Tag Archives: Communication

Have Regular RINGS Chats with your Spouse

couple at breakfast by Ambro freedigitalphotos.net

Do you want to feel more connected with your spouse when you talk?  I recently attended a meeting for Better Together, a new marriages strengthening organization based in Hamilton County near Indianapolis. Marriage and Family Therapist Missy Irvin provided these simple but meaningful tips, developed by The Marriage Resource Center in Dayton, Ohio, on how to keep a sense of connectedness with your spouse.  (And no, RINGS chats are not about jewelry.)

Irvin acknowledged that it can often be challenging to have real talks, not just discussing who will do what in your household. So, here’s a little acronym to help you remember how to infuse your talks with a better connection:

R stands for real emotions—Know how you feel first, and take time for yourself if you need it. You don’t always have to say “fine” when your partner asks how you’re doing. He or she can’t read your mind. If you’re overwhelmed, lonely or tired, say so.

I stands for Intentions/Information—Ask your spouse why they feel the way they do. Don’t shut them down by saying, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” This only causes people to stuff their feelings rather than share them.

N stands for needs—Express yourself in terms of “this is what I need from you.” Rather than making a honey-do list of chores, it may help to explain why you need help in a particular area.

G stands for grateful—Each of you state what you are grateful for. This helps you get outside of the negativity and stop focusing on the things you may perceive are going wrong.

S stands for someday—Don’t forget to dream together about the future.

Thanks to Better Together for the insights. I’ll be speaking at the group’s February 13 meeting. If you’re in the area, let me know and I’ll send you details, or check out their web site to register.

Photo by Ambro courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Why Arguments Spiral Out of Control in Relationships

When you are in the heat of an argument, your brain seems to be fixed on “hot,” doesn’t it? It’s not just you.

Your brain clusters memory by emotions, explained a recent article by SmartRelationships.org. What this means is that when we are sad, all we can recall at that moment are sad memories. When we are angry, we can only recall moments when we were angry. When we are happy, we recall only happy memories. “This explains why arguments can so easily descend into a long list of past offenses.”

You’ve been there, right? During the disagreement, you can’t remember all the good reasons you married your spouse. You can’t access your positive feelings. This is why saddle bagging (bringing up old hurts and conflicts) is so common. You suddenly have access to all these negative memories that were hidden to you before the argument.

What can you do to counter this tendency? Waiting a little while to allow yourself to gain perspective can help you return to a happier place where you can access positive memories again.

This concept of memory clustering is a relatively new concept for me, and one I think we would do well to remember ourselves and to educate others about when they are in conflict, especially older kids and teens. “Let them know that when it seems like the end of the world, it’s only the brain being unable to access memories from a different emotional state,” according to SmartRelationships.org.

What this has to do with is developing resilience and emotional intelligence in your marriage. Sometimes you have to “unstick” your mind by focusing on something else, or by being willing to step away until you are calm. You can help increase resilience in your marriage by offering care and support and by developing a better ability to manage strong feelings and impulses.  You can only control your own reactions and behavior.

Remember that if you both didn’t care so much you wouldn’t be as upset as you are about your differences. After calming down, take time to listen and focus on effective communication (not just getting your point across). Focus on your goal of working through the issue toward better understanding for the future, rather than focusing on “winning” the argument.

What goes through your mind during the heat of an argument? Is this issue of memory clustering harder for you or your spouse to get past?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo courtesy of Liz Noffsinger/Freedigitalphotos.net.

12 Great Communication Tips from Ronald Reagan to use in Your Marriage

With the U.S. Presidential election only days away, and both parties not shy about bringing up their fondness for Ronald Reagan, it seemed an appropriate time to talk about The Great Communicator. Thankfully, this post has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with marriage.

As we’ve turned the corner into November with the holidays fast approaching, I wanted to share a bit about the treasure that former President Reagan left not to our nation, but to his wife, Nancy. She kept a huge collection of personal love letters that he wrote her over the years of their marriage. She’s shared many artifacts with his national library and along with telling their story, shares many letters in the book “I Love You, Ronnie.”

Ronnie, as she affectionately called him, wore his heart on his sleeve where Nancy was concerned, and wrote almost daily affirmations to her wherever he was. His heartfelt notes are a lasting legacy, especially to his wife. They were a reminder of his love after Alzheimer’s disease prevented him from communicating it as he so eloquently did, and of course are a great remembrance for her after his death in 2004.

In our throwaway era of fast communication, Nancy says it’s “all too easy never to find the time to write letters,” calling this a great pity. She decided to share his letters to allow others to see how wonderful it can be to express what you feel to those you love.

So here are some ideas and excerpts to inspire you. This season, don’t think of the daunting task of writing one perfect love letter. Instead, select at least three different days this season where you write in a card or jot a note, or attach a letter to a gift, expressing love to your spouse.  Here are some techniques he frequently used:

  1. Sometimes he used silly pet names like Nancy Poo, Nancy Pants, Mommie or Career Girl, and other times he used formal names like First Lady or Mrs. Reagan. He signed them also with personal nicknames (Pauvre Petite Papa) or more formal names (The Guv, Mr. President). But he seemed to always view these terms with endearment and a twinkle in his eye. For example, on leaving the Governor’s office, he said, “’Lame duck’ or ‘ex’ you are still my first lady—now more than ever.” Tip: Use personal terms that will make your spouse smile.
  2. He varied the length and format of his letters from writing a note in a greeting card (which he frequently gave) to scribbling a note with a doodle or writing a long note on White House stationery. He often used hotel stationery, and there are examples from The Plaza Hotel in New York to Plankington House in Milwaukee. Tip: As you look back, writing on a postcard or hotel letterhead can convey the memories from trips or places you lived.
  3. His notes were nearly all hand written, except when sent by telegram. Texts and emails written with heart are certainly welcome today, but try to make the three special notes for this season hand written. Tip: Even if your handwriting is messy, write your special notes by hand.
  4. Some letters included literary references. For example, “Browning I’m not, but believe me I do love you to the breadth and depth of all my being…” You might think it sounds cheesy, but I bet Nancy liked it. I was more impressed by his reference to Anne of Green Gables, although he misspelled her name. “Just think:  I’ve discovered I can be fond of Ann Blyth because she and her Dr. seem to have found something of what we have.” Tip: Use songs or books or movies that mean something to the two of you, especially if you have a hard time coming up with romantic language on your own.
  5. He sometimes included a gift, and often included a funny note or explanation. Tip: It can be a small treat or something more extravagant, but a gift accompanied by a note is always fun.
  6. He sometimes included personal memories or stories of their early days.  Tip: Sharing personal memories helps bring back the memories and feelings of those passionate days.
  7. He was constantly telling Nancy how much he loved her, adored her, missed her, and needed her. Do you think she ever got tired of it? Here’s one example: “I’ve always loved and missed you, but never has it been such an actual ache…I’m all hollow without you.” Tip: Don’t be afraid to share your feelings. Work hard to express your love.
  8. He never missed a special note for Valentine’s Day, anniversary, Christmas, birthdays, Mother’s Day, etc. He sometimes treated ordinary days like a holiday, and holidays like an every day. For example, on their March anniversary in 1963, he wrote, “This is really just an ‘in between’ day. It is a day on which I love you 365 days more than I did a year ago and 365 days less than I will a year from now. But I wonder how I lived at all for all the 365s before I met you. All my love, Your Husband.” Tip: Any day is a great day to give a note. Try to take a little extra care on special days.
  9. He used a letter to make up at least once, although Nancy says they rarely argued. And after reading it, I don’t know many women who could stay mad. Here’s an excerpt:

“A few days ago you told me I was angry with you. I tried to explain I was frustrated with myself. But later on I realized that my frustration might have been a touch of self-pity, because I’d been going around feeling that you are frequently angry with me. No more. We are so much ‘one’ that you are as vital to me as my own heart—with one exception; you could never be replaced with a transplant. Whatever I treasure and enjoy—this home, our ranch, the sight of the sea—all would be without meaning if I didn’t have you. I live in a permanent Christmas because God gave me you.”

    Tip: Sometimes saying I’m sorry in a letter allows your  apology to sink  in. And the other words of love and affirmation can’t hurt.

  1. He often shared with her his daily frustrations of work or being separated, just daily details and things that upset him. Tip: Sharing these frustrations and letting your spouse into your life and thoughts can help keep you feeling close.
  2. He sometimes played with words or used analogies. He referred to their wedding day as the day he received a heart transplant. And he often expressed surprise at how the happy years have flown by. “Others would have you believe we’ve been married 20 years. 20 minutes maybe—but never 20 years. It is a known fact that a human cannot sustain the high level of happiness I feel for more than a few minutes—and my happiness keeps on increasing.” Tip: Use language in different ways, or use a play on words.
  3. He knew best how to keep it simple. One favorite letter on White House stationery Nancy kept framed for many years over her desk read:

I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
And besides that–
I love you.

Instead of roaming the malls for the perfect gift, spend a little time remembering the days when you first fell in love. Share your feelings from the early days and from today.  Repeat regularly.

What tips do you think you will use for your next love letter?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo source: Ronald Reagan Library

Book Source: I Love You, Ronnie:  The Letters of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan

Focus on Loving Communication with Spouse

Marriage is not about keeping score. However, the positive and negative comments we make certainly do add up. Even if you compliment your spouse once or twice a day (thinking you are doing SUCH a good job), a criticism or complaint can negate those positives.

Remember that experts say successful marriages have five positive interactions for every one negative interaction. (Read Avoid Divorce with 5:1 Ratio.) And a ratio like that takes effort. The negative interaction may be addressing a concern one of you has, but it should still be communicated with love.

Remember that game of “s/he loves me, s/he loves me not” where you remove petals to decide if someone loves you? It reminded me of a similar analogy. Envision that you give some daisies to your sweetheart at the end of the day. Each time you roll your eyes, complain, criticize, ignore, lecture, or tease, you’re removing a few more of those petals. Each time you praise, act lovingly, hug/kiss/touch, speak respectfully, cherish, adore, appreciate you preserve those petals. At the end of the day if your bouquet is dismal at best, your spouse may not feel very affectionate or welcoming of you. When you’ve had many loving interactions during the day, this communicates care, concern and love.

Especially harmful to men are comments that leave them feeling disrespected or unappreciated, while those that are especially harmful to most women cause them to feel unloved or unattractive.

Loving communication is not about being right or wrong. It is about being considerate and aware of your partner’s feelings, even when you have to address problems.

When you are preparing to react negatively, give your spouse the benefit of the doubt that their motives are good. Instead of being defensive, try to understand where they are coming from.

Surprise your spouse with honest compliments, positive text messages or emails, notes of appreciation, and hugs or kisses for no reason. You can focus on the love language that your partner most enjoys, but expand to other areas as well. (Read What is Your Love Language?) For example, if they like acts of service best, they may also enjoy words of affirmation.

How can you communicate your love today?

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 Dan with freedigitalphotos.net

Marriage Education Shows 55% Increase in Marital Satisfaction

In the nation’s largest study on the immediate and long-term impact of marriage education, surprisingly strong improvements in marital satisfaction have been shown.

Healthy Relationships California studied more than 17,000 marriage participants who took a skills-based marriage education course. Before the course, only 44 percent of the married individuals considered themselves happy with their relationship, and 56 percent were moderately or highly distressed in their marriage.

Six months following the course, 32 percent were distressed, and more than 68 percent were satisfied in their relationship. This equates to a 55 percent increase in the number of people who were satisfied in their marriage.

I believe this should convey to the average couple that learning marriage skills can be dramatically helpful in their marriage. Skills like conflict management, communication, financial skills, or any area that is difficult for you can be learned and improved. Learning how to appropriately communicate your concerns, your desires, your dreams and wishes in a way that doesn’t put your spouse on the defensive—these are important skills that can be learned even if it seems like much of your communication is filled with conflict.

You don’t have to succumb to the popular belief that all marriages decline, and that it’s all but impossible to have a successful long-term marriage. Nearly every state offers marriage education courses. Many churches and other organizations also offer classes or retreats. What skill would you and your spouse benefit from improving?

You can read more of the details here at Healthy Relationships California’s web site by Jason Krafsky.

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 Ambro courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Is “Good Fighting” Beneficial to Marriage?

Many couples fear that frequent arguing can signal their relationship’s demise. It may be the type of arguing you do, not the frequency, that determines your fate.

Do couples that fight actually have an edge? A 2012 study found that 44 percent of married couples believe that fighting more than once a week helps keep the lines of communication open.

William Doherty, professor in the University of Minnesota’s department of family social science says although this study was done in India, it reinforces similar U.S. studies. He warns, however, that only “good fighting” can be helpful, and that “bad fighting” can be destructive.

A “good fight” would be a discussion or conflict with a soft start-up rather than a hard start-up. For example, a soft start-up may begin, “I’m feeling very overwhelmed and could really use some help.” On the other hand, a hard start-up may begin, “Why am I the only one who ever does any housework around here?”

Here are a few other tips from Doherty on “good fighting”:

  1. Dealing with an issue can be better than ignoring it, especially if resentment is building.
  2. Focus only on the topic at hand; don’t bring up old issues.
  3. Don’t bring in third parties or their opinions.
  4. Don’t compare your spouse to someone else.
  5. Don’t use “you always/never”.
  6. Remember to RESPECT one another.
  7. Apologize when it’s warranted. This shows you value the relationship.

You can check out the source article at the Chicago Tribune: Couples who argue together stay together.

Check out Lori Lowe’s book, First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage,  at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com

Photo by Photostock courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Genes May Contribute to Relationship Empathy

A new study out just this month that appeared in the online journal Emotion, published by the American Psychological Association, suggests that our genes may determine how inclined we are toward empathy. This means that the level of connection we have toward our spouse’s negative emotional state may have more to do with their biological makeup than with how much they care.

Researchers suggest that our genetic makeup may make some people more responsive to their partner’s emotional states and others less so. Their theory is that the serotonin transporter gene 5-HTTLPR might play a role in making us either less or more responsive to our spouses’ emotions.

The study involved data from 172 couples who remained married after 11 years. Researchers found some people have one variant of the gene, while others have a second variant. Depending on which variant you or your spouse has, your emotions may be more or less connected to your partner’s emotions. The gene appears to control how long your reaction lasts, and how responsive you are to your spouse’s emotional cues.

While we can’t blame our actions on our biology, Bradbury says we do need to realize that who we are is in large part a makeup of our biology, and that our reactions are sometimes outside our control. However, researcher Tom Bradbury says, “It’s much more complex than a single gene.”

The reason this understanding is important, say the psychologists, is not so that we can explain away our own behavior, but instead that we learn to be more forgiving of our spouse. “This research may imply that we should be forgiving of the behavior of a loved one and not demand that a spouse change her or his behavior,” said the psychologists.

  “Who you are and how you respond to me has a lot to do with things that are totally outside your control,” said Bradbury. “My partner’s biology is invisible to me; I have no clue about that. The more I can appreciate that the connection between who I am and who my partner is may be biologically mediated leads me to be much more appreciative of invisible forces that constrain our behavior,” he added.

Researchers believe multiple genes are at play in helping to contribute to our reactions. They say that if you realize how hard it is to change yourself, you may see that your partner can’t control this aspect of him or herself either.

There’s much more to the full research study that I’ll write about later, but this biological component is important to helping understand why we need to have a forgiving bent within marriage. It’s difficult at times to see things the way our spouse seems them, and at times we would like them to be more emotionally understanding of where we are. However, this may be harder than you realize for your partner to accomplish.

From my own experience, I believe my husband to be very empathic with others, but I don’t believe we are always emotionally on the same page. So, this research helps remind me that we have a different makeup and that he can’t always choose to be where I am emotionally. It doesn’t mean that he can’t understand my emotions, but rather that we may have to work harder to maintain emotional connection and understanding.

Do you find these results interesting or enlightening—or dull and unhelpful? Does it help you view your spouse’s reactions in a new light? Or, do you think individuals can exercise much more control and choice over the way they respond, and shouldn’t rely on biological excuses?

Photo by Photostock courtesty of freedigitalphotos.net.

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.