Tag Archives: better relationships

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?

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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.

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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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Choose Exciting over Pleasant Activities to Boost Marriage

Exciting activities improve marital satisfaction much more than pleasant activities. A new study by the Interpersonal Relationships Laboratory of New York State University showed that a group of couples who spent two hours each week engaging in a new, exciting activity gave a dramatic boost to their marital satisfaction. A second group who engaged in highly pleasant, but only moderately exciting, activities, showed no significant change in their perceived marriage quality.

I found the results interesting, because I would have expected at least some reported improvement in both groups. However, I’m not surprised the first group with their novel experiences created stronger results. This is because previous research has focused on the hormone oxytocin that is released when a couple falls in love, has sex, or shares novel, exciting experiences together. This hormone helps a couple bond and feel all lovey-dovey. In addition, if you are learning about or experiencing something new together, you are united in your goal of accomplishment. It can be exhilarating to enjoy a new experience or learn something challenging together.

As many married couples find it difficult to keep their passion alive, the study is a great reminder to focus at least some of our attention on how to keep things exciting. It can be a bit daunting, however, for those of us who don’t spend much time climbing mountains or exploring underwater caves. So, it’s important to find something you both would find enjoyable, new and exciting.

The study authors had couples make a list of things they would like to do that are exciting. This is a perfect starting point for you. Make a list, and rate each activity 1-10 for pleasantness and excitement. Find something that you both find moderately pleasant but high on the excitement scale.

You might consider:
• Travel to a new, exciting destination
• Learning a new language together
• An outdoor activity, such as zip lining, biking in a challenging terrain, training together for a mini marathon.
• Taking a cooking or dancing class
• Getting a couples massage
• Talking about, and experimenting with new techniques in the bedroom (or buying an enticing, sexy new garment)
• Going to a rock concert or venue you wouldn’t normally attend
• Surprise each other occasionally with a gift or a date night
• Go on a marriage retreat or a weekend getaway
• Brainstorm ideas that fit your interests and area of the world—scuba diving, hiking in the mountains, skiing, camping—but only activities that are NEW for you, not what you find yourself doing over and over again.
• Learning a new skill together—photography, pottery making (remember that scene in Ghost?!), a musical instrument, race car driving, flying an airplane

Married life doesn’t have to be dull. What makes affairs exciting is the notion of getting to know someone attractive and new, going to new places, trying new activities, and having new sexual experiences. Have an affair with your own spouse, and experience these exhilarating feelings in the safety of your own marriage. Maybe you do your hair differently, or put at attractive outfit together. Then, go do something really fun together, and enjoy the boost in your marriage. There’s no excuse for saying married life is boring.

What’s the most exciting thing you have done lately as a couple?

Interesting Links:

Bikinis or briefs? Read a new study that proves bad underwear can ruin your day. Really. So, choose your panties carefully, and it may improve your life and make you feel sexier and more confident. Your hubby may also appreciate this.

Divorce’s Impact on Teens. More than half of American teens (55%) do NOT live with their married mother and father. Using United States Census Bureau data from 2008, a study revealed that 62 percent of Asian-American teens live in two-parent households, compared to 54 percent of whites, 41 percent of multiracial background, 40 percent of Hispanics, 24 percent of American Indians or Alaskan Natives, and 17 percent of African-Americans.

Walk through effects of Divorce. A new program in Britain—the country with the highest divorce rates in Europe—suggests that couples on the brink of divorce confront the realities how divorce would impact their family before taking the next step. It’s based on an educational program in Norway that has been effective at keeping families together.

Do you believe in soul mates? This marital therapist at Psychology Today does not, and says the idea alone contributes to relationship failures. She says too many people leave their marriage then they decide they have finally met their “true” soul mate, who ends up not being so ideal in the end.

Photo credit: © Maxim Petrichuk/PhotoXpress.com

Researchers Share How to Improve Sex Life

“Keeping the Sparks Alive” Series Post 3

Most of the readers of this blog already have the top two ingredients for good sex (according to researchers)—love and commitment.

The Archives of Sexual Behavior released the findings, based on a study of 544 sexually active college students. (So, we’re not talking about married couples here.) Read a summary in Discovery News. The motivations for having sex that were most highly correlated with sexual satisfaction were love and commitment. So, if you and your mate have those two things, consider yourself fortunate.

OK, maybe you have love and commitment, but you still see room for improvement in your sex life. The Journal of Sexual Medicine has some advice for you, which was shared in USA Weekend. (Is it me, or are there a lot of scientific journals focused on sex? It’s apparently a popular field of study.) Scientists reviewed the results of a clinical trial in which women were given erectile-dysfunction pills or a placebo. While the pill was deemed ineffective, more than one-third of the placebo group said their sex lives significantly improved after taking what they thought was medication. The placebo, it turns out, was quite effective. Why?

First, participants were all highly motivated to improve their sex lives. Second, they were asked to have sex at least three times a month during the study and fill out questionnaires. Perhaps placing their attention on their sex lives, along with their desire to improve that area of their lives was responsible for the improvement, suggest researchers. The bottom line is that if you want to improve your sex life, give it your attention and focus.

I’m sure some readers are saying, “I want a better sex life, but my partner doesn’t give it the same priority.” This is a sensitive subject to be sure, and one about which we could have experts commenting for many months. The Generous Husband offered some New Year’s suggestions for men who are hoping to have “more sex in 2011” with their wives. Paul Byerly suggests that making too big a deal out of it may imply that all you care about is sex—and may appear manipulative. Instead, he suggests discussing your sex lives at a carefully chosen time—not when your mate is tired or busy. Approach it in a gentle and positive manner, such as, “I want sex to be even better for both of us.” Getting the topic out there may help open the door for future discussions. You might offer a few suggestions if your partner is open to discuss, but work on the issue gradually, so as not to overwhelm your partner. Focus on helping your spouse enjoy sex more, and you will likely improve their interest in it, he says. Ask your partner what would make sex more enjoyable for them, what would make the bedroom more pleasant, etc.

In addition–and this should not be an after-thought–women (and many men) want to feel loved, touched and appreciated outside the bedroom to encourage more romantic thoughts and ideas. A spouse who is not feeling the love during the day will probably not be “in the mood” that evening.

Whether you’re both in the mood or not, sometimes you need to prioritize sex to keep your marriage strong. In addition, there are many physical health benefits to sex, including stress relief, burning calories, promoting cardiovascular health and reducing prostate cancer risk. Read the details here.

Do you think this research gives you any new, useful information, or is it just confirming what you already knew?

Related Links:

If you find your life is just so busy and chaotic, you don’t have much time for a sex life, consider this Wall Street Journal article in which a woman describes taking time away from her job not for her children or aging parents, but to “extend the honeymoon period” in her marriage. It also suggests some less-dramatic solutions, such as coming home 15 minutes early each day to gain 1.25 hours with your spouse a week.

Interesting quote from sexpert Ian Kerner on CNN this week: “I don’t care what anybody says, real sex with a real person is better than porn any day of the week.  At Good in Bed, we believe that porn is the equivalent of professional wrestling: phony and superficial. It’s like subsisting on a junk-food diet of Gummi bears and Gatorade when you could be having a gourmet meal.” Kerner says the increasing prevalence of porn has created a phenomenon called Sexual Attention Deficit Disorder, in which men become bored or unable to focus on real sex with a real woman. Hmmm, that is SADD.

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5 Tips for a Happier Life & Happier Marriage

Happy Life: Happy Marriage series, Post 3

Our overall sense of wellbeing is 50% constitutional, 10% circumstantial, and 40% controllable, says Dr. Henry Cloud, author of The Law of Happiness.

Dr. Cloud said in a CNN story that the majority of people’s effort to improve their lives, for example with their job or a new car, can bump up their happiness level by 10%, but then it goes back down. However, much is still within our control when it comes to becoming happier. He says that happy people do the following 5 things. I’ve added tips on how we can adapt the advice for a happier marriage.

1. Create a support system.—Develop a close circle of significant relationships both inside and outside the home.

Happy marriage tip: Remember to have strong friendships as well as a strong marriage and family relationships. Choose friends that will back up your marriage. If you’ve been lax about spending time with friends, contact one now to schedule a coffee date.

2. Set specific goals.—Having both long- and short-term goals helps organize your brain around helpful activities to aid you in achieving your goals.

Happy marriage tip: Set long- and short-term goals for your marriage. Make them doable. For example, set aside 15 minutes each day to reconnect. Work on scheduling a date night each month or an annual vacation with your spouse.

3. Volunteer.—When you give back, your brain secretes the same chemical as when you eat good food or enjoy sex.

Happy marriage tip: Consider volunteering together on an activity that you are both passionate about. This will help you feel good and will help you become more bonded to each other. In addition, it gives you something meaningful to talk about besides chores, the kids, and work. Not to mention, you’re helping make the world a better place.

4. Don’t dwell on what you cannot control.

Happy marriage tip: Don’t try to change your spouse. You can only control yourself.

5. Belief in a higher power—Dr. Cloud says that those with an active spiritual life live longer and have stronger immune systems.

Happy marriage tip: If you attend a church, do so together. Consider being involved in a ministry together or making friends there as a couple.

What is the one thing that boosts your happiness the most? Do Dr. Cloud’s tips resonate with your life? How much of your happiness do you believe is within your control?

Photo credit: ©Pavel Losevsky/PhotoXpress.com

You Can Keep that Loving Feeling—Even after 20 Years of Marriage

Remember that old ad, “This is your brain on drugs?” Well, now scientists have a way of showing us, “This is your brain on love.”

Ever wonder what your brain looks like after 20 years of marriage? The news is heartening. At least it is for some couples, who claim to remain “over the moon” about each other for decades past the honeymoon phase.

Researchers at Stony Brook University in New York compared the fMRI brain scans of people newly in love with those who claimed to still be in love after decades. Both groups—newly in love and long-term marrieds (married an average of 21 years) who claim to be still madly in love—showed activity in the dopamine-rich areas of the brain when they thought about or viewed images of their partner. The reward center part of the brains was very active; this is the same center that lights up for cocaine addicts when they use the drug.

Even more interesting is where the brain scans differed. The long-in-love brains showed no activity among areas commonly associated with anxiety and fear. “Individuals in long-term relationships may experience the excitement, sexual attraction, engagement, and intensity associated with romantic love, “ says study co-author Bianco Acevedo. “But they report pining, anxiety, intrusive thinking far less than individuals newly in love.”

Instead of activating the anxiety areas of the brain, the long-marrieds had more active brain areas that were associated with pleasure and pain relief. (I’ve shared other research that showed touch from a loved one can reduce one’s pain. Read Need a Pain Reliever? Try Love. ) These pleasure centers are the same areas that become active when we eat good food or use certain substances, such as morphine. The long-term lovers’ brains also showed more activity related to brain regions associated with maternal love.

The news may not be positive for some couples, says the study’s other co-author, Arthur Aron, who says some couples don’t want to hear that others have a steady, unyielding passion for one another. “Nobody wants to hear about couples doing better than they are. We all like to believe we’re the best.”

On the other hand, engaged and married couples, as well as marriage therapists, should understand that it is very possible for many couples to retain that passion, and not just be content companions. How can they do that? Aron’s other research suggests the most successful couples are the ones that help one another engage in self-expansion—something we discussed in the recent post Is the Happy Marriage the ‘Me’ Marriage? Aron also says couples who were still in love reported more frequent sex, adjusted for age.

See the Time Magazine article here that describes the study.

Do you think most married couples would show very different brain scans than the ones self-selected in the study as having the same passion as those newly in love? Where do you think research should tread next in this area?

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