Your relationship maintenance checklist.

Have you had the gutters cleaned on your house lately?  How about weeding and lawn mowing?  Maybe you have had to fix a leak or repair a crack in the wall. Your house, in order to stay in good working order needs regular maintenance. Failure to take care of those tasks and your house is likely to suffer and eventually fall into disrepair, the same is true for the relationships in your life. Regular relationship maintenance will keep the love alive and the investment in your relationship strong.  So what’s needed to sustain a healthy relationship?

relationship maintenanceRelationship maintenance refers to regular behaviors that are engaged in by partners in an effort to stay together.  The more relational maintenance you engage in as a couple the better your chances of longevity in the relationship. Researchers Laura Stafford and Daniel J. Canary identified a set of five general relationship behaviors that when engaged in regularly increase the quality of the relationship.

Your relationship maintenance checklist…

Continue reading Your relationship maintenance checklist.

Is marriage counseling inevitable?

All couples have challenges, there is no doubt about that. Sometimes the challenges are external; job related stresses or job loss, familial conflict or major life events like the birth of a child. Some conflicts are internal; depression and anxiety can result in conflict in a relationship, poor habits from past relationships or even patterns learned as a child all contribute to how you relate to your partner.  Add to that personality differences, cultural differences and you have loads of potential for conflict.

Is it just inevitable that at some point in a long term committed relationship you would need to seek marriage counseling?

marriage counseling

Just as the question gets complicated so does the answer.  All couples can benefit from learning new relationship skills. Couples who are able to manage conflict in a healthy way are far less likely to divorce or need counseling. While all couples can benefit from a good marriage therapist, counseling can likely be avoided if you are proactive about learning solid skills as early on in your relationship is possible. Continue reading Is marriage counseling inevitable?

Fight with your spouse this week? Blame daylight savings.

fight with your spouse
Daylight savings can wreak havoc on your week.

Did you fight with your spouse this week? Hopefully not. If you did, maybe it is out of the ordinary for you to fight.  You may be wondering why? What’s different? Of course there are many reasons couples fight, and there may not always be a singular cause. One possible cause is your emotional state. The physical environment and choices we make including what we eat and how much exercise we get contribute to both physical health as well as emotional health. Another key factor is sleep.  An article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday argued a link between the Daylight Savings time change and marital discord.  Specifically that when you lose sleep you are more likely to fight with your spouse. “They found that people were more likely to have conflict on days when they slept poorly the night before.”

“If you sleep poorly, you’re prone to being self-centered,” and “You focus on me, me, me, and is it any wonder that you are getting into fights with your partner?”

You many not always be able to avoid having a fight with your spouse. You can however keep in mind the many outside factors that are contributing.

The key here is to pay attention to your physical state.  When you feel yourself falling into those communication traps; snarky comments, negativity and self-centered behaviors or thoughts, STOP, ask yourself… Continue reading Fight with your spouse this week? Blame daylight savings.

Communicate with your spouse: During an argument.

In continuing with our mini-series on how to communicate with your spouse, this weeks installment is about navigating this tough communication road block: an argument.  Now, the idea of communicating with your spouse during an argument is a bit misleading because in truth you can’t! Effective arguing or “fighting fair” is something you occasionally hear as a solution to couples fighting.  In reality, effective arguing is an oxymoron.

communicate with your spouse
Don’t even try to communicate in this state. Instead, walk away, calm down and come back later.

When arguments are heated and tempers are flaring your brain, under the influence of adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormone) is actually incapable of making rational decisions.  The parts of your brain responsible for rational thinking and problem solving (the cortex) take a back seat to the lower, more primitive part of your brain, (you know, the old fight or flight part) the limbic system.  The limbic system, also know as the emotional center of your brain is not designed for calm, logical thought, you are better off putting the conversation in park until you can reactivate the cortex. Continue reading Communicate with your spouse: During an argument.

How to cultivate gratitude in your marriage this holiday season.

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude”

A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

The holiday season and particularly Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to take stock in your marriage.  These few weeks from Thanksgiving to New Years can get really crazy, it’s also a wonderful time to cultivate gratitude in your marriage and make sure your relationship is getting a piece of the pie! Gratitude is more than just being thankful for something you have.  It is a state of being that can bring more love, positivity and peace and health into your life. Gratitude is an intentional act, gratitude in your marriage as in all things opens the door to deeper and more fulfilling relationship and holiday season.

gratitude in your marriage

Gratitude is the antidote to desire.  How is it that as a culture we have created the story that Thursday is the day to slow down, celebrate all that we already have and experience gratitude. Then comes black Friday where we are encouraged to hurry up, get to the store and compete with each other to satisfy our never ending need for things. Cultivating true gratitude will alleviate the need for the latest, greatest, cheapest goods and will allow love, respect and joy to be elevated in your marriage and beyond.

Here are a few ways to keep the focus on gratitude and kindness this holiday season… Continue reading How to cultivate gratitude in your marriage this holiday season.

Healthy Marriage. What does that look like?

What is a healthy marriage?  This is an important question to answer in light of all the information we see and read (including on this blog) about a “healthy marriage.”  Benefits touted often include, better physical health, less depression, better outcomes for children and so much more.  How wonderful these benefits are, so how can we know what a healthy marriage is and how to achieve that standard in our own lives?

healthy marriage

Research done on this topic (see Moore et al., 2004, and NHMRC website http://www.healthymarriageinfo.org) resulted in this list…

• commitment to each other over the long haul
• positive communication
• ability to resolve disagreements and handle conflicts nonviolently
• emotional and physical safety in interaction
• sexual and psychological fidelity
• mutual respect
• spending enjoyable time together
• providing emotional support and companionship
• parents’ mutual commitment to their children

Let’s take a look at these one by one… Continue reading Healthy Marriage. What does that look like?

Want to stop fighting before it happens? Have a snack.

Want to stop fighting with your spouse?  Maybe low blood sugar is a factor. Remember that snickers commercial where the guy at the party is grouchy and disgruntled, his wing man comes over and offers him a snickers and after the first bite he is transformed into a charming and friendly guy?  It’s a silly idea, often referred to as being “hangry” and while anecdotal information abounds on this topic, turns out there is truth to the idea that low blood sugar can result in higher incidents of aggression in a marriage.  In a study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Brad Bushman gave 107 married couples voodoo dolls to represent their spouse, blood glucose levels were measured and participants were then asked to put pins in the dolls.  The end result…the lower the blood sugar, the more pins stuck in the dolls. So what is this really about? Will low blood sugar cause more arguments? Continue reading Want to stop fighting before it happens? Have a snack.

The top 5 tips to avoid holiday stress

Along with the fun and excitement of the winter season comes with a notorious amount of holiday stress. It can come from the inevitable interaction with less than liked relatives. It can result from financial troubles over rising heating bills and affording gifts and throwing parties. It can come from the overwhelming sense that the holidays have to be “perfect.” Chances are you’ll find yourself at the short end of your fuse and wondering how to make a relationship last through the holidays. Here are 5 effective tips for overcoming holiday stress and keep your marriage strong.

1. Set a budget. Holiday stress often comes from the strain it puts on our wallets. Avoid this by making a realistic budget for the season and sticking to it.Try doing a “secret Santa” arrangement in your family (for Christmas or Hanukah) to limit the number and price of gifts you give. Don’t buy new wrapping paper and bows—which is expensive and bad for the environment—instead, recycle pretty wrapping and boxes from the past year and improvise with cloth, magazines, and newspaper. By trimming off the fat you’ll find what really makes the holidays really special.


2. Muster the troops. Coming together as a family and delegating work for the holidays will reduce stress and increase your bond. Resist the temptation to “do it all.”The children can be given simple tasks such as helping in the kitchen,  decorating, or cleaning up. Play to each of your strengths and abilities. Making sure each person has their role set clearly beforehand will make them more likely to follow through.

3. Get some “us time.” Stay connected to your spouse by setting a goal to show positive intimacy every day. Give him a hug for “no reason” multiple times a day. Hold hands or give her a massage. Scientific marriage help books have shown physical touch releases stress reducing hormones. Plus, it shows you are there for each other. Also, be sure to take an adults-only date night. Go skating or take a walk to look at holiday lights. Do something that gets you alone and enjoying each other’s company.

4. Deflect confrontation. This one’s tricky, especially when we’re stressed out and have a couple of glasses of spiked eggnog in us.  The best option for a nosy or confrontational guest who gets on your back is to face the problem directly and politely. Try saying, “I can see how you feel that way…at the same time, lets just enjoy the party and set that conversation aside.” Check out PO2’s online marriage counseling resources sections “yes…and…” and “anger ceilings” to learn how to agree to disagree.

5. Take a break—a complete break! When you feel worn down, get out of the house and do something simple that doesn’t have anything to do with chores. Go for a walk around the neighborhood. Don’t try to cram something useful into the time like walking the dog or picking up some groceries. Use this moment to clear your mind, admire the houses on your block and their decorations, or the beautiful nature around you.

Is it OK for kids to see parents fighting?

Common wisdom holds that it is not good for children to see their parents fighting.  Witnessing marital conflict sets a bad example for young minds and reduces a child’s respect for his parents. Yet psychologists are divided about this subject. While all agree that witnessing abuse is damaging for any child, what about the occasional argument? Is it ever okay to have a disagreement in front of the kids?

Proponents of exposing kids to parents fighting argue that conflict is a part of life and hiding it from children does them a disservice. Children not exposed to conflict may grow up with an unrealistic view of human relationships and unprepared for the chaos of social life. Letting kids watch a marital spat shows them that it is possible to have disagreements and still love the people close to you. Witnessing arguments is also an opportunity to model healthy conflict resolution habits

.parents fighting

Professor Mark Cummings of Notre Dame University and his team have conducted several studies on children’s reactions to parents fighting. One study followed 235 families over the course of 7 years. At the beginning of the study researchers asked parents and their young children about conflict in the home and recorded indicators of emotional health. They then asked parents to discuss a touchy topic while recording how aggressively the couples argued. They followed up with surveys of the children and parents seven years later when the children were adolescents. Predictably, children from high conflict homes were less emotionally secure and more likely to act out than their peers. Continue reading Is it OK for kids to see parents fighting?

Nagging

Nagging: little words that cause big problems. Nagging is a pattern of negative communication in a relationship. Most of the time it goes something like this: one person asks for or recommends something, or comments on his spouse. He receives either a vague response or silence. Later, he asks again, which causes his spouse to feel even more resistant. This pattern escalates until it provokes anger and arguments.

Why does nagging happen? Part of the puzzle has to do with the different ways in which men and women communicate. According to some research, women are more emotionally perceptive and sensitive to signs that there is something troubling their spouse. Since women tend to be more verbally communicative and explicative, they expect full and detailed answers about what is wrong. Therefor, getting a terse or evasive response from their spouse feels troubling and unsatisfying and they will continue to ask about the matter. Continue reading Nagging