Tag Archives: improve relationship

Focus on Loving Communication with Spouse

Marriage is not about keeping score. However, the positive and negative comments we make certainly do add up. Even if you compliment your spouse once or twice a day (thinking you are doing SUCH a good job), a criticism or complaint can negate those positives.

Remember that experts say successful marriages have five positive interactions for every one negative interaction. (Read Avoid Divorce with 5:1 Ratio.) And a ratio like that takes effort. The negative interaction may be addressing a concern one of you has, but it should still be communicated with love.

Remember that game of “s/he loves me, s/he loves me not” where you remove petals to decide if someone loves you? It reminded me of a similar analogy. Envision that you give some daisies to your sweetheart at the end of the day. Each time you roll your eyes, complain, criticize, ignore, lecture, or tease, you’re removing a few more of those petals. Each time you praise, act lovingly, hug/kiss/touch, speak respectfully, cherish, adore, appreciate you preserve those petals. At the end of the day if your bouquet is dismal at best, your spouse may not feel very affectionate or welcoming of you. When you’ve had many loving interactions during the day, this communicates care, concern and love.

Especially harmful to men are comments that leave them feeling disrespected or unappreciated, while those that are especially harmful to most women cause them to feel unloved or unattractive.

Loving communication is not about being right or wrong. It is about being considerate and aware of your partner’s feelings, even when you have to address problems.

When you are preparing to react negatively, give your spouse the benefit of the doubt that their motives are good. Instead of being defensive, try to understand where they are coming from.

Surprise your spouse with honest compliments, positive text messages or emails, notes of appreciation, and hugs or kisses for no reason. You can focus on the love language that your partner most enjoys, but expand to other areas as well. (Read What is Your Love Language?) For example, if they like acts of service best, they may also enjoy words of affirmation.

How can you communicate your love today?

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 Dan with 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.

6 Marriage Strengthening Tips

“Keeping the Sparks Alive” Series

Recently, the Today Show shared some good advice for keeping your marriage strong. I wanted to pass along the items they reported that have been shown to strengthen relationships:

  1. Language matching. In strong relationships, couples often pick up one another’s verbal lingo and match phrases or words. While it can be annoying to some of us, apparently it’s a good thing when you’re so much “on the same page” that you use some of the same common words and phrases.
  2. Spoil your spouse. Do something unexpected or generous for him or her.
  3. Be true to yourself, or “let your freak fly.” When you are being your true self, and you feel your spouse loves you despite your flaws, it increases your levels of trust.
  4. Fight fair, and avoid blaming and name calling.

Some actions to AVOID:

  1. Don’t smother your partner with support or constantly offer solutions to their problems. Instead, listen and ask questions.
  2. Don’t storm out or withdraw. Taking a time out is OK, as in, “I need to take a walk and get a break. Can we talk about this in an hour?”

Related Links:

Great article from CBSOnline.com about common marriage myths, including the myths “Never go to bed angry” and “Always be 100% honest with your partner.” Watch the video for some short, but very useful advice.

Dr. Michelle Gannon posted a response to last Friday’s post. She offers Too Tired for Sex: 10 Tips to Help. Read her professional advice on dealing with that all-too-common problem.

Female infidelity is apparently on the rise, especially with women who are financially more independent. This CNN article talks about how female infidelity is different, the reasons for it, and the signs of such trouble.

Photo Credit: ©Mat Hayward/PhotoXpress.com

The Formula for Unhappiness is Revealed: U = I – R

Happy Life: Happy Marriage Series

The images we have created from our earliest memories regarding how our lives and our marriages should be have incredible bearing on our happiness, or rather our unhappiness.

Dennis Prager, author of Happiness is a Serious Problem, says these images are so powerful “that you can almost measure your unhappiness by the difference between your images and your reality.”  U = I – R  (Amount of unhappiness equals images minus reality.)

This is a useful concept whether we are comparing our ideal career with what we currently have, our ideal body with our current body, our ideal spouse with our current spouse, our ideal family with our current family, or our ideal income with our current income.

It’s curious where and when our ideal images were constructed. Many of them may be based on childhood notions, fiction (fairytale love stories in books and movies or TV), or simply dreamed up in our own little noggins.

What is the solution to this problematic formula? Prager suggests “unhappiness can be reduced by either dropping your images and celebrating your reality or keeping your images and changing your reality.” That seems easier said than done, and neither is recommended more than the other. In fact, both may be needed. Certainly, if our reality is a positive one and we realize our expectations and ideal images are not at all realistic, then we ought to try to revise our images. On the other hand, if our reality really bites, then attempts to change that would be the better course. Many times, there may be elements of our reality we’d like to improve, but certain images that we really need to scrap.

Prager offers a poignant example from his own life, sharing that when he was growing up there were no examples of divorce, so when he married, he married for life, believing that he would achieve his image of a loving family with four children around the dinner table. When his own marriage imploded after five years, and he became a divorced father of a three-year-old child, he viewed his life as complete failure. He also failed to achieve his ideal family with four children. In time, he learned to celebrate (not just accept) his new family after remarrying and becoming a step-father to another child, and later having a third child. He was able to do this only by removing the images that he had previously held onto as mandatory for happiness.

Many of us seem to rotate our ideal images. One day we think being a successful career mom is ideal, and the next we think staying home with the children would be perfect. One day we want to be at the top of the corporate ladder, and the next we want to be successful entrepreneurs. Media and cultural influences have also shaped what we think our own bodies should look like, and what our partner should look like. Sometimes we are motivated by these images to make healthy choices toward proper diet and exercise, and sometimes we are driven to self-loathing or to point out our partner’s minor flaws.

Images are not necessarily harmful. Although I was a child of divorce, I created images for an intact, healthy family life that helped me find a mate and build my own family. Others may be inspired by positive role models in movies, books or in real life.

I think it’s helpful to ask, “Do your images help you achieve happiness, or do they ensure your unhappiness?” The answer to that question will reveal whether your images are helping or hurting you. Are they driving you to a better life, or are they making it impossible for you to be satisfied?

We may not even realize the expectations we have are incongruent. For example, I confess I don’t watch the Bachelor, but I read an article in which the current bachelor was being criticized for saying he was looking for an independent career-oriented woman, but then selecting only women who would relocate to his city and be a traditional wife. Are there men who want a wife at home cooking and cleaning, but also want her to be a working professional and bring in a good income? Sure. Are there women who want a strong, take-charge, high-level businessman, but then become upset when he’s not available to travel frequently and spend as much time at home? When our mate isn’t living up to one or more of our ideal images, we tend to think maybe they aren’t right for us after all. (Read We all married the wrong person.)

Sometimes it’s our images and expectations that may be far enough from our reality that we are preventing our happiness. Maybe our job isn’t what we would love right now, but it’s allowing us to have the kind of family life we want. Or maybe our house isn’t always spotless, but with two working parents, we realize we have to live with an occasional mess. Or maybe we realize our spouse is imperfect, just as we are. Instead of looking for the perfect marriage, maybe we should try to create some perfect moments, some perfect experiences, and some perfect memories. If we can appreciate our spouses for who they are and not who we fantasize them to be, we have a better chance of making those perfect memories.

Are there images that you’ve been holding onto that have either helped you in life or kept you from being as happy as you could be?

Photo Credit: ©Tina A./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

What Men and Women Always Need More of in Relationships

“Happy Life: Happy Marriage” Series

I was hoping someone would disagree with my post We Can’t Get No Satisfaction and argue that they are completely satisfied with all that life has to offer. However, if that person exists, he or she has not joined our discussion.  (I think people who have learned to be content in their circumstances certainly do exist, but it’s not likely they could stifle their unmet desires entirely.)

The interesting, yet challenging, part of our inability to be satisfied is that men and women tend to differ as to their areas of primary insatiability. The inability to understand the areas in which your spouse is likely to be dissatisfied can certainly bring conflict into your marriage, and probably already has.

Men and women in general have equally insatiable natures, says Dennis Prager, author of Happiness is a Serious Problem. They share many areas in which they may be unsatisfied, such as material wealth or finding a meaningful purpose. However, each gender has one particular area that is plagued with insatiability. Prager says for women, that area is emotional intimacy; for men, it is sexual variety.  (He goes on to explain that social influence causes men to search for different sexual partners.) Both of these longings are equally strong and can cause dissatisfaction and discord in the relationship.

Prager says the solution lies in first understanding one’s own sex. Much of our frustration may be related to believing that we can attain the unattainable—the ability to be satisfied with something that few can be satisfied about. We must understand our own desires, and then try to understand our partner’s frustrated desires. Within reason, we should attempt to fulfill our spouse’s needs. We also should be understanding when our partner isn’t able to satisfy our desires.

For example, a woman even in a good marriage with a loving husband may be frustrated that she does not receive enough emotional intimacy. Even if she has expressed her need and maybe even increases the amount of emotional intimacy she shares with her spouse, she may never be completely satisfied with their level of intimacy. If she is aware that she can’t be completely fulfilled in this area, perhaps she can appreciate what she does have with her partner. However, the man has a responsibility to attempt to understand her, and work to establish a deeper relationship with her, allowing for time with her and making romantic gestures such as loving touches, giving flowers or other acts that demonstrate love.

Men may also benefit from understanding it is not in their nature to be satisfied sexually. A man may be setting himself up for failure if he thinks he can fulfill his desire for sexual variety by having an extramarital affair, says Prager. “A sexual affair doesn’t quell a man’s urge for variety for anything approaching a year. Shortly after his affair, he is back to sexual square one.” Sharing a good sex life is important to the marriage, even if his desires may not be entirely satisfied. “The man must know that even in the best circumstances—frequent and satisfying sexual relationship with a partner whom he loves—he will still walk around (especially in contemporary Western societies, with their sexual bombardments) with sexual frustration.” Reminding himself of his insatiable sexual nature may help the man appreciate the sex life he shares with this wife.

Understanding how to be happy within marriage means we may have to fight natural impulses to be unhappy or dissatisfied. We can control our mind and remind ourselves of the positive aspects in our relationship. Being grateful, and expressing that gratitude has been repeatedly proven to boost relationships. It is possible to be happy in a relationship, even when we are not completely satisfied.

Do you agree or disagree with the areas of insatiability for men and women? Are they difficult areas to overcome?

Interesting Links:
Check out cool giveaways this week at the Dating Divas.

A bad marriage is worse for her than for him from The Generous Husband. It’s true that research shows a bad marriage impacts the wife emotionally and physically more than the husband.

Photo credit: ©Pavel Losevsky/PhotoXpress.com

Does Distance Make a Spouse’s Heart Grow Fonder?

For more than a decade, I’ve enjoyed meeting regularly with friends whose spouses, like mine, are pilots; we call it Pilot Supper Club. It began as a bimonthly supper and support group with our families, but sometimes we have couple events, or just the men or women go out. We relate to one another’s lives like no other friends can. One interesting quality about the group is the strength of its marriages, despite the fact that all the couples are in the stressful child rearing years.

Maybe that surprises you, because of all the required travel that is a part of every pilot’s life. Most of our friends with spouses outside the industry ask, “How can you stand your husband being gone so often?” But we always laugh and say that’s one of the reasons our marriages are so strong. I asked the wives about this issue at a luncheon last week. They responded that, in all seriousness, the regular opportunities for separation help their marriages immensely.

If you’re thinking they just don’t like to spend time with their spouses, it’s quite the contrary. The couples are great together and clearly in love, even after 10 or 15 years of marriage. It can be difficult to find ample time together; however, there are definite benefits. For one thing, after a trip, both partners are usually longing to see one another. Separation fuels desire to be together, rather fueling the more common frustration at daily annoyances. (Face it, it’s hard to long to see your spouse after only nine hours apart.) Time apart also keeps you from taking one another for granted. And, yes, several said there were times when they were glad their spouse needed to go to work so they could have some space. Whether the spouses are traveling or home, the families work hard to be supportive, affectionate and kind to each other. They follow their dreams as individuals and as couples.

Trustworthiness and fidelity are especially critical in a marriage when one or both spouses travel alone regularly. Couples who are weak in this area might find it more daunting and less beneficial. Another big challenge is the traveling partner remaining active in the children’s lives and activities. (Tools like texting, Skype and Facebook help families to stay connected when apart.) That being said, my friends and I believe a little space and independence can be good for both partners in trusting marriages.

One spouse doesn’t need a traveling job to have these benefits. I have a number of friends who take an annual or occasional girls’ trip or guys’ trip. They enjoy a relaxed vacation or weekend without family responsibilities, appreciate the time away, and are eager to invest their love and energy back in the family when they return. Often, they spend time doing things their spouse wouldn’t enjoy, for example, fishing trips for the guys and shopping or spa trips for the girls.

Last week, Salon Magazine published “The secret to our happy marriage: Traveling alone.” Writer Neal Pollack says, “It may sound odd, but solo adventures give my wife and me our freedom—and the gift of missing each other.” I recommend reading the entire article for some interesting insights on this topic. Pollack also advocates traveling with your spouse, not just alone. I agree; sharing memories together makes traveling most meaningful.

While I’m advocating for some inedependence, there is a risk of running two separate lives, with not enough intersections. Time together is even more important than time apart, in my view, but the time apart can make you appreciate your time together more. You don’t want to become so separate that you no longer depend on and support one another.  Sharing and participating in novel experiences will help you remain bonded and feeling “in love.”

Only you can know how much togetherness or independence is ideal for your marriage. I thought I’d share this viewpoint that “distance makes the heart grow fonder,” since a group of strong, happily married women concurred.

Where do you think the balance lies between togetherness and independence as far as traveling goes? Do you or your spouse travel alone? How does it impact your marriage?

Photo Credit: © Valery Shanin/PhotoXpress.com