An article from the New York Times recently got Bruce and me talking about “who” a good marriage benefits. Do you think a happy, sustainable marriage is good for you? How about for your spouse? Does it do you both good? Gather your initial thoughts then read the original article on marriage research. Then you and your mate might want to each take the Sustainable Marriage Quiz and see how you evaluate your own partnership.
A New York Times article titled “Is marriage good for your health?” recently caught my attention. It detailed the history of research into the effects of marriage on personal health as well as some of the most recent findings, such as:
- couples who were more negative and hostile when they argued or discussed contentious topics had the weakest immune-systems during the research period
- the most hostile couples (during arguments) had wounds (skin wounds inflicted for the study) that took two days longer to heal than those of “couples who had showed less animosity while fighting”
- divorced or widowed people had worse health than people who had been always been single
How to Keep Your Marriage Healthy
So the question is, how do you create and maintain a marriage that benefits your health? Here are a few tips that we’ve seen work over the years.
- Prepare for a healthy marriage. While it may sound obvious, many couples don’t build a strong foundation of love, support, and partnership before they tie the knot. Using tools like the Marriage Vow Workbook can help you put your relationship on strong footing before you head down the aisle.
- Learn to communicate effectively. Again this seems like common sense to most people, yet few take the time to actually do it. Whether you see a counselor, take communication classes, or use books like Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication, find tools to help you and your partner communicate with compassion and honesty.
- Take time to heal wounds you inflict on each other. No matter how good our intentions or developed our skills, we will do things that are unloving and harmful to each other. Practice forgiveness and other ways of healing old hurts rather than letting them fester. Based on the research it seems this will be good for your physical health and well as the future success of your marriage.
Do you have specific ways you keep your marriage healthy? If so, we’d love to have your comments. Let’s learn from each other and make all our relationships even better.
“If you learn to how to manage disagreement early, then you can avoid the decline in marital happiness that follows from the drip, drip of negative interactions.”~ Linda J. Waite, University of Chicago sociologist and an
author of one of the studies cited in the NYT article
This morning I had the greatest fortune to remember that each moment I breathe the breath of life is a spectacular gift that can never be replicated. No two seconds are identical. No two hours the same. No two days with everything in common. I can never go back and live a minute that has gone by, nor redo a moment in my past. Second chances don’t exist, only new opportunities in unknown times.
My realization came when I discovered that I had been resenting my husband, Bruce. I was begrudging him for a host of “infractions,” from leaving his dirty coffee spoon on the counter in a puddle of spilled java, to not complimenting me as often as I thought he “should,” or for spending “too much time” on the computer. By holding on to these resentments, I was squandering each new moment I had with Bruce. Fortified by my resentments, I stayed stuck in past emotions and memories where I held onto hurt feelings and unloving thoughts. Consumed with such resentment I didn’t truly have much of me left over to experience the present moment. In fact, it was at this point that I understood that I had treated time like some trinket that I thought I could simply replace.
But time isn’t a good we can recycle. A minute of time today may have an equivalent 60-second span tomorrow, but it doesn’t have an exact replacement. So every minute we live is one we can never truly retrieve. The time I had thrown away to holding a grudge against Bruce represented life moments I could never recapture. Each second spent was lost to me forever. I was desolate and grief stricken. Thank god I was also reawakened. I knew that I did not want to give up my minutes, days, months, and years to such pointless activity. I wanted to live my life, savoring each and every breath as a once in a lifetime, unreplicatable, unreplayable, unrepeatable event I am blessed to experience.
So I dismounted from my artificial high horse of self-righteousness and self-pity and planted myself firmly back on solid ground. I owned up to my unloving behavior and sought forgiveness from Bruce. I also forgave him for any slights—real or perceived. In that moment, with my forgiveness offered to him and his extended to me, I saw him with new eyes. The mask through which my resentful self had viewed him disappeared and I was once more connected to this most amazing man. No longer was resentment filtering my life experience. No more was I clear cutting the minutes, hours and days from my life. I was back in the present moment, taking in each moment with reverence and appreciation for its uniqueness.
This spirit lingers with me today as I write this. At 7:57.08, I type these words and look out my window seeing a tree that will be somehow altered at 7:57.50 as I continue hitting the keys. While I may not have the discernment to notice all that is different in just 42 seconds of elapsed time, I have the awareness to know that change has occurred. Knowing that I won’t have another chance to see this minute again, I’m more conscious of how I’m spending my time. It’s far too precious for me to take for granted, its opportunities too wonderful to throw away where they won’t ever be found in the same way again.
Is there a difference between love and unconditional love? If you’re like me, the quick response is “yes.” Upon longer reflection, however, I couldn’t define the difference unless by “love” I meant something other than love.
Sounds strange, right? But as physician, author, and storyteller Rachel Naomi Remen writes, “perfectionism is so widespread in this culture that we actually have had to invent another word for love.”
“All love is unconditional. Anything else is just approval.”~ Rachel Naomi Remen
Awhile back, I wrote a post asking you, What love thrives in your relationship? Thinking about it in this new context — the one set up by Remen’s quote — gets me thinking that part of what all couples need is more practice at loving each other and less at approving (or disapproving) of each other…giving ourselves the chance to excel at loving our partner regardless of what he or she has done (is doing) or whether or not we ourselves are presently happy or sad.
- What would it take for you to be (unconditionally) loving with your beloved?
- In what areas does your “love” really equal approval (or your lack of “love” equal disapproval)?
- What kind of love-maker do you want to be?
Do add your comments and let’s see how we can all become better lovers and stop wasting so much time judging each other.
Question: When is the best time for a couple to start preparing for married life?
- A: Before getting married.
- B: After getting married.
- C: Who needs preparation? Just take each day as it comes.
While we would agree that having the skills and attitude to “take each day as it comes” is valuable, we think that any couple wanting a happy, fulfilling relationship has one answer — A. Prepare for married life BEFORE you get married.
An article in Time magazine reminded us that many couples–and perhaps you’re one of them–focus only on the wedding before they get married and are a bit flummoxed after the nuptial adrenaline wears off. According to “Postnuptial Depression: What Happens the Day After“:
“Postnuptial depression may not be a clinical diagnosis, but it has entered the lexicon of marriage in the past few years, and newly hitched couples will tell you it’s real. The blues typically hit early in married life, psychiatrists say, as newlyweds begin recognizing that expectations of how their partner or relationship will change postwedding are unrealistic. Worse, once the Big Day has come and gone, couples are forced to step out of their much-cherished and often long-lived ‘bride and groom’ spotlight and just get on with real life.”
Although planning for your wedding can be fun, so can planning for your life together. What better way can you truly spend an afternoon than in having an honest, intimate conversation with your lover talking about your visions for your life and what’s most sacred to you about the connection you have?
We’re not saying that you need to pop your party balloons or ditch your dates with caterers or florists — having a wonderful wedding day is a great way to celebrate your love. We simply invite you to consider what’s more important (and therefore what most deserves your time and attention) — one awesome day or one lifetime of meaningful memories. Once you know the answer to that question, you’ll ace the marriage prep pop quiz for sure!
Recently we happened upon the television broadcast of a sermon from a local church. The preacher was a skilled orator with a compelling message about love. One of the comments he made particularly caught my attention as it relates to our love relationships. He spoke of loving someone so deeply–as he said God loves us–that we fully encourage them to achieve their vision for their lives. Do you love your spouse that much?
I got to test my love back in late July when a special opportunity came Bruce’s way. He was offered a job working with Barack Obama’s campaign as a field organizer. In principle I supported him 100% in saying “yes” to the offer. In practice, getting to 100% encouragment was more difficult because saying “yes” for him meant sacrifices for us and me. But get there I did and he left for his assignment in early August.
Below are some of my learnings about offering my love and support at 100%. I hope they’ll be helpful to you as you seek to be the most loving and supportive mate you can be.
Lessons about offering your love and support at 100%
- “Giving up” something (time with a loved one, for instance) helps you have a fuller appreciation of the gift that the thing is in your life. For me, pondering our 3-month separation left me feeling incredibly sad. In anticipation of the time apart, we made great efforts to savor each present moment and enjoy the time we did have together.
- It’s enlivening to know that your gift of 100% encouragement can give another person “permission” to go after their big dreams. It seems that many of us defer our dreams and even put off seemingly minor adventures because we don’t want our partner to sacrifice for us. By saying “yes” to Bruce’s leaving, he wasn’t weighted down with any guilt or sense of obligation.
- When you give 100%, the return is always with interest (very few other “investments” can produce this return). While it might seem long in coming, or it might even come in some unexpected form, the rewards for selfless giving are more than you can ever fully anticipate. My experience is that even during our separation (which isn’t easy emotionally) I’m being “paid back” with wisdom, adventures, and gifts I didn’t know would be headed my way.
- Imagined fear is usually what stops us from offering 100% love. While there are challenges to overcome when we sacrifice or do without, there generally are more fears in our imaginations than what we actually experience. There are downsides for both of us with being apart for 3 months, but the gifts actually outweigh the trials and many of my imagined hardships simply weren’t even close to reality.
Though your spouse may not be lining up to work for a presidential campaign or planning to jet off on some foreign medical mission, chances are the two of you have everyday occasions to give your 100% love and encouragement to one another. If you’ve been giving at less than your full potential, take the opportunity to go full out the next chance you get. It might feel scary and it may even seem a bit crazy…but I’m confident that you’ll be a great giver and the results will be better than you think they will be.
Here’s a song that eloquently speaks to the blessings of giving your love at 100%. It’s called When You Come Back Down and is sung by the band, Nickel Creek.
C.S. Lewis wrote about four unique types of love we experience. Storge which is described as affection between family members; Philia, the love between friends; Eros, the sexual love shared by intimate partners; and Agape, or unconditional love. Though there are other ways to talk about love, I think simply looking at these four variations of the human emotion can be really useful for couples.
Love changes throughout our relationships
One of the challenges couples face is our shifting experience of love for our partner. The images most often seen of “happy couples” are those of passion and sexual connection. For many of us, this sexual attraction and desire predominate in the early phases of our relationship. If this blissful sensuality fades, many couples start to fear that their love is waning and perhaps even that the relationship isn’t the “right one.” I think, however, that an alternative way of looking at such a change is to see it as the opportunity for another form of love to take center stage. Perhaps a couple at this stage is searching for affection and familiarity rather than passion and pleasure. Or it could be a chance to express love through a deepening friendship. Maybe it’s a call to offer unconditional support and “for”ness for one’s partner, championing their best in whatever is most important to them.
For fun, take some time to look at your current relationship and identify the form of love that’s most prevalent as well as the form you’re experiencing least. What, if anything, would you like to change about your love and the kind of connection you’re creating with your beloved?
“Love must be as much a light as it is a flame.”
~ Henry David Thoreau
“It is only possible to live happily-ever-after on a day-to-day basis.”
Recently Bruce and I have been very busy with things to do, places to be, deadlines to meet, goals to accomplish. Many of these activities have also meant time apart. I think that most of you know this experience in your relationships–so many calls for our time and attention and only 24 hours a day to give. So what’s a modern couple to do? How do we find time for the important things to do without sacrificing our relationship (or our other irreplaceable treasures like health, self and other significant relationships with family and friends)?
I was reminded of one possible answer when reading the newsletter of Randy Siegel, our good friend and communication expert. He described two types of people. First was one who, “When you’re with him, he makes you feel like talking to you is the single, most important thing in the world. You feel seen, heard, understood, and, yes, loved.” With the other person Randy described, you’re experience is more like this: “You’re talking, and they’re looking around, have that glazed look on their face, or nodding their heads impatiently waiting for you to pause so they can interject a point.”
Being present is essential to maintaining your connection
To strengthen your connection with your spouse, practice being fully present when you’re with each other. Broadly, “being present” means to be undistracted, focused on your partner, being attentive to and aware of only that which is occurring in that given moment. Below are some suggestions on how you can bring greater presence into your relationship.
- Intend to be present. You increase the likelihood of being present simply by committing yourself to be 100% attentive to the here and now.
- Take your time. While we can be present at high speed, slowing down often helps us fully absorb all that happens in a moment of time.
- Use all your senses. Like slowing down, tuning in with our ears, eyes, nose, heart, mind, and intuition help us pick up on the richness of now.
- Minimize distractions. Even with our best intentions, ringing phones, chiming PDAs, buzzing doorbells, and other interruptions can pull us out of our present connection. Eliminate anything that’s likely to snatch you away from your focus on your partner and your relationship.
- Build “being present” time into your routine. We do this through our gratitude ritual at the evening meal where we focus solely on holding hands, sharing our gratitude, and listening attentively as our partner shares (We do this before meals with friends as well.). Presence is as valuable in the everyday setting as it is at a romantic dinner or special getaway, so practice it regularly.
Do you have other ideas on how to be present with your partner? We’d be delighted to hear your suggestions and learn about the practices you and your beloved use to stay intimately connected amid the hustle and bustle of daily life.
“If you have one eye on yesterday, and one eye on tomorrow, you’re going to be cockeyed today.”
“It is important to know the difference between giving in and giving up.”
~ Brad Brown, co-founder of The More to Life Program
In our partnerships, be they romantic or platonic in nature, we are in a dance. There is give and take as we negotiate the steps of effective relationship. Many of us learned to relate in an adversarial way where someone wins and someone loses. If you’re like me, you might have even perfected the art of giving up simply to avoid the conflict that seemed to erupt when a disagreement occurred between two strong-willed people. Or you may be afraid to “give in” believing that it’s a sign of weakness or lack of conviction. But like the quote reminds us, there is a difference between “giving in” and “giving up.” Living that difference can transform your relationships.
Giving in versus giving up
- Giving in creates space between you and another person; it’s an opening to step into. Giving up creates a void where you’ve disappeared; negative feelings occupy the void.
- Giving in brings you closer to your partner. Giving up is the same as running away.
- Giving in is admitting that you aren’t the sole authority. Giving up is abdicating your personal power.
- Giving in is equivalent to saying, “You’re important to me. Let’s find a way to connect/work together.” Giving up is equivalent to saying, “F— you. I don’t care about our relationship.”
- Giving in is moving toward your partner and seeking to reconnect. Giving up is pushing back and distancing yourself.
How to give in in your relationship
My guess is that many of you reading may be thinking, “Okay, this makes sense, but I don’t know what ‘giving in’ would look like or how to do it.” So here are a few ways you can practice giving in.
- When you’re in a disagreement, giving in can mean not getting in the last word, refusing to continue trying to “win,” or simply, and honestly, saying, “You’re right.”
- When you are personally feeling stuck, upset, scared, frustrated, angry, giving in can be telling the simple truth about how you are feeling and what’s going on for you. Giving in can also mean saying, “Help. I really need ‘x’ from you right now.”
- Switch from your habitual ways of being in your relationship. If you tend to take the lead, choose instead to step back and let your partner play that role. If you generally are the task master, put away the “to do” list and instead seek to be spontaneous and playful.
While giving in may seem radical or odd at first, as you practice, I think you’ll find that it’s one of the best ways to make a positive impact on your relationship. I’d be delighted to hear about your experiences with this experiment.
I recently wrote about how many of our visions of marriage are tainted by the often obscene promise of fairy tale romances or the numbing, heart-hardening lies we’re told about failed relationships (Love lives between fairy tales and apathy). Today, I found some related and extremely valuable thoughts on a fantastic relationship and intimacy blog, Making Love Sustainable, by Wendy Strgar. She writes about a new book by Seth Godin called The Dip, which refers to “the hard place where days can go by before any satisfying results come in.” I encourage you to read Wendy’s entire post. In the meantime, here’s a brief excerpt:
“The Dip though points to a bigger and more rampant problem–the willingness to quit on the hard stuff because we believe ourselves to be mediocre or not up to it. We are afraid to feel the strain, so we quit–and most easily on relationships that are challenging. The problem with this kind of quitting which can become serial. . .as soon as the relationship demands more that we think we have, we bail. That place becomes so familiar, it is the jumping off spot, time after time. The real shame is that often the breakthrough place, where things start to work in a new way is just past that jump.”
What really struck me in this quote is the statement, “we believe ourselves to be mediocre or not up to it.” I think that kind of self-doubt and belief that neither partner is capable of navigating challenging waters is one of the biggest barriers to long-term happiness. If you hit a bump and your mind automatically assaults you with “you’re not smart enough to get through this,” or, “he doesn’t have what it takes to weather this kind of storm,” or, “this relationship isn’t strong enough to last,” you’ll likely not even be inspired to attempt to work through the challenge.
So, if you want to be able to make it through dips in your relationship, start building your confidence in yourself and your partner. Start strengthening your beliefs about the dedication, tenacity, capability you and your partner both possess. Work the muscles of belief and lose those flabby, flat-out-false thoughts that get you nowhere good, replacing them with toned, truths that will become the foundation for a strong, sustainable, and deeply satisfying relationship, whether you’re in a dip or on top of the world.