Tag Archives: better marriage

Looking for happiness in all the wrong places

dancing couple morguefileWhat are you looking for in your life and marriage to make you happy? Researchers have done a lot of work analyzing particular kinds of goals and whether they led people to happiness. They found that those with “intrinsic goals” (i.e. deep relationships, personal growth) tended to be happier than those with “extrinsic goals” (i.e. wealth, fame). It appears Americans are looking for happiness in all the wrong places.

Arthur Brooks detailed multiple studies in his article for the New York Times called “Love People, Not Pleasure.” For example, psychologists have concluded through many studies that people who rate materialistic goals like wealth as a top priority are significantly more likely to be anxious, more depressed, and frequent drug users, as well as to have more physical ailments than those who are seeking intrinsic goals.

A 2009 study by the University of Rochester looked at 147 graduates’ success in reaching their stated goals. They found graduates who were pursuing extrinsic goals experienced more negative emotions, such as shame and fear, as well as more physical maladies. Whether it’s popularity on social media, or to become famous or rich, their goals ended up making the subjects less happy rather than making them feel fulfilled. Career success, power, or self-promotion are other common extrinsic goals. Graduates who were seeking intrinsic goals were associated with happier lives.

After finding that neither fame nor materialistic success fulfilled people and made them happy, Brooks assessed whether lust might do the trick. Does experiencing a variety of sexual pleasure make people happy? Brooks cites a 2004 study in which economists analyzed whether more sexual variety led to greater well-being. Data included 16,000 Americans who were asked confidentially how many sex partners they had in the previous year, as well as their happiness levels. For both women and men, researchers concluded the optimal number of partners to experience happiness is one. In other words, the happiest people had only one sex partner in the previous year. (This is certainly contrary to our culture’s and media’s messages.)

So why do we as a society pursue lust, materialism, power and fame if they don’t lead to happiness? Brooks suggests that just because something feels good doesn’t mean it will fulfill you. Many of those instincts may only be residual desires based on our need to pass on DNA. “If you conflate intergenerational survival with well-being, that’s your problem,” he says.

“If it feels good, do it,” is bad advice from idiots in society, he adds. It may lead you to pass on your genetic material, but it won’t lead to a feeling of long-term well-being.

But there’s more to our longings. We are dissatisfied; want more from life. We aren’t sure what the problem or the solution may be. “Without a great deal of reflection and spiritual hard work, the likely candidates seem to be material things, physical pleasures or favor among friends and strangers,” says Brooks. But it is never enough.

This leads us to Brooks’ formulas for life: To love things and use people—this is a deadly formula too often attempted in the search for happiness. “You know in your heart that it is morally disordered and a likely road to misery,” says Brooks. An example is using people to find a better job, a bigger house, or greater influence.

Invert that advice to find the virtuous formula: Love people, use things. This means placing love above pride, only denying love to things that are actually objects; condemning materialism; and being skeptical of our own desires. It means using things to express your love rather than to fill an emptiness. It means seeking spiritual and emotional maturity so that we can have mature, meaningful relationships.

Apply this formula to your marriage and your life to find deeper fulfillment.

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 19 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

12 marriage pitfalls husbands can fall into

hold hands couple freeditigalphotos.net by photostockThe following dozen “don’ts” for husbands are excerpted from Turn Your Relationship into a Lifelong Love Affair by Bill Syrios. Read the pitfalls for wives here. What do you think of his advice? What important don’ts are missing in your opinion?

I would suggest you look at both lists, because there may be some crossover. For instance, both lists suggests it is the man who is working and who may need some down time, but in our society this is likely true of both spouses. Plan ways to spend your time together, and plan ways for each spouse to decompress and get some relaxation time alone when needed. In addition, both lists comment on the wife’s appearance, but keeping up one’s appearance can be important to both partners. That being said, I think both lists are useful reminders and focus on what are often the most important complaints of husbands and of wives. What do you think?

1. Don’t invalidate her feelings or patronize her.
2. Don’t intimidate her with your anger, ever.
3. Don’t stop listening even if she has a lot to say.
4. Don’t forget to pamper her or to touch her often in non-sexual ways.
5. Don’t neglect to tell her what you are feeling.
6. Don’t avoid saying, “I’m sorry; please forgive me.”
7. Don’t assume she knows you love her unless you tell her so.
8. Don’t tell her how to “fix it” as if her feelings don’t count.
9. Don’t neglect taking pride in how she makes everything look, especially herself.
10. Don’t come home from work thinking your job is done.
11. Don’t ignore your role as father in the family.
12. Don’t assume sex works for her or means the same to her as it does to you.

Do any of these areas need more of your attention? Are any points missing or wrong in your opinion?

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 freedigitalphotos.net. Turn Your Relationship Into a Lifelong Love Affair was published by Crossover Press.

How well do you know your spouse?

flight map morguefileDo you really know what’s going on inside your spouse’s thought world? What he or she is most concerned about day to day? What most worries them or causes fear or anxiety?

Couples who understand their partner’s inner world have emotional intimacy—knowledge about one another’s deep feelings. The Gottman Institute calls this skill “Enhancing your love map” and names it one of the principals on the road to happy marriages. (Stay tuned for more principals in future posts.)

We probably think we know more than we do about what is going on in the mind of our spouse. That’s why it’s important to have regular time together to discuss things other than the to-do list or the kids’ challenges.

Remember your dating days, when hours could be spent sharing who you were, and listening intensely to learn everything you could about your date? We need to carve out regular time to maintain that connection.

One challenge is that most couples spend the majority of their days apart, seemingly living in different “worlds”. Whether one or both spouses work, invite your partner to understand your work world by sharing your challenges, successes and concerns, your annoying coworkers or what you really think of your boss. If you work at home, share your feelings, joys and challenges as a homemaker.

In addition to the day to day, discuss life goals, fears, and wishes. Be sensitive to insights you receive. If your wife is fearful of being compared to her mother, don’t use this information in an argument. If your husband is worried he is not a “good enough” provider, build him up in this area. If you both have always wanted to see the Grand Canyon or spend time in wine country, talk about how to make your dreams a reality.

Talk about what you hope the future looks like—for you, for your children, for something you’re passionate about. Consider what you learn to be privileged and private, part of your intimacy. Keep in mind that goals and dreams can and probably will change.

How will you enhance your love map this year? What part of the day or week would be most convenient for you to connect with your spouse?

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

6 Ways to be a Perfect Partner in Tennis and Marriage

tennis morguefileI took up tennis a few years ago. I’m a slow learner, but it’s a great hobby for exercise and stress relief, not to mention relationship tips. This week our instructor taught us how to be the perfect doubles partner. Some of us remarked that many of the same attributes on the court are critical in marriage.

So, here’s how to be a better tennis or marriage partner:
1. Communicate more—On the court, it’s easy to let a ball whiz between you while wondering which of you is going to get it. Any hesitation or confusion, and you’ve lost the point. In marriage, we often assume we know who should do what and when. We assume we know how our partner feels or what their preferences are. We are probably wrong far more often than we realize.

2. Back each other up—Sometimes I think I can get to a high ball, but when my partner backs me up, there’s reassurance that if I can’t reach it, my partner will save us. In marriage, we often have to cover for one another, to be supportive and to catch the things that get dropped.

3. Help clean up the other’s messes—When I hit a ball to the volley player instead of deep and cross court to my opponent at the baseline, I put my partner at risk on the court. But if she moves to a defensive position when she sees my mistake, she may be able to clean up the mess and get us on track. If I apologize, she acts as if it’s no big deal. A partner who constantly gripes about how I put her in a bad position and made things hard for her wouldn’t be fun to play with. In marriage, let’s face it, we often have to clean up each other’s messes, both literally and figuratively. We should do so without resentment and griping, because, hey, we’re a team.

4. Move together—When I run to the edge of the court to reach a ball, my partner moves with me to cover the middle of the court, and I do the same for her. We are instructed to move together “like we are on a string.” In marriage, we also need to move together, grow together, stick together. When we get too far apart, each going on separate tangents and not inviting the other along, the marriage gets distant. Intimacy is lost. It’s more fun to share the journey, and it protects the relationship when we are connected.

5. Build one another up—When we’re losing a match, it’s easy to get down on ourselves. Negative self-talk occurs audibly on the court. But a good partner helps you shake it off, gets you refocused, helps you take a deep breath and start again. Same goes for marriage. There are really, really bad days we have to get through. And sometimes we screw up or feel as if we failed. We need that personal cheerleader who comes to our side, even if just to share in our sadness if things don’t go as we had hoped.

6. Love-Love—Remember each game starts this way, with a score of zero (love) to zero (love). Let each day start and end with love-love from each of you.
Now, if anyone could help improve my serve, I would be most obliged.

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.

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.

The Parenting Lesson that Works Wonders in Marriage

blogpicSometimes a great parenting technique works wonders in marriage, too. Not that we should treat our spouses like children—we shouldn’t. But it’s more a reflection that children’s needs are in fact human needs. A need recognized in children often exists in adults as well.

Case in point, Seattle marriage therapist Claire Hatch, LICSW, recently wrote “Marriage Advice You Can Learn from Your Kids.” Her advice struck a chord with me both in how I should interact with my children and with my spouse, particularly when expressing a problem or complaint.

She explains that a child who thinks she is “bad” is not going to be interested in self-improvement. Instead, when she is treated like a “bad girl” or criticized, “she has to raise her defensive walls high to protect her ego from messages that feel critical. Which means she’s not really listening to you.”

That comment was a strong reminder to me that the way in which we complain or criticize may in fact be closing the other person off to us. We may be ensuring that they don’t listen to us, which is of course the opposite of what we want. Bad feelings may turn into hopelessness and a lack of motivation to change.

On the other hand, if the child feels loved and accepted, she can relax that defensive wall and hear you out. Your suggestions just might make it through that wall.

While our spouse is hopefully more emotionally mature than a child, he or she still has the need to feel appreciated, accepted and loved. But when we’re upset, we don’t communicate any of these. (Well, maybe you’re better than I am.) We usually just focus on our criticism or complaint.

What your spouse might conclude when hearing regular criticism is “I can’t make her happy,” or even “I’m a failure as a husband,” says Hatch. While you need to address issues in marriage, you’ll be much more effective in getting your spouse to listen if your loving messages outweigh your critical messages, she adds.

Her ideas for you to try to soften criticism include:

1. Verbalize appreciation regularly so the criticism comes off as less harsh.

2. Be curious and invested in what is on your partner’s to-do list, supporting and helping him or her as a loving spouse.

3. When raising a complaint, verbalize the difficulties you recognize your spouse faces.

What do you think? Are there other parenting tricks that you use in your marriage?

Check out Claire’s web site at http://www.clairehatch.comand read her full article at Marriage Advice You Can Learn from Your Kids.

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.

The Science of Marital Longevity—Will Your Marriage Succeed?

happy couple morguefileWhile commitment may be the key to staying together in marriage, science has its own explanations. The latest Clark University Poll of Emerging Adults found that 86 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds surveyed said they expected their marriages to last a lifetime. (The balance were presumed to be unlikely to marry.) Yet, statistically, various factors make individuals far more or less likely to stay married.

The American Psychological Association recently compiled factors that are most likely to make love last. I don’t find it helpful to share which races are more likely to divorce, since that is not something we can change. However, we can do a lot to help or hurt our marital success, according to researchers. Here’s a sampling:

  • According to NCHS data, women with at least a bachelor’s degree have a 78 percent shot that their marriages will last 20 years, compared with 41 percent chance among women with a high school diploma. Did you know those with a college degree have a nearly 80 percent chance of success? I guess my Mom was right to encourage me to finish college before considering marriage.
  • Couples whose first child is born after the wedding have a greater likelihood of staying together, while couples who marry in their teens have a lower chance of staying together.
  • Lack of assets cause marital stress for newlyweds, according to the National Marriage Project. Couples with no assets are 70 percent more likely to divorce within three years than couples with $10,000 or more in assets. Consider this fact if you’re about to go into debt over an expensive wedding celebration.
  • Stress can be a major contributor to divorce. In a 2012 study by the University of Texas, researchers found that when one spouse had a stressful day (traffic, difficulties at work, or whatever), they reported more negative behaviors toward their spouse as well as less satisfaction with their relationship. Please keep this in mind if you are going through a stressful time or a major transition, as stress definitely affects how you evaluate your relationships. “Psychologists posit that the energy dedicated toward handling stressful events detracts from the energy needed to maintain a good relationship,” according to the Journal of Family Psychology. Take efforts to reduce or better manage your stress.
  • A strong social support can buffer against the type of chronic stress than can be toxic to a relationship. Examples of a strong social support include military support, church support, family support, neighbor and friends who are supportive. If you don’t have a good support network, help develop one. Social connections are known to help you live longer and healthier as well as to provide marriage and family support.
  • Doing small things often to make your spouse feel special and loved is very predictive of staying together, preventing divorce, and being happy, according to the Early Years Marriage Project. Contrary to popular opinion, men tend to need these affirmations the most, because women frequently affirm one another with hugs or compliments, while it’s uncommon for men to receive these in public.
  • The manner in which couples deal with conflict is important. Couples that are likely to stay together “are kinder, more considerate, and soften the way they raise a complaint” according to the Gottman Institute. Another study (from UCLA) addressing conflict found that couples who as newlyweds had interacted with anger and pessimism when discussing difficult relationship issues were more likely to be divorced 10 years later.
  • Depth of communication is important. “Most couples think they’re communicating with one another, but what they’re really talking about is what I call ‘maintaining the household’ or detailing to-do lists,” says Terry Orbuch, PhD, of the University of Michigan and Oakland University. “The happiest couples also share their hopes, fears and dreams.”
  • Be a lifelong learner in marriage. You may put regular effort into improving your golf game or your home, but marriage also takes a conscious effort to maintain and improve. “If you’re a lawyer, you take continuing education. If you’re an artist, you take workshops. And somehow, there’s this belief that we don’t have to work at learning how to be a couple, it should just come naturally,” says couples therapist Nicholas Kirsch, PhD. “That, to me, is just very backwards.”

For details on these studies, visit APA.org.

In what area do you think your marriage could use attention?

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.