Tag Archives: successful relationships

Why More Americans are Happy, Yet Unsatisfied

winter by Michal  Marcol freedigitalphotos.netAccording to recent Gallup polls, American levels of happiness are at a four-year high, with 60 percent of all Americans reporting they feel happy without a lot of stress or worry. Books about happiness are selling in record numbers. So why don’t Americans seem more satisfied?

One reason is, as I have written in a previous post, “There’s more to life and marriage than happiness.” Another reason is that 40 percent of Americans have not discovered a satisfying life purpose. Having a clear purpose and meaning for your life has been shown in research to increase your life satisfaction, improve your physical and mental health, and decrease the chances of depression. It is very possible to be both relatively happy and yet still live an unsatisfied life.

“It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness,” conclude researchers. Yes, pursuing happiness and pleasure can actually hinder you from having a meaningful, satisfying life as an individual and as a married couple.

A new study to be published in the Journal of Positive Psychology examined the attitudes of 400 Americans over a month and found that while a meaningful life and a happy life overlap in some ways, they were very different. Researchers determined that leading a “happy life” was associated with being a “taker” who at times appeared shallow, selfish or self-absorbed, but with satisfied demands. These happy individuals might be healthy and have plenty of income for what they needed or wanted, as well as few worries.

A meaningful life, on the other hand, was associated with being a “giver.” The participants in this category derived meaning from sacrifices. They actively looked for meaning in their activities, even when they knew the action might decrease their happiness or require them to give something up for themselves. Examples might be a parent who takes time to care for their children, a person who buys a present for a friend to cheer her up, or a spouse who offers to help around the house.

Finding meaning can even involve extreme sacrifices, such as the one made by the Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Frankl in Vienna in September 1942. Read about his fascinating story and more about the research in this article from The Atlantic called “There’s more to life than being happy.” Frankl, who survived the Nazi concentration camps, later wrote the best-selling book Man’s Search for Meaning. After working on suicide prevention for teens earlier in his career, he helped two suicidal inmates in the camps find meaning for their lives and gave them something to live for. Don’t we all need something to live for?

“Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy,’” wrote Frankl. He also wrote the enduring words: “Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself—be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is.”

This last quote brings me to the point of this post. To find meaning in life and certainly in our marriages, we need to direct our attention away from our desire for happiness of the moment and toward others. By loving our spouse and family more fully, we can find greater fulfillment and satisfaction.

Researchers say happy people derive joy from receiving benefits from others, while people leading more meaningful lives derive a great deal of joy from giving to others.

Why is finding a deeper meaning for your life and marriage more important than seeking happiness for your family? Because it affects every choice you will make.  When one spouse reaches a turning point in their life, such as a mid-life crisis, someone focused on personal happiness might assess what they are getting from others and who is making them happy. They may say things like “life is short” and “you only live once” to justify behavior focused on personal pleasure. On the contrary, someone focused on meaning might assess what memories and values they are giving to their loved ones and how they have improved the lives of others. They will wonder what legacy they are leaving and how they can strengthen that legacy.

The idea that we are responsible for something greater than ourselves is contrary to the value of freedom above all.  Are these values at odds in your mind?

Please share how you find meaning in your life and in your marriage.

If you are interested in more on this topic, here are other happiness-related posts:

Is your family seeking pleasure, happiness, or joy?

Happiness comes before success in life, not after

The formula for unhappiness is revealed

Are too many choices leading to unhappiness?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

3 Tips to Warm Up Your Marriage This Winter

Women’s Health Magazine had some good suggestions in its September 2011 issue that I thought I’d share. These cold winter months are the perfect time for giving your spouse some extra attention.

  1. Pretend you just met. Author and psychologist Terri Orbuch, PhD, says couples often stop asking “get to know you” questions, because they think they already know each other. However, since we all change and develop, we need to be constantly checking in to keep the daily connection growing. So, instead of chatting about your daily agenda, spend some time pretending like you just started dating. Ask what he would do if he won the lottery or what her favorite book is. Or, ask about positive family memories or what the best ball game was he ever watched. Anything that would spark a good conversation. Don’t assume you know all your partner’s responses even if you’ve been married a long time.
  2. Tweet responsibly. Avid tweeters tend to have shorter relationships—10 percent shorter, on average. If you’re big into social media, learn how to disconnect from technology and truly connect with your spouse. (Based on a survey of 100,000 people from OKCupid.com) Be sure the time you tweet isn’t time taken away from being one-on-one with your spouse.
  3. Be intimate at least weekly. Frequency of sex is a marker for successful relationships. The average American couple gets busy two or three times a month. But increasing this to once a week generates as much bliss as earning an additional $50,000 in annual income, according to researchers from Dartmouth College and the University of Warwick in England. They even explain the reasoning behind the statistic. “Couples who like each other end up in bed more often, says the study author. “And it’s the liking-each-other part that increases joy.

If one of your goals for 2012 is to give your relationship a shot of inspiration, read my book, First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage , which tells the stories of a dozen amazing couples who used adversity to improve their marriage. Go here for links to Amazon print version or e-books for Kindle, iTunes, Sony, Nook or PDF. If you already have the book, don’t forget to email me for your 7 free marriage improvement gifts, including everything from an e-book to improve your sex life to date night suggestions, an iPhone app with daily marriage tips, a marriage refresher workbook, a video to hone your communication skills, and tips for how to connect on a daily basis with your spouse in just 15 minutes a day.

Photo by Ambro courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

Does Your Marriage Have Areas for Improvement?

If you are hoping to improve or even maintain your relationship in 2012, it may help to know what the major sources of conflict are. What do couples fight most about, and can you assess your personal behavior in these areas to ensure you are not contributing to that conflict?

The Science of Relationships provides the Top 15 Sources of Conflict in Relationships with a brief explanation of each that I think is very helpful. It includes everything from being inconsiderate to poor grooming. First, ask yourself what the most common conflict topics are in your relationship, then check the list. Be honest about an area in which you might be able to improve. This isn’t the time to blame your partner, but rather to look a way you might take some responsibility for a bit of self-improvement. Personally, I hope to improve my daily efforts toward generosity this year.

For some additional helpful reading, The Generous Husband’s Paul Byerly has done a good job dissecting The State of Our Unions: Marriage in America 2011—research completed by the National Marriage Project. This is the research I wrote about recently in which generosity in marriage is said to be the best indicator of a very happy marriage. There’s much more to the study. Paul explains the findings on Money and Housework, which show happier husbands and wives are part of couples for which household chores are shared equally. In addition, the study showed that financial pressure and debt decrease our marital happiness. No matter what our income, increased consumer debt is a hindrance to a happy marriage, particularly for women. He also reports on the impact of family and friends in marriage, which reminds us we should be connecting with those who support our marriage, and preferably spend time with others who have strong marriages. Finally, this is an interesting bit about the importance of shared faith within a marriage. If these reports are interesting to you, check out the full study results. (See link at beginning of paragraph.)

What area of your marriage could use some tweaking—or a complete overhaul—this coming year? Perhaps how you communicate, how you manage your finances, how you share your faith, how you share housework or raise your children, how you manage your time or your home, how you show affection, your sexual satisfaction with one another, making time to spend each day with each other? The options are nearly endless, but discuss one area with your partner in which you both will make an effort to improve, will seek out tools for improvement, and will provide honest and productive feedback with each other. If you have particular topics you would like more information about, please message me or leave it in the comments and I will provide expert insights and research-based tips for you.

For all those who celebrate the Christmas holiday this coming week, I wish you all the blessings and joy of the season. I hope for you a holiday with minimal stress and abounding love. And I wish peace and joy to all of you and to your families and friends. Thank you for allowing me into your lives.

NOTE:
My new book, First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage is now available. Go here for links to Amazon print version or e-books for Kindle, iTunes, Nook or e-book. If you’ve already bought the book, don’t forget to email me for your 7 free marriage improvement gifts, including everything from an e-book to improve your sex-life to date night suggestions, an iPhone app with daily marriage tips, a marriage refresher workbook, a video to hone your communication skills, and tips for how to connect on a daily basis with your spouse in just 15 minutes a day.

Photo by Arvydas Kriuksta courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

First Kiss to Lasting Bliss Interview

Thanks to Mrs. Levine of Whispered Between Women for interviewing me about my upcoming book, FIRST KISS TO LASTING BLISS: Hope & Inspiration for Your  Marriage. You can visit her lovely site and read the full interview here. I am re-posting the highlights here at her suggestion, with a link to the full interview:

Mrs. Levine: I’ve been following Lori Lowe’s blog Marriage Gems for a couple of years and find her advice on marriage truly wonderful and inspiring. I took the opportunity to ask her some of my burning questions on how to help a marriage last a lifetime.

Mrs. Levine: Is avoiding lifestyle traps one of the best ways of helping a marriage flourish over decades?

Lori Lowe: I do think avoiding today’s lifestyle traps can help a marriage flourish. For example, the ever-changing desires for more material goods, nicer cars, bigger houses, great vacations, and the like, can cause financial stress. Research shows couples who are more focused on material goods have less strong marriages. The truth is that material goods never really satisfy our deepest longings. If we spent the time and effort focusing on trying to please each other and doing something great in the world that is bigger than ourselves, we find much greater happiness.

 
Mrs. Levine: When illness or an accident changes the marriage so that one spouse is a care provider and the other is a care receiver, how does a couple maintain an equal emotional balance in the relationship?

Lori Lowe: One couple in the book experienced a brain injury at a young age, and the wife has become a caregiver. Due to his slow awakening from a coma, it’s almost as if he fell in love with his wife a second time. He asked her to marry him before he understood that he was already married to her. She remained at his side and committed to his recovery, and works daily to help him regain his mobility. Just because one person has physical limitations doesn’t mean that any part of the love dies away. At some point (hopefully much later in life), most of us as couples will face some physical limits either in ourselves or in our spouse. While it’s not pleasant to think about, it may help you prepare for the future.

Mrs. Levine: What is your best piece of advice to couples for a marriage that lasts a lifetime?

Lori Lowe: If I have to limit the advice to one thing, I’d say focus on pleasing each other. It creates a virtuous cycle of giving and loving. If you are willing to go first and be the one who acts in love and generosity, you can start that cycle. What is something that would please your spouse today? More sex or touching during the day? Grocery shopping or cooking dinner? Spending time together? Saying thank you instead of complaining?  Do what you know will please your spouse, and if you don’t know, be sure to ask.

If I can add one other thing, I’d say don’t expect your spouse to fill your every need. If we each learn to be interesting and fulfilled people individually, we bring more to the marriage, and we hopefully won’t have as many unrealistic expectations of each other.

Read More for the rest of the Q&A.

Receive book information at www.LoriDLowe.com, and check out the Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/LastingBliss. First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage will be available Dec. 8, 2011.

Best Advice from Readers: 19 Great Marriage Tips

A couple of weeks ago as I celebrated my 16th wedding anniversary with a Happy Anniversary to me post, I asked you to share one great marriage tip. Thanks for coming through with some wonderful advice. I decided to collect all the reader comments for you:

1. Remember that no couple is perfect and that every married couple has problems. What makes or breaks your marriage is how you confront problems, communicate about them and ultimately work through them.
2. Our marriages are reflections of God’s love for His church, and every choice, every thought, and how we deal with conflict matters. Our marriage tip is pay attention to whom you worship – if it’s God you will grow all the more closer to Him and each other. If you’re worshiping self or your marriage, it will only grow increasingly more difficult because God is a jealous God. As your love grows vertically it will certainly grow horizontally.
3. Learn to take delight in delighting your wife or husband.
4. Marriage is not only between the couple, but it involves two families, which can be very complicated. We learned a lot through the process, and we have been changed and grown up a lot.
5. Simply spend a little time each day focused ONLY on each other. This sounds easy, but it can be really difficult in the high-paced and distraction-filled times we live in. If you spend 15 minutes each day simply being a couple, your marriage will be blessed incredibly!
6. Stay connected to one another physically, emotionally and spiritually no matter what else is going on in your lives.
7. One key is mutuality. Spouses need to fully participate with one another in experiencing intimacy, paying attention to the other’s needs, desires, and value.
8. Keep a good sense of humor, keep your promises…never let go. Hang in there even when you don’t feel like it. And when you are mad as mad can be, think of your three favorite things about your husband/wife that makes you smile. Or at least something s/he said or did lately that was funny.
9. Do everything in your power to communicate unconditional love and acceptance to your spouse, making especially sure to show affection and speak approval whether you feel like it or not.
10. Spend money on your marriage – after 45 years of marriage – what fun we’ve had!
11. Remember that only YOU can make you happy. Always respect your husband, and respect yourself.
12. Mutual respect and compassion is the key to everything!
13. Nurture your friendship with your spouse. Spend time together. Ask for each other’s opinion. Extend grace. Hug. Listen. Share. Fight fair. Laugh together. Support each other’s interests. When a married couple authentically are friends with each other, so many positive results flow out of this (including great sex).
14. Be willing to grow and to let your spouse grow. Marriage is organic; it must be nourished. And its members may grow at different rates. The good news is that they ARE growing.
15. Which tape/CD are you going to listen to? Are you going to focus or dwell on the way your spouse annoys you, or are you going to focus on the positives, the many ways they bless you? I firmly believe it is a choice. We see what we want to see in each other.
16. Some of our most memorable ‘dates’ are very simple. We have a better time just hanging out on the patio with a bottle of wine versus spending a small fortune in a stuffy restaurant!
17. Write a note or card detailing what first excited you about each other when you met. Post it on the refrigerator. Refer to it often.
18. Marriage always gets better if you hang on, and the best is yet to come.

And one bonus tip from me, in gratitude for all your advice: Remember that love is a choice, not a feeling. Our feelings change with our mood and our circumstances, but our actions and attitudes speak volumes. When we act lovingly, we begin to feel more in love.

I am thankful for all the love and joy in my life, and I wish you all more of the same!

What is your favorite marriage tip?

Photo by photostock courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

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

The Truth about Sex in Marriage

Contrary to popular belief, sex is not the overriding factor in either marital happiness or marital distress, says Scott Haltzman, M.D., author of The Secrets of Happily Married Men. It can be a barometer of how things are going, but research shows sex contributes just 15 to 20 percent toward making the relationship satisfying. However, unhappy couples report their sex life is responsible for 50 to 75 percent of their unhappiness. 

While it’s difficult to give blanket advice (no pun intended) to couples when they are each different, Dr. Haltzman says the most common issues involve:

1)      Most men (77 percent in his survey) have a higher sex drive than their wives. Dr. Haltzman says hormone and brain chemical differences are among the most likely reasons for the difference. In particular, testosterone levels are higher in men, with women having about 10 percent of men’s level. Testosterone levels fall as women age, particularly after having children.

2)      Women have an intimacy imperative. Women have 10 times the level of oxytocin in their brains than do men. This puts the emotional connection at a premium for wives, desiring closeness above all else. Men’s level of oxytocin surges to our level only after orgasm.

3)      Women want to feel intimacy, closeness, romance, relationship to help them feel “in the mood.” For women, good sex is as much emotional as physical. Men should use conversation to learn about their wife’s needs, says Dr. Haltzman. Let her know you just want to understand her feelings about sex. Being romantic just to get sex doesn’t work for women.

4)      Life is overly busy. Prima magazine showed women in the 1950s had sex more frequently than today’s women—an average of twice a week for our grandmother’s generation. Back then there was one TV station that turned off at 10 p .m. Generally, only one person in the family worked while the other looked after the children. Today’s families are often so busy and stressed they report they don’t have (or make) time for intimacy.

5)      Men tend to compartmentalize their feelings and concerns, while women’s more developed corpus collosum (the communication strip between the two cerebral hemispheres) allows women to integrate all the data in their brains and experience more subtleties. Her thoughts on one subject spill over into other areas.

6)      Men are more turned on by concrete things they can see, which is why 76 percent want the lights on during sex. Women are more turned on by abstract, emotional things—romance, commitment, intimacy. (Only 36% of women want the lights on.)

Dr. Haltzman says it’s a mistake to think that simply turning on the “romance” will make your love life flourish. Bringing gifts, helping around the house more, and spending time listening can be very erotic for the wife. But if a woman withholds until everything is “just right” the couple’s intimacy issues won’t improve. The longer married couples avoid sex, the more difficult it is to generate positive sexual relationship when they do start again.

The doctor’s advice? Make love even if you don’t feel emotionally connected. (Sorry ladies, I didn’t say it.) You sit through your son’s soccer game in the rain and do many other things out of obligation, and making love should be a part of a healthy marriage. “I’m not suggesting sexual coercion here,” says Dr. Haltzman. “I’m recommending a regular rhythm of sexual attachment with the understanding that some sexual experiences will be better for him than her and some better for her than him, but that the best sexuality does integrate intimacy, pleasuring and eroticism for both people.”

Husbands would do well to include separate activities of G-rated touching and kissing, sensual pleasures from massage to candles to cuddling (without expectations), being playful, and exploring eroticism as well as sex. Dr. Haltzman’s entire book (Secrets of Happily Married Men) is helpful for men who want to better understand their wives, so if you want to learn more, check it out.

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com