Tag Archives: marriage advice

The Problem with Compromise in Marriage

“Keeping the Sparks Alive” Series

True or False?  Marriage involves plenty of compromise.

Marriage therapist Corey Allen, PhD, explains in this insightful post why compromise isn’t helpful in your marriage. In fact, he says it can be causing a lot of damage in your relationship. This seems counter-intuitive to much of the advice we read and hear about, so I wanted to delve into this further.

The problem with compromise, says Allen, is that it involves both spouses to make concessions, and both parties go away feeling dissatisfied. In addition, there is usually an expected reciprocity when one party gives in. This leads to keeping score and unmet expectations, which we know can cause conflict.

“True compromise can only occur when two equally powerful people both clearly state their needs,” says Allen, adding that only then can they work on a mutually satisfactory solution. The solution may take some creativity or seeking an option that is not already on the table, but often both people can end up happier if they both keep their needs at the forefront.

My husband and I redecorated our family room this spring, and we both had strong feelings about what we wanted. It took months of shopping (which neither of us enjoyed) before we pieced together the elements we were both happy with. It may have been easier for one of us to compromise, but now that it’s done, we are both pleased that we each got what we wanted.

Sometimes the less outspoken spouse has a tendency to go along with what the other person wants. He or she doesn’t want to make waves, and finds it is easier to just give in on something. However, each instance of coming away unhappy can lead to a little bit more resentment and feeling of powerlessness.

 There are a few questions I still have about this issue, and I’m glad to hear Allen will be doing a follow-up post to further explain. There are several points I would make, and I’d really like to get more views on this:

  1. I do think that we still need to be very willing to hear one another out and give each other our influence and encouragement. Sometimes it really helps to hear the other’s reason for wanting something. We may change one another’s perspective before even solving the problem. How we discuss an issue has so much to do with the outcome.
  2. When we are in the midst of a conflict in which both spouses’ heels are dug in, I think sometimes—rarely—one person does need to “give in” or agree to disagree. I’ve interviewed mature couples who are able to do this and respect each other even more for it. It seems I may disagree with the experts on this. If something is not a deal breaker, and it’s gone unresolved after working hard, something’s got to give.
  3. Getting our needs met doesn’t mean we always get what we want. For instance, if one spouse wants a new boat and the other a new car, and there is limited money, we can’t get them both. We can’t use the marriage advice not to compromise as an excuse to be irresponsible and do what we want no matter the consequences.

Let’s hear your viewpoints on this. Do you compromise in your marriage? Do you feel your needs go unmet? Is one person likely to give in regularly? Do you think give and take is a bad or good thing?

Photo courtesy of Stockvault.net by Radu Mihai Onofrei

Revise Your Criticism for Better Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by PhotoXpress.com

Avoid Divorce with 5:1 Ratio

I’m enjoying some family time this week, so I wanted to re-publish a few posts with research that has really stuck with me and resonated with readers. This is one of my favorite tips:

If you had a social scientist on your shoulder for a day, how many positive interactions would he count between you and your spouse? That could include a good morning kiss, a playful pat, a compliment, a thank you, or a hug for washing the laundry. Now, think about how many negative interactions he would count, including rolling eyes or nonverbal communication, as well as complaints, snide remarks, cut downs or any other unhappy interaction.

During a 26-year study, psychologist and author John Gottman, PhD, discovered why married couples fail or succeed. It came down to this simple fact: Couples who maintain a five-to-one ratio of positive to negative interactions usually succeed. Those who fall below a one-to one-ratio usually fail.

Surprisingly, even if the relationship had a lot of other problems, this one fact still held true. So, even volatile couples, or couples that tend to avoid conflict can still succeed.

Dr. Gottman explained in his research that the one negative interaction is actually crucial to success, because conflict helps couples clear the air and work out grievances. It creates somewhat of a renewal when the conflict is worked out.

Make it a point to ask your partner about their day, tell them you love them on the phone and give them a hug or kiss when you part. All the little things will add up to a stronger marriage.

(Originally published here at Marriage Gems in May 2009.)

Unemployed Men Have Higher Divorce Rate

While our culture’s views about women working have changed substantially in recent decades, our views about men working appear not to have budged very much. Case in point, a study of more than 3,600 couples published recently in the American Journal of Sociology, which links unemployed men with higher divorce rates.

Despite the fact that more men are choosing to be stay-at-home dads while their wives work, this particular study surprised me in saying it’s still not culturally acceptable for men to be the primary care givers. Men who are not working face a greater likelihood that their wife would leave them. In addition, the men themselves were more likely to leave the relationship.

Whether a woman worked or not had no bearing on her husband’s likelihood of leaving her. However, a working woman who was very unhappy in her marriage was more likely to begin divorce proceedings than if she was unemployed. Researchers explain that these women have the resources that allow them to leave, but they said the employment itself wasn’t the source of tension.

So, there’s a bit of a dichotomy between working men and women. The reasons aren’t clear, although one possibility was that unemployed men are more likely to suffer from depression. And our cultural expectations of men appear to be still wrapped up on them being providers. (However, American women’s have outpaced men in education and income growth during the last 40 years. Read Who’s Marrying for Money?)

The study, reported in Time Magazine, is consistent with one from Ohio State, which also showed that men who don’t have a job have higher rates of leaving the relationship, and that their partners also have higher rates of leaving the relationship.

I have known some very competent stay-at-home dads with professional wives who are the breadwinners. I know it can work for many families, so I don’t want to come off as against this sort of arrangement. I think the knowledge of this research makes it clear that a couple who chooses to go this route will be going against the cultural grain and should be prepared to discuss the ongoing challenges. In addition, they should both be aware of the risk of depression, possibly from loss of social network or feeling overwhelmed by child-rearing responsibilities. They should also work hard to make the marriage a priority in the family.

One note, I don’t think the research differentiates between the men who were unemployed by choice and those who were unemployed by circumstance. It seems the latter group would have higher rates of depression.

See a summary of the study here.

Do you or your partner have experience being a stay-at-home parent? Do you think the challenges are different for men than for women? Do you think society’s views on men working are outdated or appropriate?

Related Posts:
Can women breadwinners have it all?
Are househusbands the ultimate status symbol?
Women breadwinners are more likely to be cheated on.

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com.

The Biggest Marriage Myth of All and How it Could Ruin Your Relationship

Last week, I talked about Five Marriage Myths shared by Scott Haltzman, M.D., in the Secrets of Happily Married Women. The last myth was the biggee, and I wanted to devote a full post to it. Dr. Haltzman says, “assuming infidelity, violence or addiction are not the problem, marriage myth 5, above all others, is the greatest cause of unhappiness in marriage.

Myth 5: If your marriage makes you unhappy, the best solution is to get out. 

Dr. Haltzman says a Centers for Disease Control poll from 2006 showed 44 percent of men and 50 percent of women agreed with the above statement. It seems odd to me (and to many who are committed to marriage) that “get out” would be the best solution to being unhappy when there are so many causes of unhappiness and so many possible solutions. Of course, most couples don’t take divorce lightly, but the point is it’s not seen as a last resort. Don’t look at an “unhappy marriage” as an unchangeable situation.

The good doctor (a psychologist and a marriage therapist with more than twenty years of experience) goes on to report that the top three reasons cited by women who initiate divorce (and let’s face it, women initiate two-thirds of divorces) are 1) gradual growing apart, 2) serious differences in lifestyle and/or values, and 3) not feeling loved or appreciated by my husband.

These seem like big problems on the surface, but Dr. Haltzman and many other marriage experts assert that these are most certainly solvable problems. Taking the first problem first, it’s very likely that we will all have periods where we are closer and periods where we have drifted. That’s the nature of our growth and development as individuals. As one spouse grows in one direction, the other doesn’t necessarily follow the same path or exact course. However, even after drifting apart, a couple who is committed to one another can drift back together with effort.

The second problem (differences in values or lifestyle) can be more severe when the differences relate to drug or alcohol abuse, but he says the majority of couples are not talking about this kind of a severe problem or destructive behavior (which can certainly be justifiable reasons to leave). More often, he says it’s related to how the couple spends money or raises the kids, issues that have many gray areas of disagreement. In these sort of cases, the couple (perhaps with help) may need to listen and learn the basis for one another’s concerns and ideas, see things from one another’s perspectives, learn to compromise more and pick their battles.

On the issue of not feeling loved, “They walk away from marriage because they are no longer feeling happy about the relationship,” says Dr. Haltzman, who adds this category falls under the definition of no-fault divorce. “These feelings are true and honest expressions of personal distress—but…they’re no reason to break the marriage vows,” he says. Instead, it’s often an opportunity to grow and develop with your spouse to create a stronger, happier marriage. There may be a time when a couple needs to focus on the indirect benefits of marriage—such as family security, social comfort, financial advantage, a safe sexual partner, etc., while they work on their marriage. Often, especially when the wife takes the lead, the spark returns while they are both focusing on the positive aspects of their relationship.

Remember our spouse can’t “make us” happy, but we can each take responsibility for creating a positive environment in our marriage and supporting one another as often as possible. Search for something to make you and your spouse feel happy today, then make it a priority. It could be something as simple as a walk together around your own garden, or something as elaborate as a planning a special event or trip for the two of you.

Related Post:

I recently came across a series of articles in Psychology Today by Rachel Clark starting with How I got my ex back—the story of a marriage that reconciled after she read the research on the effects of divorce, followed by part 2 She Blinded Me with Science. Rachel’s experience shows that even after infidelity and divorce occur, there can be hope to reconcile a family. She also conveys why knowledge of the effects of divorce is so important to pass along, since it was strong enough to convince both her and her ex that they had made a huge mistake, but one they worked hard to correct.

 Photo courtesy of Stockvault by Boris A. Nesterov


Possible Solutions for Low Libido?

Recently, Kate and Brad Aldrich of One Flesh Marriage had an insightful post called, “Do I want the libido fairy to visit?” I would suggest reading it in full, but I will share a few highlights here. Those who have a lower libido usually fall into two groups: those who would like their libido to increase, and those who aren’t sure they do. This is most clearly addressed to wives who usually have a lower libido than their husbands, but there are also couples in which the woman has a higher libido than her husband.

For those who would like that libido fairy to visit, suggestions include:

  • Make time to switch gears after work or after parenting responsiblities.
  • Allow yourself time to think about your husband in a sensual way.
  • Give yourself plenty of warm-up time, in particular before declining your hubby’s advances. (You might be more in the mood than you think.)
  • Have sex more frequently (suggested 2-3 times a week) and see if that helps.

Of course there are plenty of individuals who are just fine without having sexual intimacy in their marriages. Generally their spouses are not OK with this, and deep division can occur as a result. If you are in the camp that low libido is not something you want to improve, Kate and Brad suggest:

  • Determine the root cause of your lack of sexual intimacy.
  • Seek medical advice, as there is often a medical reason, such as hormone levels that are off. Many medications, including birth control, affect libido levels. Couples may have to decide whether low libido is simply a symptom they have to live with or whether medication changes can be made.
  • If seeking medical information does not lead to answers, they suggest counseling (marriage counseling with either a trusted pastor or a Licensed Christian Counselor, trained in Christian sex therapy). “There could be a past history of sexual abuse, past hurts from previous sexual relationships, past or present addictions, wrong feelings about sexual intimacy in general and so on.”

Lastly, Kate and Brad suggested we need to make our marriages a higher priority. I completely agree that so much often seems more important than making time for intimacy. The connection that sexual intimacy brings feeds the marriage. Without it, the marriage is slowly starved of that connection. 

Few couples have very similar libido levels. Add to that various stresses and responsibilities, and open and sensitive communication becomes critical. Are you working to bridge the gap, or trying to ignore any differences?

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com

Is Job Stress Impacting Your Marriage?

It’s June, and I can nearly hear all those wedding bells ringing. Couples are marrying at a slightly older age these days (around 28), meaning many are established in their careers by the time they are married.

Perhaps they have given their jobs their priority for some time, and now they’ve decided to marry and share their lives with a partner. “A failure to give marriage top priority is a major cause of the breakdown of marriages in our country,” says Larry Birnbach, psychotherapist and author. He adds, “Fun and romance have gotten lost between job stress, family stress and money problems.”

This is true for many long-time marrieds and newlyweds alike. A recent Chicago Tribune article gives tips on how to avoid the work-related stress that can undermine your wedded bliss. I’ve added some of my thoughts on the topics as well.

Two worlds—Couples who are living in two different work worlds (this includes a working parent and a stay-at-home parent or two working adults) may have difficulty communicating, particularly when one or both is dissatisfied or resentful. Communicate your feelings using “I language” without using judgmental words or connotations. Continue to share a view of your work world and let your spouse feel included in that world.

Unemployment or work setbacks—Today’s economy means no spouse can expect lifelong job security or that their partner will always support them. This lack of security can cause resentment and even feel like a broken promise when you thought you married a certain someone with a high job profile. Support one another through the ups and downs and consider alternate employment by both partners when needed.

Labor division—It’s fairly common for two adults to work all day and for one spouse to carry most of the burden of chores within the home. Yes, the labor should be shared, but avoid the temptation to divide everything 50-50. No one will ever feel like they are getting their fair share. Keep expectations in check, and divide jobs according to what you are best at, what you dislike the least (It’s hard to “enjoy” chores but what can you stand doing?), and what you are fastest at accomplishing. Also, consider what jobs are most important to you to be done. If you can’t stand seeing a pile of dirty laundry, you might make laundry your primary domain.

Adjust priorities—I’ve shared many surveys about the lack of time for the marriage. Care.com recently completed a national survey that said 64 percent of working parents reported being too stressed from managing their jobs and families to have sex with their spouse. If you feel you are part of that large group, assess your lifestyle very seriously. Look for ways to cut extraneous activities, change to a job closer to home, consider every option open to you to make changes. Hire help for chores if you can, or assign more chores to the kids. Have a heart to heart with your partner about how you miss being with them and want to work on reconnecting and having regular time together. Block that time on your calendar before other obligations come.

Resolve conflict effectively—Fighting in the first year of marriage is not a predictor of divorce. However, the style of fighting can indeed cause a split. The most dangerous pattern is one partner who analyzes a disagreement while the other withdraws.

Avoid bringing work stress home—Yes, you can share details about your job, but constant complaining about your job while at home is not constructive. Your spouse may feel that your heart is not at home; it’s back at the office. That partner may also begin to view you as a source of stress not comfort. “The ideal scenario for marriage is compartmentalizing,” says management consultant and author Beverly Hyman. “When you are at work, work owns you. When you walk out, leave it behind.”

How do your jobs impact your marriage? What advice do you have for keeping your marriage a higher priority than your job, even though you understand your livelihood may depend on your work performance?

Photo courtesy Photoxpress.com

There is Hope for Your Marriage

Occasionally I hear from couples or individuals who are truly struggling in their marriage. Recently I heard back from one such wife who reports her marriage has made a complete turnaround. They overcame a period of disconnection and infidelity after a period of hard work in individual counseling. A couples’ retreat (Weekend to Remember) served as a time of reprioritizing and reuniting. The degree of improvement surprised them. Many couples never realize what can be accomplished if they have the right intervention.

I’m celebrating with this couple and thankful for them and their four young children that the marriage is strong and happy once again. If your marriage is in a down cycle or in crisis, don’t give up hope; a turnaround is possible. The marriage is in grave danger when one or both partners give up hope and stop trying to improve the relationship. Serious problems often require professional help to determine if you can get past them as a couple. If you are struggling in your relationship, check out my resources page for books, web sites and tips on finding a pro-marriage counselor.

Weinergate and the issue of infidelity in a new marriage from Huffington Post.

Please read and share your feedback on “How children of divorce can turn the tide,” a post I wrote for the Coalition for Divorce Reform.

Check out my guest post at Intimacy in Marriage: “Are you sacrificing your sexual intimacy on the altar of ideal conditions?

See if you can come up with “Two words for a better marriage” from Simple Marriage.

What If Today Were Your Last Day with Your Spouse?

Patty Newbold

Twenty-five years ago, Patty Newbold was so frustrated with her husband that she made a list of all the things she wasn’t getting from her marriage and all the things he wasn’t doing that she wanted him to do. She told him she wanted out of the relationship. “I want a divorce,” she said. It was the last meaningful conversation they had. The following day, while she was at work, he dropped dead from a freak side effect of his illness and his medications.

At 34 years old, she was a widow with a nine-year-old son. Some would say she was fortunate, as compared with a hostile divorce, to receive 100 percent of the marital assets and full custody of their son. But losing her husband did not make anything better; it only worsened her situation. “The morning after he died, I woke up and relived the shock, realizing it hadn’t been a dream,” says Patty. She thought of the list. “I still had to do all the things on the list. It occurred to me that my perspective on marriage was warped.”

If she had wanted more help with the chores, she now had to do 100% of them. If she wanted more companionship, she now had none. She realized that expecting certain actions had sabotaged her relationship. “It was not what I wanted. We think we want a divorce, but what we really want is the person back that we fell in love with and to solve more of our life problems.”

Patty says that marriage with her first husband should have been very easy, and it was at the beginning. “I married a great guy,” she says. They had so much in common, including similar families, similar personalities, and both being middle children. Relocating to a new city, demanding job schedules and a long commute, the stress of building a new home, and health problems for each of them caused a steep nosedive in their marriage. While Patty wanted to connect with dance lessons or camping trips, her husband wasn’t eager. Patty also believed he should do more chores and errands, since he worked closer to home.

“I sat there thinking about the list and realized all the reasons I had wanted out were invalid. I could suddenly see all the things he did for me and all the ways he had loved me. I saw all the reasons I wanted to have him in my life,” says Patty. But it was too late. Grief took hold of her life. She thought, “There’s no do-over. You got your shot, and you blew it.”

Lessons Learned?
If that wasn’t a tough enough lesson to learn overnight, Patty found that living as a single mother taught her many other reasons why having her husband with her would have been the better choice, for instance providing physical touch. She said it’s easy for single women to get caught up in dating people they would really not want to spend their life with or have children with—simply because of the need for physical touch. Patty took up country western dancing so that she could be held by men “without getting sucked into a lousy situation.”

She learned to look for a third alternative when she had a conflict. For example, she and her husband had argued about the things she was unable to do because of her long job commute. (Side note: research shows a long job commute increases your odds of a breakup.) After his death, Patty realized she couldn’t be an hour and 45 minutes away from her son’s school. She told her boss that she would either have to relocate the office she managed closer to home or find new employment. The boss allowed the move, which also helped the other employees. As a result Patty had much more time at home to get her needed chores and errands done. Ironically, the new office was within walking distance of her husband’s old office. Patty and her husband could have met for lunch and enjoyed time together during the day—if she had only considered alternatives like this earlier.

Similarly, when a client needed to send her to Washington, D.C., for six weeks, she knew she couldn’t leave her son for that length of time. She came up with a third alternative. She insisted on her son and au pair accompanying her. While her son visited national monuments and completed school assignments with the au pair, she handled her work. Then they enjoyed family time in the evenings and weekends. She says if more people searched for the third alternative, they would be much happier in their marriages.

Patty says many people learn from her story and see that if they look at their marriage differently, they won’t have to end up where she did. “We often have expectations that are out of line. The only expectation you should bring to the marriage is the expectation that you will be loved,” says Patty. “Any way that you choose to define what love looks like limits your opportunities.” For example, if a wife says, “If you loved me, you would do this,” she is robbing herself of marital happiness, explains Patty.

She also learned how to seek ideas from unlikely places. She hosted idea parties, an approach she learned from author Barbara Sher, and hung invitations at local coffee houses and pizza joints. Everyone who attends brings a wish and an obstacle. The group brainstorms solutions to help everyone get past the obstacle to achieve their wish, whether it’s a new job or a personal goal. She said bringing diverse groups together enhances the creative ideas.  I’d love to try this out and encourage you all to do the same, even if it’s just with a group of friends.

A Brighter Future
Eleven years after losing her first husband, she met her current husband at a Mensa gathering in Alabama. They had many friends in common, and didn’t live far apart but had never been introduced. “If we had met in our 20s, we would have had the world’s worst marriage, because we had so little in common,” says Patty. But they had each sorted things out in life and had matured. She says their actions are unpredictable to each other because of their differences, which is why it’s always important to assume the other person is not out to hurt them. “Husbands do some weird things,” jokes Patty. For example, a husband she knows took his two young boys to get buzz haircuts without their mother’s knowledge, knowing she loved their hairstyles. The wife was so inflamed she considered leaving him. (Patty says when we are angry, our brains get flooded with chemicals that make us unable to focus on anything except the perceived threat. Then we think of all the reasons he is a jerk.) Patty talked to the wife about possible reasons he might have done this—other than because he wanted to hurt her. Suddenly, she had an aha-moment when she understood the relationship between his childhood experiences and his current actions.

Patty has taken on the role of encouraging many of her friends’ and family’s marriages, but it wasn’t until 20 years after her husband died that she started developing professional resources for marriages. She now writes the blog Assume Love, and she is preparing to release web-based marriage tools with a multimedia approach.

Patty also encourages individuals and couples to find their character strengths and then participate in activities that use one of your top strengths. (To evaluate your character strengths, you can take the free VIA Survey of Character Strengths at AuthenticHappiness.com.) For example, if one of you has love of learning as a top strength, and the other has social intelligence, then take a trip to visit a museum with a group or learn a language together.

One of Patty’s greatest strengths is perspective, one that has given her great pleasure since childhood, but one she never had a name for until recently. She hopes to convey that perspective to others so they can enjoy the happiness that can come with marriage, as long as we check our expectations at the door.  She also reminds people that marriages have high and low cycles, but if you stick with it during the low cycle, chances are you will be much happier than if you separate. As evidence, she cites a 16-year national study where almost 80 percent of people who rate their marriages in the bottom two categories on a seven-point scale and remain married rate them in the top three categories five years later.

We can help bring our marriages higher in the satisfaction cycle by appreciating how our spouse chooses to love us. For instance, Patty loves getting gifts, but her husband has a terrible time understanding and finding gifts that she would enjoy. One year, he brought her a package of toilet paper with a bow on her birthday, saying, “I finally found something I know you can use!” Instead of getting upset, she recognized the sense of humor and joy that he always brings to their marriage and enjoyed the gift.

What expectations do you have for your spouse? Do you think any of your expectations could be sabotaging your happiness? How is your spouse showing love for you that you perhaps don’t notice or acknowledge? If today were your last day with your spouse, what would you do or say differently? Treat each day as if it could be your last together.

Why Your Brain and Your Marriage Need Vacations

“Keeping the Sparks Alive” Series

Recently, I read a story of a miserable couple preparing to go on vacation. The wife was planning to file for divorce upon their return, but decided to proceed with their European trip. Their life was overrun with deadlines and expectations that neither of them enjoyed, and the outlook was grim. Upon arriving at their foreign locale, their eyes were opened to experiencing pleasure at the sights, sounds, flavors and interesting cultural marvels. They fell in love with the city. They even thought they might love each other. Realizing it was their life they didn’t love, not each other, they quit their former life, sold their home and moved to this new city with their children. Yes, it’s drastic, but I think a very interesting result of changing what their brain was regularly experiencing in their relationship.

CNN published an article recently on why your brain needs vacations. Here are some of the cited reasons a vacation can benefit your mind from Adam Galinsky, professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University:

  • Detaching from a familiar environment can help gain new perspectives on everyday life.
  • Many people experience epiphanies when they travel, because they can view their life back home from a more detached, outsider’s view (similar to the couple above). I have experienced these epiphanies and made life-changing decisions as a result of gaining that detached perspective.
  • Being unplugged from work and in a natural or unusual setting can change the way your brain thinks and can increase creativity.
  • Immersing yourself in a different culture, along with its differing social norms and customs, reminds you that there’s more than one way of doing something.
  • Traveling abroad gives you a more nuanced understanding of yourselves.
  • Even eating at a new restaurant can jolt new ways of thinking.
  • To improve creativity, Galinsky found stronger effects among people who were living abroad than for those traveling for shorter periods. You may also get the benefits by working to understand the world through locals’ perspectives.
  • Harvard University professor, Ellen Langer, suggests you can have a mindfulness vacation without leaving home: taking note of new people, objects and events around you and getting out of your normal routine, being present and observant in a nonjudgmental way.

Marriages are often in need of creative solutions to new or old problems. Boosting your brain power with a real or virtual vacation could get your mind thinking in new ways. In addition, vacations can get your mind off the problems of your marriage and allow you to enjoy the person you chose to marry. It’s easier to love someone next to you when you have removed the stress and replaced it with beautiful settings and tasty food.

Langer suggests the key is to bring that new attitude and mindfulness back to your regular life, where everything is interesting, and enthusiasm is increased.

What new experiences do you have planned with your spouse this summer? What benefits do you hope for by getting away or taking a mindfulness vacation?

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com