Tag Archives: children

Marriage 101: Is It Teachable?

When I was a 24-year-old bride, I thought my husband should know when I was upset, should apologize when he was wrong and should agree with me when I pointed out why I was right. Ah, young love. The stuff of storybook romances.

The fact is many of us have unrealistic expectations of marriage at the outset. Diane Sollee, who coined the phrase “marriage education” says while people are given instructions on how to court, get engaged and get married, how to have a great honeymoon and get through pregnancy, people are not often educated about what to expect in a normal, good marriage. She founded the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education in 1995, because she believed there was a fundamental understanding in society of the importance of a complete, biological, intact family.

One common misconception is that there are compatible and incompatible couples. When the industry moved from studying failing marriages to studying successful marriages in the 1980s, they learned there is no compatible couple. “All couples disagree the same amount. Couples have to manage money, children, sex, others and time, and they will disagree about those,” said Sollee in an Examiner.com article. Experts now teach how to effectively manage (not “resolve) conflict, which is found in every marriage.

Sollee’s organization provides an educational web site to provide information helpful to maintaining long, happy marriages. It’s part of the Utah Marriage Initiative launched to help make marriages stronger. Educational articles help fill in the blanks when family role models or personal experience aren’t perfect, or for people who want their marriages to be better than average.

Does is surprise you that Utah has a state-wide initiative? It shouldn’t. Our nation is working at the Federal level to promote two-parent families and discourage out-of-wedlock births, and the government and is measuring states’ performances and linking welfare funds to those objectives. In 1999, Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating launched the nation’s largest marriage initiative to cut that state’s high divorce and out-of-wedlock birth rates. It appears their motivation was at least partly financial, as it followed a 1998 report that showed the state’s economy was suffering as a result of high family breakdown and increasing poverty levels. Utah was spending $276 million per year on unwed childbirth and family fragmentation prior to its initiative.

Religious, professional and political groups are all mobilizing toward the same goal of preventing family breakdown as detailed in this article. Their motivations may be moral, financial, political or seeking to improve the welfare of our nation’s families. All of them have to return to the basics, because the two questions to which many in our society don’t know the answers (especially those who grew up in fragmented families), are “Why should we value marriage?” and, “How can we create a long-term, happy marriage?”

Probably the most compelling answer to the first question for couples who plan to have children is the overwhelming evidence that children do better in all respects when they are raised in an intact family. Research also shows society as a whole benefits when divorce rates and out-of-wedlock rates decline. Marriage and family experts are trying to educate the public to help them answer the second question, but the overall conclusion is that couples can learn how to have more fulfilling, happier marriages if they work at it and have realistic expectations.

Thankfully, I’ve learned from quite a few mistakes during the last nearly 15 years of marriage. Do you think you can learn to be a better spouse, or is marriage unteachable? What can we teach the next generation to help build stronger families?

Is Your Family Seeking Pleasure, Happiness or Joy?

What do you want most for your children? Really think about it for a minute…(Are you thinking?) I’ve heard a lot of parents say what they really want more than anything is for their children to be happy. To that response, I ask, really? Is the pursuit of personal happiness really the best and highest calling for your child? What are you seeking for yourself—pleasure, happiness, maybe joy? What do these even mean?

Of course I don’t want my children to be unhappy, but to be honest, sometimes a little unhappiness is necessary for them to understand a lesson and to grow as people. The same goes for me, unfortunately. I don’t think we should expect to be happy all the time. Stress, illness and death are part of life. Work and sacrifice can be good qualities, but aren’t particularly pleasant. If we teach our children to pursue only happiness, why would they want to help others when it is inconvenient? Why would they strive to impact the world in a positive fashion? That just takes their focus off of their goal of happiness.

Interestingly, the happiest couples I have interviewed have been the ones who are truly seeking to make their spouse happy before themselves. It’s a cycle and a process that continues to reward each of them.

Pleasure is often a good thing—enjoying the scent of the flowering trees as you drive by, tasting the grilled salmon that you craved for dinner, touching your spouse or children lovingly, hearing the sound of the birds outside your kitchen window. Opening our senses to feel and truly experience pleasure is wonderful.

Pleasure can also be very self-serving. A popular web site (whose name I won’t promote) calls itself “the world’s premier discreet dating service” and has a trademarked tag line: “Life is short. Have an affair.” They promise, “Join free, and change your life today. Guaranteed!” Yes, your life will be changed, but not for the better. Their invitation to “Sleep with someone else’s wife tonight,” may entice those whose ultimate goal is personal pleasure. But will these exclusive members experience happiness or joy?

In Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis, describes joy as a “technical term that must be sharply distinguished from both Happiness and Pleasure.” He says, “The only thing Joy has in common with the others is that anyone who has experienced it will want it again.” Where Joy differs, he continues, is that anyone who has tasted joy would never exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. “But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.” Yes, there’s the rub, joy we have to wait for, and pleasure (and even happiness to some extent) we can go in search of.

Joy, I think, is a much deeper satisfaction, bliss, the opposite of misery and regret, a connection to the divine. It’s not really within our power, but I think it can result from a multitude of right choices, even of self-sacrifice and love for others. It seems sort of counter-intuitive that by not prioritizing your own pleasure, you can achieve a deeper enjoyment, but I think it’s true. That’s not to say pleasure can’t still be a part of your life, but there are higher priorities.

In your marriage, in your financial decisions, in how you raise and instruct your children, what do you think is most important for them to learn? Where do you hope to lead your spouse and family, and what example will you show? I wish you Joy.

Number of Unwed Mothers Rises Sharply in U.S. & Worldwide

When I see my children with their father, I can’t imagine their lives without him there on a daily basis. The bond they share is as close as theirs to me, but it’s different in many ways. Fathers provide not only a vital role in child rearing, but also in supporting and assisting mothers and in demonstrating to children how a man should treat a woman. Apparently in the U.S., fewer and fewer children are enjoying this important bond with their fathers.

The number of children being born to single mothers has risen sharply in recent years, according to The Washington Post. This trend is being attributed not to teen parents, but to women in their 20s and 30s who are choosing to have children without being married. Nearly 40% (4 of every 10 births) are now to unmarried women, up from 18% in 1980.

Some causal factors being discussed include a lower social stigma associated with unmarried motherhood, an increase in cohabitation and delaying of marriage, and an increase in financially independent and older women deciding to have children on their own (for instance after delaying having children until their career was established).

The Post cited some experts giving positive reasons more women are now single mothers, for instance in the past more were compelled to give up children for adoption or coerced into abortions, and now pregnancy to a single mother is common. Other experts said “the trend is disturbing because children who grow up without stable, two-parent families tend not to fare as well.” (Just a note: I think it’s clear there are many single moms who do an excellent job given a difficult set of circumstances, and they should be acknowledged.) 

Worldwide, this trend is even more apparent, according to USA Today. In Northern European countries, marriage rates are substantially lower than in the U.S. Iceland has the highest number of out-of-wedlock births, with 6 in 10 births to unmarried women. There are some differences between the U.S. and other countries, however. “U.S. mothers are more likely to be single parents because the non-married relationship doesn’t tend to last very long,” says demographer Patrick Heuveline, so many more of these children in the U.S. are born to single mothers without fathers present. In European countries these births tend to be in two-parent cohabitations, to parents who are in a stable union but unmarried.

How do you react to these statistics? How do you think these trends will affect the next generation of Americans? Does marriage provide any value to society or is it a dying institution? Do you think fathers are vital or optional to children’s upbringing?

What’s Your Love Language?

I heard author Gary Chapman on the radio today, and it reminded me of a book he wrote years ago I found very useful. You may have heard of The Five Love Languages. The book recommends identifying your primary love language, and that of your spouse and children.

We all have a primary love language through which we feel most loved. Here are the five primary love languages:
1. Words of affirmation—compliments, praise, appreciation
2. Spending quality time together—while focusing all your energy on your partner
3. Receiving gifts—Inexpensive or valuable, it’s the thought that counts
4. Acts of service—help with chores, errands, childcare, etc.
5. Physical touch—from a simple hug to lovemaking

When your spouse or your children feel loved, they are more productive and happy, Chapman says. When they don’t feel loved, they may seek love in inappropriate ways.

I remember talking to my husband about his love language after reading the book, and I was surprised at his response. So, don’t take it for granted that you know your spouse so well you don’t need to ask. Find out how he or she feels most loved, and share the way you feel most loved. Frequently, couples have different styles. If your language is acts of service, and you frequently help your spouse in this way, you may feel you are very loving. On the other hand, if your loved one longs to have a night alone, he or she may not feel very loved.

The book of course provides more details into how to determine one’s love language and how to make your loved ones feel most loved. However, just having a conversation is a good first step. Remember that your actions may not have the same impact you intend. Knowing your loved ones’ primary love languages can make you a more effective parent and lover.

So, ask your partner tonight: What’s your love language?

How to Get/Be a Real Man in Your Marriage

If you entered your marriage telling your husband what shirt to wear, what job he should apply for and how to spend his free time, you may now be experiencing the down side to that arrangement. I hear mutterings from many wives that their husbands are not leaders in their homes. Some husbands let their wives plan all the events, do all the entertaining and manage the household schedule. Maybe the husband helps with home maintenance, but only when he’s told to. Maybe the husband isn’t good with money, so the wife has taken that on as well, telling her spouse when he can spend money and how much.

Admittedly, the motive is not negative. We want to control our busy lives more efficiently, and we women are good a multitasking and managing our time. But it becomes a trap when we become more like a mother to our husbands than a wife, and we don’t allow them to act or feel like a man.

Someone who is always told what to do will likely stop taking initiative. So he may become stagnant in his life and role as father or husband. He may not even feel very manly in the bedroom. One consequence is he may look to another woman who makes him feel like a man and who looks up to him for the positive qualities he embodies. In fact, the first woman who shows him this kind of attention will probably spark something in him he thought was dead.

Part of the problem is that we as a culture have done a poor job of defining what a real man is, how to be one and how to value one. As parents it is our sacred duty to teach our young boys what it means to be a real man and a good husband and father—a loving protector, a leader who helps guide the family toward a common goal. I’m all for equal rights for women and believe women’s opinions should be equally valued. I also believe that a loving man who is allowed to use his leadership skills will blossom in his family and will be a treasure for his community.

Men are frequently valued for their leadership skills at work. When they are allowed to use these skills in their homes and communities, I believe we will see the family and the community blossoming. Boys need to be taught that leading does not mean controlling. It means sacrificing and loving, showing a positive example, teaching and encouraging, supporting and being physically and emotionally present. These qualities are what every woman wants in a husband. So wives, encourage your husbands in this area, and build them up with positive feedback. When we as wives pretend our husbands can’t take proper care of the children, prepare a meal or handle household tasks, we are devaluing them. Spouses each need to show appreciation for the other’s contributions both inside and outside the home.

Men: Do you feel like you have the skills to be a leader in your home and community? If not, can you spend more time with a man whom you admire for these skills? How do you see your role as a lover, leader and protector of women and children in your life? How do you evaluate and provide for the needs of your family—emotionally, physically and spiritually?

Women: Do you value it and react positively when your man shows initiative and leadership, or do you value control a little too much? Does your husband make any decisions in your home? Is his opinion valued? What qualities do you really admire in your man? Tell him today!

Don’t Go to Bed Angry—And Other Myths

Acclaimed marriage researchers at the Gottman Institute have conducted independent, vigorous social science research with couples and families for decades. The Institute uncovers some unexpected truths:

1. “People used to believe that it is a mistake to go to bed angry. From research on couples, Dr. Gottman discovered that “flooding” – a physiological phenomenon triggered by emotional conflict — leaves people’s heart rates too high for them to clearly concentrate on the conversation at hand. Research shows that taking the time to calm down before finishing an argument is more likely to help couples stay close and connected. It may be to the couple’s benefit to continue the discussion with cooler heads in the morning.

2. From research on domestic violence, we have learned that couples therapy with battering couples actually makes things worse for the woman—not better. Instead it is suggested that partners find individual help.

3. From research on parents and their children, we know that it is extremely beneficial for children to develop “emotional intelligence”. For this to occur parents need to express their own emotions, and it is especially important for fathers to express their emotions—especially sadness.” 1

I find the first point to be somewhat of a relief. Aren’t there times when you just don’t feel up to an argument, or you need time to sift through your feelings first? This shouldn’t be used as an excuse to avoid your partner, but if you need time to cool off, ask for it. Interestingly some of the successful couples I have interviewed say they never go to bed angry, so there may be some debate on this one.

The second time is somewhat of a surprise, but from what I have read those who are in a violent relationship truly need individual help to see things as they truly are, and not how they perceive them to be. The safety of the person being battered should be paramount.

And the third point is a great reminder to all of us who would like to paint a positive picture of the world around us for our children. One of my absolute favorite movies, “Life is Beautiful,” involves the portrayal of a life of joy amidst the horror of the start of WWII and inside a concentration camp. I still think the point the movie makes is valid, that we must not allow our life view and who we are to be controlled by our circumstances. However, it’s also crucial for children (and adults) to be given permission to feel and express their emotions. Dads may tend to tell their children, “Cheer up” or “Don’t Cry.” Next time, just hug your children (or spouse) and let them express how they feel.

Dr. John Gottman has vast amounts of results from his research, which I will share in future posts. Tell me what you think about the three points he makes above and if you agree or not.

Source: The Gottman Institute, http://www.gottman.com

Is the Government Stimulating Your Marriage?

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services is funding a new campaign aimed to promote the benefits of marriage to young adults. Benefits being touted include better health, greater wealth and increased happiness for those who marry, and improved wellbeing for their children.  While they aren’t telling anyone to run out and get married, the campaign’s goal is to encourage individuals in their 20s not to underestimate the benefits of marriage.

Declining marriage rates haven’t gone unnoticed by the government. Just released statistics report that in 1986, there were 10 marriages per 1,000 people; in 2008 that declined to 7.1 marriages per 1,000.

The $5 million national media campaign is to launch this month using online ads, YouTube video, radio shows, bus and subway ads. A new web site has also been launched, twoofus.org, which provides relationship tips and advice with different sections for couples who are dating, engaged, married and for parents. The web site compiles advice from a variety of relationship and marriage experts and includes podcasts, articles, video and audio.

Of course there is some controversy over using these funds to promote marriage, especially when our country is faced with so many problems at present. While I sympathize with those who say the money needs to be redirected to help fight poverty, I believe that stronger families can better equip our country for the future and can help us ride out the tough times. Research clearly shows that in general children are healthier, safer, better educated and less likely to live in poverty when raised in an intact married family. It also shows that married adults are more likely to be healthier and happier and financially better off when they are married.  (See previous posts for details.)

The bigger question is will young adults—a fiercely independent group—pay attention to the ads? Proponents say they have used public campaigns successfully to change behavior in the past, such as using seat-belts or avoiding smoking or drugs. Time will tell if the campaign will be effective. The campaign budget is at risk of cuts from the new administration due to the worsening economy, so it may not even have time to work.

What do you think? Should the government stay out of our private lives, or is this investment important? Do you think the campaign is a good use of money, or will it fall on deaf ears?

How Does the Arrival of Children Affect the Quality of a Marriage?

More married couples are choosing not to have children. Some couples have thoughtfully concluded they are called to a different life. However, a good number of couples are struck with fear, looking back at childhoods from divorced or dysfunctional families. They conclude that if they avoid marriage or avoid having children, they can retain the happiness and freedoms they currently enjoy.

Current research tells us cohabiting without marriage leads couples to break up about 80 percent of the time. Next comes the question, does the stress of having children lead married couples to break up?

The New York Times did an op-ed this week on Feb. 5 discussing how the birth of children affects a marriage, either positively or negatively. A generation ago, it was assumed that having children solidified a marriage. That has been followed by multiple studies that have shown marital quality drops when spouses become parents, and rises again when children leave home.

Writer Stephanie Coontz goes on to explain the flaw with those studies is that they did not “consider the very different routes that couples travel toward parenthood.” As you might expect the outcomes differ widely for parents who agreed on wanting to conceive, those who were ambivalent and those who were not expecting to become pregnant.

Researchers from the University of California at Berkely, Philip and Carolyn Cowan, found that “the average drop in marital satisfaction was almost entirely accounted for by the couples who slid into becoming parents, disagreed over it or were ambivalent about it. Couples who planned or equally welcomed the conception were likely to maintain or even increase their marital satisfaction after the child was born.”

In other words, couples who were happy to become parents were blessed with an even happier marriage. This has been true in my own life.

Coontz provides some important caveats and trends.  One reminder is that couples need to make time to cultivate their marriage even when child-rearing demands are high. Otherwise, they may not be able to “recover the relationship that made them want to have children in the first place.”

For those who feel guilty about not spending enough time with their children, realize you are giving your children a gift by maintaining a strong marriage. In addition, current research shows parents today spend 20 percent more time with their children than parents in 1965, even with the increase of mothers in the workplace. So, if you are like the average couple, you are probably not short changing your children, but you might be short changing your spouse.

Remember your goal is to help your children learn to be independent, while spouses should understand and communicate that they will always need one another.

How have children (or the lack of children) affected your marriage?

How Well Do You Know Your Spouse’s Needs?

Are you sometimes so focused on getting your needs met that you forget that your spouse’s needs may be very different from your own? The successful couples I have interviewed say that by focusing on the needs of their spouse, they have received more than they expected or needed in return.

Barbara Rainey featured a circulating email in a recent article. It’s title: How do you romance a woman?” Answer: “Wine her, dine her, call her, cuddle with her, surprise her, compliment her hair, shop with her, listen to her talk, buy flowers, hold her hand, write love letters, and be willing to go to the end of the earth and back again for her.” Most women would agree with that.

When the question followed, “How do you romance a man” the answer was succinct. “Arrive naked. Bring food.” Clearly men and women see things a little differently.

Ask your spouse how you are doing at meeting his or her needs. Ask if your spouse feels like a priority to you. Even if you both have full-time jobs and a house full of children, your spouse needs to feel like he or she is number one in your life. If your spouse voices concerns, hear them out and take some time to think about how you might address them.

Even if things are going well, make the time to plan something special for next week. Write it on the calendar. Make a date to build some anticipation. Put some romance back in your life. What do you do to keep the spice in your marriage?

How Has the Economy Affected Your Family’s Stress Level ?

Almost half of Americans report being more stressed than a year ago, according to this week’s USA Today. One-third of Americans are suffering from “extreme” stress. Unfortunately, the survey was taken before the stock market plunged, so the real numbers are probably worse. That stress is affecting eating and sleeping levels, and inevitably how we relate to others, especially our families.

Since most families are affected by these negative economic trends, it’s important to acknowledge the impact it has on our lives and take action to try to remain calm and provide a sense of normalcy to children. I’ve read how some families have skipped going out to dinner and a movie, and instead have a simple dinner at home followed by game night.

If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, turn off the bad news, take a walk or a bath, or call a friend. Appreciate the people you have in your life. One family I know with several young children in the house reports the father’s slow work schedule has allowed him to spend a lot more time with the family. It does create some financial hardship, but they try to look at the positive side as he has always been extremely busy at work. Older children are aware of financial strain, so be honest about any household changes that you need to make. Ask for their ideas in cutting costs, and look for signs of stress in children.

Reach out to others who are facing extreme stress, or if you see signs of abuse or neglect. The USA Today article advises that as stress levels increase, domestic violence and child abuse also rise. Be on the lookout for families in crisis, and help connect them to social service agencies that can help. You may be the only one who sees the signs of a child or adult in need. If you are able, offer to care for a child for a couple of hours while a parent looks for a new job. Or, if you still have a good job, help others who are looking for work network with your contacts.

Be a steady voice amidst the chaos, and remind friends and family that this period will pass, and the relationships they nurture will remain.