Laugh your way to a better marriage!

It turns out you really can laugh your way to a better marriage. A new study highlighted on abcNews.com reveals that relationships benefit when wives regularly let their husbands know when they are feeling happy. While open communication about problems is a key part of good marriage problem solving, it is equally important to let your spouse know when things are going well.

The findings “suggest that men may be more satisfied in their relationships when they can accurately read their partners’ positive emotions, while women’s relationship satisfaction may uniquely benefit when they can accurately read their partners’ negative emotions.” Both partners benefit when the other can accurately read their unhappiness or distress.

So why do women like to know when their husbands are unhappy and men like to know when their wives are happy? Dr. Heitler, who was interviewed for the article, believes that it has to do with the fact that most women get a feeling of satisfaction from nurturing and “fixing” emotional problems. Men tend to absorb the emotions of their spouse.

“We get a serotonin fix from it, a spurt of well-being from having been nurturing in that way,” said Heitler.  ”On the other hand, men find that happiness in knowing their woman is happy. It goes with the saying, ‘happy wife, happy life.’”

These findings provide some food for thought about repairing marriages. Many couples seek out couples counseling because the joy in their marriage has withered. They believe that there are certain problems that, once worked through, will allow their marriage to blossom. While solving the cause negative emotions is important for marriage repair, consciously introducing more positive emotions is equally essential. Marriages are fixed by addition of the positive as well as subtraction of the negative. Expressing positivity is an important part of how to rekindle a relationship and you might even laugh your way to a better marriage. Let your spouse know when things are working–that happiness will provide fuel for your relationship to grow.

Read the whole article at abcNews.com

Materialism and your marriage are not compatable

Two noteworthy things happened today regarding marriage and money. One made me smile, the other made me think. The two are connected in a wonderful way.

First, today was the wedding of Bhutan’s charming young king Wangchuck to his longtime girlfriend, Jetsun Pema, a commoner. Not much was said about the bride in the SF Chronicle article, except that the king desired a queen who was “a good human being as well as unwavering in her commitment to the people and the country.” He found all that in his sweet fiance.

In addition to this being a heartwarming union, the following caught my eye:

Wangchuck’s father, the country’s revered fourth king, introduced to the world the philosophy of Gross National Happiness, the idea that spiritual and mental well-being matter as much as money, and that material gain should not come at the expense of the environment or culture.

I started thinking about how Gross National Happiness could be connected to marriage. The plot began to thicken after I read today’s Second Noteworthy Thing….

Today abcNews.com reported that couples who are focused on earning and spending money tend to have significantly less happy marriages. A Brigham Young University study found that “materialism was associated with spouses having lower levels of responsiveness and less emotional maturity. Materialism was also linked to less effective communication, higher levels of negative conflict, lower relationship satisfaction, and less marriage stability.”

There are several possible explanations for the findings. Firstly, materialism may be the indicator of a slew of other problems, such as childhood neglect, low self-esteem, or compulsions, that are the real root of marriage problems. Materialistic traits have also been found to go hand-in-hand with a whole host of problematic  behaviors. “People who are materialistic tend to be narcissistic and concerned with impressing people,” said Dr. Heitler, interviewed for the article.”They have a tendency to be anxious, depressed, have relatively poor relationship skills and have low self-esteem. These qualities in turn can cause marital problems.”

On the other hand, it could simply be that an individual’s obsession with keeping up with the Joneses leaves him little time to work on his marriage.

Financial stability is important in keeping a marriage strong and happy. However, studies have shown that once individuals get beyond the amount of money needed to keep them secure and free, happiness does not continue to increase with higher income or more “stuff”. In fact, more assets and belongings actually increase stress. So back to Bhutan and the idea of Gross National Happiness. I agree that happiness and wellbeing are far more important than what you spend. I challenge you to start thinking about your Gross Domestic Happiness just like any other asset. It is just as–if not more– important as your finances. Check in on the account once an a while. Do you need to invest a little more? Knowing how to communicate in a relationship is essential for this.

I wish King Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema a long and happy marriage. I hope the national values instilled by Wangchuck’s father will help keep the destructiveness of materialism far from their home and the homes of Bhutan’s citizens.

 

Weight, women, men and relationships

Dr. Susan Heitler recently appeared on ABC News with Diane Sawyer to discuss a new study from Ohio State University.  The study found that changes in your relationship—specifically, marriage and divorce—can cause unhealthy changes in your weight. Previous studies on women, men and relationships have shown that marriage causes weight gain, and divorce causes weight loss. This new research reveals details about the effects and shows that divorce actually leads to weight gain.

Women tend to gain weight after marriage, while the combination of men and relationships is more complicated. Men gain less weight than women, and sometimes become healthier. This may be because women start taking on the responsibilities of running the household, including raising children, and find less time to take care of their health. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to participate in healthful behaviors such as doctors’ check-ups and better eating once they are no longer bachelors.

Divorce also leads to increased Body Bass Index (BMI). For men and relationships, divorce means the undoing of the health benefits of marriage and they may fall into old bad habits of singledom.

marriage and divorce can lead to weight gain
marriage and divorce can lead to weight gain

Dr. Heitler noted for the abcNews.com article that both events are times of immense life change and extreme emotions. Emotional exhaustion and stress may make it difficult to muster up the energy to be physically active. In addition, emotional eating may kick in. Depression, for example, is common after divorce. “There’s an impulse to self-soothe with food combined with a drop in self-control that comes with depression or grieving,” Heitler said. “People will think, ‘Not only do I feel like eating a candy bar, but I just don’t have the will power to say no.'”

Eating out of joy is also emotional eating. Newlywed couples may find themselves celebrating, sharing more meals together, and reflecting the happiness of their union in food. Men and relationships may also influence women to eat more like their husbands in terms of quantity and kind.

The solution? Pay attention to your body. Don’t let your focus on your health slip during emotional times of transition, says dietitian Keri Glassman. “Be aware and be mindful of all the different lifestyle factors going on for you at the time.”

Hollywood endings and the effects of divorce on children

Ever notice how Hollywood movies always end in divorce reconciliation? Two recent releases, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” and “Stupid Crazy Love,” have this as their underlying theme. In both movies, estranged spouses reunite after they work out their differences and realize they’re still in love. No relationship problem seems too big for Hollywood to overcome. On Tuesday abcNews.com brought up an interesting conversation of the pros and cons of the fairy-tale happy ending and the effects of divorce on children.

So called “comedies of remarriage” have been around since the 1930s, but the most famous and influential is The Parent Trap (1961), which has been remade several times. Interestingly, most of these movies cater to children and perhaps reflect the growing normalcy of divorce in children’s live. The effects of divorce on children are difficult, and many often long for parents to get back together. According to psychology professor Christy Buchanan of Wakeforest University, this type of fantasy wish fulfillment can be dangerous. “It’s not unusual for kids to have fantasies of reconciliation,” she says, ”So to the extent that Hollywood perpetuates the notion that this can happen for kids who are experiencing this type of longing, that could be difficult for families.”

In other words, it creates false hope and false expectations that can make the experience of divorce even harder on children. Remarriage after divorce is extremely rare and often ends in another divorce. By focusing on nostalgia, these stories worsen the effects of divorce on children by preventing kids and families from moving on and accepting change as a potentially good thing.

At the same time, other psychologists and experts disagree. “Hollywood is about fantasy and happy endings, and the downside of disappointment is more than offset by the uplift of hope,” says psychologist and author Dr. Robert Epstein. There’s nothing wrong with a little escape into a fairy-tale ending, he argues. Children are smart, and can separate reality from fantasy.

So what’s the alternative to reconciliation fantasies? Some movies have gotten it right. “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993), for example, shows a divorced couple negotiating their new situation and a father (Robbin Williams) making a concerted—and hilarious—effort to remain a part of his children’s lives. This more accurately reflects the possible positive outcome of a divorce situation.

Power of Two strives to prevent divorce in marriages that can be saved with a little be bit of TLC, lots of dedication, and skill building. We believe a healthy marriage is a positive and beneficial thing for everyone.  At the same time, whether or not a divorce has occurred, what’s important is to show parents treating each other respectfully and lovingly. (Best of all, treating everyone with love and respect). Movies that show couples working through their differences and setting a positive example for their children–whatever their relationship–are good! Knowing that mom and dad still like each other despite their reasons for divorce, and are happy to be part of their kids’ lives, will help lessen the negative effects of divorce on children.

When it comes to intimacy in marriage, Men need cuddling, and lots of it!

Last week we talked about some surprising findings about sexual satisfaction in long-married couples. Today is part two of this post series.

Last week Dr. Susan Heitler was interviewed by abcNews.com for an article on a new study by the Kinsey Institute. In addition to sexual satisfaction, this study covered intimacy in marriage and relationship satisfaction in couples who were in decades-long marriages.

The results? It still just keeps getter better.

Rather than growing bored and frustrated with their spouses after decades of marriage, men and women around their 25th anniversary showed just the opposite. Couples reported being incredibly happy!

Unhappiness in marriage is often not due to irreconcilable differences, says Dr. Heilter, and one shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that the marriage should end just because it’s not smooth sailing. “If too many interactions are frustrating or irritating, it’s best for couples to clean up their act with a skills upgrade rather than invite a goodbye from their partner.” Relationship traits such as: knowing how to communicate with your spouse, how to deal with jealousy, being able to have interesting conversations together, keeping the emotional tone in the household calm, being supportive and positive… are all skills you can learn!

A big part of this is keeping the relationship loving, and that’s where intimacy in marriage comes in. According to the study, non-sexual physical intimacy such as kissing, cuddling, and caressing became more important over time for men than for women. Men look to this behavior as a sign of a great relationship. Women valued intimacy highly, too, more so because it led to a greater enjoyment and frequency of sex.

Prior research has shown that as people age, men focus more on general relationship satisfaction and women … increasingly value the sexual aspects of the relationship,” Dr. Heitler says. This may be because women tend to hit their sexual peak later than men, especially after the stress of child-rearing is over. “Men may become less concerned about sex because they are feeling spontaneously aroused less frequently with age. They still like sex, but they feel less desperate for it than in their younger years.”

Affection and intimacy in marriage–sexual and non-sexual–are what makes couples in decades long relationships more satisfied and happy than common stereotypes would have us believe.

In my clinical practice I see at all ages that couples who touch and hug with more frequency tend to feel more loved and loving.  It’s a circular relationship.  More touching yields more feelings of love, that in turn create more touching, and more loving feelings…..  That’s how in relationships, “the rich get richer.”  More positive interactions–both physical touch, smiles, listening, “I agree…”, appreciation– beget more loving.

So grow your intimacy in marriage–go ahead and be all lovey-dovey! Little unique ways of showing love can bond you two, like a special way you hold hands, or a certain pat on the cheek. How do you tend to express affection in your relationship?

Older marriage? Better sex!

A new study from the Kinsey Institute has some surprising findings about sex and intimacy as relationships age. The researchers interviewed 1,000 mid-life or older couples from across the U.S. who had been together for an average of 25 years. Dr. Susan Heitler was asked to weigh in on the findings for abcNews.com (Read that article here here).

Good news: sex just keeps getting better!

One myth busted by the study is that partners grow bored after years of sex with the same person. “In fact, satisfaction with their sexual lives seemed to grow over the years, particularly for women, but overall for both genders,” Dr, Heitler says. “Turns out that long-term monogamy seems to be good for enjoying ever-more-gratifying sex.”

Women’s satisfaction tends to dip during the stressful years of raising children. However, once children have moved out, their enjoyment of sex rockets even above men’s in multiple decade relationships. “My clinical experience corroborates this–it’s as if women in their fifties are especially delighted to discover how fun and gratifying sex can be–a discovery that men are more likely to have discovered with delight when they are younger.”

Sexual intimacy is crucial to a healthy relationship. “Good sex won’t make a great marriage, but insufficient sexual gratification can create problems,” Dr. Susan cautions. If sex becomes too infrequent, it can build irritability and frustration in one or both partners. If a couple does not seek sexless marriage help, the relationship will become distant and the risk of an affair increases. Unfortunately, sexual functioning usually takes a hit as we age. Difficulties with sexual desire, erections/arousal, and orgasm seem to discourage men the worst, whereas women take the blow a little easier. Some of these problems can be the result of procedures such as elective prostate surgery. This is especially difficult as a woman may be hitting the peak of her sexual enjoyment right around the time a man’s sexual performance may be suffering from age or surgery.

At the same time, Dr. Susan is confident that you can have a great sex life no matter what by simply knowing how to communicate with your spouse.

In my clinical experience, the key is how well the couple can talk over these problems. If sexual functioning problems develop and the partners clam up instead of talking with each other about the changes and how they each are adapting to them, that can spell trouble ahead.

In other words, keep your dialogue and minds open to ways to adapt to the changes.

Again, sex isn’t the end-all of a relationship. Our next post will continue this series with surprising insights into relationship satisfaction and non-sexual intimacy. Check back soon!

(If you want more on attitudes towards sex and aging, I suggest this great article.)

Why do men cheat?

Anthony Weiner: rich, confident, powerful, newly married…and, of course, he’s having an affair! Weiner seems to have it all, but like so many other men, still engages in infidelity. Why do men cheat? A new study sheds light on the surprising reasons, and differences, in why men and women cheat.

Researchers at Indiana University in Bloomington recently conducted a study of 900 men and women to find out what leads people into affairs. Older studies pointed to marital status, income or employment as key elements of infidelity, but the new study found other characteristics, such as sexual excitability and unhappiness in relationships, and other marriage problems are significantly more important. And despite the multitude of public scandals involving men, it turns out that women and men are cheating at roughly the same rates. Back in the 1990s a study showed that only 10-15% of women reported being unfaithful. The latest survey reported 19% of women and 23% of men cheated at some point in a relationship. The question is no longer just “why do men cheat,” but “why do people cheat?”

A common reason for infidelity in both sexes was concerns over sexual performance. The researchers suggested that cheaters might feel less inhibited with someone who does not know them well. A new partner may have fewer expectations and be a relief from the tensions that have been building over time with a husband or wife. Beyond that, the answer to why do men cheat is slightly different that why women cheat. “Women who reported not being happy in a relationship and feeling that their partner didn’t hold similar sexual beliefs were more likely to be unfaithful. For men, one of the biggest factors that led to cheating was sexual excitability,” read the abcNews.com article.

So why are women cheating so much more than they used to? Part of it may be how the question was asked. In the news study, researchers did not define infidelity, leaving it up to the interviewees to decide what was cheating in their personal circumstances. The previous study may have been worded differently, perhaps with more narrow categories, which lead to a lower response rate.

It all comes down to proximity — who you’re interacting with and how often —  says Power of Two founder Dr. Susan Heitler, who is quoted in the article.  Dr. Heitler mentioned that the growing number of women in the workforce allows them to make more male social connections outside of the family:

[There’s] too much time working closely together, in private spaces, taking a break and talking about personal matters, and also travel which makes too much time away from the spouse and from the restraints of normal family routines.

The internet and text messaging also allow previously isolated wives from making friendly social connections with other men and contacting old flames. Unfortunately, many of these casual social relationships can turn into something more….

 

Why do men cheat? For the same reasons women do… Read the abcNews.com article here.

 

Dr. Heitler on commuting and your marriage for ABCnews.com

Does distance truly make the heart grow fonder? Not when it comes to commuting.

A recent Swedish study has shown that a marriage in which one spouse spends 45 minutes or more on the road was 40 percent more likely to end in divorce than one in which both partners worked closer to home. While that dream home and dream job may tempt you go the distance, make sure you discuss how to  communicate with your spouse about problems that arise and maintain intimacy during your long hours apart. Power of Two founder Dr. Heitler was recently quoted in an article on the subject for ABCnews.com. “For commuting couples, every minute that they’re together is so valuable,” says Dr. Heitler. “They can least afford to have poor communication skills.”

Check out the whole story and Dr. Heitler’s comments here.