Tag Archives: Family

How to keep a daily connection in your marriage

canoe morguefile

One of the most common reasons given for marriage failures is that the spouses “drifted apart.” The truth is drifting comes very naturally. As William Doherty describes in his book Take Back Your Marriage, marriage is like launching a canoe in the Mississippi River at St.Paul; if you don’t paddle, it goes south. And if two people are in the canoe, you have to both paddle.

As you’re floating along, chances are that one of you will become concerned about marital drift, he explains. One of you may comment on fewer long talks, less quality time together, or less sex. “For some couples, these complaints are a call to start paddling more vigorously. For other couples, the complaints lead to unpleasant arguments that lead to greater distance. But even when we are inspired to try harder, the extra work on our marriage tends to be short lived—sustained for days or weeks at best—and then we resume our slow drift south.”

While this issue is not due to lack of love or good intentions, couples in this situation often lack a plan for taking back their marriage. Of the plethora of marriage books I have read and/or have on my shelves, Take Back Your Marriage is one of my top picks, because this situation is SO VERY COMMON. If this is your situation, realize this is normal, but solvable.  

To keep your marriage from drifting, make time for it, and give it sustained effort. Remember, if you’re not paddling, you’re going south. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are you spending time together? Do you go to church together, have meals together, and talk together? Do you make time for regular dates (it could be a morning walk or lunch date, not just an evening out)? You don’t have to spend all your time together, as long as you are spending some dedicated time and activities you enjoy with one another.
  2. Are you taking your partner for granted? Work is important. Kids are important. Chores have to be done. And on and on. But if you aren’t making time for your partner, they won’t feel appreciated.
  3. Are you absorbed in TV, internet and/or your phone? Media, especially in the bedroom, can come between you. All the research confirms that TVs should be left out of the bedrooms. Take the ipad and computer out while you’re at it. (If you can’t do it, that proves my point.)
  4. Are you focused on what you are getting out of your marriage? This consumer mentality can lead to problems.
  5. Do the people you spend time around support your marriage and family? Outside influences can contribute to drifting. This includes people who are more focused on “your happiness” than on your marriage.
  6. Are you focused on material things rather than relationships? The best things in life are free, but you can lose them by focusing on things instead of people.
  7. Are you making an effort to be kind to your spouse when he or she calls, or make/purchase a food or beverage they enjoy, or offer other gestures of kindness? Read If you want a happier marriage be generous. Do you help make their life easier not because you expect them to return the favor, but because you want them to be happy?
  8. Are you showing affection toward one another? Are you happy to see each other? Do you touch, kiss and enjoy sex together? These are important forms of connection.
  9. Are you dedicating all of your time to your children? Parents need to determine how much time children need, keeping in mind those children also need the stability of the family and the marriage. To read more about this, check out Putting kids first harms families.
  10. Are you sharing your true self with your partner—your hopes, dreams, desires, fears?

Couples may have issues with some of these, but that doesn’t mean your marriage is doomed. The key is to build on your strengths and to soften the impact of your weaknesses, says Doherty, especially times of stress. When marriage counseling is needed, select a qualified therapist that will help you fight for the marriage. “A good therapist, a brave therapist, will be the last one in the room willing to give up on a marriage,” says Doherty. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for a counselor to delve into why you’re unhappy or to even recommend a separation or divorce. Choose carefully.

Read: What’s a pro-marriage counselor and how do I find one?

How do you keep a positive daily connection in your marriage? Share your tips, especially for busy couples!

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for more than 18 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Marriage . . . in retrospect

Thanks to Regi Campbell, author and married for 45 years, for the following guest post:

I read where Ronald Wayne, one of the co-founders of Apple Computer, sold his 10% interest in the company for $800 only a week or so after it was started. What turned out to be worth $5 billion was traded away for what most people pay for a month’s rent. Wayne later said he made “the best decision with the information available to me at the time”.

In retrospect, no one can imagine throwing away a fortune for a mere $800. But in retrospect, a lot of things look different don’t they?

Take marriage for example.

We go into it fueled by infatuation with visions of perfect companions slicing and dicing through the stages of life. We see wonderful sex, lots of money, little kids pretty and perfect with a ton of friends cheering us on.

But sometime in the first few years, reality bites. She’s not as crazy about you as she once was. His kindness has been replaced by an angry tone. Money is tighter than you ever imagined . . . things happen you didn’t plan for and cash is drained away in chunks. Friends feel more like magnets pulling you apart than pushing you together. And if there’s a kid, your joy is joined by the weight of responsibility the first night he’s sick and you don’t know what to do.

In retrospect, you see things you didn’t think about. You didn’t date long enough to see how she responded to stress. You didn’t plan for all these expenses. You didn’t realize how tired she’d be after working all day and how that would affect her interest in you at bedtime. You didn’t think it would be this hard to birth a kid and keep it fed, dry and quiet. And maybe you didn’t think she would show up on your ‘radar screen’. . . the perfect girl who has none of the issues your wife has. You didn’t think he would ever come back into your life and say “I was wrong, we were meant for each other, leave him and let’s pick up where we left off.”

Thousands, no millions, of couples hit one of these ‘walls’ in marriage. After 45 years and hitting most of these at one time or another, I offer three suggestions learned from experience for moving beyond them.

1. Visualize yourself at future points in time and look backward. ‘In retrospect’. In screenwriting, the main character is revealed by what he does, not by what he says. If you’re twenty-eight, visualize yourself at thirty-eight. “Is what I’ll be giving up by divorcing my wife the very thing I’ll want when I’m ten years older? Do I want to be ‘that guy’ at thirty-eight? At forty-eight? At fifty-eight?” Who has divorced his wife and become a better man as a result? Which of my divorced friends has become my hero? Who’s remarried ‘perfection’ and now lives the ‘wrinkle-free’ life?

2. Think with your head, not with your heart. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” says Jeremiah. The word ‘heart’ can be swapped for the word “desires”. Our desires are deceitful. They can be really sick and hard to understand. Our appetites can lead us to decisions that damage our health, wealth and stability. When emotions get involved . . . things like love and lust and acceptance and shame and anger, we can talk ourselves into and out of most anything. Don’t do it. Don’t let your ‘heart’ convince you of things your ‘head’ knows are false. Find a couple of friends you respect. Tell them where you are and where you’re headed. Let them talk you off the ledge.

3. Stress is always derived from deadlines. When we’re patient and not in a hurry, stress is low. But when we want what we want and we want it now, stress goes through the roof. It’s a proven fact that when our emotional level goes up, our functioning level goes down. We make poorer decisions, some of which we’ll regret in retrospect. Visualize future seasons of married life when you’ll have more money, older kids, and less testosterone. Think about how your tenacity will someday inform your kids. Divorcing your husband informs the children a different way. It gives them permission to divorce. Never forget that.

It’s been said that marriage is the full-length mirror where we see our selfishness. None of us want to hear that in the ‘here and now’. But in retrospect, I see my temptations around marriage and divorce were motivated by my selfishness. Don’t give in to it.

4. Think long-term. Give yourself and your wife and your God time. In retrospect, we feel good about ourselves when we do the right thing. I knew the ‘right thing’ was to stick it out, to invest in my marriage even when it was hard. In retrospect, I’m so glad I didn’t ‘sell out’ my marriage early on for what I now know to be ‘chump change’.

Regi Campbell is a serial entrepreneur, one-time Georgia “Entrepreneur of the Year” in Technology and author of three books including most recently What Radical Husbands Do: 12 Steps to Win and Keep Your Wife’s Heart. Campbell has been married for 45 years to Miriam Campbell, is a father of two and grandfather of five. During the last 13 years, he has mentored 104 young business executives to live out the gospel in their marriages and the workplace. You can find his new book at http://www.radicalhusbands.com.

I’ll be giving away one free copy of Regi’s book. If you are interested in learning 12 steps to win and keep your wife’s heart, please leave a brief comment. Have any readers been married for longer than 45 years? Can you imagine your marriage being strong after 45 years? Let’s hope so.

A Children’s Secret Desire: An Unbroken Home

ainsley's prayerMy friend opened her daughter’s prayer necklace on Easter Sunday and found this shred of paper that read “I pray that my family will never fall apart.”

It may surprise you to learn that this child’s parents have a loving marriage and that she has a secure and strong family unit. But her aunt and uncle are going through a divorce, and she sees how traumatic it is for them and for her cousins. Even this glimpse of divorce is enough to make her fear for her own family.

Given the prevalence of divorce today, most children have seen a glimpse (or more) of its sorrow and pain. Due to this eye-opening experience, they may have insecurity about divorce. Your own children may be more insecure than you realize.

Imagine that your child wrote this note (pictured). Would it motivate you to work harder to ensure your marriage is strong and your family is secure? It did motivate me to think about whether I am doing all I can to maintain a strong family. What would you say to the child to reassure her? Do your children need to be reassured? The mother who found it reassured her by telling her that just because her parents argue doesn’t mean they are breaking up and that they made the decision to get married as a “forever” decision.

If you have been thinking about giving up on your marriage, please realize the shock and sorrow that children go through in a family breakup. That sorrow is not a transition that goes away. Children are not as resilient as we give them credit for being.

Choose to love your spouse, even when you don’t feel particularly loving. You will have ups and downs, but over time individuals are happier when they stay together through the rough periods. The odds are better for you to find love and happiness in the marriage you are in than if you look for happiness after a divorce. And children are better off being reared in an intact family—emotionally, physically, financially and educationally.

What is your secret desire for your family? Do you know if your children are secure in their family? Have you asked them?

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

How to be a better marriage helper

friends talkingAlmost three-fourths of adults have been marriage confidants, according to a USA Today survey of 1,000 adults aged 25 to 70. More women (78%) than men (69%) have had a friend or family member confide in them about their marriage or long-term relationship struggles.

In fact, most people (64%) would rather confide in a trusted friend or family member than in a professional. Less than half would talk to a professional counselor (47%) and still fewer would confide in a member of the clergy (37%).

With this being the case, a program was unveiled a few months ago to help individuals gain the skills and knowledge to best support marriages around them. Because, honestly, it’s not always easy to know what to say or do when someone comes to you with a marital issue that is bothering them.

The program, called Marital First Responders, was developed by William Doherty, a longtime marriage and family therapist. He says that while not everyone is “qualified” to help someone through a rough patch in the marriage, even basic skills can be helpful. In addition, the training helps the “helper” to know where to set boundaries and direct the person or couple to a professional. Doherty says he called it first responder as a reminder to not get in over your head. (A first responder helps stabilize a situation then refers someone for professional treatment.)

You are a marital responder if:
-Friends, family members, and coworkers confide in you about their marital struggles.
-You enjoy the role of confidant, though it may be stressful or frustrating at times.
-You are sympathetic to the ordinary struggles of married life.
-You don’t run the other way then a problem comes up.
-You know you aren’t a marriage counselor, but would love to be more helpful to married people in your life.

Here are a few tips to be a better confidant if a friend or family member talks to you about a marriage issue:
1. Listen for feelings, not just complaints.
2. Empathize without taking sides.
3. Affirm strengths in the confider and in the marriage/relationship.
4. Offer perspective as someone who cares about them and their marriage.
5. Challenge with gentleness and firmness.
6. Offer resources when more help is needed.
Source: William Doherty, psychologist, marriage and family therapist

There are risks associated with getting family or friends involved in marital discord. One problem is that the couple may not receive effective assistance in a timely manner. Another risk is that the confidant takes the side of their loved one (instead of the marriage) and by doing so may worsen the situation by adding to the divide. So, if someone does confide in you (particularly an adult child, sibling or close friend), be careful not to take their side; instead, try to remain objective and supportive.

The top 5 marital issues that are brought up to a confidant (from the USA Today survey):
Growing apart—68%
Not enough attention—63%
Money—60%
Not able to talk together—60%
Spouse’s personal habits—59%

If you have marriage issues of your own you want to discuss, choose carefully whom you decide to confide in, and ask yourself if it wouldn’t be safer to talk to a professional than risk making that person jaded against your spouse in the future.

If you are interested in training in the Marital First Responders Course, Doherty is making some in-person classes available in different cities—the next one is in April in St. Paul, Minn.—and interactive online webinars are available.

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

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.

A Marriage with No Regrets

TearThe phone call out of nowhere. The shaking voice. The bad news comes. We’ve all been there. You will likely remember exactly where you were when you received the news. I can recall several instances of losing loved ones like this, the hardest when I lost my sister suddenly.

Last week was another time of grief for my husband and I as a good friend and fellow pilot died in his sleep while on a layover in a city far from home. We were blessed and crushed to stand with his wife, also our good friend, who is left with two young daughters. It’s a helpless feeling to know that something shocking and sad has happened, and that time cannot go back.

Thankfully, theirs was a marriage that everyone admired, full of humor and adventure. No one is perfect, but he was a father who enjoyed spending as much time with his children as possible. He was not the distracted dad staring at his cell phone. He was the fun dad, the husband who was happy to help out in the yard or the kitchen. He read books that his 12-year-old daughter enjoyed so that they could discuss them. He took his wife on many getaways, just the two of them. He spent time relaxing with his family on their pontoon boat. He made time to laugh with friends. And when he kissed his wife goodbye to leave on his last trip, he had no idea that would be their last kiss.

The point of this post is that we never know when that last day will be.

-It is our responsibility to have our affairs in order for our spouse and our children. (I wrote a post a while back on this called “What is in your legacy drawer? Are you prepared?” Please refer to it to ensure that you are prepared.)
-Take the time each day to let your loved ones, particularly your spouse, know how much they mean to you.
-Kiss hello and goodbye like you mean it.
-Invest in your marriage with time, money, and attention. It takes effort to not drift apart, but if you find yourselves drifting, get in the boat and paddle back to one another.
-Keep an eye on the big picture, and don’t let the little things get you down.
-Be prepared spiritually, mentally and physically through daily effort.
-Spread love and joy.

While we were technically “prepared” before this happened, this loss has brought about many conversations between my husband and me regarding funeral wishes and discussions about our children and assets. They aren’t easy topics, but it’s better to have them than to wonder what your spouse would have wanted. Don’t leave any regrets.

It is actually a gift to be reminded every so often that how we will be remembered has nothing to do with how much work we produce or how clean our house is or how many activities our kids are involved in. The things that often stress us out will not matter in the end. What matters is that we learned how to love.

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

6 Divorce Trends that May Surprise You

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

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

DivorceXS

Image Source: eLocal.com

Resources for Couples Impacted by Infidelity

No one knows precisely how many couples are affected by marital infidelity. I have seen marital infidelity rates quoted from as low as 15 percent to as high as 80 percent. Peggy Vaughan, a marriage writer who experienced a cheating husband but later rebuilt her marriage, reported an estimated 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women have extramarital affairs.

The truth is that none of us is immune to the risk of an affair. Even people with “good marriages” have affairs for various reasons. We can, however, prepare ourselves with education and tools to help strengthen our marriages and reduce the likelihood of cheating. And we should know that there can be healing after infidelity, even though the road is not an easy one.

Peggy recently passed away after battling cancer. As her legacy, she asked that her resources to help couples deal with and heal after infidelity be available free to the public. She shares her personal story as well as articles on who has affairs and why, tips to avoid them and information on rebuilding trust. The information can be found at DearPeggy.com.

Peggy calls honesty a prevention tool for affairs. “Couples can’t avoid affairs by assuming monogamy or even by promising monogamy without discussing the issue. And they can’t avoid affairs by making threats as to what they would do if it happened. Either of these paths create a cycle of dishonesty.” Instead, she suggests spouses be willing to admit attractions and temptations to one another, because if they won’t admit to being attracted or tempted, they certainly won’t admit it if and when they act on the attraction. And if you admit to an attraction, it kind of takes the secret excitement out of your feelings.

If you do have an attraction, by all means, don’t place yourself in tempting situations, especially when you are alone with that person. Don’t share personal details or try to get to know them better. Better yet, run.

Hopefully you have not experienced infidelity first-hand. If you have, maybe these resources can help your marriage heal. If you have not, give thanks, then educate yourself about keeping your marriage strong and infused with honesty and behaviors that benefit you both.

It’s a myth that your spouse won’t be hurt if you cheat on him or her but you are not caught. There’s you, your spouse, and the marriage. And the marriage always knows.

Have you experienced infidelity? Did your marriage survive? If so, what tools were useful to you?

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 atwww.LoriDLowe.com.  Great for holiday stocking stuffers! 

Image by Simon Howden courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Are You Focused on Productivity over Warmth in Your Family?

In today’s post, I’m continuing some thoughts on the book The Self-Centered Marriage by Hal Edward Runkel, LMFT. You can read part I here: When a Self-Centered Marriage Isn’t a Bad Thing.

In the last post, I shared several misconceptions about marriage that Runkel debunked. An interesting insight he writes about has to do with the family unit and our American culture’s desire to make our family life as efficient, productive and equitable as our work life. We want the wheels to run smoothly, and if there is a problem, we want to make the repair and get those wheels back on the track of life. So, here’s the problem, written so aptly by Runkel:

“You’re a family, not an office. You can’t operate on skill sets charted out and replace the person who doesn’t fit well. We are not simple machines and gears, working together toward a goal of increased efficiency and productivity. We are men and women, living together as a way to feed one another’s souls and create a warm home that is anything but mechanical and operational.”

I do think we need to be reminded of how our cultural desire toward productivity can get way out of hand. I’m often guilty of this. For instance, after my kids get home from school, the gears/tasks of homework, cooking and serving dinner, cleaning, making lunches and bedtime routines immediately begin. I’m often the productivity driver, constantly assessing progress on each task. When my husband is home, I delegate some of the tasks or supervision to him or he simply jumps in to help. Sharing warmth during the evening is often not a priority, at least until the above items are complete. Sometimes we carve out time for one-on-one discussion with each other or with each of the children, but often we are so concerned with completing tasks that the nurturing and loving feelings in the home can be hidden.

We need to refocus our energy and priority on the things that matter most, which should include accomplishing what we need to do in the midst of a loving home environment.

One couple dynamic which seems fairly common writes Runkel, is that one spouse is focused on productivity and is “over-responsible” to make up for the spouse who is “under-responsible” and does little to help. The overresponsible partner’s actions may help in the short-term by preventing some arguments, in the long term it creates a worse dynamic that pulls the couple apart. So, I appreciated Runkel’s examples and steps that help couples solve this sort of conflict not by changing their partner, but by changing their own actions and responses. (We can’t expect different results without changing our actions, right?) What I also very much appreciated was that these changed actions are done in a very loving, calm, mature, positive manner that doesn’t push the spouse away. No passive-aggressive behavior, no asking for “help” simply apologizing for contributing to the problem and acknowledging the co-responsibilities. Then, moving forward in a new way. (Check out the book for anecdotes.)

The next step is to grow in gratitude, which is something I preach here frequently. Expressing gratitude has been shown in research to be very effective at improving a couple’s bond. Thank your spouse for all the ways big and small that they help you in life. Do this instead of focusing on getting recognition for your own efforts. Waiting for your spouse to change only keeps you stuck. Be responsible for your own actions, and let your spouse be responsible for his/hers.

After focusing on yourself and experiencing personal growth, pursuing your partner with your truest self, then growing in gratitude for your spouse, we can learn to truly love one another.  That means we want the absolute best for that person. It means you will try to be the best spouse for them, even if you feel they won’t reciprocate in the same manner.

When you become a person of integrity, you become more attractive to your spouse, says Runkel. This replaces scorekeeping and resentment and helps you grow together.

Above all, this focus on the self means holding yourself to a higher standard, no matter what is going on around you.

What’s your take? Is it difficult to maintain integrity and commitment when you feel your spouse isn’t pulling his/her weight? Do you agree that changing your own attitude and actions can help transform the relationship?

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. Pick up your copy today!

Photo by ddpavumba courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Is Anxiety Affecting Your Life and Marriage? 10 Tips to Ease Stress

Since 1980, diagnoses of anxiety disorders have increased 1,200%, reported Nancy Snyderman, MD, on this morning’s Today Show. (See American Anxiety.) The state of the economy, marriages in trouble, overly busy schedules, and a culture that is too constantly “plugged in” were all cited as common reasons Americans have sought help for problems with anxiety.

Another key reason people experience anxiety problems is due to the gap between their high expectations and their ability to fulfill them. Please, take note of this and evaluate your expectations for your life, spouse and family.

Experiencing panic attacks and inability to sleep, racing blood pressure and heart rate, and feeling so worried you can’t move forward on tasks are some of the ways anxiety might get in the way of living life to the fullest–or even being able to leave the house. Thankfully, many patients who have sought treatment from their physicians have been able to relieve some of their symptoms and function better. Only about a third of people who need help seek it out, say experts.

Stress, as compared with anxiety, is often a motivator for accomplishing our goals. Experiencing stress is not necessarily a problem, and usually does not require medical treatment. It may be a sign that changes are needed, though. Take marriage as an example. If you’re feeling stress that you haven’t connected with your spouse lately, this might help motivate you to take a positive action and schedule time together.  On the job, a looming deadline might make you feel stress, but also motivate you to complete the project.

Be aware of your own state of mind, as well as your spouse’s. If one of you is experiencing too much stress, work together to discuss and find solutions.  (I’ll include some practical ideas here.) However, if you or your spouse is experiencing what may be an anxiety disorder, a doctor’s help may be needed.

Our world can often seem too hectic, as if we may never get the chance to take a deep breath. Even on vacations, we may be worried about the work piling up for us back at the office. Following are some ways you may be able to reduce stress in your life:

1)      Dr. Snyderman suggests unplugging at least one hour before bed from all electronic devices including TV. I’ve written a lot about making time to unplug to benefit your marriage and to have time to focus on each other. Another benefit is improved sleep. Keep the TV out of the bedroom. Put the smart phones, ipads, laptops, etc. in their chargers. Facebook can wait until tomorrow, and you can finish your emails later. It’s important to your health and to your relationships to have this hour block before sleep to read, think, talk and to begin your nighttime routine.

2)      Plan your meals. We all have to eat, and waiting until you’re hungry for your next meal is a bad time to be planning what it’s going to be. You’re more likely to grab something unhealthy on the go, or to eat the first thing you find. It takes much less time to plan a few days of meals than it does to run to the store or restaurant each day. In our house, we often make a double or triple batch of something (like tacos, soup, lasagnas, chili, quiche, etc.) and freeze for future meals when we might be rushed. If you have an hour on a weekend, you can make up a few meals for use during the week. Honestly, it doesn’t take much effort, and you’ll be glad you have a homemade meal ready to heat. And it’s less expensive when you buy in bulk and freeze for later. If you have kids at home, teach them to cook and get them involved in helping in the kitchen. Benefits to better meal planning can include improved health (if you choose wisely), saving money, and making your spouse and family feel cared for.

3)      Exercise. I’ve not always been a big fan of exercise, although I force myself to do it even when I don’t feel like it. Truthfully, we all feel better when we’ve gotten some exercise and we’re taking care of ourselves. In the last couple of years I’ve started to really enjoy tennis, and I’ve taken up running short distances. Family walks and bike rides round out my not-too-strenuous routine. The research I’ve read on living longer shows it’s important to keep moving rather than worry about completing marathons. Find an activity you enjoy, such as gardening, swimming or horseback riding, and you’ll be more likely to make time for it. Exercising together can be good for your relationship and can improve your sex life when you feel better about your body.

4)      Nurture social relationships. I’m all about nurturing and investing in your marriage and family. It’s also important to cultivate friendships and in-person social activities, such as volunteering, church groups, neighborhood groups, etc. The research is very clear that social networks help us live longer (see The Longevity Project). And doesn’t time with friends reduce your stress? Just try to avoid comparing how busy and stressful your lives are! Instead, take a walk or take in a cultural activity together.

5)      Many people like me find prayer and/or meditation helps them reduce unnecessary worrying, and stay more calm and positive throughout the day.

6)      Make time to hug and kiss your spouse throughout the day. This non-sexual touch is a known stress-reducer. Also, make time for sex, which is also beneficial and releases bonding and stress-reducing hormones.

7)      Try to reduce travel time by commuting during off-peak hours or working some or all of the time at home if your job will allow it. Combine your errands to save time (and gas). Bring reading or busy work with you for those times when you’re forced to wait, like at the doctor’s office.

8)      Reduce the busyness of your life by cutting out extraneous activities (the fourth birthday party this month) and making time for what you want to be doing. If you don’t have one or two free nights a week, seriously consider paring back.

9)      Make your home a pleasant place to be. Save a little energy and kindness for those closest to you. Take a minute before you enter the house to clear your mind and have a positive word for those at home. Try to reduce clutter and stay on top of regular tasks, like laundry. Encourage everyone in the family to pitch in by assigning small tasks. For example, my kids sweep the kitchen floor, take care of the cat, and make their beds (usually). I do the laundry, but everyone puts their own clean clothes away. My husband and I share the shopping and cooking duties. We have a white board for tasks, so that I don’t have to constantly nag.

10. Before you do any of these, you have to decide you want a less stressful life, and then commit to making some small, doable changes. You might even consider bigger changes, like earning less money in exchange for a less stressful lifestyle.

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.