Tag Archives: tips for better marriage

How Can We Be Happy with Tragedy & Evil in the World?

Happy Life: Happy Marriage Series

How can we hope to live happy lives when we hear about shootings in grocery stores and schools? Or read about women and children attacked or killed in their homes? This is a troubling question for me.

How can we be happy in our families and in our relationships when we can’t figure out how to get these terrible events out of our minds? I personally think this issue is a larger concern for women, particularly those who, like me, have a great deal of empathy. We can literally picture ourselves in random situations across the world, and become plagued by the images or thoughts. Our husbands may not even understand why we are so troubled by these happenings.

So, what does Dennis Prager, author of Happiness is a Serious Problem, have to say about this conundrum of being happy despite tragedy? He says he believes in evil, that suffering is real, and that everything is not “all for the best.” (Please don’t tell people everything is for the best, especially when they are grieving.) He also says he is constantly amazed by his good fortune, as am I. “Given how much unjust suffering and unhappiness there are, I am deeply grateful for, sometimes even perplexed by, how much misery I have been spared,” says Prager.

Given that tragedy will always be present in life, he says he aims to be happy unless something happens to make him unhappy, rather than vice versa. If you are waiting for something to make you happy—for your husband to send you flowers or for your child to get a perfect score on his or her math test—your happy days may be few and far between. But if you are happy and thankful that you are not directly affected by tragedy today, it leads you to a better place in your mind. It requires you to begin each day with a new mindset.

Constant complaining about how badly your day is going—difficult customers, rowdy children, a less-than-perfect spouse—only exacerbates your negative feelings. Prager has little patience for those who have so much in life but in this modern world find so much about which to complain. Each time you begin to complain or say something negative, consider those who really have a horror in their lives at that very moment.

We can’t avoid pain and sorrow, though, at least not for long. “Life has much pain built into it, even for people who lead inordinately blessed lives. Even in the best instance (i.e., a long and healthy life), we all experience the awful sadness of death—whether ours or that of loved ones,” says Prager. He goes on to express even “necessary losses” such as being joyful to have your children grow up, but experiencing bittersweet loss at realizing those childhood years are gone forever.

I think Prager’s take on this is well considered. However, putting the ideals into practice certainly will take ongoing effort. For starters, we should consider our media consumption. It’s fine to acknowledge the evil and pain in the world without immersing ourselves into the events as on cable TV. We can also admit that while it (the tragedy of the day) could have happened in our neighborhood, it didn’t, and we should be grateful for the day we are given.

We should strive to mentally focus on positive aspects of our lives, and even verbally comment on those things to our spouse and children. This can even apply to minor complaints. “I’m sick and tired of this snow,” can become “I’m sure glad we have a working furnace and the funds to keep our home reasonably warm. Although I am looking forward to spring.”

I know I will get struck by sadness when horrific events occur, and I believe we should assist or pray for victims. But we don’t serve our families well when we begin to believe the world is more awful than it is. The world has a lot of beauty going for it. Even those awful, cold snowflakes that pile onto my driveway incessantly are incredibly unique and lovely on their own. And even when a Congresswoman is shot down by a mentally unstable man, she can inspire hope in a city and in a nation.

Related Link:

Overcoming Negative Thinking—Alisa Bowman shares advice on how to change your negative thoughts for the better. “When you see the world through a positive lens, you smile more. You are warmer. You embrace people. You are more giving. You are more considerate and selfless,” says Alisa. How can that not help your life and your marriage?

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Alcohol Use Related to Shorter and Later Marriages

It’s not just alcoholics whose relationships may be affected by drinking. A new study by the Indiana University School of Education found that individuals who frequently drink alcohol are more likely to marry later in life and are less likely to have a successful, long-lasting marriage.

Researchers recruited more than 4,000 Australian twins in the early 1980s and followed their alcohol use and marriages or separations. They found a strong association between alcohol dependence and delayed marriage, as well as between alcohol dependence and early marital separation.

The study’s author made a surprisingly strong statement to young people about the consequences of alcohol in their lives:

“Young adults who drink alcohol may want to consider the longer-term consequences for marriage,” says Mary Waldron, assistant professor at IU. “If drinking continues or increases to levels of problem use, likelihood of marriage, or of having a lasting marriage, may decrease.”

The results were reported in Science Daily and are to be released in the April 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Early drinking is one of the best predictors of later alcohol dependence, according to researchers. They also found genetic influences contributed to the associations between alcohol dependence and delayed marriage or early separation.

The results aren’t terribly surprising when you consider how significant alcohol use could cause a great deal of conflict in a relationship and deaden one’s ability to become intimate with a partner. But the articles I’ve seen don’t specify an amount of alcohol. I’d be curious whether “frequent drinking” includes a nightly glass of wine, or if heavier drinking was involved in these associations.

Do you know any frequent drinkers who delayed marriage to continue their partying lifestyle? Are you surprised at the associations made with alcohol use? Do you think those living the lifestyle of frequent drinking will even care about this research?

Interesting links:

Understanding Your Relationship’s Problems–Michele Weiner-Davis, author of the book and blog Divorce Busting, provides a fascinating analogy to help couples understand the interdependence of their actions and reactions on their relationships. There’s a circular causality that is hard for individuals to see, particularly when they believe their mate is to blame for the marriage’s problems. Read The Foxes and the Rabbits for some great explanation and examples that can open your eyes to new solutions in conflict resolution.

Financial Fidelity–We’ve talked about financial infidelity here before, and why it’s important to be trustworthy with one another about money. Nearly 1/3 of spouses admit to deceiving their partner about financial matters. Thanks to Paul Byerly for pointing me to an excellent article in Forbes, Is Your Partner Cheating on You Financially. There’s also a link to signs your spouse is lying about money. It serves as a reminder to have open, honest discussions about finances.

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Researchers Share How to Improve Sex Life

“Keeping the Sparks Alive” Series Post 3

Most of the readers of this blog already have the top two ingredients for good sex (according to researchers)—love and commitment.

The Archives of Sexual Behavior released the findings, based on a study of 544 sexually active college students. (So, we’re not talking about married couples here.) Read a summary in Discovery News. The motivations for having sex that were most highly correlated with sexual satisfaction were love and commitment. So, if you and your mate have those two things, consider yourself fortunate.

OK, maybe you have love and commitment, but you still see room for improvement in your sex life. The Journal of Sexual Medicine has some advice for you, which was shared in USA Weekend. (Is it me, or are there a lot of scientific journals focused on sex? It’s apparently a popular field of study.) Scientists reviewed the results of a clinical trial in which women were given erectile-dysfunction pills or a placebo. While the pill was deemed ineffective, more than one-third of the placebo group said their sex lives significantly improved after taking what they thought was medication. The placebo, it turns out, was quite effective. Why?

First, participants were all highly motivated to improve their sex lives. Second, they were asked to have sex at least three times a month during the study and fill out questionnaires. Perhaps placing their attention on their sex lives, along with their desire to improve that area of their lives was responsible for the improvement, suggest researchers. The bottom line is that if you want to improve your sex life, give it your attention and focus.

I’m sure some readers are saying, “I want a better sex life, but my partner doesn’t give it the same priority.” This is a sensitive subject to be sure, and one about which we could have experts commenting for many months. The Generous Husband offered some New Year’s suggestions for men who are hoping to have “more sex in 2011” with their wives. Paul Byerly suggests that making too big a deal out of it may imply that all you care about is sex—and may appear manipulative. Instead, he suggests discussing your sex lives at a carefully chosen time—not when your mate is tired or busy. Approach it in a gentle and positive manner, such as, “I want sex to be even better for both of us.” Getting the topic out there may help open the door for future discussions. You might offer a few suggestions if your partner is open to discuss, but work on the issue gradually, so as not to overwhelm your partner. Focus on helping your spouse enjoy sex more, and you will likely improve their interest in it, he says. Ask your partner what would make sex more enjoyable for them, what would make the bedroom more pleasant, etc.

In addition–and this should not be an after-thought–women (and many men) want to feel loved, touched and appreciated outside the bedroom to encourage more romantic thoughts and ideas. A spouse who is not feeling the love during the day will probably not be “in the mood” that evening.

Whether you’re both in the mood or not, sometimes you need to prioritize sex to keep your marriage strong. In addition, there are many physical health benefits to sex, including stress relief, burning calories, promoting cardiovascular health and reducing prostate cancer risk. Read the details here.

Do you think this research gives you any new, useful information, or is it just confirming what you already knew?

Related Links:

If you find your life is just so busy and chaotic, you don’t have much time for a sex life, consider this Wall Street Journal article in which a woman describes taking time away from her job not for her children or aging parents, but to “extend the honeymoon period” in her marriage. It also suggests some less-dramatic solutions, such as coming home 15 minutes early each day to gain 1.25 hours with your spouse a week.

Interesting quote from sexpert Ian Kerner on CNN this week: “I don’t care what anybody says, real sex with a real person is better than porn any day of the week.  At Good in Bed, we believe that porn is the equivalent of professional wrestling: phony and superficial. It’s like subsisting on a junk-food diet of Gummi bears and Gatorade when you could be having a gourmet meal.” Kerner says the increasing prevalence of porn has created a phenomenon called Sexual Attention Deficit Disorder, in which men become bored or unable to focus on real sex with a real woman. Hmmm, that is SADD.

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5 Tips for a Happier Life & Happier Marriage

Happy Life: Happy Marriage series, Post 3

Our overall sense of wellbeing is 50% constitutional, 10% circumstantial, and 40% controllable, says Dr. Henry Cloud, author of The Law of Happiness.

Dr. Cloud said in a CNN story that the majority of people’s effort to improve their lives, for example with their job or a new car, can bump up their happiness level by 10%, but then it goes back down. However, much is still within our control when it comes to becoming happier. He says that happy people do the following 5 things. I’ve added tips on how we can adapt the advice for a happier marriage.

1. Create a support system.—Develop a close circle of significant relationships both inside and outside the home.

Happy marriage tip: Remember to have strong friendships as well as a strong marriage and family relationships. Choose friends that will back up your marriage. If you’ve been lax about spending time with friends, contact one now to schedule a coffee date.

2. Set specific goals.—Having both long- and short-term goals helps organize your brain around helpful activities to aid you in achieving your goals.

Happy marriage tip: Set long- and short-term goals for your marriage. Make them doable. For example, set aside 15 minutes each day to reconnect. Work on scheduling a date night each month or an annual vacation with your spouse.

3. Volunteer.—When you give back, your brain secretes the same chemical as when you eat good food or enjoy sex.

Happy marriage tip: Consider volunteering together on an activity that you are both passionate about. This will help you feel good and will help you become more bonded to each other. In addition, it gives you something meaningful to talk about besides chores, the kids, and work. Not to mention, you’re helping make the world a better place.

4. Don’t dwell on what you cannot control.

Happy marriage tip: Don’t try to change your spouse. You can only control yourself.

5. Belief in a higher power—Dr. Cloud says that those with an active spiritual life live longer and have stronger immune systems.

Happy marriage tip: If you attend a church, do so together. Consider being involved in a ministry together or making friends there as a couple.

What is the one thing that boosts your happiness the most? Do Dr. Cloud’s tips resonate with your life? How much of your happiness do you believe is within your control?

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You Can Keep that Loving Feeling—Even after 20 Years of Marriage

Remember that old ad, “This is your brain on drugs?” Well, now scientists have a way of showing us, “This is your brain on love.”

Ever wonder what your brain looks like after 20 years of marriage? The news is heartening. At least it is for some couples, who claim to remain “over the moon” about each other for decades past the honeymoon phase.

Researchers at Stony Brook University in New York compared the fMRI brain scans of people newly in love with those who claimed to still be in love after decades. Both groups—newly in love and long-term marrieds (married an average of 21 years) who claim to be still madly in love—showed activity in the dopamine-rich areas of the brain when they thought about or viewed images of their partner. The reward center part of the brains was very active; this is the same center that lights up for cocaine addicts when they use the drug.

Even more interesting is where the brain scans differed. The long-in-love brains showed no activity among areas commonly associated with anxiety and fear. “Individuals in long-term relationships may experience the excitement, sexual attraction, engagement, and intensity associated with romantic love, “ says study co-author Bianco Acevedo. “But they report pining, anxiety, intrusive thinking far less than individuals newly in love.”

Instead of activating the anxiety areas of the brain, the long-marrieds had more active brain areas that were associated with pleasure and pain relief. (I’ve shared other research that showed touch from a loved one can reduce one’s pain. Read Need a Pain Reliever? Try Love. ) These pleasure centers are the same areas that become active when we eat good food or use certain substances, such as morphine. The long-term lovers’ brains also showed more activity related to brain regions associated with maternal love.

The news may not be positive for some couples, says the study’s other co-author, Arthur Aron, who says some couples don’t want to hear that others have a steady, unyielding passion for one another. “Nobody wants to hear about couples doing better than they are. We all like to believe we’re the best.”

On the other hand, engaged and married couples, as well as marriage therapists, should understand that it is very possible for many couples to retain that passion, and not just be content companions. How can they do that? Aron’s other research suggests the most successful couples are the ones that help one another engage in self-expansion—something we discussed in the recent post Is the Happy Marriage the ‘Me’ Marriage? Aron also says couples who were still in love reported more frequent sex, adjusted for age.

See the Time Magazine article here that describes the study.

Do you think most married couples would show very different brain scans than the ones self-selected in the study as having the same passion as those newly in love? Where do you think research should tread next in this area?

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Improve Sexual Sparks with Better Body Image

“Keeping the Sparks Alive” Series Post 2

Couples face many obstacles to maintaining sexual compatibility and satisfaction. Some find the challenges too daunting and give up on this vital part of marriage, because they believe their spouse will never understand their needs and desires.

However, there are many resources that can help you each see things a little more as your partner does, giving you a glimpse at what it takes to improve your intimacy. Many obstacles seem out of your control, but in fact, you can do a lot to encourage your spouse. For example, if your spouse suffers from a poor body image, this can put a wet blanket on your sex lives.

It’s interesting that research shows most men have a very positive body image—even when they’ve gained a little weight over the years. Women, on the other hand, overwhelmingly obsess about every dimple and compare the shape of their hips and breasts to the world’s top supermodels. A constant barrage of media advertising “perfect” bodies and “how to achieve the perfect body” exacerbates the problem. The fact that many women bear children and have subsequent body changes is also a factor. However, the issue of negative body image can affect both men and women.

Case in point, Scott Means at Journey to Surrender did a terrific post recently on Shame and Intimacy in Physical Appearance. He writes about the shame he felt with his body image battle as he turned 50 and had gained some extra weight. It was the first time he had felt shame with regard to his appearance, and it impacted him every time he looked in the mirror. He didn’t want to undress in front of his wife, and he thought about it when they were intimate.

Scott concluded that his negative self-image was negatively impacting his marriage and suggested that individuals with self-image problems are less able to receive affection, may even doubt their spouse’s love, will be less bold sexually, and will have less interest in sex. In the worst cases, the person may give up on their appearance or lose interest in sex altogether.

I thought it was a brave post, because no one wants to admit they have insecurities. I also wanted to share it because we rarely hear this kind of honesty from men. On the other hand, I would bet the vast majority of female readers have a number of body-image issues with which they struggle.

Better Body Image

I know many of you have New Year’s resolutions to “get in shape” or “lose weight.” By all means, stick to your health plans as long as they are not obsessive. However, your size and shape should not determine how you value yourself and how you interact with the love of your life.

Why is it that some people who aren’t the best looking according to our cultural standards can feel great about their bodies, while others that look fabulous suffer from insecurities? The reason is that sex appeal and feeling sexy are 90% attitude and 10% appearance, according to Scott. He adds, “Confidence, a positive outlook and a healthy sense of self-worth can easily overshadow any perceived physical flaws you may have. Remind yourself about your best features and the things your spouse most admires. Choose to focus on these things. Believe in your inherent beauty as a person. Accept at face value the praises and admiration of your spouse …”

Dr. Patricia Love in Hot Monogamy reminds us that individuals report passion is much more important in a lover than a hot body. Lacking passion and interest in sex is a turn-off. Most spouses care much less about the shape of the body than about how their partner responds to them. Giving full attention, showing enjoyment, showing interest in sex—these are all things that heat things up and keep them hot.

Dr. Love suggests you give honest praise to your partner regularly about the things you like about their body, and about the things you value in them as a lover. These comments can substantially improve your partner’s body image and self-image as an intimate partner.

If your partner struggles with body image, please do not tell them they need to get in shape. Encourage healthy habits, but express your love and desire regardless. You may want to read my past post Loving a Woman’s Body. Also, Scott’s popular post The Body-Image Battle offers a Christian perspective on this issue to help men encourage their wives.

“If you want to fan the flames of sexual intimacy, think of yourself as the hot woman or man you want to be and act as if you are. You will be amazed at the difference it will make,” says Scott.

Do you believe body image—either by your or your spouse—affects the quality of your intimacy? Do you feel self-confident, or do you struggle with your feelings about your physical appearance? If you have overcome body-image problems, how did you do so? Are you open with your spouse about your struggles? Is your partner demeaning about your appearance? How do you handle it?

Sexy Links:

OK, since you’ve read this far, you’re not embarrassed to read discussions about sex. Which is good, because Julie Sibert doesn’t mince words in this article for The Generous Husband, Why Your Wife Thinks Sex is Gross. It might open your eyes about how sex can be more mutually enjoyable, messy and all. Julie’s blog, Intimacy in Marriage, “Encourages Christian women toward healthy sexual intimacy.”

Simple Marriage is now enrolling couples and individuals in the Blow Up My Marriage course. Check it out. Corey Allan, PhD, offers weekly online workshops that have a unique perspective.

Thanks to Paul Byerly of The Generous Husband for naming Marriage Gems a 2010 Hot Marriage Blog!

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Is the Happy Marriage the ‘Me’ Marriage?

New research suggests a happy marriage is more about focusing on “me” than “we.” I want to share the findings and see if you agree. The gist of the research is that while many couples stay together out of obligation or commitment, they may not find their marriages satisfying and enjoyable. To make the relationship meaningful, we have to grow and expand ourselves as a result of what we learn from our partner.

Arthur Aron, professor and director of the Interpersonal Relationships Laboratory at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and Gary W. Lewandowski Jr., a professor at Monmouth University in New Jersey, studied how people use their relationships to expand themselves by accumulating knowledge and experiences. The more self-expansion individuals experience from their partner, the more committed and satisfied they are, say researchers. They developed a questionnaire to measure self-expansion and satisfaction in relationships. For example, respondents chose higher ratings if their spouse introduced them to new experiences or taught them new things. Thus, the relationship was deemed more rewarding or satisfying.

The researchers say that focusing on improving ourselves may sound self-serving, but it enhances the relationship. Your partner becomes more important in your life as he or she helps you grow and learn, or even meet new people. By broadening our horizons, our spouse can help us broaden the way we look at ourselves, they say. Read Tara Parker-Pope’s summary of the research in the New York Times.

I’ve shared research in the past about how thinking in terms of “we” rather than “me” is beneficial to the marriage.  (Read The Power of “We” in Relationships. )There’s also a large consensus that says putting your spouse and marriage first is the way to find a lasting marriage. So, how do these apparently disparate results jibe with one another?

I don’t believe they are so disparate after all. When I heard one of the researchers describe the study during a TV interview, he said the basics of a relationship—love, commitment—are primary and need to be met first. Helping one another expand our horizons does improve our satisfaction levels. However, I don’t believe it means we should focus only on ourselves. If I’m only concerned with what I’m getting from my partner, and not what I am bringing to the relationship, I don’t believe it will be very satisfying, meaningful and sustainable. When both partners are eager to share new ideas, new friends, new experiences and knowledge, the relationship will become more exciting and rewarding. In fact, we’ve long known that trying new things together keeps the love hormones (oxytocin) flowing in our relationship.

Further research found couples who were involved in new and interesting experiences together were less likely to report boredom in the relationship, and they were more likely to see their lives as overlapping rather than separate. Dr. Lewandowsky says, “If your partner is helping you become a better person, you become happier and more satisfied in the relationship.”

The helpful part of the research is that it reminds us we need to maintain individual interests and individual growth, and that sharing our thoughts, feelings and experiences should be an important part of our lives as a couple. It’s important to retain our own identify and not lose ourselves while trying to meet another person’s every need. However, by focusing only on our own needs, I think we negate the purpose of marriage and reduce our opportunity for intimacy. It also may lead to the harmful conclusion that our partner is not “doing enough to make us happy.” Instead, we can ask ourselves what are we doing to make our own lives fulfilling and meaningful, and how are we sharing our lives more fully with our spouse.

How are you focusing on your own growth this year? How are you supporting your spouse in his or her efforts to grow and expand this year? How are you sharing your experiences in a meaningful way?

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