Tag Archives: Communication

Happy Couples Give Spouses Their Attention

“Happily married couples respond to one another’s bids for attention 86 percent of the time,” says Dr. Michele Gannon in an article for Hitched Magazine. She continues, “They ask one another questions, communicate understanding and respond positively when their spouse asks them to. They say ‘Yes’ to one another as often as possible. However, research has found that in unhappy marriages, couples respond to one another only 30 percent of the time.”

This finding intrigued me, and made me pause ask myself when my husband and I interrupt one another, how often we offer our full attention. I don’t think I’m nearly up to 86 percent, and frequently ask for a minute to finish what I’m doing. Whether it’s for something fun or something important, I’m going to work on providing my attention when asked. Ask yourself if you might improve in this area with your spouse, and even with your children.

Some other interesting research-proven habits for happy marriages Dr. Gannon shared in the article include showing admiration and fondness for one another, prioritizing affection and sex, making time for one another, helping one another grow, and cultivating forgiveness.

Forgiveness is one of the keys to a happy marriage in my opinion, and an area in which we can all make improvements. So I read with interest Dr. Fred Luskin’s forgiveness steps. In part, he advises:  “Successful forgiveness requires that we allow ourselves to feel deeply our hurt, disappointment and anger. We need to ask ourselves whether the betrayal or disappointment is a deal breaker or not. If we stay in the relationship, we need to allow ourselves to feel our pain, soothe ourselves, and then be willing to widen our hearts, surrender and risk pain and disappointment again. All of this can happen even if our partner is not willing to take responsibility and change.”

The research findings are from the web site Greater Good Science. I found it to be a truly interesting resource with lots of research-based advice on living a more fulfilling life. For instance, “How well do you know your partner?” shares that knowing your partner’s long-term life goals will make your relationship more satisfying in the future.

Another interesting article I read recently is “The line between no expectations and doormat” by Patty Newbold at Assume Love. It’s about how our expectations can get in the way of our love. Here’s an excerpt:

“You are not a doormat if you take out the trash when your husband fails to. If you were not married, there would be trash to deal with. If you take out trash AND have a husband to love you, you are well ahead of the game. Where you shoot yourself in the foot is when you let yourself expect that if your husband loved you, he would do more around the house or be as prompt as you are with chores. Now, you have trash to take out and what looks like an unloving husband, even though it’s the same husband and the same bag of trash. And while you’re stewing over the garbage, you may very well miss out on some great loving. He might have walked in the door ready to kiss you, but turned right around when he sensed your mood. He might have wanted to tell you he sucked it up at work today and did not quit on the spot because of his commitment to your wellbeing.”

In sum, she says, “When I let go of my expectations, I was completely shocked by how much love I could see in my marriage.” I’ll be interterviewing Patty Newbold soon and sharing her incredible story with you.

Sign Up or Suggest to a Friend
If you’re a regular reader here, thanks so much for hanging out and keeping me company. Consider sending a link to a post you like to one or two friends who might enjoy, or post it on your Facebook feed. If you haven’t signed up, you can receive free research-based marriage tips at no cost, and you can unsubscribe with one click if you decide later that it’s not for you. Sign up for email updates or get your updates in a reader.

Happy Memorial Day and many thanks to our veterans and to their families.

Photo by Edward Bartel/Dreamstime

Memoir Marriage Book Delivers Honesty & Hope

I was fortunate to receive an advanced copy of Project: Happily Ever After—saving your marriage when the fairytale falters, by Alisa Bowman. I interviewed Alisa several months ago here, and many of you expressed interest and excitement about her upcoming book. I’m happy to report the book lives up to the high expectations. Alisa delivers three important factors in this memoir-style marriage book: entertainment, education, and hope.

The premise: Alisa began her marriage with a man who seemed to adore her, but who then appeared to mutate into an apathetic, unhelpful husband and father. Alisa started to dream about his death, because then she wouldn’t have to divorce him, and she and her daughter could go on with their lives.

Suffice it to say the book is honest—much more honest than I would have the courage to be if I were in her shoes. Things get interesting when she is convicted by a friend who asks her what she is doing to save her marriage. When she realizes she hasn’t lifted a finger, and in fact hasn’t even been sharing her feelings of despair with her husband, she starts on a quest to read a pile of marriage books and implement their suggestions. The book includes many of her learnings and how their implementation helped improve their marriage.

I won’t ruin the twists and turns for you, but Alisa promotes that within a few months, she and her husband are renewing their marriage vows and building a solid life together. Somewhere along the line, Alisa realizes that her lack of communication and her negative perceptions were contributing a great deal to her marital failure. Her husband also makes some important changes when he becomes aware of her feelings and struggles. (You see, he couldn’t read her mind, and really didn’t have a clue about what she was going through.)

For couples who may have lost that early spark in their marriage, or even for individuals who are considering divorce or separation, Project: Happily Ever After is an important read. She doesn’t advocate staying in any marriage, but she does give plenty of tips for figuring out whether yours is worth staying in.

Did I mention it’s funny and entertaining? Well, if you read Alisa’s Project: Happily Ever After blog, you won’t be surprised by this fact. She tackles any topic with wit and her trademark honesty.

The book is available for pre-order here and will be coming out next month. Get your copy while it’s hot off the press! Watch Alisa’s sweet video here, and learn about how her falling-out-of-love story turned into a falling-back-in-love story.

Even though I’ve already read a free copy of the book, I plan to buy another copy in hopes of helping another marriage. Alisa even sweetens the deal by offering a free 81-page e-book for anyone who orders by January 31st. Along with the free book, you can enter to win a free Kindle, a romantic get-away, and more. Find the giveaway details here.

I want to congratulate Alisa for succeeding in both the marriage journey, as well as the publishing journey!

How Wives Can Learn to Speak the Language of Men & Get Their Attention!

Of course all men do not speak alike. My brother, for instance, uses sports analogies in business: “This is a slam dunk!” Meanwhile, my husband has minimal interest in or connection to sports. However, there is a common communication thread with most of the men I know, and Scott Haltzman, MD, puts his finger on this commonality in his book The Secrets of Happily Married Women. In the book, he suggests wives need to learn to speak the language of men, which he calls Man-ese. (It’s just one of the interesting secrets I learned about when reading this book.)

Dr. Haltzman says men tend to be very direct and objective. They make their point, then they’re done. Think about a high-level business meeting and how everyone tries to communicate only the key nuggets of information. Women, meanwhile, are more subjective talkers who enjoy discussing feelings and details of daily events, storytelling, context, etc. (Yep, that’s me.) For women, this type of conversation doesn’t lack purpose. However, men who are listening may not be able to remain focused for the entire length of the conversation, even if they try.

Blame it on biology. Dr. Haltzman says the male brain is just not set up for what we are seeking, and that women should not expect their man to talk like a woman. Instead, happy couples should respect their communication differences.  I hear some of you saying, “But my sweetheart used to listen to me for hours and ask me all about my day. Now he doesn’t seem to show the same level of concern.” Again, blame it on biology. During the dating phase, Dr. Haltzman says dopamine and norepinephrine are at their highest levels, making us more talkative and more focused on others’ interests. As the relationship proceeds, the hormone levels fall, along with the constant in-depth communication. (However, you can boost those hormones by participating in new and exciting activities.)

What’s the solution? Wives can usually sense the body language that dear hubby is tired or losing interest. Use the “Talk Less” strategy to get your point across rather than criticizing him for not talking enough or not listening well enough. Here’s how it works:

1. Put your point up front. The average female’s attention span is 15 minutes, while the average male attention is five minutes. Get your point out fast before you lose him, especially if you see his focus wandering. 

“I honestly believe that this small change in your communication style, all by itself, has the power to drastically improve your relationship with your husband, making you both oh so much happier,” says Dr. Haltzman.

2. Use fewer words. Did you ever realize that people who talk less are more closely listened to? The more you talk, the less people listen.

3. Speak in his language. Don’t meander and hint about your point. (They don’t get it.) Be simple and direct. Instead of giving all the reasons you won’t have time to make dinner, ask him to pick up take-out. When you need ice cream, a back rub or a hug, ask for it!

4. Give him time to respond. He may be thinking of the best way to respond.

5. Watch your timing. Remember that while women are natural multi-taskers (there I go generalizing again), men usually do not possess this skill. (Although my dear hubby is amazingly skilled in so many areas, he can only do one task at a time.) If you talk to your guy when he is otherwise engaged, he will probably not be able to hear you or remember your conversation at a later point. Remove distractions (including hunger) when possible.

In short, Dr. Haltzman advises being concise and direct. Then you’ll only have to make your point once.

So, do you agree with this description of Man-ese? Do you sometimes find yourself talking and not being heard? Does your sweetie sometimes miss your point entirely or forget what you asked him to do? Share your feedback if you give this “Talk Less” strategy a try.

Photo ©NiDerLander/PhotoXpress

Use Business Skills to Win in Your Relationship

Tennessee Entrepreneur Louis Upkins Jr. published the following tips in a Business Week article called Manage Your Marriage Like a Business to help successful businesspeople use their work skills to help their marriages. Specifically, he recommends consistent excellent customer service strategies rather than “working at” a great marriage.  

I think he offers excellent advice. He also reminds us that “a wide body of research suggests that the status of our marriages influences our well-being at least as much as the status of our finances.” He says he is amazed by the number of successful executives who on the surface seem to “have it all,” but who fully admit they are anything but happy. Here’s a summary of his ideas; link to his article for more details:

  1. Know your customer. Stay in tune with your spouse’s changing needs, hopes, and concerns. If you’re not sure what they are, ask.
  2. Earn their business every day. Just as you would impress clients with attention and treat them with respect, do the same for your partner.
  3. Don’t make excuses. Customers (and spouses) want solutions, not excuses. When you make a mistake, acknowledge your error, and then fix it.
  4. Work on a win-win strategy. Regularly ask your spouse, “What can I do to help you be successful?” Then follow through with what they need. Use your planning skills to balance the family’s needs, for example if one spouses is putting their career on hold to raise children.
  5. Mix business with pleasure. “We seldom give our spouses the rewarding experiences we give our best customers. Find ways to inject new life into your relationship via activities that have no purpose other than to say, ‘You matter.’”

Upkins reminds professionals that they strive for excellence on the job, and they shouldn’t settle for anything less of themselves at home. In fact, the skills acquired on the job can help you retain your most valuable customer, your spouse.

What other business skills do you think come in handy in your marriage? What necessary skill sets for marriage are very different from what you learn at work?

Photo Credit: ©PhotoXpress.com

The Boomerang Effect

The all-too-common cycle of negative communication is similar to a boomerang, says marriage coach Richard Nicastro, PhD. When one partner throws out criticism, the result is usually criticism returned. That’s because criticism makes people feel defensive and uncomfortable, so the natural response is to find something to criticize back.

Nicastro says he noticed during coaching sessions that when one partner took a different tack, and responded with something compassionate or kind, the negativity weakened. Occasionally, a kindness was even returned.

Interestingly, few couples notice these patterns while they are occurring, even though they may sound obvious. They don’t understand the power of the boomerang effect—that what you send out will eventually come back to you.

The solution: Make a conscious effort to send out positive energy and to use kinder words, even when you’re faced with criticism. Be warned that it may take some time to change long-term cycles of hostility or negative communication. Nicastro says most people give in too quickly and resort to old patterns or to withdrawal.

His other warning says don’t merely act kind to get a kindness returned, as your partner will probably sense this, and the results will be weakened.

Once you’ve made it a habit, keep up your efforts of sending positive messages even when things are going well.

I’ve sometimes felt myself becoming very defensive from criticism, particularly on hot-button issues like mothering. Do you find it difficult to respond to criticism in a calm, kind manner?

Photo Credit: ©PhotoXpress.com

Read This if You EVER Have Conflict in Your Marriage

Well, that should be all of you, then, because we ALL have conflict in our relationships. (If you don’t, that’s also a problem. Read Avoid Divorce with 5:1 Ratio.) And hopefully we have learned that not all conflict is bad, because it can help us improve situations where one or both of us isn’t feeling satisfied. Conflict helps us clear the air. That being said, conflict in marriage sometimes really stinks. We can’t wait to get over it, and we know we can’t always avoid it.

Let’s assume you aren’t expecting too much of your spouse, and realize your spouse can’t meet all your needs. You’ve already tried the four no-talking tools to boost your relationship. But you continue to quarrel. Here’s another idea to try during a disagreement. The suggestion is followed by some strong relationship research reminders thanks to all those love doctors out there.

The first tip is from personal experience. There are times when talking things out just get too heated, or you don’t feel like you are expressing yourself in the way you mean to. Or your spouse keeps interrupting to give his/her side (that’s a no-no, folks). Anyway, I’ve found typing out an email expressing my feelings or frustrations is sometimes easier than speaking them. (I’ve also written notes, but typing is faster for me.) I can read them to make sure I’m saying what I mean and using “I” language rather than accusatory “you” language. Then my spouse has time to think before responding, to consider my feelings and either email back or talk to me about it. Usually after a few emails back and forth, we have come to an agreement or at least have acknowledged where each of us is coming from. I wouldn’t recommend texting for the same purpose, because we  don’t think long enough before sending texts, and they are written for speed more than for clarity of communication. Even if you want to have the discussion in person, it may help you to jot down your key points or concerns.

Whether you are writing or speaking about an area of conflict, remember that how you begin a fight determines whether it’s harmful or productive. Choose the right time and place, and plan your opening statement carefully.

Even if you are not at a crisis stage right now, think about how you would react in a crisis. Remain calm and try to keep the balance of power in your relationship on even terms (more on this in a later post).

Finally, remember that listening will get you much further than talking. With the right listening skills, you can learn to reach your spouse on any topic. Read 10 Great Tips to Get Through to Your Spouse for some insightful strategies to reach out to children, friends or marriage partners.

Have you ever worked through a conflict by writing down your concerns? Did it work well or fail? Do you have any other useful conflict management strategies to share?

Photo Credit: ©PhotoXpress.com

Celebrate Independence Day for Your Marriage

Last summer, I met an older couple who had been married many years. I asked them their secret to happiness together. The husband replied, “I did my thing; she did hers. It’s important to have independence.” As we prepare to celebrate the independence of our United States, it seemed an appropriate time to analyze the role of togetherness versus independence in a marriage.

Here’s the thing: there’s no right answer to this balancing act. It’s one of those areas where some couples like a lot of closeness. Maybe they eat breakfast together, work all day together, then spend their evenings golfing or eating out with friends. The constant togetherness doesn’t seem to bother them in the least. Others of you shudder to think of that much time with your spouse and fear the day you both decide to retire.

The best road is probably somewhere in the middle. But then again, I’ve met very happy couples on both ends of the spectrum. My marriage seems to live in each extreme, with my husband home for sometimes two or three weeks at a time while I work at home, eating three meals a day together, then him traveling for a week or so at a time. When he’s home for too long, we both begin to think it may be time for him to go on a short trip! Distance does foster appreciation for one another.

I think the bigger risk is not spending enough time together, allowing one another to have divergent activities, friends, hobbies, interests—and even separate vacations. Experiencing new activities and places together helps keep you bonded and interesting to one another. (Read Boredom can Kill a Marriage.)

When independence is completely missing from a relationship, however, we might start to dream of what it would be like to spend the day alone doing what WE want instead of what THEY want to do. If you are dreaming of independence, you probably need a day to yourself. Alone. (This is true especially if you’re an introvert—see Oh No, I married an Extrovert!) Allowing yourself a day or two to rejuvenate will hopefully prevent you from eventually dreaming of becoming fully independent of your marriage responsibilities. I’ve been so thankful for the occasional day of freedom my husband gives me to do what I need or want to do without interruption. Enjoying that freedom reminds me that I freely chose to enter my marriage and have children. It puts me in a grateful mindset rather than a grumpy one.

A marriage in which one person feels controlled or stifled is an unhealthy one. If your spouse controls where you can go, what you can eat, or whom you can speak with, seek help. If your spouse is merely unhappy whenever you spend time apart, it may be time to explain your need for a bit of independence. If you want much more freedom in your marriage to go out with who you want, when you want, and you resist accountability to your partner, you’ve crossed the line of healthy independence within marriage.

Do you have outside hobbies and interests? Do you read new and different books or magazines, or listen to stimulating music? Keeping your mind growing and active gives you new things to discuss with your partner. This Fourth of July, discuss the best balance in your relationship. Share in the comments where you are on the independence/togetherness spectrum.

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July celebration.

Don’t Share Marriage Blips with Family

We’re coming up on a busy Memorial weekend, when so many of us spend time with family and close friends. It’s a great time to reconnect. Unfortunately you’ll also hear plenty of griping about spouses. Don’t join in the fray.

Particularly when a marriage is on the rocks, but also when you’ve just had a disagreement or conflict with your spouse, it’s natural to want to air your feelings with friends, parents, siblings or others close to you. But beware of this tendency, says Michele Weiner-Davis, marriage counselor and author of best-selling Divorce Busting® books and tools.

Imagine that you share with your family that you suspect your husband of an affair, or you think your wife drinks too much. Or you confide in close friends that you have a lousy sex life, and that your husband isn’t concerned for your needs. When you share these details, Weiner-Davis says those close to you will take your side and may even encourage a divorce. They are only hearing your side, and they may think they have your best interests in mind. If and when you and your spouse choose to work on your marriage, and even make great strides or changes, guess who won’t forget all the bad stuff you shared?

“Their loyalty to you blinds them from seeing or understanding the context in which the marital problems have developed over time,” says Weiner-Davis. They likely won’t consider how your actions may have contributed to the problem.

Then when you change your mind about your marriage, and decide you love him or her after all, you may face resistance from those close to you about wanting to reconcile. Despite significant improvements in your marriage, you may have created a community that can’t truly support your marriage. They may even be vocally opposed to it.

“Once a cheater/liar, always a cheater/liar,” or “You’re being brainwashed to stay,” may be the spoken or unspoken words of your allies, says Weiner-Davis. She says situations like this are not uncommon in her marital counseling, and she provides some specific examples in her article “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Your Family.” Sometimes, a family never comes around to supporting a marriage after they learn of transgressions they believe are unforgivable.

Weiner-Davis says if you sense your family members or friends are becoming biased toward you, “it’s wise to limit complaints about your marriage and consult with a therapist instead. (Make sure you hire a marriage-friendly therapist.) Believe you can improve your marriage, and work to do so. Weiner-Davis says “the vast majority of divorces in this country are unnecessary, because most relationship problems are solvable.” She would know, since the couples she counsels are often on the brink of divorce. (I’ll share a story next week by a friend who saved her marriage from disaster.)

I love the quote she shares by David Ben-Gurion, “Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist.”

Whether you are married or single, in a strong or troubled marriage, when you hear other people complaining about their spouse, think about at least being neutral, at best being a support to the marriage. As long as you don’t feel there is abuse going on, be an encouragement for reconciliation. Be supportive, and seek solutions.

Have you made the mistake of sharing something about your marriage that you wished you could take back? I have. I learned pretty early in my marriage to keep marital arguments private. Generally in a day or two, I’ve forgotten about them anyway. If I really do want advice or listening ear, I try to choose someone who’s more neutral and pro-marriage. How about you, do you have someone who gets to hear all your marriage secrets?

Do Happier Husbands Lead to Divorce? Yes, if the Wife is Much Less Happy.

A new study called “You Can’t Be Happier than Your Wife: Happiness Gaps and Divorce” suggests that too large of a happiness gap between husbands and wives can be very problematic. It concluded when the husband is much happier than his wife, she is more apt to leave; whereas, when a wife is much happier than her husband, they are much less likely to divorce.

The study, published in Germany, used data from tens of thousands of relationships in Germany, Australia and Great Britain. The researchers (who were experts in economics and wellbeing) measured happiness indicators having to do with lifestyle satisfaction.

Since wives are much more likely to file for divorce than are husbands (two-thirds of divorces are filed by women), perhaps the result shouldn’t be surprising than when women were very unhappy they were more likely to divorce. I wanted to dig deeper to see if women were being unfair or if there seemed to be valid reasons for this discrepancy.

Researchers found the happiness gap increased when the wife handled most of the housework, if her income was higher than average, or if the husband and wife had different social backgrounds. The gap was smaller in couples where the husband and wife had similar backgrounds, shared chores, or if the wife was a housewife, student or was retired. The strongest couples had similar happiness measurements.

It seems with limited time and plenty of chores and responsibilities to go around, when one person’s lifestyle is easier, the other spouse has more on his or her plate. Sharing the load becomes important if lifestyle satisfaction is to be spread out.

Not all the couples in the study were married, and researchers found the happiness gap was “several times wider” when couples cohabited instead of married.

Team researcher Dr. Cahit Guven said the study showed that “unlike other benefits in a marriage, happiness isn’t able to be redistributed between the husband and the wife for those couples whose relationship ended with divorce.”

While I understand the conclusions, I think we should be careful about thinking we can equally divide all the responsibilities of a household to both spouses’ complete satisfaction. Keeping score can lead to resentment for one or both partners. On the other hand, particularly when both spouses are working parents, negotiation and communication about what needs to be done is critical. Asking for help in a nice way is much better than complaining about how your partner “never helps out.”

The study caused me to wonder whether the couples who ended up divorcing were less skilled at negotiating and communicating about their lifestyle needs, or whether one spouse was just unwilling to budge on contributing to the household.

What do you think about the study? And how do you think your happiness level compares with your spouses’? Does a significant gap in happiness signal signs of discontent?

Help Your Spouse Achieve Lifelong Dreams

I have a few close friends and family members who are all about their “bucket lists,” the lists of things they want to experience or accomplish during their lives. For instance, my brother’s list inspired him to climb Mount Rainier and to go deep-sea diving in remote locations.  This week, I was reading the uplifting blog The Generous Wife. She suggested as couples we talk regularly about our bucket lists and look for ways to help our spouses achieve their wishes. It’s a fantastic suggestion.

I like this idea for multiple reasons. First, discussing your dreams with your spouse increases intimacy and keeps you focused on positive aspects of your life. Second, participating in activities outside of your norm builds excitement and passion for yourself and for your marriage. And third, helping your spouse achieve his or her dreams often causes your spouse to have increased gratitude toward you. And gratitude has been shown to increase connection and bonds.

I must admit I’m not much of a true adventurer. I’d much rather sit on a beach than climb a treacherous mountain. However, I have spectacular memories of traveling to Hawaii, Bermuda, Ireland, France, Italy, Spain, Monaco, Mexico—and yes, even a memorable trip to Canada during one of their worst snowstorms—with my husband. All that travel came to a screeching halt when our two children were welcomed into our lives. I have more destinations in mind when our kids are a bit older. But travel isn’t required; many adventures can be found without leaving your hometown.

I have a great friend who encouraged her husband to fulfill his dream of running a hot-air balloon business, while maintaining his full-time job as a pilot. I’ve never heard her complain of the time it takes away from their large family. I have other friends who have supported their spouse’s dreams to become an entrepreneur or a full-time parent. Two married friends have decided to visit every national park in the country. Perhaps you have always wanted to take music or dance lessons, fly an airplane, learn a new language or write a book. Share your goals with your spouse, and discuss how your dreams could become a reality.

Believing in one another and in a positive vision for your union is part of the magic of marriage. How many divorces could be prevented if spouses felt their partner cared as much about their dreams and goals as they do?

What fun things are on your bucket list? What obstacles stand in your way—time, money, self-doubt, an aging body? Do you know what’s on your partner’s list?

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please spend one minute to take this survey  answering five quick questions. Your confidential responses will help me immensely. Thanks!