Tag Archives: better relationships

How to Keep Your Marriage Alive with Exciting Dates

Thanks to Sarah Fanning for providing today’s guest post! While going on dates with your spouse is not a panacea for the perfect marriage, too few couples make time and effort to spend together having fun. See if some of Sarah’s suggestions prompt some creativity for you and your love.

Guest Post by Sarah Fanning:

When a couple has been married for a number of years, things can become a little boring. The truth is that when a couple is together for a long time, the relationship can end up feeling like it’s stuck. But if two people are willing to put in the work, there’s no reason why the spark can’t be re-lit in a marriage.

Relationships require effort. To keep a marriage fresh, both people in it need to be committed to fully being present in the relationship. Time must be set aside to spend together, without the kids. The couple has to take time to remind each other what it was like when it was just the two of them, before there was a family to support and a mortgage which had to be paid. The best way to do that will be to always carve out a space where they can remain physically, emotionally, and spiritually connected with one another.

Here are a few fun date ideas for the married couple looking to keep that spark alive and well.

1. Cook together
Send the kids to the grandparents’ (or neighbors’) and schedule a candlelit dinner at home for two. Find a recipe neither of you has made before then learn to prepare it as a team. Turn the TV off and turn on the music and just hang out together as you discover something new together. As the food is being prepared, there will be opportunities to talk, laugh, and enjoy being together. Once the dinner is finished, sit down and enjoy the meal by the light of the candles.

2. Take a road trip
Going on a weekend road trip is a great way for a couple to get away and find some alone time. No matter where you live, there’s bound to be an interesting spot perfect for a weekend getaway. It could be a spa retreat or a camping trip, the main point is to get away and try something new and interesting as a couple.

3. A “rolling back the years” date
Many times when a couple has been married for a while, they stop doing the things they used to do when they first began dating. Having a “rolling back the years” date is a good way for a couple to have fun and recapture what it was like when they were young and in love. Go skating, bowling, or hiking and have fun reminiscing about those early days. This is a good way for a couple to call to their remembrance what made them fall in love with each other in the first place.

4. Have some fun
The sky’s the limit when it comes to deciding on what to do during the time spent together as a couple. Be creative and think of new things to experience together. The goal is to have fun, learn new things about the world, each other, and ultimately, strengthen the bond in the marriage.

Sarah has worked in the relationship industry and currently works for a dating agency in London called Lovestruck. During this time, she has improved her knowledge to help those looking for relationship advice and understands how important it is to keep relationships alive by using your imagination and initiative to show your partner how much you care for them. Good luck and have fun!

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Thanks again, Sarah. As a reminder, research continues to support doing NEW, EXCITING things as a way to increase your oxytocin levels and increase the strength of the marriage bond. If you have other exciting dating ideas, feel free to add them in the comments.

Lori Lowe is the founder of Marriage Gems and 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 photostock courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Happiness Comes Before Success in Life, Not After

Happy Life; Happy Marriage

I have been bombarded in the last weeks with information leading to the same conclusion; that is, if we want to be successful (in things like work, parenting and yes, even marriage), we have to figure out how to be more happy and positive first. This is because increased happiness is correlated with more success, not the other way around. Most cultural messages switch that around to say if you are successful, then you can find happiness, but for reasons I will try to explain, our brains just don’t work that way.

Maybe you know people who are both happy and successful, and it never dawned on you that they were happy first, which helped them achieve success. But studies show that happiness fosters achievement and success. On the flip side, striving for success doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll find happiness. In fact, there are good reasons your brain can’t make that leap.

Shawn Anchor, a Harvard psychologist who was recently profiled in this Inc. article called Happiness Makes Your Brain Work Better, explains his theory very well (and in an entertaining fashion) in this TEDx Talk, The Happy Secret to Better Work. If you’re at all interested in success or happiness, I’d recommend watching it. Today, I’ll address how this theory relates not only to work, but to our personal lives and relationships as well.

Here’s the fallacy with us using success as a means to become happy:  Every time we set a goal then achieve it, we change our benchmark for success rather than becoming happy with our success. Since your brain changes your view of success, you can’t reach the happiness that comes on the other side. That’s why you often see people who seem successful from the outside who are anything but happy, even if they achieved the lofty goals they set.

How can we boost our happiness, especially if our life isn’t ideal right now? Happiness is much more under our control than you may think. Only 10 percent of our long-term happiness is predicted by our circumstances, say experts, while 90 percent of our long-term happiness is predicted by the way your brain processes the world. By adjusting the lens through which you view the world, you can not only increase your happiness, you can also improve your outcomes. This theory applies to whatever outcomes you want to improve in your life or goals you want to reach.

If you’re following the logic, you probably want to know… how (and why) can we improve the way our brain processes the world, thereby increasing our happiness? The answer is that we can actively increase the positivity in our lives and alter our brain functioning. Our brain performs significantly better when it is focused on positive things than at neutral or negative stress levels, says Anchor. Our levels of intelligence, creativity and energy rise, and we become more productive. This allows us to reach our goals and be more successful. The positivity in our brains also causes the release of the feel-good chemical, dopamine. All of these things can lead to more happiness and success.

Do you believe some people have a happier, more positive bent than others, that maybe you’re born with a certain disposition and can’t change your genetic inclination? Anchor is quoted in Inc. as saying, “Happiness comes easier to some people, but happiness is a possibility for all if we change our behavior and our mindset.”

4 Ways to Boost Positivity

Anchor says we can train our brains to be more positive in just two minutes a day. Select one of the following actions to do for 21 days in a row, and you can help rewire your brain and retain more positivity:

  1. Write down three things you are grateful for, and select new ones each day.
  2. Write in your journal about one positive experience you have had in the last 24 hours.
  3. Exercise—This can help alter your behavior.
  4. Meditate—This allows you to focus on just one task at a time.
  5. Perform a Random Act of Kindness, such as emailing one person to praise him or her, or writing a kind note to someone.

Boosting Marital and Family Happiness

My thought is if your goal is to increase positivity into your relationships, try focusing 1,2, and 5 on your mate. For instance, write down three things about your partner for which you are grateful. We know through the research that focusing on gratitude increases marital satisfaction.

In this excerpt from this week’s Washington Post, Christine Carter, a sociologist with the University of California at Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, comes to the same exact conclusion as Archer does. She says “studies are finding that achievement does not necessarily lead to happiness, but that happiness is what fosters achievement. She points to an analysis of 225 studies on achievement, success and happiness by three psychologists that found that happy people — those who are … comfortable in their own skin — are more likely to have ‘fulfilling marriages and relationships, high incomes, superior work performance, community involvement, robust health, and a long life.’”

Hopefully you caught that part about how happier people have more fulfilling marriages and relationships. It’s also key to those of us who are parents in how we raise the next generation and how we conduct our lives as parents.

“We tell our kids to work hard now so that success, then later happiness, can follow,” Carter explains. ‘The underlying American assumption is, if our kids get into a great college, they’ll get a great job, then they’ll be happy,” Carter said. “Our cortex of fear is around achievement. So, in order for our kids to get into a great college, get a great job and be happy, we get them piano lessons, after-school Mandarin class, we think more, more, more, more, more is better. And it blossoms into such pressure that by the time the kids get to college, about a quarter are on some kind of anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. Our hovering and insecurity as parents breeds insecurity in our kids by teaching them that they can’t handle discomfort or challenge.”

“What we need to be parenting for,” Carter said, “is not achievement first, then happiness — but happiness first.” To do that, she advises parents, when they can, to lose the self-sacrifice and take care of themselves; expect effort and enjoyment, not perfection; savor the present moment; and do simple things together such as have a family dinner. “When our children are happy, when their brains are filled with positive emotions like engagement, confidence and gratitude, we know from science that they are more likely to be successful and fulfill their potential,” Carter said.

That’s really a lot of words to explain what we said at the beginning—if you want to be successful in your marriage, in your parenting or in your work, figure out how to increase your happiness first, don’t look for those things/people to give you happiness. What we focus on, we become.

Lori Lowe is a marriage blogger at MarriageGems.com. Her book First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage is now available on Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.  Lori and her husband of 16 years live in Indianapolis with their two children.

Photo by Photostock courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Strategies for Manly Married Men

Lots of men seem to be looking for a magic button of sorts to satisfy their partners in bed. I’m guessing that is why there are so many magazines and books focused on various sexual techniques, finding the elusive “g-spot” and other tips for men.

Notwithstanding the fact that women can be a bit complicated, when I read the following paragraph from Tom Basson’s blog, I thought it might just be the best sexual advice I’ve read for husbands to always remember. The article is called This one goes out to all the manly men, and he offers very good advice on how to create the love story in your life you’ve always wanted.

“Husbands, make love to your wife’s heart, not just her body. As ferociously as possible, find that woman’s heart and connect with it. Learn everything about her and connect with her in as many ways as possible. Understand her story and care about her past. Then her body will respond in ways she never thought humanly possible, and, for that matter, so will yours.”

The advice isn’t only intended to satisfy a mate sexually, but to build a better connection between both partners and satisfy a deep longing in both of them. Husbands and wives have a deep desire for connection, and the pace and technological influences of our day don’t help us meet that desire. Instead, they create obstacles that impede us in our drive for true connection, because they take our eye off the ball with many distractions.

What can you do to move your love story forward, and to bring you and your spouse closer together? How can you truly connect this week, understand your mate’s cares, desires and longings? How can you help stay connected despite your many obligations? How can you remove distractions that get in the way of your focus on your spouse? If it seems like too much of a challenge, read on.

How much time are you spending a day together?

Here’s one possible way to get a jump start. Dustin Reichmann at Engaged Marriage blog has a 10-minute test drive, with eight short things you can do with only 10-15 minutes of time to spend each day with your spouse. He nicely did the math for us, and explained that if we spend just 15 minutes a day connecting with our spouse, we will spend more than 91 hours together in a year. And this type of daily connection is more important than an annual vacation, especially if you are neglecting the rest of the year.

So check out the 100-minute challenge (10 days, 10 minutes) and you’ll see the steps are not at all daunting. For instance, day 5 is relaxing with your favorite dessert or drink together while sharing three things about your day, and day 6 is sharing a foot or back massage. Days 1 and 10 involve rating your marriage to see if you have made a difference in just 10 days. I think these bite-size challenges are a great way to infuse a little extra connection into your day.

What other ideas do you have to help you build a daily connection? Discuss your ideas with your spouse, and feel free to share your ideas here!

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. The book tells the true stories that demonstrate that marriage can thrive even in the most difficult circumstances. Learn from 12 inspiring couples who experienced child loss, infidelity, drug addiction, cancer, financial crises, brain injury, stranger rape, military service, infertility, opposing religions, unsupportive families, interracial relationships, raising special-needs children, and much more. These couples found the pressures of life didn’t destroy them; instead, they crystallized their commitment to each other. Available from Amazon.com or at your favorite e-book retailer.

Photo by Ambro courtesty of freedigitalphotos.net.

How to Naturally Increase Oxytocin, and Why This May Help Your Marriage

Oxytocin is the bonding hormone that helps you and your spouse feel bonded together. It has lots of other nice perks, too, like decreasing feelings of pain, reducing anxiety, lowering stress levels, promoting growth and healing, increasing feelings of trust, and stimulating positive interactions.

I read about an interesting study that showed by increasing oxytocin levels with nasal inhalers, participants became 80 percent more generous than the ones who inhaled a placebo. (Read about the study here.) Generosity has been shown in recent studies to be the secret to a strong marriage. It can also lead to increased intimacy, sex and bonding, which leads to higher levels of oxytocin. So, it’s a big, happy cycle.

This oxytocin stuff sound really great, doesn’t it? How can we get more of it? While there has been some talk of medical use of the hormone (in creams, inhalers and pills), there is much debate about its efficacy and its ethical use. Thankfully, lots and lots of natural actions can effectively increase oxytocin in your body. An increase could mean better feeling of wellness along with stronger feelings of bonding with your spouse.

Top Ways to Boost Oxytocin

Intimacy—Oxytocin is probably most well-known for stimulating labor and milk production in nursing mothers. It is also released by men and women at orgasm. It turns out that sex along with an emotional/loving connection provides a much stronger and longer response of oxytocin than does sex alone. More touching and kissing during lovemaking also makes the effect stronger.

Touching—Massage is a surefire way to boost oxytocin levels in the bloodstream. Lots of other kinds of loving touch can have a similar effect, from holding hands to hugging and snuggling.

Daydreaming about your spouse—A study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found happily married women quickly released a dose of oxytocin when asked to think about their husbands.

Pets—The touching benefit also works when petting your dog or cat. Lower your blood pressure and increase your oxytocin levels by petting and cuddling with your pet. (This doesn’t seem to work with my aquatic frogs, FYI.)

Sensory Experiences—Enjoying sights, sounds and smells that bring you comfort can boost oxytocin levels. Smells of foods you enjoyed while growing up, the sounds of the ocean waves or certain lighting can be effective, for example. When senses have a positive emotional connection, that seems to be the point of success.

Activity—Walking, swimming in warm water and physical exercise work well to boost oxytocin levels, says Kerstin Uvas-Moberg, PhD.

Deep interaction—eye contact with intimacy and “deep interaction” are also advised by Dr. Uvas-Mosberg.

Spirituality—Research has not proven this, but Dr. Uvas-Mosberg says prayer, contemplation and meditation may also increase oxytocin levels. Many of us would agree based on personal experience of positive feelings during or after these activities.

Adversity—This one also needs more study, but if you talk to individuals who have experienced a major crisis together, such as a plane crash, being held as POWs, or a natural disaster, they often feel extremely bonded together. Couples I interviewed and wrote about in First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage expressed that instances of adversity—from losing a child, to financial crisis,  overcoming cancer, living with a brain injury, and much more—made them and their spouses feel closer together.

All but the last action items are pleasurable experiences that can boost your oxytocin levels, while the last item is often unavoidable, but it can strengthen your bond if you work together to overcome the adversity.  To read about how a dozen couples used real-life experiences to improve their marriages, you can find First Kiss to Lasting Bliss on Amazon.com or in various e-book formats. The marriages didn’t just survive; they became great love stories of hope and resilience that are great role models for the rest of us.

What do you think about the role of oxytocin in your marriage?  Is it really about feeling good, or is there something scientific that helps you stay bonded?

Order in time for Valentine’s Day: First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage , which tells the stories of a dozen amazing couples who used adversity to improve their marriage. Go here for links to Amazon print version or e-books for Kindle, iTunes, Sony, Nook or PDF. If you already have the book, don’t forget to email me for your 7 free marriage improvement gifts, including everything from an e-book to improve your sex life to date night suggestions, an iPhone app with daily marriage tips, a marriage refresher workbook, a video to hone your communication skills, and tips for how to connect on a daily basis with your spouse in just 15 minutes a day.

Photo by photostock courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Are Your Personality Traits (and Your Spouse’s) Viewed Negatively or Positively?

My husband and I assisted with a marriage conference last weekend led by Dr. Tim Heck, LMFT. One takeaway we learned is that our view of our spouse’s traits is often skewed. When we are dating, these traits skew very positively in our minds, and at times during the marriage this remains true. However during the days or years when we may be disenchanted or displeased with our spouse (or even just because we have been together for many years), our perception of those traits may skew negatively.

For example, I tend to be a tidy person. I like things fairly neat and in their place (although my desk is often piled with files and projects and some areas of the house are less than perfect). Being organized/tidy can be viewed as a positive trait. My husband might appreciate that I keep up with the laundry and not allow the house to become a complete disaster, and that I teach the kids to pick up after themselves. However, he could also see the trait as a negative and view me as a “neat-freak” or controlling or having too high of standards. He may see that I get anxious when things are very messy and see that as fault.

His perfectionism is great when it comes to making a home improvement just right or when an important purchase must be thoroughly researched. However, when standards for unimportant things are terribly high, the trait can be seen as compulsive or critical.

In this way, literally all of our traits can be viewed with both a positive and negative lens. Even kindness and compassion may turn into a complaint that you neglect yourself or your immediate family to take care of others. Being hardworking may be viewed as workaholic. A very social person may be criticized for not making enough one-on-one time with her spouse. A serious person may be seen as too high strung, while a funny person may be seen as not serious or driven enough.

If you have a frequent complaint of your spouse, consider trying to look for the positive side of his or her traits. If he sometimes works late, consider that he may value being a provider and keeping a good job. If she is a saver and doesn’t want you to spend money on unnecessary items, perhaps she values economic security and careful financial decisions. Whatever traits your spouse possesses that sometimes irritate you, try to flip them and see if you can find a positive angle. You did this when you were dating, and it’s one of the reasons you selected your mate without seeing a long list of faults.

Share with your spouse on or two traits for each of you that you sometimes see the bright side of, and sometimes see the down side.

What traits do you have that are sometimes viewed negatively? What traits does your spouse have that you used to view positively, but sometimes see negatively?

LINKS:
Read The Importance of Playful Partners by Simple Marriage. I often forget about the need to add good, old-fashioned play to our relationships. Good ideas here.

Check out Blindly Driving a Marriage to its Death and then Blaming the Victim by the Generous Husband. Is it possible you’re feeling disprespected at work and that putting that on your spouse?

Photo courtesty of freedigitalphotos.net.

Love Between Men, Women Can Be Like Apples and Oranges

Men may feel love more strongly but be less able to express that love.

I’ve read studies about how men tend to fall in love faster and have more emotional difficulties managing a breakup. To add to this line of thinking, a recent Rutgers University study of 5,000 American adults found that men are becoming more interested in commitment and attachment, while more women are seeking relationships with a degree of independence.  So, the stereotypes of women having stronger emotional ties may not be true, at least in present day.

But even when a man feels the emotions of love very strongly, he often expresses himself much differently than a woman.  Generally, he expresses much less of himself. One reason is that our brains are simply wired differently. Women generally have more developed language and communication centers. That’s because the corpus collosum (the communication strip between the two cerebral hemispheres) is more developed in women, allowing women to integrate data and experience subtleties. 

Knowing all of this, why do we women push our men to communicate as we do? We want more intimate talk, more complete understanding, and more communication of all kinds. Are we asking too much? Maybe, at least for some men.

In addition, men may be more private with their deepest feelings, says author and Huffington Post writer Peggy Drexler. She suggests when you have a man who is reliable, kind, and attentive, it makes sense for a woman to stop pushing against the “boulder of biology” to try to make him communicate like you.  Can we appreciate that love is present, and be grateful for our mate’s positive qualities? Can we recognize and even embrace that our man is built much differently than we are?

I think it’s tough sometimes for us to realize when our expectations may be out of line.  I do think that husbands should do their best to communicate effectively and not shut their wives out. On the other hand, wives should probably learn how to speak more succinctly if we hope to keep our partner’s attention.

The bottom line is even if your hubby isn’t writing you poetry each week or professing his undying love before he hits the pillow every night, it doesn’t mean that your marriage doesn’t mean the world to him. Husbands:  Please take a brief minute and tell your wives that her love means the world to you, and that you know you should tell her more. Wives:  Don’t make it into a marathon conversation. Just kiss him, smile and tell him thanks.

Men:  Consider taking this to the next level to other important female relationships. Tell your daughters you love them and you’re proud of them. Tell your mothers you appreciate all they ever did for you. Unlike men, women tend to look for these important expressions as a barometer of the quality of your relationship.

What do you wish your mate would tell you today? Have you asked for what you need?

Photo by photostock courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

The New #1 Reason for Divorce, and How to Save Your Marriage

“Keep the Sparks Alive” Series

Since 2003, infidelity was reported as the most common reason for divorce in the United Kingdom. Now, a new reason has taken the lead in that country: falling out of love. I wouldn’t be surprised if data was similar in the United States.

According to The Christian Institute, more than 100 family lawyers were polled, revealing 25% of divorces were attributed to extramarital affairs, with 27% saying the couples had “fallen out of love” or “grew apart.”

The great news is that “falling out of love” is a preventable cause of divorce. Ask yourself if you’re doing the following 5 preventive maintenance actions.

  1. Are you spending quality time together each day (even 15-20 minutes) without TV, cell phones, computers or kids racing around?
  2. Are you sharing your needs, desires and goals?
  3. Are you actively helping your spouse meet his/her needs, desires and goals?
  4. Are you enjoying regular intimacy?
  5. Are you giving your love and attention and trying to be the best spouse you can be? Don’t wait for your spouse to start the cycle of loving actions; go first.

Couples tend to drift apart unless they take action to keep that drift from occurring. Make your marriage a priority—above job, children’s activities, housework, volunteer projects, etc.

Often, when couples feel as if they have fallen out of love, it just means they are not feeling that intense passion they did when they first got together. This is a natural hormonal process. But marriages are often revived, and loving feelings often follow loving actions. Avoid putting your relationship on life support. Keep the romance burning with time, attention and concern for one another.

Which of the 5 preventive maintenance steps does your marriage need more of?

LINKS:
Interesting debate on this CBS news clip on whether spouses should be legally required to provide sex to their partners as happened to one man in France who was sued by his wife.

Photo by photostock courtesy of freestockphotos.com.

Is seeking success keeping you from a happy life and marriage?

Happy Life: Happy  Marriage Series

“If you equate happiness with success, you will never achieve the amount of success necessary to make you happy.” –Dennis Prager

The above quote from Happiness is a Serious Problem stood out to me as a major challenge in today’s society. Many of us are focused on achieving an ideal lifestyle to make us happy. In other words, living in a certain home that is well decorated, having an attractive spouse and children, working in a challenging and well-paying career—these things become prerequisites to happiness, not additional blessings to enjoy.

Prager says this is one of the most common obstacles to achieving happiness in our lives. I would add that it is also an obstacle to achieving happiness in our marriages, because our relationship happiness is so heavily influenced by happiness (or unhappiness) in other areas of our life.

Are there goals (either subconscious or conscious) you are seeking—specific areas of success that you can write down? Jot them down and imagine how your life would change if you achieved these items. Most of us will realize that 1) our life wouldn’t change that significantly if we achieved them and 2) we would then become focused on new goals that would then be required to make us happy.

“Identifying success with happiness is like moving the goalposts back 10 yards every time your football team has a first down—your team may be more and more successful, but the goalposts will always remain unreachable,” says Prager. The solution is to decide today that you are successful. This doesn’t mean you must stop seeking new goals and challenging yourself, but rather that the additional success isn’t required for your happiness.

There are plenty of people who are not successful by the world’s standards who are very happy, and the converse is also true. (“Unhappy poor people at least have the fantasy that money will make them happy, unhappy rich people don’t even have that,” says Prager.) So we should realize that seeking a worldly view of success doesn’t guarantee any increase in our happiness. Success on its own is not bad. For instance, achieving career goals and providing financially for your family can be quite positive and rewarding, but negative when ever-increasing amounts of money, recognition, fame, or ego-boosting are necessary to feel fulfilled. The pursuit of financial success is not necessarily destructive to happiness; it is destructive when engaged in for its own sake and not for reasons that increase happiness, explains Prager.

Prager suggests we ask ourselves “why” we want to be successful. For some, their parents loved them when they were successful academically or with certain career choices. Others may have a fear of financial failure. Many individuals are driven by demons that no amount of success can assuage, says Prager.

On the flipside, when our work is joyful and meaningful, success at work can certainly bring about increased happiness. This is why unpaid volunteers can derive more joy from their work than the highest paid professionals. What would you do if money weren’t a driving force in your life? If success gives you peace of mind, helps you give of your time and money to worthwhile causes, then it is likely building happiness.

For example, I derive satisfaction and enjoyment from researching and writing about marriage, an endeavor I have been working on for three years without compensation. I have another job that supports me financially. On balance, I feel my career is rewarding and adds to my happiness. I believe investing in my personal relationships adds even more to my happiness.

Where else do you seek success?
Since you have read this far, you are likely focused on marriage improvement and self-improvement as well. These are areas in which success can be equated with increased happiness: success in love, in relationships, in child rearing, in gaining wisdom, in doing good, in spiritual growth, and in learning about oneself. Seeking worldly success can be more likely to bring unhappiness than happiness, as it detracts us from the areas that will ultimately bring us happiness.

What success are you seeking in your life, and in your marriage relationship?

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com/Stormcab

Feeling Loved Makes You Less Materialistic

Happy Life: Happy Marriage Series

The more one feels loved and accepted by others, the lower the monetary value they will place on their material goods. A March 2011 study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology revealed that heightened interpersonal security diminishes the monetary value of possessions.

Two studies involved researchers giving simple items to participants—a pen or a blanket. When participants were asked about their social support or primed with security-related words, they placed a lower monetary value on the items received than if the researchers used positive or neutral language. Placing a focus on relationships caused the material item to have less value.

For individuals who are trying to be less materialistic, get control of their finances, or who have difficulty getting rid of their stuff, this research may be a helpful way to reduce the perceived value of our “things”. Focusing more on our interpersonal relationships makes us realize the greater importance of relationships in our lives over our stuff. Think about your loved ones before you clean out those closets or go on a shopping spree.

Looking back on our lives, I know that we will evaluate the quality of our lives more by the quality of our relationships than by the quality of our shoes. Yet, many of us still fall into the trap of feeling that we need bigger and higher-end things to make us feel better. We think we should take the promotion and higher pay, even if it may cause our marriage to weaken because of the extra travel and long hours. But if we understood happiness research, we would think twice about using monetary wealth to attempt to increase our individual or family happiness.

In fact, research has demonstrated that people measure their happiness by the quality of their personal relationships. Even if other aspects of their lives, such as career and financial life, are going poorly, they will say life is going well if their personal relationships are strong. However, if relationships are weak and individuals feel unloved and unsupported, they will report being unhappy even if their job and other life factors are going well. We know this intuitively, don’t we?

The obvious conclusion is that if we want to be happier, we should look for ways to improve the relationships with the people in our lives with whom we are closest. Having a loving, supportive relationship with our spouse, children, parents and close friends will insulate us from much of the unhappiness of the world. Many people find a close relationship with their God allows them to rise above the cares of the world.

Those who have lost a special loved one will attest that they would trade everything they have for more time with that person.  Yet our culture places a very high value on our external appearance, supported by material goods, i.e. clothing, cars, and homes. We all have to choose how to invest our limited time and limited funds. Each day we can make new choices.

Do you agree that having better relationships makes you happier? Do you find you struggle to dedicate time to improving your interpersonal relationships even though you understand the value proposition? Do you find that focusing on relationships causes you to value things less?

LINKS:
For all those dog lovers, read about how a dog helped a man save his marriage–and his life.

Photo: Courtesy of PhotoXpress.com

Can Excessive Work Outs Give Your Marriage a Beating?

“Keeping the Sparks Alive” Series

We’re constantly being told to exercise for good health and good relationships. I think it’s true to a point, but a recent article about excessive exercising reminded me that just because something is good for you does not mean more of it is better for you. The explosion of endurance sports, such as marathons and triathlons, is placing a strain on more marriages these days.

A Workout Ate My Marriage” by Kevin Helliker of the Wall Street Journal features the wife of an endurance athlete who awakens alone every day including holidays, with her husband gone before dawn to exercise for hours. He wished her a Happy Mother’s Day from a triathlon in another state, while she stayed home to care for their three children.

In their mid-40s, they both recognize the constant training impedes their intimacy. The husband even acknowledges it’s selfish for him to take so much time away from family, in addition to his work as a banking executive. The article calls the woman an exercise widow. (Many couples joke about the golf widow left at home when the husband spends excessive nights and weekends on the golf course.)  He rises and leaves before anyone in the house. He arrives home from work after the family has had dinner, and falls asleep before the children because of his exhaustion from exercise and early hours.

A marriage counselor quoted in the article says this is a new trend — that more couples are coming into her office with an excessive focus on fitness. I admit I’ve known others who have fallen prey to the obsession. One woman I know became so obsessed with her body that her husband believed she cared more about her long morning run than caring for her children. Then, plastic surgery helped her “perfect” her body, only for her to have an affair with another man. Nothing her husband said could dissuade her from the desire for fitness above all else. The marriage ultimately fell apart.

Indeed, some individuals who have success with losing weight and becoming fit realize they are attractive to the opposite sex. This can fuel a new sense of sexiness than can be good for the marriage, or it can lead to temptation to stray.

As I write this, my dear hubby is taking a long training run at a nearby park. He competes in occasional sprint triathlons and goes through phases of increased dedication to exercise. However, he has never put the gods of fitness above the needs of family. Much of his training takes place when he is traveling for work and keeps him from mindless TV watching.

I have great friends without children who regularly run marathons together. And she cheers him on during sprint triathlons. Their long hours of training work fine for their marriage because they do it together and because they have no children competing for their attention. This situation is ideal for them.

I have another friend whose marriage thrives on her husband taking long—very long—bike rides. She says it’s good for their marriage because it clears his head and makes him a happier husband.

If I’m being honest, most people, like me, need more of a kick in the pants to exercise more, not less. However, an obsession with anything, even a good thing, can kill the sparks in your marriage. Even healthy habits or fun hobbies can take over one’s life. If you’re traveling every weekend to go to car shows, and your wife hates them, it’s the same problem. If your spouse frequently complains that you spend more time and adoration on something besides the marriage and family, there’s a problem.

Arizona psychologist, triathlon coach and blogger warns of “Divorce by Triathlon” and wonders aloud at the number of lonely husbands, wives and children of triathletes who are waiting for the “insanity to end.”

Whatever you’re obsessed with, keep your sanity. Don’t go over the deep end and leave your family behind. Keep the sparks in your marriage by reminding your spouse that no sport or hobby is more important than him or her.

Has fitness ever come between your marriage? Do you wish your spouse would be more dedicated to fitness? Does your partner spend too much time on a sport, hobby or other obsession?

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