Tag Archives: happier marriage

What is the Happiest Year of Your Marriage?

DSC06526 I sincerely hope that the happiest year of your marriage is THIS year, but a recent British survey* of 2,000 married people suggests that year three was the happiest year in their marriage.

In the study, the first year of marriage followed year three as the next happiest, with the couple basking in the newlywed glow, while year two was spent getting to know one another better. The study suggests year three marks the success of learning to deal with one another’s imperfections, as well as some occasional doubts. By year three, discussions of having children often occur, helping to solidify the relationship.

What was the toughest year in their marriage? According to the study, the fifth year was the most difficult due to feelings of exhaustion, financial worries, stress of caring for children, and conflict over division of work/chores.

The good news is that the couples who continued to work on the marriage found year seven to be the point at which, when obstacles are overcome—such as unbalanced sex drives, different hobbies or social preferences—it paves the way for a long-term and happy marriage. Half of respondents say their wedding day was the happiest day of their life.

All that being said, the data should not be seen as exactly relating to every marriage, but rather a trend. Frequently, it appears, once we settle into marriage and get to know one another, marriage can be blissfully happy (yay!). Then, when differing expectations, family demands and workloads collide with the romantic side of the relationship, it takes some effort to overcome problems and remain committed. Marriage has ups and downs, and often after going through troubled times or crises, couples gain a stronger bond.

For couples who decide they “Married the Wrong Person” and move on to someone new, they may become blissfully happy for another very brief period, but they will end up in the same place a few years down the road with a new person. However, for the majority of couples who get past this stage, marriage can become a long and happy union.

Whatever stage you are in, work to stick together. We may blame our spouse for stress that is external to the relationship. Instead of thinking your spouse has changed, realize your situation may be very different from the days of dating. Work to keep communication open and positive.

So, what was your happiest year of marriage, and what was your toughest period to get through?

*The study was commissioned by Slater & Gordon, a UK-based law firm.
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.

Is Your Family Choosing Money Over Time?

traffic morguefileFollowing up on the last post suggesting we “underachieve” so that we have time to achieve with our family, you might ask whether not putting most of your energies into career and financial achievement might end up reducing your happiness in the long run. In other words, won’t you be less happy with less money and/or career advancement?

It seems justifiable that we need to work enough to provide a comfortable home and to care for our family. However, many of us become competitive and want to be “the best” and to earn as much as our talent and opportunities will allow. We also decide as a family that we “need” more and more, requiring more money to satisfy these demands. Spending more time working usually means less time for your marriage and family. And if those bonds are strained, the stress will certainly mean less happiness for you.

A new study reported in CNN called “Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending” by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton finds that we often get so much in the habit of working and earning that we don’t stop to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Even wealthy people spend too much time overworking and doing things they don’t enjoy, such as driving long commutes to work. Researchers say we should use some of that money to “buy happier time.”

While we’re at it, we should ask ourselves before spending money how the purchase will affect our time. For example, buying a nicer car may seem like a great reward, but not if you have to work more hours to pay for it. Drivers get no more pleasure from commuting in an expensive car than in a cheap one. And the average American spends two hours a day just working to afford his car.

Another bad investment is an improved home entertainment system, according to researchers, who say watching TV is a clear happiness drain. On the other hand, they say investing in a dog pays off in happiness dividends, encouraging you to take daily walks and socialize with other dog owners.

I can relate to the research. Before starting my own business in 1998, I put in long hours at work, only to feel I could never get ahead of the work load. I think many Americans feel they don’t have a choice but to participate in this rat race, particularly with the weak economy.

So a focus on smarter spending of time and money on things that will improve your happiness and your family’s happiness is key. Our family enjoys time in nature, trips to the library and cooking at home. My husband has always been one to make time to enjoy life and encourages as much time together as a family as possible. If you think about your happiest memories, they probably weren’t the most expensive days of your life.

Think about ways you can spend enjoyable time with your spouse, friends, and family without spending a lot of money. Brainstorm things you’d like to do together this summer and keep the list handy. You might also want to keep a list of books or movies you’d like to enjoy together.

Do you feel like this is a difficult tradeoff for your family? Do you and your spouse agree on how to spend time and money? Feel free to share any tips you have.

For newer readers here, I’ve written lots of research articles on happiness. If you’re interested in learning more about creating a happier life and happier marriage, search the archives.

I hope you have an enjoyable Memorial Day weekend. Take time with friends and family to enjoy life and give thanks to the service men and women who helped to make our freedoms possible.

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.

Do You Love Your Phone More Than Your Spouse?

Before you answer too quickly, check out the surprising research. Today is the day the highly anticipated iPhone 4S comes out, and I’m hankering for one as much as the next person. It’s a good time for all of us to read how our phones may be affecting our brains, feelings, and love lives.

The question isn’t, “Are you addicted to your phone?” (Which is what many have been asking in recent years.)  Instead, researchers say they have concluded that you “love” your phone in a similar way that you love your partner or your religion.

Branding consulting and researcher Martin Lindstrom explains in the New York Times, “A recent experiment that I carried out using neuroimaging technology suggests that drug-related terms like ‘addiction’ and ‘fix’ aren’t as scientifically accurate as a word we use to describe our most cherished personal relationships. That word is ‘love.’

“Come on,” you say, “I don’t love my phone that much.” But think back to the quiet meals with your spouse, or the times you sat in front of the fire, when you either pulled out your phone or wished you could. Lindstrom says those who leave their phones at home feel stressed-out, cut off and “somehow un-whole.” I know even when I go out to dinner with my husband, my phone comes with, and so does his.

Lindstrom carried out an experiment using functional magnetic resonance imaging to determine if iPhones were addictive (as in cocaine, shopping, or video games). Eighteen people (half men, half women) were exposed separately to audio and video of a ringing and vibrating iPhone. Whenever they were exposed to either the audio OR the visual, the participants’ brains activated BOTH the audio and the visual cortices.

“In other words, when they were exposed to the video, our subjects’ brains didn’t just see the vibrating iPhone, they “heard” it, too; and when they were exposed to the audio, they also “saw” it. This powerful cross-sensory phenomenon is known as synesthesia. But most striking of all was the flurry of activation in the insular cortex of the brain, which is associated with feelings of love and compassion. The subjects’ brains responded to the sound of their phones as they would respond to the presence or proximity of a girlfriend, boyfriend or family member. In short, the subjects didn’t demonstrate the classic brain-based signs of addiction. Instead, they loved their iPhones.”

So, we respond to our phones in a similar way that we respond to our spouses. (And, I’m guessing sometimes, the response to the spouse may be more negative.) Have you considered how this response may affect your marriage? I’m sure many of us can share how an “important” call or text disrupted our alone time or family time. Do you love your spouse enough to turn your phone off for a few hours a day? One hour a day? Half a day on the weekend? Half an hour before bedtime? Do you have any structure or limits on how and when you use technology?

Lindstrom suggests, “As we embrace new technology that does everything but kiss us on the mouth, we risk cutting ourselves off from human interaction. For many, the iPhone has become a best friend, partner, lifeline, companion and, yes, even a Valentine. The man or woman we love most may be seated across from us in a romantic Paris bistro, but his or her 8GB, 16GB or 32GB rival lies in wait inside our pockets and purses. My best advice? Shut off your iPhone, order some good Champagne and find love and compassion the old-fashioned way.”

If you answered that you love your spouse more than your phone, here’s your chance to prove it. Set limits that you both agree upon, then stick to them. (Try 30 to 60 minutes a day if the idea makes you sweaty with nervousness. No, sleep time doesn’t count.) If you find you cannot stick to the limits, then you’ve proven that your feelings for your phone are stronger than your feelings for your partner.  Good luck, and let me know how it goes.

How much do you love your phone? Why do you think that is?

Photo by Ambro courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

The Antidote to the Poison in Your Marriage

Author Betsy Hart calls negative emotions like hatred, bitterness and jealousy “poison of the heart,” and she advises parents to teach their children to steer clear of these thoughts. (In other words, she teaches that we have a say in how we choose to feel.)  Resentment and unforgiveness are certainly poisons within a marriage. The effects of negative emotions can be very damaging—to our emotional as well as physical health.

Forgiveness research by sociologist Greg Easterbrook and discussed in his book The Progress Paradox concludes that “people who do not forgive the wrongs committed against them tend to have negative indicators of well-being, more stress-related disorders, lower immune system function, and worse rates of cardiovascular disease than the population as a whole.”  In short, these emotions poison us from the inside out.

We inherently know that these emotions are bad for us. We feel it when we allow ourselves to be taken away by these feelings. Think about the stomach ache or headache that often occurs during a conflict. But do we work to rid ourselves of these emotions?

While we don’t want to become doormats or become taken advantage of, most of us know that we could be more graceful toward those around us—especially our partners—when they make a mistake. Sometimes a spouse doesn’t even know when he or she has done something wrong, and we are busy holding a grudge, stewing all evening.

We might even have a list of “unforgiveable offenses” that we decide upon before marriage. Things like infidelity and drug abuse are placed high on this list. I’ve seen dedicated couples overcome these and many difficult scenarios with a valuable antidote called forgiveness. But the day-to-day poison of resentment is almost more difficult to overcome.

If you or your partner are regularly resentful, rolling eyes, making snide comments, holding grudges or acting negatively, you are poisoning the relationship. All the small doses of poison can be as dangerous as one nearly lethal dose.

It may require getting some help, but clear the air and learn how to forgive and move on. We can lead ourselves through positive actions rather than allowing our fears, frustrations, anger and resentment to lead us. This week, when you’re feeling less than loving, try to act kindly and calmly. Take a deep breath. Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. Offer to help them if they’re stressed. Show affection. Forgive. You’ll find you will be improving your own health as well as the health of your relationship.

How much poison can your relationship handle? Are you willing to find out?

Photo courtesy of Stockvault.net by Jake Wood.

Can Your Mind Change Your World?

Happy Life: Happy Marriage Series

Entire philosophies and religions have been built upon the idea that by changing our mind, we can change our lives—that the secret to a more prosperous life is just being open to greater prosperity. That believing you have a great marriage will help you get there.

We are inundated with messages from popular psychology telling us how to achieve success without action, but with a new way of thinking (sometimes called New Age thinking). Various books offer new prescriptions. “Pull a few psychic levers, believe the best about yourself, assert yourself, and happiness will be yours,” says the tongue-in-cheek David Myers, PhD, in The Pursuit of Happiness. In fact, just today, I read a post from a counselor stating that we can indeed change our lives using the power of our minds.

I would say we can control our perception of life, and we can even make our lives considerably happier. Our minds, and even our spirits, are powerful. However, we can’t prevent disease and earthquakes or erase evil from the planet.

I would also mention that I disagree with philosophies and religious that suggest the “individual as God” mentality in which we can control the world around us. For people of faith, that is unbiblical. And for people of science, it’s unproven. Certain celebrities promote this way of thinking, and I think it’s tempting for many to think they can gain wealth and influence and achieve their dreams by sitting in their bathrooms and thinking positive thoughts. I do believe we can achieve our dreams, but we have to use our minds and our actions as well as positive thoughts.

We do know the mind can affect our bodies, sometimes dramatically. For example, the placebo effect is well-known: if people think they are taking an effective treatment, their body is more likely to heal, even if they are taking a sugar pill. If doctors can make patients believe they will become well, some of them will become well as a result, even with no other treatment. In addition, optimists have been shown to heal faster after surgery and to respond to stress better than pessimists (responding with smaller blood pressure increases). We know that relaxation, meditation and optimism promote healing, says Myers.

But research has been unable to prove that we can change the world around us with positive thinking (and draw those millions of dollars that we deserve to us)—just as we can’t change our spouse with positive thinking. However, I think that focusing on feelings of gratitude and expressing positive thoughts, while also attempting to act in a more positive manner, can indeed affect those around us, including our spouse. In other words, by “positive acting” not just positive thinking, we can start to change the world around us.

As an example, a friend recently decided to participate in a challenge called 29 Gifts, started by Cami Walker, author of the book by the same name. Each day, my friend gave some kind of gift or act of love to someone she knew, with no expectation of anything in return. You can read about her experience here in Is it Really Better to Give than to Receive? I know about this only because I was one of the recipients of a thoughtful gift and kind note that made my day. Within a month, her decision to act in a positive, loving manner had far-reaching effects for those around her, many of whom were inspired to act similarly.

My point (in life and marriage) is if we become too self-focused, we lose the point of loving those around us. It’s all well and good to try to be more positive, calm, and grateful on our own. But by expressing gratitude (in writing or verbally, or in prayer), or by giving a hug, or by taking a positive action to help our partner with something, or to just be there to listen while he or she talks, we can make a real impact and demonstrate real love. I believe this positive impact will increase our own happiness as well as the happiness of those around us.

Try it for a few days. Do something nice for someone you know, and pay attention to how it makes you feel before and after. Then do something nice for your spouse for a few days and see how it affects your relationship.

Next week, I’ll talk about how the images of how our lives and marriages “should be” can impact our happiness levels.

 Photo credit: ©.shock/PhotoXpress.com

7 Ways to Create Sparks Every Day

Keeping the Romantic Flames Alive Series

Guest post by Lisa Shoreman

We’d all love to sustain that same feeling of butterflies in the stomach and excitement that we feel when we first start dating throughout our married years. Unfortunately, constancy and routine have a way of dulling those feelings, and other responsibilities can get in the way of making time for our partner.

Fortunately, with a few of these tips and a little time and effort, you can help revive those romantic sparks.

1. Start “Dating”

Take it all back to the beginning and start setting aside time to spend with your spouse – alone. Without the kids. Without the computers. Without the Blackberries. Do something fun and relaxing. Don’t use the time to talk about household matters or to take care of errands. Focus on each other. Go to a fancy restaurant for a romantic dinner. Take dance lessons together. Take a bike ride around the park.

Whatever you choose, be sure that you are not trying to make the time double for something else – such as exercise or taking care of chores. You can make your dates part of a regular “date night,” but be careful not to let those become something else that you have to schedule. You don’t want your dating to become another part of your routine.

2. Do Something Unexpected

Nothing kills romance faster than the same old routine. Part of what makes dating so thrilling is the unexpected – both in what you do and in the person you are with.  Break out of the dinner-and-a-movie routine and try something new. If you’re adventurous, maybe you can go parasailing or even bungee jumping. If you’re creative, try make-your-own pottery or go to karaoke. Mix it up with different types of activities.

Be unexpected in your daily lives as well. Flash your husband as he walks out of the kitchen. Surprise your wife by greeting her with dinner – wearing nothing but an apron. It doesn’t have to be sexy, just surprising. You can show up at your spouse’s office with lunch. Or come home with a movie you know your spouse will like. Even the little things can help break up the monotony.

3. Do Nice Things for No Reason

Wives have come to expect a dozen roses on Valentine’s Day – and maybe on your anniversary or her birthday. But what about sending roses when you know she’s having a bad week? Or just because you wanted to say you think she looks pretty today? Nice gestures don’t have to come with a price tag. Offer to cook dinner if you don’t usually do the cooking. Take the kids to a movie so your spouse can have a few hours alone. These gestures foster intimacy and goodwill – all of which will help you keep feeling romantic and loving towards your spouse.

4. Be Hands On

Foster physical affection through small gestures – such as a foot massage, or stroking your spouse’s hair while you lounge on the couch watching TV, or even just holding hands when you’re out in public. You don’t have to be groping one another constantly, but small gestures such as these can help foster intimacy.

5. Outlaw “Comfortable” Clothes

You don’t have to dress up every day you wake up, but it is a good idea to get rid of those clothes you’re still wearing that have holes, stains, and stretched elastic that you throw on to feel comfortable, but just make you look schleppy and maybe a little unwashed. Remember those days when you took care with your appearance and tried to look good for your girlfriend? Or when you always took care to put on your makeup for your boyfriend? Revive a little of that spirit and take care with your appearance. You don’t always have to look like you’re ready for your first date, but taking time to look nice will help keep your partner interested and keep the romance alive.

6. Create Sexy Games

Perhaps you like to role play in the bedroom. Or maybe you would enjoy exchanging naughty coupons. These fun games can bring a little sass back into your intimate relationship. Try creating a “code word” game: Think of a word that you can say, and whenever one of you says it, you have to kiss, or touch in some way, or make out. You decide the rules. Maybe you like to explore. Make it your “mission” to make out in every French restaurant in the city. Or every wine bar. Or every hiking trail. Mix it up according to your interests.

7. Laugh Together

Laughter is the best medicine in almost any scenario. Couples that laugh together have fun together and are able to be more intimate together. Even First Lady Michelle Obama said that the secret to the success of her 19-year marriage is that she and her husband can still make each other laugh. Remember to take time for one another, to not take yourselves so seriously, and to play.

Lisa Shoreland is currently a resident blogger at Go College, where recently she’s been researching types of scholarships as well as engineering scholarships. In her spare time, she enjoys creative writing, practicing martial arts, and taking weekend trips.

 Related Links:

Is Sex More Work for Women? How to get more participation, support and caring from your spouse. This article is from Psychology Today and says, “Giving to your partner what your partner needs is not an act of selflessness. It is enlightened self-interest.”

Especially for men–Can you learn The Art of the Throw Down from romance novelists?

New fact I read: Social Media has overtaken pornography as the #1 activity on the Web.

Photo Credit: ©SabrinaK/PhotoXpress.com

Battling Debt for Better Marriage

Finances are one of the biggest marital stressors. The Washington Post recently reported that the recent recession added financial stress to 29% of marriages. A silver lining is that one-third of couples worked harder to save their marriages, partly because they couldn’t afford to dissolve them. Of those who “redoubled their marital commitment,” more than half reported a very happy marriage.

Since so many are struggling with financial worry or stress, I asked Brad Chaffee of Enemy of Debt to tell us how he and his wife dramatically improved their financial life–and ended up improving their marriage. Brad also asked me to share how 9 Tips for Financial Bliss in Marriage on his blog today, so give that a read. Thanks to Brad for his inspiration and insights!

Brad Chaffee founded Enemy of Debt in 2008 after starting his very own debt-free journey. He wanted to motivate and inspire financial discipline by focusing on key behaviors and truths that would help others with the same process. In 2008, Brad and his wife grew tired of living paycheck to paycheck and living under the stress of being more than $26,000 in debt.

Through dramatic action, they eliminated debt from their lives in a mere 18 months and plan to never borrow money again, for any reason. Brad has agreed to answer some questions for married couples who may have financial stress in their lives.

Q: Brad, when you say you eliminated all debt from your lives, do you include even mortgage debt? How do you feel about families having mortgage debt? There are some financial advisors who say paying off the home early takes away a useful deduction. How do you respond to that?

A: We are currently in the process of selling our house so we’re not “completely” debt-free yet. As Dave Ramsey would say, we’re “debt-free, except for the house.” People always tell me it doesn’t make sense, because we will just have to go out and get a mortgage down the road if we want to own a home. Not true.

We are going to save and pay for our next house using the 100% down plan. We are perfectly okay with the fact that it means we will be renting for about 5 years until that day comes. Too many people make the mistake of declaring something impossible because it might be harder to accomplish. I would even argue that taking the easiest route to acquire something is the reason people find themselves struggling with debt in the first place. For us, being debt-free is worth the sacrifice and the extra effort.

As far as not paying down the mortgage to keep the tax deduction. I think Dave Ramsey debunks that myth with this table found in Financial Peace University. A tax deduction is never a good reason to NOT pay off your mortgage. What about all of the extra interest you end up paying as a result? Does the deduction justify paying more interest than you would if you paid the house off early? I think not. Pay down the mortgage!

 

 

 

 

 

Q: What are the four most important steps you took to get out of debt?

A: Deciding not to borrow anymore was the key step in getting things started, but I think the real journey started after that. I would say team work and communication, selling everything we thought defined us, saving an emergency fund, and maintaining a high level of intensity through it all, were the four most important steps.

The most important thing was to begin the communication process and realize, together, our mutual goals and desires were ours together. That led us to a place where we could agree on what we were willing to do to get out of debt, which for us, included selling our “stuff”.  That provided some momentum and allowed us to save $2,000 in the first two months. Finally, maintaining a level of intensity was important because it helped us reach our goal much faster.

One of the most overwhelming things about paying off debt to most people is the time it takes them to do it. Why not benefit from doing it faster?

Q: What was your biggest obstacle to gaining control of your finances before making this decision?

A: The biggest obstacle for us was realizing that our spending habits were the very reason why we ended up where we were. It was hard because that meant we had to face our decisions and habits head on, and the truth really does hurt sometimes. That’s where my tagline for Enemy of Debt came from; “where behavior meets reality”. The budget helped us overcome that reality by enabling us to see the truth of our situation on paper. A budget does not lie.

Q: Did you increase your income as part of your solution, or did you change your lifestyle. Many people who live paycheck to paycheck feel they cannot change their situation until their income increases dramatically.

A: I would say we did both. During the process my wife graduated from nursing school, which naturally increased our income, but we also bought and sold stuff using eBay to increase it as much as we could. The mistake most people make is accepting or believing that they cannot increase their income. There is always something you can do; it’s often just a matter of what you are willing to do to make it happen. Personally, I feel the word “cannot” is a person’s biggest problem. If you believe you cannot, then you’ll never try because you’ve already determined it to be impossible.

Q: What is the most important thing you gained from changing your life situation?

A: I would say that the most important thing we gained was a better sense of unity. Better communication started the process, but it wasn’t until Financial Peace University that we took it to the next level. Dave Ramsey taught us that our marriage was the definition of team. A team doesn’t win because one person did all the work; it wins because of the collective effort of everyone involved.

Most marriages usually have a “designated hitter” — the one who handles the finances and consequently, also catches all of the grief when a mistake is made. It’s an unfair position to put your spouse in, and one that can dissolve your marriage fast. Resentment is a powerful and very destructive force.

My wife and I played that game for the first four years of our marriage. She handled the money, then I handled it; each time resulting in the blame game, and many, MANY, money fights because one of us messed up.

Financial Peace taught us that if we were both involved in the process at every level – which meant we agreed on our goals and dreams TOGETHER – there was a lot less to argue about. You can’t argue about what you agreed on unless one of you broke the agreement, or in this case the budget in which case the problem is bigger than money.

I am very happy to say that my wife and I hardly ever argue about money. We still argue, after all we’re normal. It’s just not usually about money. Money is one of the most common reasons people give for getting a divorce. Fix that, and your marriage has a much better chance of surviving.

Photo Credit: © Sophia Winters/PhotoXpress.com