Tag Archives: Lasting Marriage

How to be a better marriage helper

friends talkingAlmost three-fourths of adults have been marriage confidants, according to a USA Today survey of 1,000 adults aged 25 to 70. More women (78%) than men (69%) have had a friend or family member confide in them about their marriage or long-term relationship struggles.

In fact, most people (64%) would rather confide in a trusted friend or family member than in a professional. Less than half would talk to a professional counselor (47%) and still fewer would confide in a member of the clergy (37%).

With this being the case, a program was unveiled a few months ago to help individuals gain the skills and knowledge to best support marriages around them. Because, honestly, it’s not always easy to know what to say or do when someone comes to you with a marital issue that is bothering them.

The program, called Marital First Responders, was developed by William Doherty, a longtime marriage and family therapist. He says that while not everyone is “qualified” to help someone through a rough patch in the marriage, even basic skills can be helpful. In addition, the training helps the “helper” to know where to set boundaries and direct the person or couple to a professional. Doherty says he called it first responder as a reminder to not get in over your head. (A first responder helps stabilize a situation then refers someone for professional treatment.)

You are a marital responder if:
-Friends, family members, and coworkers confide in you about their marital struggles.
-You enjoy the role of confidant, though it may be stressful or frustrating at times.
-You are sympathetic to the ordinary struggles of married life.
-You don’t run the other way then a problem comes up.
-You know you aren’t a marriage counselor, but would love to be more helpful to married people in your life.

Here are a few tips to be a better confidant if a friend or family member talks to you about a marriage issue:
1. Listen for feelings, not just complaints.
2. Empathize without taking sides.
3. Affirm strengths in the confider and in the marriage/relationship.
4. Offer perspective as someone who cares about them and their marriage.
5. Challenge with gentleness and firmness.
6. Offer resources when more help is needed.
Source: William Doherty, psychologist, marriage and family therapist

There are risks associated with getting family or friends involved in marital discord. One problem is that the couple may not receive effective assistance in a timely manner. Another risk is that the confidant takes the side of their loved one (instead of the marriage) and by doing so may worsen the situation by adding to the divide. So, if someone does confide in you (particularly an adult child, sibling or close friend), be careful not to take their side; instead, try to remain objective and supportive.

The top 5 marital issues that are brought up to a confidant (from the USA Today survey):
Growing apart—68%
Not enough attention—63%
Money—60%
Not able to talk together—60%
Spouse’s personal habits—59%

If you have marriage issues of your own you want to discuss, choose carefully whom you decide to confide in, and ask yourself if it wouldn’t be safer to talk to a professional than risk making that person jaded against your spouse in the future.

If you are interested in training in the Marital First Responders Course, Doherty is making some in-person classes available in different cities—the next one is in April in St. Paul, Minn.—and interactive online webinars are available.

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.

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Is True and Lasting Love Possible?

Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples around us of couples who thought that lasting love was possible but now feel they were wrong. When things don’t work out, they conclude–and tell others–that love just doesn’t last. They say things like, “Enjoy it while it lasts,” to those caught in the love bubble.

Maybe you’re wondering if your marriage can last, or if you should even risk entering into marriage with its current success and failure rates. And even if your marriage should the test of time, will the romance and loving feelings remain? I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I didn’t believe love and marriage can endure. So, why do some fail?

There are a handful of must-haves that allow a relationship to work, things that when missing cause your relationship to fizzle or to lead to more conflict and pain than passionate love. Does your relationship have them? Can you develop those that are weak?

The article 7 Secrets to Make True Romance Last from Hitched is a great starting point for those must-haves that keep a marriage strong. When these elements are in place, there is often a peace in the relationship that allows you to work through turbulent times.

Read the full article to hear what psychologists Edwin Locke, PhD, and Ellen Kenner, PhD, have to say about why these traits key for BOTH spouses:

1. Moral character
2. A genuine ego (each person stands for something but also supports the other)
3. Some common values and interests (above moral values)
4. Reasonably compatible personalities that allow you to feel understood and valued
5. Care for your appearance without being vain
6. Good sex with an understanding of how to please each other
7. Constant communication (includes good listening and feeling understood)

The lack of these traits can cause common marital problems, such as not feeling appreciated. You could have additional character traits that are important to you.  A sense of humor has been important in my marriage, allowing us to laugh at our blunders and move on. But when a key item is missing, such as good moral character, it seems everyone around the couple can see things are problematic but one or both of the partners seems initially blind to the faults by infatuation.

Are there items on the list that are deal-breakers to you? Does your marriage have the 7 traits?

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.

Young, Perfect Love and New Marriage

With wedding season upon us, so many couples are about to blissfully enter into marriage, hopefully with dreams and ideas of their long and happy lives together. Do you remember those times? Maybe you’re long past your newlywed days. What advice would you give them?

I’m reading one of the reported “best books of all time,” Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Nearly smack dab in the middle of the book, I was struck by a character’s experiences of entering marriage. Levin had adored and loved Kitty for many years and dreamed of marrying her. Finally, the stars aligned and they were engaged. They had an elaborate wedding and went off into the country to begin their lives together. Levin never expected petty annoyances to get in the way of their love, and he was surprised how easily this happened. I want to share a short excerpt from the book, because I think it offers a great image of expectations along with reality.

“He was happy; but on entering upon family life he saw at every step that it was utterly different from what he had imagined. At every step he experienced what a man would experience who, after admiring the smooth, happy course of a little boat on a lake, should get himself into that little boat. He saw that it was not at all sitting still, floating smoothly; that one had to think too, not for an instant to forget where one was floating; and that there was water under one, and that one must row; and that his unaccustomed hands would be sore; and that it was only to look at that was easy; but that doing it, though very delightful, was very difficult.”

Tolstoy goes on to say, “As a bachelor, when he had watched other people’s squabbles, the jealousy, he had only smiled contemptuously in his heart. In his future married life there could be, he was convinced, nothing of the sort…”

I thought the description was fitting for life and for marriage. We often envision a future that is nearly perfect like that little boat floating along. But once we get farther down our path and feel the sun beating down on the rocking boat and realize that it’s work to maneuver the boat, we are surprised. It doesn’t mean it’s not delightful, but that it requires our effort can sometimes be unexpected. Levin sees his life as “suffused with the brilliant light of happiness” so it’s not that he is disappointed in marriage. However, his expectations were simply different from reality, at least at the beginning.

In many ways, we have expectations for our partner that are different from our reality, often not in a bad way, just different.  Keeping perspective on this might help us maneuver through some of the potential conflicts in relationships.  

I’ve often heard young parents make a similar confession, saying that they always imagined what perfect parents they would be until the real child rearing challenges became apparent. It doesn’t mean they don’t love the role of parenting, just that it was far different from their expectations.  Forgiving ourselves from our parenting mistakes becomes just as important as forgiving our partner for their perceived failings.

What expectations do you still carry with you into your marriage? What petty annoyances are you allowing to create division with your mate? How do you dream about and picture your future 10 or 20 years from now? And what advice do you have for those starry-eyed couples about to be wed?

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 Noomhh courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Are You Hunting for Perfection in Your Spouse?

The following is based on the introduction to my upcoming book, FIRST KISS TO LASTING BLISS: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage.

Wading waist-deep down Missouri’s Fox River on a hot summer day, I learned to hunt for geodes. These semi-round sedimentary rocks, said to be 350 million years old, contain hidden crystals. The casual hiker sees rocks, but geode hunters notice their cauliflower-shaped exterior and envision gem-like interiors.

At the sweet, shallow spot of “The Fox,” abundant geodes range in size from a newborn’s fist to more than 100 pounds, discovered under the water and lying nearby in the grass, as if tossed there during an Easter egg hunt for us to find. We also found them lodged in the riverbanks with ten feet of earth pressing down on them—half circles poking out of the earthen wall, waiting for erosion to release them into the river.

Geodes’ sparkling interiors are generally white or clear, but some are colored, depending on mineral content. The product of a combination of water, natural chemicals, pressure, and heat, each porous geode is unique. There is no way to tell which will open to reveal a crystal treasure and which will reveal a solid mass or a greasy ball of sediment.

We’re a lot like geodes, and so are our marriages. Without exception, we feel pressure from all sides, which can at times feel like the weight of the world. There is no shortage of muck dredged up in our society and no way to prevent seepage of this sediment into our lives. Some people, like geodes, use stressful situations to help shape, improve, and crystallize themselves. Others crumble under the pressure, store the muck for someone else to discover, or become hardened masses—of no real value to others.

For my upcoming book, FIRST KISS TO LASTING BLISS: Hope & Inspiration For Your Marriage, I interviewed happily married couples across the country, some who have faced intense adversity—the kind that would pummel most marriages—yet became closer as a result. I tried to discover what made some marriages succeed despite hardship, while others wash away with the first storm. Successful couples don’t just “overcome” adversity; instead, they become changed by it and incorporate what they have learned into a more perfect union.

We’re all hunting for perfection—in ourselves, in others, and in our relationships. We won’t find it by looking at the outer shell. Just as there isn’t just one path for creating an ideal geode (volcanic geodes differ greatly in composition and form from Mexican “coconut” geodes, for example), there certainly isn’t one recipe for an extraordinary marriage, although there are some common ingredients. Since we have different needs and personalities, no magic technique will work for all marriages. Still, despite our range of challenges, we humans share similar fears, desires, and longings. So when some couples uncover what makes a marriage—even one fraught with major obstacles—work well, we want to hear their story, to draw our own conclusions and to add them to our own life experiences. Success stories are all around us if we listen.

At some point, all marriages will face intense pressure. Will the pressure change you? Undoubtedly. Will it break you apart? Maybe. It may also create something entirely new and better than expected, like the twin-chambered geode, a merger of two hollow geodes. Learning how others have handled crises can help you prepare for your own.

Lest we think true love is a one-in-a-million find, consider that each spring, countless geodes are released from the earth, a seemingly impossible product of millions of years of time and energy. Be open to the possibility that your hunt for perfection is over, that your marriage is perfect but unfinished, being honed by outside forces, in the same way that a child is a perfect but incomplete person—no less perfect because of he or she is in the early stages in life.

The couples profiled in this book are from different generations and walks of life, but they all became united in their difficulties. Those who faced multiple tests found their marriage became stronger with each one. Each couple found joy together, even amidst chaotic lives. These are not couples who merely “stuck it out”; theirs are great love stories whose commitment is not dependent on their circumstances. I hope they contribute to your own love story.

First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage will be available December 8th on Amazon.com. To learn more, go to www.LoriDLowe.com.  The book’s Facebook page is www.Facebook.com/LastingBliss.

Photo by Lori Lowe

Divorce Harder on Women During Great Recession

The recent recession has made divorce even more of a financial struggle, particularly for women who may have been out of the workforce caring for children.

Despite this fact, more than two-thirds of divorces are filed by women—and most of these are from low-conflict marriages, not where abuse was present in any form. But women may not understand the bleak financial situations they may end up in as a result of divorce.

Years ago, a divorcing friend told me she believed her financial situation would improve after her divorce due to the amount of child support and alimony she expected. Unsurprisingly, her financial situation greatly worsened after she filed for divorce. Within the year, she was filing for bankruptcy while caring for two children, and arguing with her ex about everything from the cost of school clothes to dental bills.

I’m curious about whether at any point she would have liked to go back in time and try to work on her marriage, since her biggest complaint before the split was that her husband just didn’t “get” her, and that they were just too different. I wonder if her previous problems were easier to deal with than seeing her ex quickly remarry, watching her boys raised half the time with a new step-mother with whom she often disagreed, and constantly experiencing money problems.

The moral of the story is that divorce didn’t solve any of her problems; it just created new ones. For some, these problems become so severe that divorced people find they cannot cope, and turn to alcohol or other means of coping. Last I heard, this old friend was using alcohol as her aid, even in front of the children.   

According to a report this week from Reuters, experts say alarming number of women emerge from divorce lacking even basic money management skills, and are deemed financially illiterate. The recession in 2011 has placed added strain on couples and on divorced women in particular. Even for professional women with financial skills, the reality is that a household’s expenses will multiply when split into two separate households. Financial stress and conflict is likely to increase, not decrease, as expenses multiply.

The University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project reports that the divorce rate has closely tracked the roller coaster of our economy during the last several years, with a 24 percent drop between 2008 and 2009 when unemployment rose and many families were facing a mortgage nightmare. In 2009, the divorce rate again dropped, but it is back on the rise as the economy slowly recovers from the recession.

Financial strain and child custody concerns add to the conflict and difficulty of today’s divorce cases. While women file for divorce more often than men, both women and men need to understand they can’t solve their family crises and financial stresses with a divorce. Each spouse needs to have financial understanding of their current situation, even if it’s difficult or complex, and even if professional help is needed to reach this understanding. (Financial advice is far less expensive than a divorce.)

When facing any crisis, couples who view themselves as part of a team (using words like “we” and “us”) working together against a common problem are more successful than those who approach problems individually. See The Power of “We” for details. A pro-marriage counselor can help couples who are at a loss about how to move forward. (Read What’s a Pro-Marriage Counselor, and How Do You Find One?)

If you feel your spouse has been out of line and is too difficult to live with, consider that most couples who stay together during the bad times end up much happier in time if they stay together. (Their children also fare much better.) If you are angry with your spouse, consider the gift of forgiveness, which benefits your marriage, and also helps keep you from having poor emotional and physical health. It’s a gift for the giver and the receiver. Reconciliation and rebuilding a marriage takes commitment and hard work, but forgiveness is an important first step.

Consider that divorce may  not answer any questions or solve any problems; it just may create more of the same or even worse problems than you had before. Think instead about why you chose your spouse, and why you fell in love with him or her. Focus on being grateful for the best parts of your marriage and your spouse and how the two of you can be unified against your current challenges. Share your dreams for a better future, one that you’ll share together.

Note: First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage will be released December 8, 2011 on Amazon.com. Please follow the Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/LastingBliss and check out details at www.LoriDLowe.com. Thank you.

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Photo by David Castillo Dominici courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Recipe for a Successful Marriage

Think of your love as an apple pie. (That’s not hard for me, because I adore apple pie.) While each baker’s recipe may include a few different twists (nutmeg), the core ingredients (apples, sugar) must be there.

Social scientists and demographers have collected so much data on marriage that we now have “divorce-resistant” recipes for success. Deseret News (in Salt Lake City) reported last week on what demographers and sociologists say good marriages have in common. Writer David Yount explains the formulas are “simple to state but demanding to practice.” Anyone who has been married can vouch for how challenging each individual ingredient can be. And, the ingredients must be added daily, not just on a good day. I collected the facts into two different “recipes” that have some similar ingredients.

Divorce-Resistant, Happy Marriage Ingredients:

  • Mutual kindness
  • Respect and reverence
  • Appreciation of spouse as exciting, trustworthy & a sympathetic lover
  • Sensitive to partner’s emotional needs
  • Share household tasks
  • Cooperate in raising children
  • Bonus ingredients that improve your odds: common religious faith and investing in romance

Happy and Permanent Marriage Ingredients (according to the National Marriage Project and the National Opinion Research Center):

  • Similar values
  • Friendship
  • Communication
  • Sexual satisfaction
  • Mutual respect
  • Religious faith

*When the above ingredients are present, couples say they would marry the same person again.

Recipe for a complaining spouse:

  • Be dull, unattractive and ill-mannered
  • Have poor personal hygiene
  • Refuse to help around the house

Do you have all the key ingredients for a happy marriage? The good news is that nearly all of the ingredients can be learned or improved. What’s your secret ingredient—the one that adds the spice to your marriage?

*Originally published here at Marriage Gems in September 2009.

Photo courtesy of Stockvault.net by Trankov

Enhance the Resilience of Your Relationship

Resiliency:  The capacity to adapt and bounce back in the face of adversity. It’s a trait we would all like to have. And we would like our relationships to benefit from the trait as well. Wherever you are on your marriage journey, infusing your relationship with more characteristics of resiliency can be beneficial.

Scott Haltzman, M.D., recently shared with me a couple of interesting facts about resiliency. The first is that one-third of our predictive ability to withstand stress is based on genetics. The second is that children exposed to moderate levels of adversity or failure are shown to better handle adversity later in life.  So, part of being resilient you may attribute to your family of origin or how you were raised. A large part is still self-determined.

This is the last post in which I will share some tidbits from the book, Healing Together, which I have recommended for couples dealing with any kind of loss or trauma. Authors Suzanne Phillips and Diane Kane say resilience is needed for couples to move forward with their lives after a loss. Resilience, in my view, is important to all of us, particularly at crisis times in our lives. In the book, Phillips and Kane assess factors that are associated with resilience and guide the reader on how to incorporate those qualities in the relationship. So these factors are discussed below in terms of relationship resilience, not individual resilience. These are only some of the factors discussed in the book.

Hardiness—This quality is essential for thriving under stress. Hardiness is made up of commitment, control and challenge. As a couple you actively work on the addressing the situation and express commitment to one another during the recovery. (“I’ll be there for you no matter what it takes.”) Each person recognizes what they can and cannot control. (You cannot control an illness, but you can face it together.) Together, you view the event as a challenge, reframing it for the opportunities it presents in your life. You find inner resources you didn’t know you had.

Positive Outlook—Resilient people don’t just put a smile on their faces. They use positive coping strategies, including seeking the benefits of a situation, using humor, or finding a positive meaning.

Positive Affirmations—I’ve previously shared research on how celebrating positive events in one another’s lives can boost our relationship bond. When going through a trauma, particularly a loss of someone close, the tendency is to avoid celebrations of your own life and happiness. Our loved ones would not want that for us. “Celebration of life and each other gives you the strength to recover as well as to hold on to the memories of those you have loved,” say the authors. Couples should take time to affirm one another’s successes (even small ones!) and positive experiences. Celebrate the joys and pleasures that you experience in life, and share them with your spouse.

Social Networks—Meaningful, supportive connection with others, including a spouse, is the most important component of recovery. Discuss as a couple how you can benefit from the support of others while maintaining your privacy and boundaries of confidentiality.

Laughter/Humor—Being able to laugh together during tough times can be very healing. “Humor has been reported to promote intimacy, belonging, and cohesiveness,” say the authors.

The Capacity for Hope—After a trauma, people often can’t see the future as anything positive. There are no dreams for a better life, only pain. “Hope is the ability to have options” according to trauma expert Yael Danieli, who adds that the greatest source of hope is the feeling of belonging. Thinking of others who love or need us gives us hope.

Problem-Solving Skills—Assess the problem, brainstorm solutions, evaluate pros and cons, decide on a plan, including who is best suited for what part of the plan.

Couples going through a crisis often take turns being resilient, supportive and hopeful, while the other is struggling. It may help to remind your partner of the resilient traits they possess, such as a great sense of humor.

Hope is such a strong concept for me. It’s the hopes and dreams for ourselves and our loved ones that make life so exciting. This blog really is dedicated to providing hope to couples that they can experience what marriage is meant to be. My hope for you is that whether you are healthy and happy this year or recovering from illness or loss, that you can remain hopeful in your relationship. Share your hopes and dreams with your spouse, and support one another as you move toward those dreams.

Which of these factors do you think are most important to resiliency? Do you come from a resilient family? Do you believe your relationship is resilient or not? Why?

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