Tag Archives: marital happiness

Avoid these 5 regrets by living and loving to the fullest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Ambro courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Materialistic Marriages are Unhappier, say Researchers

No matter what your income level is, if you love money and the pursuit and accumulation of goods, your marriage will be less happy and less stable. In addition, if your spouse shares these interests, you may be doubly hit, say researchers.

They originally theorized that couples with one saver and one spender might be most at risk, because of the amount of conflict the difference in behavior can cause. However, researchers found that two spenders further dooms a relationship. When both spouses have high levels of materialism, the marriages struggle the most. (As my husband most aptly puts it, these couples argue about how broke they are.)

Researcher Jason Carroll, a professor of family life at Brigham Young University conducted online questionnaires with 1,734 married couples and used a commonly used relationship assessment tool. The couples answered questions about marital satisfaction, conflict and communication. They also rated their agreement with the sentence, “Having money and lots of things has never been important to me.” Those who agreed with the phrase were deemed non-materialistic, and those who disagreed were categorized as materialistic.

Among couples who had at least one materialistic spouse (either the husband or the wife), their marriages were worse off on all measures as compared to couples in which neither was materialistic. Couples who were deemed non-materialistic had 10 to 15 percent higher responses in terms of marital satisfaction and stability, and lower levels of conflict. On the flip side, when couples shared the value of materialism, it compounded problems.

While the study didn’t get to the bottom of why this correlation occurs, Carroll reports two theories. First, materialism leads to poor financial decisions, resulting in debt and higher stress levels. Second, materialistic individuals spend less time nurturing their relationships with people and more time acquiring things, while non-materialistic people place a higher priority on relationships.

I think both theories sound very reasonable. Do you agree with either of these theories, or do you think another reason could be attributed to the link?

Carroll suggests couples take an inventory of their values and determine what is really important to them, then ask if their ambitions for certain things may be getting in the way of what they say is important. While couples think they can pursue things and relationships, “they may not realize how much their ambitions are hurting their loved ones,” says Carroll.

So, are you a spender or a saver? Is your spouse a spender or a saver? If either one of you is a spender, it may be time to have a chat about your values and priorities.

For details, read Love of Money May Mess Up Your  Marriage.

LINKS:
Read Smart Ways to Keep Your Marriage Healthy, from CNN.

Photo by Photostock courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

5 Marriage Myths that Keep You from Being Happy

Happy Life: Happy Marriage Series

It sounds rather simplistic to “Choose happiness,” or “Take charge of your happiness,” but in his book Secrets of Happily Married Women, Scott Haltzman, M.D., suggests we can choose to be happier in our marriages.

To begin with, this means unearthing five marriage myths and explaining why they make it impossible to feel happy in our marriages. These are the five most destructive myths he came across in his practice as a psychologist and marriage therapist. These are particularly true for wives, who initiate two-thirds of U.S. divorces.  However, I think husbands may also fall prey to these myths.

Myth 1: Marriage automatically makes you happy. While it’s true more married people (43 percent) report being happy than unmarried people (24 percent) despite age or gender, marital happiness and personal happiness are separate issues.  Dr. Haltzman says married people must put marital happiness first, considering how their actions and desires affect their partner rather than pursing personal happiness as their priority.

“It is an essential truth that sacrificing one’s own needs for someone else’s is a necessary and worthwhile part of human relationships. When that truth is denied in a marriage, the results can be especially destructive; abandoned spouses and children get left behind in the dust of misguided soul-searching for personal fulfillment focused on ego-driven needs,” he says.

Myth 2: Good marriages are always passionate and heart-throbbing. The number of women who report, “I love him, but I’m not in love with him,” of their husbands is astounding, says Dr. Haltzman. What it means is they have lost their connection or that their love is going through a temporary down phase, not that it is doomed. Falling out of infatuation may also be misconstrued as falling out of love, when the initial passionate loving feelings and heightened hormones dissipate. (Unfortunately, some people never understand this and move from relationship to relationship thinking they have the wrong person.)

Myth 3: In happy marriages, child care and housework are evenly distrusted. If this is a major divisive issue for you, I’d suggest you read the book, particularly chapter 6. There’s not a quick two-sentence explanation, but rather plenty of data and a need to understand the issues women grapple with regarding work and home responsibilities. The fact is that most wives do more household work than their husbands, but many of them have still found a way to be happy.

Myth 4: Both partners are responsible for the level of marital happiness. By taking charge of our own mood and actions, one partner can certainly improve personal happiness and affect his or her spouse, improving happiness within the marriage.

Myth 5: If your marriage makes you unhappy, the best solution is to get out. This very widely held myth is rich enough to write an entire post about, so stay tuned next week, and I’ll do just that. I’ll share Dr. Haltzman’s assessment of the most common causes of divorce that seem hopeless but are indeed solvable, and discuss why this myth may be the greatest cause of unhappiness in marriages.

Sign up for new posts in the right column either via email or RSS feed. Just a reminder, most weeks (unless something more exciting or timely comes up) Marriage Gems provides research-based marriage tips on Mondays, “Happy Life: Happy Marriage” series on Wednesdays, and “Keeping the Sparks Alive” series on Fridays. If you like the blog, please consider sharing with a friend.

Is “No Pain, No Gain” True in Life and Relationships?

Happy Life: Happy Marriage Series

Many people avoid some of the richest opportunities to have lasting happiness because of fear of pain. For example, many children of divorce don’t want to risk marriage because they have lived through family breakup. Others avoid having children because they fear being bad parents or don’t want to make the necessary sacrifices to their lifestyle. Some may not want to work through a college education, because of the toil and challenge it may require. Even commitment to a church or to friends may seem too demanding. The hookup culture demonstrates that many young people don’t see a reason to devote themselves to a long-term relationship.

Taking risks and working hard can lead to deeper happiness. However, it’s more common to act on the belief that having fun leads to happiness, and avoiding pain will keep us happy.  Unfortunately, some pain or toil may be necessary in the short-term to be able to reap long-term joy.

This is true in life and marriage. For example, couples who avoid all arguments are unlikely to make it over the long haul. If they are willing to work through the smaller problems as they come up—confronting them effectively instead of avoiding them—they are more likely to be happily married in the long term. A desire to avoid confrontations will eventually create unhappiness and resentment. The easy road is often the poorly chosen one.

Even our bodies will not be healthy and happy in the long-term if we opt for an undisciplined, easy lifestyle of eating anything that gives us momentary joy and not sweating it off. Reckless spending can also bring momentary elation and long-term financial failure.

Fear and desire to avoid pain can prevent deep happiness, says Dennis Prager, author of Happiness is a Serious Problem.  He says always choosing fun activities, such as TV watching, contributes to little happiness, while working hard at a worthwhile pursuit can bring great satisfaction. To live life to its fullest, we will need to experience some suffering. Of course, every marriage also needs fun and excitement built in, but we need balance.

I’ve often heard that any marriage that isn’t improving is deteriorating, drifting without us even realizing it. Improving takes work and time, but we can be rewarded with more happiness later.

There may even be times when we “don’t feel happy” in our marriage. Research shows if we can work through that turbulent period, we are more likely to be happy down the road than if we divorce. Sometimes seeking to avoid the pain of unhappiness brings even more sorrow. Keep working, and you may be closer to victory than your realize. Many couples I have interviewed said they were certain their marriage would fail after an affair, drug addiction, losing a child and other crises. They were surprised to find a great marriage was still within reach.

Is your aim to live a life with as little pain as possible, or one that helps you fulfill your dreams? What things caused you short-term pain but long-term happiness?

Photo credit: ©Pavel Losevsky/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

We “Can’t Get No” Satisfaction

Happy Life: Happy Marriage Series

One of the biggest obstacles to our becoming happy is our inability to be satisfied, says Dennis Prager, author of Happiness is a Serious Problem. In case you didn’t notice, human nature is insatiable. We are never completely satisfied with ourselves, our partner, our income, our homes, our children, our jobs, our sex lives, or our bodies. We’re never completely satisfied with our entire lives, and due to our human nature, we may never be.

That is not to say that we cannot learn to be content. However, it doesn’t serve us well to pretend the outside world is always to blame for our dissatisfaction, when truly, the world couldn’t really satisfy us if it tried. Therefore, working on our inner thoughts is part of our journey to become happier.

“We must be able, in effect, to tell our nature that although we hear it and respect it, our mind, not our nature, will determine whether we are satisfied,” says Prager.

This ability to choose happiness is why we see individuals living in poverty across the world who are much happier than some truly wealthy westerners. While we may be dissatisfied, we can still choose happiness. We can work on reducing the causes of our dissatisfaction while also deciding that we are going to choose to be happy. Even in a world that includes evil, we can still find happiness. (Read How Can We Be Happy with Tragedy & Evil in the World?)

Some of humankind’s inability to be satisfied is positive. Dissatisfaction motivates us to change, improve, create, accomplish. If it weren’t for feeling dissatisfied, we as humans wouldn’t seek innovation and improvement in ourselves and in our world. It’s a critical piece to our humanity. I’m thankful for this type of dissatisfaction, because it does drive me to improve in so many ways.

Prager distinguishes between necessary (or positive) dissatisfaction and unnecessary dissatisfaction. All creative types have a necessary dissatisfaction with their work that causes them to strive to improve it. Much of the necessary dissatisfaction in our lives leads us to make crucial changes. If we were satisfied with dating losers, we would have no incentive to find a suitable mate. When couples are dissatisfied with their level of intimacy, this feeling can lead them to make improvements in communication and connection.

Unnecessary dissatisfaction relates to items that are either not important (inability to find the perfect boots) or not within our control (who your parents are). “Your dissatisfaction may be an entirely valid one, but if its cause cannot be changed, it only increases unhappiness,” says Prager. “Only when you have the serenity to accept the things you cannot change will you recognize that the dissatisfaction you feel over them is indeed unnecessary.”

So, there you have it. We will always be dissatisfied. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still have happiness. It’s something we have to work out in our own minds.

How satisfied are you with yourself, your mate, your life? Does your dissatisfaction impede your happiness level?

Related Link:

“We have 225 studies [that say] that once you’re a happy person, you’re more likelyto make your marriage work, says Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, in an interesting article called “Perk Up” for Spirit Magazine. “You’re more likely to be creative, productive, to be healthier, to have stronger immune function.” The article gives some advice on measuring and evaluating your happiness level. Thanks to The Generous Wife for the link.

Photo credit: ©Cynthia Skaar/PhotoXpress.com

Children Can Bring a Couple Closer Together

I’ve had several comments regarding the Marriage/Babies Won’t Fix Relationship Problems post that led me to clarify my thoughts on how children may affect a relationship. My earlier point stated that if you have a rocky relationship, a baby will not magically repair the relationship. It’s important to point out that children do not “cause” relationship problems. Stress coming from many different directions (demanding jobs, frequent travel, conflict with parents) can simply magnify the cracks in your relationship.

But children don’t necessarily cause stress or strife, particularly in strong marriages in which children are desired. On the contrary, it’s my feeling that a strong relationship can be made stronger when children enter the family. The year after the firstborn isn’t always difficult (although research shows it is a challenge for many couples). My own experience after my first child was born was quite the opposite. My husband and I experienced a real “high” for at least a month following his birth, and a closeness following that–based on our new shared role as parents and our intense love for our child. Children are a blessing, not a bother. But they do require a realistic look at your lives to determine how they will be properly cared for and how you will simultaneously manage your other responsibilities.

The first year after my second child was born was very stressful for my husband and for me, because unlike our first, our second child very rarely slept through the night until she was two and a half. She required more energy during the day as well, something we were lacking due to sleepless nights. Essentially, we felt like we were competing to have our basic needs met, and we didn’t have close family members to rely on for backup. We hadn’t really anticipated feeling this way since our first baby was so easy. But after we got through it, it also made us feel like a unified team. We love both of our children equally and feel extremely fortunate to have them in our lives. The love we feel for them and they feel for us is priceless. The laughter and joy they add to our home can’t be measured.

Still, we struggle with making time for the two of us, and as they are now school-aged, with not making our family life all about their activities. More tips on that topic to come! Also read: How Does the Arrival of Children Affect the Quality of the Marriage?

One of the keys to getting past a rough period in a marriage is being able to see to the other side of the dip in satisfaction you may be experiencing. Researchers refer to the dip as a U-shaped curve, with the lower portion sometimes passing through career-building and childrearing. If you missed this post, read Author’s Secret to a Long-Lasting Marriage, which explains the common trajectory of marriage and the good news for couples who make it to the other side of the U.

For those of you who are parents, was that first year after your children were born stressful or joyful? Was it worthwhile? For couples who do not yet have children, do you fear what they might do to your relationship? Do you fear not having time for yourself, your hobbies or job? Do you hear parents talking negatively about their parental responsibilities?

Photo Credit: ©PhotoXpress.com

Do Happier Husbands Lead to Divorce? Yes, if the Wife is Much Less Happy.

A new study called “You Can’t Be Happier than Your Wife: Happiness Gaps and Divorce” suggests that too large of a happiness gap between husbands and wives can be very problematic. It concluded when the husband is much happier than his wife, she is more apt to leave; whereas, when a wife is much happier than her husband, they are much less likely to divorce.

The study, published in Germany, used data from tens of thousands of relationships in Germany, Australia and Great Britain. The researchers (who were experts in economics and wellbeing) measured happiness indicators having to do with lifestyle satisfaction.

Since wives are much more likely to file for divorce than are husbands (two-thirds of divorces are filed by women), perhaps the result shouldn’t be surprising than when women were very unhappy they were more likely to divorce. I wanted to dig deeper to see if women were being unfair or if there seemed to be valid reasons for this discrepancy.

Researchers found the happiness gap increased when the wife handled most of the housework, if her income was higher than average, or if the husband and wife had different social backgrounds. The gap was smaller in couples where the husband and wife had similar backgrounds, shared chores, or if the wife was a housewife, student or was retired. The strongest couples had similar happiness measurements.

It seems with limited time and plenty of chores and responsibilities to go around, when one person’s lifestyle is easier, the other spouse has more on his or her plate. Sharing the load becomes important if lifestyle satisfaction is to be spread out.

Not all the couples in the study were married, and researchers found the happiness gap was “several times wider” when couples cohabited instead of married.

Team researcher Dr. Cahit Guven said the study showed that “unlike other benefits in a marriage, happiness isn’t able to be redistributed between the husband and the wife for those couples whose relationship ended with divorce.”

While I understand the conclusions, I think we should be careful about thinking we can equally divide all the responsibilities of a household to both spouses’ complete satisfaction. Keeping score can lead to resentment for one or both partners. On the other hand, particularly when both spouses are working parents, negotiation and communication about what needs to be done is critical. Asking for help in a nice way is much better than complaining about how your partner “never helps out.”

The study caused me to wonder whether the couples who ended up divorcing were less skilled at negotiating and communicating about their lifestyle needs, or whether one spouse was just unwilling to budge on contributing to the household.

What do you think about the study? And how do you think your happiness level compares with your spouses’? Does a significant gap in happiness signal signs of discontent?

How Do Modern Men Contribute in Marriage?

Recently, I shared some news on how men are now apt to receive an economic boost from marriage, as more men are marrying women who have either higher education or income levels. Most of you probably agree that whether husbands or wives have higher educational levels or higher incomes, other factors are more important to marital happiness. Still, experts are commenting on this gender shift, particularly in light of the stress of the recession and the large number of people still out of work.

“Shifts in gender norms come with pain and conflict. But they can also be a win-win recipe for marriage,” says Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage.

Coontz says there are certainly struggles, particularly with working-class men attaining rewarding, stable jobs. Some men compensate for the lack of respect they are getting in the workplace by becoming “hypermasculine” or aggressive. We hear about these abusive men in the news, unfortunately.

However, many husbands are making positive strides by making greater contributions to their homes, both in childcare and housework. College-educated men led the way with become more actively involved at home during the 80s and 90s. Since then, husbands with less education have caught up and are now contributing just as much as more educated men.

In fact, so many husbands and fathers are now active participants in the home that they are reporting the same work-family conflicts as women have for decades. Coontz says this suggests they are internalizing the importance of their role to nurture, not just to earn. “Most women now say that having a husband who is capable of intimacy and who shares housework and childcare is more important than having a partner who earns more money,” she adds.

It boils down to what you value and what makes each of you feel loved and appreciated, don’t you think? So what do men and women value?

Coontz cites the best predictors of a man’s marital satisfaction are how much sex he gets and how little criticism he gets. (How many men would like to disagree?) She adds that numerous studies report women react very positively to men who participate in childcare and housework—feeling greater intimacy and more sexual attraction.

“There’s nothing sexier than a man doing dishes,” I’ve heard more than one friend say.  Do you agree?

Children clearly benefit from more active fathers, and according to experts, guys who help out at home get more action at home. Is this a win-win situation?

In your marriage, does the wife handle more housework and childcare? How important is it to share this load, and does it depend on how much each person is working outside the home?