How Physical Intimacy Changes Throughout a Marriage

We have all heard the phrase, “the honeymoon is over,” but what does this really mean? How does sex change as we age? What is it really like when the honeymoon is over? What is it like 15, 30, 50 years after the honeymoon? How is our relationship altered as we spend more and more time with our partner? Sex, like most other aspects of marriage cycles during different periods of life. Dr. Needle a renowned sex therapist said in an article for Prevention Magazine, ‘“There are a number of factors that contribute to our sexual response.” She mentions physical health, stress and anxiety, and relationship quality. For these and lots of other reasons, it’s common for sex to shift from sizzling to tepid . . . and back again.’ Throughout this article we will explore the aging of physical intimacy.

The beginning of many marriages is characterized by a lot of intimacy. Appropriately named the honeymoon stage this is characterized by feelings of ecstasy, adoration and high feelings of attraction.  Often, it is a new side of the relationship that has not been explored yet. Feelings are running high, and there is little to distract us from our partner. We are in a clear obsession stage of our marriage and sex life. Sex can even occur multiple times a day. This is a normal and natural part of marriage, one that is full of enjoyment and helps build a foundation for marriage in the latter years.

Functional MRI brain scans show that people who are experiencing this stage of their romantic relationship are experiencing high levels of dopamine, which gives us the loving feeling. Women who were tested during this stage also showed signs of cortisol, which is a stress hormone. Meaning that while the beginning of a relationship is high in happiness, but stress is also present. Research does show though that these happy feelings can continue if the couple decides to do new things together. Creating new experiences and new memories helps keep these dopamine hormones flowing.

After some time when pregnancies and children have come along in a marriage it is easy for things to feel out of balance. Often parents feel overwhelmed with parenting responsibilities. The first three to five years of parenting are often the hardest and take a toll on the couple’s relationship including their sex life. This is especially true for women who do the bulk of childcare in most families. This can be an exhausting time, and sex often gets put on the backburner. Sex during this period of life is important and many couples have to be intentional about it, or it simply will not happen.

As the children grow up and begin having more social and extracurricular activities, where exhaustion may still be present often it is a lack of time that keep couples from the sack. Many women who did not work while their children are little choose this time to go back to work or school, and this makes life busier for many families. Also not being able to have as much privacy with more mobile kids who have later bedtimes can also make this period a struggle. While scheduling sex may not seem romantic, many families find that this is an effective way to keep their relationship strong while in this period of marriage.

As children start leaving the nest couples find that they have more alone time. “If you’ve worked on your relationship for the past 20 years, this newfound freedom and empty house can set the stage for a fun second honeymoon,” Needle says. The key element in this quote is whether or not you have worked on your marriage the whole time. The most important factor in not only sexuality in marriage, but also the relationship in general, is being intentional. Make each other a priority. This time can be exciting and enjoyable for many couples. This can be something to look forward to if you are in one of the earlier stages of marriage.

With time, aging and hormone changes like menopause can wreck havoc with your sex life. Making sure that you are taking care of your body will help make this process easier and make sex more enjoyable during your 50s and on. Healthy diet, exercise, and regular checkups may seem unrelated to sex, but they are a key component in having a healthy sex life after 50. Menopause is often accompanied with a decrease in libido, so patience and going to the doctor if you feel you need to will only help your sex life.

Once retirement happens, a couple has even more time on their hands and many find that there is an upswing in their sex life in the 70s if both partners are healthy. Traveling together and accomplishing lifelong dreams during retirement not only helps your relationship, but also helps your sex life as well. Again trying new things can help your relationship have those feel good feelings. Having fun together can help make retirement fun and enjoyable in your marriage.

Sexuality goes through cycles throughout marriage. It has times when you can’t keep your hands off each other, to exhausting days where you’re up all night with a baby. However, what makes the biggest difference in overall satisfaction in your sexual relationship is intention. If you make your sex life a priority, then as time goes on you will find intensity again. As with all other aspects of marriage like communication, friendship, love etc. what matters most is whether or not it matters to us. Satisfaction is within the reach of every couple who is willing to work for it.

 

 

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Dealing with Disillusionment in Marriage

According to dictionary.com disillusionment is, “a feeling of disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to be.” This is a common feeling for many involved in any long term romantic relationship. According to Dr. Jeffery H. Larson in his book The Great Marriage Tune up Book, this is a stage of marriage. He describes it as the “Disillusionment and Distraction” phase. He says that, “The problem with romantic love is that inevitably, sooner or later it slips away.”

Larson says that stresses like managing finances, housework responsibilities, childrearing etc. take a toll on a married couple and on their relationship. Often this transition from romantic love to the next stage of marriage is not what we expected it to be. Often we feel surprised and maybe even hurt that our expectations and fantasies do not come true. He isn’t thinking about me all the time. She doesn’t call or text me to say she loves me. He forgets it is date night, or that it’s Valentine’s Day. She doesn’t cook me dinner. It’s easy to think that my partner doesn’t love me anymore, or maybe I just don’t love them anymore. Unfulfilled expectations can be difficult and painful. Many choose distraction or even divorce as a way out of this stage. However, there are many who weather the storm of disillusionment and find joy and fulfillment in their marriage. Below are some tips that will help you through this stage.

  1. Educate yourself. Educate yourself about marriage, families and relationships. There are many excellent publications available. One quoted often on this blog is John Gottmans 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work. Another is the Great Marriage Tune-Up Book listed above.
  2. Make the choice to love your spouse.
  3. Strive for balance in your own life. It is easier to be a kinder and more loving spouse when you are taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, spiritually etc. Understanding that your spouse is not responsible for your wellbeing is part of being in a healthy relationship.
  4. Learn to let go and forgive. Forgive them for the small hurts that marriages often have.
  5. Make an effort. Have date night, send love notes, do things together periodically.
  6. Choose to seek help or go through a program if you feel that would benefit your marriage. There are many marriage strengthening programs available.

 

While all spouses feel disillusionment at one point or another remember that this is a temporary stage of your marriage and of your life. While it seems overwhelming and disappointing in the moment, many marriages recover from this stage and find happiness. Choose today to look for the good in your marriage and commit to working harder on the things you would like to change.

 

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Being a Jerk: Part III

In the previous article from the “Being a Jerk” series, we talked about the Love is Blind phenomenon by Dr. John Van Epp. The head and heart knowledge idea that he created helped us understand why we have certain thoughts about our partners. In this article we will be learning about how he says we can fix are negative feelings about our relationship and spouse. We will also be talking about his idea to help couples who are experiencing premarital dating, and also us, to figure out how we can grow closer to our spouses. There are five categories that he has made that summarize his extensive research.

The first category is Compatibility Potential. Van Epp says, “The balance between the similarities and differences of personality, values, and interests between you and this person – in other words, how you “fit together.” If you are struggling in your marriage or have an interest to be closer with your spouse, this is a great one to follow. What do you and your spouse do together that both of you enjoy doing? What are your similarities? How well do you get along while at home and in your routine? What do you do together to blow off steam? Try to find answers to all of these questions. If you don’t have answers then try out new things together. You can work out with one another, go on walks, play board games, or cook. Make sure that you have your hobbies, but also find hobbies together! This will make you two grow stronger because of the quality time you spend with one another.

The second category is Relationship Skills. This means, “Communication, openness, and conflict management and resolution.” How are your relationship skills? Can you and your spouse have a nice conversation or quick chat? Do you hold grudges and block progress after an argument? Are you truthful and honest with your spouse? Do you keep secrets? If you feel that you can work on some of these questions it would be better for you and your relationship. Try hard to strengthen your communication. Listen, don’t just hear your spouse. Let them talk without interrupting them. Try to understand how they feel instead of assuming you already know what they are going to say. Give them space when they ask for it. Tell them the truth and remember the standards you two have created in and for your marriage. Practice listening by asking about their day or what the plans are for the weekend. Repeating back to them can also help train you to remember what your spouse says!

The third category is Patterns from Other Relationships. This is what Van Epp’s definition is, “Relationship patterns from both romantic and nonromantic relationships.” How did your spouse treat their past interests? How do they treat their parents, siblings, friends, and strangers? How do you treat those people? This can be a good indication whether or not you and your spouse are friendly or nice. If your spouse treats the waiter nicely that can be a good sign. Or how you treat your spouse can tell whether or not there is room to work on it. There can always be more room to be nicer to your spouse. Make them feel safe when they are around you. Refrain from calling them rude or cruel names. Don’t let play fighting be taken too far. Treat your spouse how you would want to be treated.

The fourth category is Family Patterns and Background. Van Epp says, “The quality of the parental marriage and the family’s expression of affection and emotion, development of roles, and interaction patterns.” Basically, how was your spouse raised? Do they communicate through gifts, service, touch, time together, or words? How do their parents communicate? Learning more about your spouse and their family can help you understand how to better get along with them. Try to pick up on the little things they do. Do they clean when they are upset? You could try cleaning to help them know that you are paying attention to them and their needs.

The last category is Character and Conscience Traits. He says, “The emotional health and maturity of conscience.” Is your emotional health strong enough to be married and take on the responsibility? Are you and your spouse mature enough to depend on one another during hardships and struggles? Are you willing to sacrifice things you like for the betterment of your marriage and relationship? These are things to contemplate and consider. There is no better time to make yourself better and greater to help your marriage. Think things through and discuss them with your spouse. Ask them if there is anything you can work on and find out your weaknesses. Take those weaknesses and make them into strengths to benefit your life.

These are all great thoughts to consider frequently throughout your life together. Like I mentioned before, these were originally meant for those who are not married yet, but they work so well with those of us who are married. There is nothing bad about going back to the basics. We want our marriages to work and maybe all we need to do is go back to the beginning. Learn, talk, and spend time with each other. Purposely try to work together and in the same direction. There is no better feeling than knowing you have your best friend by your side through everything!

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Being a Jerk: Part I

Being a Jerk: Part II

 

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Making Time for Your Marriage: Part II

Time Series Part II: How to make time for your spouse in your busy schedule.

As has already been established in the first post of this series, everyone’s lives are extremely busy nowadays. Despite the busyness of life, it’s important to take the time to strengthen your relationship with your significant other. However, instead of trying to just find time for each other, I propose you MAKE time for each other. We will be discussing how you can make time for each other in this post.

In their book, “Your Time-Starved Marriage: how to stay connected at the speed of life”, Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott outline several ways in which you can make time for your relationship. They are:

  •      Make Your Marriage a Priority
  •      Do the Right Thing
  •      Make an “If I Do Nothing Else Today” List
  •      Make a Margin for the Unexpected
  •      Purge Your Schedule of Distractions

Make Your Marriage a Priority

When you make something a priority in your life, it doesn’t matter how busy you are, you make time to do it. For example, if you are a really big fan of football and there is a big game every Monday night, then you make sure you set aside time to sit and enjoy watching the game. You have made watching the game a priority for the day, and you make time for it to happen. The same thing should happen with your marriage. If you make your marriage a priority, you will set aside time for you and your spouse to spend together. As Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott said in their book, “time is made whenever we decide what matters most. A top priority gets more time” (Parrott & Parrott, 2003).

Do the Right Thing

The right thing is to take care of and strengthen your relationship. When it is a choice between doing the dishes and spending time with your sweetheart, the dishes can wait. Know what to leave undone! Consider your relationship and decide what things will be the best at bringing you together, then do those things regularly. It’s the right thing to do.

Make an “If I Do Nothing Else Today” List

An “If I Do Nothing Else Today” list is a list you make outlining at least one thing, as small as it might be, to do with your spouse that will bring you together. All you have to do is write this phrase and then complete it: “If I do nothing else for my marriage today, I will…” For example, “if I do nothing else for my marriage today, I will kiss my husband before he leaves for work, or, “if I do nothing else for my marriage today, I will write a note and put it in his/her lunch reminding him/her that they are loved”.

Make a Margin for the Unexpected

The unexpected often does happen, so if you make time for the unexpected in your busy schedule, then it won’t be so unexpected. And if you make time for the unexpected in your schedule, and the unexpected doesn’t happen, then you have time for your partner! For example, I tend to try and give myself more time then is probably needed for homework or running errands, just in case. That way, when I am able to do things more quickly, I have time to either relax (which also helps my relationship), to something for my husband, or spend more time with my husband when he is available.

Purge Your Schedule of Distractions

Everyone has items in their schedule that are really just distractions from what is really the most important. When we make our spouse our priority, we will “purge the distractions” that take our focus and time away from that priority. Distractions could be anything from laundry, to undone dishes, to your phone, to social media, really anything that takes your focus away from your partner. For example, sometimes, there are a few dishes to be washed but my husband and I decide to leave them for the morning so we can just relax and be together.

I know that if you begin to make time by doing at least one of the things I have suggested above, that your marriage will thank you for it! You do have time for your spouse, you just need to make it!

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Fire Proof Your Marriage: Part 3

“Love Fights Fair”


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I don’t know how it goes for you when you get in an argument with your spouse, but for me it’s usually about having one “winner” and one “loser” at the end of it.  Is this truly the way we should be approaching a “fight”?  Are there healthy ways to resolve our disagreements where you both feel good about the outcome?

In the article “Fighting Fair in A Relationship:  How to Get What You Need and Stay Close While You Do It,” Karen Young talks about 19  “do’s” and “don’ts”  about fight fair:

  1. Don’t Fear Conflict
  •   When you are in a devoted and close relationship conflict will exist.  Conflict is how you are able to learn from and see each other’s side on issues.  Not seeing eye-to-eye is “normal, healthy, and sometimes necessary when there is something important at stake for both of you.”
  1.  Attack the Issue, Not Each Other
  •  In the heat of the moment it can be easy to say things that we can’t take back.  “Don’t name call or bring the other person down to get on top of the argument.”  Sometimes it is good to take a “timeout” from the argument for a few minutes, to regroup and rejoin the conversation when both of you are less emotional and able to think more clearly.
  1.  Stay with the Issue at Hand
  •  How many times have you rehashed old issues in order to win?  I have been guilty of this myself.  This just leads to more contention and less problem solving.  “It’s the quickest way to send an argument off track and land you in a place you forget what you were fighting for.”
  1.  Don’t Confuse the Topics with the Issue
  •  Often times when we begin arguing with our spouse other issues that have been unresolved come up.  You may start arguing about the topic of leaving the toilet seat up and for some reason that leads back in to the unsettled issue of rising credit card debt.   “If you keep fighting over different things but you always seem to end up on the same issue (e.g. money or the night he/you came home late), that issue is actually where your work needs to be…Give what’s needed for the issue to let go of the grip it has on your relationship…”
  1.  Don’t Downplay the Issue
  • Ignoring a problem does not make it go away! “If feelings or needs aren’t resolved, the will come out through other topics.”
  1. Don’t’ Withdraw, or Chase
  • It can be easy to put up our defensive walls when we are feeling attacked and refuse to engage in an argument.  It can also be easy to pursue the argument if we are feeling ignored.  “One way to change that is to name your contribution to the issue… ‘I know I probably haven’t helped things by…’ or, ‘I know I upset you when I…’ This makes it easier for your partner to trust that you aren’t only out for blood.”
  1.  Be Open, Nobody Can Read Your Mind
  • How much easier would it be if we could read minds!?!  How many times have you had a disagreement expecting your spouse to already know what is wrong without being told? Guilty!  “Research has shown that people who expect a partner to mind read are more likely to feel anxious or neglected.”
  1.  Find the Real Emotion beneath the Anger
  •  In my own marriage I find that it is easy to accuse each other of being angry.  That is the “go to” emotion to turn too.  “But anger is a secondary emotion—it never exists on its own and always has another emotion beneath it.”  If you can get to the real emotion being expressed you will have more success in responding to your partners true concern.
  1.  Be Attentive
  • There is nothing worse than feeling like your spouse is not listening to you.  Having the television on during an argument in our house is sure to lead to one of us feeling like the other isn’t listening.  Give your spouse you undivided attention, no matter what!
  1. Don’t Yell
  • “If the argument is at yelling point, nobody is being heard because nobody is listening. At this point, someone needs to be the hero and calm it all down.”
  1.  Stay Away from ‘You Always’ or ‘You Never’
  • “Nobody is ‘always’ or ‘never’ anything and using these words will just inflame.”
  1.  Be Curious
  • If you aren’t asking for details than you are probably trying to come up with a rebuttal.  This type of strategy leads you nowhere fast!  “Slow things down and ask for details. This shows that you’re open to getting things sorted out.”
  1. Honestly Accept that Nobody is Perfect
  •  I have the hardest time accepting criticism but I can be really good at dishing it out.  This may be because of how my spouse is sending the message or because I am unwilling to accept that I have flaws.  “If you are the one with the wise words, say it in a way that can be heard by being generous in the delivery.”
  1.  Watch out for the Passive-Aggressive
  • ‘I’m just being honest …’, or ‘I’m not criticizing you but …’ or ‘You’re probably not going to like hearing this but …’
  1.  If You’re Wrong, Apologize
  2. If You’re Going around in Circles, Stop
  • If you feel like you are on a merry-go-round, saying the same things over and over again “slow things down and communicate to your partner your understanding of their side of things…try finding a different way to say it and check you aren’t too much on the attack.”
  1.  Find Common Ground
  •  Many times my husband and I end an argument with agreeing to disagree.  “Anything that will help to get you both back on the same team is a good thing.”
  1.  Give in or Compromise
  • “Any small concession is the groundwork for bigger ones.”
  1.  Don’t leave it unfinished
  • “Find a resolution, otherwise it will continue to press for closure.”
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The next time you feel like putting on those boxing gloves when you are fighting with your spouse, remember that a house divided against itself does not stand!  Talk with your spouse about setting rules of engagement went it comes to fighting fair and stick to those rules, no matter what!

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Making Time for Your Marriage: Part I

Time Series Part I: Finding Time vs. Making Time

Everyone’s lives seem to be so busy nowadays. People are going here, there, and everywhere. Phones are out and heads are down. Such is life in today’s world, and marriages are suffering because of it. Dr. Les and Leslie Parrott have written a book on this exact topic and have outlined how couples can find, or rather, make time for each other and what to do with that time in order to make the most of it. The book they have written is called “Your Time-Starved Marriage: how to stay connected at the speed of life”, you can buy it here.

One very important point they make in their book is that “one of the most common fallacies of time is that you can ‘find it’…Truth is, we’ll never find more time. But we can ‘make’ more time.” (Parrott & Parrott, 2006) Time really can’t be found, but it can be made. You may find that when you look for time in your busy schedule that it is nowhere to be found, and you conclude that you just do not have time to go on dates with your spouse or spend quality time together. This is not true! There IS time, but you must decide to make the time.

This post is the first of a series of posts outlining how you can make time for your marriage, the three time mines that you may not be aware of where you can make a lot of time for your marriage, and how you can use the time you wisely. Once your time is made, it’s important to use it well, if you do it will be sure to strengthen your marriage.

It may sound like a silly notion, to “make” time, but it is possible and it is important to do so for your marriage in this busy world. Stay tuned to find out how you can make time for your marriage.

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Part III: How to Argue Well

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Now we have covered how important the art of arguing well is here and what type of negative communication techniques need to be avoided in order to argue well here, we can now will cover what you can do to develop the art of arguing well.

  1.     Soften Your Startup
  2.     Learn to Make and Receive Repair Attempts
  3.     Soothe Yourself and Each Other
  4.     Compromise
  5.     Process Any Grievances so They Don’t Linger
  6.     Forgive!

Soften Your Startup. A soft startup is the exact opposite of a harsh startup. A good way to begin a soft startup is to give your spouse a compliment or express one way you appreciate them and what they do before you bring up what may be bothering you. Avoid phrases or words that begin the conversation with tension or in a negative manner. Another great tool is I-statements. When you approach your spouse with something that needs to be resolved, one way to begin with a soft startup would be to use I-statements in describing how the situation or action makes you feel. For example, if I was frustrated with my husband for not doing the dishes three nights in a row when I asked him, I could approach him and say something like, “Honey, when you leave the dishes for me to do, it makes me feel overwhelmed and even unappreciated at times as I have lots of other housework I am busy doing all day.” This would help my husband understand that I don’t appreciate that he didn’t do the dishes when I asked and why I didn’t appreciate. It also lets him know how his actions make me feel, because he may not otherwise be aware.

Learn to Make and Receive Repair Attempts. Learn which repair attempts work well for your spouse. Once you’ve learned which repair attempts help the situation and don’t hurt the situation, try to learn when they are appropriate to use and when they are not. Try and learn the repair attempts your spouse makes. When you recognize that your spouse is making  repair attempts, give them a break! Try and accept those repair attempts when possible. For example, when I am upset, frustrated or with my husband and he knows it, sometimes he will crack a joke or try and do something that will make me life to help lighten the mood. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but I have begun to recognize that trying to make me laugh is his repair attempt and I have tried to accept those repair attempts even when they may not be the repair attempt I need at that moment.

Soothe Yourself and Each Other. Take a moment to breathe. Try and calm down. Try and help your spouse calm down.

Compromise. Be willing to compromise. Beware of stubbornness and pride! Choose your battles. Remember that some things are not worth it. Some things can be compromised. Is the way the toothpaste is squeezed really worth an argument?

Process Any Grievances so They Don’t Linger. Make sure you fully work things out. If there are lingering grievances, they may come back to bite you. Lingering grievances can build up again and cause problems later. I find this one to be especially important personally. If my husband has done something that has really bothered me and I just bury it inside me and let it fester, eventually, other annoyances will build up on top of that one and out of nowhere I will blow up spewing all of these emotions and annoyances I have been keeping inside for a long time. These instances are always worse than if I had just addressed it right away. If you don’t fully process grievances, there are likely to be future events that will bring up the remaining pieces of previous grievances and those remains will make the present event that much worse.

Forgive. “A happy marriage is the union of two forgivers” (Goddard, 2009). The more you forgive your spouse and yourself, the happier you and your marriage will be. The more quickly and the more fully you forgive, the better.

I challenge you to practice using these positive communication techniques as you work to develop the art of arguing well. As you begin your conversations with your spouse with a soft startup, as you learn to make and receive repair attempts, as you soothe yourself and each other, as you compromise, as you fully process grievances, and as you forgive, you will able to communicate better with your spouse and you will be capable of resolving your issues in a positive way, thereby strengthening your marriage. If all of this is overwhelming for you, start with practicing just one of these techniques. As you improve with that technique, start practicing another, and then another. Soon your first reactions in future disagreements with your spouse will be to use these positive communication techniques to resolve the issue.

Resources: 

Goddard, H. W. (2009). Drawing heaven into your marriage: eternal doctrines that change relationships. Cedar Hills, UT: Joymap Pub.

Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (2015). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Harmony Books.
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Love is a Choice

With the high divorce rate and more unhappy marriages each and every day, does it seems like something is wrong with the way we view love? Why did our grandparents marry for life, yet most millennials can’t even make it down the aisle? 69% of millennials are not married, and many plan to avoid the whole thing altogether. Is it possible that many millennials and others view love as a feeling and not a choice. If love is only a feeling, then I can enjoy the romantic love stage; when it is over and I am disenchanted with my partner, I can just leave them. If love is only a feeling, then I do not have to put any work into it. Feelings just happen, and so my marriage and relationship should just happen.

But this is not true, in fact there are many who believe that love is more a choice than a feeling. Adam Smith with the Huffington Post said, “Real love isn’t just a euphoric, spontaneous feeling—it’s a deliberate choice—a plan to love each other for better and worse, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health…Real love, on the other hand, is like the north star in the storms of life; it is constant, sure, and true. Whenever we’re lost and confused we can find strength in the love that we have chosen.” The idea that love is a choice brings stability to our marriages and relationships.

When the honeymoon ends and real life sets in it is easy to look at our partner and see all of their problems, issues, and insecurities. We easily forget what drew us to that individual in the first place. Choosing instead to not only stay together, but to love each other requires effort and a great deal of humility and compassion. Marriage entails doing the maintenance on your relationship. Just as a car needs fuel, oil changes and tire rotations, a marriage needs time together, intimacy and plain ole friendship. Marriage needs commitment. Choosing to look at your relationship as a choice empowers you to not be a slave to your emotions. It empowers you to weather the good times and the bad times together. Such a choice gives you the power to forgive and forget. It gives you the power to change.

Choosing to love your spouse will bring more happiness and love into your marriage. Seth Smith in the article mentioned above said, “Real love isn’t just a euphoric, spontaneous feeling-it’s a deliberate choice-a plan to love each other for better and worse, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health.” Love is inspiring and beautiful; love is a choice.

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Finding the Magic: State of the Union Meeting

In “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work”, Dr. John Gottman and Nan Silver wrote that couples who rate themselves “happy” consistently spend time together to strengthen their marriage.  At the time of publication, Gottman’s group had identified how an investment of just five hours per week was linked to increased marital satisfaction.  These “5 Magic Hours” as they came to be known consisted of a series of daily connection points and a weekly date night.

In the nearly 20 years since the book’s publication, our culture has changed dramatically.  Many of these changes can be tied to inventions of technology and an increase of two-income households. These changes lead Gottman to reexamine his 5 Magic Hours and add one more hour of time. This sixth hour is set aside for “State of the Union” meetings.

State of the Union meetings are opportunities for couples to sit down together each week and communicate specifically on issues that affect their relationship. As one couple said, these meetings are a way to keep their marriage on track.

Now I have to make a confession.  When I read about the new “6 Magic Hours”, I thought it was a little overboard. I already felt as though my marriage was strong. We were already following Gottman’s other suggestions and often have long discussions while on our weekly date night. I didn’t see the benefit or feel that we had the time for an additional hour of effort each week. Still, I decided to challenge my opinion and researched the benefits of these meetings.  I can now honestly say that I am excited to have “State of our Union” meetings with my wonderful partner.

Through my research, I learned of Marcia Berger who literally wrote the book on marriage meetings. Berger suggests that meetings should be broken into four parts: Appreciation, Chores, Planning for the Good Times, and Problems/Challenges. These four parts combined together will renew your romance, solidify your friendship, stop potential conflicts before they begin, and help you smoothly run your household economy.

Appreciation: Berger suggests all marriage meetings should begin with exchanges of gratitude. This was a new idea for me, but I decided to try it in my marriage. Spending a few minutes expressing gratitude for each other brings closeness and opens up your hearts to love and listen to each other. Making this a habit also means your mind focuses on what you are grateful for throughout the week. I caught myself thinking “Oh I want to remember to tell him how much I appreciate that.”

If showing appreciation seems hard at first, try to focus on specific actions. One example might be, “I appreciate how you put away my laundry for me. It was so nice to open my drawer and find just what I needed.” This statement is more personal than “Thank you for doing the laundry.”

Whatever you share keep it positive. This is not the time to discuss disappointments.

Chores: Berger refers to this time as the “business of the meeting.” This is the time for each of you to talk about things that need to be completed, share calendar items, and discuss assignments. In our family my husband is the list maker, and capturing these details is his time to shine.

Once the list is arranged by priority, take the time to make assignments on who will accomplish each task. Think of this time as a time to brainstorm the best possible solutions. If you drive by the dry cleaner on your way to work, perhaps it would be easier for you to stop by and pick up some items.  Sometimes it may be appropriate to assign one of the tasks to one of the children.

Remember that chores are not meant to be split 50-50. Marriage has no place for keeping score. Instead think of this as a time to serve each other and the family. If you both give your all, what needs to be accomplished will get done and you can both celebrate together.

Lastly, this section of the meeting can be used to talk about finances. In our family, we have decided to follow the advice of Dave Ramsey and limit the budget talks to 15 minutes. My husband is the genius behind the budget while I admit to being the primary spender, therefore he presents the budget at our meeting and it is my job to change at least one thing. This shows I am actually paying attention and making an investment in our financial future.

Planning for the Good Times: After all of the hard chores are over comes the fun stuff. Planning for the good times means you discuss upcoming events, dates and vacations. You make plans for when these items will happen and you make decisions about saving together. One fun idea is to discuss a dream vacation you would like to take together. Plan the trip, look at the cost, and think about the things you would need in order to accomplish your goal.  One option is to create a chart to track your savings. Place this chart somewhere you can see it and each week at your meetings enjoy discussing your progress towards your goal.

Another idea for this time period is to plan upcoming date nights. Discuss restaurants you would like to try or activities you might enjoy.  Put these ideas on the calendar.  When you take time to make a plan you show each other and yourself that your relationship is important.

Problems/ Challenges: This section comes at the end of the meeting because couples need to feel connected and invested in your relationship before treading these waters. Each partner is now given a chance to bring up a concern they are having. This is not a time for dumping on each other. Individuals should bring up no more than two grievances.

Think of this as a time to brainstorm ideas. If it helps, set a timer to make sure problems are not harped upon until one partner feels the need to shut down or become defensive. Keep in mind that 70% of marriage problems are never solved and that is okay.  When there is communication and a real desire to work together, couples usually see that the positive qualities in their relationship outweigh the negative qualities.

Few couples actually take the time to discuss relationship concerns. Instead, comments are made in passing and “bombs” are dropped at times when there isn’t time to really listen or discuss them. Having a weekly meeting can have a huge impact on the marriage relationship. One study even suggested a 20% to 80% increase in marital happiness when couples start to regularly hold these meetings.

Clearly, Gottman knew what he was doing when he added the State of the Union Meetings to his list of Magic Hours.  And couples will the beneficiaries of that change for many years to come.

For more ideas on weekly State of the Union meetings check out “The Power of a Weekly Marriage Meeting,” but Brent and Katie McKay.

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The Importance of Listening to your Spouse

Recently I read an article called, “ The Importance of Listening,” by Jimmy Evans. In this article he talks specifically about two things: listening to your children and listening to your spouse. I want to talk more about listening to our spouse and how essential this is to our marriage. By listening to our spouse, we are able to have effective communication, that way we are each on the same page and there is no misunderstanding. Most of the time misunderstandings lead to conflict. I have seen this in my own marriage. Sometimes I tend to listen to my spouse but not really listen to what he is saying and somewhere down the road there is a misunderstanding because I wasn’t actually listening to him. Most of the time this where conflict arises in my marriage.

When we listen to one another we are able to understand how the other person is feeling and we are able to sympathize with them as well. When we listen to our spouse, we are letting them know that they can come talk to us about anything and we will listen to them. We are encouraging a healthy relationship in our marriage as well.  Jimmy says, “Every man needs to ask his wife what she sees wrong in him and what she’d like to see him change about himself. Wives also need to listen to their husbands. As a husband expresses his needs, hurts, fears and frustrations, a listening wife can register what is being said and meet it with a sensitive, timely response.”

Something that I have learned within my own marriage is that sometimes our spouse doesn’t want us to help them resolve their problem that they are expressing or their feelings, they just want us to listen but to really drop everything and listen so that that re able to express their feelings. Marriage is about two people not just one and in order for us to show our selfless love toward our partner we must learn to listen to them and let them know that we are hear to do just that.

Here is a video that I found that talks about how we can be a great listener.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6v99qpHBiok

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