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
At the beginning of our evening meal, Shonnie and I take a few moments to express our gratitude for events of the day. For example, one of us might say, “I’m grateful for finally completing the newsletter I’ve been working on. I’m grateful for your willingness to clean the kitchen after breakfast. And I’m grateful to be here with you our kitties at the end of a long day about to enjoy this healthy, flavorful meal.”
Then come acknowledgments—something that we appreciate about the other and ourselves—an act performed or a state of being during the past 24 hours. For example: “I acknowledge you for the compassion you showed with my mother during our telephone call with her. I acknowledge myself for cooking this meal for both of us.”
Then the other partner expresses his/her gratitude and acknowledgments.
Finally, connected at a deeper level, we break bread and enjoy our evening meal together.
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.
Below is an article by Margot Lester with supportive strategies for divorced men and women who are considering dating again. However, I think she provides helpful hints for anyone who’s looking for a loving relationship.
FYI, Margot quotes me (Bruce) extensively in the last few paragraphs of her article.
Dating Again? Boost Your Luck
By Margot Carmichael Lester
You took a swing at marriage, and it didn’t work out. Now that you’re divorced, how do you get back on your feet and back in the dating game? According to experts and the divorced people we spoke to, it’s a matter of attitude adjustment. Here, they share their wisdom.
Talk to yourself
Start by giving yourself a new internal monologue, suggests Laurie Puhn, J.D., author of Instant Persuasion: How to Change Your Words to Change Your Life. “Being single means you still have the chance to meet Mrs. Right. So give yourself a new mantra: ‘I’m single because I’m taking my time to make sure I do it right.’”
Can something that simple really make a difference? You bet! “If you think confidently — as in, ‘I know it will happen, it’s just a matter of time’ — you will speak and act confidently,” she asserts. “And you’ll find that the people who are bitter, self-entitled or pessimistic will voluntarily stay away from you because being around someone happy and confident makes them feel worse about themselves.” Now that’s a real bonus. You get a better attitude and increase the chances that unsuitable dates won’t be as interested. “Be your best self,” she says, “and you’ll attract other people who are at their best.”
Ditch the failure dialogue
Another key move: Let go of the “failure” point of view. Your marriage didn’t last, but that doesn’t mean you failed. “Things, situations, and people change and, hopefully, grow,” notes Neil Fiore, a psychologist in Berkeley, CA, and author of Awaken Your Strongest Self: Break Free of Stress, Inner Conflict, and Self-Sabotage. “You may have made a good decision when you married this person, and made another good decision when the marriage stopped working for both or either of you.”
Adds divorcée Holly Kremer of Waltham, MA: “Never, ever think of yourself as ‘damaged goods.’ It took me a while to get over that mode of thought, but I did. Don’t think you have to settle or that you are any ‘less’ than anyone else, just because you are divorced.” She knows what she’s talking about. Kremer is getting married later this year.
Avoid false comforts
Many divorced people feel empty and hurt — and that often leads us to seek comfort. “Out of your loneliness or low self-esteem, it’s easy to want to fill the emptiness or to try to feel better by jumping into bed with someone new,” says Bruce Mulkey, divorced (and now happily-married) co-author of I Do! I Do! The Marriage Vow Workbook. “I suggest that you avoid this at all costs,” he cautions. “Instead, discern the truth from the fiction in your mind. Set forth an intention to stay out of the blame game — toward yourself, your ex or others. Be gentle with yourself, nurture yourself. Get lots of exercise. Eat well. Get adequate rest. Know that everything happens for a reason, that there is a great gift for you in these events when you are ready to open yourself to them.”
“As much as I wanted to blame my former partners in marriage, the time had come for me to accept responsibility for my life, that I was responsible for the outcome of my marriages,” Mulkey recalls. “And if in the future I wanted a loving, enduring relationship with a significant other, I had to have that quality of relationship with myself. So I got clear about my purpose in life. And I got clear about the kind of woman I wanted to share my life with and my unwillingness to settle for less. And wouldn’t you know it: As soon as I put my clear intention out to the universe, the woman of my dreams showed up and asked me out.”
Getting over divorce is never easy — or fast. But you can begin getting ready for another chance at love today by giving yourself some time and attention. It’s the best way to ensure the right someone will want to give you that, too.
Divorced freelance writer Margot Carmichael Lester is the co-author (with her new husband) of Be A Writer and Be A Better Writer.
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.
Why is it that giving sincere praise is so challenging for so many of us—even (or perhaps especially) to our significant other? Is this a lost art in our culture, or have we humans always operated like this?
What is so difficult about praising someone for something they’ve done, whether the act was seemingly insignificant or really huge, say, holding the door for you when you have an armload of files or, perhaps, creating world peace in our time. “Thank you. I really appreciate your kindness. That was very thoughtful of you.” Is that truly so hard to say?
But acknowledging someone for something they’ve done seems relatively easy compared to praising another for who they are and what they mean to us. I might graciously thank Shonnie for cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, but how often am I willing to tell her how much I appreciate who she is and how glad I am that she’s in my life when she’s performing no action at all?
And accepting praise is just as difficult for many of us. How many times have you seen someone let an acknowledgment ricochet right off rather than take it in? “The counselor of the year award goes to Mary Jones, who is one of the most valuable and loved staff members in our organization. Let’s have a big round of applause for Mary!” And Mary reacts, “Aw, shucks, folks, it weren’t nothing.” Many might consider this humility. I suggest, however, that such a reaction is really self-deprecation and demonstrates and inability to authentically value oneself.
Frankly, I think we humans thrive on praise; it nourishes us, tells us we’re on the right track and let’s us know we’re appreciated by those around us. Sincere acknowledgments can also remind of us of who we are and what we’re about in this world.
A four-step program for giving your partner praise
- Notice when your significant other does something you really appreciate.
- Clear the chatter in your mind. You don’t have to say just the right thing. You won’t lose points in the relationship game. In fact, you’ll probably gain them, though that’s not the primary objective here.
- Be sincere in your acknowledgment. Speak from your heart.
- Give your partner an ample opportunity to take in your praise before moving on. If you think he or she has deflected it, you might gently ask, “Did you get what I just said? I really meant it.”
A three-step program for accepting praise
- When your partner (or someone else) is acknowledging you, stop for a moment, breathe deeply and take in the meaning of the words being spoken.
- Accept what is being said as the truth.
- Smile and say “thank you.”
Below are five tips from on giving sincere praise from Gretchen Rubin at The Happiness Project. Useful in your all your relationships–friend, family, co-worker and romantic.
Five Tips for Giving Good Praise
by Gretchen Rubin
Be specific. You read this in a lot of parenting advice: praise means more when it’s specific than when it’s general. “What a beautiful painting!” is less gratifying than “Look at all the colors you’ve used! And I see you used all your fingers with the finger paints. You’ve really made your picture look like a spring garden!” This is true, for adults, too. “Great job,” is less satisfying than an enumeration of what, exactly, was done well.
Acknowledge the actor. The Big Man has a habit of saying something complimentary without acknowledging that I had anything to do with whatever result he’s talking about. For example, with this household project, he looked around once and remarked, “This really turned out well.” As if some deus ex machina had wrought these changes overnight. Aaargh.
The effusiveness and time spent in giving praise should be commensurate with the difficulty and time-intensiveness of the task. If a task was quick and easy, a hasty “Looks great!” will do; if a task was protracted and difficult, the praise should be more lengthy and descriptive. Also, you might bring up the praise more than once.
Remember the negativity bias. The “negativity bias” is a well-recognized psychological phenomenon: people react to the bad more strongly and persistently than to the comparable good. For example, within marriage, it takes at least five good acts to repair the damage of one critical or destructive act. So if you want to praise someone, remember that one critical comment will wipe out several positive comments, and will be far more memorable. To stay silent, and then remark something like, “It’s too bad that that door couldn’t be fixed,” will be perceived as highly critical.
Praise the everyday as well as the exceptional. When people do something unusual, it’s easy to remember to give praise. But what about the things they do well every day without any recognition? It never hurts to point out how much you appreciate the small services and tasks that someone unfailingly performs. Something like, “You know what? In three years, I don’t think you’ve ever been even an hour late with the weekly report.” After all, we never forget to make a comment when someone screws up.
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.”