked.

Most religions have gratitude at their core. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says “In everything, give thanks…” We all seem to know the power of giving thanks, and research has demonstrated gratitude is a key element of happiness. Yet, we still grumble more often than not. Why?

“Given its magnetic appeal, it is a wonder that gratitude might be rejected. Yet it is. If we fail to use it, by default we choose ingratitude,” says Psychology Professor Robert Emmons, PhD, in an essay which appeared in Big Questions Online and Greater Good Science Center. He explains that our provision becomes so commonplace that it is easily accepted. “We believe the universe owes us a living.”

At this morning’s church service, I heard again the story of the 10 lepers whom Jesus healed, and only one returned to him to give thanks. Think about the people you know, and you may agree that about 90 percent of of people complain more often than they express gratitude. I’m often guilty of focusing on a problem or crisis, then when it is solved or passes, I rarely think of it again. We are on to the next thing, with little more than a “thanks” or “whew, I’m glad that’s over.”

If you’re with me so far, hang in there for the “ouch” factor and the happy conclusion.

What’s the obstacle to gratitude?

Research shows ungrateful people have a high sense of self-importance, arrogance, vanity, and an unquenchable need for admiration and approval, explains Emmons. This is about a sense of entitlement that says, “Life owes me this,” and “I deserve this.” Being preoccupied with ourselves makes us feel we are owed what we have, or that we have earned it, and it makes us forget the giver of these gifts.

While only one percent of the population meets the criteria for narcissistic disorder, these self-serving characteristics are found in all individuals to varying degrees. It starts in childhood as all children believe the world revolves around them, and we hopefully evolve to understand the importance of other perspectives and needs.

A focus on the self is an obstacle toward being thankful.

Humility Paves the Way

“Humility is a key to gratitude because living humbly is the truest approach to life. Humble people are grounded in the truth that they need others,” says Emmons. “The humble person says that life is a gift to be grateful for, not a right to be claimed.”

The thing is, humility seems to go against everything we are taught will make us successful in life, to take charge, to take credit, to demand the best the world has to offer. The Paradox of Giving, in which the more we give, the more we receive, is just like the Paradox of Gratitude, in which the more you give thanks, the more blessed you will feel. (OK, I made that up, but that’s what I think.)

“Humility is profoundly countercultural. It does not come easily or naturally,” says Emmons, yet “reigning in entitlement and embracing gratitude and humility is spiritually and psychologically liberating. Gratitude is the recognition that life owes me nothing and all the good I have is a gift.”

The truth is I didn’t do anything to deserve my life, my husband, my kids, my job, my parents, my friends—any more than a person suffering in the Philippines deserved to experience a typhoon.

As we approach Thanksgiving in the U.S., let’s shift our focus away from ourselves and toward humility and gratitude for others and toward our Creator. Tell your spouse and all those who are special to you all the ways in which you appreciate them.

Don’t fall back to the default setting of ingratitude. When you think of complaining, try to find five people or things to be thankful for. Please share in the comments three things you are grateful for today!

For the full essay as well as a short video from Robert Emmons, PhD, explaining the following four benefits of gratitude, check out this page.
1. Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present.
2. Gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret and depression–because they are incompatible with gratitude.
3. Grateful people are more stress-resilient.
4. Gratitude strengthens social ties and self-worth.

Related articles:
4 Proven Secrets to Long Marriage Part III: Express Gratitude
Express Thankfulness to Your Spouse Today
Can Your Mind Change Your World?
Focusing on What’s Missing in Life Can Cause You to Miss What’s There

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.

Does Your Marriage Have Enough Grit?

persevere morguefile What two characteristics are most important for student success? A recent NPR radio program revealed an award-winning researcher’s answer to this question, and it wasn’t IQ or innate abilities. The two most important characteristics for success were grit and self-control.

Having grit means being persistent, overcoming obstacles and maintaining your passion to achieve long-term goals.

When I heard about grit being the key to educational success, a little bell went off inside my head suggesting this is likely an important attribute also for professional and personal success, yes, even for marriage.

Not long after, I read from the Greater Good Science Center about the Quiet Secrets to Success. They suggest that common traits of people at the top of their field are grit and fortitude. (There’s that grit again.)

Hard work and never giving up seem like obvious choices for making a marriage work, or helping you achieve success in any endeavor. But the GG research also indicates that those who work hard do so strategically, being careful to take breaks and get enough rest. This is to avoid burnout and to keep the passion alive.

According to Greater Good’s Christine Carter, “Bring gritty isn’t just about pushing yourself 24/7 toward your goals…it’s about making progress toward your goals consistently and deliberately, in a way that works with our human biology, allowing for proper refueling and consideration of knowledge.”

If we all had a little persistence (grit) when showing love to our spouse or when working to overcome problems, if we all made sure we had breaks and enough rest to function well, if we all kept our eyes on the prize of a lifelong marriage as a foundation of our family, I believe that would boost our marriages to the next level. Thankfully, grit and self-control—unlike IQ or talents we are born with—are things that we can learn and grow in.

Who have you known that was not terribly gifted, but who worked very hard and overcame obstacles, eventually reaching their goals through focus, determination, grit, and self-control? I think we all know examples like this. Thankfully, we all have innate abilities and talents that can also aid in our success.

What priority does your marriage have in your life in your definition of success? Careers can be rebuilt, but families that shatter can’t be pieced back together. Don’t give up. Have the grit to give your marriage your absolute best.

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.

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.

6 Divorce Trends that May Surprise You

Click on the graphic below to see in a snapshot some of the most prevalent divorce trends in the U.S. today. On MarriageGems, we have shared details on many of these trends, such as grey divorce rising, and overall marriage and divorce rates falling. #4 shows well-known factors that can decrease the likelihood of divorce, including having a college education, having children after marriage, marrying after age 25, having an income over $50K, and having a religious affiliation (though research I have read indicates the couple needs to be practicing the religion to benefit, not just have the affiliation). #6 is also of interest in explaining some of the income effects on children of divorce vs. children with married parents. You can also see in #1 and #5 the gender (women) who initiate the most divorces, as well as how they break down by race and geography in the U.S.

Do any of these trends surprise or concern you? Do you want to learn more about any of these trends? Divorce rates are much lower in higher income and in college educated circles than most people realize. And even among demographics with multiple risk factors for divorce, you can still be successful in marriage. Don’t lose hope that your marriage can be one of the great success stories.

DivorceXS

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