Tag Archives: how to have a happy marriage

Revise Your Criticism for Better Marriage

If your pattern is to criticize your spouse for any reason, it’s time to break that pattern. A couple of days ago I came across a very helpful Washington Times article advising just how to do this. It’s called “Marriage Mindset:  Presume the best.

I have previously shared how to fight fairly and the four relationship patterns that can doom a marriage: criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and contempt (including behaviors like eye-rolling). But just knowing it’s a bad pattern isn’t enough. When you have legitimate complaints with your spouse, it’s part of a desire for a healthy marriage to want to address them. How can we do that more productively without damaging the relationship?

 Times author Rebecca Hagelin points out that “good communication never takes aim at the other person.” Instead:

  1. Effective communication sticks to the facts, i.e. “When you didn’t call last tonight to tell me you’d be late…”
  2. Effective communication expresses feelings, i.e. “It made me feel sad and angry.”
  3. Effective communication avoids judgment, i.e. “You’re so inconsiderate.”

Imagine a husband’s reaction when a wife explains she misses the time they used to share on Saturday mornings together rather than complaining, “You never show concern for my needs.” Or, when a husband explains he is feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities, he may get a better reaction than if he criticizes his wife for “not doing enough.”

One problem with the pattern of criticism is that it creates such negative interactions and feelings that each partner begins to lose hope that the relationship can work well. “Pessimism begets more pessimism until divorce seems inevitable,” says Hagelin, adding that those with divorced parents or parents who served as poor marriage role models are especially likely to fall into this trap.

As a reminder, Gottman’s other tips for fighting in a more positive manner include:

  • Bringing up the problem in a soft, not harsh manner
  • Presenting issues with more positive and less negative demeanor
  • Accepting influence from your spouse
  • Repairing the interaction when it becomes negative
  • Being willing to compromise
  • Using humor in problem solving (joking around can relieve tension)

More than just changing the way you criticize your partner, the key is to give your spouse and your marriage more marital optimism. “New research shows that the happiest of marriages reflect an overall positive attitude about the goodness of the other person and the marriage itself—even as the couple works to resolve conflicts,” says Hagelin.

So, for example, when your spouse does something less than agreeable, it means giving them the benefit of the doubt that they still have good motives and believing that your relationship is basically sound even if you’re upset about that action. Yes, it also means being forgiving and loving even in these situations.

It’s interesting to me that when I choose to let something go and believe that my spouse didn’t mean to upset me, I often later can’t remember the reason I was so mad. I just remember that I decided to change my attitude about it, and when needed I address it with him when I’m feeling less angry.

Gottman has stressed that focusing on the positive in our relationship is much more important than hashing out our conflicts, because 69 percent of conflicts in marriage are unresolved, as in personality differences or competing needs. Do what you used to love doing together, focus on your partner’s strengths, build your friendship, be kind and loving (even when you don’t feel like it), foster and make time for intimacy—these are all ways to keep positive feelings for each other and for the relationship growing.

How do you feel when you are on the receiving end of criticism? How would you prefer to receive this kind of information? Do you have any room for improving how you criticize your spouse? Do you focus more on what your spouse does well, or what s/he doesn’t do well?

Photo by PhotoXpress.com

Splitting Chores 50-50 with Spouse is Recipe for Disaster

I used to have married neighbors who carefully listed all their chores and divided them as equally as possible, fifty/fifty split, even though one worked full time and the other was a stay-at-home parent. Each frequently felt they were doing more than their share, and they frequently revised those lists. Perhaps this contributed to their later divorce. There is a better way.

The authors of the book Spousonomics say “there are great rewards to be had from trading smartly and great wastes of time and energy from trying to do everything yourself, or even from splitting things in half.” Think of your marriage as a business comprising two trading partners who exchange services, for example the completion of chores, they suggest.

Co-authors Jenny Anderson and Paula Szuchman recommend using the theory of Comparative Advantage, which says it’s not efficient for you to take on every single task you’re good at, only those tasks you’re relatively better at compared with other tasks. If you think of a well-run corporation, each person within the business has a specialty. The organization works more efficiently when everyone does what they are best at, even if they are capable of doing other things.

Couples who force the fifty/fifty division of chores, without regard to what each person is best at and enjoys most, lack specialties. They also tend to argue more about who is doing what and whose turn it is to take on a certain job. Life becomes about deciding what is “fair”. Other couples miscalculate their comparative advantages, perhaps insisting that the husband always walks the dog and mows the lawn when the wife is better suited to these jobs and enjoys them more.

Modern marriage has changed roles so dramatically that every task is debatable—who will do the laundry, care for the children, pay the bills, and wash the dishes. A 2007 Pew Research Center study asked couples “What makes marriage work?” The answers were 1) faithfulness 2) sex and 3) sharing household chores.  Two years later, the Boston Consulting Group asked what couples argue most about. This time money was number one, followed by household chores. Clearly, these seemingly unimportant decisions about chores can become important issues in the marriage.

The authors provided a number of case studies to play out the problems and solutions. They used economic lessons about how countries make products they are most suited to produce and then trade then rather than each country attempting to produce all their own products. They do that based on what they are best and fastest at making, at the lowest cost.

For couples deciding how to divide the work load, determine who is best and fastest at various tasks, taking into consideration what they enjoy doing most. For example, if the woman is better and faster at tidying the house and doing the dishes, those should be her jobs. If he is better and faster at doing the laundry and mowing the yard, those should be his jobs. The couple together can save significant amounts of time by assigning the person who does the task most efficiently. This is time that would be forever lost if they focused instead on what was “most fair”. Instead, they can use this time for fun and leisure.

Long ago, I determined I was best at doing the laundry and keeping the house tidy. My husband is much better at mowing the lawn, maintaining the home and the cars. We both do the cooking. It seems we determined our comparative advantage without realizing we were doing it.

Do you and your spouse argue about doing the dishes, cooking, cleaning or laundry? Is it time to do a serious analysis of your comparative advantages? How do you divide household chores?

Resurrect Romance in Your Relationship

 “Keeping the Sparks Alive” Series

Romance is a state of mind. If you have the right mindset, you can make cleaning the bathroom romantic; if you have the wrong mindset, you can turn a moonlit stroll on the beach into a fight.”

I couldn’t agree with Gregory Godek more than this intro to 1001 Ways to Be Romantic. When we consider how to keep the romantic fires of marriage burning, we may be looking for a quick fix or a list of three things to do. And with the right attitude, those three things might make a big difference, but the key is the heart we put into our actions. I’ve shared hundreds of tips on this blog, but the tips themselves aren’t the secret, it’s what you put into the tips that can elevate your love to new heights.

If a man brings home flowers once a month because his wife convinced him that this is an obligation of marriage, the romance may not be present. If a husband brings home wildflowers cut from a field or a book from his wife’s favorite author because he was thinking about her and wanted to do something special, then she will feel the romance.

Even so, Godek says some obligatory romantic gestures should always be followed by spouses—celebrating his or her birthday, getting a gift for Christmas (if you celebrate that holiday), and remembering and celebrating your anniversary and Valentine’s Day. He says these are important must-dos and should be overlooked. Just because they are obligatory doesn’t mean we can’t do them with love!

The fun “optional” romance includes everything else you might do—big or little surprises, candlelit dinners, sharing a bottle of wine on the deck and making a toast to your future, planning a getaway together, sending a card, giving a massage, writing a love note (sticky note or long love letter), buying flowers just because, drawing a bubble bath for two, lighting candles and cooking a special meal, greeting each other at the door each day as if you’ve been apart for months, or any other sweet gesture you can think of.

Romance is a balance of two concepts, says Godek: 1) Actions speak louder than words. 2) It’s the thought that counts. These are two sides of the same coin.

Romance is worth the effort because it will improve your relationship. It will make you feel more loved and secure, and it will make your spouse feel more loved and secure.

Read Celebrate each day in your own way for more on living with an attitude of celebration and romance.

We are one-fourth of the way through the year. How are you doing with planning romance and celebration into your life and marriage?

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com

More on Marrying the Wrong Person

“I have no way of knowing whether or not you married the wrong person. But I do know that if you treat the wrong person like the right person, you could well end up having married the right person after all. It is far more important to be the right kind of person than it is to marry the right person.” — author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar

This quote summarizes the discussion we’ve been having about marrying the wrong person. My post last Friday, “We all married the wrong person” has generated an overwhelming response, with more than 40,000 visits and 400 comments in a few days. My interview with Dr. Haltzman has created a large, international discussion about what marriage is and what it could be. Clearly, there is much debate about whether marriage and love are about choice and commitment, about passion and feelings, about finding a compatible person—or, whether it’s even possible to have a “happy marriage.”

Despite the provocative title, I believe I married the right person for me. And my husband of 15 years claims to agree that he married the right person for him. The point of the post, though, is that there are days or periods of time when couples are stressed, grouchy, sick, lazy, difficult, you-name-it. We’re human, and we require grace. During those times, we have all surely wondered what it would be like to be married to someone who is more upbeat, more affectionate, more positive, more beautiful, more of whatever we want that day.

Because my husband and I are motivated to love one another and to be self-sacrificial in our love when necessary, we have maintained a strong marriage. We are not perfect, and we don’t know any couples in perfect marriages. But we are happy and committed to one another and to our children.

I concede there are individuals who are narcissistic, abusive or unable to participate in a healthy marriage. I also understand that in rare cases, one does not know these qualities until after marriage. These occurrences should be extremely rare if the partner has done due diligence, participated in premarital counseling and gotten to know the person as well as possible prior to marriage. As Dr. Haltzman said, abuse of any type should not be tolerated.

However, the vast majority of divorces in the U.S. are in low-conflict marriages that have the capacity to be restored, according to large quantities of expert research I have read. What individuals in these marriages in crisis need most is hope. There is hope. You may be thinking you are beyond hope.

I’ve spent the last two years interviewing couples who overcame extreme marital adversity—from losing a child to experiencing long separations for military service, from  infertility to infidelity, from overcoming drug abuse to overcoming life-threatening illnesses and accidents, from dealing with stranger rape to dealing with families who don’t support the marriage. I’ve talked to a strong Christian who at long last created a happy marriage with her unbelieving spouse, and I interviewed couples who experienced financial hardship, including living through The Great Depression. Many of these couples had lost hope at one point or another, but they all found it—and found a way to not just stick it out, but to find lasting happiness and joy. (How they achieved this will be described in my book, but I provide insight from these interviews in this blog.)

If you are a new reader to my blog, I want to welcome you into the discussion, no matter what your views are. Here are a few posts to give you food for thought:

Is love a decision or a feeling?

Read this if you EVER have conflict in your marriage

Stay self-focused to repair marital problems

For a happier marriage, date your spouse

Happy marriages are not carefree

What’s a pro-marriage counselor and how do you find one?

If you’d like to be updated on new research-based marriage tips, please sign up for updates on the right side of the home page. Your email address will never be shared, and you can opt out at any time. Find me on Twitter @LoriLowe. You are also welcome to download the free e-book I wrote with some other marriage writers. Thanks for dropping by, and come back soon.

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 Credit: ©PhotoXpress.com

Is Your Family Seeking Pleasure, Happiness or Joy?

What do you want most for your children? Really think about it for a minute…(Are you thinking?) I’ve heard a lot of parents say what they really want more than anything is for their children to be happy. To that response, I ask, really? Is the pursuit of personal happiness really the best and highest calling for your child? What are you seeking for yourself—pleasure, happiness, maybe joy? What do these even mean?

Of course I don’t want my children to be unhappy, but to be honest, sometimes a little unhappiness is necessary for them to understand a lesson and to grow as people. The same goes for me, unfortunately. I don’t think we should expect to be happy all the time. Stress, illness and death are part of life. Work and sacrifice can be good qualities, but aren’t particularly pleasant. If we teach our children to pursue only happiness, why would they want to help others when it is inconvenient? Why would they strive to impact the world in a positive fashion? That just takes their focus off of their goal of happiness.

Interestingly, the happiest couples I have interviewed have been the ones who are truly seeking to make their spouse happy before themselves. It’s a cycle and a process that continues to reward each of them.

Pleasure is often a good thing—enjoying the scent of the flowering trees as you drive by, tasting the grilled salmon that you craved for dinner, touching your spouse or children lovingly, hearing the sound of the birds outside your kitchen window. Opening our senses to feel and truly experience pleasure is wonderful.

Pleasure can also be very self-serving. A popular web site (whose name I won’t promote) calls itself “the world’s premier discreet dating service” and has a trademarked tag line: “Life is short. Have an affair.” They promise, “Join free, and change your life today. Guaranteed!” Yes, your life will be changed, but not for the better. Their invitation to “Sleep with someone else’s wife tonight,” may entice those whose ultimate goal is personal pleasure. But will these exclusive members experience happiness or joy?

In Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis, describes joy as a “technical term that must be sharply distinguished from both Happiness and Pleasure.” He says, “The only thing Joy has in common with the others is that anyone who has experienced it will want it again.” Where Joy differs, he continues, is that anyone who has tasted joy would never exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. “But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.” Yes, there’s the rub, joy we have to wait for, and pleasure (and even happiness to some extent) we can go in search of.

Joy, I think, is a much deeper satisfaction, bliss, the opposite of misery and regret, a connection to the divine. It’s not really within our power, but I think it can result from a multitude of right choices, even of self-sacrifice and love for others. It seems sort of counter-intuitive that by not prioritizing your own pleasure, you can achieve a deeper enjoyment, but I think it’s true. That’s not to say pleasure can’t still be a part of your life, but there are higher priorities.

In your marriage, in your financial decisions, in how you raise and instruct your children, what do you think is most important for them to learn? Where do you hope to lead your spouse and family, and what example will you show? I wish you Joy.