Tag Archives: improve marriage

Minimizing the Combat Zone in Your Marriage

man woman on beach morguefileWe all have our negative patterns in marriage that may be based on our personality tendencies and our common reactions to one another. I found a recent New York Times article that provided some helpful hints for avoiding the “combat zone” or at least minimizing it.

Counselors teach conflict resolution skills and better communication skills, because they know sometimes the way we react or even phrase something can make a big difference in the outcome of what can become a heated conversation. Conflict isn’t always to be avoided; in fact, it can help bring us closer when used appropriately. So, here are the tips from Bruce Feiler who wrote “Lessons in Domestic Diplomacy” for the NYT:

  1. Beware of the transitions in your day. The times when people are either coming or going are the source of the biggest fights within families, say researchers. For example, getting yourselves and/or your children ready to head out the door, or coming in after a long day of work, wondering what will be for dinner and who will be making it. These are the vulnerable times. The “most highly charged” time of day was between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. So, give one another a bit of space and time and don’t bring up difficult topics until things are calm.
  2. Sit at the same level, with the same posture. This is important, particularly if one partner tends to adopt a “power position” i.e. in a higher chair, standing over the other, or with laced fingertips behind the head and feet up. Higher positions create elevated testosterone, reduced cortisol and increased feelings of superiority.  On the flip side, sometimes a spouse adopts a frequent “lower position” i.e. slumped, slouched, or arms crossed. Instead, sit alongside your spouse in your discussions.
  3. Select your seating surface well. Researchers found when people sit on a soft, cushioned chair, they are more accommodating and generous, while those who sat on a hard wooden chair were more rigid and inflexible.
  4. Go to the balcony. When things begin to escalate, imagine in your mind that you are on a balcony overlooking your interaction, suggests Bill Ury, founder of a Harvard program on peace negotiations. From the “balcony” you can see the macro view, calm yourself down, and see alternatives that you might not see if you didn’t disengage. Often there are other alternatives you haven’t considered. “The goal is to expand the pie before dividing it,” says Ury.
  5. Keep it short. The most important points in an argument are found in the opening minutes. After that, it’s just repetition and escalation. So say what you need to say, then take a short break or walk to prevent the escalation.
  6. Avoid saying “you always” and “you never.” In fact, switch from “you” to “we” so that you don’t sound so accusatory.
  7. Say you’re sorry, and most importantly, take responsibility for your choices/actions, even if you aren’t feeling very sorry during the argument.

What tips do you have to keep your disagreements from creating divisions in your family?

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.

The Science of Marital Longevity—Will Your Marriage Succeed?

happy couple morguefileWhile commitment may be the key to staying together in marriage, science has its own explanations. The latest Clark University Poll of Emerging Adults found that 86 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds surveyed said they expected their marriages to last a lifetime. (The balance were presumed to be unlikely to marry.) Yet, statistically, various factors make individuals far more or less likely to stay married.

The American Psychological Association recently compiled factors that are most likely to make love last. I don’t find it helpful to share which races are more likely to divorce, since that is not something we can change. However, we can do a lot to help or hurt our marital success, according to researchers. Here’s a sampling:

  • According to NCHS data, women with at least a bachelor’s degree have a 78 percent shot that their marriages will last 20 years, compared with 41 percent chance among women with a high school diploma. Did you know those with a college degree have a nearly 80 percent chance of success? I guess my Mom was right to encourage me to finish college before considering marriage.
  • Couples whose first child is born after the wedding have a greater likelihood of staying together, while couples who marry in their teens have a lower chance of staying together.
  • Lack of assets cause marital stress for newlyweds, according to the National Marriage Project. Couples with no assets are 70 percent more likely to divorce within three years than couples with $10,000 or more in assets. Consider this fact if you’re about to go into debt over an expensive wedding celebration.
  • Stress can be a major contributor to divorce. In a 2012 study by the University of Texas, researchers found that when one spouse had a stressful day (traffic, difficulties at work, or whatever), they reported more negative behaviors toward their spouse as well as less satisfaction with their relationship. Please keep this in mind if you are going through a stressful time or a major transition, as stress definitely affects how you evaluate your relationships. “Psychologists posit that the energy dedicated toward handling stressful events detracts from the energy needed to maintain a good relationship,” according to the Journal of Family Psychology. Take efforts to reduce or better manage your stress.
  • A strong social support can buffer against the type of chronic stress than can be toxic to a relationship. Examples of a strong social support include military support, church support, family support, neighbor and friends who are supportive. If you don’t have a good support network, help develop one. Social connections are known to help you live longer and healthier as well as to provide marriage and family support.
  • Doing small things often to make your spouse feel special and loved is very predictive of staying together, preventing divorce, and being happy, according to the Early Years Marriage Project. Contrary to popular opinion, men tend to need these affirmations the most, because women frequently affirm one another with hugs or compliments, while it’s uncommon for men to receive these in public.
  • The manner in which couples deal with conflict is important. Couples that are likely to stay together “are kinder, more considerate, and soften the way they raise a complaint” according to the Gottman Institute. Another study (from UCLA) addressing conflict found that couples who as newlyweds had interacted with anger and pessimism when discussing difficult relationship issues were more likely to be divorced 10 years later.
  • Depth of communication is important. “Most couples think they’re communicating with one another, but what they’re really talking about is what I call ‘maintaining the household’ or detailing to-do lists,” says Terry Orbuch, PhD, of the University of Michigan and Oakland University. “The happiest couples also share their hopes, fears and dreams.”
  • Be a lifelong learner in marriage. You may put regular effort into improving your golf game or your home, but marriage also takes a conscious effort to maintain and improve. “If you’re a lawyer, you take continuing education. If you’re an artist, you take workshops. And somehow, there’s this belief that we don’t have to work at learning how to be a couple, it should just come naturally,” says couples therapist Nicholas Kirsch, PhD. “That, to me, is just very backwards.”

For details on these studies, visit APA.org.

In what area do you think your marriage could use attention?

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.

How Does Your Marriage Compare? More Interesting Findings…

The Normal BarMy recent post called “The #1 Thing Men Want More of is Not What You Think” caused quite a debate, with many disagreeing with the research findings or explaining what they feel as a combination of needs. The findings were based on “surprising” relationship secrets of 70,000 individuals surveyed in The Normal Bar, a new book.

I promised to give away a free copy of the book, and then I went on spring break. So, because of my delay, I’ll give away two copies of the book—one drawing held from commenters of the last post, and one from comments on this one. So, if you’d like a copy, just leave a comment, and I’ll throw your name into the hat.

I wanted to share a few morsels of some of the other results that surprised or interested me. Feel free to share your feelings on one of more of the following findings:

  • Two-thirds of couples do not agree with each other’s politics. Fewer than 10 percent of these couples say this seriously strains their relationships. That surprised me, because I wonder if this has to do with common values and worldviews being different in these couples, and also because so many couples I know seem to be similar in this way. But I’m glad they can work through this area of division.
  • Be more romantic. It bothers almost 29 percent of women “a lot” that their partner is not more romantic. But even more surprising is that a lack of sufficient romance bothers more men “a lot”—44 percent of them. Talk to your spouse about what they feel is romantic, and try to make a better effort in this area. Too often this advice comes to men, but women need to practice romance as well.
  • Three-fourths of all American couples have never taken a romantic vacation. What? Not even a honeymoon? This seems pretty deplorable to me, but I recognize that once the kids come, traveling without them (and without worrying about them) becomes such a challenge that many don’t find it worth the effort. If you’ve benefited from romantic vacations in the past, please share how they have impacted your relationship. Can you get a weekend away together?
  • Interrupting your partner is a big problem. People who are often interrupted by their partners are twice as likely to be unhappy in the relationship. This affects many couples—59 percent of both men and women say they are sometimes or frequently interrupted by their partners.
  • Laugh more! On the other side of the coin, happy couples laugh much more; 66 percent of happy couples laugh together often.
  • Criticize less. Sadly, 12 percent of couples who have been together more than a decade are criticized daily by their partner. Women tend to be the more critical spouse. Two-thirds of men say they are criticized “a lot”; slightly over half of women say the same of their spouse.
  • Having more money did not make relationships happier. In fact, the most wealthy couples were slightly less happy.
  • Going back to my last article, it’s true that men said they wanted better communication more than anything else. However, the surveys also reported that most men also wanted more sex. Sixty percent of men and 30 percent of women feel their sexual frequency is too low. On the other hand, 36 percent of men and 56 percent of women feel their frequency is just about right.
  • We all know that one of the most important characteristics of happy couples is that they spend time together. Surveyed individuals say they don’t spend enough time together because they are so busy, but 80 percent of these same couples said they typically spend an hour or more on the Internet daily for non-work matters. Twenty-six percent spend more than three hours on the Internet a day.  Can you consider cutting back Internet/TV or other screen time to invest some needed time with your spouse?

Which of these bullet points resonates with you or strikes you as odd? Of course there’s a lot more research in the book, so check it out if you like. Remember, though, what is “normal” for one couple is not helpful for another. The thing I do find helpful is to ask yourself if something you read about (lack of fun, criticizing your partner, etc.) might be holding your marriage back from being all it can be.

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 Marriage Easy or Hard?

Easy hard by Stuart Miles freedigitalphotos.netDo you find it interesting that many marriage experts say marriage is work—maybe even hard work—while others say it should be easy? Well, which is it?

That’s why the article Making Your Marriage Easy from Hitched Magazine by Dr. Corey Allan caught my attention. Dr. Allan says he used to believe marriage was hard, but the hard part is the difficulty of interacting with an immature human; when we both act like grown ups, marriage can be easy. He says we often get bogged down with the nonessential, or lose sight of the fact that we each get to make decisions. This isn’t a bad thing! It means we are free to choose each other, free to grow, free to embrace change and not get stuck in a rut.

Essentially, Dr. Allan says marriage is about growing up. And your own growth is your own responsibility. So, relax and enjoy your marriage.

To summarize some of his tips:

  • Focus on what you can control. (You. Period.)
  • Simplify your life so that you can savor more of the good things in your life and marriage.
  • Slow down. Enjoy your conversations and interactions. Breathe.
  • Remember married life is easy.
  • Think of yourselves on the same team—not as opposing teams.

Read the article at Hitched here.

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.

MARRIAGE RESEARCH STUDY

Please let me digress for a minute to briefly tell you about a marriage research student who could use some help from you wonderful readers. A graduate student at Clark University in Worcester, MA, has asked for help in distributing this information. Thanks to those who qualify and can help.

Participate in a survey on couples and alcohol use and enter to win a raffle!

Are you and your spouse legally married and at least 18 years of age?
Do you or your partner currently consume alcoholic beverages at least once a month? Is alcohol use an area of disagreement in your marriage?

If you answered yes to the above questions, you and your spouse are eligible to participate in a research survey regarding the relationship between your marriage and your alcohol-related help seeking behaviors. When you both complete the survey, you will each be entered into a raffle for one of four $50 Amazon.com gift cards!

The survey will take each participant approximately 20 minutes, and survey responses will be anonymous.

https://surveys.clarku.edu/AlcoholUseSurveyStart.aspx

Photo by Stuart Miles copyright by freedigitalphotos.net.

5 Ways to Renew Your Love

love on hand by David Castillo Dominici freedigitalphotos.netA lot of insightful research on relationship effectiveness comes out of the Greater Good Science Center. This article from researcher Barbara Frederickson, PhD, was exceptionally interesting in that she essentially breaks down our loving feelings into a science.  She explains that love is a renewable resource, and tells us five ways in which we can renew it.

Frederickson describes these loving feelings as a combination of the sharing of positive emotions, the synchrony between your and another person’s biochemistry and behaviors, and a dual motivation to invest in each other’s wellbeing. The positive energy we create can be sustained and can grow (with effort).

Several results occur when we inject positive emotions into our day, according to researchers. First, we open our awareness and better see the big picture. We see more possibilities when we experience positive emotions (as opposed to neutral or negative ones), and we can bounce back better from adversity. Even creativity and academic test results are improved when they are preceded by positive emotions.

Clearly these outcomes would benefit a marriage, particularly when we are looking for solutions or ways to do things better. The kicker is that we need to renew these loving feelings daily—multiple times each day. Frederickson shares five ways research says we can boost our “positivity resonance:”

  1. Look into your spouse’s eyes as often as possible. Your body craves more than text message connections; it craves “moments of oneness.”  Eye contact helps you synch up.
  2. Look for opportunities to be silly together in a cooperative manner. For example, don’t be afraid to engage in silly contests and have fun figuring out how best to solve the challenge together.
  3. Bring up shared history in a positive way. Show that you know your spouse well and that they can trust you.
  4. Take time to appreciate the good things. Express gratitude not only for the actions of another but for the good qualities that you see in your partner. This extra step helps your spouse feel validated and cherished.
  5. Invest in positive emotions for the future. They can be built up, and when difficult times appear, you will have a resource from which to draw on.

Frederickson says, “Genuine positive emotions are available to you at any time.” Practicing these five tips may help you feel more connected and give your marriage greater resilience.  You can find more insights from the Greater Good Science Center here.

Do you agree with these suggestions, or do you believe love isn’t something you can break down into actionable components?

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

Photo by David Castillo Dominici courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

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.

Have Regular RINGS Chats with your Spouse

couple at breakfast by Ambro freedigitalphotos.net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Ambro courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.