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

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Dr. King’s words teach us how to rekindle a relationship

From now through February the Power of Two Marriage Blog be celebrating Black History Month! I’m starting off with a series of 3 posts that use Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quotes as tips for how to rekindle a relationship. As I’ve experienced from working with PO2, the skills we use to interact peacefully with our fellow citizens are completely applicable to happy marriages, and visa versa–you can use the skills you learn in online marriage counseling and marriage help books to better all of your relationships.

 1. Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase. ~MLK

Marriage is an act of faith. It means promising to trust as well as love another person through all of life’s ups and downs. In a previous guest post Lori Lowe explains how trusting your spouse, assuming the best in the situation, is a key element of how to rekindle a relationship. This starts with small things. Did he forget to take out the trash again? Instead of thinking “He’s so lazy!” or “He just expects me to do all the work!” avoid anger by first assuming the best case scenario: it was a simple mistake and he was distracted by all the other things he has to do. Maintaining a positive outlook on your marriage and spouse, coupled with asking questions when things are unclear, will help avoid conflicts and increase understanding.

This applies to bigger issues, too. Lori includes this anecdote of how one coupled learned how to rekindle a relationship after a big misunderstanding:

After the death of their infant son, John and Kathy Eubanks were more than devastated. The lactating mom, Kathy, was hormonal and extremely emotional. John soon returned to work where he saw little sympathy from coworkers, many of whom didn’t even acknowledge his loss.Nine months later, John returned home to Kathy crying again and said, “I don’t know how much more of this I can take.” He says he meant that it was very hard to see her suffering. However, Kathy interpreted his comment to mean, “If you don’t get happy, I will leave.” She was convinced divorce was imminent because of her assumption.

One day Kathy confronted her husband and asked, “Are you planning to divorce me?” (Remember that was her assumption due to his earlier statement.) John was taken by surprise and said, “No way.” It led to a breakthrough discussion where they shared their feelings and made a commitment to grieve together and to be unified in their suffering.

Remember, ask questions before you make assumptions, and always assume the best in your spouse. Starting from a point faith that he or she is on your side, loves you, and would never intentionally hurt you, is part of how to rekindle a relationship that is suffering from negativity. Here is a link to a fun flash game that will help you cool down your anger and see your spouse’s POV.

Next week:  “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend,” or, How to Win an Argument…

A note about Dr. King:

Over the years MLK has become an American mythological figure and much of the complexity of his real life and personality have been lost. For example, many Americans today don’t know that Dr. King had a very troubled marriage plagued with infidelities. At the same time, he a was a remarkably well spoken and intelligent leader whose words cut to the core of how human beings should treat each other. We can easily apply some of his famous sayings to our marriages.

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TV giving bad advice on how to deal with infidelity

The LA Times released an article yesterday on the prevalence of adultery in primetime television. As the author points out, adultery has been the subject of plot drama since the Bible—it’s nothing new. At the same time, storylines involving cheating are popping up all over TV dramas at a much higher incidence than any point in the past.

Julie Albright, a sociologist at USC, attributes the trend to increasing cynicism about marriage. Marriage has never been less popular. In 1960, 72% of U.S. adults were married. Now that number is 51%. “People believe marriages don’t work anyway,” Albright says, “so seeing affairs on TV kind of serves as a model for how things can and will go bad.”

 The prevalence of adultery on TV doesn’t actually reflect reality. Although it’s hard to measure infidelity, some studies suggest that 20% of married people will stray at some point in their marriage. Right now it seems that 100% of current TV drama couples have cheating in them. It appears that, once again, TV exaggerates truth for entertainment value.

So what’s wrong with some imaginary drama on TV if, as I said before, it’s been a theme of storytelling since the Bible? After all, these show certainly aren’t promoting infidelity as something good. The cheating causes real problems for the characters, and how to deal with infidelity and make amends drives the drama of the shows. In fact, viewers and producers have expressed concern when cheaters don’t get their comeuppance. Cheating is definitely still bad.

My problem is that by portraying cheating so commonplace in every marriage, our entertainment is establishing the idea that infidelity, while bad, is an expected element of a marriage. And affair is simply what happens in marriage. That is a terrible attitude to have and it reinforces negative stereotypes about marriage that can have real negative effects on peoples’ lives. Especially once they realize that how to deal with infidelity in the real world doesn’t tie up so nicely as a soap opera plotline.

Along this line, The Parents Television Council released a report stating marriage is “regularly mocked and denigrated” on television. It seems that “sex with anyone, up to and including a dead person or a farm animal, is more exciting than sex with your spouse.” I think they have a point. It is unfortunate when TV, as a whole, completely disregards marriage as anything but a state of suffering and boredom that is destined to fail.

Let’s show them they’re WRONG! Be positive about marriage. Count your joys and blessings. Don’t accept that your marriage will fail, even when things are rough. Marriage ain’t easy, and there’s plenty of help out there for you, whether it’s marriage help books or online marriage counseling. You CAN do it!

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Pay it forward with online marriage counseling-free for three days!

Why should everyone be an advocate for healthy marriage? Some of us aren’t married, or don’t believe in marriage, or can’t get married. Some say that marriage is a dying institution. It’s true, divorce rates are incredibly high in the U.S.. But I disagree that this means marriage is obsolete. Yes, any committed relationship is a tough gig. At the same time, it offers so many benefits. Numerous studies have shown that married couples are more likely to be healthy, happy, and financially secure than singles. Children raised in two-parent homes are better off than those raised separately.

Even more than this, I believe that the happiness of one person ripples out to increase the happiness of everyone else they are in contact with. You can see the exact opposite effect destroying many marriages. When one person is grumpy or negative, he tends to drag down everyone he comes in contact with. Misery, so they say, loves company. It takes an incredibly strong will–and lots of skill learning from couples counseling–not to get sucked in by your spouse’s unhappiness.

On the other hand, when we are happy internally, we tend to make the the world around us a better place. We smile at a stranger, laugh more, tend to be more generous, loving, and forgiving. Those onto whom we pass our good mood tend to pass it on to others. I guess I can call this concept “paying it forward”. Paying it forward is the idea that when someone does something good for you, you consciously pass on that kindness in turn. There’s a lovely Liberty Mutual commercial that you might have seen illustrating this of a whole chain of people doing good deeds for each other.

When married we have the tendency to take sacrifice, compromise, and suffering as our given lot. And yes, being married does involve giving up some old things and taking on new and not always pleasant responsibilities. Certainly having children is a big wake-up call that your life is no longer all about your personal needs and wants. At the same time, you don’t and shouldn’t have to be unhappy. Your personal, deep happiness matters. It matters a lot. You should never “just settle” for a mediocre marriage because it “works”–i.e. you can keep a home and feed yourselves and support the children etc. etc. At the same time this doesn’t mean you should get a divorce! Not at all. This is why programs like PO2 and other online marriage counseling free trial services exist–because most marriages have the potential to be fully happy with just a little bit a help and training such as learning how to communicate with your spouse. Counseling can seem really intimidating, so we offer a free trial so you can see for yourself that these are useful and fun skills to learn.

This is why I stand behind helping marriages stay strong and healthy. Every time a couple learns the skills to make their relationship joyous, they send out a ripple of happiness. Who knows how far that ripple will carry? 

To get that Happy ball rolling, enjoy this sweet music video from artist Segal Anat called “Come&Go”.

 

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What are you fighting for?

Dr. Heitler’s Psychology Today post just came out and has almost immediately been listed as an “essential read.” Her topic is protest. She starts off talking about the political battles being fought around the world right now, especially the “Arab Spring” and the Occupy Wall Street protests. She then focuses down on our own personal battles. We end up much happier, she notes, when we are able to fight for something instead of just against something.

The power of positivity is one of my favorite subjects. There’s something to be said for not being too optimistic or naive. At the same time, more and more scientific studies come out that show being negative and anxious increases your chances of everything from headaches to heart attacks. If you believe bad things happen to you, they often do. If you believe good things happen to you, they often will.

I think scholars and leaders throughout history have touched on this subject. The Christian teachings of Jesus famously ask followers to always hold hope, faith, and love in their hearts…and so do teachings of Islam, Buddhism and Judaism and Hinduism. I can’t think of any belief system whose main tenants are for followers to be constantly fearful, pessimistic, and morose (this may occur among some sects but…well, I don’t want to get into that argument). The main message from all spheres of science and faith is that to attain happiness you must first embrace a positive mindset.

So back to protests. In her article, Dr. Heitler talks about the difference between today’s protests and the protests of the 60s she remembers. The 60s protests and the era in general had an atmosphere of joy and optimism. The protesters weren’t just against war or racism, they stood for peace, equality, and free expression. Much of todays politics and protest, in contrast, is about demonstrating against something and expressing shame, anger, guilt, and outrage. While strong negative emotions can be important motivators, it’s equally essential to have something good and tangible you are working towards. As Dr. Heitler asks, if you don’t have an identifiable goal, how are you going to get there?

It’s the same with your marriage problems as it is with a political idea. It’s much easier to find points of agreement when you talk about the things you like instead of focusing on what you don’t want or don’t like about the other person’s position. Chances are both of you have similar desires, and by being flexible you can find overlapping solutions to reach your goals. Getting stuck on what you don’t want is like pushing, while talking about what you would like is pulling. You can push against each other all you want, or you can band together to pull towards your common goals. This ends in mutually satisfying solutions.

Dr. Heitler’s article has made me think a lot about how the skills we teach in relationship counseling are incredibly important in all our interactions with fellow humans (for more see this post on PO2 in the workplace). I’d be interested to hear what you think.

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Why a silly wedding is a recipe for a happy marriage

It seems like a silly display of surprise wedding dancing is as de rigeur as the cake these days. And I think that’s fabulous! Of course, there is certainly nothing bad about a strictly traditional and solemn event. At the same time, there are a few things I love about these spontaneous dance shows that falls in line with some great marriage counseling advice. Here are my reasons for why these weddings contain the recipe for a happy marriage.

1) If the dance is planned by just the bride and groom. Ya gotta hand it to these couples, they have a great sense of humor and can work together well (and keep a secret). Planning a surprise dance during the wedding is a great way to work on a project together that doesn’t involve anyone else…no florists, no best men and bridesmaids, no event staff. It gives you an excuse to spend some lighthearted solo time with your betrothed during the stress of wedding planning. It can be a sweet, silly and very special bonding opportunity for a couple, and sets a great tone for your marriage! Holding on to that sense of being adventurous, silly “partners in crime” even during stressful events is how to make a relationship last.

2) If the surprise involves lots of people. In the video I chose below, the groom and his best men have plotted and schemed to break out into a show for the guests and bride. First, check out the huge amount of effort that went into learning the choreography. They’re pretty good! Not only does this dance show how much the groom wants to surprise, delight, and show his love for his bride, it also shows the dedication and support of the groom’s friends. Having a solid network of friends who support your partnership is a key ingredient in the recipe for a happy marriage. These guys are there to back up their friend and his marriage even if it means publicly embarrassing themselves. It is just as important to maintain your separate friendships and to spend time strengthening them as it is to spend quality time together as a couple. Again, this sweet involvement in the wedding is a great sign that the groom’s friends will be there to support him throughout the marriage.

wedding thriller

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Marriage advice from funny baby videos

We love funny baby videos. Babies are fascinating, partly because of how fascinated they are with the world! As this video shows, the sound of a simple sneeze will seem the most amazing, captivating new experience to a baby. The little guy looks terrified, but it’s actually an expression of awe and surprise. We can tell because after the shock of the sound passes, he bubbles with laughter every time. (Hopefully if he were really scared, we wouldn’t count this among funny baby videos. Other people’s terror is not something to laugh at).

Amazingly, a newborn has just as good hearing and eyesight as a grown adult. They seem helpless and confused only because they have a tremendous amount of information to process every second. The world is completely new to them and they are learning at an astounding rate. This is why baby’s only focus about 15 inches away maximum even though their eyes are very developed. They couldn’t handle all that new information at once.

Since our long term memories only start around age 2-3, we can only imagine what it must be like to be a newborn and to encounter the word for the first time. Seeing the world as a baby can be a great exercise for helping your marriage. One common marriage complaint is that the novelty and excitement of the relationship fades. Just as we get used to the world as we grow up, we become desensitized to and take for granted the little things about our spouse that once were so thrilling. In other words, the magic fades.

Try an experiment. Watch this best of funny baby videos a few times. First, just have a great laugh at the comedy of the little guy. His expressions are priceless. Later, watch it again and pay attention to how he pays attention. His whole being is focused on taking in this new sound. You can do this too! Pick something you tend to gloss over in your daily life. It could be a tomato, your couch, your spouse’s arms or hands or face…really, anything. Then take a good, long time to appreciate it. Try to quiet your mind and focus all your attention on this one thing. How does it feel? Taste? Weigh? Sound? Use all your senses to explore and  examine it until you’ve turned it inside out into something completely new. You might find yourself newly fascinated with something old, and newly excited about your partner.

There’s a whole new world underneath the one we are used to. You can use this trick anytime you are feeling stressed or bored. It’s a great way to add spark and excitement to you marriage. Find and appreciate something new about your spouse every day.

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Things you DON’T say to your wife

There are many jokes about the different ways in which we can potentially insult the women in our lives…don’t tell her she’s gained weight it usually #1. These may be stereotypes about women’s sensitivities, but they bring up a good point about how to communicate with your spouse (male or female). Sharing and honesty is always a number 1 key in any relationship, and at the same time, tact is equally important. PO2 has a nice segment about how to say things tactfully, and you can check that out here.

It’s easy to be blunt with people who we know intimately; after all, you spend your lives together and have very few boundaries between you.  At the same time, our marriages often start to run on automatic after so many years, and this can be fertile ground for unintentional negative slip ups and hurt feelings. Here’s a good mental exercise for communication: step outside your marriage for a moment. Would you say this thing to your wife if she wasn’t your wife, but a close friend? Would you do (or not do) this certain thing to your husband if you were just married? Try using this to get a little distance to your relationship and get a good long look at your spouse as a unique individual.

Also try making note of how you spouse reacts to personal comments you make about him or her. When you talk, you should be fully present and listening to what your spouse has to say and other non-verbal forms of communication. If something feels off, ask if you said something that upset them.

Ok, seriousness over! Enjoy this funny video by comedian Tim Hawkins about the things you don’t say to your wife (or husband, for that matter!).

Lyrics:

Things You Don’t Say To Your Wife Lyrics
Tim Hawkins

Hey honey have you gained some weight in your rear-end?
That dress you wear reminds me of my old girlfriend
And where’d you get those shoes? I think they’re pretty lame
Would you stop talking ’cause I’m trying to watch the game

If you’re a man who wants to live a long and happy life
These are the things you don’t say to your wife

I planned a hunting trip next week on your birthday
I didn’t ask you ’cause I knew it’d be OK
Go make some dinner while I watch this fishing show
I taped it over our old wedding video

If you’re a man who wants to live a long and happy life
These are the things you don’t say to your wife

Your cooking is OK but not like mother makes
The diamond in the ring I bought you is a fake
Your eyes look puffy dear, are you feeling ill?
Happy anniversary I bought you a treadmill

If you’re a man who wants to live a long and happy life
These are the things you don’t say to your wife
If your a man who doesn’t want to get killed with a knife
These are the things you don’t say to your wife

 

 

 

 

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When humor hurts

While looking for a video to post yesterday, I came across a two-minute clip of a little boy becoming hysterical when a little girl proclaims she is going to marry him. His mother captures the whole thing on film, encouraging the battle of wills. At first, his overreaction is pretty darn cute. And yes, it’s a funny metaphor for some adult behavior. But watching the entire thing a few times left all the PO2 staff with a sour taste in our mouths and led to an interesting discussion. It brought up a very serious topic in dealing with other people’s emotions.

We very rarely set out to consciously hurt or anger someone, especially the people we love. However, many of our patterns of speech and behavior can have unexpected impact on other people. This is why it is so important to be aware of and monitor your responses to your spouse. One example for communication in marriage in the Power of Two curriculum is the use of “but…” When you’re having a conversation, using this little word actually negates what your partner just said and sets you up in opposition. We often use “but” without realizing that it can hurt our spouse’s self-esteem and lead to arguments!

This video brings up another unexpected shark lurking in the waters of your relationship: humor. Specifically, misplaced light-heartedness– not taking other people’s emotions, desires, and needs seriously. A great sense of humor is a wonderful thing, and having little in-jokes with your spouse is part of a healthy relationship. At the same time, humor can be really hurtful and a big setback in how to communicate with your spouse. When your partner makes a serious personal statement such as “I want” or “I don’t want,” or shares an emotion with you, don’t laugh at them, tease them, or disregard their feelings. When you do, you imply that what they are feeling is mistaken, misplaced or crazy, and denies the validity of the things they care about.

Respect the power of their feelings. Be serious when your partner is serious. You don’t have to feel the same way (you are two different people after all!), but you should respect and try to understand the reasoning and concerns behind your partner’s position. This shows your spouse that you recognizing her or him as an independent, valuable human being.

This is especially important for children, who are in the midst of developing their sense of self. Your child might get upset over things your believe are completely ridiculous, but remember that to them, the pain is very, very real. Denying it can be very hurtful and confusing. Comfort your child, try to see the world from his or her point of view, and acknowledge his emotions. Try using this great phrase from our conflict resolution section:

“Yes, I understand why your are upset (elaborate)…and, at the same time (find a comforting solution).”

Treating your child with compassion and seriousness with raise compassionate, confident adult.

Granted, knowing when and when not to be light-hearted is a very tricky skill! And everyone disagrees on what is funny. What do you think? Is the video funny or not? How would you have dealt with the situation?

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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?

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