Dating on a Budget

Have you ever gone over your monthly budget and realize you are going to have to cut your expenses somewhere and usually that “somewhere” ends up being those categories that fall under “date nights”?  For my husband and I, this seems to happen a lot, especially as our children get older and their involvement in extracurricular activities seems to drain the household budget.

Something my spouse and I enjoy doing is brainstorming about date ideas that are fun and budget-friendly.  A few of our dates have involved star gazing using an app on our phones, writing down topics on slips of paper and taking turns pulling them from a hat and writing poems about them.  After writing the poems we take turns reading them to each other.  Another inexpensive date we enjoy is going to the store and picking out a treat for under $5 and eating it while we snuggle on the couch, watching a movie we rented from the Redbox, after the kids go to bed.

Whitney Hopler, a contributing writer to crosswalk.com goes over “8 types of dates you and your spouse can enjoy together for only about $10”:

 

Adventure Dates: 

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  • Pretend you and your spouse are tourists visiting your hometown and visit tourist attractions you haven’t been to before
  • Go on a shopping adventure and surprise each other with a gift costing no more than $5
  • Attend a free community seminar or workshop together
  • Go exploring on some back roads in your area, going only as far out and back as $10 of gas will take you
  • Visit a home improvement store and plan future home projects together

Out-on-the-town dates: 

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  • Have dinner at home and then go to a fancy restaurant and just order desserts
  • Go to a store that sells greeting cards and choose one to give each other and then put them back
  • Tour homes that are on sale during open house events
  • Go to the public library together
  • Go to places that are significant to your relationship, where good memories were created, and take photos of each other at those places now
  • Eat breakfast in bed
  • Run errands together
  • Visit a museum in your area

At-home dates: 

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  • Watch a movie that you had seen during your first year of dating
  • Play a favorite board game
  • Cook together
  • Watch your wedding video and reminisce about that special day

Outdoor dates: 

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  • Go on a hike
  • Enjoy a campfire or fireplace
  • Stream a movie through a mobile device at an outdoor location
  • Go to a local youth sporting event together
  • Exercise together
  • Go to a local playground and play together like children there
  • Take a walk

Marriage pick-me-up dates: 

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  • Do family history together
  • Go to a place where you can talk privately about the current health of your relationship
  • Volunteer your time to work on a project or help someone in need together
  • Create a “bucket list” of places you would both like to travel
  • Identify people who have helped you as a couple and take time to express your gratitude to them

Romantic dates: 

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  • Have a picnic dinner under the stars
  • Enjoy a spa experience at home, with a romantic bath and massages
  • Take dancing lessons through free online videos
  • Meet your spouse at the door when they return home and offer to grant them three of their romantic wishes
  • People watch others in a hotel lobby
  • Surprise each other with inexpensive objects in a place that will help you communicate a significant message of love

Seasonal special dates: 

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  • Celebrate the arrival of spring by attending a local festival
  • Plant a garden together
  • Go swimming, boating, or fishing
  • Visit a farmers market
  • Pick your own fruit at a local orchard
  • Drive around the neighborhood to see Christmas lights

Unique and unusual dates: 

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  • Have a gold scavenger hunt in your house and sell any gold you no longer need
  • Prepare dinner together using the food you have in your pantry and freezer
  • Test drive a vehicle at a local dealership
  • Visit a local pet store and play with the animals there
  • Plan landscaping for your yard
  • Go to estates sales in your area and look for bargains under $10

Don’t let money get in the way of going on dates with your spouse.  With a little imagination and brainstorming, dating on a budget can be an adventure you can enjoy together.  Take some time to sit down with your spouse and make a list of inexpensive dating ideas together so when money gets tight you can continue to date, worry free!

 

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Healthy Benefits of Sex in Marriage

We are constantly hearing that we need to eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep,  but what kind of benefits do we reap by getting intimate with our spouse?  Yes, sex in a marriage improves your health!  I have felt the benefits of love-making with my spouse throughout my marriage including some of the benefits Woman’s Day shares in “8 Surprising Health Benefits of Sex”:

  1. It May Make You Thinner
  • Sex burns between 75 and 150 calories per hour
  • It counts as exercise and is equivalent to yoga, dancing, or walking for 30 minutes
  1. It May Improve Your Heart Health
  • Researchers found that having sex twice or more a week reduced the risk of fatal heart attack by half
  • It raises heart rate and blood flow
  1. It Can Help You Get a Better Night’s Sleep
  • People who have frequent sex often report handling stress better
  • Many say they sleep more deeply and restfully after satisfying lovemaking
  1. It Can Boost Your Immune System
  • Researchers at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania found that individuals who have sex once or twice a week show 30 percent higher immunoglobulin A, which is known to boost the immune system
  • During cold and flu season wash your hands and make a bedroom date with your spouse—often!

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  1. It Can Improve Your Mental Health
  • Psychologically, sex improves one’s mental health by building intimacy and reducing stress
  • Sex reduces cortisol which lowers the chances of increased blood pressure, hyperglycemia and increased acidity in the abdomen
  1. It Can Help Relieve Pain
  • Sexual arousal and orgasm allows oxytocin to be secreted into the body which releases pain relieving endorphins
  • The next time you have a headache…sex may be the remedy you are looking for
  1. It Can Help You with Bladder Control
  • Doing Kegel exercises during sex helps strengthen the muscle associated with incontinence
  1. It May Give You Healthier Skin
  • During sex, your body produces a hormone called DHEA which can boost the immune system and give you healthier skin and decrease depression
  • Throw away that expensive face cream and increase intimacy with your spouse instead

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Making intimacy a priority in your marriage not only has health benefits but it brings you closer together in mind, body and spirit.  If you find yourself having difficulty sleeping at night or tend to get stressed easily, don’t take a Tylenol P.M., turn to your spouse for a remedy that only he or she can give you and have fun in the process!

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Text Messages Your Spouse Would Love

 

From the article “How to improve your marriage by texting…” Gordon Brewer found that “97% of smart phone users use texting.  And as of 2015, nearly two-thirds of Americans own smart phones.  So it is very likely that you communicate with your spouse via text messages.”

Let’s face it!  If we own a cell phone it rarely leaves our side and we are constantly using it to communicate with others.  How often do we use it to create closeness and intimacy in our relationship with our spouse?  How often do we use texting when we are trying to solve a conflict with our spouse?

Brewer believes trying to solve conflicts through texting “sets a couple up for failure” and he lists some simple guidelines on the “do’s” and “don’ts” of texting your spouse:

The Do’s:

1. Text your spouse love notes often!
2. Only use texting for non-crucial conversations.
3. Texting is great for grocery lists, when you will be home, when to get the kids or what’s for dinner…
4. Sending each other pictures of fun stuff (only appropriate stuff!).
5. Sending affirmations, “warm-fuzzes” and “just thinking of you” are always okay and encouraged.
6. Only handle conflicts face to face; take texting off the table when it comes to disagreements about things.

The Don’ts:

1. Never use texting to settle the argument from the night before, or anytime for that matter.
2. Never send criticisms, jabs or hateful messages.
3. If it takes more than a sentence or two to say what you want to say, you should probably call or wait until you are face to face.
4. Never complain about your spouse to others in a text message or pull someone else in to help you “win” the argument.
5. If you have saved text messages from past arguments, never use those as future ammunition. That is just not fighting fair! Delete them.
6. Never use texting to have deep or intimate conversations. Save it for when you are face to face.

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 One of my favorite things to receive is a screen shot of a meme or cute quote from my sweetie.  Although this act is simple and takes only a few seconds to do, it always brings a smile to my face.   I am amazed at how much one little text message can help me to feel more emotionally connected to my husband.

Katie Secretary shares “14+ text messages to send your hubby” (or your wife) that she sent her husband in celebration of her 14th Wedding anniversary.  I loved the idea of sending the same number of text messages to your sweetheart as the years you’ve been married, to celebrate your wedding anniversary!  Here are some of the messages Katie shared:

  • “You are AMAZING. Just thought you should know”.
  • “How did I get so lucky to have you?”
  • Being with you…is the best!”
  • “Your boss is lucky to have you. I’m proud of how hard you work.”
  • “I LOVE being your wife.” (You could switch “wife” for “husband”)
  • “I love you to the moon and back.”
  • “You’re my hero!”
  • “I’m having one of those days that make me realize how lost I’d be without you…Just wanted to let you know.”
  • “I had a dream about you and I woke up smiling…”
  • “I thought about you and it made me smile.”
  • “Our kids are so blessed to have a dad like you.” (replace “dad” with “mom”)
  • “I feel safe with you.”
  • “I thought about you and it made me smile.”
  • Tell your spouse 3 reasons you appreciate them today

One app that I enjoy using is Bitmoji.  This app allows you to design an avatar that looks like you, which makes the text message you send that much more personal.

Here are a few I’ve sent to my husband:

                              

If you avoid the “don’ts” of texting and follow the “do’s” you can find creative and exciting ways of improving your communication with your spouse through the wonderful world of technology.  The next time you are checking your e-mail or Facebook page on your phone, take a few moments to send your spouse a message, letting them know you are thinking about them and how much you love them.

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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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Finding the Magic: Date Nights

When my husband Mark and I were first married we were advised by seasoned couples to make date nights a priority in our marriage. This sounded like a good idea, but our financial needs seemed to grow even faster than our family did. Date nights always seemed like something we could do later when we had more time and money. As the years went by, we found ourselves working on different goals and moving in different directions.

This arrangement wasn’t working for either of us, so we reexamined our time and started to set aside Friday nights for kid-free date time. To me, this seemed like an extravagance, maybe even a little bit selfish.  Still, after trying date nights for a few weeks I was hooked and am now a defender of our couple time.

In 2012 W. Bradford Wilcox and Jeff Dew investigated married “couple time” in a research project called The Date Night Opportunity. They investigated if regular date nights can improve marital quality and reduce the likelihood of divorce.

Date Nights Improve Marital Quality

In Wilcox and Dew’s national survey, they determined that couples who participate in weekly date nights are 3.5 times more likely to describe their marriage as “very happy” than couples who do not have regular date nights.  Clearly, couples who have regular investments of time in their relationship feel the benefits of these connections. The word investment is key – when two people feel like they are a priority to their partner, it is natural that they would feel more satisfied in the relationship.

It is also important to mention the study’s findings are not the same for cohabitation couples. When all factors are equal, cohabitating couples showed no benefits from date nights.  Perhaps this is because a married couple’s date night might convey “I’m committed to you and our relationship,” while a cohabitating couple may view the night out as just a fun activity.

Date Nights Offer Protection from Divorce

In August 2014, the Huffington Post published an article by Marriage and Family Therapist Winifred Reilly, Reilly quotes one of her clients as having said a “Date night is cheaper than therapy, much cheaper than divorce, and a whole lot more fun.” Date nights are a practical idea for couples who are looking to stay connected and protect their relationship.

Many studies have supported the idea that regular date nights are protection from divorce.  One study followed couples for nine years after their marriage, and found that couples that went on regular date nights had a divorce rate that was 56% lower than couples who didn’t date regularly.  Wilcox and Dew’s study found that as regular date nights went up, divorce rates went down.  In a five year study couples who rarely participated in couple time were 21% more likely to divorce, while divorce rates for those who had weekly date nights were only 14% for women and 10% for men.

How Do Date Nights Work

Date nights provide such positive benefits because of what they personally mean to the individuals involved. The following five things are just a few of the reasons to ask your spouse on a date.

  1. Communication – As I’ve studied the marriage relationship over the last four years, I’ve had the opportunity to ask many couples what they believe is the most valuable skill married individuals need to possess. Repeatedly, the answer has been communication. No matter the amount of love in the relationship, if communication is not kept clear and strong, the connection will suffer. Amongst the busy lifestyles of modern married couples, it is vital for couples to set aside time for communication. Date nights offer such an opportunity. Couples remove distractions such as household chores and children, and focus instead on understanding and deepening their connection.
  2. Novelty – At the beginning of a relationship most couples experience a New Relationship Energy (NRE) where emotional connections are high and experiences together are exciting. Frequently, after marriage many couples find themselves in the rut of daily routine and may even take each other for granted. Finding new ways to spend time together can add excitement to the relationship. So rather than just attending the movies, couples can enjoy hiking together, dancing, playing games and more. Novelty activities are often the beginning of discovering more about your partner.
  3. Eros – Eros, also called romantic love or sexual attraction, is also present at the beginning of a relationship, Eros is exciting like NRE but it is also linked to passion and attraction. When couples chose to date each other, they are investing in their romantic relationship. These little additions of Eros strengthen feelings of love and the spark of romance.
  4. Commitment – The more couples see each other as romantic partners, the more likely they are to feel committed to their relationship. Date nights often take planning and thought. When we take the time to plan such activities, we are showing how much we value our relationship. Think of this time as a time to nurture the relationship.
  5. De-stress – Life is stressful. There are job losses, health issues, and disagreements that happen to us personally or those we care about. Do not allow stress to threaten your marriage connection. Use date nights as an escape from the everyday concerns of life. Avoid difficult topics while focusing on your relationship. If life is currently intense for your partner, offer emotional support. Listen and comfort each other.

When investigating what makes successful and happy couples, date nights were a regular finding for the couples Dr. John Gottman studied. The couples in his study may not have had all the information available in this article, but they experienced the value of a 2 hour weekly date night. You can start feelings these blessings yourself, just ask your spouse on a date today!

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Finding the Magic: Affection

It’s a Saturday night and Mark and I are sitting on the couch preparing to watch a movie. Mark loads the movie while I grab a blanket from the back of the couch. I cover us both and then lean into Mark. He lifts his arm in a natural move to allow me in closer. I find the perfect spot in the nook of his arm and settle down for the next couple hours. Mark puts his arm around my shoulders and rests his hand on my arm. He leans his head down and kisses the top of my forehead. I smile and snuggled in closer.

These are some of my favorite times. There is nothing momentous happening, just the two of us snuggling together watching a movie.  So why do I feel so safe and loved?  Personally, I think it is all about the simple physical affection.  Sharing affection reminds us we are important to each other.  We are reminded that we still cherish our relationship and time we have to spend together. We have learned to anticipate each other’s need for affection.  The connection we feel is a blessing to both of us.

In Dr. Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages, he discusses the importance of understanding the different ways that your spouse expresses and receives love. He breaks down common traits into five different “Love Languages”:  words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Regarding physical touch, Chapman discusses many studies that have demonstrated the value of physical touch to new born babies. Babies who are held and physically touched in loving ways develop healthier emotional lives than babies who lack this contact. This desire for touch is powerful and is the primary love language for many individuals. No matter where it falls in your love language priorities, open and honest discussions about physical touch and small efforts to improve the quality of touch in your relationship can pay big dividends.

Seven Reasons for Increasing Physical Affection

Dr. Kory Floyd compiled a list of seven reasons to increase physical affection in your marriage. First, physical affection elevates oxytocin levels. I like to think of oxytocin as the hormone of love. This hormone often increases our desire to participate in activities where we feel its presence. Simple acts such as holding hands and hugging can increase oxytocin levels.

Second, physical affection is a predictor of marital love. Regular affection tends to bring higher feelings of love in a relationship. Many couples go to great lengths to celebrate holidays such as Valentine’s Day.  Some couples do this because they feel a lack of regular romance in their relationship and they are trying to play catch-up. The happiest couples don’t wait for a holiday to remind them to be affectionate. They take the time on a daily basis to hold hands, snuggle, kiss, participate in PDA (public displays of affection), and offer massages.  When affection is part of your daily relationship, the love you experience with your partner will strengthen.

Floyd’s third reason to increase physical affection in marriage is because greater physical affection has been linked to lower blood pressure. In a study published by Biological Psychology in 2005, premenopausal women who receive hugs regularly have been found to have increased levels of oxytocin (our love hormone) and also have lower blood pressure. Because high blood pressure runs in my family, I love the idea that a few more hugs or toe snuggles may replace my need for regular medication.

Fourth, one study shows that affectionate people are perceived as more trustworthy. When we are affectionate with our spouse, we communicate our openness to them. We are willing to be vulnerable, which welcomes the same level of vulnerability from our partner. As couples navigate to find their own comfort zone with affection, they increase their overall satisfaction of the relationship. When couples share a common perspective of affection, tension in the physical relationship can be either prevented or overcome.

Fifth, physical affection has been shown to reduce stress hormones. Perhaps this is why we are often drawn to hug our partners when they are sad, or reach out and touch their hand in order to show support after a particularly hard day. When we see stress rising in someone we love, we often desire to be able to help. Affection can be our body’s natural way of offering the best help we can give.

Sixth, physical affection is associated with higher degrees of marital satisfaction. In a national survey including 50,379 married couples from all 50 states, couples who rated their marriage as “Happy” were completely satisfied with the affection from their partner 68% of the time. These couples also rated their partners higher in their sexual relationship and had less concerns about their relationship when their partner is not interested in them sexually.

The seventh and final reason Floyd gives to increase physical affection is that the benefits last for more than just today. Sharing physical affection today can also predict a better mood for the following day. The feeling of closeness created through touch is powerful. Physical affection is often accompanied by more open communication. These combined connections fill our hearts with love and security that can last for as long as we nourish them.

What more reasons do married couples need?  Make an effort to improve your physical relationship with your spouse. It strengthen your connection and heighten your pleasure. So take Dr. John Gottman’s advice and invest at least 5 minutes a day over a seven day period until you feel like Plato said, “At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet.”

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Finding the Magic: Appreciation and Admiration

I recently read an article where a woman who lost her husband in a car accident was asked what she would share with couples about marriage. Her response was surprising. She said, “I was haunted by the idea of gratitude. I wanted to thank my husband for all his hard work – to really thank him.” She went on to advise, “Slow down and look at all your spouse does for you, and say thank you. You think you’ll always have time to do that, but you might not. You cannot say ‘thank you’ too much.”

Appreciation / Gratitude: In October of 2015, the University of Georgia released research findings which stated that gratitude is a key ingredient to improving marital quality. Their survey of 468 married individuals found that gratitude was the most common predictor of marital satisfaction. Showing gratitude often takes the form of appreciation.  Couples who regularly show appreciation ease some of the burdens in life. They tell each other “I am in your corner” and “I notice and appreciate all that you do”.

Not only does gratitude help those who hear such kind words, but a study conducted by Jeffrey Dew and Bradford W. Wilcox found that when participants worked to show their partners more gratitude their efforts increased their own marital bliss. Gratitude, therefore, benefits both the giver and the receiver.

Gratitude even has the power to overcome some of what Dr. John Gottman calls the most powerful predictors of divorce. When couples are faced with conflict, it is often easy to fall into a demand/withdrawal scenario. One spouse begins with a criticizing personal attack attached to a demanding statement, which causes a withdrawal in their partner. The University of Georgia’s research shows that gratitude can interrupt this cycle.

Couples need to regularly show appreciation if they want to be happy in their relationship, and there are many simple ways to do it. Take time to write a note of appreciation to your partner. Give a kiss and lace it will words of affection. Take the time to notice your partner’s positive traits and actions and it will bless you both with more love and devotion.

Admiration: Admiration is often misunderstood.  Perhaps this is because seeking admiration can be associated with selfish acts.  Dr. Gottman sees admiration from a different perspective. He believes admiration combined with fondness is a predictor of a couple’s ability to combat contempt and build a relationship which focuses on positive qualities. Gottman states that fondness and admiration are essential to making marriage work.

Couples can show admiration through taking time to seek their spouse’s advice. They can show they value their partner’s opinion on topics about their shared home and life together. Couples can listen when partners speak to them and be respectful. Even when there is a difference of opinion, listening and respect can help couples to find common ground while maintaining positive feelings about each other. Couple can avoid being overly critical, especially in public. Instead, couples can complement their spouse in front of others. Allowing spouses to hear their partner speak kindly of them builds their self-worth and the marital connection. Couples can support their spouse’s goals. If one spouse is training for a marathon, the other can offer to help track their times, attend pre-races and make signs of encouragement.

Gottman’s Proven Techniques: Gottman offers a list of ideas to help couples feel more appreciation and admiration. First, couples should take the time to list three positive qualities about their spouse. Some examples might be intelligent, athletic, loving, kind, or funny. Each spouse should write these qualities down and then include an example of a time their spouse showed this characteristic.

Second, couples should talk about their shared history with each other. Discussing their courtship and sharing how they felt when they realized they were in love makes for a great connection point. Couples who share a fondness for their shared history have the ability to focus on the reasons they fell in love in the first place. Often it is through sharing this history that romance is rekindled.

Third, couples need to practice positive thinking. Couples should take the time in the mornings to think of one reason they love their spouse. One option is to write this down and focus on it throughout the day. If their mind starts to slip into negative thoughts, couples can pull out their morning note and remind themselves why they chose their spouse in the first place.

Gottman has found that asking couples to focus just 5 minutes a day on appreciation and admiration leads them to long lasting relationships where love and marital bliss can be found. Taking the time to try out a few of these ideas is a good investment in their relationship. It’s amazing the power just a few minutes a day can have on marital satisfaction.

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becomiNg one

Needs

When you read the title of this post, were your first thoughts about the “needs” of your own, or the “needs” of your spouse? We all have needs, and it is okay to think of your own needs from time to time. However, when your needs trump those of your spouse on a continual basis it is called selfishness. Selfishness is lacking consideration for others or concerned mainly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.

Selfishness in society’s definition is more politically referred to as individualism. We live in a society that values individualism which is the well-being of the individual. Today’s extreme emphasis on individualism brings egotism and separation, and marriage is quite the opposite. Neal A. Maxwell (1999) mocked individualism when he said, “In spite of its outward, worldly swagger, such indulgent individualism is actually provincial, like goldfish in a bowl congratulating themselves on their self-sufficiency, never mind the food pellets or changes of water.”

So how does selfishness creep into a marriage? It starts by only thinking of yourself and your needs. You may even think the world revolves around you. You do not consider the needs of your spouse.  It is personal gratification and wanting to build yourself up without the help of your spouse. You may feel you have to compete with your spouse and may even think you are better. You don’t give or share. Compromising doesn’t come easy. Couples interested in just themselves do not communicate well. Lack of communication starts a domino effect in the marriage with other complications to follow.  Postponement of children. If children do come into the marriage, the wife may work outside of the home to be able to afford the luxuries (not the needs) of life such as a nicer car, a boat, or extravagant vacations. Selfishness can lead to financial problems with other issues following not far behind.  Forgiveness doesn’t come easy.

If you think you might be selfish, do not give up. There is hope! We have the tools to help have a healthy and selfless marriage:

  1. Keep in mind the needs of your spouse. It’s important to remember we are different and have different needs.
  2. Be flexible in your expectations. Communicate with your spouse what they are as well.
  3. Control your emotions. Do not let your emotions get out of hand. We all have feelings…even your spouse.
  4. Be open to your spouse’s opinions. It doesn’t mean you must agree, but hear them out.
  5. Don’t be controlling. If your spouse loads the dishwasher not “your way,” let it go. At least they loaded the dishwasher.
  6. Don’t let your career get between you and your marriage. It’s easy to focus on what you want in your career, but consider what your spouse wants.
  7. See each other’s family as “our” family. Consider how the time is spent with your families.
  8. Remember the Golden Rule? One way to keep us on track is to live by it. Do unto my spouse as I would want done unto me.
  9. Change the way you think. Start thinking as “WE,” not “I.” Remember…..you should be “BECOMING ONE.”

To have a strong marriage we must think of the other person’s needs before our own. Gordon B. Hinkley (1999) said, “I am satisfied that a happy marriage is not so much a matter of romance as it is an anxious concern for the comfort and well-being of one’s companion.” Remember, we are equals and we need to help one another in all that we do, not just think of ourselves and our own responsibilities. To have a happy and successful marriage we must see the needs of our spouse and be selfless.

  • Click here to see the 1st post in this series.
  • Click here to see the 2nd post in this series.
  • Click here to see the 3rd post in this series.
  • Click here to see the 4th post in this series.
  • Click here to see the 5th post in this series.
  • Click here to see the 6th post in this series.
  • Click here to see the 7th post in this series.

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Finding the Magic: Daily Rituals of Partings and Reunions

When I think on the courtship my husband and I shared, I have memories of sweet notes, flowers, long walks while holding hands, and many, many conversations as we shared what was most important to each of us. When my children ask what made me fall in love their dad, it doesn’t take me long to come up with an answer. “He made me feel loved and important. He listened to me and remembered the things I shared.” The longer we dated, the more I longed to be with him and he with me. We wanted to enjoy these feelings every day forever.

Marriage was supposed to be the key to keeping this intense love alive, but not long after our wedding we found ourselves moving in different directions. Mark was still in school. I was working two jobs. We worried about bills, transportation, in-laws, holiday traditions and more. I had moved to a new city and knew few people. Mark went from school to work coming home after 12 to 15 hour days. It was hard to feel and remember the connection we both loved about our relationship.

Married couples across the country are struggling just as we did, being pulled between kids, school, work and other responsibilities. Dual earning homes have become the norm for many families, with over one fourth of these couples having at least one spouse working a nonstandard shift. Having such different schedules often results in couples speaking only in passing with just enough time to rundown the “chores of the day” and almost no time for the spousal relationship.

Authors Francine and Byron Pirola call this situation the “Auto-Pilot Marriage.” Married couples today often experience this auto-pilot lifestyle shortly after saying their marital vows. This is not a sign that there is no longer love in the marriage, but rather the normal progression of the modern marriage, if couples don’t actively work towards an alternative.

The alternative to the auto-pilot marriage is to be an intentional couple. An intentional couple creates and shares daily rituals of a significant nature with each other. Dr. John Gottman shares in his book “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” what research has shown makes the most effective rituals.  For the majority of couples, it can start with just a few minutes each day.

Partings: Unlike the marital relationships of our forefathers, rarely do modern couples work side-by-side throughout the day. Therefore parting happens at some point. Gottman suggests couples dedicate 2 minutes each day to share something that will happen while they are apart. These two minutes begin a domino effect of connection. For example, in our home it often plays out something like this…

Mark: I will be conducting interviews for half of the day today. I’m not sure my partner and I are looking for the same qualities in a candidate. I hate to waste time interviewing people I feel are under qualified.

Me: That must be frustrating. I know you have a lot on your plate right now.

Me: (Later on sent in a text): I’ve been thinking about you today. I hope your interviews are going alright.

Mark: (texted in reply): I love you. I think we may have found someone we both can agree on. Hallelujah!

Me: That’s wonderful news! I love you too!

When we invest in the lives of our partner, we invest in our marital relationship. Taking the time to learn about each other’s plans, hopes, and fears shows we are partners. We demonstrate that we care about our partner and that we desire to be connected even while we are apart.

One last note on parting:  kiss your partner goodbye. Not just any kiss, but a full six second kiss. Make the kids squirm a little!  Gottman calls this a “kiss with potential.” A six second kiss is a kiss full of love, longing and commitment. Saying goodbye with such a kiss helps you leave with what I refer to as tingly toes. It lightens the day before it has even really begun and reminds us where our heart lies. So set aside just 2 minutes to listen to each other’s plans for the day and then share a kiss worth remembering.

Reunions: The second ritual that intentional couples do well is reunions. Reunions are my favorite part of the day. I often find myself waiting for the text telling me Mark is on his way home and smile when he walks through the door. Home is not home until he is there. Plus, Gottman suggests we reunite with another six second kiss. That’s two toe-tinging kisses a day. What a way to say hello!

Gottman then suggests that couples engage in a stress-reducing conversation at the end of the day. This conversation need only be about 20 minutes and can take place at any point in the evening.  Just find a time that works for you and stick with it! I find it easier to talk once the kids are in bed. We snuggle up together in bed and share the events of the day with each other. If you have teenagers, consider going for a walk together in the evening. Teens are often up later hours and leaving the house gives couples that uninterrupted time. Most importantly, remember this 20 minutes is for connection. Problem solving and logistics can be worked out later.

Try these changes this week. Choose to be an intentional couple every day. Enjoy your six second kisses and connecting conversations. It’s amazing the power these small investments of time can add to your marriage.

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Finding the Magic

I met my husband Mark at a party nearly 21 years ago. He impressed me the first time we spoke and over the course of that summer I fell in love with his kind heart and listening ear. It didn’t take long before we were talking marriage. On one such talk Mark informed me that when he married it would be forever. I was swept away with the image of spending forever with him. We longed to be begin our lives together as we envisioned a relationship full of love and support. Looking back, we had no idea how to actually achieve our vision.

Like many couples, Mark and I came from different backgrounds. Ideas that seemed like common sense to one of us were completely foreign to the other. We struggled to combine our memories of the past with our different perspectives of the present and our expectations of the future. We still loved each other, but weren’t sure how to communicate that love in ways that supported our individuality and most importantly brought us closer together.

Enter Dr. John Gottman’s Magic Six Hours. Gottman has studied married couples and their habits for over 30 years. During this time he identified several factors that successful couples have in common. These factors can be worked on and prioritized in only six hours each week. Six hours may seem like a large investment, but when spread out over seven days, most of the commitment is addressed in just a few minutes each day. It’s all about creating daily rituals of connection with each other.

Here is how it breaks down:

Partings: Before parting in the morning, learn about one thing that is happening in your spouse’s life that day. This can be accomplished while getting ready for the day or over breakfast. The amount of time you take is up to you, but Gottman says as little as 2 minutes a day is enough to make a difference, so ask your spouse about their lunch plans, projects they are working on or schedules for the day.

Time: 2 minutes a day X 5 working days

Total: 10 minutes

Reunions: Engage in a stress-reducing conversation at the end of each workday. This can be done while fixing dinner together or after climbing into bed. I personally love to climb into my warm bed, snuggle up to my husband, and talk about our days.

Time:  20 minutes a day X 5 days

Total: 1 hour 40 minutes

Admiration and appreciation: Communicate genuine affection and appreciation to your spouse every day. Send your partner text messages throughout the day.  Write a love note on a sticky-pad and slip it into their bag.  Just take the time to say how much you love and appreciate them.

Time: 5 minutes a day X 7 days

Total: 35 minutes 

Affection: In our house we have set a rule for ourselves to help keep affection flowing. According to our rule, we have to kiss within 30 seconds before leaving the house. If you forget something and have to run back upstairs your partners gets another kiss. Often it makes us laugh, but it also reminds us of the importance of showing our love to each other. This step is my favorite, but for some individuals affection can be harder to show. Setting up habits can help make this more natural over time.

Time: 5 minutes a day X 7 days

Total: 35 minutes

Weekly date: Researchers are starting to recognize the importance of weekly date nights and so are couples who participate in this ritual. In fact, 95% of strong couples say leisure time together takes precedence over individual interests.

Mark and I were 10 years into our 20 year marriage before we started regularly participating in weekly date nights. The connection we felt was immediate. This change was so wonderful we both became very protective of our Friday nights. Friday Night Date Night became a time we each looked forward to with enthusiasm. It was our time to laugh, hold hands, talk about our week, and discuss our dreams of the future. It connected us by deepening our understanding of what motivates our decisions and goals.

Time: 2 hours once a week

Total: 2 hours

State of the Union Meetings: Gottman’s sixth category was added as an update to his original list. In today’s world we are surrounded by distractions, many of which come in the form of technology. Having a regularly scheduled planning meeting offers couples a chance to discuss areas of concern and talk about what is working within their relationship. M. Russell Ballard refers to these meetings as Executive Family Councils. These executive meetings offer time for couples to bond together as they discover common goals and discuss how to best go about achieving them. Unlike evening reunions where couples discuss the events of day, these meetings are focused primarily on assessing the couple relationship. These meetings need not last more than an hour.

Time: 1 hours once a week

Total: 1 hours

All of these rituals added up equal Gottman’s 6 Magic Hours. After experiencing the closeness and security these six hours can bring to your relationship, you may want to call them Magic as well.

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