Why I believe in marriage.

If there is a trend in marriage for the latest generation to come of age it’s this… marriage is out. In fact marriage has been steadily declining since 1960. The other trend I have noticed lately in the world of marriage news is that people care about the habits of millennials. In recent weeks I have seen articles about why millennials aren’t marrying. The racial gap in the statistics about millennial marriage and many more trying to understand the millennial experience.

Millennials have a less favorable view of marriage and the value of saying I-do.  The number of millennials co-habitating is on the rise and marriage as a necessity is not a strong view point.  Parenting often falls higher on the bucket list than marriage. So what gives?  Why has marriage fallen off the proverbial map? If I had to guess, I suppose I would say it’s because millennials just don’t see the point.  Gone are the days of marriage being the only route to financial stability or even children.  Those things can be easily achieved outside of marriage.

believe in marriage
“Dear young people, don’t be afraid to marry. A faithful and fruitful marriage will bring you happiness.”

I am myself on the crisp edge of being a millennial (Born 1980).  I do not often see myself in the descriptions, I do not own anything that says “keep calm and carry on” I don’t take “selfies” and I consider text messaging a secondary method of communication to calling or emailing.  I have no inflated feelings about my specialness and I believe in marriage!

I wholeheartedly believe marriage is a path to a more fulfilling, generous, financially stable and satisfying, secure life.  I have been married for 7 years.  I was 27 when I got hitched.

Here’s why I believe in marriage. Continue reading Why I believe in marriage.

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Want more communication in relationships? Stop should-ing and start sharing.

Have you ever been around someone who just shoulds all over you? I recently spent some time with a very dear friend of mine who shoulds instead of shares, leading to a breakdown of communication in relationships.  He tells me I should do this and I should do that and I can’t help but feel instantly on the defensive. In the end, I stop listening. This friend is also one of the most caring and supportive friends I have, I know his intentions are well meaning. I know that what he is trying to do is share in the excitement he feels.

Do you have anyone in your life who “shoulds” you?

I have come to expect these sorts of interactions with this particular friend and to a certain degree they can sometimes just be what they are. On the other hand this kind of communication in relationships, specifically in a marriage can lead to real problems overtime. Defensiveness, bitterness, frustration, and hurt feelings can build up and leave you feeling unheard and uncared for.

At Power of Two we have a term for this kind of communication in relationships, it’s called a crossover. A crossover is essentially one person entering into another persons emotional territory.  Telling someone what they think, feel, are or in this case what they should think, feel, be or do.

communication in relationships

Are you guilty of shoulding? Here’s what you can do to stop “shoulding” on your loved ones?

Turn what would have been a should statement into and “I-statement” So…

“You should call your mother” could be “I wonder what’s happening with your mother?  When is the last time you two spoke?”

“You should eat more vegetables” could be “I feel healthier when I eat more vegetables. How would you feel about having a salad along with dinner tonight?

Remember the mantra “talk about yourself, ask about the other.” Keeping this simple idea in mind will help you keep the focus where it ought to be, yourself!

The cure for the crossover is the “I-statement”  essentially replacing the “you” with “I.”  I feel.., I think…, I want to…, I really enjoyed… followed by a how or what question. Not only are you able to share something meaningful to you, you are showing your friend and loved one that you are interested in what they think.  It’s a WIN WIN!!

No one wants to be told what to think, feel or do.  At the same time, sharing rich and meaningful experiences you have had with your partner, friends and loved ones is incredibly valuable and important.  So stop should-ing and start sharing to have more communication in your relationships!

 

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Workplace stress is killing our marriages

America has the highest divorce rate in the world. We also have one of the most stressed out and over-worked workforces in the world. More and more, I believe this is not a coincidence.

Here are some sobering statistics about our dysfunctional relationship with work:

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Help a friend escape domestic violence

Avon and British non-profit Refuge are joining together to launch an awareness drive for domestic violence. An astonishing one in four women will be affected by domestic violence in their lifetime. “Sadly, we all probably know someone this is happening to right now,” explains the narrator in their Youtube video campaign.

Abusive situations are often difficult to get out of since one of the first steps of abuse is to break down the victim’s independence and self-esteem. Support from friends and loved ones can be the ticket to pulling a woman out of a violent relationship. Unfortunately, without the right information you may not pick up on the signs of domestic violence and unknowingly say things that actually discourage her from seeking help.

This beautiful “choose your own adventure”-style video series guides you through how to respond to and support a friend who may be reaching out from such a situation. Scroll below for the cheat sheet. Please watch and share! Continue reading Help a friend escape domestic violence

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5 myths about addiction and chemical dependency

Uncontrolled, damaging addiction or chemical dependency is one of the top reasons to leave your spouse. At the same time, many spouses work together to successfully overcome alcohol, drug and gambling problems. Finding the strength, patience and understanding to help you or your spouse beat an addiction takes un-learning a lot of commonly accepted facts about addiction.

Psychologist and researcher Dr. Adi Jaffe is spurred on by his own experience with methamphetamine to study how addiction happens and how the government, hospitals, and loved ones can help addicts truly overcome their demons. In an article for CNN.com Dr. Jaffe highlights how certain “addiction myths”–often pounded into our heads as teenagers to scare us away from drugs–are misleading and counterproductive. Continue reading 5 myths about addiction and chemical dependency

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What men want changes with marriage

What does winning the Wimbledon tennis tournament have to do with marriage?

Everything, according to Australian researcher Dr. Daniel Farrelly. It all comes down to what men want–and how marriage changes that. Dr. Farrelly spent the past year crunching numbers for the top 100 players in the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Singles Rakings from 1995 to 2005. He layered on some unusual data: whether and when the players had married, and if they had become a father or gotten a divorce. Farrelly found that, overwhelmingly, player’s rankings plummeted between the year before and after he married. They stayed steadily lower thereafter.

The short takeaway is this: if you want to win Wimbledon, don’t get hitched. The more interesting question is: why?

Marriage, Dr. Farrelly proposes, causes chemical changes in mens brains. We all know the stereotype about what men want–that proverbial “one thing.” Well there’s actually some science behind it. From an evolutionary standpoint, it is every organism’s primary goal to further its own genetic material. Men can father hundreds of children, therefore they are biologically primed to mate with as many females as possible. They are also primed to engage in dominant displays to compete with other males. Some scientists have proposed that much of our culture–and especially sports–is all part of a highly advanced competitive mating display. In other words–one big pick-up line.

What men want? It changes!
What men want changes from competing for mates to maintaining them.

But what men want changes once they have a mating partner. Once around a committed mate, mens’ testosterone–a male hormone that helps regulate aggression and competition–begins to drop. It further drops once he becomes a father. This signals a shift from competitive mate-searching to a more stable investment in his growing family.

This drop in testosterone also means a drop in competitive performance. Or as I like to think of it, he’s realized that there’s something more important in his life than winning a game. “When you have a family there are other people to consider,” says a married coach in the Sunderland Echo. “So a player’s complete focus could be taken off tennis.”

These findings are not universal–some players stayed in their rankings or even improved after marriage. Dr. Farrelly hopes to expand on his study of what men want by looking at other sports players.

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Marriage and mens health

Marriage may be the best thing a man can do for his health. Over the past decade many long-term studies have shown a clear link between marriage and mens health. Overall, married men are healthier and live longer than their single, divorced or widowed counterparts. It works the other way, too: stress in marriage also tends to negatively impact mens health more than women’s.

Marriage benefits for mens health include:

  • Never-married men are three times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than married men.
  • Married men have a 46% lower rate of death than single men, even when controlling for major cardiovascular risk factors such as age, body fat, smoking, blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol.
  • Cancer patients who have intact marriages have a better chance of recovery and/or longer survival time.
  • Married men have cancer detected at an earlier stage and are more likely to get treatment.
  • Being married is linked to better cognitive function and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Why marriage?

Researchers posit that having an intimate partner offers behavioral, biological and psychological benefits for mens health. Men on their own tend to have a lower standard of living and engage in riskier behavior than women. Some studies have suggested that this contributes the men’s overall lower life-expectancy when compared to women. Living with a wife means men take better care of themselves. They are more likely to get regular checkups and doctors visits, eat healthier food, and less likely to drink or smoke excessively or engage in other risky behavior.

Secondly, marriage provides both spouses with a stable, emotionally supportive environment that also reduces stress by pooling resources. While women tend to have strong networks of social support, men tend to have fewer strong interpersonal relationships. Marriage provides them with a core human need for social connection and intimacy. Wives are companions, cheerleaders, coaches, advisors and comforters. Married men are less likely to experience loneliness or depression. A supportive marriage means a husband is more likely to live through and recover from an health problems that do occur.

Happy marriage is key

Of course, none of these stress-reducing benefits on mens health work if the marriage is a source of stress. Stress causes the release of hormones such as adrenaline,which raises blog pressure, and cytokines–proteins that trigger inflammation. Over time marital stress can lead to hypertension and the thickening of the heart’s main pumping chamber. An Israeli study also showed marital stress led to a 34% increase in the chance of dying from a stroke. Interestingly, these effects were not caused by

Given this information, marriage problems take on an extra level of urgency, even the low-level ones. Not only are they making you unhappy, they’re also hurting your health. Nip little, unpleasant problems in the bud as soon as possible with a therapist or an online marriage counseling program like Power of Two. It pays to work on keeping your marriage happy and harmonious–it literally may add years to your life!

 

via “Marriage and Men’s Health.” Harvard Men’s Health Watch, July 2010. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mens_Health_Watch/2010/July/marriage-and-mens-health

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Am I depressed? Solving marriage problems through mental health.

Have you ever wondered, “Am I depressed?” Most people will experience depression at some point in their lives. At the same time, many may feel the symptoms of depression without recognizing it as such. Depression is a sliding scale of emotions, thoughts, actions and chemistry – depression can be a mild sense of being “off” to a debilitating experience. Symptoms of depression include:

  • Lack of energy/physical fatigue
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feeling an indescribable “dark cloud”
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Increased irritability
  • Crying and unexplained sorrow
  • Unexplained aches and pains

If you experience any of these symptoms for a period of two weeks or longer, it’s a good time to ask yourself, “Am I depressed?” Recognizing depression is the first step to addressing it. Step two is exploring where your depression comes from. A marriage can be both the trigger and casualty of depression. This is the story of Bonnie, a real patient of Dr. Heitler:

Bonnie is a stay at home mom of two young children. She is a strong, creative woman who enjoys spending time with her kids and is usually very positive and energetic. Lately she has been feeling tired and has a hard time being enthusiastic about anything. She finds herself criticizing herself: “Your house is so messy,” “Why can’t you keep track of anything,” “You look old and worn out.” She is uncharacteristically snappy and irritated with her children.

One night she and her husband have an argument. She is unhappy that he works so late at his new job and comes home too tired to interact with her. She is so excited to see him and she feels abandoned. Her husband snaps back: “I’m doing this to support the family! I can’t risk asking for fewer hours. When I come home, you hover over me and the kids are so worked up…I need to relax, I can’t take it.” Bonnie drops the subject.

Interestingly, Bonnie hadn’t wondered “am I depressed?” while experiencing these dark times. Is Bonnie depressed? Yes. Is she depressed because she feels abandoned and is fighting with her husband? Well…yes and no. Depression, Dr. Heitler writes, is rooted in an imbalance of power. We feel depressed when we feel powerless. In Bonnie’s case, part of her depression stems from feeling powerless over her lonely situation. Her husband has dominated the conversation while she defers to his criticism and needs.

Depression is a common result of dominant-submissive conflict resolution. Many people believe that an argument is resolved when you have a winner and a looser. This belief comes from the mistaken idea that

Am I depressed? Depression comes in many forms

power is the same thing as control, specifically, having control over another person. In fact, power is the ability to get what you want, but not by definition at the expense of those around you. Truly powerful people are able to reach satisfying solutions that also satisfy others – win-win solutions.

In reality, when you solve a conflict with a clear “winner” and “looser,” you don’t solve anything. Especially in marriage, a pattern of winning and loosing will lead to depression in the submissive spouse. 

To help Bonnie get the root of her power imbalance, Dr. Heitler used a visualization experiment. You can try this, too.

First she asked Bonnie, “If you could be angry at anybody right now, who would it be?”

“My husband,” Bonnie replied.

“Close your eyes and image the last argument you had with your husband. Picture you two together. Now, who seems bigger.”

“My husband,” Bonnie replied again. “He’s huge. He’s towering over me.”

“Ok, now I want you to look up in this scene and see above you a light powder sprinkling down on you. It could be green, or gold, or like snowflakes. As it falls on you, you find yourself growing, like Alice in Wonderland. Tell me when you’ve stopped growing.”

“Ok, I’ve stopped”

“And where are you now? How big are you.”

“I’m towering over him, at least four times as big.”

“Now that you’re so big, you can look down and see things you couldn’t see before. What can you see about him now?

Bonnie reflected for a minute. “He’s all puffed up. He’s not really that big, he’s puffing himself up like a puffer fish.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s scared…and he’s covered his ears because he doesn’t want to hear what I’m saying”

“Why is he scared?”

Bonnie thought again. “He’s scared because he thinks that I’m telling him he’s a bad person. But I’m not, I know he’s a good person. I know he works late because he feels anxious about supporting the family.”

With this insight Bonnie was able to have another kind of conversation with her husband. This time, she brought the subject up delicately, talking about her feelings and clarifying how much she respected and appreciated him. Together, they came to a surprising solution.

Bonnie is a highly educated woman with a lot of drive and she realized that staying home all day with the kids wasn’t stimulating enough for her. She was feeling bored and frustrated, which contributed to her feelings of powerlessness and led her to get worked up when her husband came home. Bonnie decided to go back to work part-time. She found she was excited to see the kids again after her morning’s work and less frantic about seeing her husband when he came home. Also, the extra income she brought in allowed her husband to be more assertive about setting limits for his hours at work.

Power imbalances in marriage can come from one spouse dominating through aggressive behavior. In the worst case scenario this domination comes from violence and insults. At other times, as in Bonnie’s case, the imbalance lies more in one spouse deferring and “giving up” (this becomes easier the more depressed he or she already is). Usually the situation has aspects of both dynamics.

Just as both spouses contribute to the depression of one, both must be part of finding a solution. Whether or not your answer to “am I depressed?” directly involves marriage problems, it is imperative that you go to joint counseling as part of the treatment. It may surprise you that getting individual counseling for depression leads to a higher chance of divorce.  This is because as one spouse may make progress they other may be left behind. Both spouses should progress together.

Your counseling sessions should give you the tools to find the root of depression and work through it while providing skills to face similar problems down the road. Remember, you and your spouse are a team! That is a huge strength. Working through depression in marriage will leave your marriage stronger, wiser, and closer.

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What they don’t tell you about child rearing and mental health–and why they should

May is mental health awareness month, and I’m excited announce a series of guest posts from marriage experts. Each week will feature a new guest post on a certain subject of mental health in marriage.

I’m kicking off the campaign by talking about the importance of talking about mental health–specifically when it comes to child rearing. I’m using a great TED talk lecture given by Babble.com co-founders Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman.

Americans are strong, independent, creative and adventurous. At the same time, we’re not very good when it comes to talking about our feelings, our challenges, and our struggles. Child rearing is one of those areas. As any parent knows, raising kids is hard. It takes its tole on our bodies and our minds. Yet when it comes to talking about our mental health challenges as parents, there are still taboos that hold us back. This lack of communication makes us doubt our ourselves…if it seems so easy for everyone else, why is it so hard for me? What’s wrong with me? Am I a bad parent? Am I a bad person? These doubts and anxieties whirl around inside us, growing on themselves and eating away at our self esteem and happiness.

It takes a lot of guts to get up and talk about your own difficulties with child rearing. Luckily, we’re seeing more and more of this as mental health taboos are broken and the “strong and silent” expectations of our culture shift towards one of sharing and mutual support. Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman are two brave pioneers. In December 2010, the couple gave a TED talk about the parenting-discussion taboos they’ve faced versus the realities of child rearing. They break the silence and tell us why it is so important to talk about these things with each other.

Taboo #1: You can’t say you didn’t fall in love with your baby the moment you saw him.

While this may be true for some parents, it should not be the expectation. Rufus points out he felt deep affection and awe for the little newborn in his arms, but not deep, enduring love like the love he felt for his wife at that moment. Love is what has grown over time and is the way he feels about his son now. The problem, Rufus says, is that we tend to think about love in binary: we are either in love or not in love. The truth is, love is a process; it grows and fluctuates constantly. This is as true for your spouse as for your children. You are not going to feel blissful, all-encompassing love at all times.

Taboo #2: You can’t talk about how lonely having a baby can be.

Alisa loved being pregnant. During this time, she notes, women are doted over with visits and wishes and love. Same for the moments in the hospital and right after the birth of the new baby. Then, all of a sudden, it’s just you and the infant. No one had mentioned that she would feel isolated and lonely. Why didn’t her sister–who had three children of her own–warn her? “I’ll never forget this–she said: ‘It’s just not something you want to say to a woman who’s having a baby for the first time.'” Postpartum depression and general loneliness is a huge and common burden for new moms. And it’s not “weakness”: it’s because what you are going through is hard! Knowing this can help mothers prepare and safeguard their mental health. After all, the baby is important, and so are you.

Taboo #3: You can’t talk about your miscarriage.

Having a miscarriage can be a devastating experience. During the talk, Alisa bravely shares the story of her miscarriage. Miscarriage is an invisible loss, she observes, there’s not much community support or closure that comes from any other kind of death. In addition to depression, she felt shame and embarrassment at “failing to do what she was genetically engineered to do,” and worried about the future of her marriage. After talking a bit with other women, she found that miscarriages were amazingly common in her community. Stories from friends and co-workers came out of the woodwork. In reality, miscarriage is not uncommon at all: 15-20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. Tragically, 74% of women believe that the miscarriage was “partly their fault.” This silent suffering and sense of shame prevents women from reaching out and receiving the mental health support they need.

Taboo #4: You can’t say your “average happiness” has declined since having a child.

Child rearing is amazing and magical and every bit of it is an utter joy. My children are my greatest joy. They are bundles of joy. Yet studies interviewing parents show that average happiness does indeed plummet with the birth of a child. Somehow, it’s not OK for us to admit that. Alisa and Rufus give a possible compromise explanation: before having children–in our late 20s–we settle into a nice, comfortable way of life with little that jars us our of our routine. At this point our average happiness is mellow and steady. After children, it runs up and down like a roller coaster. Yes, child rearing brings some of the most difficult and challenging times of your life–at moments, you will certainly be less happy that you were without children. And it’s OK to admit that! At the same time, parenting also rockets you into amazing moments of pure bliss and joy that you also wouldn’t have experienced without children. It’s just…different than pre-baby. It’s up and down and all over the place. It’s life.


As they conclude “Candor and brutal honesty is important for making us all better parents.” Sharing your difficulties as well as joys is key to airing out and addressing problems before they take a toll on your mental health (and marriage). This week, I challenge you to share a secret about your child rearing experience with a friend–something you feel you are alone in or slightly ashamed of as a parent. You might be surprised to hear that he/she feels the exact same way…

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10 Quirky & Fun Date Ideas

Relationships provide security, love, support, and sexual fulfillment–and they also should provide fun! Enjoying each other’s company, taking time to have adventures and new experiences together, is a key element in how to make a relationship last. Date nights are a great way of reconnecting with your spouse after a long week of chores, appointments and responsibilities. At the same time, it’s important to not let your date nights turn into routines themselves–the point of the date is to try something new together and put a little pizzazz into your connection. Try these fun date ideas if you’re just starting out “dating again” or you’re looking for something new to try. Continue reading 10 Quirky & Fun Date Ideas

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