Category Archives: Research

Invest in experiences, not more stuff

They like signposts at Rum Point!

Find your next adventure.

Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, birthdays and other gift-giving holidays often have us wondering, “What would our spouse most want to receive?” At least within our budget. Sadly, most of us can’t recall the vast majority of gifts we have given or received. Ads bombard us with the message that the more we buy, the happier we will be. But there’s a better way. Research shows that spending on experiences rather than on things brings the most happiness.

The gift of travel is a great way to make lasting memories. My memories of fancy dinners in expensive restaurants pale in comparison to a long-ago simple Parisian picnic with my husband featuring baguettes, cheese and wine. Beach memories are another favorite. Having toes in the sand seems to lower stress levels and increase playfulness. I smile when I think of our beach rental houses with kids and not much on the agenda. Although it was more than 20 years ago, lounging in a hammock in Hawaii is the image I conjure when I need to relax.

Many people think they can’t afford to travel. Yet they spend hundreds of dollars each holiday on gifts that are soon forgotten. Many airlines offer credit cards that allow you to gain frequent flyer miles for spending a minimum amount. We have used them to take two overseas adventures for four people. Adventures can also be found much closer to home, such as in state parks where lodging and camping are very reasonable.

Travel allows us to try new things together—food, cultures, activities, adventures. Experiencing new things has been shown in research to be good for keeping our marriages strong.Whether your idea of fun is a pub crawl or foodie tour, learning to surf, reading a new book together, or taking dance classes, find something you’re willing to try.

Things don’t always go as planned when traveling, but these hiccups create challenges we can overcome together and become part of the memories we can laugh at later, like the very “rustic” lodge we stayed in while white water rafting with friends, or the seafood beach picnic that attracted hundreds of seagulls. Vacations (with kids or as a couple) allow us to have large chunks of time to focus on one another and away from our many screens and devices. Travel helps us experience nature in new ways and relax our minds and bodies away from the daily stresses of life.

Planning a trip takes time and effort, but from looking forward to the trip to the positive memories left behind, it’s worth the effort and creates more lasting happiness than buying more things. Forbes magazine suggests investing in experiences, such as dining out, a trip to the spa, or buying things for other people are a better investment in long-term happiness than buying things for ourselves.  Going to a concert instead of buying a new outfit, or choosing to rent a boat instead of buying one are examples of investing well in experiences.

“Nine times out of 10 you’re much better spending money on experiences and other people than on yourself. You’re much more likely to have genuine, fulfilling happiness as a result.”–Forbes contributor Ilya Pozin

What are the trips or experiences do you remember most with your spouse? What is your favorite travel memory?

This bracelet helps me remember my trip to Maui with sand from the Hawaiian island!
bracelet

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 20 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.

Can a math formula offer secret to lasting love?

I’m a “word person” more than a “math person”, so I was surprised that a mathematical formula can help us be successful in love.

The brains behind the formula is mathematician Dr. Hannah Fry who works at the UCL Center for Advanced Spacial Analysis in London. She used her unique expertise to explain in a TED Talk and book of the same name “The Mathematics of Love.” In short, Fry explains that the best predictor of long-lasting relationships is the level of positive and negative experiences with one another. She analyzed data from psychologist marriage expert John Gottman, who observed couples for many years in conversations with their partners.

As many of us know through our own experiences, happier couples have more positive interactions with one another. Couples who are less happy and at higher risk of breakup have fewer positive interactions. But there’s more to it. One of the reasons how they deal with negative situations is important is that couples with lots of positivity give one another the benefit of the doubt when their partner is negative. They dismiss a negative comment or action as unusual and may attribute it to fatigue or stress at work. Those in more negative relationships tend to do the reverse. A negative comment is considered “typical” or “normal” and the actions are attributed to the person. For example, a grumpy comment may reinforce the thought that the partner is selfish or unkind. The negativity then can spiral downward.

We may not realize our daily reactions and interactions with our spouse can influence our relationship so much. A spouse who agrees or encourages in response to a comment is likely to receive a positive response back. A spouse who interrupts, dismisses or ignores is likely to receive a negative response back, and perhaps start a spiral down to more frustration or anger. One of the largest predictors of divorce was therefore related to positive or negative reactions, with more positive couples having a low risk of divorce and more negative couples having a high risk of divorce.

The surprising twist is that Fry surmised that the best relationships would have a “high negativity threshold” bringing up issues only if they were very important. The opposite was true. “The most successful relationships are the ones with really low negativity threshold,” Fry writes. They constantly repair the tiny issues between them, not allowing any to grow and fester. So while they have more positive interactions, they are not afraid to have a negative interaction if it means repairing part of the relationship that needs to be fixed. Perhaps they have a more positive or gentler way of addressing those issues if positivity is their more frequent pattern.

Fry’s formula also factors in the wife’s or husband’s mood when alone and with their spouse. If you want the formula and its explanation, check out her Ted Talk. It’s in the last third of the talk, following math tips for online dating and how to pick the perfect partner. Incidentally, she says the formula works the same for two spouses as it does for two countries in an arms race.

How Does Media Use Affect Your Marriage?

LADY HOLDING PHONE morguefile
Does gaming or social media use affect marriage satisfaction? Sometimes.

A study by Utah State University researchers assessed how social media, television watching and gaming affects marital conflict, perceived instability and marital satisfaction. Researchers Jeffrey Dew and Sarah Tulane surveyed 3,455 people for this study. There were some interesting gender differences and similarities depending on which area of media was studied. TV use did not appear to have much of an effect of marriage quality. However, they found some interesting correlations with social media and gaming.

Social Media

They found wives often used social media more than their husbands, but that this difference didn’t correlate with more marital dissatisfaction. However, when husbands spent more time on social networking than their wives, they and their wives were more likely to report marital conflict.

The researchers surmised that husbands who perceived their marriage to be unstable might have been using social media to strengthen other relationships or develop new relationships (including romantic ones).

Gaming

When both partners spent the same amount of time gaming, it did not appear to affect marriage quality. However, if either the wife or the husband spent more time playing, this was associated with higher conflict, lower satisfaction and higher perceived instability for their marriage. Researchers were surprised there were not more gender differences with gaming.

Bottom Line

The researchers warn that it is difficult to draw clear cause-and-effect conclusions from their data, but they advise talking to your spouse about expectations as a couple, including how much media use is acceptable for you both.

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 20 years. She 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, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.

New Research Reveals How Porn Affects Relationships

man on computer2 morguefile

Couples who believe that viewing pornography is morally acceptable, and who have even heard experts say limited porn use can be “fine” may now be interested in research showing how porn use negatively affects intimate relationships. The research is causing experts to change their recommendations and advise couples (and individuals) that pornography is harmful.

Laissez-fair attitudes about porn are changing, and some heavy hitters have recently voiced their concerns with how widespread porn use has affected modern culture. Following are a few summaries of these changing views and a brief explanation of what experts are learning about what they call “arousal addiction.”

Time Magazine’s April 2016 cover story “Porn and the Threat to Virility” is one mainstream example of how a culture that used to be accepting of porn use is now highlighting how its use can be harmful. Men who grew up using porn as teens have started a movement to expose the harm it has caused in their lives, starting with decreased virility and libido.

For a fairly entertaining explanation of the brain changes that occur with porn viewing, view this TED Talk by Gary Wilson called “The great porn experiment. Wilson explains the physical changes that occur in the brain with porn viewing and how they lead to “arousal addiction.” He also shares experiences from the new control group of men who have become ex-users as a result of widespread erectile dysfunction, depression, social anxiety and memory/focus problems that disappeared once they gave up porn. Pornography use can be more detrimental to teens because of the increased plasticity of their brains, says Wilson. In fact, older men improve their symptoms faster than younger men, but both of them can reverse the negative effects and often feel a “rebirth” after giving up porn, Wilson says.

Relationship experts Drs. John and Julie Gottman released an “Open Letter on Porn” in April that changes their stance on the acceptability of porn use. “Research on the effects of pornography use, especially one person viewing pornographic images online, shows that pornography can hurt a couple’s relationship,” say the Gottmans. Research suggests pornography can be a “supernormal stimulus” that causes interest to decrease in their normal sexual partner.

“Pornography poses a serious threat to couple intimacy and relationship harmony,” the Gottmans conclude. Read their letter for further details; I will merely highlight a few points they make here:

  1. Use of pornography by one partner leads the couple to have far less sex and ultimately reduces relationship satisfaction.
  2. Porn use threatens a relationship’s intimacy by causing the partner using it to turn away from intimate interaction with their partner.
  3. Because the person watching porn is in total control of his or her sexual experience, that person may form the unrealistic expectation that sex with their partner will also be totally under their control.
  4. Porn sites often include violence toward women and perpetuate ideas that violence is acceptable.
  5. Porn use can become an addiction causing the same brain mechanism changes that occur with other addictions, such as gambling or drug use.
  6. Porn use can lead to a decrease in relationship trust and an increase in affairs.

In other (not as recent) research, a Journal of Neurosurgery and Neurosciences (Surgical Neurology International) published an article entitled “Pornography addiction: A neuroscience perspective” by Donald Hilton and Clark Watts, who outline the chemical changes and anatomical changes that occur in the brain with various types of addictions, including addiction to pornography use. They studied the physical changes that occur with porn use as compared with eating addictions, cocaine and opioid addiction, and others.

Some conclusions made in this scientific paper:

“In 2006 world pornography revenue was 97 billion dollars, more than Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Apple and Netflix combined. This is no casual, inconsequential phenomenon, yet there is a tendency to trivialize the possible social and biologic effects of pornography. The sex industry has successfully characterized any objection to pornography as being from the religious/moral perspective; they then dismiss these objections and First Amendment infringements. If pornography addiction is viewed objectively, evidence indicates that it does indeed cause harm in humans with regard to pair bonding.”

As with the conclusions by the Gottmans, Hilton and Watts also express concern that data demonstrates a strong correlation with regard to pornography inducing violent attitudes against women. They say it is irresponsible not to address this issue considering the current patterns of porn use. (In 2001 87% of college age men viewed porn, 50% weekly and 20% every day or two, 31% women viewing as well.)

The bottom line is that experts are now realizing porn use interferes with healthy intimacy between partners, changes the brain chemistry, negatively affects sexual performance, and can negatively affect performance in other areas of life.

Does this research change your views on pornography?

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 20 years. She 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, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.

Spouses need to feel their partner “gets” them

couple talking morguefileWhen having a fight, couples who can still see where their partner is coming from bounce back better after the fight, and view the fight as a “healthy one.” Bottom line:  we need to feel that our partner “gets us” even when we are not in agreement.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, conducted experiments with 85 people in relationships and studied the couples’ arguments, as well as how happy they were in the relationship and whether they felt their partner understood them. When couples did not feel understood by their partner, they felt less satisfied with the relationship after a fight, and visa versa.

But partners didn’t have to be completely understood, they had to feel understood. The key was whether their partner expressed empathy with their position.

To say it differently, whether you agree or not isn’t the issue. Expressing empathy and understanding is. If you want your partner to feel happy with your relationship, it’s important to convey that you still appreciate your partner and where they are coming from, regardless of whether you agree.

“Feeling understood, regardless of whether it’s grounded in reality, can be enormously good for general well-being,” said researcher Serena Chen. “Conveying that you understand but don’t agree can go a long way. We know this, but we don’t often do it.”

Expressing empathy is not pretending to agree. Instead, partners who vocalize empathy are bridging the divide, avoiding accusatory “you” statements, and helping the other person feel their views are valued.

“I get you,” is the message we need to convey, even in a fight.

Next time you disagree on politics, chores, or anything else, see if you can take the time to let you partner know you hear what they are saying, and that you “get” them.

 

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 20 years. She 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, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.

Longest study of human development shows what men need to live happy lives

oldtime photo morguefile2If you want to be happy for the rest of your life … Harvard has the answers, at least for men.

Harvard University conducted the longest-running longitudinal study of human development, beginning in 1938 with 268 male undergraduates. Researchers studied an enormous range of psychological, physical and lifestyle traits of  over a 75-year period—everything from IQ to drinking habits, marriages and much more. The men are now in their 90s and have provided intriguing data over the decades.

George Vaillant, who directed the study for more than 30 years, published his findings in the book Triumphs of Experience. The factor Vaillant discovered was most critical, and which he refers to most often, is “the powerful correlation between the warmth of your relationships and health and happiness in later years.”

The quality of relationships and the capacity to form intimate relationships was far more important to wellbeing than dozens of factors, including body type, birth order, social class, or income, the latter of which often receives a vast amount more of our attention in life.

The most important finding from study, according to Vaillant, is this …  “The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the Grant Study points to a straightforward five-word conclusion:  Happiness is love. Full stop.

Researchers returned to these particular findings from 2009 to 2013 to ensure this importance on relationships was warranted. In further study, Vaillant not only confirmed it, but placed even more importance on warm relationships than previously.

What other factors were important for men to live a happy life?

  1. Alcoholism was found to be the single strongest cause of divorce between the study men and their wives. Alcoholism was also found to be strongly associated with neurosis and depression. Combined with cigarette smoking, alcoholism was the number-one cause of death.
  2. In addition to being linked with improved wellbeing, warm relationships affected income. The 58 men who scored the highest on measurements of warm relationships earned an average of $140,000 a year more during their peak salary years (ages 55 to 60) than the 31 men who scored lowest on this factor.
  3. Memories of a happy childhood were a source of lifelong strength. However, recovery from negative childhoods can and did occur. One loving friend, mentor or relative can have a powerful effect to negate the effects of a difficult childhood.
  4. The men’s relationships with their mothers was significant to their long-term wellbeing. Men with warm childhood relationships with their mother earned more and were more effective at work later in their professional lives. Men with poor childhood maternal relationships were more likely to suffer from dementia in old age.
  5. Men who had warm childhood relationships with their father were associated with lower rates of adult anxiety, greater enjoyment on vacations, and increased life satisfaction at age 75.
  6. The men who did well in old age didn’t necessarily do so well in midlife, and the reverse was also true.
  7. Marriages brought much more contentment after age 70.
  8. How the study participants aged after age 80 was determined much more by habits formed before age 50 than by heredity. (Your habits determine how you age more than your genetics do.)
  9. Persistence, discipline and dependability, combined with capacity for intimacy was a winning combination for happy lives.

The welcome news for old age is that our lives continue to evolve in our later years, and often become more fulfilling than before. If you’d like more details from the study, you can find Triumphs of Experience on Amazon.

Source: “75 Years in the Making

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 20 years. She 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, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.

Ultimate Intimacy? Money Talk

money morguefileFinancial experts say some American couples resist financial discussions. They say couples who avoid money talk are avoiding the ultimate form of intimacy. Open financial communication is one way couples can prevent conflict or resentment over finances.

American men and women polled by TD Bank view marital finances differently, with more men calling themselves “breadwinners” and more women viewing the family’s money as “ours” (54%), compared to 48% of men saying the same.

One in three people committed financial infidelity last year, and 40% don’t know how much their partner earned—according to other recent studies.

Talking honestly, early, and regularly about finances helps prevent divisions, say experts, as well as using a joint account for joint expenses.

Who pays the bills, invests the money, and makes the financial goals in your home? Are you both up to date on accounts, debts and activities?

I’ve found using a third party financial expert to review and regularly update finances helps us both stay informed. It also keeps one spouse from having most of the financial responsibility for key decisions on financial planning or investing. We feel strongly that both spouses should be financially prepared and informed–including insurance accounts, bank accounts, etc. Check your beneficiaries to be sure there are no surprises in the event of death or disability.

What’s your strategy for financial transparency in your marriage? Do you need to schedule a money talk?

Source: USA Today

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 19 years. She 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, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.