Tag Archives: tips for better marriage

5 Tips for a Happier Life & Happier Marriage

Happy Life: Happy Marriage series, Post 3

Our overall sense of wellbeing is 50% constitutional, 10% circumstantial, and 40% controllable, says Dr. Henry Cloud, author of The Law of Happiness.

Dr. Cloud said in a CNN story that the majority of people’s effort to improve their lives, for example with their job or a new car, can bump up their happiness level by 10%, but then it goes back down. However, much is still within our control when it comes to becoming happier. He says that happy people do the following 5 things. I’ve added tips on how we can adapt the advice for a happier marriage.

1. Create a support system.—Develop a close circle of significant relationships both inside and outside the home.

Happy marriage tip: Remember to have strong friendships as well as a strong marriage and family relationships. Choose friends that will back up your marriage. If you’ve been lax about spending time with friends, contact one now to schedule a coffee date.

2. Set specific goals.—Having both long- and short-term goals helps organize your brain around helpful activities to aid you in achieving your goals.

Happy marriage tip: Set long- and short-term goals for your marriage. Make them doable. For example, set aside 15 minutes each day to reconnect. Work on scheduling a date night each month or an annual vacation with your spouse.

3. Volunteer.—When you give back, your brain secretes the same chemical as when you eat good food or enjoy sex.

Happy marriage tip: Consider volunteering together on an activity that you are both passionate about. This will help you feel good and will help you become more bonded to each other. In addition, it gives you something meaningful to talk about besides chores, the kids, and work. Not to mention, you’re helping make the world a better place.

4. Don’t dwell on what you cannot control.

Happy marriage tip: Don’t try to change your spouse. You can only control yourself.

5. Belief in a higher power—Dr. Cloud says that those with an active spiritual life live longer and have stronger immune systems.

Happy marriage tip: If you attend a church, do so together. Consider being involved in a ministry together or making friends there as a couple.

What is the one thing that boosts your happiness the most? Do Dr. Cloud’s tips resonate with your life? How much of your happiness do you believe is within your control?

Photo credit: ©Pavel Losevsky/PhotoXpress.com

You Can Keep that Loving Feeling—Even after 20 Years of Marriage

Remember that old ad, “This is your brain on drugs?” Well, now scientists have a way of showing us, “This is your brain on love.”

Ever wonder what your brain looks like after 20 years of marriage? The news is heartening. At least it is for some couples, who claim to remain “over the moon” about each other for decades past the honeymoon phase.

Researchers at Stony Brook University in New York compared the fMRI brain scans of people newly in love with those who claimed to still be in love after decades. Both groups—newly in love and long-term marrieds (married an average of 21 years) who claim to be still madly in love—showed activity in the dopamine-rich areas of the brain when they thought about or viewed images of their partner. The reward center part of the brains was very active; this is the same center that lights up for cocaine addicts when they use the drug.

Even more interesting is where the brain scans differed. The long-in-love brains showed no activity among areas commonly associated with anxiety and fear. “Individuals in long-term relationships may experience the excitement, sexual attraction, engagement, and intensity associated with romantic love, “ says study co-author Bianco Acevedo. “But they report pining, anxiety, intrusive thinking far less than individuals newly in love.”

Instead of activating the anxiety areas of the brain, the long-marrieds had more active brain areas that were associated with pleasure and pain relief. (I’ve shared other research that showed touch from a loved one can reduce one’s pain. Read Need a Pain Reliever? Try Love. ) These pleasure centers are the same areas that become active when we eat good food or use certain substances, such as morphine. The long-term lovers’ brains also showed more activity related to brain regions associated with maternal love.

The news may not be positive for some couples, says the study’s other co-author, Arthur Aron, who says some couples don’t want to hear that others have a steady, unyielding passion for one another. “Nobody wants to hear about couples doing better than they are. We all like to believe we’re the best.”

On the other hand, engaged and married couples, as well as marriage therapists, should understand that it is very possible for many couples to retain that passion, and not just be content companions. How can they do that? Aron’s other research suggests the most successful couples are the ones that help one another engage in self-expansion—something we discussed in the recent post Is the Happy Marriage the ‘Me’ Marriage? Aron also says couples who were still in love reported more frequent sex, adjusted for age.

See the Time Magazine article here that describes the study.

Do you think most married couples would show very different brain scans than the ones self-selected in the study as having the same passion as those newly in love? Where do you think research should tread next in this area?

Photo Credit: ©Marem/PhotoXpress.com

Improve Sexual Sparks with Better Body Image

“Keeping the Sparks Alive” Series Post 2

Couples face many obstacles to maintaining sexual compatibility and satisfaction. Some find the challenges too daunting and give up on this vital part of marriage, because they believe their spouse will never understand their needs and desires.

However, there are many resources that can help you each see things a little more as your partner does, giving you a glimpse at what it takes to improve your intimacy. Many obstacles seem out of your control, but in fact, you can do a lot to encourage your spouse. For example, if your spouse suffers from a poor body image, this can put a wet blanket on your sex lives.

It’s interesting that research shows most men have a very positive body image—even when they’ve gained a little weight over the years. Women, on the other hand, overwhelmingly obsess about every dimple and compare the shape of their hips and breasts to the world’s top supermodels. A constant barrage of media advertising “perfect” bodies and “how to achieve the perfect body” exacerbates the problem. The fact that many women bear children and have subsequent body changes is also a factor. However, the issue of negative body image can affect both men and women.

Case in point, Scott Means at Journey to Surrender did a terrific post recently on Shame and Intimacy in Physical Appearance. He writes about the shame he felt with his body image battle as he turned 50 and had gained some extra weight. It was the first time he had felt shame with regard to his appearance, and it impacted him every time he looked in the mirror. He didn’t want to undress in front of his wife, and he thought about it when they were intimate.

Scott concluded that his negative self-image was negatively impacting his marriage and suggested that individuals with self-image problems are less able to receive affection, may even doubt their spouse’s love, will be less bold sexually, and will have less interest in sex. In the worst cases, the person may give up on their appearance or lose interest in sex altogether.

I thought it was a brave post, because no one wants to admit they have insecurities. I also wanted to share it because we rarely hear this kind of honesty from men. On the other hand, I would bet the vast majority of female readers have a number of body-image issues with which they struggle.

Better Body Image

I know many of you have New Year’s resolutions to “get in shape” or “lose weight.” By all means, stick to your health plans as long as they are not obsessive. However, your size and shape should not determine how you value yourself and how you interact with the love of your life.

Why is it that some people who aren’t the best looking according to our cultural standards can feel great about their bodies, while others that look fabulous suffer from insecurities? The reason is that sex appeal and feeling sexy are 90% attitude and 10% appearance, according to Scott. He adds, “Confidence, a positive outlook and a healthy sense of self-worth can easily overshadow any perceived physical flaws you may have. Remind yourself about your best features and the things your spouse most admires. Choose to focus on these things. Believe in your inherent beauty as a person. Accept at face value the praises and admiration of your spouse …”

Dr. Patricia Love in Hot Monogamy reminds us that individuals report passion is much more important in a lover than a hot body. Lacking passion and interest in sex is a turn-off. Most spouses care much less about the shape of the body than about how their partner responds to them. Giving full attention, showing enjoyment, showing interest in sex—these are all things that heat things up and keep them hot.

Dr. Love suggests you give honest praise to your partner regularly about the things you like about their body, and about the things you value in them as a lover. These comments can substantially improve your partner’s body image and self-image as an intimate partner.

If your partner struggles with body image, please do not tell them they need to get in shape. Encourage healthy habits, but express your love and desire regardless. You may want to read my past post Loving a Woman’s Body. Also, Scott’s popular post The Body-Image Battle offers a Christian perspective on this issue to help men encourage their wives.

“If you want to fan the flames of sexual intimacy, think of yourself as the hot woman or man you want to be and act as if you are. You will be amazed at the difference it will make,” says Scott.

Do you believe body image—either by your or your spouse—affects the quality of your intimacy? Do you feel self-confident, or do you struggle with your feelings about your physical appearance? If you have overcome body-image problems, how did you do so? Are you open with your spouse about your struggles? Is your partner demeaning about your appearance? How do you handle it?

Sexy Links:

OK, since you’ve read this far, you’re not embarrassed to read discussions about sex. Which is good, because Julie Sibert doesn’t mince words in this article for The Generous Husband, Why Your Wife Thinks Sex is Gross. It might open your eyes about how sex can be more mutually enjoyable, messy and all. Julie’s blog, Intimacy in Marriage, “Encourages Christian women toward healthy sexual intimacy.”

Simple Marriage is now enrolling couples and individuals in the Blow Up My Marriage course. Check it out. Corey Allan, PhD, offers weekly online workshops that have a unique perspective.

Thanks to Paul Byerly of The Generous Husband for naming Marriage Gems a 2010 Hot Marriage Blog!

Photo: ©Sundikova/PhotoXpress.com

Is the Happy Marriage the ‘Me’ Marriage?

New research suggests a happy marriage is more about focusing on “me” than “we.” I want to share the findings and see if you agree. The gist of the research is that while many couples stay together out of obligation or commitment, they may not find their marriages satisfying and enjoyable. To make the relationship meaningful, we have to grow and expand ourselves as a result of what we learn from our partner.

Arthur Aron, professor and director of the Interpersonal Relationships Laboratory at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and Gary W. Lewandowski Jr., a professor at Monmouth University in New Jersey, studied how people use their relationships to expand themselves by accumulating knowledge and experiences. The more self-expansion individuals experience from their partner, the more committed and satisfied they are, say researchers. They developed a questionnaire to measure self-expansion and satisfaction in relationships. For example, respondents chose higher ratings if their spouse introduced them to new experiences or taught them new things. Thus, the relationship was deemed more rewarding or satisfying.

The researchers say that focusing on improving ourselves may sound self-serving, but it enhances the relationship. Your partner becomes more important in your life as he or she helps you grow and learn, or even meet new people. By broadening our horizons, our spouse can help us broaden the way we look at ourselves, they say. Read Tara Parker-Pope’s summary of the research in the New York Times.

I’ve shared research in the past about how thinking in terms of “we” rather than “me” is beneficial to the marriage.  (Read The Power of “We” in Relationships. )There’s also a large consensus that says putting your spouse and marriage first is the way to find a lasting marriage. So, how do these apparently disparate results jibe with one another?

I don’t believe they are so disparate after all. When I heard one of the researchers describe the study during a TV interview, he said the basics of a relationship—love, commitment—are primary and need to be met first. Helping one another expand our horizons does improve our satisfaction levels. However, I don’t believe it means we should focus only on ourselves. If I’m only concerned with what I’m getting from my partner, and not what I am bringing to the relationship, I don’t believe it will be very satisfying, meaningful and sustainable. When both partners are eager to share new ideas, new friends, new experiences and knowledge, the relationship will become more exciting and rewarding. In fact, we’ve long known that trying new things together keeps the love hormones (oxytocin) flowing in our relationship.

Further research found couples who were involved in new and interesting experiences together were less likely to report boredom in the relationship, and they were more likely to see their lives as overlapping rather than separate. Dr. Lewandowsky says, “If your partner is helping you become a better person, you become happier and more satisfied in the relationship.”

The helpful part of the research is that it reminds us we need to maintain individual interests and individual growth, and that sharing our thoughts, feelings and experiences should be an important part of our lives as a couple. It’s important to retain our own identify and not lose ourselves while trying to meet another person’s every need. However, by focusing only on our own needs, I think we negate the purpose of marriage and reduce our opportunity for intimacy. It also may lead to the harmful conclusion that our partner is not “doing enough to make us happy.” Instead, we can ask ourselves what are we doing to make our own lives fulfilling and meaningful, and how are we sharing our lives more fully with our spouse.

How are you focusing on your own growth this year? How are you supporting your spouse in his or her efforts to grow and expand this year? How are you sharing your experiences in a meaningful way?

Photo Credit: ©PhotoXpress.com

Sex Resolutions and How Much Sex is Ideal?

As promised, this is the first in my Friday series called “Keeping the Sparks Alive!” in which you’ll receive links and suggestions from various experts on how to keep the sexual part of your marriage union in top-notch shape.

While it’s true every marriage has its ebbs and flows as far as sexual excitement (early parenthood being a recognized low for most couples), sexual intimacy should not be placed on the back burner for too long, or the marriage could be irreparably harmed. Remember that while many of the tasks you provide for your family can be outsourced, only spouses can (or should) satisfy sexual needs and desires. It’s a critical component of any marriage.

I’ll begin this series with some resolutions to consider for 2011 from sex and relationship expert Ian Kerner. Joy Behar on CNN interviewed him to ask for some sex resolutions to assist couples. He advised the following:

  1. Have sex once a week. (See note below regarding how to determine the ideal frequency for your marriage.) Make time for it, and get in the mood. Sometimes you have to put your body and mind through the motions before you feel in the mood. If you wait until the stars align and the laundry is complete, it may never happen.
  2. Have a positive relationship with positive interactions if you want to have a sexy marriage. Don’t call your partner names or complain about work, chores or the bills when you meet at the end of the day—then expect your partner to feel amorous.
  3. Invest in your relationship. Kerner says while many couples cut back on date nights and vacations last year due the recession, it’s time to put the investment back in these important activities. After all, he says, divorce is even more expensive.
  4. Cultivate intimacy outside the bedroom. A 30-second hug helps women raise their oxytocin levels (those feel-good hormones released during sex or breastfeeding). For men, it takes a 60-second hug to have this effect.

Those sound like realistic goals, no? Regarding the ideal sexual frequency for couples, author and marital therapist Michele Weiner-Davis says this is a common area of conflict for couples. She says in case you are wondering, the average American couple has sex 1.5 times per week. However, what works well for one couple doesn’t work well for another. The right frequency is whatever works for you both. The problem lies when one spouse has a much higher or lower sex drive than the other. What’s a couple to do?

The worst thing they do is argue about “who is right” and “who is wrong,” she says. Don’t debate it, but do discuss how you might meet in the middle and attempt to meet both people’s needs.  Maintain ongoing communication without being harsh to one another.

Interesting links this week:

I also promised more links this year to other posts. This one by Laura Munson at Huffington Post is a nice follow-up to my first happiness post. Laura found new freedom after letting go of suffering and choosing happiness. Read Laura’s article Living the New Year moment by moment.

Fox News featured Alisa Bowman’s 7 Ways to Fix a Marriage.

The Generous Husband generously posted a guest post by yours truly called 7 Ways a Man Truly Loves a Woman. He also had an interesting idea to come up with three things you each want to change about your marriage this year, one easy, one medium difficult and one that would take effort. Read it here.

Neuroscientists are discovering any time we feel safe, warm, loved, and cherished, we activate the release of small doses of oxytocin in the brain. And oxytocin is the brain’s direct and immediate antidote to cortisol (the stress hormone). If you’re interested in a scientific explanation of how oxytocin levels cancel out stress, check out this article The Neuroscience of Resilience. I especially liked the last few paragraphs.  

Photo credit: ©PhotoXpress.com

Why is Personal Happiness Important to Marital Happiness?

Many children have an innate ability to embrace joy and happiness in everyday experiences.

This is the first in my new Wednesday series of posts on the topic of “Happy Life, Happy Marriage.” Happiness is an elusive topic, one that has been heavily researched, yet seldom understood with much depth. I’d like to shed some light on what is known about achieving happiness, and share my own insights and findings as well.

I’ve had an interest in “happiness” for years, and wrote a post here explaining the difference between seeking pleasure, happiness or joy. Making the quest for happiness the top priority in your life will not be likely to succeed unless you understand that sometimes a little pain or discomfort is necessary to achieve it.  For example, we can’t lead our children to happiness by shielding them from working hard or failure. What I’m really striving for in my life is true joy, but most people call it happiness.

“The only thing Joy has in common with (Happiness and Pleasure) 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.”– C.S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy

Why is happiness important to marriage? Dennis Prager, in his book Happiness is a Serious Problem, asserts that we have a moral obligation to ourselves and our partners, as well as to our children and friends to be has happy as we can be. “This does not mean acting unreal, and it certainly does not mean refraining from honest and intimate expressions of our feelings to those closest to us. But it does mean that we owe it to others to work on our happiness.”

We treat others better when we are happier. We treat ourselves better, too. Will a marriage benefit from two people treating themselves and one another better? Of course.

Some aspects of happiness are within our control, and some are not. I’ll be sharing some of Prager’s suggestions on how to incorporate greater happiness into your life. By focusing on activities that can lead to lasting happiness and joy, you will also benefit your marriage. I encourage you to discuss the ideas with your spouse and share your experiences and feedback with one another and with other readers here.

The first point to understand about happiness is that we take the easy road when we allow ourselves to be unhappy.  It takes no effort to complain and be miserable. It takes great effort to be happy. You’ve been told that the narrow, right path is not the easy way. It’s easy to go with the flow and go the wrong way. It’s more in our nature to be dissatisfied and unhappy than to be happy. “Happiness is a battle to be waged and not a feeling to be awaited,” says Prager.  While not all happiness is within our control, much—even most—of it is, he adds. But it will require hard work and a concerted effort to change our mindset.

I think it’s doable if we take it in small chunks and incorporate pieces into our lives. Each of us has the capacity to improve our happiness, even if we feel today that we may never be happy.

I wish you a truly happy and joyful New Year!

Photo ©Ming Lowe

Enhance the Resilience of Your Relationship

Resiliency:  The capacity to adapt and bounce back in the face of adversity. It’s a trait we would all like to have. And we would like our relationships to benefit from the trait as well. Wherever you are on your marriage journey, infusing your relationship with more characteristics of resiliency can be beneficial.

Scott Haltzman, M.D., recently shared with me a couple of interesting facts about resiliency. The first is that one-third of our predictive ability to withstand stress is based on genetics. The second is that children exposed to moderate levels of adversity or failure are shown to better handle adversity later in life.  So, part of being resilient you may attribute to your family of origin or how you were raised. A large part is still self-determined.

This is the last post in which I will share some tidbits from the book, Healing Together, which I have recommended for couples dealing with any kind of loss or trauma. Authors Suzanne Phillips and Diane Kane say resilience is needed for couples to move forward with their lives after a loss. Resilience, in my view, is important to all of us, particularly at crisis times in our lives. In the book, Phillips and Kane assess factors that are associated with resilience and guide the reader on how to incorporate those qualities in the relationship. So these factors are discussed below in terms of relationship resilience, not individual resilience. These are only some of the factors discussed in the book.

Hardiness—This quality is essential for thriving under stress. Hardiness is made up of commitment, control and challenge. As a couple you actively work on the addressing the situation and express commitment to one another during the recovery. (“I’ll be there for you no matter what it takes.”) Each person recognizes what they can and cannot control. (You cannot control an illness, but you can face it together.) Together, you view the event as a challenge, reframing it for the opportunities it presents in your life. You find inner resources you didn’t know you had.

Positive Outlook—Resilient people don’t just put a smile on their faces. They use positive coping strategies, including seeking the benefits of a situation, using humor, or finding a positive meaning.

Positive Affirmations—I’ve previously shared research on how celebrating positive events in one another’s lives can boost our relationship bond. When going through a trauma, particularly a loss of someone close, the tendency is to avoid celebrations of your own life and happiness. Our loved ones would not want that for us. “Celebration of life and each other gives you the strength to recover as well as to hold on to the memories of those you have loved,” say the authors. Couples should take time to affirm one another’s successes (even small ones!) and positive experiences. Celebrate the joys and pleasures that you experience in life, and share them with your spouse.

Social Networks—Meaningful, supportive connection with others, including a spouse, is the most important component of recovery. Discuss as a couple how you can benefit from the support of others while maintaining your privacy and boundaries of confidentiality.

Laughter/Humor—Being able to laugh together during tough times can be very healing. “Humor has been reported to promote intimacy, belonging, and cohesiveness,” say the authors.

The Capacity for Hope—After a trauma, people often can’t see the future as anything positive. There are no dreams for a better life, only pain. “Hope is the ability to have options” according to trauma expert Yael Danieli, who adds that the greatest source of hope is the feeling of belonging. Thinking of others who love or need us gives us hope.

Problem-Solving Skills—Assess the problem, brainstorm solutions, evaluate pros and cons, decide on a plan, including who is best suited for what part of the plan.

Couples going through a crisis often take turns being resilient, supportive and hopeful, while the other is struggling. It may help to remind your partner of the resilient traits they possess, such as a great sense of humor.

Hope is such a strong concept for me. It’s the hopes and dreams for ourselves and our loved ones that make life so exciting. This blog really is dedicated to providing hope to couples that they can experience what marriage is meant to be. My hope for you is that whether you are healthy and happy this year or recovering from illness or loss, that you can remain hopeful in your relationship. Share your hopes and dreams with your spouse, and support one another as you move toward those dreams.

Which of these factors do you think are most important to resiliency? Do you come from a resilient family? Do you believe your relationship is resilient or not? Why?

Photo Credit: ©TEA/PhotoExpress.com

Web-Based Marriage Skills Training is Affordable & Private

Win a free lifetime membership! Power of Two will award two free lifetime memberships to this week’s winners. Read and comment to qualify.

Jesse Heitler was a computer whiz from Yale when he joined his family’s established business, Power of Two, about five years ago. It was his vision to bring interactive, web-based marriage skills training to the company that drastically changed how Power of Two would operate.

A 20-year-old organization, Power of Two (or PO2) was founded by his mother, Dr. Susan Heitler, an experienced marital therapist and author of the book, Power of Two. His sister, Dr. Abigail Hirsch had followed in her mother’s footsteps to become a psychologist and provide training and education on marriage skills; she had joined her mother’s business a few years ahead of Jesse. Their brother, Jacob, also joined the company after earning his MBA.

When Jesse explored the industry and attended a marriage education convention, he realized that most of the couples he knew getting married were of a completely different generation and mindset than the experienced clinicians giving marriage advice. He believed he and his friends would sooner turn to the Internet for marriage advice than to their church pastor or a marriage counselor. Having just sold a previous start-up, Jesse was excited to try working with his mother and sister to see if they could find a way to bring marriage education to the Internet.  The trick would be to determine how to reach couples in an affordable, fun manner. Recruiting a family friend, who was skilled at creative production and also worked as a comedian, was a big part of the solution.

A new business model was born:  a membership-based Internet marriage skills training program. At $18 per month for access to all the videos, articles and interactive programs members want, the company says it’s in the range of coffee money, especially when compared to the expense of couples’ therapy. The company currently has about 1,000 members, and services are scalable to any number.

Initially, Dr. Hirsch told me, the PO2 staff believed they would be targeting mostly women and younger couples with the online model. They have since found the age range to be much more broad than expected. They were also surprised that “a huge percentage of members are men,” and that men tend to be the most active members. Dr. Hirsch explains, “We hear all the time from men, ‘My wife and I tried counseling, and I felt the counselor was always on her side.’” Men value the privacy and neutrality of the online program. They learn the skills, practice, get feedback, can ask personal questions, and see positive changes in their marriage, adds Dr. Hirsch.

Power of Two’s goal is to provide educational resources to all couples, so they don’t get to the point where divorce is on the table, says Dr. Hirsch. The program is based on Dr. Heitler’s many years of clinical practice. The skill sets are useful in the real world, and they’re not a band-aid approach, she adds. For example, many people teach listening skills as “parroting back” what you heard your partner say. Dr. Hirsch says real people don’t talk like that, and they won’t keep that strategy going. “We teach you how to really listen, not to debate.”

The program isn’t only for couples who feel they are struggling. It’s useful for premarital education, for couples early in their marriage, soon-to-be parents, couples who want to tweak certain areas of their marriage, as well as couples who need a major overhaul. The program can be done on a flexible schedule, together or separately.

Dr. Hirsch says she uses the skills in her own marriage, and says her husband attributes the program to enhancing their marriage during the stressful period of their second child’s birth. “We were practicing the skills a ton, trying to learn how to teach them to others,” says Dr. Hirsch. “My husband said, ‘This is changing our marriage. This is what makes things fun and allows us to enjoy each other and not get stuck on the daily wrinkles.’”

Power of Two was in many ways already a company on the cutting edge before moving to the Internet. The organization prides itself on making sure that the solutions they’re advocating for others are hard at work within their company as well. In particular, they believed in work/life balance above all else. Employees’ marriages and families are as high a priority as their work responsibilities, explains Dr. Hirsch. “It’s critical that we all have rock-solid marriages if we sell marriage help. We should be a model of how you can run a business and run lives that work well,” she added. How does a balanced workplace look? Employees take real vacations. They learn how to turn off their cell phones. They sometimes telecommute or work a flexible schedule. Their employees work from offices in Berkeley, San Francisco, London and Denver. “Somehow in America we have gotten out of whack on our priorities. It will only change when someone screams for marriage and family,” she adds. Juggling three young boys of her own, she understands what is at stake. Read the team bios here.

The same principles from the book are used online, with more enhancements, marriage boosters, and quick tips. There’s also more entertainment and humor in the online program. The topics are based on:

  1. Emotion regulation—How to keep disagreements calm and supportive, how to navigate difficult conversations.
  2. Communication—How to say things in a way your partner can hear and understand, and how to listen in a way that makes your partner feel heard.
  3. Decision making—How to make win-win joint decisions.
  4. Positivity/Intimacy—How to express your love day-in and day-out.

Members receive individualized feedback on personalized assessments. They can also ask personal questions. One of the psychologists may recommend they see a professional if the problem is particularly difficult or complicated. Most couples view the membership as similar to the Netflix model; some months they use it a lot, and some months they use it less. “They appreciate knowing it’s there when they are ready or when they need to get back on track,” says Dr. Hirsch. They also receive reminders.

The program sounds unique, affordable and beneficial to a wide range of couples. As always, I receive no financial benefit for sharing this information with you, but since I was excited by the innovative approach, I knew many readers would also be. You can read testimonials, take a quiz, or get started here.

Power of Two has generously offered two free LIFETIME memberships to their program. If you would like to be entered in the drawing for a free membership, simply make a comment below, or send me a private message if you prefer. I’ll hold the drawing in about one week. Everyone else can still benefit from a free 14-day trial membership. And, Power of Two offers a money-back 100% satisfaction guarantee on its site for members. If you decide to join, I would love to hear your input on the program’s impact on your marriage.

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Bypass Your Conflict to Jumpstart Love Again

“My heart skipped a beat.” “My heart was racing.” These are the comments of someone experiencing excited new love or infatuation. But these feelings don’t compare with the strong, steady heartbeat of a stable, loving marriage.

What about spouses who fall out of love? Sometimes a couple loses all but a glimmer of hope and thinks it won’t be possible to work through a stalemate that is blocking all loving feelings. Yet, bypassing the hurt can often be a much better strategy than working “through” it.

My father had open heart surgery yesterday, following the urgent discovery of two badly placed blockages that closed 95% of two arteries.  His surgeon didn’t fix the arteries by clearing the blockage; instead, he stopped the heart, grafted a new vein around the blockage and restarted the heart. Through miracle of technology, divine intervention, or the good fortune of his 63-year-old genes, he was sitting up and talking this morning. The doctors said working through the blockages was not a successful strategy, but the workaround was a success.

Michele Weiner-Davis, a progressive marriage counselor and author of the very popular book Divorce Busting, explains this “bypass” strategy in her book and in various writings. Whereas some therapists, especially in decades past, focus on a couples’ hurts and the deeply rooted causes and effects of negative behaviors, Weiner-Davis advocates a couple change strategies entirely to focus on a time when they were happier and on behaviors that they know in the past made their spouse happier.

For example, a wife might recall that in their newlywed years they took off for fun weekend excursions, so she might plan a similar getaway to reconnect. A husband might recall how much his wife appreciated it when he paid her more attention and was a more active father. Then, he might choose to adopt those behaviors and not focus on a conflict they were having or a negative trait he sees in his wife. Soon, the feelings are following their actions.

The sad fact is many conflicts we have with our spouse will NEVER be solved. (That’s true of all marriages.) But if your marriage is 95% blocked and you see no way out, find a work-around; don’t throw in the towel. If your life were on the line, you’d find a skilled surgeon. You’d take risks. You’d try experimental treatments. You might even change your lifestyle.

You can indeed restart the loving feelings if you reach down to locate the fond memories and experiences of your past, and use them to graft a bypass around your problem.

I’m celebrating my 15-year anniversary today (happy anniversary, sweetie!) to a guy who isn’t perfect, but he’s pretty close. We have, of course, had our problems and frustrations. But I have such a wellspring of positive experiences with him from which to draw upon.

I can cause myself to have more positive feelings toward him when recall the great days—strolling through Paris, exploring wine country, dancing with our children, celebrating in Vegas—than when I think about our struggles or his perceived faults. In actuality, thinking of these positive times makes my heart skip a beat.

If you’re having a rough time or a difficult conflict with your spouse, change strategies and work on a bypass. Have you ever tried this? If so, was it successful or not?

Photo Credit: ©PhotoXpress.com

6 Tips to Improve Your Body Image

In Do You Have a Low Body Image? we talked about why women seem to struggle with our bodies while men confidently walk half naked on the beach. We also discussed why a low body image negatively affects your marriage and sex life. As promised, following are 6 tips gleaned from Dr. Patricia Love’s Hot Monogamy and my own experience for improving a low body image:

1. If you’re careless about your appearance—wear mostly sweats and a ponytail, baggy pjs to bed and don’t take the time to get your haircut and groom yourself, you may be communicating to your spouse and yourself that you aren’t worthy of the effort to look good. Make the most of what you’ve got; wear clothes that accentuate your positive attributes and make you feel good about yourself. Invest in a nice haircut. Get a massage if it makes you feel good.

2. If you’re obsessive about your appearance and spend hours each week at the tanning salon, hair salon and making sure your hair and makeup are perfect, it’s time to pull away from that focus on your appearance. What do your friends like about you? What does your spouse appreciate and enjoy about you? Focus on those attributes and spend your energy elsewhere. Spend energy on activities you enjoy.

3. Make fitness and healthy a part of your daily life. I feel better about my body when I’m exercising a few times a week. It may not change my body that much, but it shapes my frame of mind that I’m strong and capable, and I think we project that positive energy to others. Taking the time to plan and implement a fairly healthy diet for yourself and your family also shows you and they are worthwhile.

4. If your spouse has a lower-than-ideal body image, there are ways you can help. First, don’t point out your spouse’s faults, even if you think they need to lose weight or get in shape. Criticism about their body will only make them feel worse and probably won’t lead to any positive change. Instead, send out a continual message of acceptance. Support a healthy lifestyle yourself, and invite your spouse to participate with you. Compliment your partner on physical attributes you find attractive, and regularly share other characteristics you enjoy about him or her.

5. Visualize Body Acceptance. For many women, a healthy body image is not a matter of their appearance at all, it’s a matter of their perception of their appearance. Dr. Love has a long script in her book that includes language you repeat to yourself allowing you to become comfortable with your body and appreciative of its function and beauty just as it is. She also suggests viewing your body in the mirror while thinking positive thoughts about it. “This is my body. I love my body.” Repeating these exercises replaces some of the negative self-talk you may have been feeding yourself. I’ve heard women casually say, “Well, I’m a fat cow, so…” If you heard these comments from someone else, you would call them hurtful. They are still hurtful coming from you. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones like “I”m getting stronger.”

6. Don’t compare your body to others. Instead, think of all the things your body can do—dance, swim, jog, give birth, nurse children, walk through the woods, lie on the beach. Think of how much joy it gives your spouse. Think of all the older people who would trade places with your healthy body in a heartbeat. Listen to your husband when he compliments you. Repeat the compliment in your head, smile, and say thank you. See Loving a Woman’s Body for insight into how your man views you. Some husbands expressed their frustration at not being able to convey to their wives that they love their shape.

The key is loving your body the way it is right now, not after you lose 10 pounds and fit into your skinny jeans. Not after you’ve had plastic surgery to correct your “flaws.” Today. Just as you are.

For your homework assignment, write “I love my body” on a sticky note for your bathroom mirror. Compliment yourself while you get ready in the morning. Carry yourself with poise and exude confidence.