Tag Archives: spouses

What Could Your Marriage Survive?

Imagine you or your spouse experiencing an accident so horrific that you end up in a coma, then later emerge with a brain injury. Everything in your life and family changes. How is your marriage affected?

I wrote a post about just such a couple for The Romantic Vineyard, and I’ve been inspired by the Jerdes and their ability to remain positive. I hope you will check out their story. Debi Walters is doing a series on hindrances to a Merry Christmas. This one is about injury. Check out the others in the series while you are there; they are thoughtfully written. The Jerdes is just one of the couples I profile in First Kiss to Lasting Bliss.

Gifts!
Well, it is the season for giving. If you have purchased my book or plan to this Christmas season for you or someone else whose marriage you wish to encourage, you will receive the following seven gifts as a bonus. (The book is available at Amazon in print format or from your favorite e-book retailer.) 

  • A copy of marriage and family therapist Lisa Brookes Kift’s The Marriage Refresher Course Workbook. The 69- page workbook is for couples to use together and provides a framework for you to strengthen the relationship foundation that supports your marriage. It’s an interactive format with worksheets, and journaling space makes it a great keepsake for you and your spouse – to help you keep sight of what’s important to your marriage. 
  • Free audio download to Five Keys to Really Great Sex Tonight—even if you’re Not in the Mood by Gina Parris of Winning at Romance. (Yowza, who wouldn’t want that?)
  • An e-book from Matthew with Adventure-Some.com called Ready-To-Go Dates. It provides 20 dates that can be done anywhere and take less than 20 minutes of planning/prep.
  • Power of Two, which provides entertaining and thoroughly helpful marriage education online, is giving two flash games with pdf tips. It’s an interactive module to help couples understand how arguments happen and how to avoid miscommunications that lead to arguments. The videos are short and fun, and you learn something along the way. It can give you a taste of all the great resources available at PO2.com. For modern couples who want to learn skills fast—without getting bored!
  • A free iPhone app that includes healthy marriage tips and great date night suggestions from Debi Walter at The Romantic Vineyard. Now you’ll have conversation starters and other tips to help you connect on a deeper level.
  • A copy of The Simple Marriage Manifesto, which profound advice from marital therapist Corey Allan, PhD of Simple Marriage.
  • Two free chapters of The 15-Minute Marriage Makeover by Dustin Riechmann of Engaged Marriage. (A great strategy for busy couples to boost their relationship!)

For details, and links to various ways you can get the book go here.

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Sex Resolutions and How Much Sex is Ideal?

As promised, this is the first in my Friday series called “Keeping the Sparks Alive!” in which you’ll receive links and suggestions from various experts on how to keep the sexual part of your marriage union in top-notch shape.

While it’s true every marriage has its ebbs and flows as far as sexual excitement (early parenthood being a recognized low for most couples), sexual intimacy should not be placed on the back burner for too long, or the marriage could be irreparably harmed. Remember that while many of the tasks you provide for your family can be outsourced, only spouses can (or should) satisfy sexual needs and desires. It’s a critical component of any marriage.

I’ll begin this series with some resolutions to consider for 2011 from sex and relationship expert Ian Kerner. Joy Behar on CNN interviewed him to ask for some sex resolutions to assist couples. He advised the following:

  1. Have sex once a week. (See note below regarding how to determine the ideal frequency for your marriage.) Make time for it, and get in the mood. Sometimes you have to put your body and mind through the motions before you feel in the mood. If you wait until the stars align and the laundry is complete, it may never happen.
  2. Have a positive relationship with positive interactions if you want to have a sexy marriage. Don’t call your partner names or complain about work, chores or the bills when you meet at the end of the day—then expect your partner to feel amorous.
  3. Invest in your relationship. Kerner says while many couples cut back on date nights and vacations last year due the recession, it’s time to put the investment back in these important activities. After all, he says, divorce is even more expensive.
  4. Cultivate intimacy outside the bedroom. A 30-second hug helps women raise their oxytocin levels (those feel-good hormones released during sex or breastfeeding). For men, it takes a 60-second hug to have this effect.

Those sound like realistic goals, no? Regarding the ideal sexual frequency for couples, author and marital therapist Michele Weiner-Davis says this is a common area of conflict for couples. She says in case you are wondering, the average American couple has sex 1.5 times per week. However, what works well for one couple doesn’t work well for another. The right frequency is whatever works for you both. The problem lies when one spouse has a much higher or lower sex drive than the other. What’s a couple to do?

The worst thing they do is argue about “who is right” and “who is wrong,” she says. Don’t debate it, but do discuss how you might meet in the middle and attempt to meet both people’s needs.  Maintain ongoing communication without being harsh to one another.

Interesting links this week:

I also promised more links this year to other posts. This one by Laura Munson at Huffington Post is a nice follow-up to my first happiness post. Laura found new freedom after letting go of suffering and choosing happiness. Read Laura’s article Living the New Year moment by moment.

Fox News featured Alisa Bowman’s 7 Ways to Fix a Marriage.

The Generous Husband generously posted a guest post by yours truly called 7 Ways a Man Truly Loves a Woman. He also had an interesting idea to come up with three things you each want to change about your marriage this year, one easy, one medium difficult and one that would take effort. Read it here.

Neuroscientists are discovering any time we feel safe, warm, loved, and cherished, we activate the release of small doses of oxytocin in the brain. And oxytocin is the brain’s direct and immediate antidote to cortisol (the stress hormone). If you’re interested in a scientific explanation of how oxytocin levels cancel out stress, check out this article The Neuroscience of Resilience. I especially liked the last few paragraphs.  

Photo credit: ©PhotoXpress.com

Are Too Many Choices Leading to Unhappiness?

In the post, “We all married the wrong person,” I began to discuss the effects of having too much choice in our modern Western society. Many of you had such strong reactions to the idea, I promised to provide some more details about The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz. If the post intrigues you, check out his book or view a video by Schwartz on YouTube, in which he claims traditional dogmas about freedom and choice are incorrect.

First, let me state up front, that choice can be very good. Without choice in our lives about our careers, our faith, our friends, our homes, our mates, we are doomed to be miserable. We want to be unique, and choice gives us that ability. Schwartz asserts in his book that as the number of choices increases, “the autonomy, control, and liberation this variety brings are powerful and positive. But as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear.”  

As examples, he talks about the thousands of cereals, salad dressings or electronic stereo systems from which we may choose. Because of the number of choices, our expectations for the product are greatly increased. At some point, increasing the number of choices we have no longer improves our lives. In fact, it has the opposite effect.

In America, where freedom and choice are paramount to many, the idea of too much choice sounds wrong. You can never have enough options, right? We want to keep our options open, so that when new information comes in, we can redirect to a better choice. However, Schwartz says the negative aspects of too much choice escalate until we become overloaded, and at times debilitated. “The fact that some choice is good doesn’t mean that more choice is better,” he says.

I can relate to his points. For example, I mostly shop at only one clothing store. I can choose to shop at thousands of stores, but I don’t have the time or desire to sift through racks or web sites with endless items that probably won’t fit me and I may not like. So limiting my choice to a favorite store that has clothes that fit me well with styles I like and has enough variety makes my life better by saving me time and frustration.

The anxiety of choosing well increases as we select more important things in our lives. My husband and I are currently looking to buy a new family car, which we usually keep for 10 years or more. Since he is a research-driven person who nearly always has some aspect of buyer’s remorse, he is checking out every car type that meets our specifications, and evaluating costs and benefits of every feature. For many, the process is so overwhelming, they avoid it for as long as possible and may never be happy with their final decision.

Then there are more important decisions, such as the choice of mate. Whom you choose as a spouse will dramatically affect every aspect of your entire life. The decision should be made with utmost care. But the decision can indeed be made. I’m sure you, like me, know someone who has such fears of marriage “buyer’s remorse” that he or she moves from relationship to relationship, hoping to find the perfect person, or at least the person who is a bit more perfect than the last one. Some people find a great mate with whom they share passion and children, but they still keep their eyes open at work or social gatherings to make sure they don’t miss out on someone better. Once they get to know that new person, or enter into a long-term relationship with him or her, they learn that person also has faults, just different ones.

“Clinging tenaciously to all the choices available to us contributes to bad decisions, to anxiety, stress, and dissatisfaction—even to clinical depression,” says Schwartz, who suggests at least part of the boom in depression rates may be due to choice overload.

“Many modern Americans are feeling less and less satisfied even as their freedom of choice expands,” he explains. “We do ourselves no favor when we equate liberty too directly with choice. The feelings that may result when we have too many options include regret, feeling of missed opportunities, raised expectations, and feelings of inadequacy. If we have enough of those, we may indeed become depressed.

Schwartz says we need to make good choices about things that matter (yes, marriage is in that category), while having less concern about the things that don’t. He also recommends multiple strategies in his book about how best to deal with potentially overwhelming choices in modern Western society. One of his suggestions is that it would be better for us to embrace certain “voluntary restraints on our freedom of choice, instead of rebelling against them.” Does that sound un-American to you, or can you see the wisdom in his thought process? The other point he makes is that we would be better off if the decisions we made were nonreversible. Bingo. Stop questioning your choice of mate; instead make the most of what you have. And stop paying attention to what you think others around you have, because you don’t have any idea what goes on behind closed doors.  

What’s your take on the matter? Do you feel like you can ever have too many options? Do you want to be “free” to change any decision at any point, in hopes that you can continually improve your life? Or do you think that constantly questioning your decisions decreases your satisfaction?

Photo Credit: ©PhotoXpress.com

Beware of Financial Infidelity

This morning on the Today Show, financial experts reviewed research on how money is the number-one cause of marital fights, and said the more couples fight about money, the more likely they are to become divorced.

We talked about this research here in February. The gist of it is that the more debt you have, the higher your marital stress level, while increased assets seem to bring security. Couples who used a budget had fewer arguments and higher marital satisfaction.

An interesting concept the Today contributors brought up that I had been thinking about is financial infidelity. That means one or both people are sneaking around about how they spend or save money. Secrets lead to fights, and fights lead to big marriage problems. It’s critical for couples to put all their financial debts, challenges and struggles out in the open so they can be negotiated and managed. Plans for improving finances will be more effective when honesty is displayed.

In the financial stability area, I feel extremely blessed. I can’t recall a single fight about money in our almost-15-year marriage. However, we have unusually similar financial priorities, goals and tendencies. For instance, we both tend to be savers, not spenders. And we like to spend money on the same sorts of things. My hubby tends to be a bit of a spendthrift about some things, which we may occasionally tease him about. But the bottom line is that I know his cautiousness about spending is a way to protect the family for the future.

So, we drive our cars longer than most people I know, and we delay on some unnecessary expenses, but we sleep better at night. We are probably also unusual in that we keep separate checking accounts (although both our names are listed on the accounts, and we both have full access if we needed it). This wouldn’t work for some couples, but it works well for us. Our savings accounts are combined.

Our philosophy has always been to spend less than we earn, substantially less when possible. That may seem obvious to most of you. (I sure hope so.) However, many couples are still thinking they can spend more this year and make it up next year. This generally leads to taking out loans or credit card debt, leading to increased fees and higher debt, more stress, and more arguments.

The experts suggest:

  1. Weekly meetings about your finances where you each provide updates, concerns and progress on your financial plans. You’ll need to discuss and negotiate your financial goals and plans. If you can’t have these meetings without fighting, you may need professional help (financial counselor, accountant, etc.)
  2. If you have credit card debt, focus on paying off the card with the highest interest rate first. Put all your extra money toward paying that one off, while you pay only the minimums on other cards. Then move to the card with the next highest interest rate.
  3. Use automatic payment plans to set up the payments you agree upon.
  4. If you argue about money more than 1-2 times a month, and you feel those arguments are harming your marriage, consider seeing a marriage counselor. Your upbringing and tendencies from your family of origin affect the way you view and use money. Money is viewed as power in a marriage. If you allow these issues to fester, and particularly if financial infidelity creeps in, your marriage is at risk. Divorce is more expensive than a marriage counselor, so get help before it becomes too difficult to repair.
  5. Consider selling assets or downsizing if your lifestyle has become too stressful to maintain. Even if you can afford a higher lifestyle, no one says you must upgrade. One couple I know chooses to use their excess for charitable giving. This decision has given them much greater peace and satisfaction in their marriage than they receive from spending.
  6. When possible, each spouse should have some flexibility in spending so they don’t begin to view their spouse as a “parent” who must approve every expenditure.

Also, read Money Help: Becoming a Financial Free Couple.

Has money been the cause of arguments in your relationship? Have you learned how to better manage these issues without fights?

Don’t Share Marriage Blips with Family

We’re coming up on a busy Memorial weekend, when so many of us spend time with family and close friends. It’s a great time to reconnect. Unfortunately you’ll also hear plenty of griping about spouses. Don’t join in the fray.

Particularly when a marriage is on the rocks, but also when you’ve just had a disagreement or conflict with your spouse, it’s natural to want to air your feelings with friends, parents, siblings or others close to you. But beware of this tendency, says Michele Weiner-Davis, marriage counselor and author of best-selling Divorce Busting® books and tools.

Imagine that you share with your family that you suspect your husband of an affair, or you think your wife drinks too much. Or you confide in close friends that you have a lousy sex life, and that your husband isn’t concerned for your needs. When you share these details, Weiner-Davis says those close to you will take your side and may even encourage a divorce. They are only hearing your side, and they may think they have your best interests in mind. If and when you and your spouse choose to work on your marriage, and even make great strides or changes, guess who won’t forget all the bad stuff you shared?

“Their loyalty to you blinds them from seeing or understanding the context in which the marital problems have developed over time,” says Weiner-Davis. They likely won’t consider how your actions may have contributed to the problem.

Then when you change your mind about your marriage, and decide you love him or her after all, you may face resistance from those close to you about wanting to reconcile. Despite significant improvements in your marriage, you may have created a community that can’t truly support your marriage. They may even be vocally opposed to it.

“Once a cheater/liar, always a cheater/liar,” or “You’re being brainwashed to stay,” may be the spoken or unspoken words of your allies, says Weiner-Davis. She says situations like this are not uncommon in her marital counseling, and she provides some specific examples in her article “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Your Family.” Sometimes, a family never comes around to supporting a marriage after they learn of transgressions they believe are unforgivable.

Weiner-Davis says if you sense your family members or friends are becoming biased toward you, “it’s wise to limit complaints about your marriage and consult with a therapist instead. (Make sure you hire a marriage-friendly therapist.) Believe you can improve your marriage, and work to do so. Weiner-Davis says “the vast majority of divorces in this country are unnecessary, because most relationship problems are solvable.” She would know, since the couples she counsels are often on the brink of divorce. (I’ll share a story next week by a friend who saved her marriage from disaster.)

I love the quote she shares by David Ben-Gurion, “Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist.”

Whether you are married or single, in a strong or troubled marriage, when you hear other people complaining about their spouse, think about at least being neutral, at best being a support to the marriage. As long as you don’t feel there is abuse going on, be an encouragement for reconciliation. Be supportive, and seek solutions.

Have you made the mistake of sharing something about your marriage that you wished you could take back? I have. I learned pretty early in my marriage to keep marital arguments private. Generally in a day or two, I’ve forgotten about them anyway. If I really do want advice or listening ear, I try to choose someone who’s more neutral and pro-marriage. How about you, do you have someone who gets to hear all your marriage secrets?

Risky Business: Woman Marrying Younger Man

File this one under “unfair for women.” You may have heard previous studies that show marriage extends life expectancy for both men and women. That still holds true. Studies have also shown men who marry younger wives live longer. (Also, still true.) It was assumed that women who marry younger men would receive a similar boost in life expectancy. But a new study reveals a surprise result: the opposite is true. Women who have a significant age gap with their spouses—either older or younger—experience a decline in life expectancy.

The study was done by Sven Drefahl of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, and included two million Danish couples. The results were published in the May 12 issue of the journal Demography. (A study based on American couples might yield different results.) Drefahl found:

• Women who marry men seven to nine years younger than they are increase their mortality risk by a whopping 20 percent.
• A husband who is seven to nine years older than his wife reduces his mortality risk by 11 percent, compared to couples of the same age. (He lives longer.)
• For women, the greater the age difference with her husband (whether older or younger), the lower her life expectancy.
• Women live longest when they marry a spouse of the same age. An older husband shortens her life, but a younger husband does even more so.

Why is life expectancy reduced for these women?
Women worldwide live a few years longer on average than men, and being married increases life expectancy for both. So all married women have these two advantages. However, Drefahl suggests women who marry men who are significantly different in age have increased life stresses and reduced social support, as a result of the perception of having violated social norms.

His conclusion (thankfully) was much different from my hypothesis of the older wives engaging in dangerous adventures (i.e. skydiving and mountain climbing) and youthful activities in hopes of keeping up with their younger men. If social mores truly impact life expectancy, the question is, will this result change as society becomes more accepting of couples who are different in age? With celebrity couples like Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, and popular shows like Cougar Town, maybe it’s even becoming glamorous for older women to be with younger men? (I haven’t seen the show, so feel free to comment about cultural influences on the issue.)

I have lots of friends and family who differ in age with their spouses. It doesn’t seem to impact their lives very much. Do you think society still holds negative perceptions when spouses are different ages? Are you surprised by this study’s result?

How You Begin a Fight Determines Whether It’s Harmful or Productive

“I’m feeling overwhelmed and need your help in figuring out the kids’ schedules and activities on the weekends.”  Versus:

“All you think about is yourself. Does it never occur to you that I might need some help with the kids or time to myself?”

Both of these comments address the same problem, but the approach is very different. Author Tara Parker-Pope in her book, For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage, suggests how you bring up a problem is paramount. Your choice to begin with a complaint or a criticism will determine if it becomes a productive fight or a harmful fight. Of course, the second comment puts your partner on the defensive rather than in problem-solving mode. Criticism isn’t helpful in addressing problems or concerns, while stating your needs clearly can help you both come up with solutions.

Parker-Pope is a New York Times health reporter who presents researchers’ findings rather than investigating them on her own. For instance, she discusses Dr. John Gottman’s recommended 5:1 ratio of positive to negative comments, and she summarizes the study that suggests the happier wives are about the division of labor in their homes, the happier their husbands are with their sex lives.

The next time you have a concern you want to address with your spouse, think carefully about the timing of your discussion as well as how you bring it up. Find a non-confrontational way to broach the subject with the goal of discussing solutions or sharing your feelings.

Have you or your spouse recently been frustrated enough to blurt out a criticism that ended up causing a fight? Did it cause you to dig in your heels rather than seek compromise?

Do You Believe in Your Marriage?

I once posed a question about whether hard work or talent achieves the greatest success. Someone answered that belief in oneself is more important than either. Do you agree?

Many people overcome extreme obstacles because they believe they can achieve their dreams. When others give up on them, they work harder. Sometimes it may not be your own belief, but someone else’s belief and encouragement that reminds us of a  goal and makes us think it is possible to achieve.

When my son was six, he wrote a song that said, “If you believe in me, I will believe in you.” He posted a note in my office that has been there ever since (see photo) and serves as a sweet reminder that I am not alone in the world. The power of others’ encouragement can be strong.

Walt Disney is an example of someone who was talented and worked hard, but he started with nothing and overcame a great deal of obstacles. His personal vision was so clear and his belief so strong that even when his ideas and employees were stolen away, he simply started again and created a larger dream.

For many people, faith that they are a part of a larger purpose (a Kingdom purpose) also keeps them from giving up; they have a clear vision of success and feel their efforts are divinely guided.

We can personally benefit from a belief in our ability to reach goals, but don’t stop there. Our marriage relationships need to have the same vision and goals. What is your vision as a couple for your marriage and for your family? What goals are you trying to achieve within your marriage? Do you and your spouse have an unyielding belief that you can stand strong together no matter what happens in your life? Do you believe in and support your spouse? Do you believe your marriage will succeed?

As the year winds down and you consider making goals for the next year, don’t put your marriage last on the list. Just like career and life goals, create goals for your important relationships. Invest time and effort in them. And above all, believe in their long-term success.

What do you think is the greatest contributor to success? And to your marital success?

Prospects Strong for those Wishing to Marry Later

Two decades ago, Newsweek magazine joked that a 40-year-old single woman was “more likely to be killed by a terrorist” than ever marry. Though the comment was made in jest, it stuck and was often cited. However, even the not-joking marriage probability rating they offered for a 35-year-old woman was only 5 percent. The story induced quite a lot anxiety, which, it turns out, wasn’t warranted.

While fewer married in their 20s, the rate of women who eventually marry was much higher than expected, according to Newsweek.com’s Marriage by the Numbers. Some trends that did pan out as expected were the higher rates of cohabitation and the emergence and growth of single mothers by choice.

The biggest marriage shift for women has been to wait longer to marry. Additionally, marriage rates for better educated women is much higher than for women with lower levels of education. While the old stereotype said that women who excelled professionally may have been less appealing or “overqualified” as spouses, a 2001 Princeton study shows that college degrees make a woman more likely to marry, not less so. The trend is so pronounced that researchers now worry “that marriage, which confers a host of economic, tax and child-rearing advantages, is becoming disproportionately reserved for better-educated, middle- and upper-class elites.”

Many of today’s 30-somethings are less alarmed today if they haven’t found the perfect mate, says the article. Odds are, in fact much better for those in their 30’s and 40’s who wish to marry to find a spouse than had been assumed. Approximately 90 percent of baby-boomers have married or will marry. In 1960, half of women married by 20. Now, many more women are waiting to finish college and at least begin their careers. As of 1996, a single 40-year-old woman had about a 41 percent chance of marrying. Those odds have increased to just under 50 percent. Today, the median age for a first marriage is 25 for women and 27 for men.

While most of the research focused on women, because data on them was more available, men’s attitudes toward marriage have also changed over time. Both genders of Gen-Xers are said to have a greater commitment to marriage because so many watched their parents divorce. Many men openly seek a wife as much as the reverse. Women are also considering younger men, where previously that was more taboo.

Newsweek revisited 11 of the 14 single 20-something women who were interviewed for the original story. Eight are married, including a pediatrician who met her husband while hiking the Badlands and married at 45. Some said they wished they had found their spouses earlier, especially when battling infertility. Three remained single, one whose fiancée died, another who chose to adopt as a single woman. None who married divorced.

Are you still looking for the perfect spouse? Do you think it helps that people are marrying later in life when they are more mature and established? What are your predictions for future marriage rates? (Or, would you prefer we ignore these predictive statistics entirely?)

For the full Newsweek article, visit: http://www.newsweek.com/id/52295/