Tag Archives: better marriage

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.

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Resources for Couples Impacted by Infidelity

No one knows precisely how many couples are affected by marital infidelity. I have seen marital infidelity rates quoted from as low as 15 percent to as high as 80 percent. Peggy Vaughan, a marriage writer who experienced a cheating husband but later rebuilt her marriage, reported an estimated 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women have extramarital affairs.

The truth is that none of us is immune to the risk of an affair. Even people with “good marriages” have affairs for various reasons. We can, however, prepare ourselves with education and tools to help strengthen our marriages and reduce the likelihood of cheating. And we should know that there can be healing after infidelity, even though the road is not an easy one.

Peggy recently passed away after battling cancer. As her legacy, she asked that her resources to help couples deal with and heal after infidelity be available free to the public. She shares her personal story as well as articles on who has affairs and why, tips to avoid them and information on rebuilding trust. The information can be found at DearPeggy.com.

Peggy calls honesty a prevention tool for affairs. “Couples can’t avoid affairs by assuming monogamy or even by promising monogamy without discussing the issue. And they can’t avoid affairs by making threats as to what they would do if it happened. Either of these paths create a cycle of dishonesty.” Instead, she suggests spouses be willing to admit attractions and temptations to one another, because if they won’t admit to being attracted or tempted, they certainly won’t admit it if and when they act on the attraction. And if you admit to an attraction, it kind of takes the secret excitement out of your feelings.

If you do have an attraction, by all means, don’t place yourself in tempting situations, especially when you are alone with that person. Don’t share personal details or try to get to know them better. Better yet, run.

Hopefully you have not experienced infidelity first-hand. If you have, maybe these resources can help your marriage heal. If you have not, give thanks, then educate yourself about keeping your marriage strong and infused with honesty and behaviors that benefit you both.

It’s a myth that your spouse won’t be hurt if you cheat on him or her but you are not caught. There’s you, your spouse, and the marriage. And the marriage always knows.

Have you experienced infidelity? Did your marriage survive? If so, what tools were useful to you?

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 atwww.LoriDLowe.com.  Great for holiday stocking stuffers! 

Image by Simon Howden courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Why Arguments Spiral Out of Control in Relationships

When you are in the heat of an argument, your brain seems to be fixed on “hot,” doesn’t it? It’s not just you.

Your brain clusters memory by emotions, explained a recent article by SmartRelationships.org. What this means is that when we are sad, all we can recall at that moment are sad memories. When we are angry, we can only recall moments when we were angry. When we are happy, we recall only happy memories. “This explains why arguments can so easily descend into a long list of past offenses.”

You’ve been there, right? During the disagreement, you can’t remember all the good reasons you married your spouse. You can’t access your positive feelings. This is why saddle bagging (bringing up old hurts and conflicts) is so common. You suddenly have access to all these negative memories that were hidden to you before the argument.

What can you do to counter this tendency? Waiting a little while to allow yourself to gain perspective can help you return to a happier place where you can access positive memories again.

This concept of memory clustering is a relatively new concept for me, and one I think we would do well to remember ourselves and to educate others about when they are in conflict, especially older kids and teens. “Let them know that when it seems like the end of the world, it’s only the brain being unable to access memories from a different emotional state,” according to SmartRelationships.org.

What this has to do with is developing resilience and emotional intelligence in your marriage. Sometimes you have to “unstick” your mind by focusing on something else, or by being willing to step away until you are calm. You can help increase resilience in your marriage by offering care and support and by developing a better ability to manage strong feelings and impulses.  You can only control your own reactions and behavior.

Remember that if you both didn’t care so much you wouldn’t be as upset as you are about your differences. After calming down, take time to listen and focus on effective communication (not just getting your point across). Focus on your goal of working through the issue toward better understanding for the future, rather than focusing on “winning” the argument.

What goes through your mind during the heat of an argument? Is this issue of memory clustering harder for you or your spouse to get past?

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.

Photo courtesy of Liz Noffsinger/Freedigitalphotos.net.

12 Great Communication Tips from Ronald Reagan to use in Your Marriage

With the U.S. Presidential election only days away, and both parties not shy about bringing up their fondness for Ronald Reagan, it seemed an appropriate time to talk about The Great Communicator. Thankfully, this post has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with marriage.

As we’ve turned the corner into November with the holidays fast approaching, I wanted to share a bit about the treasure that former President Reagan left not to our nation, but to his wife, Nancy. She kept a huge collection of personal love letters that he wrote her over the years of their marriage. She’s shared many artifacts with his national library and along with telling their story, shares many letters in the book “I Love You, Ronnie.”

Ronnie, as she affectionately called him, wore his heart on his sleeve where Nancy was concerned, and wrote almost daily affirmations to her wherever he was. His heartfelt notes are a lasting legacy, especially to his wife. They were a reminder of his love after Alzheimer’s disease prevented him from communicating it as he so eloquently did, and of course are a great remembrance for her after his death in 2004.

In our throwaway era of fast communication, Nancy says it’s “all too easy never to find the time to write letters,” calling this a great pity. She decided to share his letters to allow others to see how wonderful it can be to express what you feel to those you love.

So here are some ideas and excerpts to inspire you. This season, don’t think of the daunting task of writing one perfect love letter. Instead, select at least three different days this season where you write in a card or jot a note, or attach a letter to a gift, expressing love to your spouse.  Here are some techniques he frequently used:

  1. Sometimes he used silly pet names like Nancy Poo, Nancy Pants, Mommie or Career Girl, and other times he used formal names like First Lady or Mrs. Reagan. He signed them also with personal nicknames (Pauvre Petite Papa) or more formal names (The Guv, Mr. President). But he seemed to always view these terms with endearment and a twinkle in his eye. For example, on leaving the Governor’s office, he said, “’Lame duck’ or ‘ex’ you are still my first lady—now more than ever.” Tip: Use personal terms that will make your spouse smile.
  2. He varied the length and format of his letters from writing a note in a greeting card (which he frequently gave) to scribbling a note with a doodle or writing a long note on White House stationery. He often used hotel stationery, and there are examples from The Plaza Hotel in New York to Plankington House in Milwaukee. Tip: As you look back, writing on a postcard or hotel letterhead can convey the memories from trips or places you lived.
  3. His notes were nearly all hand written, except when sent by telegram. Texts and emails written with heart are certainly welcome today, but try to make the three special notes for this season hand written. Tip: Even if your handwriting is messy, write your special notes by hand.
  4. Some letters included literary references. For example, “Browning I’m not, but believe me I do love you to the breadth and depth of all my being…” You might think it sounds cheesy, but I bet Nancy liked it. I was more impressed by his reference to Anne of Green Gables, although he misspelled her name. “Just think:  I’ve discovered I can be fond of Ann Blyth because she and her Dr. seem to have found something of what we have.” Tip: Use songs or books or movies that mean something to the two of you, especially if you have a hard time coming up with romantic language on your own.
  5. He sometimes included a gift, and often included a funny note or explanation. Tip: It can be a small treat or something more extravagant, but a gift accompanied by a note is always fun.
  6. He sometimes included personal memories or stories of their early days.  Tip: Sharing personal memories helps bring back the memories and feelings of those passionate days.
  7. He was constantly telling Nancy how much he loved her, adored her, missed her, and needed her. Do you think she ever got tired of it? Here’s one example: “I’ve always loved and missed you, but never has it been such an actual ache…I’m all hollow without you.” Tip: Don’t be afraid to share your feelings. Work hard to express your love.
  8. He never missed a special note for Valentine’s Day, anniversary, Christmas, birthdays, Mother’s Day, etc. He sometimes treated ordinary days like a holiday, and holidays like an every day. For example, on their March anniversary in 1963, he wrote, “This is really just an ‘in between’ day. It is a day on which I love you 365 days more than I did a year ago and 365 days less than I will a year from now. But I wonder how I lived at all for all the 365s before I met you. All my love, Your Husband.” Tip: Any day is a great day to give a note. Try to take a little extra care on special days.
  9. He used a letter to make up at least once, although Nancy says they rarely argued. And after reading it, I don’t know many women who could stay mad. Here’s an excerpt:

“A few days ago you told me I was angry with you. I tried to explain I was frustrated with myself. But later on I realized that my frustration might have been a touch of self-pity, because I’d been going around feeling that you are frequently angry with me. No more. We are so much ‘one’ that you are as vital to me as my own heart—with one exception; you could never be replaced with a transplant. Whatever I treasure and enjoy—this home, our ranch, the sight of the sea—all would be without meaning if I didn’t have you. I live in a permanent Christmas because God gave me you.”

    Tip: Sometimes saying I’m sorry in a letter allows your  apology to sink  in. And the other words of love and affirmation can’t hurt.

  1. He often shared with her his daily frustrations of work or being separated, just daily details and things that upset him. Tip: Sharing these frustrations and letting your spouse into your life and thoughts can help keep you feeling close.
  2. He sometimes played with words or used analogies. He referred to their wedding day as the day he received a heart transplant. And he often expressed surprise at how the happy years have flown by. “Others would have you believe we’ve been married 20 years. 20 minutes maybe—but never 20 years. It is a known fact that a human cannot sustain the high level of happiness I feel for more than a few minutes—and my happiness keeps on increasing.” Tip: Use language in different ways, or use a play on words.
  3. He knew best how to keep it simple. One favorite letter on White House stationery Nancy kept framed for many years over her desk read:

I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
And besides that–
I love you.

Instead of roaming the malls for the perfect gift, spend a little time remembering the days when you first fell in love. Share your feelings from the early days and from today.  Repeat regularly.

What tips do you think you will use for your next love letter?

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.

Photo source: Ronald Reagan Library

Book Source: I Love You, Ronnie:  The Letters of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan

When a Self-Centered Marriage Isn’t a Bad Thing

When I began to review the book The Self-Centered Marriage by Hal Edward Runkel, LMFT, I will admit to being turned off by the title. What could be worse marriage advice than to be self-centered? I think the author was attempting to provoke the reader into questioning commonly held preconceptions. Also, there’s a big difference between being self-centered in a negative way, and being focused on your own actions and reactions as a way to contribute to a better relationship. Thankfully, the latter seemed to be the intention of the book.

I won’t say I agreed with everything in the book, however. Runkel says the best thing you can do for your marriage is to become more self-centered, learning to focus less on your spouse and more on yourself…for the benefit of you both. However, there are some people I know—often myself included—who need to look outside their personal worlds a little more often. I believe some balance is needed here. However, I do agree with the author that by focusing on understanding yourself well, you can pursue your partner with your truest self.

Questioning commonly held misconceptions about marriage can be valuable, and realizing that you can’t change your partner, just your response to your partner, is also a useful insight. Another misconception Renkel shares is that a strong couple relies on common interests and compatibility. Not true, he says, as this is a foundation for a superficial friendship, whereas “reliance on personal integrity in the midst of constant change is the foundation for a deep, lasting marriage.” This is an excellent point, and one that couples would do well to remember when they feel they are drifting apart or losing touch. Integrity and commitment are much more critical than shared interests at a particular moment in time.

One more misconception is that conflict in a marriage is bad. I agree with the author that “in-your-face conflict is a better path to true intimacy than cold avoidance.” The key in conflict is to learn to keep your cool. Being emotionally reactive and immature doesn’t allow a positive outcome to the conflict. When we are angry and fearful, adrenaline flows. The blood supply to the problem-solving part of the brain is greatly reduced. Memory, concentration and rational thought are reduced. Runkel explains how to live with the “ScreamFree Approach” and pursue your deepest desires. Staying calm and connected can help you curtail arguments, identify and change dysfunctional patterns and improve your relationship.

One of the points I’ve written about frequently is that we can’t expect our spouse to “make us happy” and meet every need. Runkel tried to make this point by explaining that being self-focused rather than other-focused means you don’t expect your spouse to fulfill you and make you happy. Instead, he says each person must take full responsibility for his/her emotional needs. “It’s not your spouse’s job to validate you, to make you feel secure enough, sexy enough, respected enough, or loved enough for you to return the favor.”

That sounds controversial to me, and I question whether we aren’t there to help one another, particularly if we see there is a blind spot or self-esteem concern. However, he does speak of the need to serve one another, which I believe can and should include praising and verbalizing love and respect as well as desire for one another. It also includes acting in a generous way that you know will please your partner.

I’ll share more on this book and the need to focus on the self within marriage in tomorrow’s post.

What do you think? Does being more self-focused or self-centered help or hinder you in your marriage?

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.

Photo by Ambro courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Happy Marriages for those with Chronic Illness

If you or a friend are married and struggling with a chronic illness, today’s post is for you. The Christian Marriage Bloggers Association recently featured a new blogger, Helena, with the Chronic Marriage Blog. Helena is a counselor and also lives with Muscular Dystrophy. She shared this post, Beyond the Fairy Tale with advice for all those married couples in which one of the spouses has a chronic illness. She shares the statistic that sadly the divorce rate exceeds 75 percent for those with a chronic illness.

Having a close friend with MS, and having interviewed couples with depression and other long-term illnesses, I can see the challenges it can bring to the marriage. Helena’s advice is right on target. I have also been blessed to see how some couples handle these difficulties with grace and love and are positive examples of marriage. For instance, in my book First Kiss to Lasting Bliss, I wrote about a young wife whose husband experienced a brain injury after a bike accident. He was left with physical impairments and an inability to communicate in the same manner. Yet, his mind was still astute, and his love for her never waned.  While her challenges have been intense (read Challenges for Spousal Caregivers), she says it has made their marriage more extraordinary.

Even those without a chronic illness will likely go through at least a period of illness at some point during their marriage. This may include recovering from pregnancy or the common flu. Or they may include cancer treatments, joint replacements or other times in our lives when we must rely on others for care. It is during these rough days, months or years when our character as a spouse is known, and the depth of our love and commitment is shown.

Check out the CMBA blog and the Chronic Marriage blog for some great tips.

Lori Lowe is the founder of Marriage Gems and 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.

Note: I just saw that Amazon has First Kiss to Lasting Bliss currently discounted at $13.95 for a hard copy and $8.19 for the Kindle edition!

Independence and Marriage are Not Opposites

A few years ago I met a couple married more than 50 years and asked them the secret to their happy union. “He goes his way, and I go mine,” was their response.  They were not saying that all their time was spent apart, but rather that they each have their “own time” and aren’t dependent on continual togetherness for their happiness. It’s not the only time I’ve heard a variation of that response. “We each have our own interests,” is another common answer.

Some couples, particularly newlyweds, might question that advice and think they do want to spend all their time together; isn’t that why they got married?  Other couples spend their workdays, weekends, and even their vacations apart. Who is right? Multiple marriage expert advice from which I have read says it can strengthen the relationship to have individual interests and activities. Each person needs to be able to stand on his or her own two feet and not be dependent on another for their happiness. However, leading separate lives or being dishonest about how your time apart is spent can be a recipe for divorce.

When one partner feels smothered or simply needs time apart, he or she might be afraid to say so.  This New York Times article titled “Needs Space in a Relationship? Just Don’t Say It That Way” sheds light on the topic with some solid advice. As you might guess with the article topic, columnist Elizabeth Bernstein says the phrase “I need space” sends confusing signals. Instead, she recommends saying something like, “I need the afternoon to myself.” What if your spouse is upset but this revelation? Explain how this time helps you recharge or makes you feel at peace. If your spouse is worried or jealous about small amounts of time apart, then you may have serious trust issues that need attention.

I remember when my children were very young I especially craved alone time. Even an hour at the mall or soaking in my own tub for 30 minutes alone were divine gifts that allowed me to relax and think straight again. My husband was smart enough to know, even when I didn’t ask for it, that I needed a break to recharge. Other people regularly have Girls’ Night Out or guys’ fishing trips based on the same idea.  The important point is not to make these things more important than family demands, and not to take it to the extreme that they are impeding on your family or couple time.

Many of my friends are pilot’s wives (as am I) and suggest that the space apart during trips doesn’t strain their relationships as many people believe.  “Distance makes the heart grow fonder,” they say. And having a break from the routine can be refreshing. We learn to have a network of friends and activities apart from our husbands that makes us independent.  Do things that interest you, and you become more interesting to be with, more attractive to your mate. And when your spouse can join you, great! Celebrate your time together as well.

In fact, I would hasten to add that more couples probably need to be concerned about adding in fun time as a couple into their calendar first. But don’t be afraid to schedule time with friends (doing things your spouse approves of) or time alone to help you feel grounded and give yourself time to think. Isn’t it easier to feel in love and happy when you’ve given yourself what you need, instead of building up resentment because you never have time to yourself?

Other tips from WSJ’s Bernstein:

  1. Enjoy the time to yourself without guilt or it defeats the purpose. (Moms of young children, re-read that.)
  2. No secrets. Tell your spouse what you did and with whom. This is critical to maintaining trust.
  3. Don’t take this space idea too far; too much space can weaken your marital connection.
  4. Schedule time together and as a family so that your partner feels they are a priority to you.

How do you strike a balance with togetherness and time apart? Do you find time apart strengthens or weakens your marriage bond?

Lori Lowe is the founder of Marriage Gems and 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.

Photo by Ambro courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.