Tag Archives: happiness

Great news about marriages: 80% are happy

wedding kiss morguefileWhat if I could snap my fingers and make 80 percent of marriages happy? And cut the divorce rate for first time marriages in half? Consider it done.

What if everything you thought you knew about marriage statistics was wrong?

How often have you heard people—journalists and even counselors and pastors—cite the 50 percent failure rate in marriage? The true divorce rate is much lower and always has been. What percentage of marriages do you think are happy?

Harvard researcher Shaunti Feldhahn and her husband Jeff were marriage counselors and authors who used to cite incorrect data that is commonly bandied about. After being unable to support the data, they spent eight years digging through complicated marriage research and revealed the results in their new book, The Good News About Marriage.

They report that between 20 and 25 percent of first marriages end in divorce. While this is more than we would like, it’s better than what most believe. Divorce rates are even lower among active churchgoers, whose chance of divorcing is more likely in the single digits or teens. (Active churchgoers have divorce rates 27 to 50 percent lower than non-churchgoers, they say.)

The 50 percent divorce rate commonly cited came from projections of what researchers thought the divorce rate would be come if they stayed on trend in the 70s and early 80s. However, those numbers were never realized, and the estimates stuck in popular culture.

BIG problems resulted from this false assumption. First, many couples avoid marriage entirely because of their incorrect belief that half (or more) of marriages fail, AND that those who do stay together are mostly unhappy. Why bother? Popular belief is that only 30 percent of marriages are happy. Again…wrong. Four out of five marriages are happy. And even for those who are unhappy, the researchers point out that if they stay married for five years, almost 80 percent of them will be happy five years later.

Second, the high (false) rates of marital failure cause a sense of hopelessness among couples who struggle. If they feel a happy marriage is not attainable, they may throw in the towel.

“That sense of futility itself pulls down marriages,” Feldhahn said. “And the problem is we have this culture-wide feeling of futility about marriage. It’s based on all those discouraging beliefs and many of them just aren’t true.”

She hopes that these new insights will give couples hope that they can be successful. Indeed, they have a good chance at being successful.

Changing the way we think about marriage and talk about marriage is meaningful and helpful. When you hear discouraging comments about marriage, Feldhahn says we need to say, “No, wait. Most
marriages are strong and happy for a lifetime.”

When a friend is struggling in his or her marriage, remind them that the odds are in their favor. Change the conversation in your corner of the world to shed light on these false assumptions.

Source: Divorce Shocker: Most Marriages Do Make It, CBN News

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

Why More Americans are Happy, Yet Unsatisfied

winter by Michal  Marcol freedigitalphotos.netAccording to recent Gallup polls, American levels of happiness are at a four-year high, with 60 percent of all Americans reporting they feel happy without a lot of stress or worry. Books about happiness are selling in record numbers. So why don’t Americans seem more satisfied?

One reason is, as I have written in a previous post, “There’s more to life and marriage than happiness.” Another reason is that 40 percent of Americans have not discovered a satisfying life purpose. Having a clear purpose and meaning for your life has been shown in research to increase your life satisfaction, improve your physical and mental health, and decrease the chances of depression. It is very possible to be both relatively happy and yet still live an unsatisfied life.

“It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness,” conclude researchers. Yes, pursuing happiness and pleasure can actually hinder you from having a meaningful, satisfying life as an individual and as a married couple.

A new study to be published in the Journal of Positive Psychology examined the attitudes of 400 Americans over a month and found that while a meaningful life and a happy life overlap in some ways, they were very different. Researchers determined that leading a “happy life” was associated with being a “taker” who at times appeared shallow, selfish or self-absorbed, but with satisfied demands. These happy individuals might be healthy and have plenty of income for what they needed or wanted, as well as few worries.

A meaningful life, on the other hand, was associated with being a “giver.” The participants in this category derived meaning from sacrifices. They actively looked for meaning in their activities, even when they knew the action might decrease their happiness or require them to give something up for themselves. Examples might be a parent who takes time to care for their children, a person who buys a present for a friend to cheer her up, or a spouse who offers to help around the house.

Finding meaning can even involve extreme sacrifices, such as the one made by the Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Frankl in Vienna in September 1942. Read about his fascinating story and more about the research in this article from The Atlantic called “There’s more to life than being happy.” Frankl, who survived the Nazi concentration camps, later wrote the best-selling book Man’s Search for Meaning. After working on suicide prevention for teens earlier in his career, he helped two suicidal inmates in the camps find meaning for their lives and gave them something to live for. Don’t we all need something to live for?

“Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy,’” wrote Frankl. He also wrote the enduring words: “Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself—be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is.”

This last quote brings me to the point of this post. To find meaning in life and certainly in our marriages, we need to direct our attention away from our desire for happiness of the moment and toward others. By loving our spouse and family more fully, we can find greater fulfillment and satisfaction.

Researchers say happy people derive joy from receiving benefits from others, while people leading more meaningful lives derive a great deal of joy from giving to others.

Why is finding a deeper meaning for your life and marriage more important than seeking happiness for your family? Because it affects every choice you will make.  When one spouse reaches a turning point in their life, such as a mid-life crisis, someone focused on personal happiness might assess what they are getting from others and who is making them happy. They may say things like “life is short” and “you only live once” to justify behavior focused on personal pleasure. On the contrary, someone focused on meaning might assess what memories and values they are giving to their loved ones and how they have improved the lives of others. They will wonder what legacy they are leaving and how they can strengthen that legacy.

The idea that we are responsible for something greater than ourselves is contrary to the value of freedom above all.  Are these values at odds in your mind?

Please share how you find meaning in your life and in your marriage.

If you are interested in more on this topic, here are other happiness-related posts:

Is your family seeking pleasure, happiness, or joy?

Happiness comes before success in life, not after

The formula for unhappiness is revealed

Are too many choices leading to unhappiness?

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.

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.

Study: Personality Changes Boost Happiness More than External Factors

Happy Life; Happy Marriage

How many millions of people bought lottery tickets last week, hoping for a chance at the $500 million pot, and dreaming of what kind of happiness that could buy? (My hubby even bought them, and he rarely plays.)  After failing to win the big one (better luck next time), many turned to hopes of a raise or a new job as ways to boost their happiness. However, new research based on a study of more than 8,600 Australians concluded that personality changes were much more meaningful to life satisfaction that other factors, such as financial gain. In fact, personality changes explained nearly double the changes in life satisfaction of all the other characteristics studied.

You may ask whether your personality is fixed—or, at least very difficult to change? It turns out that is isn’t. Our personality shifts much more than we realize. “Compared to shifts in these external circumstances, a personality change is just as likely to occur and contributes much more to improvements in our well-being,” says The Atlantic of the study, which was completed at the University of Manchester and London School of Economics and Political Science.

Participants answered questions on life satisfaction and personality at two different points in time, four years apart. Personality characteristics related to openness to experiences, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism were measured. External factors were also measured: shifts in income, employment, and marital status.

So, if you are looking to boost your happiness, consider making small positive internal changes, and realize that you can alter your personality, hopefully reducing negative aspects and improving positive aspects. These efforts can be rewarded with far greater boosts in happiness than that work bonus you may have been holding out for or other lifestyle factors.  Check out the full study here.

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

Photo by graur razvan ionut courtesty of freedigitalphotos.net.

Reasons for Boomer Divorce Spike, and How to Prevent Late-Life Divorces

This is part 2 of summarizing Wall Street Journal’s research on why we are currently seeing a spike in late-life divorces (and adding my two cents of course). I am interested in hearing your ideas and reaction as well. For background, read part 1—Is Divorce Booming for Boomers?

In addition to some of the risk factors discussed in the above post, professor and sociologist Susan Brown, the author of The Gray Divorce Revolution, says boomers had different marriage expectations than previous generations. The 70s began a period during which, for the first time, marriage was about “needing to make individuals happy,” explains Brown. Previous generations viewed marriage as an economic union, and then in the 1950s and 1960s as a companionate marriage, which was defined by how each spouse fulfilled his or her role. Individualized marriage became more about using marriage to meet personal needs.

For me, that sets up a red flag, because marriage isn’t intended to “make people happy” or to help them “meet their needs.” Individuals are responsible for their personal and spiritual journey towards joy. We can make that journey with our loved ones, but our loved ones can’t bring happiness to us or force us down a particular path. In addition, we’ve chatted here numerous times about how a spouse cannot be responsible for meeting all of our needs. Having that expectation is rather a recipe for disaster, in my humble opinion. (Read Don’t Expect Your Spouse to Meet All Your  Needs.)

Baby boomers were also focused on achieving self-fulfillment, rather than role fulfillment. “For boomers who have had trouble maintaining commitments in the past, hitting the empty nest phase seems to trigger thoughts of mortality—and of vanishing possibility for self-fulfillment,” according to the WSJ’s Susan Gregory Thomas.

They see their last phase of life as an opportunity to achieve self-fulfillment, but often don’t consider the disastrous economic financial implications (which hit women harder) and the consequences of child custody (which impact men harder).  In other words, they don’t anticipate a change in lifestyle or the loss of their children.

So, how do you avoid getting to this point? Marriage advice from The Gottman Institute is similar for this generation as for younger couples. Spouses need to actively respond to each other’s bids for reconnection and avoid criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. (Read that sentence again, please.) Turn toward one another, even if you’re busy. Make your spouse a priority. Don’t start over with someone new; start over with your spouse and bring your relationship to a higher level. Instead of looking to someone else to meet your needs, figure out what makes you excited and pursue that. Then share your excitement and positivity with your spouse.

I can empathize that adults in their 50s and 60s are looking at what kind of legacy they may be leaving this world. But honestly, what better legacy could there be than adding to the love in the world, leaving an unfractured family filled with love for you and for one another?  

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

Photo by Photostock courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net.

Happiness Comes Before Success in Life, Not After

Happy Life; Happy Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Ways to Boost Positivity

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

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

Boosting Marital and Family Happiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Photostock courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

6 Habits for Happy Lives & Marriages

Happy Life: Happy Marriage Series

I came across this awesome visual from the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) on 6 Habits of Happiness Worth Cultivating, and I think it has great applications for marriage as well. Cultivate these 6 habits for a happier life and a happier marriage.

  1. Practice Kindness. Yes, it’s an important life habit, but it also makes you feel good. “Altrustic acts light up the same pleasure centers in the brain as food and sex,” according to GGSC. Many people stop there, but they end up being kinder to the checker at the grocery store than to their spouse at home. Or at least we would never say things to our friends that we are willing to say in anger to our spouse. Ouch. Kindness will pay great dividends in the long run. Say “please” and “thank you” for starters. Offer to help, especially when your spouse is stressed. Give an extra hug and kiss, just because.
  2. Drop Grudges. As I wrote in First Kiss to Lasting Bliss, forgiveness is just as much a gift for the giver as the receiver. Offering forgiveness to those who have wronged us takes away the bitterness that can rob us of health and wellbeing. This goes double in a marriage, when grudges are very detrimental. If a past hurt from our spouse is important, discuss how you feel hurt and explain what would make you feel better. But figure out how to get past it.
  3. Get Moving. GGSC reports that “regular exercise increases self-esteem, reduces anxiety and stress, and may well be the most effective instant happiness booster of all.” Why not do something active with your spouse? You’ll both benefit from the increased oxytocin release, you’ll both be doing something good for your health, and you’ll be spending quality time together.
  4. Give Thanks. Lots of research has shown the benefits of living with gratitude, and I’ve written a good deal about it. “Regular expressions of gratitude promote optimism, better health, and greater satisfaction with life,” says GGSC. Research also shows that couples who express gratitude toward one another and who spending time being thankful for their spouse and thinking positively about him or her are also more satisfied with their relationship. Read “Two words that have improved my marriage.”
  5. Keep Friends Close. “Make time for those closest to you,” says GGSC. That means regular, dedicated, uninterrupted face time with your spouse. No excuses. Remember that your spouse can’t meet all your emotional needs, so spend time with close friends as a way to boost your happiness and bring a brighter you to your marriage.
  6. Pay Attention. The idea of being more mindful as a means of boosting immunity and reducing anxiety is not one commonly discussed. But in our world of multitasking and ubiquitous social media, it’s so key. How many minutes a day to we spend completely engaged with our spouse, listening or discussing meaningful issues in our lives?

What are the most important habits you feel cultivates your personal happiness and your relationship happiness?

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

Avoid these 5 regrets by living and loving to the fullest

As you set plans and goals for this year, perhaps you seek inspiration about the kind of life you hope to live—one filled with passion and purpose. Let’s hope that life includes a life with awesome relationships to boot.

A palliative care nurse named Bronnie Ware recently wrote about the top five regrets people make on their deathbeds. (See her post here.) They are keen reminders of what’s important, and they have great applications to marriage.

  1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected.” Bronnie says this was the most common regret. Have you been honest with yourself about the life you want to lead and the dreams you want to pursue? Talk to your spouse about these dreams, including your dreams for your marriage and family life. Live out your personal values, not those of the culture around you. For example, if travel is important to you, figure out how to scale back your lifestyle to provide more funds and time for adventures, or look for a job abroad so you can travel while getting paid. Follow your dreams while you are still healthy enough to do so.
  2. “I wish I didn’t work so hard.” Bronnie says all the older men spoke of missing their children’s youth, and men and women also talked of missing their partner’s companionship due to work. We often fall into the trap that work is what we have to do, and family life gets squeezed into the space that is left. But Bronnie suggests, “By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do…you become happier and more open to new opportunities.

 I would add that in addition to simplifying, learning to say no to some things (or even most things) opens doors for the important things. I watched a short interview today by John Acuff (while I was “wasting time” on Facebook) in which he explains why it’s important to let some people down in order to not let down the important ones in our lives. If you don’t have time to pursue all the great things you want to in live, I strongly encourage you to watch it on ABC News.

  1. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” The way to have true and meaningful relationships is to be ourselves.
  2. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” Married and single people can benefit greatly by keeping strong friendships. Research says social interactions increase our happiness and longevity. Caroline says many of the dying didn’t realize the value in their friendships until their dying weeks when the friendships were lost. What friendships are important for you to cultivate? How do you invest your time and energy into these relationships?  All that remains in the final weeks is love and relationships, says Caroline.
  3. “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” While she explains many people on their deathbeds realized too late that happiness was a choice, I think that is equally true for marriage. We can focus on our partner’s great qualities or the things that annoy us. We can think about unmet needs or express gratitude for what we receive in love. We can choose to be happy together, or we can focus on the imperfections that are always a part of human life and love.

What are the choices you are making with your time and your attitude this year? I’ve always thought regrets are the worst possible emotion. What do you hope to feel as you look back on your life, and what are the regrets you hope to avoid?

If you enjoyed this post, sign up for free updates at MarriageGems.com. For information about Lori’s book, First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage, visit Amazon.com or LoriDLowe.com.

Photo by Ambro courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Does Your Marriage Have Areas for Improvement?

If you are hoping to improve or even maintain your relationship in 2012, it may help to know what the major sources of conflict are. What do couples fight most about, and can you assess your personal behavior in these areas to ensure you are not contributing to that conflict?

The Science of Relationships provides the Top 15 Sources of Conflict in Relationships with a brief explanation of each that I think is very helpful. It includes everything from being inconsiderate to poor grooming. First, ask yourself what the most common conflict topics are in your relationship, then check the list. Be honest about an area in which you might be able to improve. This isn’t the time to blame your partner, but rather to look a way you might take some responsibility for a bit of self-improvement. Personally, I hope to improve my daily efforts toward generosity this year.

For some additional helpful reading, The Generous Husband’s Paul Byerly has done a good job dissecting The State of Our Unions: Marriage in America 2011—research completed by the National Marriage Project. This is the research I wrote about recently in which generosity in marriage is said to be the best indicator of a very happy marriage. There’s much more to the study. Paul explains the findings on Money and Housework, which show happier husbands and wives are part of couples for which household chores are shared equally. In addition, the study showed that financial pressure and debt decrease our marital happiness. No matter what our income, increased consumer debt is a hindrance to a happy marriage, particularly for women. He also reports on the impact of family and friends in marriage, which reminds us we should be connecting with those who support our marriage, and preferably spend time with others who have strong marriages. Finally, this is an interesting bit about the importance of shared faith within a marriage. If these reports are interesting to you, check out the full study results. (See link at beginning of paragraph.)

What area of your marriage could use some tweaking—or a complete overhaul—this coming year? Perhaps how you communicate, how you manage your finances, how you share your faith, how you share housework or raise your children, how you manage your time or your home, how you show affection, your sexual satisfaction with one another, making time to spend each day with each other? The options are nearly endless, but discuss one area with your partner in which you both will make an effort to improve, will seek out tools for improvement, and will provide honest and productive feedback with each other. If you have particular topics you would like more information about, please message me or leave it in the comments and I will provide expert insights and research-based tips for you.

For all those who celebrate the Christmas holiday this coming week, I wish you all the blessings and joy of the season. I hope for you a holiday with minimal stress and abounding love. And I wish peace and joy to all of you and to your families and friends. Thank you for allowing me into your lives.

NOTE:
My new book, First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage is now available. Go here for links to Amazon print version or e-books for Kindle, iTunes, Nook or e-book. If you’ve already bought the book, don’t forget to email me for your 7 free marriage improvement gifts, including everything from an e-book to improve your sex-life to date night suggestions, an iPhone app with daily marriage tips, a marriage refresher workbook, a video to hone your communication skills, and tips for how to connect on a daily basis with your spouse in just 15 minutes a day.

Photo by Arvydas Kriuksta courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

What Do You Expect from Your Marriage and Mate?

Have you heard the story of the high profile female lawyer who was in a “state of desperation” about her marriage—bringing in the majority of the family income, raising two daughters, working full-time and rarely seeing her husband who was serving as a state senator?  She constantly criticized her husband and reminded him that his role as a politician paid very little and would likely lead nowhere. Why did he get to pursue his dream, while she did all the hard work of child rearing and family support?

Then Michelle Obama had an epiphany. She remembered why she fell in love with her husband, Barack. She realized she couldn’t change him and certainly liked what he was about. While she needed more support, she realized she could get that support from people other than Barack, such as her mother. She solved her biggest concerns on her own.

This story was just one snippet of a very interesting article from Psychology Today called “The Expectations Trap,” which explains that very few couples are able to come to the same kind of realization before destroying their relationship. Expectations are often born out of a cultural phenomenon that causes us all to daily evaluate how our needs are being met. In addition, we are regularly transferring “desires” into the “needs” column, making it more difficult to satisfy our so-called needs.

Andrew Cherlin, author of The Marriage-Go-Round, says our relative affluence has created additional choices for us all. “The result is an ongoing self-appraisal of how your personal life is going…You get used to the idea of always making choices to improve your happiness.” The interesting part about this is that negative emotions get priority processing in our brains, while the positive emotions get pushed back. So, if we have 20 things we are happy about, and 1 thing we’re unhappy about, guess which one gets our focus?  This process is causing us to be less, rather than more, satisfied with our relationships.

Cherlin adds that we tend to look upon any unhappiness we experience—whatever the source—as a failure of our partner to satisfy our longings. It’s our expectation of perfection, not our spouse, that is often to blame.

Family therapist and author Pat Love adds to the article, saying marriage is now about how it makes us feel rather than about what we do.

So, when we aren’t “feeling” super about our life and love, we may begin to say “this is not what I signed up for” or “I deserve better.” We may even convince ourselves that we are tragic figures in this thing called life. Everyday disappointments become intolerable aspects of life, says William Doherty, author and professor of family sciences at the University of Minnesota.

As in the case of Michelle Obama, it would have been much more typical for her to believe hers was a case of giving much more than she was getting, or becoming a tragic figure of being a super mom and breadwinner wife with not enough support from her husband. It would have been much more typical for her to file for divorce or give an ultimatum rather than to change her own behavior. But things did turn out OK for them, and that dead-end job didn’t turn out to be quite what she believed.

Solutions:

The article suggests many solutions Marriage Gems has offered in the past but bear repeating:

  • Spend time together in new, interesting or challenging activities. Dance, play games, or even have interesting conversations together to enhance closeness and increase passionate love and feelings of commitment.
  • Pat Love’s advice is to “get over yourself” and to grow up. Mature individuals are needed for a happy, mature marriage.
  • Focus on the positive aspects of your relationship and don’t over-emphasize the negative.
  • Remember there’s no perfect person for you, and even if you could find a perfect person, they wouldn’t be the same over time. But you and your partner can help each other become more perfect with mutual support and love.

Photo courtesy of Stockvault by Bina Sveda