Strengthen relationships by making the bed you lie in

The smallest thing can strengthen relationships…

One of my favorite activities to do with my partner, Will, is to make the bed together. Until recently, one of us would do it alone. Then I bought a new set of sheets that seemed a half-size too small for our mattress. It was a wrestling match to get them on after laundry. As soon as I got one side hooked in, another would snap up. When I finally got three sides down, the last corner was so tight my knuckles would turn white as I tried to stretch it down.

One evening before we went to bed, I asked Will to help me to make up the bed with the fresh linens. “This sure is easier with two people!” I remarked as we worked together to stretch the fitted sheet around the mattress. We took turns tugging at the last corner until it fit snugly. Then we grabbed corners of the flat sheet and brought it up over the bed together and adjusted the comforter for equal length on both sides. We high-fived when we finished. It took half the time it did alone and felt like we had worked as a team. I went to sleep feeling in harmony with my partner–such a little activity, and such great pay off. Continue reading Strengthen relationships by making the bed you lie in

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How to beat the top 5 relationship problems

Every couple has their unique strengths and weaknesses. At the same time, there are a few major relationship problems that underwrite almost every marriage. If you’re finding yourself fighting, feeling distant, or otherwise “off” with your spouse, check out these top 5 common underlying problems and see if addressing them might get your marriage on track again.

1. Communication

You’ve probably heard many times “communication is key.” And it’s true. All of the below relationship problems rely on effective communication skills. Unfortunately, this isn’t something we’re taught how to do. Common communication mistakes include refusing to talk, nagging, sarcasm, using angry or accusatory language, and using “you” and “yes, but.” The symptoms of bad communication include feeling ignored, anxious, frustrated, or out of touch with your partner. Continue reading How to beat the top 5 relationship problems

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The 10 best love songs of all time

Love: wanting it, getting it, loosing it. It’s the subject of songs since the beginning of music. In fact, I can’t think of a single artist who hasn’t written a song about love at some point. However, all love songs are not created equal. Here is my list of the best love songs of all time, the most well written, romantic, and/or heart achingly sung tunes from the past 60 years.

10. Christina Aguilera-Ain’t no other man

All of a sudden he or she is there–the person you want to spend the rest of your life with and you don’t want anyone else. That contentment is a big part of married life, and it doesn’t have to be boring as Christina shows in this sassy, sexy, womanly tribute to her man.

9. Eric Clapton – Wonderful Tonight

Being love makes the rest of the world seem that more beautiful. On a simple night out Eric Clapton communicates to his partner how much he loves and appreciates her. Definitely one of the best love songs ever. Continue reading The 10 best love songs of all time

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Best articles of the week: Help for an unhappy marriage

Unexpected conflicts, anger, illness and change…some marriages have a lot to deal with. This week I’m featuring the best articles I’ve read recently on overcoming various causes of an unhappy marriage. We’ve got everything from new studies on emotion regulation to a blog dedicated to helping spouses with chronic illness. I hope you find the articles as interesting as I did!

Did Scientology Destroy Tom and Katie’s Marriage? via the Daily Beast

The biggest news of the past week has to be the Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes divorce. Gossip abounds about their unhappy marriage and Scientology’s potential role in their break up. This article from the Daily Beast is the most well-written one I’ve read about the split. It poses lots of interesting questions and delves into important issues. The conclusion: this is one marriage with very valid reasons for divorce.

Showing Fake Love Leads to Real Romance, via Jagran Post

Not that you should fake emotions, especially during an unhappy marriage. At the same time, we fall into patterns of being out of love that involve body language cues like eye rolling or turning away when we speak to our spouses. These reinforce our negative feelings about our partner. This British study shows that you can put the spark back in your relationship by using the body first and the mind will follow. Take the effort to make loving gestures, even if you don’t geel all the way there yet, can help you redirect the negative emotions into positive and eventually loving ones.

Self-Distancing May Help Deal with Anger, via Counsel & Heal

Anger and negativity is the cause of many an unhappy marriage. Counsel and Heal provides advice from two new studies on regulating emotion with self-distancing. Self-distancing is the practice of removing yourself mentally from the emotional situation–imagining it objectively as if it were happening to someone else. “The self-distancing approach helped people regulate their angry feelings and also reduced their aggressive thoughts,” say the researchers of one study.

Warning: Your Spouse Has Changed! via Alisa Bowman

Alisa offers a thoughtful and smart response to a reader who laments “My wife is just not the person I married 14 years ago.” Life is change. You will change, your spouse will change, your world will change–and it won’t change back. “Forget about who your spouse used to be,” Alisa writes. “Think about who you need your spouse to become. Then think about how you might change to enable that spouse to follow your lead.” A great, philosophical read.

Beyond the Fairy Tale, via Chronic Marriage

Helena Madsen runs the Chronic Marriage blog to provide support and advice to marriages where a spouse is dealing with a chronic illness. In this introductory post she outlines the qualities of maturity couples need to survive and thrive in a chronic disease situation. I look forward to reading more from Helena!


Help for an unhappy marriage is out there
You can change an unhappy marriage–don’t be afraid to get help
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The secret of how to put the spark back in your relationship? Gratitude.

On the surface, gratitude is a reaction you have towards someone doing you a favor. On a more complex level, it is a measure of how deeply you engage in the world around you. When you have gratitude towards someone or something, you realize its value, you pay attention to how unique, beautiful, or indispensable it is–how much happiness it brings you. Cultivating a life full of gratitude means a life full of wonder and love. It enriches your relationship with the world. And it is the key of how to put the spark back in your relationship.

As relationships move past the enchantment stage (the fist few months and years where everything your partner does is amazing and perfect), couples fall into the pit of “Taking each other for granted.” Amie Gordon, a psychologist from U.C. Berkeley, blames this state as the downfall of many relationships: “You get used to having [your spouse] in your life and forget why you chose to be with them.” Their special qualities no longer strike you as magical and, instead, you are left with lots of space to pay attention to things that annoy you about them. Couples in these doldrums are often searching for the key to how to put the spark back in your relationship, but aren’t sure what that “spark” is…is it sex? Attraction? Or something more complicated?

Now we have part of the answer. Dr. Gordon’s study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has delved into the role of gratitude and appreciation in maintaining long and happy relationships. In the study, 50 long-term couples were given appreciation journals to fill out for a week. On days when one reported feeling more appreciated, he or she tended to appreciate his or her partner more the next day. Couples who had ongoing reciprocal appreciation were less likely to break up in the next nine months and, in fact, were more committed at the end of that time. The researchers concluded that a nourishing cycle of encouragement and appreciation gives us an extra incentive to maintain our relationships. When we appreciate our partners, we develop trust and respect. When we feel appreciated, we feel needed and encouraged.

So how do you use gratitude as part of how to put the spark back in your relationship? Should you be saying “Thank you” more often?

In the second part of the study, Gordon’s team observed how couples of all ages–from 18 to 60–communicate their appreciation. The researchers noticed that those who ranked “highly appreciative” tended to use constant physical cues and body language to show that they valued their spouses. Foremost of these was a Power of Two favorite skill: active listening. When their spouse was speaking, appreciative spouses leaned in, made eye contact, and responded to what they were saying. They made it clear that they were listening to and digesting what their spouse said, thereby showing that they valued their opinion. Appreciative couples also used intimacy in relationships, giving each other comforting touches and physical encouragement such as holding hands or  a pat on the shoulder or leg.

Some couples are naturally appreciative while others are not. It can be incredibly discouraging to not feel appreciated–you may even feel like your marriage is over. This can change! If gratitude is the secret to how to put the spark back in your relationship, then the key is taking the initiative: “Instead of just waiting for the other person to make you feel good, you can jumpstart that cycle and take it into your own hands by focusing on what’s good in your relationship,” says Dr. Gordon. If you feel unappreciated, try showing your spouse with some gratitude and love, and watch your positivity shine reflected back at you.
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What do we mean by emotional health?

In this guest post Susan Heitler, Ph.D, explains how psychologists define emotional health and what contributes to it. She reveals that the method for cultivating good mental emotional health involves learned skills that we develop as we grow and experience life–or learn from others and programs like Power of Two!

When we describe ourselves as being physically healthy, we generally mean that our bodies are humming along without pain, enabling us to work and play as we would like.
With mental health, the sign that all’s well is similar.  We feel little or no emotional pain, that is, negative feelings like anger, anxiety, or depression.  In this regard, mental health might better be called emotional health.

There’s lots we can do to prevent downturns in emotional health.  Learning to live in the present instead of dwelling in future-focused “what if’s” for instance can minimize needless anxieties.  Learning from our mistakes instead of beating ourselves up for them can similarly minimize our vulnerability to depression.

At the same time, emotional well-being can be enhanced. Religion, for instance, hopefully reinforces a life stance of gratitude and appreciation.  Devoting time and attention to building loving family, friend, and community relationships sustains self-confidence and augments our opportunities to enjoy happiness, pleasure, delight and affection.  Helping others, learning new skills, sexual release, experiencing something new, exercising our physical selves and accomplishing goals also promote feeling good.

How have other psychological thinkers described mental health?

Freud, the father of modern psychological thinking, defined mental health as the ability to love and work.  Work is what we do on our own, and love is what we do with others.  A subsequent psychological theorist, Adreas Angyal, similarly defined mental health as “the ability to experience both autonomy and belonging.”

A 1970’s group called The Incredible String Band beautifully express this paradoxical set of goals for human well-being when they sing:  “What is it that I am? and what is it that I am part of?”

How can folks upgrade their mental health?

While many think that mental health involves just doing what comes naturally, I myself am a believer that feeling consistently good —  alone with oneself, in work settings, and in relationships — takes skills. In addition to the emotional functioning skills I describe above, “people skills,” like the ones taught at, are vital.  These include ability to say things tactfully, to listen constructively, to minimize conflict and be able to make decisions with others cooperatively to repair misunderstandings, to manage emotions so that anger  and jealousy doen’t tarnish your relationships, and more.

Looking for a way to feel better?  Learn the skills that enhance mental health!

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Body Language: Fantasy Photoshopped Celebrity Couples

Ever shared which celebrity you would date if you could? While your friends answered Brad Pitt or Megan Fox, did you answer “Waterfront-era-Marlon-Brando” or 30s Bombshell Veronica Lake? While now neither is impossible! At least for each other…. Thanks to modern technology (which has reached a new level with the use of deceased celebrities’ holograms) , here are 10 impossible but amazingly classy combinations of celebrity couples regardless of era.

Beyond the brilliance of the photoshop job on some of these pictures, what do you think about the premise? Would these relationships work out? We might be able to tell just by looking at the posture of the couples…and in this case, how well the photoshop artist mimicked the postures of real, loving couples.

I’ve written before about cute couples photos and how pictures can both reveal and hide the reality of situation. A smiling couple isn’t necessarily a happy couple. Beyond looking cheerful, the position of our hands, the tilt of our head, and our stance towards our partner reveal subtleties about our relationship with our spouse. Celebrity gossip magazines like to capitalize on these hidden clues by bringing in body language experts to analyze couples photos for potential marital problems. Sometimes they’re spot on–the couple is going through a rough patch. Other times the picture taker simply caught the couple in motion or at a bad angle.

Body language cues are subtle and complex, and good to know about. Some communication experts believe the up to 90% of what we say comes in the form of non-verbal communication. WebMD has a useful article on the most common body language indicators for communication in relationships and in the office.

Synchrony: Synchrony is when your body language mimics your partner’s. This is a subtle yet important way we express empathy and agreement with the other person–you “sync up” physically as well as mentally and emotionally. The more we mimic, the more likely we are to have a similar opinion, and to feel positive and supportive emotions. This can be indicated by copying your partner’s crossed arms, or arms on hips, or tilt of the head. It’s kind of fun to catch yourself doing it! On the other side, if you are projecting opposing body language such as facing away, avoiding eye contact, or fidgeting, it may be a sign that you are feeling oppositional.

Always, if you’re picking up unspoken negative body language from your spouse, act on it and ask directly if anything is wrong. Never just assume wordlessly–sometimes our interpretations are way off!

One last fun tip from WebMD is for dinner with the inlaws:

“One of the most important body language signs you should convey during your first encounter with your partner’s parents is eye contact with your partner,” says [Patti Wood, author of Success Signals: A Guide to Reading Body Language.].

Your partner’s parents want to know that you are interested in and care for their child. The best way you can tell them that you are “the one” is to look at your partner with love and affection.

With this new knowledge, enjoy these photos and have fun creating story lines for the couples based on their body language.


Paul Newman and Scarlett Johansson
Marlon Brando and Penelope Cruz
Demi Moore and Paul Newman
Catherine Zeta Jones and Robert Vaughn
Ann Margret and Tom Cruise
Humphrey Bogart and Drew Barrymore
Elizabeth Hurley and Clarck Gable
Vanilla Ice and Veronica Lake
George Clooney and Grace Kelly
Elvis and Angelina Jolie
Gary Cooper and Scarlet Johansson
Kirk Douglas and Halle Berry






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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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Should I get a divorce? 5 reasons to go and 5 reasons to stay.

Have you ever wondered, “Should I get a divorce?” Sometimes it’s hard to tell if your marriage problems spell doom for your union, or, if it is possible—and worth it—to salvage your marriage. Power of Two is founded on the principle that most divorces can be prevented by learning the skills for strong, healthy marriages. At the same time, some relationships have toxic and dangerous elements that make divorce the best option for everyone involved. These behaviors can be hard to face, and they should never be ignored.

The following are Dr. Heitler’s “Top Five reasons to Divorce”:

  1. Your spouse is controlling. He/she attempts to manipulate you and/or control your friends, activity, behavior or money by the use of threats, put-downs, criticism, excessive guilt or anger.
  2. Your spouse has cheated repeatedly. One infidelity does not necessarily spell doom—with lots of work, your marriage can recover and be stronger than ever. However, repeated affairs mean your spouse unlikely to change his ways no matter what.
  3. There are unaddressed addictions. You should consider leaving if your spouse has damaging problems with gambling, drugs, alcohol, or other behavior and refuses or continues to avoid getting treatment.
  4. There is an unaddressed mental disorder. Many couples live with mental disorders and have strong marriages. At the same time, if your spouse refuses to get treatment for a damaging or dangerous disorder, you should consider ending your marriage. It is the best for both of you.
  5. Your spouse is violent with you or others, or mistreats children. This is the most resounding “YES” to the question “Should I get a divorce?” Remove yourself and your children from this situation immediately and seek professional help.

The good news is the most common reasons for divorce these days are not the ones above—and this means they are fixable!

“Should I get a divorce?…“ Consider couples counseling over divorce if the following sounds like you:

  1. We just don’t communicate very well and can’t seem to resolve our conflicts. Communication and conflict resolution difficulties are the most common complaints of divorcing couples.  Luckily, they are also simplest to change. You can learn the skills to handle these problems at any time and they will help you in all areas of life, from your spouse to in-laws to the office.
  2. I just don’t love him anymore. Love is a cornerstone of marriage and feeling “out of love” can be frustrating and confusing. At the same time, the quality of love is constantly changing; sometimes hot and passionate, other times a cool, subtle bond. Do you really not love each other at all? Passion, intimacy and positivity can be revived!
  3. Because it’ll be better for the kids. It’s true that having fighting parents is hard on kids. At the same time, so is divorce. Also, if you keep fighting while you’re divorced, it’s still bad. The solution? Learn to stop the fighting. Marriage education can help you replace your arguments with positive dialogue and win-win problem solving!
  4. He/she’s just not the same person I married. We all change and grow as we go through life together.  What’s important is knowing how to support each other on our personal journeys. Counseling can teach couples how to turn differences into powerful tools instead of a source of marriage problems.
  5. I don’t trust him/her anymore. He lied and made a stupid deal, she gambled or cheated… Sometimes people do make mistakes.  At the same time, most mistakes are repairable. Get the skills to analyze your errors and prevent future repeats. Sometimes the sourer the lemon, the sweeter the lemonade.

In the old days, and in many places still, divorce is a difficult, lengthy process that is highly stigmatized. This has the potential to trap spouses, especially women, into dangerous and unhappy marriages that fall into the category of good reasons to divorce, listed above. So, in many ways, it’s a good thing that we can quickly leave marriages we are uncomfortable in.

At the same time, this gives us the responsibility to think about our choices very carefully. And I don’t mean to imply that anyone takes divorce lightly! It’s just that marriage isn’t easy, and divorce is not necessarily the answer to your marriage problems. Consider this: If you don’t learn the skills for a healthy relationship now, you are likely to find yourself in the same situation with simply a different person in the future.

If you feel your marriage getting rocky, don’t hesitate to talk to a therapist or try a program like Power of Two. Problems are solved most easily when they’re caught early. And it certainly never hurts!


From an interview with Dr. Heitler, 10/11

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The 25 best funny marriage quotes

Funny marriage quotes are great for all sorts of occasions, from making toasts to giving advice, to simply making us laugh. They also open our eyes to the essentials of things like communication in marriage and balancing individual desires with your spouse’s needs. Talking about marriage and love is as old as…well, talking! So there’s lots of good material out there.funny marriage quotes

If you follow @po2marriage on twitter you probably know I love to tweet funny marriage quotes. They tend to get to the heart of marriage problems and blessings in only 140 characters. One thing I’ve noticed while researching quotes for sharing is that there are a lot of really bad funny marriage quotes. I mean quotes that get their humor from playing on stereotypes and bad assumptions about married life, in-laws, wives, children and husbands. When we retell these jokes and quotes, we subtly reenforce the logic behind them–logic that is actually destructive to marriage. Take this quote, for example:

Marriage is a three ring circus: engagement ring, wedding ring, and suffering.

There are a lot of quotes and jokes like this out there. They are funny, but negative. They all have the same message: that marriage is the end of any happiness you have, that it is endless and inevitable suffering and that smart people don’t get married. In this way, a disturbing worldview is embedded in these jokes. Mindset is a large predictor of what will indeed happen in your life (Dr. Heitler wrote a great article about it). Sometimes I wonder if our high divorce rate is partly due to these negative  expectations–they becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you are choosing some funny marriage quotes to say during a wedding toast, stay away from these kinds of jokes. Not because the bride and groom will take them seriously and be offended, or because they aren’t funny (the “suffer-ring” line is clever!); but because the best wedding gift you can give the couple is a message of a positive and loving future.

Here are my top 25 funny marriage quotes and wedding sayings (not ranked):

  1. “A happy marriage has in it all the pleasures of friendships, all the enjoyment of sense and reason – and indeed all the sweets of life.” ~ Joseph Addison
  2. “A happy man marries the girl he loves; a happier man loves the girl he marries.” ~ anonymous
  3. “You don’t need to be on the same wavelength to succeed in marriage. You just need to be able to ride each other’s waves.” ~ Toni Sciarra Poynter
  4. “Spouse: someone who’ll stand by you through all the trouble you wouldn’t have had if you’d stayed single.” ~ Anonymous
  5. “We don’t love qualities, we love persons; sometimes by reason of their defects as well as of their qualities.” ~ Jacques Maritain
  6. “Marriage has many pains, but celibacy has no pleasures.” – Samuel Johnson
  7. “A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, and always with the same person.” ~ Mignon McLaughlin
  8. “The bonds of matrimony are like any other bonds – they mature slowly.”  ~Peter De Vries
  9. “To keep the fire burning brightly there’s one easy rule: Keep the two logs together, near enough to keep each other warm and far enough apart – about a finger’s breadth – for breathing room. Good fire, good marriage, same rule.”  ~Marnie Reed Crowell
  10. “A kiss is a lovely trick, designed by nature, to stop words when speech becomes superfluous.” ~ Ingrid Bergmen
  11. “Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years.”  ~Simone Signoret
  12. “A long marriage is two people trying to dance a duet and two solos at the same time.” ~ Anne Taylor Fleming
  13. “Woke up in bed with a gorgeous woman, who I’m going to have lunch and the rest of my life with.” ~ Jason Barmer
  14. “Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love.” ~ Albert Einstein
  15. “One advantage of marriage is that, when you fall out of love with him or he falls out of love with you, it keeps you together until you fall in again.” ~ Judith Viorst
  16. “In every marriage more than a week old, there are grounds for divorce.  The trick is to find, and continue to find, grounds for marriage.” ~ Robert Anderson, Solitaire & Double Solitaire
  17. “In the opinion of the world, marriage ends all, as it does in a comedy.  The truth is precisely the opposite:  it begins all.” ~ Anne Sophie Swetchine
  18. “A wedding anniversary is the celebration of love, trust, partnership, tolerance and tenacity.  The order varies for any given year.” ~ Paul Sweeney
  19. “Love is a flower which turns into fruit at marriage.” ~ Finnish Proverb
  20. “A dress that zips up the back will bring a husband and wife together.” ~ James H. Boren
  21. “Love seems the swiftest but it is the slowest of all growths.  No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century.” ~ Mark Twain
  22. “Our wedding was many years ago.  The celebration continues to this day.” ~ Gene Perret
  23. “A happy marriage is a long conversation which always seems too short.” ~ Andre Maurois
  24. “There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage.” ~ Martin Luther
  25. “We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness – and call it love – true love.” ~ Robert Fulghum, True Love

How is your marriage doing? Take this quiz to find out where you stand strong and what needs work. You may be surprised! Take the quiz now.

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