Tag Archives: strengthen marriage

Is There Hope for the American Marriage?

If you’ve ever read something that felt like you were reading your own thoughts, you will understand how much I connected with the July 2 Time Magazine cover story, with the same title as this post—most of it anyway.

Writer Caitlin Flanagan explains how marriage has changed during the past 40 years, and how these changes are affecting American families today. As an example of our obsession with high-profile marriage disasters, she pokes a bit of fun at South Carolina governor Mark Sanford (with his too-much-information mistress emails) and Senator John Ensign of Nevada, who recently made a similar public confession, but was nice enough to leave God out of it, “which must have been a nice break for the Almighty,” she says.

Flanagan calls marriage “an increasingly fragile construct depending less and less on notions of sacrifice and obligation than on the ephemera of romance and happiness as defined by and for its adult principles.” While the two-parent family remains our cultural ideal, frequent bombardment by things like affairs, boredom or lack of commitment are changing its face. (For example, 39.7% of births are now to unmarried women, most of whom are uneducated with low incomes.)

Why does this matter, she asks? Because the collapse of marriage is causing more “measurable hardship and human misery in this country” than any other single cause. And, because it hurts children, reduces their mothers’ financial security, and devastates the underclass. It’s a “catastrophic approach to life,” argued against by the current President and last two Presidents.

As I’ve frequently written about in this blog, she asserts every outcome measured on the wellbeing of children is higher when children are from two-parent, intact families. They live longer, perform better in school, have lower rates of teen pregnancy, criminal behavior, and on and on. Flanagan even quotes an ardent feminist, who after researching, was loathe to admit, yes, a father is important to children, even when he is not important to their mother.

The effect of divorce is true regardless of the child’s race or the family’s income. David Blankenhorn, the president of the Institute for American Values, says, “Children have a primal need to know who they are, to love and be loved by the two people whose physical union brought them here. To lose that connection, that sense of identity, is to experience a wound that no child-support check or fancy school can ever heal.”

What about committed cohabitors? According to researchers, it’s possible to provide a similar level of stability for a child without marriage. Unfortunately, very few cohabitors actually remain committed. Once stress enters the picture, often in the form of a child, “the new mother starts to make wifelike demands on the man, and without the commitment of marriage, he is soon out the door.”

What’s odd, or at least interesting, is that Americans as a whole still say they value lasting marriage as the gold standard. Yet, they may actually hold standards that are impossibly high. Remember that touching moment on Inauguration Night with the Obamas dancing lovingly all night? Flanagan suggests part of the awe and wonder was in “the sight of a middle-aged man and woman still together, still in love.” “We want something like that for ourselves; we recognize that it is something of great worth, but we are increasingly less willing to put in the hard work and personal sacrifice to get there,” she says, adding, “A lasting marriage is the reward, usually, of hard work and self-sacrifice.”

What can be done? “It is time to come to terms with both our unrealistic expectations for a happy marriage and our equally unrealistic beliefs about the consequences of walking away from the families we build,” Flanagan says.

She asks if marriage is simply an institution designed to increase the pleasure of the adults who enter into it. (If so, forget it; life sometimes includes sickness and pain.) Or, is the purpose of marriage “to raise the next generation, to protect and teach it, to instill in it the habits of conduct and character that will ensure the generation’s own safe passage into adulthood?” After all, these are the children, who will be taking care of us when we’re old.

What do you think the purpose of marriage is? I have hope for the American marriage, do you?

Read the Time Magazine article in full: http://tinyurl.com/nbbmkn

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!

How Can Married Couples Overcome Gridlock?

We’ve covered strategies to deal with everyday marital conflict in other articles, but there are times when couples appear to be deadlocked on some important issue. The argument may spill out into other issues, and the couple may feel and express negativity, contempt and sadness toward one another.

According to research by Dr. John Gottman, these distressed couples are “gridlocked” and are facing perpetual, recurring issues. It may be coming out as arguments about how to spend their time or money. However, the arguing couple may be experiencing something deeper–conflicting values and dreams for their future. Basically, behind each position is someone with a dream for his or life as an individual and as a couple. When those dreams and values conflict, people tend to dig in their heels.

Gottman has used a strategy in his research with distressed couples called the “dreams-within-conflict” intervention, which helps the couples to examine together the underlying histories, philosophies, and life dreams of each person/position. The goal is for spouses to see the dreams behind their spouse’s position, and to find a way to honor one another’s dreams within the conflict. (1)

So, if you’re butting heads on the same topics again and again, it may be time for you to look at little deeper. Talk about your dreams for the future and how they can be compatible.

Think about frequent arguments you and your spouse may have. A compassionate approach toward one another may help you find a successful resolution, or at least a compromise. Do you and your spouse have similar goals and dreams? If so, that may bode well for your future. If not, look for more common ground and shared goals to work toward together.

(1) The Marriage Clinic, by John Gottman, www.gottman.com

How do Stable Couples Fight Fairly?

If it seems like you are having the same argument again and again, you are not alone. Marriage researcher Dr. John Gottman conducted a four-year follow-up study with married couples and concluded that 31% of marriage arguments are about short-term issues, and 69% of marital problems are recurring.  

His research provides some insight into why some couples handle short-term marriage conflicts better than others, explaining that stable couples have a “gentler approach.” This more effective approach includes:

  • Bringing up the problem in a soft, not harsh manner
  • Presenting their issues with more positive and less negative affect
  • Accepting influence from spouse
  • Repairing the interaction when it became negative
  • Being willing to compromise
  • Using humor in problem solving

Unstable couples, on the other hand, tend to allow the negative discussions to escalate and showed high levels of criticism, contempt, defensiveness and sadness. 1

If you have an issue you would like to talk about with a spouse, think about how you plan to approach and discuss it. First, ask yourself if this is a short-term problem or a recurring argument. As you plan your approach, consider if you are viewing things with your own “right answer” or whether you are willing to listen to your partner’s perspective and compromise. Slamming your partner with an insult or issuing a litany of complaints would not be a good start. Pick a good time and place, and if it’s a small matter, keep the conversation brief.

Don’t be afraid to lighten up. I’ve heard the fastest way to get a man to flee is to open with the plea, “We need to talk.”  

(1) The Relationship Research Institute, created by Dr. John Gottman, http://www.gottman.com

Preventing Marital Affairs in Today’s World

The slumping economy is apparently causing infidelity and divorce rates to drop. A private investigator reported on CNN that infidelity cases have dropped 75% since the economy took a dive. Economic woes have also put a damper on divorce. Thirty-seven percent of lawyers surveyed by CNN reported fewer divorces in their caseload, but only because the couples couldn’t afford to split at the present time.

Perhaps it’s a good time to build up the good relationships in your life. Not because it’s economically feasible, but because you realize how fleeting much of your life and lifestyle can be.

Marriage counselor and author Gary Newman suggests the following to strengthen your marriage and to “affair-proof” your marriage: 1) Give your spouse admiration and appreciation. 2) Have more sex, and embrace the idea of giving and receiving intimacy and pleasure.  “It’s about bringing out the best (in each other),” he says.

Many marriage experts also advise spouses to guard their hearts and their marriages from the temptation of straying. The vast majority of married individuals will likely admit to either flirting or being attracted to someone of the opposite sex during their marriage. Most of the time, it seems very harmless. But all too often, a friendly relationship turns into one of sharing deeper feelings, hopes and fears, developing an emotional connection, and perhaps leading to an affair. (It turns out emotional connection is the #1 reason for an affair.) If you even feel an attraction, be on guard, and talk to your spouse.

In “Avoiding the Greener Grass Syndrome,” author Nancy Anderson shares her experience of infidelity with a coworker early in her marriage. The affair began with complaining about her husband at work and having private lunches together with the coworker. It nearly ended her marriage. She and her husband now educate others on growing “affair-proof hedges” around their marriage. For example, all emails and correspondence must remain professional, never flirtatious. Talk about your spouse in positive terms letting others know you are happily married. In the book, she suggests group meetings rather than one-on-one meals with the opposite gender. While she was able to rebuild her marriage, many are not so fortunate. The warning: Don’t place yourself in vulnerable situations.

I believe the best prevention against affairs is maintaining the deep love that brought you together in the first place. Don’t let your job, your busy life, your children—or even the tough economy—divide you. Keep the dreams alive that brought you together.