The Marriage Podcast for Smart People

By Caleb & Verlynda Simonyi-Gindele

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Episode Date
Avoidant Attachment in Marriage
When we look at some of the areas that people with an avoidant attachment style struggle in, it’s easy to focus on extremes or exaggerate the way they interact with you. But your spouse can be avoidantly attached to you and still be a faithful, committed, reliable person in the marriage.  In this article, we’re going to look at the challenges that having an avoidant attachment presents in marriage. The section towards the end is especially important because it examines how an avoidant attachment style develops in childhood. Someone with this attachment style may behave in ways that seem like they are intentionally doing things to hurt you, and it is easy to take personally. But in most cases, there is no intent to harm or be difficult in the marriage. We really encourage you to listen to them with compassion and understanding.  Avoidant Attachment and Needing Others The default posture of an avoidantly attached person is to not depend on others. There are a number of reasons they may have this fear. It may be because they are distrustful of close relationships or are afraid of relying on anyone else. It may also be because they don’t want to experience the pain of rejection. They may feel pressured to give the other person the level of support they receive. They may avoid being close enough to receive support from another because they don’t want to offer support in return and have their efforts rejected. This may be because there have been times when they have depended on someone else and it has led to disappointment. A person with an avoidant attachment style places a lot of value on independence and being self-sufficient.[1] They may consider that to need someone else is to show weakness, so they sometimes develop alone wolf mentality. They may also seem to be very much in their head and working through problems rationally. Attachment In the Brain To fully understand the avoidant attachment style, we need to look at how attachment in general develops in childhood. When a child is with their parent and they experience a moment of threat or uncertainty or distress, their attachment system is activated. What this means is the part of the brain that is responsible for tracking and monitoring the safety and availability of their primary caregiver is turned on. The moment of fear prompts the child to re-establish if their parent is safe and available and can meet their needs. When the parent affirms this, the child’s brain turns the activation off. A child whose caregiver is not available learns to prevent their attachment system from activating. They don’t let themselves get upset or distressed or needy towards a loving significant other. Therefore, they develop an avoidant attachment style: first towards their caregiver, and later on towards their spouse. An avoidant attachment can have a significant impact on a marriage. An avoidant spouse may do the following things: Averting their gaze from what they consider to be an unpleasant emotion in an attempt to prevent intimacy or connection.Tuning out a conversation related to commitment topics[2]Accusing their spouse of wanting too much from them when the spouse is asking for deeper emotional connection (Catlett, 2015)Turning towards busy work in the home or at work when conflict with their spouse threatens their sense of safety in the relationship, or using sulking or hinting or complaining to seek support from their spouse during a conflict or when in crisis. All of these responses are geared towards keeping that attachment system deactivated. They’ll deny or minimize their vulnerability and repress their emotions as a way to manage emotions that have been aroused. They Operate Independently Because of the “not needing” others attitude and fiercely independent coping style that comes with keeping their attachment system deactivated, people with an avoidant attachment style are often very self-reliant. This desire for
Oct 09, 2019
Anxious Attachment in Marriage
Attachment is part of how we relate to others from an early age. Attachment is about the emotional bond that exists between two people — usually in a family or marriage context. Understanding your own attachment style and that of your spouse can help you figure out why you do the things you do during conflict or even everyday married life.  Understanding attachment can also help you see what you might do differently in order to secure and strengthen the bond between you and your spouse. Attachment is fundamental to marriage — so read through this article and the next three if you really want to learn about what is probably the most significant undercurrent in marriage. This is the first of a four-part series on attachment. This article will focus on anxious attachment and how it affects a couples’ relationship in marriage.  How Your Attachment Style Develops The basic idea of attachment theory is that how you were loved as an infant becomes critical to how you relate to significant others in your life as an adult. When you are a baby, your primary caregiver, usually a parent, will have a unique way of relating to you. We refer to this caregiver as an attachment figure. When you get married, your spouse becomes your key attachment figure. When you have kids, you become an important attachment figure to them. But we start with our own primary caregiver and the essential components of how they relate to you centre on this one fundamental question: was my attachment figure nearby, accessible, and attentive to me? If a child grows up in an environment with an attachment figure who is available to meet their attachment needs, the child will grow up feeling loved, secure, and confident. The child is then likely to explore his or her environment more freely, play with others and be sociable.[1] Attachment in Adulthood The challenges or attachment injuries a person experiences in childhood impact not only them, but also the way they relate to their spouse. See our previous article: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) and the Impact on Your Marriage. For an adult, the attachment system that was formed in childhood gives rise to the emotional bond that develops between him or her and their romantic partner. Two researchers took Bowlby’s studies of attachment and explored them in the context of marriage.[2] They noted certain parallels: infants/caregivers and adult romantic relationships share the following features: Both feel safe when the other is nearby and responsiveBoth engage in close, intimate bodily contactBoth feel insecure when the other is inaccessibleBoth share discoveries with one anotherBoth study one another’s facial features carefully Typically, once a person’s attachment style is established in childhood it remains with the individual through their adulthood.  Two terms that we will use frequently when talking about attachment are the words avoidance and anxiety. Avoidance is about whether or not a person is comfortable with closeness to a significant other. Do you seek connection and being seen? Or do you shy away from it or even really run from it? Anxiety is about your trust in the security of your connection. Do you feel at peace that your significant other is available, responsive and committed? Or are you needing to reassure yourself of this sometimes or even all the time?  Each person has an attachment style to their spouse. Sometimes, one spouse is one style, and the other spouse is a different one. For example, if you are anxious about your connection to your partner, your partner may be securely attached to you, which means the problem is not that your partner is unavailable or unreliable, but that you are not able to rest in and trust that he or she is available. That’s the part you have to take responsibility for. Conversely, your partner may begin the marriage as a securely attached person, but if you are consistently inconsistent in your availability or accessibilit...
Sep 25, 2019
How Prayer Impacts Marriage
Often, people see tension between spirituality and the field of psychology. Academics seem to look down on matters of belief as unintellectual, and the faithful sometimes think that scientists are secular opponents to all religion. However, research is continuing to indicate that expressions of faith have tangible, measurable benefits. This holds particularly true about prayer. Marriage Affects Cardiovascular Health Marital strain and conflict can have a direct effect on your heart. In fact, researchers have found that these factors correlate with poorer cardiovascular health. In one study, they found that one of the large chambers of the heart, the left ventricle, thickens in response to marital distress. This thickening is closely associated with a decrease in heart function along with other cardiovascular issues. So experiencing stress in your marriage will physically affect your heart. Surprisingly, prayer can reverse negative impacts on the heart.  Prayer Affects Cardiovascular Health A new study came out this year that examined the impact of daily prayer on your health, specifically what is known as daily partner-focused petitionary prayer (PFPP). This kind of prayer, while quite a mouthful, simply refers to speaking with God using your own words and language. You can contrast this against memorized or liturgical prayer–not because one is better than the other, but just as a way to define the scope of the study. PFPP is praying to God for your well-being as well as the well-being of your spouse. It focuses on asking for support for the challenges you are facing in marriage. The study found that PFPP had a positive impact on relationship communication and quality as well as certain specifics of cardiovascular functionality. This type of prayer reduces the strain of daily stress on the heart and improves its efficiency. Prayer Affects Marital Health Not only does this kind of prayer have positive benefits for your cardiovascular health, it also helps enhance your marriage. Researchers have found that prayer that focuses on your spouse improves relational satisfaction, particularly as marriages mature. In a study by Fincham and Beach, they found that this enhanced satisfaction in relationships led to an overall increase in commitment. A second study by Fincham and Beach confirmed their findings. As couples pray for each other, they find greater satisfaction in their relationship. And as that grows, they become more committed to one another. And yet another study discovered that when you pray for your spouse, you become more willing to sacrifice for them, more so than merely having positive thoughts about them.  Intentional prayer in and for your marriage helps you enjoy your relationship and leads to a deeper, more intimate connection with your spouse. How Prayer Impacts Marriage Prayer can be an effective tool to take a hard, honest look at your marriage, so we’ve put together a worksheet that will help you evaluate where you are in your relationship with your spouse. We’ve made it available to all of our supporters on Patreon, so go and check out how you can use prayer to intentionally reflect on your relationship. Get the Worksheet! Prayer Motivates Kindness An essential factor in examining prayer is how it affects your thinking. For example, a study in 1990 took a look at how prayer affects your intentions and willingness to engage in certain behaviors that influence relationship functioning. This study found that when you pray for your spouse, you are primed to think about them with more love and compassion. As a result, you will start to show greater respect and sensitivity to them. How does this work? Think about what happens when you argue. Before the conflict, you feel in tune with your spouse, having the same goals in life. But as soon as the fight starts, new, selfish purposes appear that clash with those of your spouse. However,
Sep 18, 2019
Why Church Leaders are Vulnerable to Infidelity and Pornography (& What To Do About It)
Being in a position of spiritual leadership is a challenge. While people will admit that pastors are just as human as everyone else, the standards and visibility on them are much higher. These higher expectations can make them especially vulnerable to infidelity and pornography. Rather than entering into this conversation as a way to condemn, the goal here is to help spiritual leaders proactively seek to prevent moral failure. After all, their potential moral failure has an even higher impact, affecting not just the pastor and their family, but their ministry and congregation as well. So in pointing out potential weak spots and blind spots, spiritual leaders will learn how to deal with the struggles that are common to people in their position. By becoming aware of these tendencies, they can learn to defend against them and protect themselves and their ministry. How Common Is This Problem? Ray Carrol, a former pastor, wrote “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World” after his own marital infidelity. In his research, he found that this issue was surprisingly common. In an anonymous survey, 33% of pastors admitted to crossing the line with a woman not their spouse without having been caught. In another study, the respondents revealed that one in nine pastors (around 11%) had committed adultery. Similar findings were discovered in a survey of 277 Southern Baptist pastors. 14% were involved in some inappropriate sexual activity. 10% disclosed that they had a sexual relationship with either a present or former member of the church. Of course, our intent is not to single out the Southern Baptist denomination! But data from individual denominations can point to a systemic issue that extends beyond denominational boundaries. Besides the problem of sexual indiscretion, pastors may also struggle with pornography and sexual addiction. Internet pom has become a significant pastime for ministers as well as church members. Christianity Today surveyed pastors and discovered that 18% of the pastors visit a pornographic site at least twice a month, with some visiting more than once a week. Again, the point of mentioning these statistics is not to vilify or to condemn leaders, but to help leaders find healthy ways to deal with the problems common to people in their position. What Motivates Male Infidelity? While there are women in positions of spiritual leadership, the majority of data we have specifically addresses males. So for our female readers, we ask that you translate the data we present, as our research scarcely addressed the infidelity of female leaders. Men who commit infidelity can be motivated by several factors: any one of these or a combination of them: PowerOpportunityNarcissismDesire for Instant GratificationLack of Discipline / Self-controlFalse Feelings of InvincibilityDelusions of GrandeurCorroding Family / Marital RelationshipsJustification of Selfish Choices (i.e. lack of sex) The Burdens of Pastors or Clergy Church leaders are a very busy group of people. They suffer from a congregational expectation (explicit or not) that the local church is their priority, even more so than family. Because of the amount of attention the church requires, it can be challenging to relax at home and make time for their family. Their long hours usually come in the context of spiritual calling and purpose. As a result, pastors can exhaust themselves emotionally, intellectually, and physically. And because they overstretch themselves, their capacity for intimacy and connection with their spouse diminishes, leading to a fading relationship at home. This is because they are responsible for more than the logistical concerns of the church. They are also responsible for the emotional burdens of their parishioners. As pastors, they are expected to empathize with and even solve those burdens, eating away at the emotional reserves needed to connect with their spouse. Additionally,
Sep 11, 2019
Is My Spouse a Sex Addict?
The road to discovering your spouse’s sexual addiction takes many forms. Sometimes, compulsive sexual behavior can be completely hidden for years before it is found out. It may happen as a single, devastating revelation or as a series of smaller discoveries.   Perhaps you already knew about their sexual compulsivity but hoped that marriage would somehow temper this behavior. But each promise that your spouse makes to change becomes yet another broken commitment. Sexual addiction can have devastating consequences for the addict as well as their spouse. It’s essential to understand what it is, how to diagnose it, what causes it, and what a healthy path forward looks like for a marriage dealing with sex addiction. Defining Sex Addiction While still relatively new to psychology, sexually compulsive behavior is becoming an increasingly recognized phenomenon with a reasonably well-defined set of features. It is not merely an extension of a Christian worldview. Regardless of their religious background, a large number of researchers and therapists now specialize in the treatment of sex addiction. The point of this article is not to preach against or shame sexual desire. After all, sex addiction is not necessarily about having a high sex drive. Just because you or your spouse enjoys having sex does not make either of you a sex addict. Only You Forever has several certified sex addiction therapists on our team. We have years of experience in working with sex addicts, and we know how crucial it is not to confuse the enjoyment of sex with sexual addiction. Sex addiction involves sexual expression or activity that is excessive, problematic, or out of control in either men or women. It can look like hypersexual or destructive sexual behaviors characterized by compulsivity, secrecy, or continuation of a behavior in spite of negative consequences. These behaviors are harmful to at least one person if not more. The addict, their spouse, their lover, their family, their employer, or other members of society can be affected by their behavior. These effects span economic, health-related, psychological, social, or relational impacts. It is a real problem, one that takes a substantial amount of courage and commitment to address. But recovery is possible. Diagnosing Sex Addiction DSM-V Proposal The North American standard for articulating diagnostic criteria for disorders (the DSM-V, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) has not yet officially addressed sex addiction. However, a hypersexual disorder has been proposed. Based on this proposal, individuals must have the following symptoms: Over a period of at least six months, recurrent and intense sexual fantasies, sexual urges, and sexual behavior in association with four or more of the following five criteria:Excessive time is consumed by sexual fantasies and urges, and by planning for and engaging in sexual behavior.Repetitively engaging in these sexual fantasies, urges, and behavior in response to dysphoric mood states (e.g., anxiety, depression, boredom, and irritability).Repetitively engaging in sexual fantasies, urges, and behavior in response to stressful life events.Repetitive but unsuccessful efforts to control or significantly reduce these sexual fantasies, urges, and behavior.Repetitively engaging in sexual behavior while disregarding the risk for physical or emotional harm to self or others.There is clinically significant personal distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning associated with the frequency and intensity of these sexual fantasies, urges, and behaviors. In other words, it is impacting the quality of your life.These sexual fantasies, urges, and behaviors are not due to direct physiological effects of exogenous substances (e.g., drugs of abuse or medications), a co-occurring general medical condition, or manic episodes.
Sep 04, 2019
Why People Seek Marriage Counseling & What Approaches They Choose
Everyone knows the “fairy-tale ending.” The prince and the princess get married, and they live happily ever after. While you will be able to find happiness in marriage, it’s common to experience hardships that fairy tales never address. Sometimes, you will experience rocky times for a few days, months, or even years. The reality of two very different people living as a single unit is very challenging. But at the end of the day, it’s worth the effort. Studies show that married people are, on average, healthier, happier, and financially better off than those who are not. So what do you do when you start to struggle with your marriage? While hard work and good intentions can help, sometimes you need the help of someone neutral and experienced to sort through these matters. That’s why people should seek marriage counseling. Wives Generally See the Problem First According to a 2016 study, women are the first to see the problem and the first to seek professional help. And this is also anecdotally true for many practices, as women are typically the first to reach out for counseling. Why is this? By the time most couples are ready to look for counseling, their marriage has already become distressed. They often fall into patterns of blame, withdrawal, and even some aggression. Husbands, in particular, feel a sense of failure and judgment when considering couple’s counseling. Because of this shame, they are less likely to reach out. However, this is partly why couples counseling can be such a challenge. For one person to seek individual counseling is already a big step. Getting two people to agree that they need professional help is a much larger one. Among couples who separated without seeking professional help, over 70% self-reported that one spouse was unwilling to go to counseling or that it was too late for counseling to help. Barriers to Marriage Counseling 1. Enforcing “Privacy” It should come as no surprise in the age of Facebook and Instagram that couples are unlikely to share their struggles in marriage openly. Many people believe that their relationships should be kept private or that they can only divulge issues to spiritual leaders. Because of this mindset, couples are less likely to get professional help. 2. Laying Blame Another barrier to marriage counseling is the blame game. When two people are having problems in their relationship, it’s easier to say that the other is at fault rather than accepting the complicated, nuanced truth that each partner bears at least some responsibility. Finger-pointing instead of taking responsibility is a significant factor in why many marriages end without getting the help they need. It is crucial to reframe marital distress. The problem that both individuals face is an unhealthy dynamic, not one another. This reframing reduces the amount of blame cast on each other and helps couples work together to solve the problem. 3. Lacking Prior Problem-Solving Couples counseling is just one tool in a large kit for repairing a marriage. So if you haven’t used a similar tool, such as attending a retreat or workshop, reading a marriage book together, or having premarital counseling, you are less likely to seek counseling when running into marital problems., 4. Going Too Late While often seen as a last-ditch effort to keep a relationship from falling apart, marriage counseling is more effective the sooner you go. Couples will usually wait for too long, often until levels of distress feel like the relationship is beyond repair. On average, married couples wait for six years of serious marital problems before getting help. Counseling can still work in such late stages, but it’s still difficult. But the perception that there is it’s too late prevents couples from seeking therapy. Key Factors Affecting Marriage Counseling Success Addressing marital issues can feel overwhelming. That’s why we’ve put together a two-part exercise that wil...
Aug 28, 2019
How Shame Perpetuates Porn Addiction
Shame is such a powerful emotion. The problem is, it can lead to seemingly contradictory behavior, particularly in the context of addiction. Shame’s close relationship with pornography consumption can cause porn addicts to fall into cycles of shame over their addiction, followed by giving into their addiction, followed by more shame. As with most addictions, porn addiction typically has roots in other deficits. Because you are hurt, lack something, or desire something, you might turn to porn as a coping mechanism, hoping that it will provide the feeling or fulfillment you seek. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that porn is a maladaptive coping mechanism. Rather than helping with the problems it is supposed to solve, it simply makes them worse, particularly in the case of an addictive cycle. The Link Between Porn and Shame As the widespread use of pornography is a relatively new phenomenon, there is only a limited amount of research on its connection with shame. Despite this, there is a lot of anecdotal knowledge among counsellors and psychologists about the connection between, and combination of porn and shame. This link has been documented as far back as 1989. In the book “Contrary to Love,” Patrick Carnes, the grandfather of the sexual addiction treatment movement, identifies shame and guilt as fuelling the despair in addiction. An addictive cycle looks like this: The addict experiences despair.In order to alleviate this feeling, they seek relief by acting out.Upon acting out, they feel shame and guilt.These feelings increase the feeling of despair. While this cycle was discussed in the context of sexual addiction, porn addiction operates in much the same way. As you can see, the efforts of the addict only serve to temporarily deal with the feeling of despair. So you can see how shame only deepens the cycle of porn addiction. Rather than equipping the addict to deal with the source of their problem, porn simply makes it worse for them. In order to deal with porn addiction, you need to discover and deal with the root issues, not as a way to excuse the behavior, but to find where you need healing to start the process of recovery. Shame Buried Out of Sight A common denominator among some porn addicts is an early form of relationship trauma. These can range from abuse (sexual, physical, verbal, mental, etc.) to parental disregard or a variety of combinations. With all of these issues, you can see a similar feature. Typically, the child will not find validation of their distress. Often their problems are minimized, ignored, or not acknowledge. As a result, they do not find healing, which perpetuates and often magnifies the pain they felt. And when not dealt with, this lack of validation will cause the adult to seek it out elsewhere. Porn is an easy “fix” for this. So if you were never validated by your mother, you might find that porn stars are very validating. In some ways, they are. But that validation is just an act. A fake, exaggerated facsimile of genuine human connection. The validation offered by porn doesn’t work because it’s not real. But the imitation is close enough that it subconsciously fires the reward circuits that keep you trying to get that need met.  Porn acts as an outlet for repressed emotions, wounds, and unrequited yearnings. Instead of having these needs met, porn is so accessible and provides enough temporary pleasure that it becomes an easy outlet or sort of balm or salve for these wounds. However, it never actually heals them, instead it requires more and more while returning less and less.  It is a lie. It cannot meet your needs. Of course, this is not the same for everyone with an addiction to pornography. People can have a healthy childhood and still get hooked. But even in those cases, they experience this cycle of shame and addiction. What’s the Problem With Shame? The effects of shame are well documented. In 2015,
Aug 21, 2019
How to Set Boundaries in a Kind Way
Most people have heard of boundaries and understand that it’s good to have healthy boundaries in marriage. But as with any psychological concept that enters the public sphere, its application can be quite twisted from its intended form. Sometimes people will cut off members of their family, labeling that action as “setting a boundary”. Or others will use boundaries as a way to manipulate friends into doing what they want. By applying the term “boundaries” to these actions, people often are just using a generally accepted keyword to try to validate their actions. At their core, boundaries are indeed necessary for healthy relationships, helping you navigate your complex dance with other unique individuals. When used appropriately, they help you move closer together to other people rather than moving away. This is why it’s crucial to look at how you can create boundaries that uplift and strengthen your relationships and apply them in healthy, productive ways. What Are Boundaries? The term “boundary” defines the rules and limits you set in a particular relationship in order to establish a sense of safety. Safety in this context refers to an appropriate balance of closeness or distance in the relationship. In marriage, you typically set boundaries to define where you feel safe and able to be close with your spouse. If a rule isn’t set, it isn’t a boundary. This can be a perfectly valid choice for your situation. For instance, you might simply make an observation (“I love it when you do this when we have sex”) or make a complaint (“When you drink, I can’t have honest conversations with you about our marriage.”). In these cases, rather than setting the boundary, you are stating something and letting your spouse react as they choose. But if the issue is important enough to you and your marriage, making that observation or complaint might not be enough. You might choose to set a boundary. For example, you might say that you will no longer discuss your marriage as a couple if your spouse is under the influence of alcohol. Or that you might be willing to experiment with your spouse’s sexual fantasies if they agree to stop when you say, “Stop.” In each of these cases, the purpose of the boundary is to increase connection by establishing rules that will protect you and preserve your sense of safety. Why Are Boundaries Important in Relationships? Safety is fundamental for creating trust. If you don’t feel safe with your spouse, you can’t experience trust. And if you can’t trust your spouse, then you can’t develop intimacy. Boundaries help you feel safe enough to experience a deeper relationship with your spouse. Typically, boundaries will define ownership and responsibility, which are closely related to self-esteem. When you establish boundaries, you are saying that you value not only your relationship with the other person but that you value yourself. Boundaries help define what each person in the relationship is responsible for. A boundary between you and your spouse says that each of you is responsible for your own bodies, words, emotions, attitudes, values, and preferences. By establishing these boundaries and agreeing to abide by them, you create a strong foundation to build emotional intimacy together. In marriage, boundaries clarify what you prefer or need from your spouse. Agreeing to the boundaries you set shows that they respect you. And by setting the boundary, you show that you respect yourself enough to tell them what you need from them. If you think about it, marriage vows are a public form of boundaries. Each of you agrees to basic terms that are essential to your relationship to create safety, to create a foundation of trust, for intimacy. Vows are an example of an explicit boundary as you are clearly expressing them to one another. Implicit boundaries are boundaries that are held without being stated. For example, you might expect that your spouse will work and provide ...
Aug 14, 2019
Unpack the Four Horsemen
In the Book of Revelation, the Bible talks about Four Horsemen that will herald the apocalypse. Symbolizing pestilence, war, famine, and death, these Horsemen are meant to be the signs that indicate that the end of the world is imminent. Borrowing from this Biblical illustration, Dr. John Gottman identified the four most critical indicators of marital separation: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. Based on his study of over 2,000 couples for more than twenty years, he was able to identify especially problematic communication styles that could bring about the end of a marriage. In fact, if these factors were left unaddressed, he could predict the end of the marriage with over 90% accuracy. However, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Gottman also found that for each Horseman, there is an antidote that will help give your marriage a fighting chance. The Research Gottman sought to determine the most important predictors of marital failure and divorce. He took a look at many of the ways that couples communicate, including facial expressions, physiology, how they talked about each other and their relationship. And what he and other researchers found was that couples with the Four Horsemen present in their marriage were likely to divorce 5.6 years after their wedding day. Most couples might think that other factors might be worse for a marriage than these Four Horsemen. However, this is not necessarily the case. For example, on average, emotionally disengaged couples would divorce 16 years after their wedding, meaning that marriages with this issue would typically last nearly 3 times longer than those with criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling.  The Four Horsemen are to be taken very seriously. In fact, of the Four, contempt is the most destructive. It is the strongest predictor of relationship failure. But Gottman found that these behaviors are related and that there is typically a sequence to them. Starting with criticism, couples shift to defensiveness, contempt, and finally shut each other out with stonewalling. Despite the fact that these issues can lead to divorce, they often do not stop people from forming new romantic relationships. While the presence of the Four Horsemen can cause you to end your marriage, they are unlikely to cause the end of a premarital relationship. As a result, it is common for couples to get married despite having experienced these issues. This doesn’t mean that the Four Horsemen are nonexistent in healthy marriages. What helps marriages succeed is confronting these issues together. While sometimes you tend to overlook serious issues during the dating phase of your relationship, if you are committed to your marriage, you will need to face these behaviors in yourself head-on. The Four Horsemen Let’s examine how each Horseman impacts your marriage. Criticism This is anything that communicates that your spouse is not worthy of your consideration or respect. Rather than focusing on behavior, criticism typically assaults character. The negative effects are often compounded by globalizing which happens when you use terms like “you always…” or “you never…”. Criticism makes mistakes or even small incidents bigger than they should be and paints them as a result of permanent character flaws in your spouse. It accuses them of being such a bad person that they are not worthy of respect. Criticism inhibits addressing and modifying specific behaviors, instead offering suggestions as to why the other person will never change because of who they are. Voicing criticism is different from simply voicing concern and displeasure, which are important and healthy practices in any relationship. But rather than helping you and your spouse learn and grow, criticism is destructive. When you criticize your spouse, you destroy your view of them, their view of you, and even their view of themselves. And the more you undermine them,
Aug 07, 2019
How to Identify Your Emotions
Knowing how you feel sounds extremely simple. It’s something everyone sort of instinctively knows how to do, isn’t it? And amidst the myriad problems and concerns facing you and your marriage, why is this something you need to spend time on? Being able to understand and identify your emotions is at the core of understanding yourself and connecting with others. It might seem simple, but something as fundamental as emotional intelligence impacts every facet of your life and especially how you relate to your spouse. I “Feel” Like You Don’t Understand This Many times, people simply start their sentence by saying, “I feel” or “I feel like...” By doing this, it might appear like they are expressing emotion. But most of the time, sentences like this are merely expressing thoughts, not feelings. For example, if you say, “I feel like you don’t want to spend time with me,” you’re not talking about emotions. You’re talking about what you think. Just because you said the word “feel” does not guarantee that you’re describing your emotional experience. So how do you express feelings? A great way to do this is to use emotion words like sad, disgusted, disappointed, or happy. When you use feeling words, you are expressing your emotions, not your thoughts. There’s a great way to know if your “I feel” statement is actually about feelings. It’s called the “I think” check. Simply replace “I feel” with “I think.” If that means the same thing, then you weren’t expressing an emotion; you were just saying what you thought. For example, you might say, “I feel like you never listen to me.” If you replace “I feel,” you end up saying, “I think you never listen to me.” Because this statement still makes sense, “I think” is more accurate; therefore, you are talking about what you think, not what you feel. But if you said, “I feel sad when you don’t listen to me,” the “I think” test fails. It wouldn’t make sense to say, “I think sad when you don’t listen to me.” This is a genuine feeling statement: in this case you are sharing your emotional experience. This might seem somewhat trite, but you’d be surprised how many people use the phrase “I feel” incorrectly. Making sure you use it properly to describe emotions and not just thoughts is a big step in developing and growing emotional communication in your marriage. The Biology of Emotion In order to understand emotion, you need to understand how it interacts with your body. Within your brain, there are several structures that are known to be involved with emotions. Your hypothalamus activates the nervous system, leading to an emotional response. The thalamus, amygdala, and other cortical areas help process emotions as well. But what makes the amygdala special is that it transmits information out to nerve endings, resulting in a physical response to emotional stimuli. What does this look like? A common example of this is witnessing someone getting badly hit in the groin. That “ugh” reaction you feel in response might cause you to fold up a little bit as if you yourself were hit in that area. Now, you yourself were not hit in the groin. But witnessing someone being hurt that way inspires a sympathetic emotional reaction that results in a physical response. There is a brain and body connection. This is why therapists and psychologists will ask clients where in their body they feel the emotion. A feeling of happiness might cause one’s body to feel noticeably lighter. A feeling of anxiety might cause tension and a feeling of weight in one’s abdomen. This is why it’s called a feeling–because the emotion will always result in a physical sensation. Which Comes First: Brain or Body? There has been a lot of research on the origin of emotion in individuals. Some research indicates that emotions start solely in the brain before being felt in the body. Other research suggests that the body itself can cause conscious emotions. Most likely, both are true.
Jul 31, 2019
How To Keep The Romance Alive in Your Marriage
Marriages can be strange. You slog through the daily grind, but at least you’ve got your partner. You think that everything’s fine, but then one day you wake up and realize that you don’t feel close to your spouse anymore. This is a common event in any marriage. Sometimes it’s because of normal life transitions. Sometimes it’s something drastic, like the death of a parent, or a traumatic accident. Or maybe the excitement you once felt has just gradually disappeared until you’re just… bored. Is that such a bad thing? Isn’t it normal as you grow older for romance to fade? Isn’t it enough just to be committed and to remain faithful? Do you really need to try to rekindle the fire? Why You Need to Keep the Romance Alive It’s easy to think of romance is just an emotion, one that isn’t necessary compared with your mutual commitment to marriage. But romance is more than that. There’s a reason why you vow not just to love but also to cherish. When you stop having sex or intentionally dating your spouse, your neglect tells your spouse that they aren’t special to you anymore. It tells them that you no longer care about your relationship or your marriage. It’s not uncommon for this neglect to manifest itself through lower self-esteem in your spouse. By stopping the romance, you communicate that you no longer value them enough to give them the special attention you once gave them. In order to work together as a couple, you need to depend on one another. But if it feels like you aren’t valuing each other, you will start to depend on yourself rather than each other. When that happens, you raise the question of whether or not the marriage is working or necessary anymore. The lack of romance will increasingly cause both of you to wonder if this marriage is even worth the effort. However, research shows that rekindling commitment to romance can reinvigorate your marriage. Actively keeping the romance in your marriage alive strengthens your spouse’s confidence in you. It builds their confidence in you as a partner in life and in marriage, someone they can rely on. So yes. You need to make the effort to show your spouse that they are special and loved by you. You can’t allow your marriage to grow cold and stagnant. But what do you do when romance has faded? How do you rekindle the flame of your first love? What Erodes Romance? Everyone’s situation is unique and personal to themselves. Because of this, there are countless reasons why your marriage might erode. And often, they are personal to you. Sometimes external demands can dominate your focus, pulling your attention away from your spouse. A difficult phase in your child’s development, new responsibilities at work, a chronic illness, or other stressors can upset the balance of your marriage. Other times, you just forget to be curious about your spouse. You become overly familiar, and stop asking questions because you feel like you already know everything about them. You might start becoming purely pragmatic, treating your marriage like a business arrangement, taking sensuality and sexuality out of the picture. Each of these reasons will wear away at your marriage, often in conjunction with each other. But there is one that you need to take special care to defend against. Beware of Boredom Especially Newlyweds have a hard time imagining that marriage could be boring. Because you didn’t know each other well at the time, everything is new, shiny, exciting. It’s hard to be bored when every day, every minute spent together produces another revelation about your significant other. But once this period of accelerated discovery fades, boredom can creep in if you do not take precautions. That initial excitement comes from rapidly growing closer together, which is easy when you really don’t know anything about the other. And while it is natural for this period to fade, allowing boredom to build reduces your overall marital satisfaction.
Jul 17, 2019
Dealing with Your Shame and Guilt After Betrayal
It might seem strange to be focusing on the betraying spouse. After all, they weren’t the ones who were victimized. However, if the betraying spouse does not grow as a result of the wrong they did, that leaves their betrayed spouse vulnerable. So yes, it is vital for you, the betraying spouse, to help your partner cope with the fallout of your betrayal. But in the aftermath, you too must focus on your own healing process as well. In this way, you take tangible steps to safeguard your spouse from the possibility of betraying them in the future. Balanced Coping is Important Betraying your spouse opens up your marriage to many interpersonal conflicts for you to address. How you choose to cope with these conflicts will largely determine the future of your marriage. One common tendency might be to focus solely on the needs of your betrayed spouse. It’s easy to devote all your efforts towards calming them down. The risk in this approach is you keep yourself from dealing with the fact that you betrayed them. You don’t address why you did it in the first place, much less how you can prevent yourself from repeating the past. Or you might even ignore the effects of the betrayal altogether. You act as if nothing happened, turning a blind eye towards the elephant in the room. You think that perhaps the storm will pass, and life will go on as it did before. Or you might take it to another extreme and focus all of your attention on yourself. You become so self-absorbed in your frustration and even self-pity because of the realization that you have betrayed someone. You force your spouse, intentionally or not, to take care of you instead of leaving them room to deal with their own needs. This is where balance comes in. In the aftermath of your betrayal, you will need to accommodate both your spouse as well as your own issues. Despite the tension between the concern for your spouse and concern for yourself, you cannot simply focus solely on one or the other. To address both, use an integrated, balanced approach.[1] Having balanced coping is necessary for the long-term health of your marriage. In the first days following betrayal, your spouse will need extra attention to help their healing process. But as they heal, start concentrating on your own journey of growth so that you do not repeat the betrayal. In cases of severe or even profound betrayal, it is ideal if both of you have your own individual counselors, with a third counselor who sees you as a couple. This way, you each have someone on “your side” helping you grow while a neutral third party can help you navigate the crisis between the two of you. Dealing With Shame and Guilt From Betrayal When you do something you are not proud of, shame and guilt are two very common emotional reactions. They help regulate moral behavior by increasing your self-awareness and stress, helping to make it more difficult to do things that go against your own values. However, researchers have found that guilt and shame also influence how you handle problems in your relationship.[2] As a result, it’s important to understand how to deal with these emotions. Understanding Shame How do you see yourself? When you’ve done something you deeply regret, how do you see your character and identity? After you’ve betrayed someone, shame may tell you that you are a betrayer, a cheater, an immoral person, or something like this. Shame makes you feel hopeless because it talks about you as if this is who you have always been and always will be. It frames your betrayal as more than an act: as an integral part of your identity. While it is crucial to recognize the magnitude of your betrayal and its effect on your spouse, it is more important to focus on the behavior and consequences rather than on shame-based identity motifs. Rather than pushing you to change and to become a better person, shame paralyzes and prevents you from growing. It disables you,
Jul 03, 2019
How To Work With Your Spouse’s Betrayal Trauma Part 2
So you’ve taken the initial steps towards helping your spouse heal from your betrayal. You admitted your guilt. You demonstrated your remorse. You showed your willingness to make it right. And your spouse sees and understands this.  But you still find yourselves caught in a cycle where you go back to the same thing over and over again. First, make sure you’ve already issued a sincere, thoughtful apology and have truly made an empathic acknowledgment of all the ways in which your betrayal impacted your spouse. If you haven’t done this yet, please refer to Part 1 because doing so is integral to showing them that you identify with their pain, which is essential for the foundation of your spouse’s healing. It’s helpful to remember that recovering from betrayal takes time. To help you, here are some things to keep in mind as you continue to face the consequences of your actions: 1. Be Patient The offending spouse will almost always find themselves assuming or pushing for a quick recovery. But traumatic experiences like betrayal are often life-changing. They don’t just affect your spouse’s present emotions; they can change his or her entire worldview.[1] While your spouse may have moved on from the initial feelings of shock and numbness, they may continue to harbor insecurity, suspicion, and distrust of you. They may even have continuous rage against you, which you will find can be much harder to deal with than continuous sadness.[2] Your physical intimacy during this period might be unpredictable as well. Sometimes couples experience a period of hypersexuality as both are desperate to heal the breach in their marriage. Or sometimes the betrayed spouse will refuse to share in any sexual intimacy or intercourse until they are ready. There are no quick fixes here. You need to take the long view, to understand that this is a lengthy process, one that will have ups and downs. You and your spouse might enjoy a few good days that feel normal again, but be careful that you do not assume that things are completely healed. Often those smooth periods are followed by turbulent ones. You might be frustrated, feeling like the two of you have reverted, that you haven’t made any progress. You might get upset when you hit some bumps again because you think you’ve already dealt with this. But a healthier and more realistic way to look at this process is from a broader perspective. Patience will help you understand that you are on a long, slow (but continuous) trajectory towards healing, one that has both good times and tough ones. The good times should not be taken as a sign of arrival just like the tough times should not be taken as a sign that you’ve made zero progress. Rather, just understand there are good times and tough times on the journey to healing. With time, you’ll see that the good times become longer and more frequent than the tough times. The journey will require patience. 2. Be Helpful It’s very easy to withdraw from your spouse during this time. Causing betrayal trauma can lead to feelings of hopelessness in your marriage. You need to resist this tendency to withdraw when discouraged. Instead of shying away, take time to have those difficult discussions with your spouse. Show that you are willing to do the difficult work of making things right. As you have these discussions together, there are certain things to be mindful of. While you will have to discuss the betrayal in order to help your spouse make sense of things and to help the two of you take tangible steps towards change, there are a couple of ways that these discussions can become unhelpful. The first is in giving too many details of the betrayal. For example, the sexually betrayed spouse will sometimes want to hear all the gritty particulars of your encounter or encounters, but sharing them might actually retraumatize him or her. While you do need to be open in order to reestablish trust,
Jun 26, 2019
How To Work With Your Spouse’s Betrayal Trauma
It finally happened. Maybe it was the first time, maybe the twentieth. You betrayed your spouse, and they know what you did. And now you feel awful. You want to make it right, to go back to how things used to be before you did the unthinkable. But even after some time, you don’t seem to be making any progress. Your spouse reacts very strongly to minor things and even things seemingly unrelated to the betrayal. Clearly, they haven’t gotten over it. What is happening? When your spouse experiences a significant betrayal, it often leaves lasting trauma. And helping your spouse get over an affair is going to take work and effort from you. When dealing with that trauma, you want to make sure that you that the words you say and the actions you take to contribute to their healing and wellbeing, rather than adding to the problem. One of the most common struggles for a spouse who has betrayed their love one is to be somewhat (or very) defensive when discussing the betrayal. Why Defensiveness Doesn’t Work As the offending spouse, it’s very easy to be defensive. You admitted that you were at fault; what more can you do? You’re working on changing yourself to make sure it doesn’t reoccur, so why can’t they realize that and get on with their life? Many times that defensiveness comes from a good place. You might be trying to calm down your spouse to create an environment more conducive to healing. So you downplay what you did in an attempt to minimize the hurt your spouse is feeling. “It wasn’t so bad,” you say. “There’s still hope for our marriage!” This defensiveness and minimization is an automatic response, but at the end of the day, it perpetuates the problem. It tells your spouse that you don’t understand their pain, and inadvertently sends a signal that this betrayal may happen again. It’s a genuine but misguided effort at taking care of your spouse’s pain. Sometimes this response happens due to ongoing addiction, the very same addiction that led to the betrayal in the first place. And you are still stuck in the first step to recovery. You haven’t accepted your addiction; you are still in denial. Regardless of why you are defensive, your spouse sees your reaction as proof that you don’t understand the gravity of the situation. In the case of addiction, it communicates that you don’t know how out of control you are, so they are pressured to increase the volume of their accusations to break through your denial. And the more you deny, the more you minimize, the louder they must become. Even apart from an addiction, your defensiveness sends the signal that you aren’t willing to see the pain your betrayal caused. This cycle can be extremely distressing to both of you and very difficult to stop. To break the cycle, you need to do three things to help you move forward: 1. Admit Your Guilt Your defensiveness can show up in a few ways. In some cases, it is just a brazen denial of guilt (to the point of lying). In this case, you may hope that by denying all that happened your spouse may not be hurt as badly. That’s nice: but your spouse already knows you’re lying so this approach is not going to work. In other cases, it’s not about lying but about trying to talk your spouse out of the negative feelings they have around the betrayal. Again, there’s a sincere attempt to help your spouse overcome the profound distress of the betrayal. The difficulty is that this approach also comes across as if you’re actually denying your guilt. It won’t work. And in other cases, you may be pushing some of the blame back on your spouse: perhaps even going as far as to say if s/he was more sexually available, you wouldn’t have gone looking outside your marriage. Of course, this also comes across as a denial of your own guilt because of the blame shifting involved. It also won’t work. You have to admit the full extent of your responsibility instead of denying it or blaming the other person for your choices.
Jun 19, 2019
Male Privilege in Marriage
These days, it’s difficult to have an open conversation about privilege because it has become such a hot button political issue. But if we can take a step back from political agendas, we can see that there is quite a lot of research that shows the reality of privilege and its impact on marriages. So here, there will be no accusatory fingers, no tearing down of the idea of being men. Taking a look at research-based observations on the reality of male privilege will help husbands empower both themselves and their wives in their marriages. Privilege Explained In general, privilege is an advantage that a person or a group has that others may not. Sometimes, this can be situational. For example, by being the most attractive person in the room, you may enjoy the privilege of being given the most attention. This situational privilege comes and goes depending on your specific context. However, privilege also can be constant, or at least more long-term. By having a certain wealth, citizenship, race, and/or gender, you are afforded certain benefits wherever you go that others without those advantages do not. There is nothing wrong with having privilege! Being born into a specific context does not make you a better or worse person. However, we do need to be aware of our privilege. We need to acknowledge its presence in our experience. One way to look at it would be like how people look at biases and opinions. If someone says that they have an unbiased opinion, you know that this is impossible. Since everyone has certain biases, a more honest approach would be sharing an opinion while acknowledging the biases involved. Similarly, you can have better relationships and conversations when you recognize that others do not have the same privilege as you do. By not recognizing those privileges, you might unwittingly leverage them to your personal gain or even exert dominance. You can better love your neighbor when you can see where you have advantages that they do not and use those advantages for their benefit. Acknowledging privilege can often be difficult because it requires humility. It means realizing that some of your advantages may not be fully earned due to merit, which can be quite hard to admit. But in doing so, you can learn to esteem others better than yourself and reduce the risk of mishandling the privilege that you carry. To bring this concept into the real world, let’s look at what it means for a husband and a wife to be preparing for church or simply going out. Typically, the husband doesn’t have to be worrying about a whole lot when he’s getting ready. However, the wife is much more likely to consciously worry about how she looks: both in terms of feeling that her beauty and her modesty may be evaluated at church. A husband’s frustration with the amount of time required for his wife to get ready in this context is a reflection of the fact that there are different societal expectations based on gender. You tap your feet impatiently, wondering why your wife is spending so much time “unnecessarily”. Why does she need to bother with makeup or spending so much time on her hair? This is an example of male privilege: the husband has the benefit of lower expectations being placed on him. One of the key goals of talking about privilege is to become aware of it. This will help you understand your wife better and extend empathy to her rather than getting frustrated with her for taking the time to deal with things you don’t need to think about. Understanding Male Privilege Generally You can’t help being born as a man or a woman. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the way you experience the world is shaped by your gender. This ranges from physical and biological differences (e.g. typically higher levels of testosterone and greater physical strength) to social differences in priorities, values, and concerns. One researcher observed that the world has generally been shaped to cater to men’s i...
Jun 12, 2019
How To Forgive Your Spouse After Betrayal
How could they do this to you? After everything you’ve been through together, after everything you’ve promised each other, they just set that aside and betrayed you, the one they claimed to love the most. When your spouse has hurt you deeply, it’s natural to feel incredible grief, anger, and pain because of what they did. It can be difficult to talk about forgiveness after the most painful of betrayals. But at some point, you do need to address it because, in order to heal, you also need to forgive. Maybe you’re not ready right now. That’s okay. Come back to this article when you are. But right now, let’s look at what it means to forgive after a betrayal, and what it will take to get there from here. Forgiving a Betrayal Forgiveness is more than just a single decision, particularly when dealing with deep hurt. It’s a journey of many steps, a process filled with difficult, sometimes painful decisions. The process of forgiveness is what brings you from feelings of ill-will or malicious intentions (i.e. revenge, punishment, avoidance, or hatred) to having a sense of “benevolent emotion”. You know that you have forgiven when you are able to have warm, kind thoughts about the person who has wronged you. When you make the shift from negative feelings about your spouse to positive ones. That won’t happen all at once; as you forgive, you will still be angry and hurt even as you start to build that benevolent emotion towards them. Again, this is a process. And this forgiveness is something that you need, your marriage needs. In order for you and your marriage to be healthy, you need to forgive. Not the day after a betrayal. You need a chance to vent your anger, to grieve, to understand what’s happened before starting this journey. Depending on the betrayal, this might take weeks or even months. And that’s okay! But when you are in a place where you’re ready to forgive, and when you are in a safer place where betrayal in marriage is no longer likely, you’ll find it’s time to take that first step towards forgiveness. How To Forgive Betrayal in Marriage One of the reasons that forgiveness of a grave offense is so difficult is that it involves reframing. That is to say, you will need to take a close look at the betrayal, your betrayer, yourself, and then your relationship from a more positive perspective. It will take a lot of time and effort, but it will be worth it! 1. Reframe the Action The first difficult step in the process is reframing what your spouse did to you. You will have to see what they did from a point of empathy, which will help you towards forgiveness by lessening the anger and blame you feel. And boy, is that tough! Empathy means seeing the world through some else’s perspective. And when you have been betrayed, it means changing how you view the betrayal. In order to better understand it, you need to retrace how and why it happened. This is not about excusing your spouse for what happened because ultimately it was their decision to do it. Empathy means taking in the bigger picture of what was happening to them in the larger trajectory of their life that contributed to their terrible decision. When you are able to understand the how and the why of the betrayal, you are able to gain a more objective perspective of it. And as a result of reframing their action, you will start to feel relief from your feelings of anger against your spouse and what they did to you. 2. Reframe How You Feel When you’ve been betrayed in marriage, you will naturally focus your attention on the hurt and the pain of it all. This is why it’s important to reframe the action by empathizing with your spouse. It will also help you to reframe how you feel about them. By reframing, you begin to restore the balance of your feelings about your spouse. After all, there is far more to who your spouse is then the wrong that they did to you. And by seeing the bigger picture,
Jun 05, 2019
Why Your Husband Can’t Hear You During Conflict
So you’re trying to have a serious conversation with your spouse, but it doesn’t seem to be working. They aren’t answering the questions you ask. Instead, they seem to be ignoring you or shutting you out. And that just gets you even more upset. Don’t they care? It’s easy to take these situations personally, to assume that these actions are deliberate. But what if it wasn’t? When you conflict with your spouse, something interesting happens inside of both of you that inhibits your ability to hear or even to remember what is said. What’s Happening on the Inside? To properly understand what is going on when your spouse appears to be shutting down or shutting you out during marital conflict, you need a quick primer on the nervous system. Your central nervous system (CNS) is a collection of nerves and cells that connects your brain and spinal cord to the rest of your body, allowing signals and messages to be transmitted back and forth. Always on, it enables you to control your bodily functions, most of which are subconscious. By not having to concentrate on things like your heartbeat or digestion, this frees you up to focus on higher level tasks. You can work, exercise, watch movies, or talk with others. Since the CNS handles the plethora of unconscious tasks in your body, you can focus on the conscious challenges. When Stress Happens In the event of a stressful situation, the CNS responds, affecting you on both conscious and subconscious levels. Based on the severity of the threat, it begins to override every other priority that you have at the moment. This strong response is designed to protect you from potential danger. If you encountered a wolf as you walked in the local park, your CNS response would allow you to quickly stop worrying about what’s for dinner and instead focus on not becoming dinner. These responses can range from moderate to extreme, depending on the situation. Extreme responses are usually given for extreme situations when you are in clear, imminent danger.[1] In these cases, your CNS might shut down enough body functions that you flee, collapse, faint, or dissociate from the experience. Our primal desire to stay alive is more important to our body than even our ability to think about staying alive [or to think about much else, for that matter].[2] While marital conflict does not typically trigger this extreme reaction, it still is common for conflict to trigger a notable CNS response. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you feel that your spouse is a threat to you. However, if they are upset with you, then your safety in your marriage is at risk. Because safety is at risk, your CNS triggers alarm bells to try to protect that safety. When you have a serious conflict with the most important person in your life, your body registers this as a significant emergency. It activates all of the fight or flight tools for survival like increased heart rate, respiration, and cortisol. And worse yet, it decreases your ability to reason, ironically making it more challenging to deal with the conflict at hand. What Really Happens When You Fight Another issue with this response is that it is most concerned with self-preservation. When you are fighting with your spouse, you need to focus on preserving your marriage, not yourself. Please note that this is about typical marital conflicts, not situations of spousal abuse when you do need to be focusing on self-preservation. When your nervous system is activated, your thought patterns do not run the same way they do when you are calm. Your CNS response makes it more challenging to be open and engaged, making it more difficult to exchange information and affection. It affects nearly every single organ in your body. Your body starts to release hormones like adrenaline. Your mind becomes hyper-aware of your environment. Your heart begins to race, and you might even start to sweat. Your fight or flight system activates,
May 29, 2019
How Empathy Deepens Intimacy
There are few things more discouraging than coming to your spouse with something exciting to share and being met with a blank stare. Or saying what a disappointing day you’ve had and being told to be more positive. In relationships, you want to be understood. You want your spouse to feel what you feel, to validate the experiences that you’re having. It can be devastating when that doesn’t happen. But if you’re able to cultivate empathy, you will be able to find more stability and intimacy in your marriage. What is Empathy? More than simply hearing someone else, empathy is about being able to take on their perspective almost as if it were your own.[1],[2] You can stand in their shoes and see the world through their lens. It’s about being able to fully understand what a situation is like for someone else.[3] It’s not enough to feel sorry for the other person. Empathy is not the same as sympathy. Experiencing empathy is telling them that you can feel their pain and understand why they feel it, not merely feeling sorry that they are in pain. Showing empathy in this way validates their experience, telling them that it’s understandable to feel this way. Empathy doesn’t necessarily require you to agree with the other’s perspective. If your spouse is furious with how a friend treated them, showing empathy doesn’t mean you have to be angry at their friend. But it does mean being willing to listen and understand the reasons for their anger. It means acknowledging that it makes sense they would be upset. It can be challenging to feel the ups and downs of another your spouse’s experience. But if you take the time to hear them out and put yourself in their shoes, you can offer them something valuable: being seen and understood. Why Should You Empathize? In marriage, empathy brings a broad range of benefits to the table.[4] Being able to show empathy to your spouse is a big part of being able to have a well-adjusted and stable relationship. When you can understand their perspective, you will be able to better adjust to married life, reducing the possibility of divorce. Empathy is a skill that you develop, and some marriage counselors even suggest empathy training for newlywed couples. For some, it comes naturally, but training can help individuals be more understanding despite not learning this skill as children or even as adults. And everyone can benefit from further developing empathy, as it provides new and more profound ways to communicate and interact. Research shows that becoming better at expressing empathetic understanding often leads to improved relationship satisfaction. After all, feeling understood meets a deep need that can’t be found anywhere else. How Can You Build Empathy? There are three primary building blocks to help expand in your capacity for empathy:[5] 1. Honesty To see things from your spouse’s perspective, they first have to be able to share it with you. If you want your spouse to understand you, you need to be open and willing to share your perspective with them. Looking for your spouse to feel what you feel? You have to be honest about how you’re feeling. So dishonesty gets in the way of allowing yourself or your spouse to extend empathy. Sometimes it creeps in for genuine reasons. You might want to protect your spouse from the stress of your work life, so you choose to say that you’re okay after you come home. But you need the courage and willingness to expose even the most carefully hidden parts of you to your spouse. If you want to have a deeper relationship, you need to be honest and vulnerable enough to share everything with your spouse, not just the easy stuff. 2. Compassion While similar to sympathy, which was defined above, compassion goes beyond just feeling bad for someone. It’s about genuinely seeking to understand for the sake of helping the other. Compassion helps to develop your empathy because it provides a caring motivation for doing ...
May 22, 2019
How Curiosity Deepens Intimacy
So there you are, carrying on with your day as usual when for some reason, your spouse does something completely unexpected. You have two options at this point. You could make an assumption based on previous experience, or you can choose to investigate further to find out something new. Making an assumption is generally more comfortable, but it represents a missed opportunity to get closer to your spouse. When confronted with the unexpected, curiosity can push you into areas of discovery that will deepen intimacy in your marriage. What Is Curiosity? Curiosity is the desire to learn new things, bridging the gap between what you know and what you want to know.[1] If irreducibility is the idea that your spouse is infinitely complex, curiosity is the drive that pushes you to continue your quest to know them. Typically, curiosity leads to a sense of resolution as you find something new. That discovery satiates you, and you move on. Not so with marriage. In some ways, curiosity is like sex. When you have physical intimacy with your spouse, there is a resolution to your lovemaking but that resolution is never finally satiated. You will want more. Curiosity allows you to seek and discover new things about each other continually. When you find out something new, it is satisfying but that does mean the discovery of all there is to learn about your spouse is complete. There’s always more! And so curiosity and irreducibility provide a cycle that repeats itself over and over. Curiosity seeks new information that irreducibility provides, discovers it, and then provides a feeling of resolve when you learn something new.[2] And so curiosity pulls you into a grand, lifelong chase of exploring your spouse, always pushing you towards the next revelation. How Does Curiosity Affect Intimacy? Knowing the different ways that curiosity affects intimacy will help paint a picture of how you can apply curiosity in your marriage. Here are five ways that curiosity works to deepen intimacy: 1. Curiosity Leads to Deeper Understanding of One Another As the saying goes, closed mouths don’t get fed. You can’t learn about your spouse if you do not allow yourself to.[3] Curiosity supplies the drive to discover new revelations, creating the opportunity to build understanding in your marriage. That understanding is critical to finding acceptance in each other. For example, when your spouse does something that agitates you, without enough information, you will tend to make up your own explanation. And in a distressed marriage, confirmation bias will often influence you to assume the worst. Curiosity provides a healthier response. When confronted with something you don’t understand, curiosity helps you constructively seek to understand what is happening for your spouse. Doing this allows you to improve your relationship instead of making assumptions that inhibit growth. 2. Curiosity Helps Both of You Grow When you ask your spouse questions, you allow them to share things with you. When they choose to share, and you listen to them, a process begins called self-expansion. Essentially, this is the process of growing and learning from the things your spouse shares with you. When we are in a relationship that offers self-expansion opportunities, besides feeling closer to our partner, we become linked to them—their qualities become part of us. Several studies show that greater self-expansion corresponds to greater relationship satisfaction and commitment.[4] Self-expansion helps you to grow through what your curiosity uncovers about your spouse. In a way, their strengths, ideas, and resources become yours as well. When you witness your spouse showing growth you didn’t see before, that encourages you to grow in that area as well. As curiosity helps you grow, you become more fulfilled in and committed to your marriage. Because you are now working as one unit. Curiosity and self-expansion mean that when one of you gr...
May 15, 2019
How Irreducibility Deepens Intimacy in Marriage
How can your marriage work when the two of you are so wildly different? At the start of your marriage, it’s easy to overlook those differences. But the more you get to know your spouse, the more you realize that they are a totally distinct person from you. While that can be overwhelming or even unexpected, this is an incredible step towards developing intimacy. Learning to appreciate and explore the mystery of the individual you are married to will help you grow closer to one another. Irreducibility and Autonomy Build Intimacy The first step, while perhaps a little tedious, is to define terms. Irreducibility and autonomy are critical psychological concepts to nail down. Once you see what each means, you will see how crucial they are as you work to build a marriage together. Autonomy in Marriage You and your spouse are separate people. And autonomy means that you each have the ability and the right to govern yourself [1]. Each of you can be independent and complete without the other. This might seem to contradict how you might see marriage portrayed. Some of the most romantic quotes from movies (e.g. “you complete me”) can give the impression that we are incomplete without the other. This isn’t the case; you are absolutely capable of existing apart from your partner. Marriage is choosing to become interdependent, to become one, not surrendering the capacity to be independent altogether. Understanding this will protect you against psychological abuse that says that you can’t live without your partner or that says you are nothing without them. Autonomy in marriage means that no matter what, you and your spouse are two individuals with the ability to make choices independent from each other (even though you have chosen to live inside the union of marriage). Irreducibility in Marriage Knowing that you are separate allows you to build on that idea. Since you are autonomous, you will never fully understand the mind and heart of your spouse. This is irreducibility. Being different people means that each of you will have different emotions, thoughts, and motivations. And this is a great thing! If you could fully understand and comprehend your spouse, then at a certain point, your intimacy would stop growing. Your marriage would become stagnant if you stopped trying to get to know your spouse. Irreducibility brings hope to marriage. It means there is always something more to know, always another way to become more intimate, to grow, to deepen your understanding of one another. How Irreducibility Deepens Intimacy in Marriage As two married, autonomous, irreducible individuals, you are bound to run into differences in thoughts, feelings, perspectives, and experiences. Discovering these differences will affect your behavior and how you interact with one another.[2] The truth is that discovering these things will take a lifetime. No matter how long you have known each other, you will always surprise one another. This should not cause you to feel anxious or somehow inadequate as a spouse. Instead, this should encourage you to pursue one another continually. Irreducibility brings vibrancy, mystery, and excitement. If you embrace it in your marriage, you will never be bored with your spouse. Instead, you will have a foundation for exploration, creativity, understanding, and intimacy between you. The Gap Can Bring You Closer We’ve put together a downloadable PDF with practical strategies to bring these ideas into your daily lives. You’ll learn how to create small, meaningful moments of discovery and to open the door for bigger conversations about your dreams, goals, and hopes for the future. Join our Patreon, and get access to these strategies today. Download the PDF! How To Make Autonomy and Irreducibility Work For You Now that you know what autonomy and irreducibility are and the roles they play in marriage in general, here are some practical steps to see how they can deepen th...
May 08, 2019
How Vulnerability Deepens Intimacy in Marriage
Intimacy is something that everyone wants for their marriage. But achieving that requires risk. Because to deepen intimacy in your marriage, you will need to open up to your spouse, to be vulnerable. Building Intimacy with Vulnerability Intimacy is complex. It is not something that happens passively; you must work with your spouse to put it together. Vulnerability is a crucial piece, one of the four primary aspects working in sync as parts of the whole[1]. 1. Irreducibility Your spouse is not a puzzle you can solve. Whenever you think you know everything about them, you’ll always find something new. Irreducibility means respecting the fact that your spouse is a fully realized human being, with an infinite number of intricacies. Their emotions, thoughts, and motivations run incredibly deep and constantly change. No matter how long you’ve known them, they will always surprise you. 2. Curiosity Knowing that you can’t fully comprehend your spouse does not stop you from trying. On the contrary, curiosity compels you to pursue them, to get to know them, to understand them. It’s the eternal pursuit of marriage to know and be known by one another. Every day of your relationship should be a dance, an adventure where you relish another chance to learn something new about each other. 3. Vulnerability Humans crave connection. But fear of rejection and pain can cause you to close yourself off from others, to protect yourself. Because opening yourself up to another person means you are handing them the power to hurt you. Marriage is different than other relationships. You committed to fight together, to depend on each other, to have each other’s back. You can’t have that deep connection to one another if you are not willing to be vulnerable. So try to let that person into the places you have shielded from others. Yes, there is risk here. But this is where the payoff is. When another person can see you and accept you for who you truly are, you will find an incredibly deep, profound connection. 4. Empathy Your spouse craves that connection as well. That’s why you married each other! By sharing in your spouse’s joy, sadness, pain, hopes, fears, and dreams, you can understand and accept them for who they are. You too will be able to empathize with them, to see the world from their perspective. It’s beautiful when these aspects work together as you build intimacy with your spouse. Irreducibility lets you acknowledge that there is always something more to discover about each other. Curiosity drives you forward to learn it. Vulnerability allows each of you the opportunity to see more about the other. Empathy enables you to fulfill each other’s deep need for connection and acceptance. This empathy you find when you are at your most vulnerable with each other is the very thing that will deepen your intimacy in marriage[2]. What Does Vulnerability Look Like? Vulnerability in marriage means opening up to your spouse. It’s about allowing them to see and to share your emotions, experiences, needs, and beliefs. And a large part of confiding in them is opening yourself up to the possibility of being hurt. Take Emotional Risks By revealing yourself to your spouse, you allow them to decide how to react to your vulnerability. At that moment, they can choose to offer empathy, acceptance, and love, the very things you crave. They can also choose to reject or dismiss a part of you that you hold dear. In giving them this opportunity, you are telling them that you trust them, that you believe the best in them. That despite your fear of being rejected, you are allowing them the opportunity to know you better. Confiding in your spouse despite the risk is essential to building intimacy with them. However, you do need to be careful. Building risk is a process, and you can’t just jump to being 100% vulnerable all the time. You need to make sure to lay the groundwork necessary to grow together and deepe...
May 01, 2019
How Couples Can Grow Spiritually…Together
The Internet floods us with ideas, tips, and tricks for couples to grow in their relationship with God. Sifting through it all can get overwhelming. Which works and which doesn’t? Let’s separate the wheat from the chaff and look at the ideas that truly work. Be Doers, Not Just Hearers Couples who share religious faith experience higher overall marital satisfaction (Perry, 2015). So yes, being married to a fellow believer is great! But that’s just the beginning. You need to go beyond passively hearing about your beliefs and actively start to do what your belief tells you. Research also has shown that when couples take specific spiritual actions together, they experience better marriages than just by sharing the same faith (Mahoney et al., 1999). If you want to strengthen your union, you need to take steps in your spiritual journey together. As you grow in your shared faith, your marital satisfaction and quality go up. Marriage becomes healthier and more satisfying. Is Personality a Factor? It’s rare for couples to have the same personality and expression of spirituality as each other. And sometimes those differences can be discouraging. If you are shy, you might feel disheartened that you don’t seem to have the same energy for God as your extroverted spouse. If you’re more outgoing, you might think you’re spiritually shallow because your quieter spouse spends more time in personal prayer than you. The apostle Paul addresses this in his letter to the Romans. He describes how you are different parts of the same body, that each of you has something unique to bring to the table. Recognizing that you “have gifts that differ according to the grace given” to you, Paul exhorts you “to exercise them accordingly” (Romans 12:6). And research backs him up on this. Dyer & Luckey (1961) found that differences in personality type do not affect spirituality in marriage. There is no right personality type to grow spiritually, so you shouldn’t worry that your spiritual growth doesn’t look like your spouse’s. Instead, focus on what’s important: sharing your journey pursuing God. How Couples Can Grow Spiritually So what are some specific ways to grow in your relationship with the Lord as partners? Here are some easy, yet effective methods to accomplish this: 1. Hold Weekly Check-Ins Hectic schedules can easily cause you to forget to touch base with each other, so you might start to drift apart. To prevent this, Willford & Willford (2013) recommend that couples hold a weekly check-in. Consistency is vital because it shows your spouse that you are prioritizing and valuing this time with them. In these check-ins, you should cover these important topics: Celebrate the Wins. What were the highlights of your week? Share moments that gave you joy, and give your full attention to them when they share theirs. Rejoice in each others’ triumphs, remembering to thank God for these blessings.Share the Struggles. Be real with each other. Open up and share your frustrations and problems. Use the scheduled time to gather your thoughts so that you can have a healthy discussion on these difficult topics. Process together, and bring them before the Lord in prayer.Dream of the Future. What are you hoping? Planning? Where is God guiding you? As a couple, you need a glimpse of the future before you, to know that you are striving towards the same dream together. When you make it a point to have these deep conversations with each other, you develop incredible intimacy, growing in your relationship together. Forging a Stronger Marriage During Hard Times Once again we’ve created a bonus guide for our much-appreciated supporters. This week’s goes along with today’s show but focuses on forging a stronger marriage during hard times. If you want to get better as a couple at bringing the tough stuff to God, you’ll definitely appreciate this 3-page guide with Scripture and wisdom to help you navigate tough times together.
Apr 24, 2019
Cognitive Biases in Marriage: Reactance, Mood and Confirmation
Cognitive biases are those sneaky little brain shortcuts that happen without us even realizing it. They make life more efficient and most of the time are helpful… but sometimes they can backfire too! Today we’ll look at three more of these biases so you know what they are, why they happen and how to stop them from messing with your marriage! Reactance Bias What Is This Cognitive Bias? Gotta love this one: when you feel like someone is trying to force you to do something, you react by doing the exact opposite.  Why This Happens Reactance happens when a person feels that their freedom to make choices is being threatened. If you feel that your choice is being taken away, you are likely to act in a way that reaffirms your own ability to choose. Usually, by acting in a way that is the total opposite to what you were being pressured into[i]. Here’s an example of reactance in action: when the legal drinking age was increased from 18 to 21, research shows that young students aged 18 to 20 started to drink much MORE, as an act of defiance against the fact that they weren't allowed to drink any more. The fact that they were being told they weren’t allowed something just made them want it even more. In marriage, this may happen when you demand that your spouse does something (e.g., helping with housework, cutting down on some unhealthy behavior, spending more time with the family, etc.), and they feel like their freedom is being threatened. Quite often, they will react negatively by taking even less care of the house, or spending more time away, and so on[ii]. What To Do About It The first step is to recognize when this bias is at work within yourself. You can learn to challenge this whenever it occurs and we have more on this in the bonus guide for today’s episode. If you are married to someone who is quite prone to reactance bias, you can also learn to phrase your request differently. Research shows that that there are ways to phrase requests so that they are less likely to trigger reactance bias. These ways are[iii]: Use less threatening language: instead of "you have to" or "you must” or “I need you to", try "could you" or "I'd like you to"Add a 'postscript' to your request: adding phrases to the end of your request that make it seem like more of a choice. Eg "it's up to you, but it would really mean a lot to me" or "only if it isn't too much trouble”. If you notice, these post scripts underscore that you’re giving your spouse the option to choose.Empathy: help them see why this particular is an issue for you and allow them to see it from your perspective. This is so your spouse can want to help instead of feeling like they have to help. Mood Bias What Is This Cognitive Bias? When judgments and actions related to your marriage are influenced by your current mood. And this occurs even if your mood has nothing to do with the current situation. Why This Happens Emotions, decisions and memories are all linked in the brain. When we are feeling one particular emotion, the brain activates memories and thoughts that fit with the current mood, and dampens memories/thoughts that do not fit with it[iv]. This can cause your mood to affect the way you relate to your spouse, even if the source of your mood has nothing to do with your marriage. Let me give you some examples tied to various brain functions: Memory: feeling sad or angry causes you to recall more sad and angry memories and makes it harder for you to recall happy memories[v]. For example, if you come home from work feeling frustrated it will be easier to recall things your spouse has done that frustrate you. See how your mood has nothing to do with the current situation? But can impact your marriage?Attention: feeling anxious or down causes you to focus your attention onto things that fit with these emotions[vi]. For example, if you are feeling sad you are more likely to focus on the negative things your spouse does than ...
Apr 17, 2019
Cognitive Biases in Marriage: Spotlight, Illusion of Transparency & Availability Heuristic
Cognitive biases are assumptions and judgments and error that our brains automatically make without us even knowing it’s happening. They are like automatic mental shortcuts. But the problem is: they could be messing with your marriage without either of you even realizing it! We have a brainy episode for you this week.  We’re going to be talking about cognitive biases in marriage. This is about how your brain gets in the way of your connection with one another, and how to deal with that. What Is Cognitive Bias? As we pointed out in the intro, biases are assumptions, judgments and errors which our brains automatically make without us knowing. Often they are "shortcuts" the brain takes to help us process information and make decisions more quickly. Biases are not necessarily bad nor are they a sign of mental illness (although they do get stronger when we are stressed or experiencing anxiety/depression), and often they are useful[i]. But sometimes they can influence our thinking in unhelpful ways without us knowing. These biases can impact all areas of life, including marriage. So it’s good to know about them, why they happen, how they affect us and what to do about it. The Spotlight Effect and The Illusion of Transparency What Is This Cognitive Bias? The spotlight effect is "the tendency for people to overestimate the extent to which they believe that others see and attend to their external appearance"[ii]. Essentially it means you expect people to notice things about you (like how you look) and notice things you do (both good and bad) far more than they actually do. This was originally tested by a study done in 2000[iii] by asking study participants to walk through a crowded cafeteria while wearing an embarrassing t shirt. The participants expected that everyone would notice them and judge them for wearing a silly shirt, but in actual fact hardly anyone noticed or cared. That’s overestimating the extent to which others notice your appearance. The illusion of transparency is similar, but to do with our thoughts rather than our outward actions. It is the "tendency for people to overestimate the extent to which their internal thoughts, feelings, and attitudes ‘leak out’ and are seen by others.[iv] We expect others to be able to read our thoughts and emotions a lot more clearly than they actually do. This is also sometimes called the "mind reading bias" because we expect people to be able to read our minds much more accurately than they really can. Why This Happens Our actions, thoughts and appearance are always obvious to us than to others. So when we do something embarrassing we expect it to be just as obvious to everyone else. Equally, if we do something good or succeed at something, we expect everyone else to notice and can become annoyed when they don’t. Or when we see something a certain way, it is abundantly clear to us and we expect others to be just as lucid. How This Cognitive Bias Affects Marriage These two effects can lead to increased anxiety: thinking that your spouse is scrutinizing your appearance and thoughts can lead to high anxiety and over-compensating by trying to mask your emotions. Eg "I have to look my best all the time or my spouse will notice and think I'm not making any effort" or "If he/she notices I'm upset it will upset him/her too, so I need to make sure it doesn't show" They can lead to feeling unappreciated: thinking that your experiences are obvious to your spouse can leave you feeling unappreciated when they don't react. Eg "He didn't even notice my new hairstyle" or "I was obviously upset and he/she didn't even ask why" They can also contribute to poor conflict resolution. Thinking that your grievances are obvious to your spouse can lead to conflict avoidance or passive-aggressive behavior. E.g., "I shouldn't have to tell him/her why I'm upset! it should be obvious!" What To Do About It Say what you're thinking.
Apr 10, 2019
How To Make The Most of an Unhappy Marriage
So what if you are in a marriage that you are totally committed to but really not enjoying or appreciating. You are unhappy but it is quite a stable situation. And you aren’t leaving. How can you make the most of this situation? We’ll look at how folks find themselves in a spot like this and how to make the most of it. Long Term Unhappy Marriages Let’s start by looking at what we mean by “unhappy” in this situation. Overall marital quality is a combination of marital satisfaction and marital stability[i]. Using these two dimensions you can categorize marriages into four groups: High satisfaction, high stabilityHigh satisfaction, low stabilityLow satisfaction, high stabilityLow satisfaction, low stability Long term unhappy marriages fall into the third category: low in satisfaction but high in stability. Why Do People Stay? There are various reasons people may choose to stay in an unhappy marriage, divided into "reasons for staying" and "barriers to leaving" (from Heaton & Albrecht, 1991) Reasons to Stay Economic: you may be financially much better off even if you aren't happy in the marriageFamiliarity: even if you aren't truly happy in your marriage, after many years together you may appreciate the stability and routine of lifeBelief that marriage is sacred: your religious commitment to marriage may keep you there. Barriers to Leaving Fear of being single or not being able to find another spouseStigma around divorceInability or doubts about your ability to fend for yourself (e.g., if your spouse is the main earner or handles important household issues and you don't know how you'd cope without them)Not wanting to distress your children by separating (even adult children). Growing Your Marriage by Growing Yourself Once again we’ve created a bonus worksheet for our much-appreciated supporters. This week’s worksheet complements this episode by stepping you through two very important areas to consider in a situation like this. First of all, we help you search for the positive reasons for staying. This subtle shift can make a huge difference in your marital satisfaction all by itself. But then we also ask you to consider how you might challenge yourself to grow in a situation like this. Again, this is a positive reframe that will help you make shifts within yourself. And we have often seen that when this happens, your marriage will often shift to a better place as well. So if you are feeling hopeless and looking for a place to start, you’ll definitely want to get this worksheet. You can get it by becoming a patron of The Marriage Podcast for Smart People. Get the Guide! How To Make The Most of It Find Positive Reasons to Stay This first point is to do with a change in your mindset, rather than trying to change your circumstances. A research study from 2004[ii] interviewed unhappy couples about why they stay together. They found that couples whose only reasons to stay together were barriers to leaving were much more likely to end up divorced. So you need to try and find positive reasons to stay together, rather than thinking you have no choice. For example, wanting to stay in the marriage because you believe that God values your marriage and values your efforts to stay together is a better way of thinking about things than only staying together because you believe divorce is sinful. That’s putting a more positive slant on the reason for staying. This slight shift can have a big impact. It's Better Than Divorce Couples may be able to take comfort from the fact that staying together is often better for you than divorce. A research study from 2002[iii] found that, even in unhappily married couples, divorce generally did not increase their levels of happiness or life satisfaction. So sticking together and working on issues is often the best thing to do. Don't Disengage Couples in an unhappy marriage often end up withdrawing away from each other.
Apr 03, 2019
When Your Spouse Doesn’t Share Your Faith
Most times when Christian podcasters take up a topic like this we tend to get preachy about not entering into an unequal yoke, where you have a Christian marrying a non-Christian. While we fully agree with the truth of Scripture on that subject, in this episode we want to look at this issue more from the perspective of how to best face this issue as a couple when you find yourselves in a marriage where you don’t share your religious values, or even don’t share convictions about your faith to nearly the same degree.  Religious Values Are Good For Marriage Just as a quick disclaimer around terminology — we are born again Christians who believe that salvation is faith in Jesus Christ. We believe that Biblical Christianity is a faith, not a religion. In other words, the blessing that God has for Christians comes through faith in Christ, not through a set of religious practices, law-keeping or following a set of rules. Which translates into the fact that we don’t think of our faith as a religion, nor do we normally call our faith-based practices “religious practices”.  However, in the research literature, nearly all studies lump anything to do with God or faith under this term “religion” or “religious views” or “religious practices”. So for the sake of keeping things simple, we are just going to roll with the most commonly used terminology in the research journals. To start off then, there is strong evidence that religious views and spirituality have positive effects on marriage. There are a number of reasons for this[i]: Christianity promotes positive values like love, faithfulness, patience, forgiveness and kindness, all of which are good for marriageChristianity also encourages positive behaviors, such as putting your spouse's needs before your own, resolving conflict positively, and regularly connecting through joint prayer and church attendanceChristianity teaches that marriage is sacred, meaning that those with religious beliefs are more likely to remain faithful and committed to the marriage over their whole lifeChristians often have stronger support networks than non-Christians (from their church communities), giving them more people to turn to for support and guidance All of this means that when both spouses are of the same faith, and both place high importance on their religious values, marital satisfaction is normally high[ii]. When Your Religious Beliefs Don’t Align Misaligned values can occur when one spouse is very committed to their faith and the other isn't, when one spouse is religious and the other isn't, or when spouses are committed to different religions. All of these situations can impact the marriage, but probably not for the reasons you would expect. Reduced Positive Behaviors Now just note as we go through this that we are dealing with studies of the general population. So I’ll say something like, non-religious people will probably display less actions that are good for the marriage. Note the tentative language: “will probably”. Please don’t be offended if you are non-religious — we are reporting on statistical issues here and you may well be an exception. We acknowledge that there are highly religious people who are terrible marriage partners. And we acknowledge that there are non-religious people who are devoted, loving and magnificent spouses.  We aren’t making global statements. We are just pointing out general trends in a population. If you are an exception, great. If you are not, I hope you’ll make some room to consider what the research is saying and think about how you might apply this thing to your marriage, as we do to ours. Generally, spirituality leads to attitudes and actions that are good for marriage. If one spouse is non-religious or less committed to their faith, they will probably display less of these attitudes and actions. This was tested by a research study in 2015[iii], who interviewed couples where one spouse placed high importance on thei...
Mar 27, 2019
When Your Spouse Has Let Him/Herself Go and You Are Not Attracted
Today we navigate the thorny territory of physical attractiveness and what happens when you feel like you’re just not attracted anymore. The answer to this dilemma is maybe not what you would expect! So you’ve been married a while, maybe twenty years or more. And maybe you’re finding that your spouse is settling into middle age and no longer taking care of themselves physically. And you still love them, but you’re finding it harder and harder to be attracted to them, at least on a physical level. This is a common enough challenge. Does Physical Attractiveness Affect Marriage? Research generally shows that there is a link between how attractive you perceive your spouse to be and how satisfied you are with the marriage[i]. This effect is generally much more pronounced for men than for women. Probably because we are socialized that way. What happens as couples get older? Husband’s perception of their wife’s attractiveness appears to remain important, but this factor becomes less important for women over time. Here are three studies that looked into this issue: Meltzer et al[ii] in 2014 found that for the first 4 years of marriage, physical attractiveness of your spouse was a strong predictor of marital satisfaction for men, and a less important predictor for women. Murstein & Christy[iii] back in 1976 investigated the same thing in middle aged couples who had been married for between 10 and 20 years. The physical attractiveness of their wife was still an important predictor of satisfaction for men but the reverse was not true for women in this age group. This was also true for older couples who had been married for 30+ years  according to Peterson & Miller,  in a study from 1980[iv]. So attractiveness does remain important on some level throughout marriage, normally moreso for the guys, but not always. What about when one spouse becomes less attractive or "lets him/herself go"? Couples normally rate themselves as being equal in terms of attractiveness at all stages of life[v]. This means that a young couple might both decide they are not supermodels or anything but they are both a solid 7 out of 10. Maybe 20 years later they give themselves a 5. Maybe in their golden years a 2 or 3 — but generally in a couple each spouse will give themselves an equal score to their spouse.  However, when this was not the case and one spouse lets him or herself go or becomes less attractive in their spouse's eyes, the researchers noted that this normally does not impact marital quality[vi]. That comes as a bit of a surprise, right? Let’s look at it in a bit more detail. How Is Attraction NOT Linked to Marital Quality? The reason declines in physical attractiveness tend not to impact marital quality is that attraction is based on much more than physical appearance. Attraction to your spouse is partly physical but is also strongly determined by the levels of intimacy in your marriage, the emotional connection between you, the quality of time spent together, your attentiveness to one another, the level of support your spouse offers, your self esteem, the frequency of sex and other relationship factors[vii]. In other words, attraction is a multi-dimensional experience. This makes sense, of course, although I think the truth of this is obscured in a pornified culture. In a pornified culture you are led to believe that the most attractive person offers the best sexual experience. In reality, a lifetime of developing all these beautiful facets of marriage (emotional, spiritual, relational) are what culminate in the best sexual experience.  That is a lovely concept and a true one that we should all strive for. But the flip side is also true: that if you are less attracted to your partner, while you may have fixated on their physical appearance, it is much more likely that the overall marital quality is just not there. In other words, you are frustrated with your spouse, or resentful, or disappointed, or upset.
Mar 20, 2019
How Shift Work Impacts Marriage And What To Do About It
More than 1 in 6 people regularly work shifts outside of the normal Monday to Friday work week[i].  In today’s episode we want to look at some of the unique challenges that shiftwork can bring to marriage. And not only the challenges but how you can work together as a couple to make the most of life even when it is hard to see each other due to one or both of you being involved in shift work. About 17% of workers regularly work in shifts outside the regular work week[ii]. Lots of folks have learned to make this work and we know a number of friends and family members who have been long term shift workers and have had successful marriages over the long term. However, it definitely presents some challenges and can lead to increased conflict. Let’s begin by looking at some of the problem areas associated with shift work and marriage. How Shift Work Affects Marriage Shift work can create a unique and extreme form of work-family conflict: where the roles and responsibilities of your job and your marriage start to negatively impact each other. Shift work can affect marriage in three main ways[iii]: Competition: this is where the two roles of career and family life compete for your time and energy so that you have to sacrifice parts of one in order for the other to function well. In shift work this normally means the family life has to suffer so that you can continue to function at work. Shift work typically disrupts normal sleep patterns making it harder to spend time with your spouse and family. Poor sleep can also harm your mood, energy levels and physical health, which can reduce the quality of the time you do get to spend together. If you’ve been working all night you might now always be in the best mood to chat when you get home! Spillover: this happens when low mood, fatigue and other negative effects spill over from work to home, or from home to work. In shift work this often happens when tiredness and low mood from the job are brought home, leading to negative interactions with your spouse at home. Negativity at home can then spill over into the work life, creating a cycle. Compensation: this is where you invest more in one of your roles to compensate for the fact that the other role isn't going well. For example, people whose marriages are not going well may invest more into their work and derive their happiness and satisfaction from their career instead. Some research[iv] suggests that people in distressed marriages sometimes seek out shift work in order to avoid facing their spouses and dealing with their marital problems. This of course leads to further distancing and breakdown in communication. Now, these impacts do not have to happen. They are not inevitable. But they are some of the common challenges that shift work presents to marriage. And any or all of them can happen at the same time. Your Shift Pattern Matters What is interesting to note is that the overall impact on marriage depends very much on what your shift pattern is. "Shift work" in the research can mean anything from occasionally working weekends to consistently working nights or anything in between. Generally research finds that all forms of shift work can have a negative impact on areas of marriage such as overall happiness, positive interactions, levels of conflict and sexual satisfaction[v]. But different kinds of shift work were found to have different levels of impact. These are, from least impactful to most: Weekend workFast rotating shifts (eg 3 days nights followed by 3 days daytime work)Slow rotating shifts (eg 1-2 weeks working nights followed by 1-2 weeks working days)Long-term night shifts The faster rotating shifts make it easier for couples to get into a rhythm and still see each other fairly regularly on a week by week basis, whereas the longer rotating shifts and night shifts make regular time together much harder.  Shorter shift patterns are also less disruptive to the
Mar 13, 2019
Here’s The Best Thing You Can Do After a Fight With Your Spouse
Having a fight with your spouse is a stressful, upsetting experience that can leave you bewildered, frustrated and feeling stuck. In this episode, we want to give you a straightforward strategy that you can use to help break yourselves out of a downward spiral of increasing conflict and unhappiness. The Issue: Rumination and Negative Cycles A single argument is unlikely to have huge negative effects on a marriage. The problem is that after an argument couples tend to ruminate over it for a long time. You might keep going over and reliving the arguments in your minds, causing you to feel upset and angry with your spouse all over again. Sometimes you will get "stuck" in this rumination to the point where a single fight can continue to affect you for a long time afterwards[i]. That’s an issue because this leads to negative reciprocity. Meaning, next time there is the possibility of conflict, one or both of you are still feeling angry about the previous fight. You therefore react more strongly to the current issue and you may bring up past hurts as well, causing the conflict to escalate. Perhaps your spouse says something hurtful or brings up a past annoyance, and you retaliate in kind. This happens more and more as time goes on[ii]. Don’t miss this point: this pattern of negative rumination and reciprocity has been identified as the biggest reason that marital quality declines over time as a result of conflict[iii]. It’s not the fight itself that damages your marriage: it’s the way you hold onto the hurt and keep bringing it up again and again. Rumination and holding on to past hurts also has negative personal consequences such as low mood, higher stress levels, higher blood pressure and reduced physical health[iv]. So it has cascading effects to other parts of your wellbeing. The Best Thing To Do After a Fight: Break This Negative Cycle Stopping this cycle of rumination and reciprocity lets the negative feelings end when the fight ends. This means that the negativity and upset stop affecting your mood and will not influence how you react next time a potential conflict situation arises. Letting go of rumination also makes it much easier to make up with your spouse and resolve the conflict issue[v]. You will not always be able to prevent conflict from happening, but by breaking this cycle you can "draw a line" after it happens to ensure it does not keep affecting you. Ok, you’re sold: now, how do you do this? How To Break The Negative Cycle 1) Cool Off Immediately after a fight our brains tend to be in self defense "fight or flight" mode, which makes thinking calmly and rationally very difficult. That’s the normal physiological response to a distressing event. To compensate for that, give yourselves time to cool off before you come back together to resolve the issue[vi]. For Christian couples, prayer can be a good way to help cool off from an argument as well. Research has shown that this can also make conflict resolution easier[vii]. Praying Through Conflict Once again we’ve created a bonus guide for our much-appreciated supporters. This one looks more closely at how you can use prayer to strategically intervene in the conflict you’re experiencing by bringing you a healthier mindset, calming yourself down, and finding the wisdom you need in order to reconcile. You can get this by becoming a patron of The Marriage Podcast for Smart People. Get the Guide! 2) Reappraise The Conflict The best way to stop yourself getting stuck in rumination and bitterness is to think back over the argument from a different perspective and reappraise what happened. A research study from 2013[viii] tested this by training couples to imagine what their argument would have looked like if a neutral friend was watching them. Here’s what they taught their study participants: "Think about this disagreement with your partner from the perspective of a neutral third party
Mar 06, 2019
How To Help Your Husband Through His Man Cold
Today’s episode is on the lighter side. But did you know that researchers have actually done studies on the phenomenon of the man cold or man flu? You may be wondering if it’s really worse for a man to have a cold than for a woman? Well: like we say every time, we have the research, the truth and the answers you’re looking for! That’s right, today we’re going to be talking about the very serious and culturally under-acknowledged and deeply stigmatized issue of man colds.  Do Men Suffer More Than Woman? Funny enough, there have been a few research journal articles published on the man cold or man flu phenomenon. There was a joke article published in the British Medical Journal where a researcher tried to establish whether men were immunologically inferior or if they were just wimps. Fast forwarding to the conclusion, the researcher from the University of Alberta suggested that “Perhaps now is the time for male friendly spaces, equipped with enormous televisions and reclining chairs, to be set up where men can recover from the debilitating effects of man flu in safety and comfort"[i]. Another Research Group Responds Not content to let the issue lie, another group of researchers (who perhaps had too much time on their hands)[ii] wrote in to the British Medical Journal with their own investigation. "Being men ourselves, and having had several near death experiences enduring the flu, we were intrigued by the same question as Dr. Sue." In their study 15 men and 15 women were injected with a flu virus and their responses were measured. They found that women have a stronger immune response to the virus than men, meaning that women naturally recover from colds and flu more quickly while men suffer from them more severely. "We indeed found that the male subjects did not erect shelves, maintain cars or attend a football match (or engaged in reproductive activities for that matter) directly following [our] study, illustrating how inflammation may affect social life.[iii]". So some (not all) research shows that men may experience cold and flu symptoms more severely. But they may also communicate their illness in different ways. A study from 2018[iv] found that men and women "moaned and complained equally" when ill with cold symptoms but that men had a tendency to sigh and take long deep breaths more often. This perhaps suggests a tendency to exaggerate symptom severity. Overall research suggests that men may experience cold and flu more severely due to women having a stronger immune response. I think this warrants some sympathy! How To Help Your Ill Spouse It is interesting to follow this gender issue further. We’ll give you some practical info to help be that caring wife that you always wanted to be! Get Him To The Doctor! Men are much less likely to seek medical help regarding illnesses than women[v], or may seek help but do so much later once symptoms have gotten worse. This is thought to be due to "traditionally masculine beliefs" about wanting to cope with illness on your own and being reluctant to seek help. So if your husband is complaining about illness but refusing to do anything about it, get him to a doctor! Be Sympathetic, But Not Too Sympathetic This one is interesting. Research from 2018[vi] found that your expectations of how severe an illness will be can actually impact how severe it is. Expecting an illness to be very severe can lead to negative mood and anxiety, and these can increase the severity of the symptoms you feel. So when comforting your spouse you want to be sympathetic and supportive, but making too big a deal of the illness can make it worse. A Health Check for your Marriage Once again we’ve created a bonus guide for our much-appreciated supporters who are sensitive to the immunological vulnerabilities of men and understand they truly need a little extra care. Turns out that your physical health is linked to your marital health so we want to help you with a m...
Feb 27, 2019
How Losing a Child Impacts Marriage
Thankfully, losing a child is a relatively rare event. However, this tragedy still happens to some in our world. And one of the common concerns I hear expressed is concern for the marriage of those who have lost a child. There seems to be a real perception that couples who lose a child are more likely to experience the failure of their marriage. We explore the research on this today and then turn towards helping each other through the grief. Many people and researchers describe losing a child as the hardest thing a couple could go through[i] and we certainly would agree with this. How Losing a Child Impacts Marriage Bereaved parents experience intense and overwhelming grief at their loss, and have to cope with substantial changes to their life, their role, and their relationship. Parents have to deal with their own individual grief as well as attempting to comfort each other and deal with the changes to their relationship. This is a subject we wanted to address here but we have to be up front that we have never been through this ourselves. Others have and there are helpful blogs and articles on the Internet from those who speak to this issue from a very personal place. Our approach here is different: we wanted to look at the research and see what happens not just in the life of this couple or that couple, but across the experiences of many marriages to see what could be learned. Losing a Child Doesn’t Increase Divorce Rates There’s no doubt that this loss can potentially have a huge impact on marital quality, but research finds no link between the loss of a child and marital stability. So the idea that losing a child makes divorce more likely is in fact a myth[ii]. But it can definitely impact marriage in other ways, such as:Increased strain and conflictReduced communicationDistancingReduced sexual functioning Despite the extreme grief of losing a child, not all couples experience these negative outcomes: setting the grief and loss itself to one side for the moment, some couples end up stronger as a result of a tragedy like this. This is partly down to situational factors (things outside the couple's control, see below), partly down to how the couple grieves, and partly down to how strong the couple were before the loss. Situational Factors Cause of death: we want to be cautious about comparing the cause of death knowing that each case is so unique. But generally, losing a child in sudden or violent circumstances such as accidents, homicide or suicide is much more distressing to the marriage than other causes such as illness or stillbirth[iii]. Age at death: the older a child is when they die, the more the parents have invested in them and formed strong bonds with them, so the harder their loss impacts them[iv] Other children: having other children can be a source of comfort when one child is lost, and provide a continued sense of purpose for the couple[v]. However, it can also increase the strain on the couple as they have to care for their surviving children at the same time as dealing with their own grief[vi]. State of The Marriage At The Time of Loss The quality of your marriage prior to the loss can impact how you cope with the loss, for good or bad. For example, if your marriage has been child-centred, you may not have nurtured a strong bond between yourselves and so probably start the grieving process more alone. Hopefully, you would both be able to recognize the need to turn towards each other during a time like this. But pre-existing strains and conflicts before the loss of the child can also lead to couples coping poorly with the bereavement. Couples who struggled with poor communication and conflict prior to the loss are unable to properly comfort and support each other during the grieving process, and so end up becoming distanced and non-communicative rather than facing the problem together. This can lead to a breakdown in the stability of the marriage[vii]
Feb 20, 2019
The Abusive Wife
The classic domestic abuse scenario is a husband beating his wife. I think almost all of society gets that and understands it’s wrong. Then you have husbands that are emotionally and psychologically abusive: people are still struggling to accept this as a form of domestic violence, but more and more are understanding this is a severely devastating problem for a wife. But today we are going to cover the least well known and least understood situation: the abusive wife. As it turns out, women are capable of the same mindset and actions that abusive men are capable of. How Common Are Male Victims of Abuse? It turns out this is a difficult question to answer as abuse towards men is underreported and underbelieved (yes, I just invented a new word there: what I mean is that when a man reports abuse he is not as likely to be believed as a woman reporting the same). What do we know about the stats? A research study from 2008[i] found that 19% of reported domestic violence cases involved a male victim. Another study from 2010[ii] found that for every 1000 people in the American population, 3.8 women and 1.3 men will be victims of partner abuse each year, making female victims of abuse roughly three times more common than male.  However, these stats do not give the whole story. Western society is still fairly patriarchal in the sense that men are assumed to be in a position of power over women in most contexts, including marriage. This means that abuse is normally thought of as an abuse of that power, inflicted by men upon women. The idea that a woman could physically or emotionally abuse a man does not fit with this worldview that the man is the powerful head of the house[iii].  This means that men will very rarely admit to being victims of abuse, for fear of humiliation, being labeled as cowardly and weak, or not being taken seriously. The fact that very few men admit to being abuse victims leads much of society to think that it does not happen, making it even harder for male victims to be taken seriously[iv].  Many Reactions Are Unhelpful In addition to being a hidden, shame-inducing problem, men who do come forward about abuse from their wives are often ignored, disbelieved or even suspected of abuse themselves when they do come forward. Since much of society views abuse through a patriarchal lens, the idea of male victims is inconceivable. This means that for male victims, their family and friends may not believe the abuse is really happening, or downplay how serious it is. This can also happen when men take their allegations to social services or to the police. Research from 2004[v] found that 35% of abused men were ignored by the police and 21% were arrested themselves, since the police assumed the wife must have been attacked herself and acted in self-defense. With this issue of under-reporting and disbelief in mind, a large study from 2014[vi] reviewed over 200 studies and concluded that abusive wives may in fact be just as common as abusive husbands. What Does Female-Perpetrated Abuse Look Like? Abuse directed at men can take many forms and is in most ways very similar to abuse directed at women. A study from 2004[vii] interviewed 100 abused husbands and found all the different types of abuse were present: Physical abuse: men reported being kicked, threatened with weapons, burned or scalded, stabbed, and other forms of violenceEmotional and psychological: verbal abuse, belittling, threats and aggressionSocial: controlling where the husband goes, not letting him see other people or not letting him interact with the childrenEconomic: denying access to food/money etc Since abuse is largely the same regardless of gender, all the mind games, manipulation and control issues that apply to abusive husbands also apply to abusive wives. Psychological impact on abused men is also similar to its effect on women, but with an added component of shame at being a victim of
Feb 13, 2019
How Generosity Could Transform Your Marriage
Who knew that something as generic as generosity could transform your marriage? It has the potential to increase marital quality, make conflict resolution easier, increase your own happiness, help you to see other people’s perspectives, decrease divorce risk... Basically, make everything better except for my poor finger... Today, we’re offering some variety! I (Caleb) injured my finger and while it is not exactly life threatening (like such horrors as a man cold), I am not supposed to type. Sooo, this week Verlynda has gone through the research and written up this episode. Wasn’t it just last week we had an iTunes review asking for more input from Verlynda? Well, here you are! Ok, let’s get into the topic of generosity. What Is Generosity? Bear with me while we go through some boring definitions, but they really do lay the foundation for looking at how generosity affects marriage. Marital generosity is defined as "giving good things to one's spouse freely and abundantly[i]". Generosity is considered a "marital virtue": a character trait and personal strength which naturally leads a person to act in ways that are good for the marriage[ii]. More practically speaking, within marriage, generosity can be seen as investing in the relationship with behaviors such as putting your spouse’s needs above your own, and freely giving of your time, effort and energy without any thought of personal gain[iii]. What Effect does Generosity Have on Marriage? I think it’s obvious to say that generosity will have a positive impact on marriage. What I thought was neat though, was it had a positive impact both for the person acting generously and for their spouse. This is a win-win! Generosity often feels good and satisfying personally. It also increases your spouse's happiness and makes them more likely to act generously in return. So even though generosity shouldn't be motivated by personal gain, people do still benefit from it. Here’s a blurb from the research: generosity increases marital satisfaction for both spouses, reduces marital conflict and is negatively correlated with risk of divorce[iv]. These effects are true for both husbands and wives but are normally more pronounced in women. So, who wouldn’t want to add a little more generosity into their repertoire? Generous acts also serve to protect the marriage from stresses such as financial pressure. A study from 2018[v] found that a husband's levels of generosity mediated the link between economic hardship and his wife's levels of marital quality. Here’s something about generosity that I found really interesting. Generosity is related to specific acts that a person does for their spouse, but it is also a state of mind which affects how they see and relate to the world[vi]. Both aspects are important. First, let’s talk about the acts or behaviors, and then we’ll look into the mind piece. Acts of Generosity Here are four key ways that the research[vii] gives to show generosity to one’s spouse. These are: small, everyday acts of kindness expressions of respect displays of affection willingness to forgive These four kinds of generosity were linked to higher marital satisfaction for both spouses, reduced conflict and reduced divorce risk. Generosity and the Love Languages Once again we’ve created a bonus guide for our much appreciated patrons. This week we’re looking at how to practically inject more generosity into your marriage, taking into account the love languages you and your spouse respond best to. If you want to make sure your generosity really hits the mark then you’ll want to pick up this guide. You can get this by becoming a patron of The Marriage Podcast for Smart People. Get the Guide! Household labor! This is another important area that marital generosity impacts. Research from 2012[viii] found a link between generosity and willingness to share household and childcare labor. Deciding to share these jobs fairly (rather than doing them out of obliga...
Feb 06, 2019
When Others Don’t See Your Spouse as Abusive
When a spouse is being abused, one of the challenges they may have to face is that other people around them may not believe that they are being abused. When this happens, there are even fewer resources available to empower the person experiencing the abuse. Let’s look at how this happens and then what to do about it. We wanted to bring this topic forward today because social support is a vital support for helping women recover from all forms of abuse[i]. However, when a woman is in a genuinely abusive situation and her support network do not understand the severity of the problem, then she feels even more isolated and stuck in the abusive relationship[ii]. Often the abuser is pretty slick and he has maybe convinced others — even her own family — that’s she’s having mental health issues or is just not stable or not rational. So you can imagine how profoundly trapped a woman might feel in this kind of situation. It really shakes her core sense of reality and truth. We hope that with this episode you’ll have some real clarity and also a bit of plan for how to navigate your way through this. What Is Emotional Abuse? We have covered the definition of abuse before, but a quick review of the main factors of emotional abuse is in order[iii]: Threats: these can be overt threats to harm you, your children or your family in any way. It includes threats to withhold basic needs: food, healthcare, financial support, safety, etc. Control: control or placing restrictions on your life. This could include things like depriving you of sleep, denying you access to friends, support, money, food or transportation. Destabilization: ongoing intimidation, insults, degradation or trying to convince you that you are inferior and undeserving of better treatment. One-off instances of these behaviors are not necessarily a sign of emotional abuse. A study from 2013[iv] states that for these actions to cross over from bad marital behavior to abusive behavior then it must reoccur repeatedly, without the abuser showing any sign of responsibility for or awareness of the issue. Common Mistakes Others Make Even counselors may not always see the abuse for what it is. A study from 2010[v] gives a helpful list of reasons why therapists may miss identifying abuse, and these are reasons that other people in your support network may be prone to as well: Failing to recognize that emotional abuse is an act of violence just as physical abuse is. Not having an understanding of patriarchy, power and gender can lead to blindness toward abuse. Holding you in any way responsible for your husband’s pervasive pattern of abuse In the context of helping someone see the abuse you’re experiencing, you may need to educate them on one or more of these issues. Referring them to articles such as ours on abuse, or giving them good books such as “The Verbally Abusive Relationship” by Patricia Evans or “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft may help them begin to see the issue. On the other hand, if you come from a family where all of the men operate in a patriarchal mindset it may be impossible to involve them as resources in your support network. Instead, you may choose to turn to others who already are better prepared to understand the abuse and confront it alongside you. Why Do Others Not See the Abuse? They Only See the Good Abuse normally occurs in a simple cycle. You have a period of abuse followed by reconciliation and then a honeymoon period where the abuser is especially kind and loving. Since the actual abuse is normally only done in private, other people only see the honeymoon phase where the abuser appears to be a perfect, even doting, spouse[vi]. Mind Games and Justification Abusive husbands are often very good at belittling their spouses, damaging their self-esteem and convincing them that the abuse is their own fault. Abused women can often be so disoriented by suffering abuse from the person they love that they end up rationalizing or...
Jan 30, 2019
When Your Spouse is in Victim Mode
In today’s show, we’ll dive into the nitty gritty of victim mode: what’s really happening and why people even go there. If your spouse or if you yourself ever fall into victim mode you’ll also learn how to deal with it so that you can find healthier ways of relating to one another and overcoming the challenges that life brings. What is Victim Mode? Victim mode or victim mentality is where a person going through difficult situations views themselves as a helpless victim unable to do anything about their circumstances. People with victim mentality blame other people or outside forces for their suffering and believe they are helpless to prevent bad things happening[i]. Understanding Victim Mentality To understand the victim mentality you have to understand the concept called locus of control (LOC). Internal LOC means that you believe you have the power to affect situations and circumstances. When you have this internal LOC you know and understand that your actions determine how successful you are with regards to the life challenges that arise. An external LOC means that you tend to see other people or random chance as being the driving forces in your life and you likely believe you have little power over them. Victim mentality is linked to an external LOC: people with this mindset believe that bad things happen to them, and while they are not to blame, they are also powerless to do anything about it[ii]. If your spouse struggles with this, s/he also is likely to have very anxious and negative views about themselves and the world around them. Your spouse probably believes that bad things happen specifically to them, that their situation is uniquely bad, and that attempts to help them will fail[iii]. This can lead your spouse to be passive and apathetic about solving their problems and instead expecting other people to "rescue" them. Probably you. Victim Mode Becomes Self-Fulfilling This mentality can often create situations where the person in victim mode ends up becoming a victim. Think of it this way: if someone expects bad things to happen, and thinks there is nothing they can do about it, they will make no effort to prevent bad things from actually happening… since it is what they were expecting all along. Now you have a greater risk of victimization and the belief is reinforced because the greater probability of victimization means something bad is more likely to happen. Not only is it self-fulfilling, but when people in victim mode ask for help, they will often reject other people's attempts to help them. They see their situation as hopeless so dismiss any suggestions of how to solve the problem or even react with hostility[iv]. This causes the person who was attempting to help them to withdraw, leading the person with victim mentality to conclude that they were right all along and they cannot be helped. This is where you as a spouse may really find yourself running into a brick wall: you cannot even help your spouse help him/herself. Then There’s Secondary Gains This is level 2 kind of stuff, so we’re going deeper here. I often ask folks in counseling — when they’re doing something that appears to be unhelpful — “How is that actually helpful for you? if you set all judgment aside for a moment?" A couple researchers that studied this argued that people often unconsciously keep themselves in victim mode because there are some hidden benefits that come along with the unhappiness it brings. In other words, it kinda works or helps in a unique way. For example, acting like a disempowered victim may lead to a spouse showing more affection and attention as they try to comfort the victim. Or, believing yourself to be powerless may mean that you don't have to accept responsibility for the harm you are causing yourself/others. These are referred to as "secondary gains": the beneficial things that come as a result of bad things happening to you. Note that this is all subconscious: people with victim mentality aren't delibera...
Jan 23, 2019
Coming to Terms With Your Unexpected Pregnancy
Did you know that one-third of all childbirths in the USA are as a result of unexpected pregnancies[i]? Now: that is not necessarily unexpected with regards to married couples — that’s just unexpected across the entire population so that’s in any relational context. Still, it’s a huge percentage. Unexpected Pregnancy Woes and Blessings There is quite a variety of ways unexpected pregnancy can affect a couple: both positive and negative[ii]: Reduced mental health (especially for the mother) Lower quality relationship with the child Lower quality relationship with spouse Negative impact on the mother’s career trajectory (having to quit a job or take reduced hours) However, many couples also experience positive outcomes from the pregnancy such as: Increased happiness Increased relationship quality Increased self-worth and sense of meaning in life You can see that these outcomes are the opposite of each other. So there are lots of personal and marital factors which can determine whether an unexpected pregnancy becomes a positive or negative. I don’t doubt that in some cases there are also a mixture of positives and negatives. The question becomes: how can we make this a positive? Transition to Parenthood If it’s your first, becoming a parent is the start of a major new life role, which will drastically alter your life and your sense of who you are[iii]. This can be difficult even for planned pregnancies, but when the baby is unplanned then this shift in role may be something the couple doesn't want or feel ready for. Women may, for example, feel like becoming a mother will impact their chances at a career or get in the way of other life goals. You May Feel “Role Overload” The unexpected new role of being a parent can also lead to a feeling of "role overload" where the couple feel like they have too many roles to cope with, leading to stress and unhappiness. It’s like you’re juggling all these responsibilities- parent, spouse, bread-winner and so on- and it becomes nearly impossible to balance them all. A research study from 2009[iv] found that this feeling of role overload mediated the link between unplanned pregnancy and satisfaction with being a parent. So preventing role overload by sharing out the different tasks, or by dropping some of your less important roles for a time, can improve couple's satisfaction with their new role. Preparing for Your New Role If it is the “role overload” that you are particularly feeling, our bonus guide will help step you through all that so that you can begin to break it down into manageable chunks and figure out what will or will not work. It just helps you take the overwhelm and tackle it as a couple. You can get this guide and worksheet by becoming a patron of The Marriage Podcast for Smart People. Get the Guide! Preparation Helps Preparing yourself mentally and practically for the new parenting role is also essential. A study from 2017[v] found that taking women with unplanned pregnancies through a maternal role training program helped them to accept and find satisfaction in their new role. The program involves practical training on caring for the baby, breastfeeding, and looking after your own health during and after pregnancy. So learning the skills helps, but there’s an emotional component to readiness too. This training program from the study also included asking the mothers to imagine and role play interacting with their new baby, to help them see themselves in the maternal role. Being able to envision themselves as mothers, as well as learning the practical skills to be good at it enabled these women to take satisfaction and find joy in their roles as mothers[vi]. Pay Attention to Finances Work and Finances Unplanned pregnancy can put a strain on finances, due to the mother often needing to quit her job or work less hours. Additional costs around caring for the baby and possibly even needing to move house to accommodate the newborn are also po...
Jan 16, 2019
Relational OCD
Today we’re going to be looking at relational obsessive-compulsive disorder — a condition that I was only made aware of in the last year first through a friend. Relational Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a sub-type of OCD in which a person experiences “obsessive preoccupation, doubt and compulsive behaviors focused on one’s romantic partner[i]”. People with this condition report uncontrollable thoughts or obsessions about their relationship to their romantic partner and this can be very distressing and draining. What Is ROCD? ROCD or Relational Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a condition where you have repeated uncontrollable thoughts or obsessions either about your relationship with your spouse (or fiancee or boy/girlfriend) or else you have those thoughts about the partner themselves. Because of these thoughts, there are also certain actions or compulsions that arise in order to try to satisfy or calm those obsessive thoughts. Any time you have OCD in any form, the O is the obsession. That’s the uncontrollable thought. And the C is the compulsion, which is the nearly involuntary behavior to try to satisfy the thought. The classic example for OCD is hand washing. So the obsession is with germs or cleanliness and the compulsion is to try to keep washing them to satisfy the thought. When it comes to ROCD, there are two main types[ii]: Relationship-centered: obsessive doubts about whether the relationship is working, whether your spouse really loves you and fears about being with the wrong person. This could occur with a fiancée or boy/girlfriend but we’ll just talk about spouses from now on. Partner centered: obsessive thoughts about possible flaws in your spouse, or constantly comparing your spouse to others (often with regards to flaws) So those are the obsessions. The compulsive behaviors that follow are actions a person feels they need to take in order to reduce the anxiety caused by the obsessive thought. Often the behaviors may be mental acts like checking or reviewing in your mind whether you really do feel in love with your spouse. Maybe you’ll list their good qualities or make yourself remember positive experiences or you may perseverate over their flaws. You may also compulsively read marriage books or listen to marriage podcasts (*cough*). There can also be verbal compulsivity where you talk extensively to others about your spouse in order to attempt to soothe the obsessive thoughts or even constantly reviewing the pros and cons of your relationship with your spouse or else constantly asking your spouse if s/he loves you. How Does ROCD Form? ROCD often forms when a person is considering a major relationship commitment, such as getting married or having their first child. When most people experience doubt around these kinds of major commitments, they are able to deal with the doubts and anxieties fairly quickly and without undue distress. But some people end up over-estimating how important and significant these doubts are. They assign tremendous value to them. People in this situation believe that their doubts and worries are highly significant, and so feel the need to deal with them using compulsive actions (such as mental checking, reassurance seeking and so on). A mental link (or, neural pathway) therefore forms between the obsessive thought and the need to perform the compulsive action (e.g., when someone worries if their spouse is right for them, they feel the need to mentally compare their spouse to other men/women or seek the opinion of others). The more a person uses the compulsive action in response to the obsessive thought, the stronger the neural pathway becomes and the harder to get off it. So why can some people deal with these doubts easily while others fall into ROCD? Well a research study done in 2013[iii] identified several predisposing factors which make a person more likely to enter this cycle include: Perfectionism: the belief that your relationship or your spouse n...
Jan 09, 2019
How And When To Tell Your Wife About Your Porn Addiction
When I work with married guys who want to break their porn habit they generally fall into one of two categories. Either their wife already knows or else she has no idea at all. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a husband whose wife knows but doesn’t care if he stops or not. In any case, if you’re in that latter category and you know you need to disclose this problem to your wife then today’s episode is for you. Let me just say right off the bat that over the last 10 years the number of women using porn has drastically increased. So we could have just as easily titled this “How and When to Tell Your Husband About Your Porn Addiction” but it is still the case that the majority of users are male. And probably an even greater majority of undisclosed users are male. So please pardon on the male references. Much of what we have to say today would apply just as well to a wife disclosing to her husband for the first time. Should I Tell My Wife? The short answer is: yes! In our broader culture over the past decades porn was viewed as something normal and harmless. I think some folks still holds this view but in recent years the research has consistently shown that porn use has a wide range of adverse effects on marriage, on the people using the porn, and the people who are in the porn industry. Not all - but many of the actors and actresses are victims of human trafficking and have other very challenging issues they are facing on a daily basis. We talked more extensively about how porn impacts marriage in a past article/episode but just to recap and summarize, porn use results in: Reduced marital satisfaction Reduced commitment, possibly leading to increased risk of infidelity Reduced sexual satisfaction Reduced intimacy On top of that, the consequences of keeping the addiction a secret can be just as damaging as the addiction itself. Keeping parts of your life hidden from your spouse, the shame that surrounds the secret, and the fear of being discovered, all erode at the trust and intimacy between a couple. A research study from 2009[i] found that this secrecy creates a "crack" in the marriage bond, which is then likely to widen as the husband's shame and fear cause him to emotionally withdraw. So leaving the issue a secret can have harmful consequences. Finally, telling your spouse is an essential first step in change. Keeping it a secret promotes the cycle of shame[ii], where shame and negative feelings compel you to want to use porn to feel better, which creates further shame. This cycle gets harder and harder to break out of unless you tell someone about it and admit to needing help. Can I Just Tell Someone Else? That’s a valid question: you understand that this disclosure is going to hurt her the most. I do think you need to bring one or two same-sex friends into your confidence and learn to be open and honest with them. But at the same time, it is your wife who has been betrayed by your actions. She has the right to know that the most important person in her life has betrayed her. We had this discussion recently among our counseling team. Is there ever a situation where it makes sense not to disclose? One possible situation is if either of you is on your death bed. Not only is there the shattering impact of loss right in front of you, but also the loss of who your spouse thought you were. That creates some profoundly complex grief to sort through and may just not be fair in a situation like that or if you are in the middle of some other major crisis. Timing may be an issue. But the fundamental components of having a happy marriage are things like commitment, loyalty, and trust. You cannot keep a pornography addiction secret and hope to simultaneously excel at those three things. Not only that but keeping the pornography use secret — even if she never asks about it — is an act of dishonesty. It is my belief that dishonesty is morally wrong. In our Christian faith,
Jan 02, 2019
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the Impact on Marriage
The Adverse Childhood Experiences study was a huge research study conducted in the USA that has traced the impact of very difficult childhood experiences into adulthood. For those who have faced these challenges, we want to explore what the potential impacts are in marriage and how to best respond so that you can create or keep a happy, content marriage. Adverse Childhood Experiences The ACE study wanted to explore the effects of childhood abuse and neglect on later life. It included over 17000 participants and further follow up studies continue to add to the original findings[i]. The study looked at ten different forms of adverse childhood experience (ACE), split into three categories: Abuse Neglect Household challenges Under abuse they looked at emotions, physical and/or sexual abuse. Under neglect they looked for emotional and/or physical neglect. And there were five household challenges: Mother treated violently Substance abuse in the household Mental illness in the household Parental separation or divorce Household member incarcerated Initial Findings Almost two thirds of the surveyed adults reported at least one ACE, and more than one in five reported three or more ACEs. ACEs are also often experienced together- if you experience one of the ten factors you are much more likely to have experienced at least one more[ii]. So how do these early experiences impact the rest of your life? ACEs are found to lead to a huge range of negative outcomes in adult life including damage to physical and mental health, dangerous or unhealthy lifestyle choices, and reduced life potential. Now we need to unpack the impact of ACEs a little more but I want to pause to make a point first. Our goal here is not to point out damaged goods or to make anyone feel like they are somehow permanently emotionally crippled or, in the context of our marriage podcast, that they will make a terrible spouse. Not at all. There are as many wonderful people with ACEs as there are without. However, by acknowledging the potential impact of ACEs, at least now a couple knows how and why some of the current challenges may have developed and they can create some specific and targeted goals for healing. Allow me to illustrate from the physical realm. Imagine I had a set of challenging and unexplainable physical health problems. After a lot of struggle and problems and doctoring it came out that I had been drinking from a polluted water source. Now I know that I need to stop drinking that water and also find out what was in the water. Once I know that I need to understand what the pollutants were and how they have impacted my health. And then I can take steps towards dealing with those symptoms in order to restore my health. Same with ACEs. Once I understand that my present struggles are tied to my childhood experiences, I can begin to face those things in order to pursue healing. The ACE Pyramid One of the things the researchers discovered is that there were a potential set of negative changes that built one upon another. They charted this out as a pyramid because you have many people at the bottom and few at the top. In other words, the further up the pyramid you go the less likely you are to be affected unless you’ve had very severe ACEs. The base level of the pyramid is the adverse childhood experiences themselves. The next level up is disrupted development. So children with ACEs experience poor physical and mental development due to abuse, trauma or neglect. The next level from there is social, emotional and cognitive impairment. Some of those children as adults will manifest poor coping skills, attachment disorders, mental illness, and cognitive impairment. Next, some of them will go on to adopt health-risk behaviors. Risky behaviors such as smoking, alcohol use or promiscuity. Often adopted as coping mechanisms to help them survive the difficult circumstances they find themselves in.
Dec 26, 2018
Couples Living With Extended Family
In the US, living with extended family is increasing. 31% of children in the US now live with at least one additional adult in the house, as well as their parents- normally a family member. 10% live with one or both grandparents in the house[i]. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits and challenges this brings to marriage and how to make the most of it if you do have family living with you. Living with extended family is becoming more common in the USA, probably in Canada as well, but in other cultures this has been the norm for a long time. Families from China, India, and most of southern Europe frequently live in multi-generational households[ii]. Families from these cultures living in America are also more likely to have more of the extended family living in the home with them. Additionally, economically disadvantaged families are more likely to live in extended family households: for example if a young couple can't afford their own house they may remain with parents. Just remember that sometimes “economically disadvantaged” in this context can also mean people who are doing just fine financially but they live in very, very expensive cities. So what are the upsides and downsides of living with family or having family live with you? Financial Benefits or Consequences of Living With Family The issue typically is based on practical matters. Living with extended family can have either positive or negative consequences for the amount of resources available to the couple. On the one hand, couples can benefit from having extra income coming into the house from other people's jobs or pensions, which can reduce financial strain and increase quality of life. A research study from 2011[iii] found that having extended families living together can help couples better manage financial difficulties, especially in more economically deprived families. Having grandparents or other family members around can also provide other resources such as childcare, practical help around the house and emotional support. Many couples living with their parents find that having mum and dad at home with them can be a real help during times of crisis or instability On the flip side, it is equally possible for extended family to be a drain on the couple's resources under different circumstances. Having extra adults in the house who aren't contributing to the household income can increase financial strain. Equally, having to care for elderly parents or having to live with siblings or other family members who you don't get along with can be emotionally draining. Under these circumstances, marital happiness is likely to suffer. Another potential impact of the financial side is if you as a couple are depending on the financial resources of others you may end up with less independence as a result. For example, if you are relying on financial help from your parents, your parents may expect to have a say in how the house is run or even on where you spend money on renovations or decorations. This can lead to frustration and conflict[iv]. Relational Impact of Family in the Home What about relational impact? Just like with the financial situation, extended families living together can either be good or bad for the bonds between you all. Many couples find that having parents or other family members with them can strengthen the bond they have with them: they are able to see them more often and connect on a more meaningful level through seeing themselves as part of the same family unit[v]. In our episode on child-centered marriage and why it’s bad we saw how a family is like a system where one good relationship has positive effects on all the others. This means that having good relationships with the others in the house naturally makes the marriage bond stronger.  But the reverse can also be true. Having to share the same space and having to share practical tasks (housework, caring for elderly parents/young children) can create tension and conflict,
Dec 19, 2018
Working Through Betrayal Trauma
Discovering that your spouse has had an affair or has in some way been sexually unfaithful is often an extremely traumatic event. You’ll feel like the boundaries of your marriage have been violated, your trust in your spouse has been destroyed, and even your own identity has been shaken. Betrayal As Trauma The first thing we want to do is just confirm that a betrayal can represent trauma. Trauma has been happening since the dawn of time, but as a psychological concept, I think the Vietnam war really put it on the map as veterans came back and many of them with the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And for a long time trauma was considered something that happened mainly to war veterans, often police officers and other first responders. Not to make light of any of what those men and women go through in service for our freedom and safety, but we have also come to realize that trauma is actually an even more widespread experience. Think, for example, of the core elements of trauma from war: near-death experiences (or having witnessed others die suddenly), feelings of overwhelm and helplessness, or when too much happens too fast and too soon. Well, in a relational context if you consider your marriage a safe zone — and you should, if your marriage is healthy — and then all of a sudden you find out that what you thought was safe is actually very unsafe and threatening through the disclosure of an affair, as an example, then you have trauma. You have too much happening too fast and too soon. Your world implodes, you may even feel that your safety is incredibly threatened — do I have an STD now? There is often overwhelm as your world crumbles and a feeling of helplessness because you cannot undo what has already happened. The disclosure of betrayal then quickly shakes the foundation of your life and marriage, leading to symptoms of trauma similar to what veterans experience[i]. Betrayal Trauma Symptoms and Effects Viewing betrayal as a trauma event can prepare you to make sense of the effects. It helps you understand what you are feeling and why. So let’s look at four of the major feelings and effects. Grief The betrayed spouse can feel an intense sense of loss following an affair. They feel that their marriage and their life as it was is now gone, and go through a grieving process. These spouses may also feel a loss of innocence, loss of safety, loss of purpose and loss of self-respect following an affair[ii]. Confusion The betrayed spouse has to deal with the "unnerving experience of feeling as though one has not the foggiest idea who this person is to whom one had pledged oneself in a committed relationship[iii]". Since marriage is such a core part of a person's identity, they may also be so shaken that they start to be unsure who they really are. This can lead to a state of emotional turmoil due to the rapid experience of all kinds of emotions (anger, sadness, hopelessness, fear, vulnerability etc) Reactivity Going through traumatic events such as betrayal often leads to high levels of emotional reactivity[iv]. Individuals who have gone through trauma often react very strongly to any trigger or situation that reminds them of the trauma. They can also have trouble regulating their emotions generally, leading to emotional outbursts, mood-swings or over-reactions to minor problems[v]. This is not meant as criticism but just to normalize that these kinds of behaviors are really just cascading effects of having gone through the profoundly difficult experience of betrayal trauma. Trust Betrayal can destroy all sense of trust between spouses so that trusting each other on little things becomes difficult. This means that conflict over little things is also much more likely, as the betrayed spouse can no longer trust that their husband/wife is being honest and has their best interests at heart[vi]. Often the lies and secrecy that surround an affair can be just as damaging as the act itself (if not more so),
Dec 12, 2018
Is Your Own Sexual History Dragging You Down?
Sometimes sexual guilt can be a real drag — acting like a wet blanket not only on your sex life with your spouse but also even dampening the joy you find in your marriage. And most Christian couples don’t feel like they can just throw off their moral boundaries in order to bypass the guilt. So it’s easy to get stuck. Today we want to help you get unstuck. Sexual History and Guilt If you feel that in some way, at some time, you have violated “proper” sexual conduct then you are likely experiencing sexual guilt[i]. Actually, sex guilt is not unique to Christians or even religious people, but there is indeed a link between strong religious views and feelings of sex guilt. Causes of sex guilt for Christians include: Premarital sex: either with the person you are now married to or with past partners Sexual activity other than sex that you consider “going too far”: again, either with your spouse or with previous partners Affairs Beliefs: there are some very strict or conservative Christians who develop some belief that sex is sinful in itself and so feel guilty about having sex or feel guilty about their sexual desire. It turns out that guilt around these issues, especially premarital sex, is a lot more common than you may expect. In one study of churchgoing young adults, 70% reported having had premarital sex. Within that group, 80% regretted and felt guilty about their sexual history[ii]. A Couple Caveats We’re not here today to help you feel good about what you have done when those actions have gone against your own moral boundaries. We would like you to know and experience forgiveness and peace and to have relief from guilt — but that comes from God, not from us. We also feel that that the best sex happens within moral boundaries as outlined in the Bible — and in other episodes, we have shared the research that backs this up with hard evidence. And the last caveat is that we also want all of our listeners to know — in keeping with what we’ve just said — that it is possible to have strong moral boundaries around sex and an extremely satisfying sex life. It is not mandatory if you are Biblically conservative to also be sexually repressed. Shame vs. Guilt Let’s take a moment to differentiate between the feelings of shame and guilt. Guilt is the belief that you have done something bad, or committed a sinful act. The negative feelings it creates are specifically tied to the action or behavior. In some ways, guilt can actually be useful since it draws your attention to something you have done wrong and motivates you to try and fix it (or at least not do it again). Being prone to feeling guilt is linked to acting in a good and moral way[iii]. For the most part, guilt is a useful, healthy, adaptive emotion. Shame, on the other hand, is more all-encompassing. Shame is the belief that you yourself are sinful, or that you are a bad person[iv].  Research from 2007[v] defines guilt as "our conscience telling us we have done something wrong. If we go through the process of rectifying the wrong, then we feel better and our guilt is relieved. With shame, on the other hand, our whole being is at fault. Shame makes us feel condemned to our very core." Unlike guilt, shame does not motivate people to try and right their wrongs or to act in a morally good way. Instead, it can create withdrawal and a sense of hopelessness, as the person believes they are permanently tarnished or damaged. I often say that guilt says “I did something bad” and shame says “I am a bad person”. Guilt is about behavior. Shame is about identity. Sex can lead to guilt when you believe you have done something wrong: for example, premarital sex. But it can also lead to shame because people who have lost their virginity often feel like their "purity" or their whole worth as a husband/wife is permanently gone. Since it affects your entire view of who you are, shame is much harder to get rid of, and more psychologically harmful than guilt[vi].
Dec 05, 2018
Things To Think About Before You Start Making Babies
So the transition from just the two of you into a family is a big one! I know when we were wondering about starting a family it was really challenging to try to think through all the things one should be aware of. Well, we want to take away some of the mystery today and help you make an informed, prepared decision so that you can move into this new phase of marriage with greater confidence and awareness of what lays ahead. It’s Common Not to Feel Ready Actually, less than half (44%) of couples expecting their first child feel ready for becoming a parent. And then once the child is born, the number who feel totally prepared and confident drops to 18%[i]. Meaning that lots of the couples were wrong when they thought they were ready! To me, this is kind of like me getting on a roller coaster. I feel a lot of uncertainty and then as we go up the hill of pregnancy it gets scarier and scarier and then you have the baby and it’s like, “Woah, this is way scarier than I thought!” But that’s just me — I wasn’t a huge baby or kid person before we got married and so really felt like I was figuring that whole thing out from scratch. I think it’s good to mention this just so that we normalize the fact that most of us feel unprepared but we still end up doing just fine. Maybe there are others listening today and they feel ready and that’s great too. So we are not here to scare anyone off but just to come alongside you and say that it’s normal to have some butterflies and encourage you through this part of your journey. There are a number of things to consider and I think it’s important to talk through these with your spouse and just connect at that deeper level as you talk about your fears, uncertainties, and doubts. That will strengthen your bond as you come to this new phase of life. Common Challenges When Becoming a Parent No doubt about it: having kids is tough. Almost all couples with newborn babies experience challenges such as[ii]: Sleep deprivation Dealing with the child's feeding, crying and sleeping difficulties Reduced time for yourself and for other responsibilities Reduced ability to leave the house and see other people (especially for the mother) Financial costs around new clothes, feeding, setting up the baby's room, etc. Additionally, a significant minority of parents (20%) have to deal with more severe sleep or feeding difficulties which can put even more strain on them. In some parents, this leads to high levels of stress and reduced mental health. Around 22% of new parents show some symptoms of depression and 15% show symptoms of anxiety[iii]. Again, we’re not trying to worry you here. Just be aware that if you’re finding the transition to parenthood difficult, you definitely aren’t alone. How Babies Impact Life and Marital Satisfaction So let’s look at how parenthood impacts your marriage and your life overall. Research typically finds that day to day life satisfaction is reduced in the first years of parenting, due to having more demands, less free time, etc[iv]. Marital satisfaction can also decrease, due to having less time together, higher stress levels, and reduced sex[v]. So there is a real impact on marriage and we unpacked this in more detail back in episode 51. However, don’t let this discourage you from moving forward with starting a family! Overall life-satisfaction is almost always increased by becoming a parent: the pleasure and meaning you take from raising kids increases your satisfaction, sense of purpose and feeling of unity with your spouse. So new parents should expect a short-term drop in their day-to-day quality of life/marriage. But the long-term rewards of becoming a parent normally outweigh the difficulties[vi]. Are You Ready for a Role Change? Part of transitioning into parenthood then becomes about making sure you are mentally prepared for changes in your roles in life. Where in the past you may have been able to pay a lot of attention to being a career man or woman,
Nov 28, 2018
Betrayed by Your Husband? 5 Things You Need to Know
You have just discovered your husband's pornography addiction or the other woman. Your safe world or life as you know it has shattered/come crashing down. We want to provide you with some essential truths and tips/strategies for coping with this sudden devastation and also talk about what you can expect of yourself in the moments and days immediately following betrayal. Today I’m happy to introduce you to Sharon Snooks. Sharon is an Associate Therapist here at OnlyYouForever. She is a Registered Social Service Worker in Ontario Canada and Sharon has a real passion for working with clients who are recovering from trauma. Of course, betrayal is one form of trauma and so I will often refer betrayed wives to Sharon and her work with them has been very much appreciated. So today Sharon is going to sharing five things betrayed wives need to know when they are confronted with the very real, very raw emotions and the profound impact of betrayal. Let’s jump in here by just setting the stage a little. We’re speaking mainly to wives, although some of this could be translated to betrayed husbands too, and to wives who really have just discovered their husband’s betrayal and are staggering under the shock and really feeling like their world has been shattered. Maybe just give us a quick overview of what you’re going to cover and then let’s dive in! We’re going to look at what you can expect from yourself in the immediate aftermath of this discovery, what is normal including betrayal trauma reactions and first steps in your healing journey including creating safety - a safe place and setting boundaries and basic self-care. Betrayal is a deeply traumatic experience: your life is going along as normal and then suddenly there’s a big discovery which changes everything. This discovery becomes a turning point: you think about your life before the event, and how things are different afterward. With infidelity, your view of your life, and of who your husband is has to totally change. This change becomes a real threat to your sense of safety and you begin to feel a sense of hopelessness. My first message to the betrayed wife - it is not your fault! You could not have prevented this - husband is responsible for his behavior. It’s normal to feel dumb - how could I have missed this? Some wives even start to feel like they’re going crazy due to the overwhelming shock of the discovery. On top of that many people will start to look back on their life in the run-up to the discovery, and interpret things through this new filter of “my husband betrayed me”, which totally changes how they see things. You start to question everything you thought you knew about your life. It’s normal to trust your spouse. It isn’t normal, in a healthy marriage, to scrutinize everything your spouse does as if they might have an affair. So the way you acted up until the discovery was perfectly normal. You were living a normal life, and are now in abnormal circumstances. You couldn’t have seen it coming. Another thing it’s really helpful to look at is betrayal trauma symptoms. Knowing what these are, and what to expect, can help validate this experience. Trauma has physical, emotional, behavioral, and even spiritual effects. Physically it can stop you sleeping, and create feelings of nausea. Emotionally, it can either create extreme feelings of anger or lead to a sense of numbness where you don’t really feel anything. Grief is also a factor: wives grieve for the marriage and husband they thought they had. Worry is also a huge issue as now you start to wonder how your life is going to look now. On the behavior side, many women withdraw from their social circle due to the embarrassment and shame around an affair. Mentally you often end up feeling flooded and drained, just being overloaded by every thought in your head. Spiritually, some wives struggle with feeling betrayed by God: if you believe you married the right person, who God wanted you to marry,
Nov 21, 2018
How Your Theology Impacts Your Sex Life
Today we’re exploring the intersection between theology and our sex lives as married couples. These may sound like very disparate topics, but in reality what you believe about God, and what you think the Bible says about sex, will have a big impact on how much - or how little - pleasure you get from God’s great gift of sexuality. This particular episode was recorded when Verlynda was recovering from pneumonia, so it is a conversation between Caleb Simonyi-Gindele and Jesse Schellenberg. A summary of this conversation follows below. So what do your beliefs about God and the Bible have to do with your sex life? Well, I think a lot of couples feel like the rug has been pulled from under their feet when it comes to sex: in today’s culture everything is permissible, everything has the green light. So how do we as Christian couples respond? A lot of Christian couples may have questions about sex, and what is and isn’t permissible: are sex toys ok? Is anal sex ok? And the general answer is that it really depends on how you feel about these things in light of what the Bible teaches generally about sexuality. The Bible does give some clear guidelines: is what you’re doing respectful? Is it honouring? Is it mutually enjoyable and physically safe? These principles will guide you towards what is healthy and helpful for your marriage and what is not.. Talk About Sexuality At Church Overall, the Church hasn’t done a great job teaching about Christian sexuality. For the most part it has not given people a healthy sense of sexuality. Sex is a fundamental, biological gift from God, and yet we never seem to talk about it in Church. On rare occasions, we do teach about sex, the lessons we get usually only amount to 1) don’t be gay, and 2) sex is bad if you do it before you’re married. That’s all we get. And then on your wedding night, you’re expected to just flip this switch and suddenly transform into a healthy sexual being after having denied your sexual feelings for decades. That sometimes doesn’t work so well! So I think it’s important to start creating a more healthy dialogue about sex within the Church. We just need to start talking about it! And then we need to start referring back to the actual biblical principles about sex. Talk About Sexuality At Home Sometimes people are uncomfortable talking about these issues, and their objection often boils down to “I’ll have to talk about sex with my kids”. But that’s good! Have those conversations: talk to your children about this fundamental part of being human: sex. Of course, filter it to the age and understanding of your children, but these discussions should be a normal and healthy thing. Kids are smarter and more aware than you think! What about between yourselves as a couple? Many couples find it hard to talk to each other about these issues. How can we deal with that? First, we need to attack the idea that talking about sex is dirty or taboo. This mentality is unbiblical and creates a culture of shame. We need to orient ourselves around what God says about sexuality. God could have had us make babies any way he wanted. And he chose this way and declared that it was good. And if God says that sex is good, who are we to go against that? Our first commandment was to be fruitful and multiply. A sexual commandment. We’re made in God’s image. So that’s a rousing endorsement that sex is good! So if you want to have better sex, talk to your partner and don’t feel ashamed to do so. Maybe you understand that, but still find it hard to talk about sex with your spouse. If that’s the case, instead maybe start by talking to your spouse about those feelings of shame around sex. Your spouse has already probably picked up on it and may have some of the same feelings. So start by talking about that issue and go from there. Sometimes “talking about talking about” something can be a good way in. It’s also really important to create a healthy lifestyle around sex.
Nov 14, 2018
Four Ways To Create More Intimacy In Your Marriage
Today we revisit the topic of creating more intimacy in your marriage. This is actually a replay of episode 108. We don’t normally do replays but Verlynda is in the hospital with pneumonia today. I am glad to say that she is recovering, but, boy does that pneumonia ever hit hard. So, please keep her in your thoughts and enjoy this show from a couple years ago. If you really want to build more intimacy in your marriage – and who wouldn’t??? – here are four ways to do that. Take the time to hear, and digest this. 1st Way to Build Intimacy: Intimacy is Built Through Disclosure and Responsiveness Given that intimacy itself is purely emotional, let’s put a nice, sterile definition on it… Intimacy is what happens through interactions of self-disclosure and partner responsiveness to disclosure. This process is believed to develop feelings of closeness between the speaker and the listener.[i] Gotta love it! Perhaps the definition that Caleb uses will be easier to understand. He says that intimacy is really like “Into Me See”. When I let you see into me and you respond appropriately, and when that is reciprocated, you get intimacy – That’s what deepens love. So, the first way that you can increase the level of intimacy in your relationship is through disclosure and responsiveness, or doing the “into me see” thing. Husbands, Caleb has some words of wisdom for you. When you let your wife see your emotions, that creates far more intimacy than when you let your wife just see facts and information about you.[ii] It’s cute and fun and worthwhile for you to share that you got a bike for your sixth birthday. However, when you tell her how you felt after you fell off your new bike and your dad got all mad at you for scratching it, that will create greater intimacy than just telling her you got a bike. Again, when you complain about the guys at work, that’s fine. You need to share. When you tell her you’re afraid of losing your job though, and that you’re carrying this fear around like a dark cloud in your heart, that will create intimacy far deeper than the facts regarding your work situation. Wives, the same deal goes for you. You need to be connecting emotionally with your husband. Intimacy is built up when I let you see into my emotional world. That’s very vulnerable. The flip side of this is that when your spouse shares an intimate detail with you: you have to respond. You must, must, MUST acknowledge it. Even if all you can think of is “Wow, I never knew that”, then just say, “Wow, I never knew that”; or “Thank you for sharing that with me – that’s really special.” Something, please! It’s not just enough to share: responsiveness needs to happen too. 2nd Way To Build Intimacy: Intimacy is Built Through Knowledge and Understanding There is a great study from 1998 which is worth mentioning, even though a lot of couples have already figured this out. First, couples who are better at predicting each other reported greater feelings of marital intimacy.[iii] That’s just saying that couples feel more intimate if they know each other well. Become a student of your spouse! Intimacy in marriage comes from knowing and understanding each other. There is a positive cycle that happens here. When you accurately understand and know a person, that will lead to greater trust. You trust the people you know best (assuming that the knowledge is positive…). When you have that greater degree of trust, you feel safe to be more expressive of your inner world of emotions and thoughts. In other words, you become more vulnerable and you’re more willing to self-disclose. Then what? That leads to more knowledge and understanding between the two of you, and more predictability and then there is more trust. And what happens when there is more trust? Intimacy! It’s a brilliant positive cycle. This is why marriage should keep getting better and better. So, you can build intimacy by increasing your knowledge and understanding of each other,
Nov 07, 2018
The Top 10 Rules for Fair Fighting
Every marriage has conflict. As we often point out, it is not so much how often you fight, but rather what you do when you fight and afterward. Do you repair after conflict? Do you work together during conflict to get to the bottom of issues? Today we have 10 Rules to help you fight fairly. Fair Fighting Since we have so much emotionally and relationally at stake in a marriage, I think it is easy to forget that we need to be decent towards each other when we fight. In the Bible, Proverbs 18:19 says "A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city…” and this could as easily apply to a wife or husband. As soon as you actually offend your spouse it really entrenches them into their position. We think that if we use stronger words or language they are more likely to capitulate. That doesn’t work. As always, when coming to this topic Verlynda and I didn’t sit down and just pick 10 things out of the air. No, we asked our researcher to go into the marriage research journals and see what he could find. He came up with three studies from 1989 to 2016[i] in which married couples were asked to list rules they thought were important dating with conflict. Hundreds of rules were reported and these were then grouped into common themes by the researchers. From these themes, we developed these 10 rules for fair fighting. When followed by both spouses, all 10 rules will help you resolve conflict between you more easily and will improve your marital satisfaction. They are not in any particular order: you will probably notice that you as a couple already do some of these, but you may hear some that you haven’t tried or don’t use often enough. Rule #1: Be Respectful This one is fairly self-explanatory: show respect and love for your spouse even when you disagree. But think about how you do that: Don't be rude Avoid name calling Try to keep calm Don't escalate things when you feel threatened Being deliberately hurtful or aggressive makes conflict much worse and creates a like-for-like cycle where both of you just try to retaliate when your spouse upsets you[ii]. Being calm and respectful allows you to resolve the conflict quickly, without it damaging your bond of intimacy. This theme of being considerate of your spouse, even during conflict, was by far the most important rule found in the research, accounting for 26% of the total variance in whether conflict resolution was successful or not[iii]. It is probably worth asking your wife or husband: is there anything I can do to be more respectful of you when we’re in conflict? Rule #2: Say What You Are Upset About (Concisely) Be direct in stating what you are upset about, and why[iv]. Vague hints, passive aggressive comments and saying "I'm mad at you" without explaining why do not lead to effective conflict resolution. State what the issue is plainly and concisely, eg "when you do X I feel Y". Many of the couples in the studies thought that being concise and getting to the point was a very important part of conflict resolution[v]. Doing so allows you to get the issue resolved first time, rather than leaving things unresolved and creating resentment. Knowing what you are upset about and expressing that will help you to get to the bottom of things. Rule #3: No Ultimatums This is about times when one spouse tries to force another to do what they want, eg "If you don't do X, then I'll Y". But it can also be when one spouse forces the other to deal with an issue totally on their own terms, eg "You have until tonight to deal with X or I'll be really mad" or "I don't care if you're tired from work—we have to deal with this NOW". Threats and ultimatums are unfair- they place too much focus on your own needs, while making your spouse feel cornered and forced into doing what you want (rather than actually agreeing with you)[vi]. This kind of behavior destroys trust and intimacy and creates a lot of resentment. Instead, aim to express your concerns in a way that is firm bu...
Oct 31, 2018
A Husband’s Guide to Ejaculatory Control
According to one source, 75% of men ejaculate within two minutes of penetration. At the request of one of our patrons, we went into the research literature to see if this time period could be extended. Not surprisingly, 88% of men have some concern over ejaculating too quickly and almost all men (99% in one study) use some kind of strategy to delay ejaculation. So if it’s something that basically all men worry about, is there anything that can reliably help?    A Quick Primer on Ejaculatory Control In case you were wondering, ejaculatory control is the ability to control when you orgasm (for men). There’s also the term ejaculatory latency which is the time between penetration and ejaculation. Perhaps the best-known term is premature ejaculation. It is not always a clearly defined term but it indicates that ejaculation is either happening too soon or sooner than you want it too, or in a way that affects the quality of sex for you and your wife[i]. So by one definition, premature ejaculation is only a problem if you and/or your wife feel like it’s affecting your sex life. Well 88% of men report some concern over ejaculating too quickly, so we want to look at some strategies to use in this regard. There are a lot of different ideas floating around about what works and what doesn’t, some of which get pretty strange. So let’s try to sift through all the rumors and heresy to try and figure out what the research says actually works. Strategies to Use Let me say a couple things before we jump in here. First, this is a complex issue. So maybe think of today’s episode as a primer and know that sex therapy really is a specialty in the counseling field. Remember that we are really working on ejaculatory control today and not so much on premature ejaculation itself. There are books and resources and therapists who can really dig into that issue with you: we are more aiming at husbands who are doing OK during sex but feel that they could improve the sexual satisfaction in their marriage if they had more ejaculatory control. Second, stay with me to the end because we’re going to go a couple layers deeper on everything at the end. Third, while some of these strategies seem pretty simple, this can actually be a really complex issue. OK let’s get into some of these. More Sex A research study back in 1984[ii] found that there is a link between long periods of abstinence from sex and a lower ejaculatory latency. Longer periods without sex cause men to ejaculate at lower levels of arousal. So more regular sex can help with the ability to control or delay ejaculation. This is where it gets complex right off the bat because if you haven’t been having great sex due to this issue, your wife probably doesn’t want more of the same sex. So while we titled this “A Husband’s Guide” this is where it becomes apparent that a problem like this is best faced as a couple to talk through what is going on and find a way forward. Medication for Ejaculatory Control Various medications exist to enhance ejaculatory control, such as the pill vardenafil and the spray PSD502, both of which have research demonstrating that they increase ejaculatory latency and overall sexual satisfaction[iii]. Use of these medications can also increase confidence and reduce anxiety about performance, which is often just as important. Apparently, they do sometimes come with some minor side effects such as headaches or indigestion. So if it’s really affecting you, going to a doctor and getting something prescribed could be a quick fix. Distracting Thoughts Perhaps on the more humorous— or disturbing — end of the spectrum are the use of distracting thoughts. A study in 1997[iv] studied ways men try to delay ejaculation during sex. 74% of men in the study utilized distracting thoughts to delay ejaculation. 65% of these were "sex neutral" thoughts about things unrelated to sex such as work. One participant reported "singing the national anthem in his head" as a strategy.
Oct 24, 2018
How To Break Out of The Same Old Arguments
The same old arguments … the same old cycle. In the marriage counseling world, we call these negative interaction cycles. The topic or concern or issue may change but it’s usually the same pattern: one spouse is more demanding or trying to get a response and the other avoids or dismisses or withdraws. And then it escalates from there. Today, we’re going to help you get started on breaking out of this pattern! The Three Cycles There’s really just three kinds of cycles. The most common is where one spouse is pursuing or demanding or attacking; the other spouse is avoiding, dismissive or withdrawing. Sometimes called the attack-withdraw or demand-withdraw cycle. The second is where both spouses typically go on the attack. The third is where both spouses avoid. Let’s break these down a little bit. The Demand-Withdraw Cycle In this form, one spouse (classically the wife, although occasionally I see this in reverse) tries to engage in a discussion about an issue that is important to him or her. They will typically make demands or apply pressure. The automatic response of the other spouse is to avoid, dismiss or withdraw from the discussion[i]. This often leads to escalation, as the demanding spouse feels ignored or unheard and so has to resort to increasingly strong forms of attack in order to try to break through the defenses. Unfortunately, the withdrawing spouse, in the face of an intensified attack, will often double down on the defense and withdraw even more, often stonewalling the attacker. This will continue until either the attacker gives up which is a profoundly lonely moment for him or her, or until the withdrawer explodes. This style of conflict is not good for marital satisfaction (no surprise there). The Mutually-Hostile Approach In this approach, typically both spouses are pursuers or attackers. You respond to criticism with further criticism and with a conscious or subconscious agenda to provoke an angry response. As you might expect, this often escalates and usually just becomes an anger-venting, cathartic experience rather than one that actually solves problems and resolves conflict[ii]. While this may be a more frightening approach to conflict, and certainly doesn’t do much good for either of you, it is at least easier to break out of than the common demand-withdraw pattern. Simply because both spouses want to express themselves (which is helpful) and work on the issue at hand. It simply becomes a matter of figuring out a more productive way to do so[iii]. Avoid-Avoid The third pattern is where both spouses are avoiding or are naturally withdrawers. In this situation, there’s no major overt conflict and no screaming matches but typically nothing ever gets resolved. Unfortunately, this leads to a buildup of resentment as all these unresolved issues grow and grow[iv]. Now it is important to note that your style may change. For example, if you started out your marriage avoid-avoid you may eventually find one person transitions to pursuing. Or both of you get so frustrated that you become mutually hostile. One shift I see more commonly is in the demand-withdraw cycle (the common one we began with), the pursuer gets burnt out. Then they often come in as an avoid-avoid situation in therapy and when we do our history and assessment work at the start I soon begin to see that it used to be demand-withdraw but then eventually the pursuing spouse got burnt out. All of these cycles are more common in couples whose marriage is distressed: if things are going badly and there’s a lot of tension and unresolved anger then falling into a negative cycle is much easier. As you’d probably expect, each of these cycles creates further distress in the marriage[v]. Breaking the Pattern If you want to drill down into some detailed tactics on breaking out of these patterns then our bonus guide for today’s episode will show you how to do that. You can get this by becoming a patron of The Marriage Podcast for Smart People.
Oct 17, 2018
About Showing Honor To Your Wife (1 Peter 3:7)
There are a constellation of marriage-promoting behaviors packed into the Biblical instruction for husbands to honor their wives. Today, we’re launching from a simple phrase in the Bible that instructs husbands to show honor to their wives to demonstrate how a host of research-backed findings are encapsulated in this truth. Our podcasts are not sermons — I am a professional marriage counselor, but in serving my church community and affiliation I do get involved in a fair bit of preaching. Today, we’re going to be looking at how one Bible verse — actually, just a phrase or part of one Bible verse — can be unpacked into a host of marriage-promoting behaviors. It’s another example of how the Bible holds some practical, life-changing truth. In this case, the phrase is an instruction to husbands to give or “Show honor to your wife” and is found in 1 Peter 3:7. Respecting Your Wife Within marriage, honoring your wife is meant to be an unconditional act of showing value to her because of the place she has in your life. While respect is earned, honor is given. And in this case given because of her role, not because of what she does. The challenge then is to give her honor even when it is difficult and even when you do not feel she deserves it. I am not asking you to accept your wife’s misbehavior or to condone or support things she may do that are hurtful or destructive, but part of how marriage is sustained through commitment and loyalty is by this principle of honor. This means that even in difficult times and even with marriage difficulties that you interact with and treat your wife in a respectful, honorable way. Ways to Show Honor What does that look like? Let’s unpack this idea of showing respect a little more and look at how research supports this truth. Faithfulness Being faithful and loyal to your wife is an important part of honoring her. Obviously, this means not cheating on her: that would certainly not be honoring! But there's much more to faithfulness than just avoiding infidelity[i]. Husbands also honor their wives by: Avoiding "emotional affairs”: too much reliance on emotional intimacy with a woman other than your spouse[ii]. Not ogling other women: in real life, on TV, using porn etc. is likewise not honoring or being faithful to your wife, and will have very negative consequences for your marriage[iii]. Genuine faithfulness is about not placing anyone (or anything) else above your spouse (emotionally or sexually) and making sure your spouse gets "the best of you"[iv]. So one way to show honor is through faithfulness. Public and Private Praise Another way to show honor to your wife is through praising her: both praising her when you are alone and when you are in public. Private Praise is Honoring Giving praise and compliments to your wife, and expressing gratitude for what she does, are great ways to show honor. This should be a mix of specific compliments and recognition of what she does, and also praising and admiring who she is[v]. When giving praise, it is helpful to try to keep thinking of new things, rather than expressing the same things over and over, and express it in a way that is genuine rather than forced or rote[vi]. Expressions of gratitude and admiration are strongly linked to higher marital satisfaction, commitment, and overall happiness for both spouses[vii]. Public Praise is Honoring As Well Husbands should also talk about their wives to other people in a way that is honoring: both when the wife is present and when she is not. This not only is a blessing to your marriage and reinforces your positive perspective of your wife, but can also be helpful in preventing extra-marital affairs. Praising your wife in this way includes things like[viii]: Praising and speaking well of her to others Siding with her, not friends or family Siding with her in parenting issues, especially in front of the kids It also means there are certain things you are going to take up in priv...
Oct 10, 2018
I Am a Virgin and My Fiancee is Not
One of the concerns that often comes up in premarital counselling is from a couple where there are different amounts of sexual experience. Even apart from the moral concerns this may prompt are the fears, uncertainties, and doubts of what sexual intimacy may look like when you get married. For those of you that are new to this podcast, Verlynda and I are born-again believers but I’d say we are the non-judging variety, and we come to marriage with the belief that it comes as a gift from God, but we also believe that marriage is for all people, not just for Christians. As such, our podcasts are not preachy and they are usually not even very pastoral. We take an integrated approach between our Christian worldview and current research to bring you the best truth and wisdom for your marriage. But most of our readers are followers of Jesus Christ, and one of the Biblical values that we adhere to is that sex is reserved for marriage. The reason for that is not because God is prudish and likes to take pleasure away from people, but for a few reasons. First, we believe that God gets to set the rules. Second, we believe that the best sex happens in the marriage bed. Or should…that may not be your experience, but the research has shown that happily married couples are indeed having the best sex: moreso than singles or cohabiting couples. Finally, while sex in any context may bring pleasure, we are going to see again today that the only place where loving, consensual sex is most likely to be free of complications is inside marriage. So that’s just a little primer on where we are coming from on this episode. Let’s point out that if you’re virgins and not married, this is another reason why we recommend waiting for marriage. But if you’re coming to marriage and you’re not a virgin, we’re not here to shame you. There are likely to be some consequences but God is a God of redemption and grace. So we’re not here to shame or judge you, just to help you create a thriving passionate marriage. After all, none of us comes to marriage perfect. We all have brokenness. Let’s begin by acknowledging some of the struggles that may come in a situation like this. How Premarital Sex Can Impact Marriage A quick touch of background theory: in social psychology exchange theory is a commonly used way of understanding how people act. And exchange theory views relationships in terms of give and take. The basic premise is that people are happiest when the reward they get from a relationship is higher than what they have to put into it (the cost). When it comes to marriages, sexual satisfaction is determined by four factors: Reward (pleasure, intimacy) Cost (having to do things you don't want, differences in sexual desire or preference) Comparison of rewards (how the rewards of the current relationship compare to past relationships- is sex with your spouse more or less satisfying?) Comparison of costs (how the costs of the marriage compare to past relationships) Now, this is going to look a bit different depending on your past sexual experience, if any. For the virgin spouse there is no comparison to previous partners, so 3 and 4 don't apply: sexual satisfaction is totally determined by the current relationship. Anxiety about lack of sexual experience or about being compared to previous partners may contribute to the "costs" of the relationship for the virgin spouse and make sex less enjoyable initially. For a non-virgin spouse, satisfaction will be partly determined by how the current sex compares to previous partners. This can go either way: if sex was high in reward with previous partners then current sexual satisfaction may suffer, but if prior sex was higher in cost than the current sex (e.g., past partners wanted to have sex in ways you didn't enjoy, or weren't good at responding to your needs) then sexual satisfaction in the marriage may be higher. What we’re acknowledging here is that it is hard to get away from the ...
Oct 03, 2018
Infertility And Its Impact on Marriage
Infertility is the inability to conceive a child after at least 1 year of trying. Turns out about 10% of US couples experience infertility, and of those, about half will eventually conceive while the other half remain permanently infertile[i]. That’s actually a pretty high number: 1 in 10 couples struggle with this issue, 1 in 20 permanently face it. Challenges of Infertility As anyone who is going through this themselves will know, infertility can be a hard thing to live with. I want to begin by normalizing some of the strain that infertility puts on marriages[ii]: Meaning. Many couples see having children as a natural part of marriage, and being unexpectedly unable to do so affects their sense of meaning and purpose in life. Expectations. Similarly, much of society sees having children as the norm, so being unable may lead to disapproval from family and friends, and high levels of pressure to conceive. 83% of couples feel some form of pressure to conceive, most commonly from their spouse or parents, or from friends and other family members. Blame and guilt. The spouse who is experiencing the infertility problems may feel high levels of guilt and shame at the distress they are causing to their spouse Physical. Taking treatment for infertility can be physically demanding and can also lead to sexual performance problems. Financial. Seeking help from doctors can take up a lot of time and also cost a lot. These are real issues. But as far as your marriage goes, it is how you deal with these challenges that determines whether or not infertility will affect your marriage, and the quality of your life overall. Research shows that infertility can negatively impact marriage, but can also bring unexpected positives. 25% of women and 21% of men reported that their marriage had become stronger and they had been drawn closer together as a result of the infertility, and over half of couples can identify at least some benefits to their marriage as a result[iii]. This is the kind of thing that really gets me excited about marriage because here’s pretty much a major life blow and yet it’s in the context of a loving marriage that it can be reframed into some positives. We are going to talk about how to be sure that it turns out to be a positive in your marriage, despite the grief and loss associated with it. However, let’s talk about a couple of the negative consequences first just so we’re aware of some potential pitfalls. Possible Negative Consequences of Infertility Primarily we need to pay attention to the impact on marital and/or sexual satisfaction. Marital Satisfaction and Infertility Infertility sometimes has a negative impact on marital quality. This effect is strongest for women but can also impact men[iv]. Stress caused by infertility can increase marital conflict, reduce self-esteem, and reduce overall happiness and quality of life. Why is this negative effect stronger for women? A study in 1992[v] looked into this and found that for men, the stress of infertility was no different to other forms of marital stress and conflict. But for women, infertility created a different kind of stress that was more rooted in the woman's sense of identity and self-efficacy. Often women have a stronger desire to have children than their husbands, and hold motherhood as a strong part of their identity. So for men, infertility can be a stress that creates conflict and other burdens, but it often impacts women on a deeper level. Researchers also note that stress and marital discord become more likely the longer the infertility problems go on[vi], which is understandable. Staying Strong During Infertility Once again we’ve created a bonus discussion guide for our much-appreciated supporters who are facing infertility. This guide will help you begin to talk through this challenge that you’re facing. Often it can be hard to talk about these things because it’s so sensitive. But having a discussion guide in hand gives you som...
Sep 26, 2018
How Working from Home Impacts Your Marriage
Are you working from home, or thinking about working from home? In today’s episode, we want to show you how working from home could be a real positive for your marriage — but there are a few potential downsides that you need to be aware of too. I’ve been working from home for a few years now, and Verlynda has been for much longer than I so we found this research pretty informative. So does being in the home more help your marriage, or make things harder? Basically, the research suggests that the effect of working from home on marriage/family life is very subjective, depending on the type of work, the circumstances at home, and the personality and actions of the individual[i]. There are both potential upsides and downsides, and it's mainly up to the individual couple to make it work. Work vs. Marriage We did a full episode on work-family conflict but just to recap that quickly, when you are working from home it can be difficult to have distinct boundaries between work and family. You have the ability to deal with some family and marriage responsibilities and privileges during your workday and you also may choose to address some work matters during family time. Sometimes you may even find yourself functioning in both roles simultaneously[ii]. Further, it is easy for stress to spill over from one domain to the other. This carries a potentially negative impact and you can find yourself in a situation where work and marriage are competing for a limited amount of emotional and practical resources[iii]. Downsides of Working From Home (& What To Do About It) The Isolation is Real If you work from home and your spouse does not, it can become very lonely and isolating since you rarely see anyone else during the day. WFH can also result in a smaller social network and less perceived social support since there are less natural opportunities to interact with others. This can potentially lead to over-reliance on your spouse to meet all your social needs. Individuals interviewed during a study in 2004[iv] compensated for this by being more intentional about developing social networks: for example by joining professional support networks of people in similar positions or being more intentional about connecting with friends and family. Certain personality traits, such as introversion, autonomy, and high levels of self-motivation are also helpful (but not essential) in dealing with the isolated nature of working from home[v]. There are definitely certain people for whom working on your own comes more naturally, but most people can still make it work. Where Do You Vent Your Stress? When working from home it is much easier for work-related stress to impact marital and family relationships, since both roles are happening in the same place, possibly at the same time. It is therefore very important that home workers learn to manage stress and learn the skills needed to handle their work responsibilities effectively. A study in this in 2000[vi] identified self-discipline as being the most important trait for successful home working so that you are pointing your stress in the right direction and adhering to healthy coping and stress-reduction strategies. The relationship could also go the other way: stress from the marriage (eg due to conflict) will have much more of an impact on work. Creating a stable, healthy marriage therefore also needs to be a priority for home workers. Caring For Young Children How do children affect this dynamic? Research in 2008[vii] found that for many mothers with young children, working from home could increase their stress levels. The demands of caring for young children significantly interfered with their ability to work and meant that they had no respite from either role since both were based on the home. Family structure could alleviate some of this stress in some circumstances. For example, if both spouse work from home then sharing the childcare could become easier. Likewise,
Sep 19, 2018
Do You Compete With Your Spouse?
Competing with your spouse: is it good, is it bad? Or like us — if you’re playing mini-golf — it’s just plain ugly! At least, as ugly as Caleb’s putting skills… Oh…snap! For some couples, competitiveness is just a bit of fun: even though it may feel like life or death when you’re at the final hole of the mini-golf course, it doesn’t really have much impact on your marriage. But for others, competitiveness is more of a lifestyle thing: you’re trying to compete with each other in all areas of life. Can competitiveness in any form be good for marriage? Two Kinds of Competitiveness There are two different forms of competitiveness as a personality trait.[i] The difference is to do with what motivates you to want to do well. Competing to win: that is about being highly competitive because you enjoy winning and beating other people. At extreme levels, competing to win is called hyper-competitiveness: “an indiscriminate need to compete and succeed at any cost[ii]”. Competing to excel: this is about being highly competitive in order to surpass your personal goals and grow as a person. In effect, competing with yourself. This also gets called personal development competitiveness. Obviously, these are two different kinds of competitiveness that have different causes and will impact marriages differently. While neither style of competitiveness is directly linked to marital satisfaction, each one creates behaviours and attitudes that do have a very real impact on marriage and on other relationships as well. Let’s look at each one in turn. Competing to Excel (Personal Development Competitiveness) Whereas competing to win normally involves being motivated to beat somebody else, competing to excel is simply about individual accomplishment and doing the best you can, irrespective of how you compare to others. Since this form of competitiveness is not dependent on other people losing in order for you to win, it does not lead to negative forms of competition and is positively linked to collaboration and communal connectedness[iii]. Wanting to be your best doesn’t stop other people from being their best too: in fact, it often helps them. Within marriage, this makes couples more likely to adopt a joint perspective and to resolve conflict in ways that benefit both spouses. Competing to excel is also linked to positive personality traits and behaviors which are good for marriage, such as[iv]: High self-esteem Lower rates of depression Higher positivity Higher resilience to adversity and the ability to cope with bad circumstances Higher desire to learn new skills and improve as a person Higher internal motivation, leading to better performance in areas such as work So that kind of competitiveness in marriage is not really something that will typically come between the spouses. It is healthy. And not all couples or even spouses within a couple will have the same level of competitiveness and that’s OK. Competing to Win Competing to win is a little more nuanced. There are still positives here but some potential issues. A desire to win and succeed is a basic human motivation. Some level of desire to win and do well is required to function in most areas of life as it provides motivation[v]. I mean, if you weren’t motivated to do well, you’d struggle to really get anywhere in life, right? Now think about this in a marriage context. Healthy levels of competing to win within a marriage are probably harmless. Likely fun, as well. Possibly even good for marital satisfaction especially if both spouses share it equally. To look at this in a bit more detail, a study in 2015[vi] examined couples who participated in competitive sports as a shared leisure activity. He found that couples who were evenly matched in skill level had high satisfaction with their leisure time, leading to high marital satisfaction. He concluded that these couples would enjoy the challenge of playing against each other and take satisfaction from ...
Sep 12, 2018
Why a Child Centred Family is Bad for Everyone
Is it better to put more energy into your marriage, or should raising your kids properly be your first concern? If you think pouring your everything into your little munchkins is the best way to do things, then this episode may be a bit of an eye-opener for you. We’re going to unpack the relationship between happy marriages and happy parenting and happy kids. And it may not be what you expect to hear. Think of Your Family as a System Let me start with a little bit of psychobabble here but I’ll keep it simple. I want you to think of your little family unit as a system. In other words, it is made up of some moving parts and some groups of parts. The whole family, dad, mom, and children, are one system. But there are subsystems within it. And these subsystems interact and influence one another and the family as a whole. For example, your marriage is a subsystem of your family system. The mother-son relationship is a subsystem. The reason why we need to talk about systems is because it helps us understand that one system can affect another, as well as the family as a whole. For example, the marital relationship can affect parenting relationships, and vice versa[i]. Since the whole family is one system, emotions and actions displayed in one of its subsystems can spill over into the others. For example, a husband who is good at attending to his wife’s needs will naturally be better at looking after his kids too, since similar traits and actions are involved. Equally, a husband who dislikes spending time with his wife and is hostile towards her will tend to be more hostile to his children too since the anger and resentment spill over[ii] For that reason, it’s impossible to think about looking after your kids without also making your marriage a priority. Marital Satisfaction = Parenting Satisfaction Here’s a quote from one study: "A satisfying marital relationship is the cornerstone of happy family life, leading to more positive parent-child relationships and more congenial sibling relationships.[iii]". Another study confirmed a strong link between marital satisfaction and "sensitive, warm and responsive parenting"[iv] (Pedro et al, 2012). This link is one way: marital satisfaction causes good parenting and good parent-child relationships, not the other way around. In other words, you cannot improve your marriage by improving your parenting. But you can improve your parenting by improving your marriage. I really think this is countercultural to a lot of what we see today where there is so much emphasis on pouring all the effort and investment into the children. What this research is showing, and we’ll learn more about this as we proceed, is that pouring effort into the marriage results in real benefits to the children. The reverse is also true: low marital satisfaction leads to poor parenting. Emotionally distant spouses are often less supportive of their children and display less warmth, while marriages high in conflict often lead to more anger directed at the children[v]. Where this is particularly tricky is if you kind of give up on your spouse and pour effort into your children hoping you can redeem things there. I get why folks do that but if it is at all possible, the marriage is what needs your attention. Stepfamilies Are a Slight Exception There is one exception here. Yes, normally good parenting flows from a well-functioning marriage. But in step-families, the relationship actually runs both ways: marital satisfaction leads to better parenting of step-children but forming a healthy relationship with the step-children also creates a healthier marriage. This is because in stepfamilies the step-parent typically does not have a pre-existing relationship with the children. Consequently, she or he has to work at developing a workable relationship with those children in the first stages of the marriage in order to create a stable household. We did a full episode on blended families a while back but it’s worth pointing ...
Sep 05, 2018
Figure Out What Your Spouse is Actually Upset About
Ever get the feeling that your arguments as a couple are going nowhere? Or maybe you find yourself thinking, “There has to be a better way to solve conflict than this!” Well, there is: turns out there are some essential skills that work for both husbands and wives and can actually lead to deeper intimacy rather than lingering resentments. Figuring Out Why Someone is Upset Can Be Hard Let’s just acknowledge right off the bat that it is normal for married folk to struggle with figuring out what the argument is really about. Turns out there are several possible reasons for this[i]: Your spouse may not want to share all that they are actually feeling: due to fear of vulnerability. It can be hard for you to see what emotions they are conveying in the heat of the moment. Especially if you are trying to focus on your own thoughts and opinions. Conflict and arguments tend to move very fast, making it hard to go back and question (with curiosity) what your spouse was actually trying to say. Deeper or core issues often show up as distress about specific issues. It is hard to see past the superficial or triggering issue and get to that deeper layer and really solve the problem. During conflict, you may not even want to see what emotions your spouse is conveying. Both of you are so worked up that you just end up saying negative things and reacting to reactions, rather than actually trying to discern and resolve the deeper issue. All that to say: give yourself and your spouse some compassion and try slowing things down. It is hard to figure things out and it takes patience and commitment. Empathic Accuracy Matters One of the keys to unlocking the mystery of what your spouse is really upset about is this thing called empathic accuracy. Don’t worry, we’ll make this concept easy to grasp: empathic accuracy is your ability to accurately discern what your spouse is feeling, and why[ii]. The reason you need to get good at empathic accuracy is that this skill is central to resolving conflict, forgiving one another, and building overall marital satisfaction[iii]. This empathic accuracy is the skill of learning to understand one another…sometimes you often hear people talk about soul-mates as if it is some magic woo-woo pixie dust that gets sprinkled on a few lucky couples by the marriage fairy. Not so: if you learn to do this empathic accuracy thing, you’ll be well on your way towards that soul-mate experience with your spouse. It is a skill anyone can learn, and the research shows that empathic accuracy increased marital satisfaction because it prompts spouses to respond differently to one another. Instead of blundering about in emotional darkness, think what your marriage would be like if you were really attuned to your wife or to your husband. Dialed into what was going on and able to respond accurately and appropriately. Well, I hope I’ve sold you on empathic accuracy. Now: how to learn this skill? How To Develop Empathic Accuracy Emotional Validation The first technique you need to learn is emotional validation. This is simply expressing the empathy toward your spouse when they are upset or when you are in conflict. Follow me closely here: conflict is often triggered by incidental events or actions, but at a deeper level it is often driven or intensified by an underlying feeling of not being heard. For example, if a wife is upset by something her husband did or said, and he does not acknowledge this properly then she will become more upset. How do we fail to respond properly? We get defensive, we blame the other person, we dismiss or minimize their concerns, or we just don’t know what to do so we stonewall them. When that happens then your spouse will become more upset. At that point, the conflict is no longer about the inciting incident but about your spouse’s need to feel validated[iv]. This is such a key point because you can break out of this by learning validate your spouse’s feeling. Say something like,
Aug 29, 2018
How To Get Your Husband (or Wife) Into Marriage Counseling
This has to be one of the most common questions I get emailed about. Turns out, if you can take a little time to understand why men or women react differently to the idea of counseling, then you can dial in your approach to help you and your spouse get the help you need! Researchers estimate that at any point in time, in America, around 20% of marriages will be experiencing significant distress[i]. That’s a lot! It speaks to how much of our struggle is hidden from sight and from family, In fact, 28% of divorcing couples do not confide in family members about their marital problems prior to divorcing. And 63% of divorcees do not attend any kind of relationship counseling prior to divorce. Further, couples who do seek help wait an average of six years before doing so[ii]. That needs to change: there’s help available. Unfortunately, popular media has made divorce appear cheap and easy and they fail to disclose the real emotional, relational, spiritual and financial costs of divorce. So today we’re going to be talking about how to get your spouse into marriage counseling. This isn’t just an ad for our own virtual counseling agency but a research-based discussion about how to overcome this challenge effectively without being manipulative or sneaky. Why Do Couples NOT Seek Help? First, there are practical concerns: things like feeling there is a lack of time and money. Sometimes it is just a lack of awareness that good help can be had. And, in some cases, if you’re in a rural area there may seem to be a lack of available services. Although the increasing number of virtual agencies such as hours has done a lot to fill that need. Second, there’s often a stigma around seeking help for your marriage. Especially for men. Men tend to act more self-reliant and more in control and so we’re less inclined to seek help regarding emotional issues. Researchers note that typical masculine beliefs such as self-reliance and emotional suppression are negatively correlated to a willingness to get help. So the stronger those things are in a guy’s character, the less willing he will be to get help. Typically. One study even found that most men would only consider marital counseling appropriate in situations relating to divorce or abuse[iii]. Obviously, we think there’s a lot of other reasons you’d want to consider counseling: hopefully before you get to a place where divorce is on the table. Of course, women are not immune to stigma either. Seeking marriage counseling can be seen as an admission that your marriage is failing. That’s a difficult admission. That requires you to recognize the seriousness of your problems and open yourself up to scrutiny. Some even fear that getting counseling may be dangerous to the relationship: by admitting how serious the problems are, you may feel that you are signaling the end of the relationship[iv]. So taking that step towards counseling is certainly courageous. There are other variables too. Women are much more likely to want to seek help than men. Interestingly, older couples are generally more willing to seek external help. That fits what I see in my practice: I think the statistic is that half of divorces (not marriages) occur in the first 7 years of marriage. I rarely see couples in counseling in the single digits of their marriage. And yet, that’s a great time to do counseling: taking the step of spotting your challenges early and getting help before they become massive issues can save you a lot of trouble later on down the line. There are also socioeconomic factors: couples who are more well off, and couples who are more highly educated are more likely to seek marriage counseling, presumably due to being more aware of the benefits it can offer, and having the financial resources to utilize it. Of course, money doesn’t have to be a limitation: learning to budget and making this a priority in your spending can help you overcome any financial barriers. Your marriage is definitely worth investing in...
Aug 22, 2018
How To Handle Chronic Health Problems in Marriage
It seems like with chronic illness in marriage you either hear the extremes of horror stories or, on the other end of the spectrum, some very beautiful stories. I’ve heard of a wife getting a bad form of cancer, the husband deciding he just didn’t want to deal with that and bailing out on her. And then there’s a much-loved couple in our own church and she developed Alzheimer’s fairly young and his response has been to double down on his faithfulness and care for her, saying, “I guess it’s my turn to pull the wagon now”. Any kind of long-term illness can be extremely tough for married couples as one spouse struggles to cope with the symptoms and effects of illness and the other takes on a carer role, trying their best to look after their ailing spouse. It looks very different for each spouse, but for both it can be hard to know how to cope. Instead of focusing on individual things each spouse can do, it is helpful to think in terms of joint coping: both spouses taking responsibility for coping with the illness and sharing stressors and resources[i]. Joint Coping with Health Problems What you need to know is the way you interact and respond to each other's coping strategies is just as important as the strategies themselves. For example, the non-ill spouse needs to be able to see what kind of support the ill spouse (called the "patient spouse" in the research) is in need of at any given time: do they need practical support, problem-solving, or emotional reassurance? Coping as a couple is affected by two main factors: the patient and spouse's "appraisal" or understanding of the illness, and the coping strategies they use to deal with it. Appraisal of Illness How the patient and their spouse each view the illness will affect how well they support each other through it. There are three specific issues that we want to draw your attention to[ii]: Understanding of the Illness Do both spouses fully understand the nature, possible duration, and consequences of the illness? If an understanding of the illness differs between spouses this will naturally lead to different expectations of how much support is needed (e.g., if the spouse thinks the illness is not a very big deal then they will naturally put less effort into helping the patient spouse cope). So we want to be sure that both parties understand the scope and prognosis of the illness. Ownership of Illness Is the illness viewed as a joint problem, or as the patent spouse's problem which the other spouse may or may not be required to help with? Mismatches on this will again naturally lead to ineffective coping. This also raises the issue of togetherness: is the illness your problem or is it our problem? Broader Context How much support do you expect from your spouse, based on culture, family of origin etc? Were you raised to share all burdens between you, or to respect their independence and dignity by being more hands off? Again, different expectations here could lead to poor coping. Different appraisals or expectations in these areas can lead to poor coping with the illness, so couples should try to make sure they are on the same page regarding the nature of the illness and how much support is required/desired. Dealing with Chronic Illness in Marriage When you look at all the ways a spouse can support their patient spouse, they fall into two main categories[iii]: Problem-focused: providing practical support such as helping provide or facilitate treatment, assisting with practical needs or taking care of needs and responsibilities while the patient spouse is unable to Emotion-focused: providing emotional support to help the patient cope with the stress of the illness Problem Focused Each of these styles of coping can be either helpful or unhelpful, depending on what you do. Helpful problem-focused coping is often referred to as "active engagement": both spouses taking an active role in discussions with doctors, researching treatment options,
Aug 15, 2018
The Hidden Costs of Marriage Problems
Life gets really busy and difficult to manage sometimes, and as we encounter some challenges we can lose sight of the forest for the trees. Maybe we have some unexplained health problems or even problems at work and we wonder what is going on? Obviously, there are many potential reasons, but have you considered that your unhappy marriage could be an underlying issue? Today’s topic looks at problems caused by marriage problems. Obviously, the goal here is not to make you want to give up on your marriage, but rather, instead of thinking about solving your other problems so that your marriage will be better…what if you START with your marriage? Get into some good books or some marriage counselling with your spouse and get that sorted, and then see the cascading benefits of a happy marriage spill over into other areas. So hear us out as we go through various facets of life and see what resonates. This is meant to be an eye opener, so just be curious and consider how helping your marriage could be a huge benefit to other areas in your life. The first hidden cost of marriage problems for us to discuss is the area of mental health. Mental Health Is Impacted by Marital Woes Not surprisingly, research shows a strong link between marital problems and poor mental health. For example, a major study in 2007[i] examined over 2000 married individuals and found that marital distress was a predictor of high levels of anxiety, mood disruption, and substance abuse. It was also linked to specific mental health conditions including bipolar disorder, alcohol abuse disorder, depression and general anxiety disorder. For depression, it was found that the longer the marital problems go on, the higher the risk becomes. Again, we want to assert that the solution is not to get un-married! But rather to pursue the healing of your marriage! How do marital woes potentially contribute to mental health problems? Another study in 2005[ii] examined how marital distress can create mental health problems and found several mediating factors: Attribution style (see below — basically, you’re more likely to pay attention to negative things) Conflict style: especially demand-withdraw cycles and avoidance of conflict. These are normal patterns for distressed marriages. Attachment style: ambivalent or avoidant attachment. Not pursuing healing for attachment issues can impact mental health. The flip side of this is you can see that marriage becomes something of a crucible for personal growth. Getting these conflict, attribution and attachment issues dealt with can turn your mental health challenges around. Again, another reason to stay in your marriage and sort this stuff out. Really, if you just go for escape you’re going to carry the same issues to the next marriage. Physical Health Costs from Marriage Problems The impact of marriage problems extends into the physical realm as well. Research from 1997[iii] found that high levels of conflict and marital distress lead to various physical health problems, such as higher blood pressure and a weaker immune system. This effect was stronger for women than for men. One explanation for the gender effect is that women typically feel and express more negative emotions during conflict while men withdraw emotionally (known as the demand-withdraw cycle). It is this negative emotion and stress which causes the negative health effects[iv]. Of course, emotionally withdrawing isn’t going to be good for your marriage or your mental health, so we’re not saying that’s the better strategy here! Other research highlights other health concerns for couples with low relationship satisfaction, such as higher risk of cardiovascular disease and even the possibility of higher mortality[v]. Again this effect is stronger for women than men. Marriage Difficulties Influence Work as Well Conflict and distress in your marriage can spill over into other areas of your life, particularly work.
Aug 08, 2018
Holding Onto Self Worth When Your Spouse is Overly Critical
Initially, I was a little hesitant about this episode. Dealing with criticism? Sounded like it was going to be a real drain. But as we looked into the research we actually found a lot of hope, not only for you if you are on the receiving end of the criticism, but even for the critic as well. I feel like I need to say right off the bat that we are not attempting to minimize the destructive potential of criticism in our episode today. In fact, it may even be worth checking out our mini-series on abuse as sometimes I have had women come to me just thinking their spouse is critical not realizing that there is a profound belief system in place that is fundamentally abusive. On the flip side of that coin, there is a lot of plain misbehavior and bad attitude that gets labeled abuse that is really not abuse. And I think there is a difference between verbal abuse and emotional abuse. The first is using words to hurt someone which is something we have all done in our lives, and the second is a conscious or subconscious systematic attempt to undermine someone’s self-worth and dignity. Neither are acceptable but the latter is particularly damaging. Today we are staying on the lighter end of the spectrum in the bad behavior category. So this is not particularly about abuse, but just about the critical rut that we or our spouse can get into and what to do about that if you’re on the receiving end. Understanding Where the Criticism Comes From I think the first step to creating some safe space around criticism is to actually take a step back and understand where criticism comes from. The nature of criticism is that it wants you to think there’s something wrong with you. But when you see or experience criticism I think it is worth considering where that may actually be coming from. So instead of focusing internally on yourself as the target, focus on the source. Attribution: What is The Critic Actually Unhappy About? Attribution is such an important piece in any marriage. The human mind naturally interprets things around it in line with its current mood and beliefs. If someone is happy, they are more likely to interpret things around them as being positive, and more likely to see positive things and ignore negative[i]. If they are unhappy, the reverse is true. In marriage, this means that someone who is happy with their spouse and with the relationship will see lots of things to be happy about, and interpret what their spouse does in a positive way. But someone who is dissatisfied with the marriage will see more reasons to be unhappy, and interpret things in a more negative way, thus leading to negativity and criticism[ii]. The point here is to take a step back and ask yourself am I doing something upsetting or wrong or inconsiderate that I should genuinely be considering? Or are there other circumstances in our marriage or in our lives generally that are leading my spouse to be critical of me? This is very nuanced to sort out. Let me give you a couple of examples. Your spouse may have lost his job and his dad is in the hospital with cancer and you’re receiving a lot of criticism. I’m not saying it’s OK for him to take that out on you, but you can at least make some space for your own mental well-being by acknowledging that this is about what is going on inside him emotionally and not actually about flaws in you. That’s a fairly clear example. We’ll talk about what to do in this kind of situation at the end of today’s show. A tougher one to sort out is if the marriage is in distress. Typically both spouses have a role to play in a distressed marriage but if one spouse has poor conflict resolution skills s/he may try to correct the problem by pointing out all the perceived deficits in the other spouse. I know this may feel like a bit of a jump: but typically this is a desperate attempt to connect. The belief is that if these issues can be set aside by me pointing them out and you correcting them then we can be safe and be together.
Aug 01, 2018
The Top 5 Benefits of Creating a Happy Marriage
Today’s episode is for those of you who just need to know that the hard work of creating a thriving, passionate marriage is worthwhile. Whatever you’ve been through, however difficult the road ahead appears to be: we really want to distill some hope for you today so that you stay committed to creating something beautiful with your spouse. Marriage is not always easy. But we want you to know it is worthwhile. Today we’re going to take you through the top 5 benefits of creating a happy marriage. To come up with these top 5 benefits I asked our researcher Paul to go out and just survey the literature and see what the consistent themes are: the repeated positive outcomes that keep bubbling to the surface when researchers are studying marriage. We are not knocking off anyone else’s top 5 list today: we put this one together from our own survey of the research. And good research at that: I am talking about the psychological journals where we have real researchers in the trenches trying to figure out the nuances and details of marriage every day, not just some Joe Average blogger’s opinion off the Internet. So, let’s jump in. We’re going to work from the fifth benefit back to the first. #5: Personal Growth The research consistently shows that a happy marriage enables spouses to grow, both individually and as a couple. This comes through mainly in three different fronts. Personal Goals It’s easier to meet personal challenges when you know someone has your back, right? Well married people often report that the level of support they get from their spouse is the strongest determining factor in how well they achieve their personal goals[i]. Your support of your spouse makes a big difference in his or her life. With your support, your spouse feels secure enough and has enough practical and emotional assistance to aim for their important goals in life, whatever they may be. So creating a happy marriage ends up setting the stage for helping one another achieve personal goals. It is not hard to imagine how a distressed marriage takes up so much energy that it gets in the way of achieving those goals. Resilience A cool study from 2011[ii] found that overcoming stressful circumstances with your spouse early in the marriage makes you far more able to deal with stress later in life. In this study high marital satisfaction (especially good communication and support) enabled couples to build up resilience to stress, which helped them adjust to stressful life events such as the transition to parenthood. Other research shows that high marital quality can help couples cope with difficult circumstances such as financial pressure and illness[iii]. This is brilliant too: of course, life throws all of us curveballs. But when you create a happy marriage you create a safe harbor, a place you can come to in order to recharge and renew yourself for facing those challenges. And this ends up making you stronger in the long term. Growing Together When your marriage is going well you start to embody the traits you admire in each other, allowing you both to grow as people. High satisfaction with your marriage and with who your spouse naturally leads to the admiration of your spouse. When couples admire each other they work to embody the positive traits they see in each other. In a well-functioning marriage both spouses, therefore "sharpen" each other and help make each other better[iv]. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” Proverbs 27:17 NIV. That’s the principle at play here. So you take these three together: facilitating personal goals, fostering resilience against challenges, and promoting personal development and you can really see how a happy marriage fuels personal growth. That’s a huge blessing that comes from creating a happy marriage. #4: Health High marital satisfaction has positive effects on both physical and mental health. This happens through various routes[v]: Lower stress: couples in a happy,
Jul 18, 2018
How Much Joy Is in Your Marriage?
It’s hard to kick this episode off without thinking of that old Sunday School song, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy down in my heart. Where? Down in my heart!” Joy is that feeling of great pleasure and happiness that fills us in a more lasting way than a situational happiness. It’s something we believe can be a huge blessing in marriage so we want to help you figure out how to start increasing the joy you feel today. Joy is considered one of the six "basic emotions", capable of being felt, expressed and recognized by anyone, regardless of culture. In case you were wondering, the others are sadness, anger, fear, surprise and disgust.[i] I call these primary emotions: what they look like may vary from culture to culture: e.g., think of how sadness is expressed in our culture vs. in some African cultures. Ours is fairly reserved and silent wherein some African cultures there is a very vocal, collective wailing when expressing sadness. Yes, there is this primary emotion but it may look different for different cultures. Joy is one of those primary emotions. Happiness vs. Joy Happiness and joy are sometimes thought of as the same. But research, philosophy, and literature often describe happiness as something temporary, to be chased after and experienced, while joy is something deeper and more long lasting[ii]. People often talk about "finding happiness" but being "filled with joy". Happiness is more situational: some things make you happy and some things make you unhappy. Joy is something you carry with you and bring into situations so that you can have joy even in unpleasant circumstances[iii]. One verse in the Bible that really points out the deeper nature of joy is Romans 14:17 "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (ESV). I think this underscores the point that it’s not so much a momentary experience … like, wow, that was an awesome supper, but more of an abiding experience that is grounded deep within the human soul. Joy in Your Genes? The depth to which it is rooted in our being is something that has even caught the interest of geneticists. Research shows that there may be a genetic component to long-term happiness. People are said to have "baseline" level of joy determined by their personality, genes or upbringing. Their daily levels of happiness can go up and down from here but will naturally return to this baseline level[iv]. Research also suggests that as much as 50% of your overall level of joy (lifetime happiness) is accounted for by your personality and genetics. Only 10% is related to your circumstances, and 40% is to do with the activities you choose to take part in[v]. I’m not sure how they arrived at those figures but this means that some people will naturally find it easier to experience joy than others. However, it is possible to increase your baseline level of joy, through developing positive personality traits and engaging in activities that increase your happiness, which we’ll look into in a moment. When you do so, your daily variations in happiness will all revolve around this new fixed point. So your happiness levels will be higher regardless of circumstances. In other words, we arrive with a certain baseline but we can still move the needle. And if you could move the needle on your joy starting from today, how would that impact your marriage? Increasing Joy Let’s now look at exactly how you can have more joy in your marriage. There are a few things to consider. Attentiveness Impacts Joy A study in 2000[vi] assessed 43 couples to find out what were the biggest factors affecting their long-term levels of joy. Two of the strongest predictors of joy were: Expressions of fondness Awareness of and attentiveness to the marriage and to the needs of your spouse So those are two great things to start working on in your marriage right away. Friendship Stimulates Joy One of the biggest reasons to be joyful in life is a happ...
Jul 11, 2018
What To Do When Your Spouse Has Been Sexually Abused
There’s no doubt in 2018 that sexual abuse is a real issue and also one that is not uncommon. 16% of men and 25% of women have experienced some form of sexual abuse[i]. While a lot of the focus in recent months has been on bringing perpetrators to justice, what about the impact of sexual abuse on married life? Not only that, but how can you facilitate the healing and wholeness of your spouse if he or she has been sexually abused? As a society, we’re getting better at talking about sexual abuse and recognizing it as a serious issue that impacts a huge number of men and women. But the impact of sexual abuse on a person doesn’t go away once the perpetrator has been caught. Abuse carries on affecting a person for their entire lives and can impact all future relationships the abuse survivor forms, including their marriage. How Sexual Abuse Affects a Person I think it is important to talk about this part because there may be some of our readers who either know their spouse has been sexually abused but don’t really see exactly what the impact is, or maybe they see signs of sexual abuse but don’t know what the underlying wound is. Perhaps this may open a conversation that could help your spouse on their healing journey. A study in 2005[ii] studied a sample of 9000 American adults and found that prior sexual abuse as a child increased the risk of several issues in adulthood: Increased risk of alcohol problems: 19% of abuse survivors compared to 12% of normal population Increased risk of substance/drug abuse: 24% compared to 16% Suicide attempts: 4.1% compared to 1.5% Depression: 11.8% compared to 7.9% These effects are similar for both men and women: sexual abuse increases your likelihood of experiencing all of these issues. What I hope you see is that the increase over normal population validates the severe emotional distress that sexual abuse brings. Of course, the good news is that healing is possible. Even though history cannot be rewritten, it is possible to recover from the trauma of sexual abuse. Let’s look at some specific issues and behaviors that are often signs of sexual abuse. Helplessness and Sexual Abuse Helplessness is a very real impact that comes from sexual abuse. Experiencing sexual abuse is a traumatic situation over which a person often has no control. Or at least, they don’t have the adult wisdom and knowledge to have said “No” back when they were a child. The person may then learn a sense of helplessness which affects their expectations and judgment for years to come[iii]. Helplessness and perceived lack of control over your life can lead to alcohol and substance dependency, and are also a cause of (and symptom of) mental illness such as depression. Other Kinds of Trauma If childhood sexual abuse occurs in conjunction with others traumatic events in childhood, such as physical violence, neglect or being taken into institutional care, these all dramatically increase the risk factors for mental illness over and above what these factors individually would cause[iv]. How Past Sexual Abuse Affects Marriage I want to be careful when going through these issues. There’s a fine line between acknowledging the impact and, from that, honoring the difficult journey that survivors face versus really pathologizing all the effects of sexual abuse and making the survivor really feel like they are damaged goods. I guess in light of this I would say that we are all broken. While the abuse was not your fault and should not have happened, healing is your choice and something that you can make happen. So we acknowledge the past but also really want to honor the healing ability and resilience of survivors as well. Perhaps you are seeing some of these effects in your marriage. If so, think about what you might want to do to help yourself overcome these challenges and create a new chapter in your story that celebrates victory and healing. Marital Quality Research in 2005[v] found that childhood sexual abuse ca...
Jul 04, 2018
When Your Spouse Is a Chronic Liar
We have a tough topic today — and unfortunately, it’s also one that is all too common. What do you do when your spouse is a chronic liar? Well, we are going to try to come to this topic with accountability and compassion because trust is so vital to creating a happy marriage. What is Pathological Lying? There are a few terms that get used interchangeably here: compulsive lying, chronic lying, and pathological lying. Like some other psychological terms it can get thrown around too loosely. Somebody lies to you a couple times and it upsets you and you call them a pathological liar: that may not be an accurate assessment. But when you have frequent, compulsive telling of lies and false stories[i] this is a pathological lying disorder. Typically the lies told have three features: Continuous: the lies are told regardless of context or who is being spoken to, without any apparent benefit or motive and no thought of potential consequences Impulsive: the lies are not necessarily intended to manipulate people or gain anything. The person simply sees an opportunity to lie and does so. Compulsive: lies are often told automatically without any conscious decision. Those are a pretty serious set of criteria. That’s why I say we use the label too freely: there’s a much lower level of lying that is still problematic but strictly speaking, pathological lying should have all these components. Along with this you’ll often see that the compulsive liar, when challenged about his or her lies, may attempt to downplay what was said or may try to get out of it by telling more lies. They often get caught up in a web of increasingly unrealistic lies. It’s also helpful to know that someone who is a pathological liar may be mentally well adjusted in every other way, or they may have other difficulties such s personality disorders (especially narcissistic personality disorder), ADHD or memory problems[ii]. What Makes A Chronic Liar? Let’s talk about some possible causes. Not for the purpose of justifying the behaviour or asking you to be OK with it, but just to create a little compassion and hopefully even some possible treatment strategies. Brain Functioning and Lying Serious forms of chronic lying may be due to differences at the brain level. Neuroimaging of patients who show compulsive lying reveals impairments to the prefrontal cortex[iii]. These impairments could be caused by head injury, degenerative diseases, infection, epilepsy, or be present from birth. This impairment affects two important mental processes: Executive Functioning The first process, executive functioning, is about the ability to control and monitor your own thoughts, as well as control impulses and organize yourself Problems with executive functioning may look like difficulty with controlling the impulse to lie. If your executive functioning is intact, when the cop pulls you over you may be tempted to lie to him or her but your executive function kicks in and you realize, no my kids are in the car, I need to be truthful and do some good role modelling here. If your executive function is impaired you might not ever get out in front of that initial impulse. Sometimes people get upset with me when I point out the possible physiological basis for these kinds of issues — am I trying to excuse or to minimize something that is morally wrong? No, I am not. But if the person cannot stop and sincerely wants to stop and all you are doing to try to motivate them to stop is using moralistic interventions (impressing them with how wrong it is, how God hates lies, and Satan is the father of lies)... that’s all true but it is not going to actually help them stop if there’s a head injury. They need a different approach to try to achieve the same outcome. Although the symptoms are a moral issue, the cause may not be a purely moral problem: it could potentially be physiological as well (e.g., due to a brain injury). Theory of Mind The second process, known as theory of mind,
Jun 27, 2018
How to Increase the Love You Feel Towards Your Spouse
Today’s topic is like a coin: one object with two sides. In this episode one side of the coin is increasing the love and the other side of the coin is increasing (or becoming more aware of) “the feel” of love. It’s not only deepening our love but become more aware of how and when we actually are aware of that feeling in our bodies. Who doesn’t want to feel more love in their life? In many marriages love becomes a fact, rather than a feeling: you know you love your spouse but you don’t feel it especially often. And that’s good: love should definitely be more than just a gooey feeling. But wouldn’t it be nice to have more of the feeling too? Learning to Label Love Let’s look at what happens when we experience emotions. Feeling emotions such as love happens in two steps. These are usually subconscious steps: Experiencing the sensations and bodily experiences. Don’t forget that a feeling is called that because you feel it. Sometimes it’s helpful to say it like this: love is an emotion. When you experience that emotion, you know you are experiencing it because you feel it in your body. Otherwise how would you know you are experiencing that emotion? It has to register in the body as a feeling. That then is your felt emotion. Next, you have to interpret and label that bodily sensation as a specific emotion. Usually, you do that based on the context and also based on starting to build a history of when you have experienced that bodily sensation before. So when I first meet with clients who are not very aware of their own emotions I often will ask, “What are you feeling in your body?” They’ll describe it very physically: tightness in my chest; tension in my neck; warm spot right here. Then I’ll ask, “And when have you felt that in the past?” The gears will start to turn and pretty soon we’ve started to catalog our feelings and become aware of them. This happens for both positive and negative emotions. So someone who starts to shake or experiences a rise in their heart rate when seeing a spider would interpret this as fear. Or someone who feels happiness and a warm glow when in the presence of their spouse will experience this as love for that person. So in order to increase feelings of love for your spouse you need to both experience the sensations, and then label them as love for your spouse. Let’s look at each step. Experiencing Love Experiencing positive emotions in the company of your spouse will cause you to feel more in love with them. Makes sense! This can include pretty much any kind of positive experience, such as[i]: Shared leisure activities Sex New and exciting experiences Romantic gestures Acts of kindness Having your emotional needs met It is good to pause and consider a list like that: notice those are behaviors. Feelings like love are often triggered by what we do, rather than what we think. How many of those do you extend to your spouse as part of your regular interactions? Those are positive experiences towards love. Note that you can also have negative experiences or emotions related to love too. Feelings of jealousy or rejection or frustration can also lead to feelings of love towards someone[ii]. If a clerk in a store brushes you off you may not be rattled, but if your spouse does this, a strong negative response on your part will likely (to some degree) indicate something of the fact that you care for your spouse. I have said to husbands in counseling: do you hear her getting louder? She is raising her voice because you really matter to her. If she truly did not care, she would not even bother with the effort. Putting Words to Love So if you are able to label love and to identify when you are experiencing it then the next important piece is to put words to it. Often, we say “I love you” reflexively or contextually rather than experientially. Meaning I say it because you just said it to me, or did something obvious to generate it. That’s not wrong.
Jun 20, 2018
The Art and Science of Hugging
What is a hug without the squeeze? In America, they’ll tell you that’s like apple pie without the cheese. We prefer ice cream with our pie but we definitely like our hugs with the right amount of squeeze. Turns out, however, that hugging has been studied fairly carefully in the research! Hugging is Old School The word "hug" originates from the Saxon word "hog" meaning "to be tender to" and the old Norse word  "höggva", meaning "to catch or seize[i]". Hugging has been around at least since Biblical times, for example brothers Jacob and Esau hugging when reunited in the book of Genesis. It is not just a modern phenomenon but something that is a long-standing part of human history. We’re going to have some fun and some research with this subject today — let’s look at some fun facts related to hugging. Fun Facts Tree Hugging Turns out there are some cultures who believe that hugging trees can help restore your body and mind. In remote areas of Finland, hugging snow-covered trees is used as a kind of meditation or spiritual practice to connect with nature. This is now becoming a tourist trade where people travel into the wilderness to hug trees. Not my idea of a romantic getaway, but whatever works for you. National Hugging Day January 21st is National Hugging day in the US and other countries, founded in 1986 to promote healthy expression of emotion. I’m going to have to mark that one down on my calendar. Self Hug Machines Got no-one to hug you? Never fear — science has your back. The "Sense Roid" is a recently invented machine that recreates the sensation of being hugged using a mannequin with pressure receptors and a jacket with artificial muscles that constrict to give the sensation of being hugged. The idea behind it was that hugs are better when you are hugging someone you are intimate with, and who are you more intimate with than yourself? So now you can get the benefits of hugging without needing other people. Maybe. Should You Hug Dogs? Good question. Research shows that while many pet owners like hugging their pets, most animals don't appreciate it. For example 8 out of 10 dogs show signs of distress when hugged, as it restrains them and prevents them from being able to get away. I guarantee that every dog owner reading this is now thinking “well my dog is obviously one of the 2 out of 10 who loves hugs!” Cultural Rules Hugging as a greeting varies a lot between cultures. In some places a hug with one or more kisses is the normal greeting for friends and acquaintance, in some countries any kind of physical touch would be an offence. In some countries such as France the rules on an appropriate greeting even vary between cities. Some examples (from most to least contact): Paris: Hug and four kisses Netherlands, Switzerland, Brittany: hug and three kisses Spain, Austria: hug and two kisses Belgium: one kiss Germany, Italy, UK, America: hug with close friends/family only Thailand, Japan: no physical contact. Just a bow! Got all that? Good. Don’t want to look like an idiot going in for too many kisses. Ok, let’s move on to the actual science of what makes hugging great. The Science of Hugging Hugging Releases Oxytocin Oxytocin is the brain's "love hormone" which creates attachment between spouses and increases feelings of affection, empathy and bonding. Oxytocin is released through hugging[ii]. Meaning that hugs don’t just feel great, they work to strengthen the bond between you and your spouse. Hugging Activates Pressure Receptors There are pressure receptors all over the body which respond to physical touch. When those receptors are gently activated by hugging, they prompt chemical changes in the brain such as reducing the stress hormone cortisol increasing endorphins and serotinin, as well as lowering heart rate and blood pressure[iii]. Very cool. Hugging Promotes Support and Belonging As well as these chemical changes there are more conscious psychological benefits to hugging.
Jun 13, 2018
What is Love Addiction?
Today’s episode is going to be one that will be a complete light-bulb moment for some of our listeners... or else more of a fascinating-and-helpful but not especially relevant episode for many others. Love addiction is a real issue in some marriages, often with devastating consequences. What makes it particularly tricky to understand is that it’s like normal love between couples, but stuck in that early infatuation stage. Love Addiction I don’t know if you’re like me but I like being in love. A lot. With Verlynda. And you hear the term “love addiction” and it’s easy to think — whoa? I might have that! But love addiction isn’t the strong, committed, healthy and life-giving love that married couples pursue. It’s really about being addicted to or obsessing over falling in love and the “rush” of new relationships. People with love addiction constantly chase the excitement, romance and passion of the first stages of a romantic relationship. And then when this initial intense pleasure wears off, they become less interested in maintaining the relationship and often leave in hopes of recapturing that intense passion with someone else. The brain has to make sense of this, of course. So love addicts will often believe that what they are searching for is true love, and so they hope to find a spouse with whom they can maintain these intense feelings of romantic love forever. However, since the brain is not wired for this, this is an unachievable outcome. Consequently, if they choose to stay in a relationship, love addicts will become dissatisfied and may possibly go to extreme lengths to try and recapture the “magic” of the early relationship stages. Research estimates that between 5 and 10% of the adult population suffer from love addiction to some degree[i]. The High of Love Feelings of romantic love in the first stages of a relationship release chemical such as dopamine and adrenaline in the brain. This creates feelings of intense pleasure and energy as well as sexual arousal. These are the same chemicals released during sex and when abusing drugs such as cocaine and heroin[ii]. Romantic love activates the unconscious reward system in the brain. This motivates a person to want to keep experiencing more. It also causes people to intensely focus their attention on the source of the pleasure (in this case the romantic partner). It also creates feelings of obsession and a desire to pursue the partner[iii]. Please understand: this is part of normal, healthy love in the development of a new relationship. Being totally infatuated with your partner and desiring to spend time with them is a good thing, right? It is not a problem in itself. It only becomes a problem when a person chases these feelings and views them as more important than the relationship itself. If you end up exclusively pursuing the intense feelings of passion, arousal and excitement that come at the start of a relationship, then the chemical processes of love can create behavior cycles very similar to other forms of addiction where the addict gets hooked on the rush of feel-good chemicals. They come to see romance and love as the only ways they can experience this feeling. Of course, this could be a subconscious realization. Typically the intense stage of romantic love only lasts up to 18 months before being replaced with the less intense "companionate love". So continually chasing this feeling and being dependant on it leads to very unhealthy, immature relationships, or to the person repeatedly breaking off their relationships in search of new ones. When Love Addiction is Harmful Some researchers argue that even normal, healthy love has a lot of similarities to addiction[iv]. Love produces feelings of intense pleasure, motivates a person to keep seeking contact with the source of this pleasure (the other person), can create feelings of obsession and can cause feelings of sadness when the object of your desire is not available.
Jun 06, 2018
How to Be Assertive With Your Spouse
Sometimes assertiveness gets a bad rap in our culture. As if it’s a domineering or bossy attitude. Not so: in reality, healthy assertiveness is a really helpful tool for marriage communication because it can reduce conflict and increase the quality of your marriage. What is Assertiveness? Assertiveness can often get confused with other, less positive traits, so let’s start with a nice simple definition. Assertiveness is the ability to honestly and effectively express your needs and desires[i]. The opposite is passivity: letting things happen to you, not stating your needs and backing down easily. What about aggression though? Assertiveness is different to aggression: assertiveness is about using self-confidence and verbal techniques to state what you want, rather than resorting to threats or intimidation. What does assertiveness look like? Recent research identifies multiple parts of effective assertive behavior: Courage: self-confidence, boldness to state your needs and "stick to your guns", being direct but non-aggressive, having belief in your own ability and strong social skills[ii]. Authenticity: honesty and genuineness, rather than being manipulative or artificial. It is coming out and stating what you want directly rather than using coded language or suggestions or vague hints. Assertiveness is based on an honest awareness of yourself and respect for the other person[iii]. Autonomy: able to make your own decisions, being self motivated and also flexible. Empathy: the ability to express your own needs while also being aware of the needs of your spouse or others[iv]. It is not necessarily (and should not be) selfish. Factors Affecting Assertiveness There are a few traits and factors that can affect your ability to be assertive. Locus of Control Who has control in your life? Locus of control refers to what people see as being the main controlling and decision-making factors in their lives. Someone with an internal locus of control believes that they can make their own choices and results in life are determined by their own actions and efforts. Someone with external locus of control believes their outcomes in life are mostly up to luck, fate or the influence of other people. A study in 1979[v] found that assertiveness was linked to an internal locus of control in married couples: spouses who believe they are in control of their own outcomes in life will naturally develop the social skills needed to influence others, while believing you have little control over your own life leads people to become passive. If you think things are just done to you or for you without any sense of personal agency that is a very passive orientation and assertiveness will seem foreign to you. Trust That same study also identified trust as a variable that influenced assertive behavior in married couples. Spouses who had an external locus of control (those who thought that other people had a strong influence over their lives) and who had high levels of trust that their spouse would act in the best interests of the marriage tended to be low in assertiveness. They interpret this to mean that people who have high trust that their spouses are acting in the interests of the marriage would have no NEED to act assertively. If you have a great marriage where you’re both working for each other’s benefit then sticking up for your own needs isn’t as essential… but it’s still a useful skill to have up your sleeve. Relationship Focused Couples who adopt a relationship-focused mindset early in the marriage (making decisions together and prioritizing their relationship over individual gains) are better able to learn positive communication skills such as assertiveness[vi]. Although as noted above, if both spouses are thinking in the best interests of the marriage there may not be much need to act assertively. But they will still have these skills if needed. Beliefs Your ability to be assertive is partly based on your beliefs about yoursel...
May 30, 2018
Is Therapeutic Separation a Good Idea?
Today we’re going to be looking at therapeutic or trial separation- the idea of spending some time apart to heal your marriage. For many couples who feel like their marriage is at the end of its tether, this kind of separation might be something to consider. But you need to be aware of the risks and possible outcomes going in. I think we should state very clearly that our vision is to help people create thriving, passionate marriages. At the same time, we realize that folks often come to our podcast or website or to us for counseling in a great deal of distress. So when we’re talking about therapeutic separation today this is with the goal of restoring your marriage, as long as it is safe to do that. On the safety note: if you are in an abusive situation a different approach is necessary — please see our shows on abuse. You may still pursue separation but you will not likely be safe to do so in the way we’re about to describe. What Is Therapeutic Separation? Let’s start by laying out what exactly a therapeutic separation looks like. A marriage and family counselor called Patrick Ward[i] sets out a helpful framework for a trial separation and the circumstances under which it may be useful. A therapeutic separation is defined as a fixed period of separation, during with time the decision to divorce or stay together is postponed. In other words — a therapeutic separation is not a preamble or step towards divorce or even a trial of what it would be like to live without your spouse. It always set up with a view to restoration. That has to be a sincere commitment for both parties. The objective of a therapeutic separation is to address the negative feelings that one or both of you might have about staying in the marriage. Sometimes it can also be used as an intervention if one spouse is not really accepting the reality of their own addiction problem or if they are not willing to address their own hurtful ways of interaction with their spouse. Possible Reasons that Make a Therapeutic Separation Appropriate There could be a wider variety of reasons than this, but here are some common areas that may prompt a therapeutic separation: Extreme or persistent marital conflict One or both spouses feeling high levels of frustration or lack of satisfaction from the marriage Harmful patterns of interaction such as abuse, addiction, neglect or control Indecision about whether one or both spouses want to remain in the marriage Ways Therapeutic Separation Can Help Some possible benefits may include: Acknowledging the seriousness of problems. It can be helpful or validating for both spouses to see that you each willing to go to extreme lengths to try and save the marriage. Separation can create a “crisis point” which shakes the couple out of denial and forces them to take action to save the marriage. Relief from unproductive conflict and negative cycles of interaction. If left untreated, daily conflicts and bad habits can end up damaging a marriage more than being apart for a time. Separation can help break this cycle Breaking the tendency to take each other for granted. Spouses get to see how hard life might actually be if they separated. This can be a reality check to think about the positives and stop taking one’s spouse for granted. Gaining a sense of independence and self-control. Sometimes if couples are unhealthily dependant on each other, separation can teach them some valuable self-reliance and allow them to reunite as stronger, more differentiated individuals. Those are benefits identified by one researcher[ii]. Here are some other possible benefits: Perspective:  separation can provide a "cooling off" period for couples who see their difficulties as insurmountable. The time apart can allow spouses to deeply reflect on the marriage more objectively, without the pressure of being in conflict all the time[iii]. By gaining new perspectives, and new life experiences from living apart,
May 23, 2018
How Your Parent’s Alcoholism Affects Your Marriage
Adult Children of Alcoholics — did you know that was a thing? ACOA’s are what we call them for short. If you’re an ACOA it means you had at least one parent with a history of alcoholism, or possibly even a grandparent. The issues you faced as a child can continue to affect the entire family, including the way you relate to others in your life today. Background to ACOA An alcoholic parent or caregiver affects the entire family. Their addiction, the way alcohol makes them behave, their absences and mood swings will all have an impact on you growing up. Being raised in this kind of environment means each family member has to learn to adapt and react to the alcoholic's behavior. You have to learn strategies to cope with the chaotic family environment. These coping strategies often stay with the children into adult life and affect how you may now relate to others as an adult. An ACOA can therefore show unhelpful ways of relating to other people, based on the way they had to relate to people as a child. This includes issues such as an excessive need for control, over-reliance on the opinion of others, emotional distance, lack of trust and difficulties being open and vulnerable. These are all strategies which may have helped them survive in a household with an alcoholic parent but as adults lead to "rigid, controlling behaviors that interfere with individual growth... and the formation of healthy relationships[i]”. ACOAs can also show personal problems caused by the difficulties in their family of origin, including[ii] : Substance abuse Mood disorders such as depression Low self-esteem Underachievement in work/education Alcoholism’s Effects on Marriage So your parent’s alcohol struggles can continue to affect you long after you leave the family home. Let’s look at how this specifically relates to marriage. Attachment is Impacted by Alcoholism As a young child, having alcoholic parents affects the attachment bond you have with your parent, which goes on to form a blueprint of all future relationships the child will have[iii]. Alcoholic parents often display erratic and inconsistent parenting, sometimes being loving and supportive, other times being absent, rejecting the child's needs or even being abusive. This leads to an "insecure" attachment style between parent and child, where the child deeply desires love and affection from their parent but doesn't always find it, leading them to believe they are not worthy of love and support from others. This attachment style continues into adulthood and affects the ACOA's adult relationships, including marriage. A much higher proportion of ACOA have insecure attachment styles as adults than in the normal population[iv]. Because their parents were so inconsistent, the ACOA has learned that they cannot rely on or trust the people they love the most.  "As a result, COAs learn from an early age not to trust people and experience persistent fears of abandonment. Thus, although ACOAs may desire love and intimacy, they are likely to be afraid that relationships in their adult lives will be as hurtful as their early relationships[v]". Reading that quote closely you can see the fear that is embedded into one’s belief system based on what you experienced as a child. It often creates insecure attachment. Insecure attachment as an adult is strongly linked to marital problems, including[vi]: Lower intimacy Increased conflict and poor conflict resolution skills Lower stability Less displays of emotion and vulnerability Satisfaction with Marriage These issues are bound to affect the quality of the marriage. A study in 2008[vii] interviewed 634 newlywed couples for the first 4 years of their marriage. A link was found between parental alcoholism and marital satisfaction, but it was dependent on gender: husbands only reported lower marital satisfaction if their mother had been alcoholic, and wives only had lower satisfaction if their fathers had been alcoholic.
May 16, 2018
So Your Spouse Has ADHD
Here in North America we’ve become pretty conversant with ADHD as a culture. How it impacts kids at school, in the home, and so on. But it’s time to start the conversation around how ADHD impacts marriage. Did you know that your marriage can be a place that fosters a reduction in the problematic symptomatology of ADHD? What is ADHD? Just in case this is a new term for you, ADHD is a mental health condition normally diagnosed in childhood. ADHD impacts the brain’s executive functioning ability, so that people with ADHD show reduced decision making ability, attention control, impulse control and memory. Impairments to concentration, low impulse control and difficulty regulating your emotions can also lead to social and communication problems in people with ADHD[i]. Here are the specific diagnostic criteria from the DSM, which is the mental health handbook for diagnosing disorders. Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work or other activities Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores or duties in the workplace Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities Often avoids, dislikes or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities Is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli About 3% of the adult population are diagnosed with ADHD. A further 16% show sub-clinical levels of ADHD: they have some of the symptoms but not enough to meet the criteria for diagnosis[ii]. Up until fairly recently ADHD was thought to only affect children, so there are likely a lot of adults with ADHD out there who are currently undiagnosed and therefore unable to work out why they think and act in a way that's so different to other people. Everyone gets a bit distracted sometimes, or acts impulsive and disorganized. But if these are common features of your daily life and they significantly impact the way you function, it might be worth booking a discussion with a doctor or mental health professional just to see if ADHD has been affecting you without your knowledge. The fact that ADHD is undiagnosed in so many adults means that this is a potential factor in marital distress that may be unrecognized in many, many cases. How Does ADHD Affect Marriage? Common Challenges The symptoms of ADHD can create difficulties in marriage. Some of the more common challenges include[iii]: Being forgetful and disorganized: failing to meet commitments or remember to do things Inattentiveness to your spouse's emotional state and needs Difficulty attending to or communicating effectively with your spouse Emotional overreactions: saying or doing things impulsively which hurt the marriage Then there’s the whole issue of perception or interpretation by your spouse. Your spouse may come to see your ADHD inability to stick to commitments or remember agreed on actions as a sign that you don't care about the relationship. Further, ADHD also impairs communication and listening skills, reducing intimacy and potentially leading to conflict. Marital Quality Sometimes these issues can impact the quality of a marriage, for either the spouse with ADHD or the other. A study in 2004[iv] compared couples where one spouse had ADHD to control couples where neither spouse had ADHD. They found that marital satisfaction was often lower for the spouse with ADHD than in control couples. But people married to someone with ADHD did not differ in marital quality to the control groups. So having ADHD may decrease your own marital satisfaction but does not necessarily impact your spouse as much. "The ADHD adults’ perceptions of the health of their marriages and families were more negative than their spouses’ perceptions.[v]" However,
May 09, 2018
How To Get Your Abusive Husband Into Therapy…Safely
If your husband is abusive it can be really, really difficult to get him into therapy for help. And yet, this leaves the wife in a very difficult place — not only because of the abuse — but because usually the burden of mending the relationship and the problems are placed on her. That’s part of the abusive dynamic. So how do you get past the control and manipulation? How do you convince an abusive husband they need to get help? How do you approach them about the issue when any confrontation could get dangerous very quickly? The trick here is that in these kinds of situations the blame has been laid for too long at the feet of the abuse survivor. So it is really challenging to safely and effectively motivate the abuser to seek help. Before we get into this, remember that our episodes should be considered a self-help tool and do not replace individual counseling or direct support from professionals, or even law enforcement in your area as may be required in a situation like this. If your situation is severe you should be pursuing emergency help and establishing safety before you consider trying to intervene on your spouse at all. Barriers to Confronting Abusive Husbands I want to start by acknowledging why it can be so hard to confront an abusive husband. I’m going to speak directly to wives in this situation but also want to acknowledge that there can be husbands out there too, and their wives are abusive, and this is also a very challenging and complex situation for you. The first issue is the most obvious and that is that your physical safety could be at risk or even the safety of your children. In extreme cases your life may be at risk. If that’s your situation you need a safety and escape plan. Another possibility is that the constant cycle of abuse in your marriage has worn you down to the point where your self-esteem is completely eroded. The humiliation, the lack of control and the isolation — those can lead to feelings of worthlessness and even that you should just accept the abuse since you won’t ever be able to make it stop[i]. Control is also an issue here. If there’s been isolation, or loss of identity, or fear of violence, or financial control or other kinds of restrictions it can make it very hard for you to take action. Of course there is also the manipulative thinking imposed by abusers so that you may even believe the abuse is your own fault (Chang et al, 2006) And then there’s trauma bonding. Abusive marriages often create a sense of dependency in you where your low self esteem and sense of powerlessness makes you feel that you need your abusive husband in order to survive[ii]. In this situation you may not confront your husband or try to convince him to get help for fear that he may leave. Or, you may have no power to actually convince him since he believes you will never actually leave him. This is really tough stuff. Finally, hopelessness comes into play. Long-term abuse can lead to a tangible sense of powerlessness and hopelessness. Many abused wives experience symptoms of depression and mental illness. You may therefore believe that there is no hope that your situation will improve, and so make no effort to seek help. What Can You Do? There are a few options to consider here. Police Action In the case of physical abuse, police intervention can act as a strong deterrent and also provide motivation for future change. A study in 1995[iii] looked at police intervention into domestic abuse, and found that being arrested and prosecuted after committing domestic violence significantly reduced the likelihood of future events. This is likely because after arrest, the abuser is often required to undergo mandatory therapy, court-ordered counseling or some other form of intervention[iv]. So as a way of getting your husband into treatment, police action is a drastic but effective strategy. I get that this is a tough decision to make — it really exposes what is happening in your marriage to the public b...
Apr 25, 2018
Is Your Wife Nagging Too Much? It Could Be Your Fault!
Nagging is our subject for today. We’ve got some insights for you today! For example, did you know that there is a good reason why wives nag more than husbands? And that it is not actually because there’s something wrong with the wife? This is like mythbusters for marriage! Nobody likes being nagged by their spouse. And no one likes having to nag their spouse over and over about something. But, as we’ll see today, there are often some real and honest reasons behind nagging, and getting to the root of them will definitely benefit your marriage. What is Nagging? Nagging is "pestering others with demands, pleas, and/or requests for compliance when they are not doing what we would like them to do[i]” Typically, in order for something to be qualified as nagging it needs to have a negative effect on the target of the nagging too. It usually needs “to annoy by constant scolding, complaining or urging[ii]”. So typically it is a persistent attempt to persuade or request something but it is not overtly aggressive in nature. Usually what happens is nagging is prompted when someone fails to comply with a request (there’s a hint for the myth busting part of this episode…we’ll get to that below), so the request is made again. Nagging in Marriage Within marriage, nagging is motivated by a desire for your spouse to change some aspect of themselves or their actions. So it is therefore different to complaining or simply venting emotions. Common topics for nagging within marriage include[iii]: Household task completion Money Personal habits Appearance Health Children Amount of love/affection displayed Work or work/life balance Time spent together So how does it actually work or what does it look like? A study in 2008[iv] describes the process of nagging, and why it can become common: One spouse (the "initiator") makes a request for a specific action from their spouse The other spouse (the "responder") refuses the request, for whatever reason: perhaps they aren't motivated to do it, they weren't paying full attention to the request, the request wasn't worded clearly or the responder didn't agree that it needs doing. The initiator must now choose either to persist with the request or to abandon it. For the interaction to be considered nagging, the initiator would choose to persist in making the request The responder now chooses either to comply with the request or continue refusing Steps 3 and 4 continue until either the initiator gives up or the responder complies with the request So you have this back and forth, perhaps over ten minutes or maybe over several days, of a request being met with a refusal. Sound familiar? Nagging can become a common behavior because it is very likely that the responder will eventually succumb and do what the initiator is asking. They’ll do what is being asked just to shut their spouse up, in other words. If this happens then the initiator has been "rewarded" for nagging by getting what they want. So the behavior is reinforced: therefore they become more likely to use nagging in the future. In the mind of the initiator, more nagging=more likely to get what I want. Do Wives Nag More than Husbands? The general stereotype is that wives are more prone to nagging than husbands, and the majority of people believe this to be true. But what does the research say? A study in 2006[v] tested whether this was actually the case and found that women are more likely to nag both men and other women, whereas men are more likely to only nag other men. So in the general population, nagging is equal between sexes, but within a marriage the wife is more likely to nag the husband than vice versa. But, here’s the myth busting part where us guys kind of have to hang our heads and stop pointing the finger at our wives: a study in 2014[vi] found that in most marriages women are more likely to comply with a request the first time they are asked than men are.
Apr 11, 2018
How Admiration Creates a Stable, Happy Marriage
Today we are going to unpack the virtue of admiration. By the way, did you know that admiration has a dark side?  I had no idea until we tackled this subject too, but it does make a lot of sense! If you’ve ever read the Song of Solomon in the Bible I think you have a pretty clear example there of how admiration is so helpful for fostering love and affection between lovers. What is Admiration? I imagine everyone knows what admiration is, generally. But actually describing it might be a little harder. Sometimes it can be hard to differentiate admiration from other similar positive emotions in marriage. Here’s a helpful quote from a study we reviewed: “Admiration is a feeling of delighted approval of the accomplishment or character of another person[i]” A lot of the time admiration comes from pleasant surprises: when someone does something or shows characteristics that prompt feelings of fondness, awe, approval and respect[ii]. I think that we can also benefit from being intentional about admiration though, and seek to notice and focus on those attributes in others and in our spouse in particular. But there are other emotions linked to admiration. These include[iii]: Gratitude: thankfulness for someone's actions and who they are. Strongly linked to feelings of admiration and often naturally follows on from it. Both have positive effects for relationships Elevation: researchers describe this as a specific form of admiration felt in response to "witnessing an act of virtue or moral beauty". It’s like when you see your spouse do something especially incredible you “elevate” them in your mind. Envy: now this is the dark side of admiration, where instead of approving of the qualities of others, you feel bad about your lack of these qualities. Or you desire to take those qualities for yourself. Envy is desiring the good others have rather than just admiring them. You see, admiration is wholly focused on the other person, while envy is more introspective Joy: feelings of admiration are physically and psychologically similar to feeling joy. We often experience these together. Admiration Impacts Marriage Stability and Satisfaction Here’s a neat, long-term study. Shapiro et al[iv] interviewed 43 newlywed couples and then observed them for 6 years of their marriage. They found that the key qualities which predicted a stable, happy marriage were: Fondness and admiration expressed. Expressed is the keyword there: not just felt. Awareness of your spouse's needs and their world Amount of unity expressed through use of phrases including "we" and "us" rather than "I" These factors were strongly linked to both marital satisfaction for husbands and wives, and marital stability. Using these factors they were able to predict stability/divorce 6 years later with 94% accuracy. How fascinating is that? From one conversation the researchers could predict the trajectory of a marriage with almost total success. By the way — we worked really hard in designing our content for our marriage retreat on The Marriage Cruise for Smart Couples to build these three items up in the couples who attended. Buffering  Fondness and admiration were also seen as a buffer which protected couples from the stress of major life events such as the birth of the first child. This was especially true for husbands expressing admiration for their wives: "The fondness and admiration system in a couple's relationship can be thought of as the glue that holds the relationship together... The more fondness for his wife the husband expresses, or the more glue he puts into the relationship, the more satisfied the wife is with the marriage.[v]" (Shapiro et al, 2000) Inspiration Admiration for someone can inspire you to want to be a better person yourself. This kind of inspiration “involves the transcendence of the ordinary preoccupations or limitations of human agency[vi]”, meaning that admiring and being inspired by someone motivates you to push yours...
Apr 04, 2018
How To Get Your Flirt (Back) On… When You Have 3 Kids, a Dog and a Mortgage
Can you remember what it was like to flirt with your spouse before you were together? The fun and excitement of figuring out you were into each other… don’t you wish you could bring that spice into your relationship now that you’ve been together for years? Well, that’s exactly what we’re going to look at today! What is Flirting? Here’s a simple definition: flirting is any behavior with has the potential to be seen as sexual[i]. Actually I think that’s just a sexualized definition of flirting. I think flirting can be suggestive of romance without needing to lead to sex. I say that for the benefit of Christian singles and married folk alike. Flirting is often more nonverbal than verbal: smiles, touch, eye contact and so on. It is often playful and ambiguous: you may not be quite sure if you’re being flirted with or not and that’s all part of the fun. And let me just say, that while I don’t want to take flirting away from singles who are looking for a marriage partner, in this episode we are talking about a couple who are flirting between themselves. Now it’s hard to imagine that researchers could investigate something like flirting without sucking all the fun out of it but one researcher noted that flirting is often used to achieve one of six main goals[ii]: Sex motivation: flirting to initiate sex Relational motivation: flirting to increase intimacy in an existing relationship Exploring motivation: testing a potential marriage partner’s interest in a relationship (this one is definitely for the singles rather than the married couples!) Fun motivation: flirting simply to have fun Esteem motivation: flirting to increase your own self esteem Instrumental motivation: flirting to gain some form of reward from the other person. Other than the exploring option, I think we can look at all of the others and say that flirtation in marriage can and should be a normal part of our interactions. It may look different than the flirting that happens outside of marriage, but between a husband and wife it can really just be a normal part of marital interaction and can really be used to reinforce the sense of togetherness in the marriage[iii]. One researcher actually noted that long-term marriages use a particular style of flirting called authentic flirting. It has one of those holographic stickers on the side. No, just kidding. No, this study in 2017[iv] suggests that authentic flirting is not aimed at having fun or experimenting or trying to get something from your spouse: it is simply an expression of love. Here’s a quote: "Authentic flirting is defined as an affectionate, creative, or playful action for connecting emotionally and sexually with another person. The motive is to see and be seen lovingly by a partner through expressing spontaneously a combination of curiosity, play, humor, or flirting gestures for increased emotional intimacy.” So let me just say on that point: just because your wife flirted with you doesn’t mean you need to expect anything in bed. If flirting in your books only exists as a signal that you are going to have sex tonight, you are actually missing out on a lot of other fun flirting. It is truly a very diverse and flavorful way of expressing love. Don’t make your wife afraid to flirt. Flirting and Marriage On that note, sometimes there are barriers to flirting in marriage. Barriers to Flirting in Marriage One of those barriers could be just what we mentioned: your spouse may want some flirting just to be for the joy of it. But you sexualize it every time. Leave some room for your spouse to be utterly exhausted and still feeling like throwing some flirt your way without creating expectations that he or she is going to be too tired to meet. Another challenge that can come up is if the passionate love in our marriage declines over time. It is normal to experience a more stable, companionate love after the first 18 months of marriage but this doesn’t mean you have to lose the fire.
Mar 28, 2018
Got a Sarcasm Problem In Your Marriage?
Sarcasm: it can be one cutting comment that is never forgotten. Or, an easy habit that becomes part of our normal day-to-day interaction as couples. Turns out there’s a lot more to it than just a bit of sass as we shall see. Why Do We Use Sarcasm? There can be a lot of reasons why we resort to sarcasm but I think it is really good to pause and just peel back the layers on sarcasm. It turns out there’s some important but often very subtle underlying psychological things happening around this sarcasm issue. Sometimes we use sarcasm to communicate complaints or criticism. We actually do this with the intent to come across in a less hostile way because we are couching our negativity in a touch of humor. Perhaps we feel it makes us appear less rude or less unfair when making a complaint about the person receiving the criticism[i]. In that way, sarcasm can be about me trying to save face while still extending the criticism or complaint in a more superficially polite way. Other times sarcasm can be used on the other end of that: as a way to respond to criticism. We can dismiss someone’s feedback or argue against them while still appearing calm. Sometimes it is just about finding a way to express annoyance in a way that is more socially acceptable than outright rage. When you make a cutting remark your peers may laugh and think you funny rather than be disappointed when you lose your temper. Another interesting way we use sarcasm is for conflict resolution: sometimes we defuse a situation or de-escalate conflict by using sarcasm. Of course, since it has an edge to it, this does not always work. When you pause and survey these possibilities, one theme that does emerge is that sarcasm is often about finding a way to express negative emotion in a less vulnerable, less directly-critical way. There is a sense in which it can be a little more polite because it is more indirect. In sarcasm, the actual negative intent is left for the listener to interpret. There’s also a relational component because in using sarcasm in this way we also create a sense of distance between ourselves and the recipient. So you may think your sarcastic comments are just intended to be funny, but if you step back are they serving another, less wholesome purpose? Sarcastic Communication in Marriage  Let’s examine the behavior more specifically. Sarcasm is often misinterpreted and can be easy to miss, so let’s run down the common characteristics of this form of speech. Characteristics of Sarcastic Speech  Exaggerated tone of voice OR blank, monotone voice Blank expression Raised eyebrows Rolling eyes Exaggerated fake smile or smirk False sympathy (“wow, that must have been soooo hard for youuuu”) Expressing the opposite emotion of what your words are saying (“I’m so glad you did that”)[ii] What Does Sarcasm Convey in Marriage?  How does sarcasm work in an intimate relationship like marriage? In marriage, sarcasm is most often an expression of contempt[iii]. Contempt in marriage is very dangerous to the longevity of the marriage. In this context, it often takes the form of expressing superiority or showing a lack of respect (looking down your nose at your spouse) and often has a distant or icy quality to it. Because sarcasm falls under the domain of contempt, it is also a reliable predictor of divorce in a marriage. That’s why we really want you to pause and think about this one if it is part of how you guys interact. Other researchers see sarcasm as a form of rejection or as defensiveness—because it dismisses or undermines your spouse and what he or she is saying[iv]. Again, this is a distancing effect. Perception of Sarcasm  As we mentioned earlier, sarcasm is often used to express negative emotions in a more polite, calm way. This makes the sarcastic comment seem less offensive and hurtful to the person saying it[v]. Note that the perceived benefit is only a perception in the mind of the person saying the sarcasm.
Mar 21, 2018
So Your Husband Ogles Other Women…
Ogling or objectifying the bodies of others by staring with obvious sexual interest can be an easy habit to get into. Especially in a culture that objectifies women. It’s also something that recovering porn addicts have to work really hard at to break. But: there are plenty of non-addicts that deal with this too, so let’s break this down and figure out how to break free of this habit. I think the first thing I want to note here is that while this activity or habit of checking people out can become almost mundane and very normal for a person, we have to realize it really is a betrayal event for our spouses. So it can be generating a lot of ongoing pain and hurt for one person while the other person is like “What? I was hardly even looking!” Why Do Men Ogle? Why is this such a common problem? The short answer is that our culture socializes us to look at women this way. In fact, both men and women are socialized to see women as objects to be viewed and admired[i]. Don’t believe me? Just look on Instagram…if a man or woman posts a photo of him/herself posing — it gets a ton of comments. Even though this is seen as a positive when it’s women complimenting each other…it is still objectifying. Men are taught to look at women in this way, and women are taught to think of and display themselves accordingly. This socialization happens through advertising, films, television and all the media that almost exclusively portrays women with ideal body shapes. And they emphasize their physical appearance over their personalities and qualities as a person. The effect of this is that men are trained to view women as sexual objects. In that context, ogling and “checking out” women becomes acceptable. We say things like “I was just looking!” to minimize and defend the behavior. And then the fact that so many people buy into this worldview is also used as a defense — as if you aren’t personally making a choice to check out other women, you’re just conforming to how everyone else acts. But just because something is commonplace, that doesn’t in any way mean it isn’t harmful. This objectifying of women has a dehumanizing effect. A rather alarming study from 2014[ii] found that when thinking about women in terms of their physical appearance, men would use less human words to describe them, and assign fewer human traits to them than they would to men. This effect can even be seen at the neurological level: focusing on women's bodies activates the same brain areas that are activated when looking at inanimate objects[iii]. How frightening is that? Men looking at women think of them as less human. Of course, you can only imagine the moral challenges this brings because we hold a different moral standard for what we do to an object versus what we would do to a human being. The Effect of Ogling on Women A common defense made is that nobody is being hurt. We are “only looking”. But the research shows that objectifying gaze has tangible, negative effects on the target of the gaze. Even the perception that one might be the target of objectification can have a negative effect. These effects include[iv]: Increased body shame and dissatisfaction with your own appearance Increased body surveillance — monitoring and worrying about your own appearance Internalizing the beauty standards of society and trying to live up to them Increased belief that looks are all that matter Reduced concentration, cognitive ability and performance (e.g., at work or in sports) Increased “self objectification” by women: thinking of themselves in more objectifying terms and being constantly preoccupied with how others will see you Acting less individually and more in line with expectations. For example, talking less and not standing up for yourself[v] What is really sad is that you begin to get the picture that as you objectify people they begin to internalize that view, and begin to believe this about themselves as well.
Mar 14, 2018
Is Your Career Ruining Your Marriage?
Balancing work and family can be a tricky task for any marriage. In fact, sometimes it can seem like it’s impossible to really satisfy either area: either work is going to be unhappy if you put too much emphasis on family, or family is going to be unhappy if there’s too much emphasis on work. Or: both will be unhappy! This is really hard to figure out! Work-Family Conflict Work and family are probably the two biggest demands on your time and energy. When both your career and your family responsibilities are competing for the same hours in the day it can easily lead to conflict in one area or the other. Work life and home life run into issues usually in one of two ways: When the demands of work interfere with your ability to manage family life, or When the demands of marriage and family life interfere with the ability to manage work This can go two ways and consequently there are different causes, different consequences and ways of coping[i]. If you pay attention, what you will usually notice is that stress is caused in one area and then most prominently felt in the opposite area: for example, stress caused at work is felt most strongly in the marriage, and vice versa[ii]. This can be hard for your marriage because you have something outside the marriage that’s bringing stress in. Also, just to be clear, this can happen in dual-income families or it can happen in single-income families: all you need is a demanding or successful job, some long hours or a lot of travel. Competing Roles It is good to be compassionate with ourselves here because having a career and being a spouse/parent are two very different roles to hold simultaneously. On top of that, these two roles can compete for the same time and emotional energy[iii]. When that happens there are two processes that can cause conflict between these roles: Spillover: where stress and difficulties in one role spill over into the other (e.g., stress at work leading to conflict at home) Congruence: where there is a separate factor affecting both home and work equally (e.g., poor conflict resolution skills) Basically you can either bring stress from one role into the other, or you can bring some other factor with you that’s causing stress in both roles. A tight deadline at work creates stress at home, but a bad attitude creates stress everywhere you go. Not Enough Resources What happens is we all have a limited amount of resources such as energy, time, money, knowledge, emotional effort etc. When you do not have enough resources to take care of all the roles this creates tension. Or maybe you have to use an excessive amount of resources trying to balance the roles[iv]. Think about it: is this happening to you? Are you stretching yourself too thin? Further, work-family conflict can also occur when behavior resources are carried over from one role to another inappropriately. For example: someone who is stressed at work may try to use the same authoritarian management style at home. That’s never going to go well. Then you get conflict in the home[v]. These are all dynamics that we need to be aware of in order to solve work-family conflict. So is Work the Problem? Or Family? High demands at home naturally pull your resources away from work, and conflict at home reduces your capacity to handle conflict at work[vi]. Here is a helpful way of figuring out where the stress is and what the impact is: Factors Consequences Work Interfering with Family Stressful or high pressure working conditions Conflict with colleagues at work Long hours and physically/emotionally tiring work Inflexible working hours Having to do work you don't find meaningful or engaging Dissatisfaction with family life Marital tension, leading to conflict Higher overall life stress Symptoms of depression and anxiety Reduced physical health- such as high blood pressure, sleep disturbances and increased susceptibility to illness
Mar 07, 2018
Are You A Loyal Spouse?
Loyalty is the second strongest predictor of a long term, stable marriage. In other words, this is one of the most important features of creating a thriving, passionate marriage. We’ll see what the most important predictor is a bit later, but today we are going to focus in on why loyalty is so powerful and how to create more of it in your marriage — especially in areas that we commonly get derailed. What Does Loyalty in Marriage Look Like? What do you think about when you consider the idea of loyalty in marriage? Turns out that loyalty is more than just staying faithful to your spouse. Fletcher[i] gave a very helpful differentiation between minimum loyalty and maximum loyalty. Minimum loyalty is simply not betraying your spouse: not having affairs, not betraying trust, and not being dishonest. It’s the bare minimum: the baseline. Maximum loyalty is “becoming one” with your spouse through long-term commitment, partnership and devotion. You can see that minimum is about what you do not do — the major taboos of marriage. But maximum is about investing into and pouring yourself into something very deeply. Maximum loyalty is achieved through a sense of companionship and partnership based on[ii]: A shared vision for life: wanting the same things from life, valuing the same qualities and agreeing on important life issues. Joint life goals: having goals which matter to both of you which you can work towards, such as parenting, community or charity work, spiritual practice, joint business ventures and so on. Generosity: investing in your spouse through affection, time, gifts, acts of service etc Fairness: sharing workloads and taking joint responsibility for the relationship Openness, vulnerability and honesty So it turns out there is a lot to this whole subject of loyalty, right? The other beautiful aspect of loyalty in marriage is not only the commitment to the covenant of marriage, but to the personal growth that comes from marriage. You see, loyalty also implies that I am willing to improve my own character and to bring more of myself to the marriage and allow myself to be challenged to grow and develop as a person. This brings a “richness and vitality that may be dormant” in the marriage[iii]. So loyalty is something developed both intra-personally (within myself) and inter-personally (between ourselves). Benefits of Loyalty in Marriage A loyal marriage is a strong marriage. Let’s go through some of the many benefits loyalty can bring to you and your spouse. Satisfaction Loyalty is an important mediating factor between the actions and interactions in a marriage. It also impacts the overall levels of happiness and satisfaction. According to a study in 2004[iv], actions and behaviors such as displays of affection, agreement, intimacy and sex only positively influence marital satisfaction if love and loyalty are there as mediators. So doing these positive actions in marriage doesn't necessarily lead to a happy marriage unless the underlying characteristics of love and loyalty are there. This reality echoes the teaching of 1 Corinthians 13 — the most well known chapter on love in the Bible. That chapter profoundly underscores the reality that you can do all sorts of wonderful things but unless you are doing them in love, the actions really are meaningless. So this is a really good self-check to ask: yeah, I may be checking all the good husband boxes or all the good wife boxes, but is it really clear that these things I’m doing are saturated with love and loyalty? So loyalty is the hidden link between all these good actions and real satisfaction. Now, loyalty can also lead to marital satisfaction directly. For couples who value loyalty and see devotion to each other as a priority in marriage, being happy with the loyalty displayed by your spouse is enough to create high marital satisfaction independent of any other factors[v]. This is also a great point from the research because it means we need to be ...
Feb 28, 2018
Defensiveness in Marriage
I do not think that there is a human being on the face of our planet right now who does not struggle at least a little bit with defensives. Some of us struggle a lot. And defensiveness in marriage is definitely going to make you unhappy and dissatisfied with your marriage. Turns out, it’s not an easy one to overcome either—but today we’re going to show you how. This week we are gonna call you out and expose this gremlin running around in all our marriages called Defensiveness. I know what you’re thinking…”I’m not defensive!!” But, that’s the problem right there. How Defensiveness Works The Bible says that "A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.” (Proverbs 18:19 ESV) Or we could say a “Wife offended” or “Husband offended”… Once you hit that point where there’s an attack, there’s a known flaw, there’s known issues then it is really easy to become defensive. So we have some cool stuff to start with because we are really going to break down this defensiveness thing — you have to know the enemy in order to defeat it — and the enemy is not your spouse, the enemy is the defensiveness that happens between you. Defensiveness happens when four things line up[i]. What I really like about this is that if you take any of these out, you begin to undermine defensiveness in your own life. So the four things are: A self-perceived flaw which you refuses to admit Sensitivity to that flaw (e.g., you are embarrassed or even ashamed about it) An attack by another person (doesn’t have to be a huge attack — could just be a blunt observation) The attacker seeing the same flaw which the defender does not want to admit Defensiveness Could Be a Personality Trait The first two items above are more characteristic issues: they enter into that area of ways of thinking and/or personality traits. I have a flaw — I do not want to admit to it — and I am sensitive about it. That’s getting into that character realm of things. Often we might feel quite inadequate around a flaw or at least insecure about it. We certainly do not want to admit it to others and we may not even really admit it to ourselves. In order to become defensive, that real or perceived flaw has to relate to something that is an important part of my own sense of self or self-worth, and my identity[ii]. It’s like a closely guarded secret that you’re trying your hardest to hide from everyone— maybe even yourself— so when it’s brought to light you instantly try to shoot it down. So we get defensive in situations in which our identity is threatened. A classic example is an addiction — even take it on the lighter end of the scale, like a phone addiction. For me to be defensive, go through the four parts: I perceive it but do not want to admit to it I am sensitive — I do not want it pointed out You point it out to me with a harsh edge on your voice because it is a problem that is coming between us You see the flaw, and I know that. And then I am beginning to think, I am an addict. I am a bad husband. Good husbands do not have this problem. I stake a lot of my self-identity on being a good husband and father. Now we have all the ingredients for defensiveness. So how does this get talked (or fought!) through in a marriage? Defensive Communication in Marriage There are two sides to defensive communication: the defensive reaction, and the action which caused it. We need to separate these. Just think carefully about how you either trigger defensiveness in your spouse, or how you respond to your spouse when you are feeling defensive[iii]. Let’s start with the first. How to Trigger Defensiveness In Your Spouse Here are some sure-fire ways to put your spouse into a defensive mindset: Use words or tone of voice that evaluates or judges the listener (“I see you are on your phone…again”) Attempt to control or coerce the listener (“If you don’t put that down I am going to freak on you.”)
Feb 21, 2018
Don’t Let Resentment Sink Your Marriage
Resentment is what happens when you are treated unfairly and you begin to feel angry and bitter. Resentment can be directed at your spouse, at God, at your life: but if it begins to play a significant role in your marriage, that’s going to make home a pretty tough place to be. Proverbs 12:25 says that anxiety makes the heart heavy and as I thought about the subject of resentment it occurred to me that resentment can be a form of anxiety. You don’t see this in any diagnostic manual, but it has the same ruminating characteristic of repeatedly mulling over past grievances, with a lot of negativity. We all end up with resentment at different places and times in our marriage. We don’t want to be getting after you about it, but rather we want to help you understand how it happens, why it doesn’t help and what to do differently! Resentment often strikes us when we feel that we have been treated badly. Especially if it’s in a way we did not deserve, but it can even happen when good things happen to others which you feel they did not earn[i]. That starts to look a lot like envy. In marriage it often occurs when you feel you have been unfairly wronged and so it might bring about a desire to get even by holding onto a grudge and remaining bitter[ii]. Major Sources of Resentment in Marriage Unresolved Conflict If you struggle with poor conflict resolution and a fairly frequent inability to solve disagreements this often leads to a buildup of resentment and anger[iii]. You get this buildup of annoyances and hurts which might be individually small but if left unforgiven and unaddressed can start to look pretty big. This slowly building resentment then negatively impacts marital satisfaction for both partners. It is also helpful to note that certain styles of conflict are specifically linked to creating high levels of resentment, especially the competitive style of conflict where each spouse is trying to "win" the argument rather than reach a joint solution[iv]. Unless arguments are properly resolved and forgiven, resentment at the initial transgression which caused the argument will continue to impact the marriage. I often tell the couples I am providing counseling to that how much you argue is not nearly as important as if you resolve those arguments. Underlying resentment about past grievances can then fuel future conflict and impede conflict resolution in the future, creating a negative spiral[v]. If you’re still angry about something from last week then this week’s annoyance is going to seem even more infuriating. And then when you’re arguing you start to throw in all the little things from the last few days that have annoyed you, and the whole thing blows up. Don’t worry, we’re going to show you what to do about all this in just a moment! Perceived Unfairness Believing that your spouse is acting unfairly often leads to feelings of resentment which can create conflict and reduce marital satisfaction. This can occur over all kinds of aspects of life, such as: Division of household labor: believing that you do more work than your spouse or that the work is split unfairly leads to resentment, especially for wives[vi]. Emotion work: similarly, feeling that you are doing all the emotional work to maintain the relationship (you’re the one doing all the maintenance behaviors like expressing love, confiding and intimacy etc) or feeling like you put more work into the emotional side of the marriage than your spouse does can also create resentment[vii]. Secrecy: feeling that information is being kept from you by your spouse can also lead to resentment[viii]. Lack of perceived support: feeling unsupported and thinking that your spouse is not helping you through difficulties also leads to hurt and resentment. For example a study in 2000[ix] examined marital satisfaction in couples where one spouse had a serious illness and found that a lack of support and concern or a refusal to help led to feelings of resentment which r...
Feb 14, 2018
How Marriage Counselling Works
Today we want to lift the hood on the world of marriage counseling and look at one particular approach and how it works. If you’ve ever been curious about what happens in the counseling room or are considering counseling there’s a lot more to it than you might think! The Mystery of Marriage Counseling The world of counseling may seem like a mysterious or even intimidating place to those who know little about it. There’s a stigma around mental health itself, and although a distressed marriage is not a mental health problem, we rarely talk about our struggles as a couple. We like to appear like we have it all together and I think us church-going folk are even more prone to this. But then you do hear the horror stories when things don’t go well and people open up. Some terrible advice comes from people who call themselves counselors. So then when it comes to choosing a marriage counselor it can be pretty scary because your marriage is a big deal and you don’t want to the wrong person trying to help you with it! Basic Marriage Counselor Criteria Now I want to say that this article is not an extended advertisement for our services, but the things I am going to tell you are important facts you need to know, whether you decide to work with someone from my counseling practice or find a local counselor. The first thing is that not all counseling degrees are created equal. When a person is earning their Master’s degree in order to become a therapist, their school and the degree program they choose will generally orient itself around a particular school of thought. Of course, there are a plethora of flavors. But when it comes to marriage counseling you should know that there are a number of universities around North America that offer marriage and family therapy programs specifically. These kinds of degrees have less focus on specific mental health problems like anxiety disorders or even addictions, and they focus very much on relationships, how humans interact, how children learn to love and relate to others, on marriage dynamics and on family systems. So when you choose a therapist the first thing you should filter on is their education: do they have a degree that specializes in marriage and family? And usually you’ll see this in the letters after their last name in that either their degree will look like MAMFT (Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy) or their certifying body will supply MFT credentials like LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist). If you’re not sure, ask about the person’s training. The second thing you want to look for is whether the therapist has a specific approach to marriage counseling that is evidence-based. “Evidence-based” means that they are using a treatment approach which has been tested and tried through research and peer-reviewed journals. Surprisingly, there are only a handful of marriage approaches that have been rigorously tested in this way, and so if you want to give you marriage the best chance of success you would do well to ensure you are selecting a counselor who uses an evidence based approach. Otherwise you’ll have no idea whether what you’re being told actually works or not. Probably the two most popular evidence-based counseling approaches are Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (sometimes called EFT or EFCT) and the Gottman Method. I have taken specific training in both of these, on top of my MFT degree, as has my colleague in my practice, Jesse Schellenberg. They are quite different but very complementary. Both of us favor EFCT as our preferred approach: about 90% of couples show significant improvements using this approach and we’ll talk more about success rates in a moment, but 90% is incredible. How EFCT Works Key Principles Now, I am going to work hard to break the scientific jargon and psychobabble into English here but there are some key principles in this approach to marriage counseling that are important (Gurman et al, 2015[i])
Feb 07, 2018
So Your Spouse Has Mental Health Problems
I am excited about this episode today. We all dread mental health issues but today you’ll find out that there is a lot of hope for marriages where one spouse has significant mental health problems. Mental health is a huge problem that affects millions of people around the world. Disorders including depression, anxiety, bipolar and others impact many more people than you may think and can cause real pain and distress. Living with a long term mental illness is hard, and so is being married to someone with such a disorder. So today we want to look at the reality of how mental health impacts marriages, and what you can do to support your spouse if you are in this situation. How Mental Illness Impacts Marriage We need to be realistic about the impact of mental illness on marriage. Mental illness in one spouse often has a negative impact on wellbeing and marital satisfaction for both the mentally ill spouse and the other[i]. This is normally stronger for the mentally ill spouse but both spouses to feel the effects. What we’d like to share with you is that for both the ill spouse and the healthy spouse, there are specific mediating factors which can account for much of the marital distress, and therefore be used to help keep marital satisfaction high even when dealing with severe mental issues like mood disorders, anxiety disorders and substance abuse disorders. Attributions Mental health disorders (especially mood disorders like depression or bipolar) affect how you interpret your spouse's actions and what you attribute them to[ii]. This attribution effect is important to be aware of. Mental health disorders cause people to attribute their spouse's actions more negatively. They can also cause people to attribute negative behaviors to being stable parts of their spouse's personality rather than being isolated one-off incidents. This tendency to attribute things negatively leads to lower marital satisfaction over time. Levels of depression themselves do not lead to lower marital satisfaction: all the changes are due to this attribution issue[iii]. Remember our recent episode on attribution and misinterpretations in marriage? We talked about how the way you interpret your spouse’s actions can either set you on an upward or a downward spiral. Mental illness can, if you aren’t careful, make you more likely to see everything as negative, which then alters the way you act and feel. So we really have to watch the attribution piece and thoughtfully counteract that. Negative Thoughts and Views People with mental illness will hold more negative views about themselves, and about their marriage. Mental illness can affect perception so that the mentally ill spouse pays more attention to negative events and disregards the good things that happen. Mental illness can also cause people to have more negative expectations about the future[iv]. All these negative beliefs and expectations can influence the way people act and cause them to withdraw and hide away. Interpersonal Difficulties Anxiety, depression and personality disorders can all lead to impaired social skills,[v] such as expressing more negative views, difficulty expressing emotion, reduced problem-solving ability, a high need for reassurance and difficulty accepting and believing the reassurances offered. The cycle of repeatedly asking for reassurance or seeking comfort and the refusal or inability to accept comfort can eventually lead to rejection. These issues can create interpersonal problems within marriage over time as the non-ill spouse has to constantly reassure and comfort their mentally ill partner without getting as much support in return. Also without getting appreciation for the effort required to support the ill spouse. To help with this, training in communication and social skills can lead to improvements in symptoms of mental illness, and improve marital functioning at the same time[vi]. Once again the point here is that it isn’t the mental illness itself that’s ...
Jan 31, 2018
How To Be A More Grateful Spouse
When you become aware and appreciative of that which is valuable and meaningful, that is called gratitude. Gratitude needs to be expressed, and what we notice in our marriage is that we tend to experience it more than we express it. So we thought we should think more about that. Gratitude is a powerful thing. Being mindful of all the good things in your life can change your whole outlook and make you a happier, more contented person. This is especially true in your marriage. It might not always be easy to be thankful for your spouse and your marriage, but if your marriage is struggling them making gratitude a part of your daily thinking can really turn things around. Benefits of Gratitude Research finds that expressions of gratitude have positive effects on marital satisfaction[i] . This works as both a long term way of building satisfaction over time, and also as a "booster shot" where gratitude produces short term increases in satisfaction[ii]. You probably already knew this: gratitude is good for your marriage. Let’s unpack how and why it helps, and then look at ways to increase the amount of gratitude we all show to our spouses. Gratitude and Relationship Strength A study in 2010[iii] surveyed 137 couples for how often they expressed gratitude to their spouse. In a follow up study they asked spouses to express gratitude to each other, with a control condition of thinking grateful thoughts without expressing them. In both studies they found that expressing gratitude increased the expresser's perception of the "communal strength" of the relationship. Regularly expressing gratitude increased this sense of joint strength and commitment over time. Expressions of gratitude towards your partner are also linked to more positive perceptions of them[iv]. This was specifically true for the expresser of gratitude, not the person receiving it. So if you are unhappy because of the lack of gratitude you may actually need to try expressing it more rather than requesting it more! The other crucial point is that the effect was only found for expressing gratitude, not just thinking it. So being grateful for your spouse is not enough to benefit from this increased relationship strength: you have to express it. Commitment and Reciprocity Now there is a reciprocal component to gratitude. Expressions of gratitude towards your spouse leads to them feeling appreciated and valued. Feeling appreciated then leads to them appreciating you more. So expressing gratitude strengthens the relationship for both the expresser and the receiver of gratitude. Increased appreciation leads spouses to be more sensitive to each other's needs and over time leads to higher levels of commitment[v]. The simple act of giving voice to the things you value about your spouse brings you closer together and helps you see each other in a better light. Gratitude also helps couples grow closer together and become better at responding to each other's needs. Expressing gratitude for actions that really matter to you, or things that show that your spouse has been especially thoughtful helps to solidify those actions and helps your spouse to notice that their actions were appreciated. Put simply: if you say you like something your spouse did, they are more likely to do it again! Expressing gratitude therefore creates and "upward spiral" where positive actions are reinforced and both spouses end up feeling closer together[vi]. You both end up benefiting. This is what we have talked about before when we encourage you to reinforce what you want more of. That positive cycle or upward spiral is a powerful force for good in your marriage. Interpretations Another study in 2009[vii] surveyed 166 people and found a link between trait gratitude (being a grateful person generally) and a sense of “coherence”: the belief that life is meaningful and that you are able to cope with it. Being a grateful person helps you see life as having value and meaning.
Jan 24, 2018
Help! My Spouse is a Narcissist!
We all carry at least a little narcissism in our hearts. We all show a few traits that belie underlying pride and entitlement. But what happens in marriages when narcissism is a defining feature? And how can spouses of narcissists learn best to cope with this issue? Ok let’s get into the topic of narcissism — which, actually, can be one that feels pretty hopeless. But this is the first time I’ve really examined how to work with a narcissistic spouse and I am glad that there is hope. It can be very difficult to live with narcissism and no doubt some of our listeners today feel the reality of this: but there is hope. What Does Narcissism Look Like? Narcissism either comes as a personality trait or traits — when we look at those you’ll probably notice that we all exhibit some of these characteristics at least on an occasional basis. For example, showing a sense of entitlement in your marriage — like you deserve to have something done for you by your spouse — but this does not necessarily mean that you have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or NPD. NPD is a whole level above narcissistic traits. So let’s look at these traits vs. having a diagnosed personality disorder. Narcissistic Traits Narcissism as a personality trait is defined as: Belief in one's own superiority A sense of entitlement and a need for admiration from others Displays of dominant, controlling or manipulative behavior and a disregard for the needs of others So generally seeing yourself as above other people is the central issue. Narcissism does not always produce a universal sense of superiority but leads to narcissists thinking they are better in certain areas which they value. They may value their looks, success, wealth or some other form of ability but overlook areas where they might be considered lacking. Narcissists are often prone to extreme jealousy and have very fragile self esteem as their sense of worth is directly tied to their ability to feel and be seen as superior to others[i]. As soon as that superiority is threatened their sense of who they are starts to fall apart. Now just remember that any time we talk about abnormal psychology that it’s easy for any one of us to freak out and think — “Wow! That is me! I am so messed up!!” Especially for something like this. If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, as Verlynda and I are, and you understand that the Bible talks a lot about pride and you see the pride that exists in your life as I see the pride in mine, it can be easy to go from thinking we have the normal set of pride issues that come with our broken humanity to thinking that wow, maybe I have a huge personality problem. Stay calm. Think this through. Talk to the people who know you best and who will be honest with you. Take, for example, beliefs in one’s own superiority. Here’s a good example - I’m the guy who tries to nail the best parking spots when I go to the store. As close to the door as I can. I don’t park in any handicap spots — don’t worry! But when I nail an awesome parking spot there’s some major gloating that happens! But just because I do a few things like that, which involve the belief in one’s own superiority (“who’s the mac daddy for parking spots??”) or a sense of entitlement (“I deserve an awesome paring spot”) it does not mean I am a narcissist. Narcissistic Personality Disorder I think all of us display narcissistic behaviors from time to time. A much smaller subset of the population would exhibit regular narcissistic traits or have narcissism as a more central part of their personality. That would make that person more challenging to be married to. NPD on the other hand is the most severe situation. This disorder affects about 8% of men and 5% of women. The DSM definition of NPD includes: Pathological personality traits such as antagonism, grandiosity, and attention seeking Impaired individual functioning due to unreasonably high standards and the need for approval from others in order to...
Jan 10, 2018
What Makes Christmas Merry for Marriages?
Merry Christmas!! Or, at least, that’s the way it is supposed to be. But does it always work out that way? Read on and we’ll tell you why it might — or it might not! Christmas is a time for coming together as a family and celebrating. Right? While lots of people probably have very merry Christmases, many will also find the holiday season stressful and difficult. Having a merry Christmas as a couple doesn’t happen automatically— you have to be aware of a few things and work together at it. Do Most People Have a Happy Christmas? Turns out that 75% of people are generally satisfied with their Christmas experience[i]. I don’t know if it’s the skeptic in me but I wonder if that is overstated. Perhaps the data was collected by a guy in a green suit. Less than 10% of people report significant levels of anger and sadness. That’s good to hear. And about half of people report some level of stress during Christmas. Not too bad. But there’s some pretty interesting facts to learn as we go through this that are good to think about as we come up to this holiday. A study in 2002[ii] interviewed 117 individuals to determine the specific factors that contributed to making Christmas holidays stressful or enjoyable. Here’s what they found: Emphasizing family and spending time together was linked to greater happiness Emphasizing religious beliefs was linked to greater happiness Lower happiness and greater stress was reported when spending money and receiving gifts were the most important aspect of the holiday. Giving gifts and consuming in a way that was environmentally friendly was linked to higher happiness Men generally reported being happier and less stressed at Christmas than women- possibly because much of the responsibility for the shopping/cooking Christmas dinner etc falls to the woman. This quote sums up their findings nicely: "In sum, the materialistic aspects of modern Christmas celebrations may undermine well-being, while family and spiritual activities may help people to feel more satisfied[iii]" Christmas Gifts Obviously this is starting to highlight what we already know: that gifts and materialistic expressions should not be the main focus of Christmas. But what is really interesting is if you try to limit the amount of money you spend and you limit your gift giving, this is also linked to lower happiness over Christmas[iv]. In fact, another study in 2008[v] found that spending a higher proportion of your income on others than yourself predicted higher levels of happiness. This, of course, gives evidence to the truth claim of Scripture that it is more blessed to give than receive (Acts 20:35). So it shouldn’t be the main focus of the season, but gift giving can be a great way to show love and have fun together. Gift giving should be[vi]: An expression of love Valuable- not necessarily in terms of cost but in the thought and effort that went into the gift Altruistic and not focussed on obligation or creating a feeling on indebtedness in the receiver Ideally contain some symbolic meaning, such as giving someone a gift to indicate that they are part of the family or giving a gift that will have special meaning to the receiver Tailored to who the receiver is, not based on your own preferences. So no giving your wife a gift that you secretly want for yourself! How does the present buying process break down in a typical marriage? Women normally spend more time on gift shopping than men and often take overall responsibility for the first buying process, seeing it as "work". Men often take less of an active role in this and feel the need to buy presents for fewer people or see it as "woman's work"[vii]. So husbands, you could definitely make the holiday season less stressful for your wives by being more willing to be involved in the gift buying, by starting buying gifts earlier (rather than leaving it till Christmas eve!) and by getting gifts for more people rather than just close family.
Dec 20, 2017
Pornography and Sex Trafficking
Today is a difficult episode about the hardcore realities of the pornography industry. How is this marriage related? Well, pornography is a leading cause of divorce nowadays and one of the myths that we need to debunk as we fight this cancer is that viewing porn is a victimless activity. Around 1/2 of marriages have at least one pornography-using spouse. Objectification is a big part of using porn: seeing the actors as sex objects. We’ve looked before at how watching porn impacts your marriage, but there’s another side to it too. Some people may watch porn thinking that it’s harmless fun, made by willing actors having the time of their lives. So I want to convey something of the human cost of the real people involved in creating pornography so that we all understand that viewing porn is not a victimless or harmless activity. Quite the opposite. Human Trafficking and Abuse So you need to know that pornography relies on trafficked victims to create its content[i]. In fact, major centers for human trafficking such as St. Petersburg in Russia and Budapest in Hungary are also large producers of pornography. Many women that are trafficked for prostitution in these circumstances are also forced to make porn. Even what you may consider ‘legit’ or at least, legal jobs like porn acting, modeling or stripping in clubs can also be an entrance point into the sex industry. Women that start in these roles are often pressured or forced into prostitution or other illegal activities[ii]. Research and first-hand accounts show that in the sex industry, control, intimidation and violence are commonplace. Around 71% of women in the sex industry are not "free to leave" the industry, either due to being physically withheld or trafficked, or else unfree to leave until they have paid off debts[iii]. 50% of American women in the industry reported regular or daily violence from their agents, handlers or pimps and 90% reported verbal abuse. Pornography is also sometimes used as a means of control: threatening to expose the pornographic videos they have made was a way of keeping women in the sex industry[iv]. In other instances women were totally unaware their pictures were being spread in magazines or online. The picture research paints is that once you’re in this world of sex and porn, whether you entered it willingly or not, getting out of it again is difficult and dangerous. And once you’re involved many men and women find themselves forced into situations and acts they would never have agreed to. They find control slipping away from them and into the hands of people who would exploit them for all they’re worth. And you, the viewer, have no idea what circumstances the videos you are watching were made under. Sexually Transmitted Diseases STDs are a major problem among porn actors, and one of the main concerns actors report about their work[v]. In the US porn industry Chlamydia rates are 14.3% (compared to between 0.6% and 3% for the general population) and gonorrhea rates are 5.1% (compared to less than 0.1% in the general population)[vi]. Reinfection rates within a year are 26.1%[vii]. Other STDs are not routinely screened for so prevalence rates are unknown. HIV can also be spread within the porn industry due to the high number of sexual partners actors are required to have and given that safe sex using condoms is rarely practiced. For example there was an outbreak in Los Angeles among porn actors in 2004, where 65 men and women were infected with HIV in a single month. Screening processes used in the industry failed to stop the disease spreading[viii]. Safety standards in the industry are poor and often violate health and safety regulations. For example actors are required to pay for their own screening tests and made to sign a waiver releasing their employer from responsibility if they contract HIV or an STD[ix]. Safe sex using condoms is uncommon, and risky or extreme sexual acts are treated as commonplace.
Dec 13, 2017
Loving Your Spouse’s Kids
Families involving stepparents and step children are always tricky. And yet they’re a very common kind of family unit in today’s society. So how do the marriages look in these blended families? As we look into this we’ll see that a happy marriage and a happy blended family are very closely linked. How Common are Blended Marriages? Over half of marriages every year are second marriages for one or both spouses, and 65% of those are bringing kids from the previous relationship[i]. 80% of blended families feature the biological mother and a step-father, rather than featuring a step-mother, or being "complex stepfamilies" where both spouses bring children from a prior relationship. Let’s look at some of the common issues and challenges that couples in these families face. Forming a blended family or stepfamily presents challenges to the marriage, including: Negotiating parenting roles The stepparent forming a new relationship with the child The divorced parent still having some control/responsibility for the children's upbringing, affecting the decision-making process for the new couples Negative appraisals of the family and the step-parent role from society or your social circle. In a lot of ways stepparents are looked down on or seen as not-quite parents, and the very fact that you’re in this situation can lead people to think that the original family has failed in some way, which is a lot of added negativity from outside that really isn’t going to help. How couples navigate these challenges becomes a big part of how they function as husband and wife. "Researchers note that stepfamily functioning and couple functioning are inexorably linked, suggesting that it is difficult to create a happy second marriage without also creating a workable stepfamily[ii]. This is a dynamic that two people entering their first marriage without children do not have to navigate. Luckily, research emphasizes that couple functioning in stepfamilies is significantly determined by the same processes and factors that affect any other marriage: communication skills, empathy, values and beliefs etc. But there are some specific factors and issues within blended families that do need special attention. Bottom line: the usual skills apply, and a few more on top. Establishing Norms As blended families are a fairly new concept relative to traditional first marriages there aren't as many norms and established ways of functioning. The “family” has been around as long as human civilization, but the “blended family” is a pretty new idea. So while families have thousands of years of convention and wisdom to lean on, blended families are a bit more in the dark. For example there are set norms for looking after and disciplining kids, managing finances and decision making in first marriages, but there's no "set" or expected way of doing things in a blended family[iii]. Couples in blended families have to figure things out for themselves. This can create uncertainty over roles and lead to conflict, especially over complex issues like combining your assets/finances as you get married or looking after step children as well as your own children. These are tough issues to deal with and it can feel like you’re the only ones struggling with them. So: it would be good for couples to explicitly discuss these issues and agree on how to manage responsibilities, finances and childcare[iv]. Doing so eliminates that uncertainty and helps couples work together on creating their own set of norms for their family. And I imagine this could actually be quite liberating: having no set way of running a family imposed on you, so getting to set the rules yourself. Just make sure it’s a joint process. Getting the family part right will make things much better in your marriage too. Agreement on parenting and family roles is associated with lower rates of conflict and higher marital satisfaction[v]. Social Support Step-families typically receive less social support from...
Dec 06, 2017
A Husband’s Guide to Spiritual Leadership
One of the things I hear a lot of wives calling their husbands out on is spiritual leadership. Even in marriages that aren’t particularly distressed. This isn’t a subject we’ve tackled before so I thought it would be good to look at so that we can give husbands some help on how to move forward in this area of married life. This is a tricky topic for a lot of guys. I know in our marriage for the longest time the “spiritual leadership” would look more like Verlynda prodding and me obliging, which is no criticism of her but just reflects my own reluctance. When I talk to guys about this, there are a lot of reasons why we do not show spiritual leadership, including issues like: Not knowing what to do can be a challenge It can feel like a huge task and one that you’re not qualified for. You don’t know where or how to start It feels awkward. Spirituality is often a private relationship with God and now you are being called to live that out in front of others. Perhaps the spiritual leadership you saw as a child was unattractive because it was dry or hypocritical or just unpleasant Then there’s the huge issue of just feeling like I don’t have it all together enough to lead myself, how am I supposed to lead you? I just mention these to help people understand there can be a lot of reasons why it is hard to do this whole spiritual leadership thing. I’m sure a lot of people reading this will be struggling with the same issues or hang-ups. I think a big one is just feeling like you’re being called to be something that you aren’t. Not many guys wake up in their marriage one day thinking, “OK, I finally feel like a spiritual leader today”. But that doesn’t exclude you from being able to do it. So let’s unpack this and then give some guidance. Why Spiritual Leadership? Spiritual leadership might be something that God calls each man to in their marriage and their family, but there are also a range of practical life benefits to taking this seriously. A study in 1999[i] looked at nearly 100 married couples and examined the effect of joint spiritual activities compared to individual spiritual activities and beliefs. They looked at how this impacted marriage and found that the benefits of joint spirituality included: Closer integration of faith into the marriage More perceived benefits to the marriage, for both the husband and wife Less conflict More verbal collaboration Better ability to discuss agreements This came from shared activities like prayer, worship, spiritual discussion, mission or charity work and church attendance as a couple. So it’s great to note that doing these things that seem unrelated actually has these tangible benefits inside of marriage. Getting Started With Spiritual Leadership I think the biggest barrier to getting started properly is the belief that you have to have it all together before you can show spiritual leadership. I know this is an issue for me: I’d like to feel like I am an expert before I try something. I guess that’s part perfectionism, part shame-based self-identity, but most importantly it’s about having impossible standards. I mean, if you stop and think about it, in terms of the Christian faith if you wake up one morning and think to yourself, “I am definitely qualified to be a spiritual leader!” At that moment, you are probably DIS-qualified! We’re never called to have it all together and we’re never going to be perfect. So instead of thinking that you have to lead this from a place of accomplishment and expertise, why not approach it as a shared journey together? So instead of doing this because you have it all together spiritually, why not do this because you’d like to bring your wife and children with you as you figure out how to grow spiritually? As part of this, you need to believe that God is actively at work in your marriage and that marriage, including yours, is sacred[ii]. So He is invested in this journey of growth and discovery as well.
Nov 29, 2017
How Pornography Impacts Marriages
I’ve run across a number of couples lately — mainly younger couples — who are watching X-rated movies or pornography in order to “spice up their sex life”. It is not uncommon in our world to think that pornography has something to offer your marriage, but today, we’re going to take a look at what the research says porn really does for, or, more precisely, to your marriage. So I am going to come at this as if I was talking to a younger couple, maybe newlyweds, and they’ve watched some porn together and they feel like it turns up the heat in the bedroom. But I need you to understand, as the reader, that I am taking training to become a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist and that means that part of my counseling work is actually helping couples recover from the impact of pornography on marriage. I cannot begin to describe to you the depth of hurt experienced in the hearts of betrayed spouses and in the hearts of pornography addicts, too. Like bad enough for suicide to be on the table. You should know that I am not a fan of pornography. While it certainly can produce heightened arousal, even if we were to push aside the moral implications of the sexual abuse and trafficking of men and women in that industry, the consequences of using pornography in your marriage are significant and very serious. So while I want to be non-judgmental and this post definitely isn’t aiming to shame anyone, there are some serious warnings to heed here. Porn Impacts Marital Satisfaction Research consistently finds that frequent porn use is linked to lower relationship satisfaction for all kinds of romantic relationships[i][ii]. Porn use is particularly damaging for marriages compared to dating relationships[iii], and this effect gets stronger over time so that the longer you are married and using porn, the more it damages your marital satisfaction.[iv] So something that may seem like harmless fun for dating couples or newlyweds is only going to cause more and more problems the longer you’re married. Which direction is this effect? Does porn decrease marital satisfaction? Or does decreasing marital satisfaction fuel porn use? A study in 2004[v] found that an unhappy marriage can be a predictor of frequent porn use. That’s probably entitlement coming out, although it may also be a coping mechanism—if I act out with porn, I can stay married and stay air "faithful”. But other research shows that porn use can cause marital problems: A recent study in 2017[vi] surveyed married couples for porn use and marital quality in 2006 and then again in 2012. They found that porn use in 2006 predicted lower marital quality in 2012. In fact it was the strongest predictor of low marital satisfaction. So while the effect can go both ways— porn as a symptom and a cause of marital problems— "experimental research suggests that it is porn use that more often negatively affects couples’ outcomes than vice versa[vii]" How Porn Impacts Relationships So let’s look at the specific ways porn is damaging to marriages. Commitment According to a theory called the Investment Model, commitment in relationships is comprised of 3 elements: satisfaction with the relationship, attractiveness of available alternatives and investment in the relationship[viii]. We just seen that satisfaction is impacted by porn use. Porn use also increases your attention to attractive alternatives to your spouse, thereby lowering commitment to your spouse. Because you are looking at a wide variety of attractive alternatives to your spouse in the porn, you are likely to become less satisfied and committed to a single spouse and more desiring of variety. This is one of the beliefs implicit in a worldview that accepts pornography: that a variety of sexual partners is more fulfilling than one sexual partner. Even if you consider yourself faithfully married and you consume porn just to spice things up, you are, by virtue of your actions, also implicitly agreeing that being involved in other people’s sex...
Nov 22, 2017
Why You Keep Misinterpreting Your Spouse
You know how sometimes you get so wrapped up in an issue — some kind of disagreement with your spouse — that you really feel like you cannot see the forest for the trees? It’s as if you no longer remember why you were arguing — you are just arguing about the arguing? Today we are going to help you take a step back so you can see the forest again and figure out why you keep misinterpreting your spouse. We are going to be looking at attributions, and why this process of attributing or interpreting your spouse’s actions can lead to cycles of arguments and problems that don’t go anywhere. But the cool thing is that these same processes can also be used to start positive cycles in your marriage that keep drawing you closer together. So attribution is a topic that’s definitely worth learning about. Let’s start with the big one. The Fundamental Attribution Error This is one of my favorite things to talk about! The fundamental attribution error is something that we all do. When I attribute your actions to a flaw in your character, rather than to an environmental factor then I commit the fundamental attribution error[i]. Where this really gets problematic is when I attribute your actions to a flaw in your character, but I attribute mine to environmental or situational factors. For example, let’s say you and I are both out working at our respective jobs one day. I get home late. You get home really late. I’m upset because you’re usually home before me and I had to make supper and do a bunch of extra stuff. Here’s how the fundamental attribution error plays out: I think to myself, she is never home on time: she is so disorganized! (see the character attribution?) You ask me why I was late. I tell you, “Well, traffic was really bad.” (see the environmental attribution?) See: we could be in the same situation but you have a character flaw whereas for me, I was just caught in some circumstances outside my control! Or let’s say a couple gets into conflict and they both say a few mean, unkind things to each other. Name calling. She thinks, “He has an anger problem!” (attribution to character) but while she feels bad about her own behavior, she thinks to herself, "If he wasn’t such a jerk she wouldn’t have to talk like that to get through to him!” (attribution to circumstances). Now I am not defending abusive men, but you get the picture: this happens both in healthy marriages and in conflictual, non-abusive marriages. Why Do We Do This? We all fall into this attribution trap because it is easier to make judgments based on personality rather taking into account all the possible situational variables. Personal characteristics are easier to identify — they help us to understand a person and make sense of their behavior. These characteristics are more stable in a person and so it is easier and faster to make snap-judgments based on a person’s nature than it is to look for other circumstantial explanations[ii]. Having these concrete judgments in place about a person’s character makes their behavior seem more predictable. Your brain likes being able to make decisions quickly based on information that’s readily available. So rather than looking for all the possible factors that could have influenced your spouse’s actions, it’s easier to just attribute them to his or her character. Easier, but not necessarily more helpful for your marriage. Attributions = Misinterpreting Your Spouse You need to know that this whole fundamental attribution error thing is governed in marriage by how happy your marriage is. You will interpret events and actions according to your existing beliefs about your spouse and your marriage, whether good or bad. And if your spouse acts in a way that does not fit with your perception of the marriage, you will discount or explain away the action. As a side note: that, by the way, is how a perfectly intelligent spouse who believes she is married to a committed husband can explain away evidence to the contr...
Nov 15, 2017
Fighting For Your Military Marriage
A few days after this episode is released is Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day. We wanted to acknowledge our servicemen and women who serve our country and that of our neighbor, the USA, and to thank you for helping make it possible for us to live lives of freedom and meaning. If you’re not a veteran I would encourage you to take in today’s episode regardless to better understand some of the sacrifices and challenges our military members face on the home front. It’s hard to imagine a marriage with more strain on it than that of a serviceman or woman and their spouse. I have to confess I thought looking into these marriages was mostly going to be negative — that we’d see a lot of challenges and not a lot of upside. And yet, of course, we’ll see that human resiliency is a beautiful thing and that there are a lot of positive, hopeful things happening in military marriages as well. Marriage and Military Deployment Of course there are a lot of challenges faced by both the serving soldier and the spouse who remains at home. These can include mental health issues, for example, Rates of depression are 12% among active service members and 13% among those who have returned from duty[i] Rates of PTSD are 2% among returned service members Wives who are left at home suffer from increased rates of depression, sleep disorders and acute stress[ii] Military service undeniably puts strain on a marriage, through the emotional roller-coaster of separation and reuniting, and the fears of losing your loved one each time they are deployed. This unfortunately leads to some of these marriages becoming unstable, resulting in divorce rates of 53% among military couples, which is higher than for non-military couples[iii]. So these are serious challenges, but it’s not all bad news. Despite the challenges of military service some couples report that it strengthens the marriage. A study from 2013[iv] interviewed 118 military couples and found that 44% of them reported "better relationship dynamics" upon reuniting, while 35% reported more destructive communication and 21% reported no change. Almost half of the couples in this situation were able to draw some positive from it, whether that’s from the strong bond they feel for each other, the sense of pride and purpose their service brings, or the support they receive from those around them. 93% of couples were able to identify at least one positive change as a result of the deployment, for example increased confidence and autonomy for the wife, or a new sense of purpose for the husband or a greater appreciation for family life upon return. So even in the midst of extremely tough circumstances couples can still find things to be grateful for. And that’s pretty awesome. If you are a couple in this situation, or you know someone who is about to face their first deployment, it can be useful to know what to expect. So let’s look at the emotional cycle of deployment and how couples typically react to each stage of the journey. Emotional Cycle of Deployment Couples typically go through five stages when one spouse is deployed to active service for a long period of time[v]. Pre-Deployment Stage This is the time from receiving orders to deploy to then actually leaving. It can be weeks or months. What to expect: The wife staying home may experience denial or high levels of fear, or even anticipate losing their spouse for good. They may also feel anger at their soldier husband for leaving, leading to conflict in the marriage. This is going to be a very stressful time so all kinds of emotions are to be expected. The soldier may become emotionally and physically distant as he starts training and bonding with his squad mates. The soldier is, in some sense, mentally already deployed, and already looking ahead to the challenges facing him[vi]. Both spouses may come into conflict and stress over trying to get their affairs in order, for example the husband doing all the important DIY tasks befo...
Nov 08, 2017
How Much Foreplay Does Your Wife Really Need?
We are going to look at foreplay today. But before we do, please be reminded that emotional factors are a much stronger determinant of sexual satisfaction and orgasm frequency than biological or practical factors like sexual frequency and lack of foreplay. So make sure the emotional connection gets most of your focus, and then consider what we’re thinking about in this episode! Questions around foreplay and orgasm are fairly common in marriages. How much foreplay does my wife need to reliably reach orgasm? How much time should I expect my husband to devote to foreplay each time we have sex? Today we’ll be looking at some of these factors that affect foreplay, orgasm frequency and sexual satisfaction overall, so if your sex life isn’t all you’d like it to be, this is definitely worth your time. But let’s just briefly reiterate the disclaimer above. A study from 1993[i] showed what we probably all know already: individual relationship variables like closeness, intimacy, marital satisfaction etc. predict female sexual satisfaction over and above biological and practical issues like sexual frequency and length of foreplay. We’ve seen this fact reflected numerous times in the research for this podcast, and even produced a whole episode on why emotional intimacy is the key to great sex. So we’re going to talk about these things, but if you want to improve your sex life, you’ll get the most benefit from improving your emotional connection to one another. Foreplay and Orgasm Duration of Foreplay What’s interesting about this research is that there are some general observations, but the research also really seems to highlight the fact that everyone is unique. There’s no recipe for orgasm: it’s more like a journey of discovery that a couple needs to tackle together and explore together. It requires gentleness and collaboration and curiosity. So, for example, a couple studies we found indicate that increased time spent in foreplay is often linked to increased probability of orgasm[ii][iii]. However, if you are experiencing some kind of sexual dysfunction then there may be no benefit to spending more time in foreplay: A study by Huey et al[iv] examined 619 women who reported sexual dysfunction and found no support for a link between length of foreplay and female orgasmic response. Further, the duration of foreplay may differently affect women depending on how regularly they already achieve orgasm during sex. “Extending foreplay and intromission (penetration) might enable some women who were already orgasmic to have more frequent orgasms than they would under shorter periods of stimulation.[v]” For women who already achieve orgasm at least some of the time, increasing foreplay can make orgasm even more regular. However, for women who rarely or never achieve orgasm, duration of foreplay appears to have little effect. This again suggests that foreplay is not the main issue in sexual satisfaction and orgasm: if you already have the emotional connection then foreplay can help, but if you don't have that connection then foreplay isn't an adequate replacement in itself. Assuming you’ve got the emotional connection thing nailed, then is there an ideal amount of time to spend in foreplay? Unfortunately it’s not that simple. There are high levels of variability between women. We do not mean to imply promiscuity, but just managing expectations about one’s own personal experience. Some women achieve orgasm with little or no foreplay and some remain inorgasmic after twenty minutes or more of foreplay[vi]. There is also high variability in desired levels of foreplay: when given a questionnaire about their ideal foreplay length, different men and women both reported anywhere from "less than five minutes" to "more than thirty minutes"[vii]. So there’s a huge range in what both men and women prefer. Nature of Foreplay Now the nature of foreplay also is worth considering in addition to the duration of foreplay.
Nov 01, 2017
What To Do When Your Folks Do Not Like Your Spouse
What do you do when your family and/or friends do not approve of your spouse? As it turns out, there are a number of strategies to help with this, but the most important is just doing a good job of taking care of your marriage, regardless of what others think. It’s a tough situation to be in: you’re fully committed to your marriage and love your wife to bits, but her parent don’t think you’re good enough for her. Or your husband’s friends make it quite clear that they don’t like that you spend so much time together. Marriages don’t exist in a social vacuum: this kind of social disapproval is bound to have some kind of effect. Social Disapproval and Marriage When you’re faced with disapproving friends and family, does it draw you closer together as a couple or pull you apart? Popular culture often talks about a "Romeo and Juliet Effect" where family disapproval intensifies love. This is based on a famous study by Driscoll et al[i] in 1972, who found that feelings of love increase as levels of perceived interference from parents increase. However, almost every subsequent study into this has found the opposite effect: interference or disapproval from family and friends has negative effects on relationships including lowering relationship satisfaction, reduced relationship stability, reduced commitment, lower feelings of love, higher levels of criticism and less positive appraisals of your spouse[ii][iii]. I was a little surprised by this research, to be honest. It has been my anecdotal observation—this is more watching dating relationships—that when parents disapprove it tends to bind the couple together more strongly. They not only have their newfound love but they also have a common enemy. Then again, these studies are looking at long term relationships and when I think about that context, I lean more towards the reality that if you have a lot of negative info about your spouse coming from friends and family, that can easily shape your perception of your marriage. If there’s an upside to this, it is that approval from your social network has positive effects such as improved perceptions of your spouse, greater feelings of love, and greater stability for the relationship. Overall, the positive effects of approval from the social circle are stronger and more consistently found than negative effects of disapproval[iv]. I do think there is a warning here for all of us: just to be careful about how we approach other struggling marriages. I think this research shows that when couples are struggling they really need our support, not our criticism. It is easy to stand outside the marriage and point out all the problems to the person you’re close to, but are you really helping the couple? You could do a lot more for their marriage by being there for them and showing that you believe in and support their marriage, rather than helping them pick it apart. Why Does Approval Matter? You might be wondering why these effects appear. Why should other people’s opinions matter? Well, every opinion you hear from your friends and family has the potential to, in some way, influence your own thinking. Approval from your social circle helps create a stronger identity for you as a couple: when other people see you as a well-suited couple and approve of this role, this helps you form a joint sense of self and identity. Approval from others also reduces uncertainty about the relationship, while disapproval increases uncertainty. This uncertainty about whether you should really be together alters your perceptions of the relationship and your behavior changes accordingly[v]. Imagine this: you have a disagreement with your spouse about something minor. It would be fairly natural to want to discuss this with a close friend, or a family member. If that person already has a negative opinion of your spouse then that’s going to affect how they respond to your concerns, and the advice they give to you about it.
Oct 25, 2017
Announcing our Marriage Cruise!
How would you like to come on a cruise with us? Registration and bookings for The Marriage Cruise for Smart Couples have just opened! The Marriage Cruise for Smart Couples is a premium marriage retreat, on a deluxe cruise ship, sailing around the Western Caribbean. Ah! What more could one ask for!? (Yes, that is a picture of the actual ship above!!) Transform Your Marriage Caleb has some amazing, transformational content laid out for the 8 days we’ll be on the Celebrity Silhouette: so be prepared to have your life changed! He really dug deep and designed this research-based program so that what you learn can be taken home to be a blessing to your marriage for years to come. So this is not just meant to be a flash-in-the-pan experience, but something that is truly transformational. The beauty of this whole retreat is that the cruise ship really takes care of us while we can take care of our marriages. It is an awesome opportunity to step out of the daily grind, take a break from winter, and enjoy a time of relaxation, renewal, romance and creating life-long memories for each couple that joins us. Memories for a Lifetime I want people to look back on this cruise and say, That was a turning point for us. Or, even if your marriage is already pretty good or even if it is awesome, just to be like, wow, going on The Marriage Cruise for Smart Couples really helped us take it to the next level. Who knew there was more? And yet there is, right!? Yeah even for us we enjoy our marriage and we know how all this works. But we hit plateaus too, and then usually when you do something out of the ordinary, wow, it’s like a whole new level of enjoyment and intimacy and joyfulness together. Once again, we have gathered all the details in one place here: Marriage Cruise for Smart Couples. Marriage Cruise Overview The cruise leaves February 18 2018 from Florida, right after Valentine’s Day. We’ll be aboard the Celebrity Silhoutte for 8 days and 7 nights. So it leaves Sunday afternoon and returns the next Sunday morning. The cruise departs from Fort Lauderdale, FL, and goes either to Jamaica or Key West for the first stop (that’s to be determined based on how reconstruction goes at Key West). Also the cruise is in the Western Caribbean so these are beautiful spots that were not damaged by the devastating hurricane season this year. After Key West we have one day at sea, then into Costa Maya Mexico, Cozumel, Mexico, George Town Grand Cayman, another day at sea and then home. As far as the seminars go we have this amazing venue aboard the ship, floor to ceiling windows on an upper deck overlooking the ocean, and we plan to have a welcome reception and registration with hors d’oeuvres the first evening and then, every morning in port we have a session earlier in the morning for just one hour so you can get off the ship and enjoy excursions at each location. For the two sea days, each day will have two 90 minute sessions so we can really maximize the value of that time. We really designed this so it is about positive transformation. We’re giving you skills that you can use now and in the future, and helping you understand how to create the marriage you want to have. We have some great material on sex and intimacy, communication, creation deeper connection, designing a marriage that creates legacy. And this is all down-to-earth, actionable stuff, not pie in the sky. The resources and training material and exercises and experiential work is all evidence-based: in other words, it works. Marriage Retreat Aboard the Silhouette Here's a quick overview. Welcome Reception (Sunday, 5 PM aboard the Silhouette) Session 1: Shortwave Radio Lessons (Monday Morning - Key West, FL) Purpose: To truly hear and be heard without misunderstandings or unnecessary conflict. Duration: 60 minutes We are going to have some great laughs in this one, but I will be teaching you how to use active listening to really,
Oct 20, 2017
Long Distance Marriage – Do’s and Do Not’s
Does your marriage involve one spouse working away from home? Or travelling a lot? Maybe you are a military family or you commute to another city for work or do camp work. Let’s talk about some of the challenges and also some ideas to make the most of this situation! It can be tough being separated from your spouse for long periods of time. And when this happens regularly, due to work or some other circumstance, your marriage is bound to be affected in some way. But that change doesn’t necessarily have to be bad, and with the help of our list of do’s and don’ts you can make sure you stay connected to your spouse no matter the physical distance between you. What is a Long Distance Marriage? Who knew, but long distance couples account for over 1 million couples in the USA[i] and this number is continuing to grow. There are a few flavours of this: Couples where one spouse goes away for weeks or months at a time for work. Military couples would be an example of this. In Canada we see a lot of this related to the oil industry where camps are set up in northern areas, and husbands go North to work like 3 weeks in one week out kind of thing There are also dual-commuter couples where both spouses travel away for work or education And there are couples who live in different geographical locations on a semi-permanent basis due to work or other factors If you don’t fit into any of those groups, another definition of a long distance relationship (LDR) is simply that the couple are "unable to see each other as often as they like, due to time or distance constraints[ii]". So how does being in a LDR affect your marriage? There are mixed results from the research on this one, but most find that there are no concrete differences in terms of satisfaction or commitment between long-distance and close-distance relationships[iii]. This means that spending long periods of time apart doesn’t automatically spell doom for your marriage, and making the relationship work is largely up to the individual couple. So let’s get into the do’s and don’ts of long distance relationships. Do’s and Don'ts Don’ts Do Not Have Unrealistic Expectations If you are in this situation you are probably already aware of some of the common challenges faced in long distance relationships. These include: Increased financial strain from travelling Difficulty forming new relationships and friendships in your separate locations and balancing these with your marriage Difficulty assessing each other's emotional state or the state of the relationship Try to be aware of these challenges and other issues like loneliness: it then becomes a conversation about something you both experience. Can you discuss this without feeling guilty? Have you chosen to see this as something that gets between you, or can you share the burden together? Those are expectations that come into play when you are apart. What about when you are together? Avoid putting too high expectations on the time you do spend together: couples often expect their limited time together to be perfect: intimate and romantic and all these wonderful things and can be distressed when this doesn't turn out to be the case. Do Not Be Negative Those expectations can easily lead to negativity in thought or emotion. A study from 2007[iv] found that negative affectivity (displays of negative emotions) were linked to relationship instability. This effect was stronger for men than women, and also stronger for long distance couples than for geographically close couples. Being far apart makes those negative comments much more of an issue, because it could be days or weeks before you get to speak to each other again, so you’ll have all that time to stew over every word. Obviously arguments and disagreements will happen in an LDR, like in any marriage, but just be careful that they don’t sour your entire experience of time together. If you fight, make sure you make up quickly to stop it having a lingering effect.
Oct 18, 2017
How to Beat Empty Nest Syndrome
At that moment the final child leaves the family home, you and your spouse go through a transition from parenting to empty nesters. For some, perhaps wives more than husbands, this is almost like postpartum depression as you are confronted with the grief that comes from a loss of a major stage in your life. So today we’re going to be talking about Empty Nest Syndrome: the impact, the causes and how to support your marriage through this transition. What Is Empty Nest Syndrome? It is more often associated with women but for both parents, ENS creates a transition in life and a change in roles and responsibilities[i]. This change can be challenging to go through. Sometimes there are feelings of loneliness, depression or distress that come when the final child leaves the family home[ii]. I remember seeing this when I came to pick Verlynda up to move from Vancouver Island, where she was living with her folks. She was the last child. And I was totally unprepared for the grief that I saw. I guess I was inconsiderate: it had not occurred to me that this would be difficult for Verlynda’s mom. Empty Nest: Good or Bad for Happiness? I would tend to think that if you have a good relationship with the last child leaving home, even if you are looking forward to the independence and no more making lunches and the freedom of having an open conversation with your spouse in your home and all that…there’s still some grief at the time of depart. But, is it a positive or a negative for most people, overall? Most research shows that for the majority of people, children leaving home is good for marital satisfaction and can also be good for overall life satisfaction. A classic study from 1975[iii] reports that 71% of couples consider their post-parenting lives to be as good as or better than their lives with children in the house, with only 6% of women and no men reporting that their lives are universally worse. A slightly more recent study by White & Edwards[iv] surveyed 402 parents and found that children leaving produced significant improvements for martial happiness regardless of the characteristics of the children or parents. Similarly, another study finds that children leaving the home improves psychological wellbeing for parents and Mitchell & Lovegreen (2009) found that only a minority of parents experience a negative "empty nest syndrome”[v]. Who knew, right? Do you think our 11 year old is ready to live on her own? Popular wisdom paints the empty nest phase as one of the loneliest and hardest times in a parent’s life. But for a majority of parents, this clearly isn’t the case. So what are the benefits of the last child moving out? The researchers found that children moving out allows for increased "alone time" as a couple, more intimacy and spontaneity, greater freedom, and improved financial conditions[vi]. The general picture here is that it gives you more time and resources to spend on each other, rather than on the kids. All of this can positively impact marital satisfaction. However, contact with children is still important. While marital satisfaction may increase after children leave, overall life satisfaction only increases when the parents remain in frequent contact with the children[vii]. That’s a very interesting caveat. Your marriage may improve, but without the kids still in your life, the net gain to your overall life satisfaction isn’t much. This makes perfect sense because you’ve invested so much in your children. Staying in touch allows you to maintain the value of that connection you’ve created. So the empty nest stage can, if you keep in regular contact with the children, be good for marriage. However, it is also possible that children leaving the home can be a crisis time for marriages due to the sudden changes in routine and identity this stage creates[viii]. Some research finds that the empty nest phase of marriage is often the least satisfying, and has the highest rates of divorce and conflict[ix].
Oct 11, 2017
What is Trauma Bonding?
This is not a very well known term: trauma bonding. But if you are in an abusive relationship, or are supporting someone else who is in one, or if you experienced abuse as a young person then you will find this information to be a vital key in unlocking your recovery journey. The issue of trauma bonding is a fascinating subject but also very difficult for those who are implicated in this kind of situation. Today we’re going to be looking at what it is, how it develops, how it can impact marriages and finally what you can do about it. Trauma Bonding Explained Trauma bonding is the formation of powerful emotional attachments in abusive relationships. These bonds are seen to develop in a range of situations including abusive marriages, and also in abusive families, in hostage situations and in cults. It occurs where the abused or mistreated individual feels positive regard for their abuser[i], feels like they need the abuser or continually returns to the abuser despite the harm they do[ii]. It is often characterized by a sense of being unable to live with the abuser and being unable to live without them. It’s sometimes referred to as Stockholm Syndrome after a famous bank robbery in Sweden in 1973, in which the hostages began to develop feelings of trust and affection for their captors. Given that the context of this website is marriage, we’re going to be talking about this in relation to abusive marriages. However, if you’re in a different kind of situation; maybe you experienced childhood sexual abuse, you will be able to better understand that from what you learn today. So this is a very difficult subject. And in fact, relationships with trauma bonds often look like addictions. Just the idea of continuing to do something (being in the relationship) despite knowing the negative consequences, and sacrificing all other aspects of your life for the relationship, has close parallels with the behavior of drug or alcohol addicts[iii]. Like addictions, trauma bonds can therefore be a lifelong struggle as the abused person continues to fall into the same cycle over and over. Bystanders such as a sibling who sees you in an abusive marriage can look into your situation and wonder why you don’t leave. Well, the research we look at today should help give some understanding as to why leaving is so difficult. Why Do Trauma Bonds Form? Abusive relationships are formed though a kind of "social trap" where the trauma bond makes it hard for the abused partner to leave the relationship. Here’s an example of how it may go. The first instance of abuse in a relationship is seen as an isolated incident and the abuser's attempts to reconcile and make amends end up strengthening the relationship bond. They are usually really good at winning the abused spouse back, at convincing them it was an isolated incident, often even convincing them it was their fault for inciting the anger that was involved. And this works. The repeated incidents of abuse shift the abused spouse's beliefs towards thinking that it must in some way be their own fault for causing or allowing the abuse. Here’s a quote: "By the time the woman realizes that the abuse is inescapable, the traumatically produced emotional bond is quite strong.[iv]" Factors Contributing to Trauma Bonds From the research, we identified five factors that contribute to trauma bonding in abusive relationships[v]: Power Imbalance A power imbalance in a relationship can produce negative self-beliefs and low self-esteem in the subjugated individual. In the oppressed or abused spouse. This power imbalance makes them feel like they "need" the more powerful spouse because they are not capable or strong enough to live without them. They come to internalize the more powerful individual's view of them as being weak, and the abuser therefore comes to see themselves as even more powerful, which increases the imbalance of power, forming a cycle of dependency. The sense that you need the more powerful spouse...
Oct 04, 2017
How Does Wealth Affect Marriage?
I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s easy to fall into the “if…then” trap when it comes to money. If we had an extra 400 dollars a month, then dot dot dot. Or, If we had a 5 bedroom home instead of a 3 bedroom home then dot dot dot. And when we start doing this if...then thing, it begins to impact our marriage. Money is definitely top of the worry list for a lot of couples around the world. I know how hopeless it can feel about changing your financial situation, so I want to encourage you that we have some good news. The great news is not some get-rich-quick scheme. No, it’s that you can shift your marriage so that you can move away from that hopeless feeling, regardless of your financial situation. So let’s jump in. How Financial Issues Impact Marriage Before we get to the solution we need to spell the problem out. Not surprisingly, research finds that financial strain does impact marriage by reducing marriage quality and also reducing the stability of the marriage[i]. What’s fascinating is you can actually put a number to this. The direct link between financial strain and reduced marital satisfaction accounts for up to 15% of the total variation in marital satisfaction[ii]. If you are struggling financially or unhappy with your financial situation, you are far more likely to see your entire marriage as not working. I think this is good to point out because in this situation you have a pretty specific issue but you’re extrapolating it to a much larger one. For me, that’s a checkpoint. As in: stop and think about it. Because what we just identified is that you may only have a money issue. But you’ve made that into a marriage issue. I think it begs the question, is that necessary? Yes — financial strains impacts marriage. But how much power have you given to that issue? So money can be made into a bigger issue than it really is. But: just to continue the thought of how marriage is impacted by finances: financial issues also impact marriage indirectly through the way they change how you act. Financial strain due to unemployment, debt, low income or other issues increases stress and depressive symptoms for both spouses. This, in turn, reduces the amount of social support, warmth & affection which the spouses show to each other and increases the level of negative communication: things like anger, criticism or dislike. This behavior reduces marital satisfaction, and this reduced satisfaction increases depressive symptoms, creating a destructive cycle[iii]. So the way money makes you think and talk to each other ends up having a worse impact on your marriage than the money problem itself. Other research supports this: A study from 2008[iv] entitled “Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness, but it Helps” compared low income and medium income couples. Low-income couples had higher levels of psychological distress and also scored lower on measures of marital adjustment. And as we all know, financial difficulties are also one of the main reasons couples give after divorcing for why their marriage broke down[v]. Conversely, high income is directly linked to high marital satisfaction, and also indirectly influences it by reducing pressure and stress within the marriage[vi]. Now I know at this point it sounds like we have a simple formula: increase the moolah, increase the marriage mojo. But just stay with me for a bit longer. Financial Satisfaction I’d like to look at financial satisfaction. Financial satisfaction is not about having more money. It’s about being satisfied with the money you have. Now financial satisfaction is strongly linked to marital satisfaction[vii]. As I mentioned, financial satisfaction is not the same as simply having lots of money, although it is negatively correlated with financial strain. There are other factors which influence financial satisfaction in marriage, including: The perception that you have enough money and are coping. Smart financial decisions: families and couples who pay bills on t...
Sep 27, 2017
Q&A on a Disconnected Marriage and Shared Leisure
What if you’ve been doing things in your marriage for years that you now realize have really left you disconnected? And yet both of you want to rebuild and recover what you have? Where do you start? What if you’ve been doing things in your marriage for years that you now realize have really left you disconnected? And yet both of you want to rebuild and recover what you have? Where do you start? Today we’re taking two questions from our wonderful podcast patrons relating to important issues of trust and intimacy. Here’s the first from Mac: Early on in our ten-year marriage, I would shut my husband's feelings down. God has since convicted me about my steamrolling of his feelings and shown me how I was disrespectful and inconsiderate to his side of our marriage. I was so concerned with not being walked on that I actually walked on him. Now I think he's afraid to open up because he avoids negativity of any kind between us. And we are coming out of him seeking emotional approval from outside parties (not a sexual or explicit relationship) but just seeking affirmation from work performance above our relationship and being open in general to anyone willing to build up his ego. He has expressed his commitment to our marriage and wants to get back on the same page but we seem to have a problem of figuring out where to start. And while he says everything I want to hear, he lacks follow through. Simultaneously, there is a temptation for him to find his identity in his work because he works in a very highly respected field. How can I compete with the meaning he finds in his career? And beyond that how can I compete with the numerous women willing to fall all over him because of his career? And here’s question number two, which relates to shared leisure activities, a topic we recently went over in detail. This question is from JM: My wife and I need to develop a hobby together but our interests are pretty different. We do a lot of family activities like camping, hiking, and biking but since the kids are little we can't really do those regularly on our own. We end up doing house tasks after the kids go to sleep or watching TV or working on work together. We both feel a need to have a shared activity that is just us. My ideas are more: sports, working out, games (banana grams etc.) and hers are: reading, history, cooking, learning something new, art. If we didn't have to find childcare we'd both like to go biking together. We are struggling to agree on a shared activity that we will both find fun. Of course, either one of us would be willing to do the desired activity of the other but our goal is to really both have fun? Any ideas for how to get started?   Listen to the podcast for Caleb’s answer to both questions!
Sep 20, 2017
Q&A on Boundaries and PISD
So what if you’re good friends with another couple and the wife there is a little too attentive to your husband? Or, another patron is asking: what if both my spouse and I are experiencing PISD (post infidelity stress disorder)? Today we’re going to be handling two questions from our much-valued patrons of our podcast. This first question from Chewy relates to boundaries with other married couples. Here’s the full question: Can you talk about boundaries with other married couples? My best friend began to make jokes that were borderline sexually inappropriate. Pun on words type humor that I don't necessarily find humorous but a few times my husband would join in and banter. He is very word-y and so I felt like this was a threat to our relationship. At times I've felt that my friend envied our relationship and especially my husband's attention to me and his financial provision for our family. I have also felt that my husband has appreciated her attentiveness and appreciation of his actions. I feel that she is just more immature in her faith and Christian walk but have begun to wonder how often we should be in community with her and her husband. I have also seen her be more attentive to another mutual married guy friend. I feel for her because I think her actions come from a hurting place. My husband seems to be vulnerable to words of affirmation in general because that tends to be his love language and I am more practical. I don't praise as often because I'm busting my butt just as much as he is! Working full-time and managing a lot of household tasks like schooling and budgeting. I want to be more vocal in my appreciation because I think he needs it but I can't manage to do so without feeling fake. I say things like "Thank you" "I really appreciate your help" "I love that you can XYZ to help me" but I feel like he wants more praise in the way of "You are my hero" "I don't know how you can xyz" or more over the top type comments that I can't seem to say without feeling like I'm worshiping him. My husband and I experienced a difficult few years due to other circumstances (I talked to an old boyfriend via Instagram and it was clear this old flame still felt attentive towards me - my husband went on a revenge track to show me he was attractive too we have since with the help of your podcast worked through this phase) and feel that he may have been vulnerable to her attention more than he normally would. We have talked these instances through multiple times but now I'm wondering how do we balance a healthy mix of time for just him and I to rebuild our bond and strengthen our marriage with time for our two families to be together. We both have small children and are in very similar phases of life but their family has a dysfunctional marriage at least more so than ours or maybe just different. I've tried encouraging and it seems to help but I can't help but feel that I'm just not sure what healthy in this case should look like. Our kids very much enjoy being together and our families have fun when hanging out. How can I tell if we have crossed into dangerous territory or if I'm just being over sensitive? I will say that my husband is more passive and isn't necessarily the one instigating shared time, it more comes from my friend and her husband seems to go along with it. We are all Christians and looking to raise our kids with good examples. I have felt a tension between feeling like I need to limit shared time and also being a good friend. I am more of a homebody and prefer to just hang with my husband who also would be okay doing the same but I know we need community time as well. Help! And here’s question number 2, from MarkyMark, in relation to Post Infidelity Stress Disorder, which we devoted a full episode to back in March: Can you please discuss how to proceed if both partners are experiencing PISD simultaneously? Listen to the podcast for Caleb’s answer to these two questions!
Sep 13, 2017
Do I Have to Care About My Spouse’s Hobbies?
This is a question that comes up more often than I would have expected. We’ll address this issue of shared interests but at the end of the post I am going to go a whole layer deeper and tell you what really matters for couples that are focusing on this issue. Some couples seem to spend all their time together and have exactly the same interests. Others seem to have nothing in common and their leisure time is a constant battle between their individual preferences. If you’re in the latter group you may be wondering to what extent you are expected to join in with your spouse’s interests and hobbies. So we’re going to examine this issue and how it can impact marriages. Clarifying Shared Leisure or Interests Whether we’re talking hobbies or shared leisure or shared interests, it’s helpful to clarify that in order for something to truly fall into this category the activities need to be[i] Expected to be enjoyable by BOTH spouses Freely chosen by BOTH spouses That might sound obvious but often the contention comes in right here because either one person is not enjoying it, or one person does not feel like they were part of the decision. This is a challenge for being honest with each other and with ourselves: don’t call it shared if it’s not. It’s OK if you’re happy to do something with your spouse because he or she enjoys it and you just enjoy being with them. Just make sure it is fair: so that somehow that imbalance is reciprocated even in other ways. I think it’s also good to point out that shared activities can be joint or parallel. Joint are interactive and undertaken together. Parallel are undertaken together but not interactive. For example, going to a swimming club: you’ll change separately, you won’t interact while swimming etc. But it’s still a joint activity. I think this is helpful to note because it begs the question: are you wanting more activities together or more interaction? If you only want the latter, it may be that you’re focusing on the wrong problem. More on that later. Shared Interests and Marriage Satisfaction Spending free time together and having shared interests is linked to increased marital satisfaction[ii]. Having shared interests is a sign of high levels of intimacy as it shows that the couples are choosing to spend their free time together. Shared leisure also predicts higher self-reported feelings of love for your spouse and less conflict in the marriage[iii]. So, at least initially, this seems to be a good thing, right? However, it's slightly more complicated than just shared free time equals marital satisfaction. For starters, the interests really do have to be shared: a study from 2002[iv] studied couples over 10 years for changes in shared leisure and its effects on marriage. They found that involvement in interests that the husband liked but the wife disliked was "both a cause and a consequence of wives' dissatisfaction". Forcing or expecting your spouse to care about the same things as you isn’t going to be good for your marriage. There are a whole range of other factors that play into this other than simply how long you spend on what activity, and who enjoys it. Here are some of them[v]: Satisfaction with the leisure time (both of you finding it enjoyable) is correlated with marital satisfaction. This satisfaction with the joint leisure time is a more important predictor of marital satisfaction than the amount of time spent in such activities. Marital satisfaction is linked to the percentage of free time spouses chose to spend with each other, rather than the total number of hours. That’s a very nuanced but interesting detail. It’s saying this: if you have 2 free hours a week, and you spend one of that with your spouse, that’s 50%. If you have 8 free hours a week and you spend 2 of those with your spouse, that’s 25%. Spouse’s with the 50% ratio will be more satisfied with their marriage than the 25% spouse who is getting double the time.
Sep 06, 2017
Dealing with Age Difference in Marriage
What about age difference in marriage? If you marry someone who is quite a bit older than you, does this make your marriage experience different from the experience of couples who are similar in age? Let’s find out! If you’re struggling with your marriage and may be wondering if the age difference— which is not something you can change — is an issue, the things we go over today should be useful and above all hopeful. Because while the research does identify some challenges faced by couples with large age differences, overall he message is a positive one. Age Gap Statistics Let’s start with some facts and stats about age-heterogeneous couples, or those with a bigger than normal age gap. About 10% of marriages have an age difference of more than 10 years[i] and there are more of these kinds of marriages now than in 1980. So these marriages are not uncommon and are on the rise. As you might imagine, men are more likely to be married to a younger spouse than women[ii] and this percentage increases with age: the percentage of men marrying younger spouses is lowest in the 20-24 age range at 35% and then rises to 67% by age 40 and 73% by age 70. Interestingly, these effects are observed across all western cultures and most non-western cultures, with a few exceptions, such as The Philippines and Costa Rica, where women marrying younger men is more common[iii] This pattern of men marrying younger women being the norm has remained stable over the past few decades although the rates of women marrying younger men are increasing. For second marriages and marriages later in life (at age 50+) there is more diversity in age gaps between spouses than in younger couples[iv]. Age-heterogeneous couples are more common in black marriages and in those with lower socioeconomic status[v]. So the statistics are interesting, both for those of us not experiencing such an age gap — Verlynda and I are just over two years apart in age (she’s younger) — and for those who are in a marriage that has a larger age difference. But the real question is, how does age difference impact marital satisfaction? Age Differences and Marital Satisfaction Turns out that’s a hard question to answer! Results on the effect of age difference on marriage are very mixed, but overall age-dissimilar marriages are "more alike than dissimilar to coeval marriages[vi]". “Coeval” just means of the same age. So this researcher is noting that typically a marriage with an age gap doesn’t look much different than a marriage between couples of similar age. But: other research does note some issues. So let’s just go through all this and look at the different conclusions to see what we can learn. Older research[vii] often finds that marriages with large age gaps have lower marital quality and satisfaction, and are less stable than couples who are of similar ages. Being similar is normally considered a good thing and predictive of marital satisfaction: particularly similarity in values, upbringing, and socioeconomic status. Values and norms in society change as time goes on, so couples of significantly different ages may have different values, which could lead to lower agreement and lower overall satisfaction[viii]. So this dissimilarity in upbringing and worldview may lead to conflict and communication, although it’s worth noting that, as we saw in our episode on whether opposites attract, the situation is not as black and white as saying that dissimilarity is bad. Age differences could also lead to a power imbalance, which can increase tension and conflict. This is based on Resource Theory, a theory of relationships which states that whichever spouse brings more resources to the marriage will exhibit greater control. The older spouse is likely to be in a better job and have more life experience etc., and so by "bringing more to the marriage" they naturally tend to make more of the decisions. However, it can also work the other way if youth and attractiveness are seen as the "...
Aug 30, 2017
Creating Purpose in Your Marriage
Purpose and meaning. This is that deeper layer in marriage where you get to explore the meaning of having been brought together as a couple. And, how you want to impact the world. How you want to create a legacy: the value that you leave behind as your life comes to a close. Everyone wants to feel like their life has meaning, and marriage creates a special kind of meaning for couples: shared identity and sense of purpose, and a partner with whom you can impact the world. Shared purpose starts with finding meaning. Meaning-making is drawn from our individual identities, shaped by nature and nurture. Once we are married and begin to have repeated interactions with our spouse, the interaction formulates a more stable sense of self (of who I am, who you are). So my relationship to Verlynda, as my spouse, modifies my identity. And then we create this common world together based on our interactions and on the common front we present to the world[i]. Meaning Starts With Your Shared Story Every couple creates a shared story of their relationship: how they have interpreted the events that led to them coming together and a joint vision for the future. I see this in our lives. Just over a year ago we were preparing to leave on a year-long trip in our travel trailer. Having to create this vision ourselves and then explain it to others confronted us with the need to make meaning or have some sense of shared purpose. Having to explain yourself and rationalize what you’re doing prompts this process. I think any major life transition for a couple is going to result in this process of creating a vision for yourselves and for others to grab hold of. But I think particularly at the start of a marriage, in its early stages, couples have to create this shared sense of identity and create a sense of meaning to their relationship. They’re bringing their individuality together, but they are also creating a new, jointly developed meaning. And this helps the couples make sense of their relationship and also it makes the future seem more stable and certain[ii]. So a study my researcher provided looked at the stories that newlywed couples told about how they met and about their experiences dating. The content of these stories and the shared meaning they represented was a strong predictor of marital wellbeing[iii]. Here’s some specific points of interest from this research: Storytelling Process. Telling the stories in a collaborative way, with high agreement over the details, predicts marital wellbeing as it suggests a strongly held sense of shared meaning to the relationship. Disagreement over the details or conflict during storytelling suggests couples have not formed a strong sense of meaning. This is where we start to see purpose being defined: the couple has a shared, synchronous sense of having been brought together. Storytelling Style. Telling the story as a narrative, rather than just a list of events, and telling it with a sense of drama are both linked to marital wellbeing as they show that the couple are very invested in their shared history. This animated interest reflects some of the value they place on the process of uniting their lives together. Story Content: what the couples actually chose to tell in their stories was also significant: Attributing tensions or difficulties to factors outside the couple, rather than to yourself or your partner, indicates that the couple have a strong sense of cohesion and was linked to high wellbeing Framing the story as a conflict or focusing on barriers that were overcome, such as overcoming past relationships or dealing with disapproval from parents, was linked to lower satisfaction. If the whole “story” of your relationship is defined as one of conflict and turmoil then it will naturally become less stable. What I take from this is that couples who have some deep sense of destiny or providence or God’s will in bringing them together have a more meaningful story behind why they ...
Aug 23, 2017
Remarriage After Bereavement
Remarriage after bereavement. Maybe I get a little selfish and hope that I’ll never have to face the loss of a spouse. When I’m feeling more noble and altruistic, I hope my spouse will never have to face it. But regardless, nearly 100% of couples face the loss of their significant other during their lifetime. And so if this reality is so common, it’s worth talking about. Losing your spouse is one of the hardest things any person can go through. Amidst the grief and sadness, you have the question of remarriage: when is it ok to remarry? How will my new marriage compare to my old one? Should I even be comparing them? Today we’re going to be looking at this topic and hopefully offering some hope to those of you in this situation. Background Info about Remarriage We’re just talking about remarriage after bereavement today. Not remarriage after divorce- that’s a rather separate issue. But for both of us here at OYF: this is our first marriage. We don’t actually have any close connections in our peer group who have remarried after bereavement. And both sets of our parents are still living. So we’re definitely abstracted from this in terms of experience. But we do have some research to help frame the issue of remarriage. Here are some stats to get us started: Men are more likely to remarry across all age groups. Remarriage rates decline with age for both men and women. Women's likelihood of remarrying declines more sharply with age than it does for men[i]. As they get older they become less likely to remarry. These patterns are true across cultures. Remarriage rates decline with age for both genders. This could be due to a lack of availability of potential partners, or may also reflect a reduced interest in remarrying. Older widows often cite freedom from having to care for their spouse as a reason not to remarry in later life[ii]. Which makes sense — if you see someone caring for a spouse with a long, protracted terminal illness: they are not only learning to become more independent as the illness progresses, but they are also carrying a huge burden of care. And I could definitely see someone coming through that being more reluctant to remarry. When do people tend to remarry? Rates of remarriage drop just after bereavement and then rise. This is different from the remarriage rates for divorce, where people often remarry quickly. Clearly, a time of mourning is needed before remarriage after the death of your spouse, but perhaps this finding is also hinting at a social norm or taboo stating that it is inappropriate to remarry too quickly after being widowed[iii]. 12 months is sometimes considered the acceptable time to wait before re-marriage, and there is actually a large increase in marriages among bereaved men and women in the 13th month after the bereavement[iv]. This suggests that a good percentage of the bereaved consider a year an appropriate time to wait before moving on with a new partner. I think if you’re recently bereaved then that alone should offer some hope: right now you may feel like you’ll never recover, but perhaps it’s comforting to know that for some people the healing process moves along to a point they feel ok remarrying after just a year. Of course, it doesn’t always go that way, and every circumstance is different. Overall rates of remarriage are much lower after bereavement than divorce: 5% of women and 12% of bereaved men remarry, compared to 69% and 78% of divorced women and men, respectively[v]. Interestingly, widowed people often marry other widows, with 45% or bereaved men and 42% of bereaved women doing so[vi]. Perhaps the shared experience of having gone through such a terrible loss makes them uniquely able to comfort and support each other. Issues Affecting Remarriage We’re going to cover some interesting factoids here, talking about the influences that come into play. In a general sense: either post-divorce or post-bereavement, it’s my understanding that the divorce rates for s...
Aug 16, 2017
Help! My Spouse is a Perfectionist!
Perfectionism is not too far from any of our hearts. Certainly, anyone who is on Facebook or Instagram knows that we, just like everybody else, tend to present the perfect image of ourselves on these channels. But: we want to ask the question, how does this affect our marriage? The topic of perfectionism was suggested by one of our readers, and it’s certainly an interesting one. What is perfectionism? Is it a good thing? How can it impact marriage when one spouse is only satisfied with perfection and the other finds it hard to live up to their standards? What is Perfectionism? Perfectionism usually comes in one of three flavors[i]: Self-oriented perfectionism: requiring yourself to be perfect Other-oriented perfectionism: requiring other people to be perfect Socially prescribed perfectionism: belief that others hold unrealistic expectations about you: believing that others require you to be perfect. A related concept is perfectionistic self-presentation, which is the desire to be seen as perfect by others[ii]. This includes actions such as self-promotion, desire to hide imperfections, and reluctance to talk about your own imperfections. Obviously needing to be seen as perfect is going to impact a marriage in quite a big way, especially if you’re afraid to be vulnerable around your spouse. I think it’s helpful to take a step back from the role that perfectionism plays in your marriage and ask, “What kind of perfectionism do we each struggle with?” You’ll want to nuance your response based on whether it is self or other-oriented, or if it socially prescribed. Is Perfectionism a Good Thing? There are mixed thoughts on this. When you have these perfectionistic traits, it is inevitable that you would feel unsatisfied or stressed if you do not meet the standards set on you (by yourself or by perceived others). Some may argue that it is useful or essential for a high-achieving life while others argue that it is unhelpful or detrimental to your wellbeing. Some researchers have differentiated between adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism, in which adaptive perfectionism is seen as a form of motivation and hard-working attitude, and so is linked to positive outcomes. Adaptive perfectionism is correlated with higher achievement but neither perfectionism nor achievement are correlated with life satisfaction[iii]. However, both adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism are linked to highly negative outcomes such as anxiety, depression and low self-esteem, as well as a variety of interpersonal problems, which we’ll get to in just a moment[iv]. So even if perfectionism helps drive you to succeed it comes at a steep cost. So the bottom line is it may help you achieve more but it will cost you. For me, I think perfectionism is contrary to the gospel. Those of us who are born again are all valuable, fallible children of God. So our worth is something instilled in us and given to us but we also acknowledge that we have an innate, undeniable potential to fail. Perfectionism is incapable of helping with either point, although it attempts to. It cannot provide worth because when is perfect ever perfect enough? And it cannot preserve us from proving that we have a fallen nature: that we sin, we act in ways that are not congruent with our values or with God’s values, we let our spouses down from time to time. So in my mind, perfectionism just becomes a breeding ground for shame. For that reason, it is unhelpful. The Effect of Perfectionism on Marriage So let’s look at how this touches marriage specifically. The reality is that perfectionism in marriage is more likely to help us get our ugly on than anything else. Let’s break this down according to the three kinds of perfectionism: self-oriented, other-oriented and socially prescribed. Self-Oriented Effects The fear of being seen as imperfect may prompt you to hide parts of yourself from your spouse. Physically, yes, but I’m thinking mainly in terms of psychologically.
Aug 09, 2017
Am I a Sex Addict?
I recently completed 4 and a half days of training on the assessment and treatment of sex addiction. You might be thinking “I’m not a sex addict so this isn’t relevant”, but I’d encourage you to listen to this week’s podcast regardless because we’ll also talk a lot about what healthy sexuality looks like in this show. There’ll be plenty of food for thought whether this is an issue in your marriage or not. What Sex Addiction Is and Is Not To begin with, let’s clarify what we’re talking about with “sex addiction”. It is not: A high desire or couples that enjoy a lot of sex. We need to differentiate compulsive vs. healthy sex: Compulsive: using genitals to avoid feelings. Intimacy: closeness and affection are enhanced through sex Compulsive relationships are marked by loneliness, possessiveness, jealousy, anger, and alienation. Healthy intimacy affects the growth of both individuals Healthy courting and bonding is an honest, slow process. There’s no ‘game’ in the courting process. I’ve never heard mention of a couple who are sexually addicted to each other Sex addiction is not necessarily porn addiction. Sex addiction is not necessarily sex offending — although a lot of sex offenders are also sex addicts. So what IS sex addiction? There are 10 criteria: Loss of control over your actions Compulsive behavior Efforts to stop Loss of time to your addiction Preoccupation with sex and sexual thoughts Inability to fulfill obligations due to your addiction Continuation in the addiction despite negative consequences Escalation- behavior continually getting more extreme to satisfy cravings Losses due to the negative consequences of addiction Withdrawal Differences between Addictive and Healthy Sexuality Addictive Sexuality Healthy Sexuality Feels shameful Fosters positive self-worth Is illicit, stolen or exploitative Has no victims Compromises values Operates within a value system Draws on fear for excitement Uses intimacy for excitement Reenacts childhood abuse Cultivates a sense of being an adult Disconnects from oneself Fosters a sense of self Creates a world of unreality Expands reality through being in touch with the present Is self-destructive and dangerous Relies on safety Uses conquest or power Is mutual, consensual, and equal Serves to medicate and kill pain Fosters self-regulation of emotions Is dishonest or requires a double life Originates in integrity and authenticity Becomes routine, grim or joyless Is spontaneous, fun and playful Demands perfection Accepts the imperfect Suffocating, demanding, clinging or disengaged Is respectful of boundaries, accepting and intimate Causes of Sex Addiction Family backgrounds: Families of origin for sex addicts are characteristically rigid (77% of addicts) and disengaged (87%) Addicts in the family (87%) Childhood issues Emotional abuse: 97% Sexual abuse: 81% Physical abuse: 72% So the family and upbringing play a huge part in almost all cases. A lot of the recovery work involves addressing childhood trauma. Pornography is a catalyst or portal to amplify sex addiction. I like to see it as a very broken way of coping with pain from trauma, abuse, neglect, etc. The addict absolutely must take responsibility for all of their choices — but there are significant, tragic things that have happened in their lives that have made them vulnerable to these choices in a way that those of use without those experiences are not going to be nearly as vulnerable. Treatment for Sex Addiction Is there hope for sex addicts? Yup. It’s amazing to hear stories of very broken lives and marriages. So much destruction and pain. Now they are whole and their lives are manageable and they are pursuing healthy courtship and healthy intimacy. What about their spouses? Coping with a spouse who is addicted to sex can be very challenging. Dealing with these issues can be similar to dealing with t...
Aug 02, 2017
Learn to Date Your Spouse Again
In our previous show, we talked about the neuroscience of romantic love. Today we’re going to address the behavioral side of things to help you rekindle the passion in your marriage. Dating can be one of the most exciting times in any relationship: it’s when you’re constantly thinking about each other, finding out so much about each other and forming that deep connection. But what makes dating so awesome? How do men and women come at it differently? And how can a married couple make this come alive in their marriage again? What Makes Dating & the Early Stages of Love so Enjoyable? Last time we looked at our brains and how there are pleasure and reward systems built right into them. You’ll recall we talked about romantic love (which is out front during the courtship or dating phase of a relationship) and partner attachment (which is the steady, committed love of lasting marriages) Romantic love is linked to systems in the brain which "reward" you with strong feelings of pleasure whenever you think about or spend time with your spouse[i]. This motivates you to want to spend time with your spouse or girl/boyfriend at the start of a relationship. Typically this phase of love lasts 12-18 months[ii], but can last an entire lifetime[iii]. We talked about extending that last time. Self-expansion theory, developed by husband and wife researchers Arthur and Elaine Aron, speaks to this situation[iv]. In their view, romantic love is a period of rapid self-expansion by including the beloved in your sense of who you are. During the very early stages of the relationship, you learn a lot about your beloved and get to grow as a person and experience new things by integrating aspects of your spouse into your own life. The rate at which you can do this declines after the initial period of the relationship: you start to run out of new things to learn about your spouse. So dating is the most exciting phase of a relationship because you’re getting to grow as a person by getting to know your spouse, and this inevitably starts to taper off the longer a relationship lasts. The other side of the coin is the concept of habituation: the longer you do something/spend time with someone, the more you get used to it/them, and the less rewarding the time becomes[v]. Sniff. Intimacy and sex then play into these early stages of love and then marriage. For those that are new to our podcast, we speak out of a Christian worldview and we practice and hold the value that extramarital sex is not only wrong, but it’s also unhelpful. On the ‘unhelpful’ point, we’ve noted before that the best sex is happening inside of marriage so we not only have moral reasons for asserting this value, but research-based evidence to support the benefits as well. Back to our point. Let’s talk about how intimacy works. Remember that when we look at intimacy, we mean the whole enchilada, not just sex. This is interesting. According to a study by Baumeister et al in 1999[vi], passion is a function of changes in intimacy. So when intimacy is stable (either low or high), passion is low. But when intimacy is increasing, passion is high. Intimacy is often increasing fastest at the start of the relationship, as you become more comfortable disclosing information about yourself and generally become closer. "As relationship partners gain an understanding of each other’s innermost thoughts and feelings, the rate of intimacy growth may taper off over time as they have less to learn about each other and the rate of engagement in novel relationship activities diminishes[vii]." This intimacy growth during dating makes the start of a relationship a lot of fun. But sex comes into the equation once we get married too. The frequency of sex (although not necessarily the quality of sex) is highest at the start of the relationship. In later years it becomes less frequent, and as the research, this points out this is often due to less interest, higher rates of dysfunction and difficulty,
Jul 26, 2017
The Neuroscience of Dating (Your Spouse)
Who knew your brain was doing so much when you were falling in love? Well, we want to help you fall in love again (or, more deeply) by helping you get those brain circuits working in support of keeping the romance in your marriage! When most people talk about love over the course of a lifetime they say that it begins with a fiery, passionate love at the start of a relationship, which slowly dwindles to be replaced by a more stable, less exciting, companionate sort of love. This is actually mirrored in the different brain systems involved in love, but as we look through the research we’ll see that a loss in passion over time is far from inevitable. The Neuroscience of Love & Relationships There are 3 distinct brain systems involved in intimate relationships[i]: Sex drive Courtship attraction, aka romantic love Partner attachment Each has a separate set of associated emotions, behaviours and brain systems. What we’re going to do is look at courtship attraction (or, romantic love) and then partner attachment. And then we’re going to look at the changes in romantic love over time to see if we can actually keep some of that heat going in marriage. Romantic Love Romantic love is observed in all cultures worldwide and can be felt even at a young age before puberty & sex drive develop[ii]. For example, your kindergarten teacher crush. When you begin a romantic relationship as an adult, intensely romantic love typically lasts up to 18 months[iii], after which partner attachment becomes the main driving force of the relationship. One way to describe this is you have a lot of heat at the start of your relationship, then as you’re married and settle in for the long haul, your brain chemistry changes to support a steady burn which is more sustainable. So romantic love, therefore, provides motivation to find a single long-term spouse, and attachment provides to motivation to stay together over the years. You need both. Romantic Love in the Brain How does romantic love affect the brain? A study by A. Aron from 2005[iv] used fMRI scans to monitor brain activity in 17 people who had been "intensely in love" for a short period of time (1-17 months) when looking at a photo of their beloved. The areas of the brain that were activated were linked to the dopamine "reward system", associated with pleasure (through the release of dopamine), general arousal, focused attention and motivation to pursue and acquire rewards. Romantic love is therefore considered a motivational force as well as just a feeling: you feel motivated to spend time together by the pleasure and arousal you experience. Think of love as driving the couple together with a very specific focus on one another. As a sidebar: this system is separate from the sex drive, although they are correlated and often activated together since dopamine is also linked to sexual arousal. So, speaking from a Biblical values perspective you don’t need to have sex before marriage to really create a strong basis for marriage. By refraining from pre-marital sex you’re not taking anything away from the future of your marriage; contrary to the idea that you need to be sexually intimate before marriage as part of testing things out, research shows that the best sex happens inside marriage. Higher levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine are also linked to feelings of love in that it creates a sense of alertness and attention as well as the increased heart rate, blushing and trembling often experienced in the early stages of love[v]. These bodily sensations are reflective of a 'love storm' going on in your brain! And here’s another fascinating piece: the early stages of romantic love shows a similar brain pattern to obsessive-compulsive disorder: both show significantly higher levels of the serotonin transporter 5-HT. This is thought to produce the obsessive thoughts and tendency to place a very high value on a specific thing/person that is found in both romantic love and OCD.
Jul 19, 2017
Is Fear Wrecking Your Marriage?
Fear is a frightening thing. In marriage, it is usually an invisible force. Like the winds of a storm: invisible itself but threatening and destructive. However, fear is always extinguished by the steady flame of committed love. I think we all carry some fear in our hearts, at some level. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the more confidence you see in a person, the more likely they have fear issues. So this episode may be particularly relevant to those of us who feel that we really don’t need to hear it. I may just burst your bubble gently. Often confidence is a protective coping stance against the insecurity and fear that deeply troubles us. And nowhere are you more vulnerable to the effects of these fears than in your most intimate relationship: your marriage. Fears About Me or Fears About You? Most of us carry one or two kinds of fear. Either we have some level of fear that is really about ourselves: fear of rejection or fear of abandonment or fear of not being good enough, or fear of being unworthy of love and affection. These point at concerns within me and about me. The other kind is fear about our spouse or significant people in our lives: fears of intimacy (afraid of letting people get too close to you) or fear of dependency (afraid to trust or afraid to count on other people). These are also fears that we carry within ourselves, but they are different from the previous in that they are indicative of our models of others. So we all carry these models of self and models of others. Those are basic, nearly instinctive ways of relating to the humans around us based either on how we see ourselves or how we see other people. On the ‘other people’ part it’s about: are others reliable, are they trustworthy, can I depend on them. On the ‘self’ side it’s about am I worthy, am I lovable. These are very deep but often when folks talk about them they use very simple language. For example, for me, I struggle most with the part of myself that asks the question: “if you saw me for who I am, would you still accept me?” The language is simple but the impact of that question touches the way I present myself in every social context of my life. Another person may just say “I cannot trust others” or “people are just going to let me down”. Again: simple language, but this touches all of their social contexts and all their relationships too. We’ve looked before at issues of trust and why people may be unable to trust their spouse, and this attachment issue is often at the heart of it. These deep fear constructs are indicators of our attachment style. Our attachment style is the way that we have learned to relate to the significant others in our life. Primarily our spouse, but it also impacts our children, our closest friends, and then to a lesser degree, our social network as well. About half of the people are securely attached. That means they are secure in both themselves and their spouse: they believe themselves to be worthy of love and believe they can count on their spouse to love them and be there for them when they are needed. The rest fall into three categories but we’re going to focus mainly on what we call avoidant attachment. Those with avoidant attachment are insecure about the intentions of their spouse and they prefer to keep emotional distance in order to keep themselves safe. Often this comes across as coolness or distance or can even be interpreted as rejection. Usually, where one spouse is avoidant in their attachment style you’re going to see lower levels of intimacy[i]. If you aren’t sure your spouse is going to respond well to you, better to keep the really deep emotional stuff to yourself. See how this attachment style is about your view of yourself? There’s also anxious-ambivalent attachment style which is more now about your view of your spouse — whether your spouse is actually like that or not. In this case, because of your view of others, you are not sure how your spouse will respond to you.
Jul 12, 2017
When Introverts Marry Extroverts
This one should be fun to look at as Verlynda and I personally sit on opposite sides of the field on this issue! But, as it turns out, there may even be some hope for folks like us! It’s a classic scenario: you’ve got a free evening and one of you wants to go and hang out with friends and the other would rather curl up on the couch and watch Netflix. Or one of you is having the time of their life at a party and the other is secretly gritting their teeth through the entire thing. When you have a marriage where one of you is introverted and one of you is extroverted it can seem like you’re on opposite wavelengths when it comes to how you spend your time, where your energy comes from, and how you make decisions and talk about important issues. If this is you, you may well be wondering if your differences along this dimension are going to impact your marriage. Can Introverts and Extroverts Get Along? I’m happy to say: yes! We can. What I loved about the research on this episode is that it confirms what we suspected but it also has some very useful insights both for those who marry similar personality types AND those who marry other personality types. A 2007 study[i] showed that similarity in the big 5 personality traits— those are the 5 traits researchers have identified as being the most fundamental part of our personalities, of which introversion/extroversion is one— predicted higher relationship quality. However, emotional similarity, which means experiencing and expressing similar emotions, was a strong mediating variable in this link. So even if couples differ in personality, for example one is introverted and one is extroverted, they can still function well as a couple by being similar on an emotional level. This emotional similarity helps partners react to events in similar ways and feel understood by their spouse. That emotional connection is a deeper and more important predictor of happiness than similarity on a personality level. So are introvert-extrovert marriages common? Generally, folks do not choose spouses with similar personality types. If you look at the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator (in which introversion-extroversion is one of the four dimensions), it is most common for couples to share two of the four parts and differ on the other two[ii]. We’ve looked before at whether opposites attract, and while it’s not a simple yes or no answer, there’s certainly plenty of evidence that very different people can have thriving, passionate marriage. A small study based around that idea showed that differences in personality types were not linked to marital difficulty, and being opposites on introversion/extroversion specifically, did not predict any specific problems in marriage. Another study[iii] supported this finding — differences along the introversion/extroversion scale don’t negatively impact marriage quality in any noticeable way. So it does look like introverts and extroverts can get along just fine. However, there was one interesting caveat. Moffit & Eisen[iv] found that levels of neuroticism and emotional instability for wives — but not husbands — were significantly linked to the degree to which the couple was apart on an introversion/extroversion scale. So having one spouse who is highly introverted and one who is highly extroverted could lead to emotional instability for the wife. The mediating factor in this effect is thought to be communication: highly divergent couples showed lower rates of intimate communication and agreement, which may be the cause of the emotional strain the wives were experiencing. Again: even if there is a big difference, it’s not a death blow to the marriage. Rather, it just requires that you step up your communication game. What Makes for A Happy Introvert-Extrovert Marriage? So here’s an interesting study[v] of 365 couples who reported they had happy marriages. They looked at the common characteristics of marriages where one spouse was extroverted and the o...
Jul 05, 2017
How Does Menopause Affect Marriage?
Now menopause isn’t something that I’m likely to experience but it is something that half of you are going to go through, or have gone through, and the other half will observe. And since it’s going to impact your marriage, we might as well be smart people and make sure we’re prepared for it! Menopause can be a tricky time for marriages. Wives have to come to terms with changes in their body while dealing with all the hot flushes and night sweats life can throw at them. And husbands can often feel like they’re walking on eggshells trying to support their wives through unpredictable mood changes and other unpleasant side-effects. The research shows that menopause can impact marriage in some surprising ways, but the overall picture is more nuanced, and overall more positive, than the simple perception that menopause = BAD. Menopause and Marital Satisfaction A survey of 326 midlife women[i] showed a significant negative correlation between marital satisfaction and menopause symptoms: as symptoms went up, satisfaction went down. They also noted a correlation between menopause symptoms and feelings of anger and depression. As symptoms went up, anger and depressive symptoms increased too. However, they did note that married women reported fewer feelings of depression than non-married, suggesting that marriage guards against these feelings of depression. That fits with other research we’ve covered that shows that good marriages offer resilience against the challenges of life. But the quality of your marriage is key: so if you’re listening today and not yet menopausal, this is another reason to work on your marriage! Check out what these researchers said: "Women in dissatisfying marriages, characterized by less social support, less depth, and higher conflict, reported increased stress and more menopausal symptomatology (symptoms such as sleep disturbance and vasomotor or blood circulation problems) than did women in satisfying marriages.[ii]” So this is fascinating because now your marriage is impacting your menopausal symptoms. A supportive, stress-free marriage reduces the strain of menopause and makes the symptoms less severe and easier to deal with. But menopause also affects one’s sex life. Menopause and Sex Life Satisfaction Menopause produces changes in a woman’s body, which may also decrease the enjoyment of sex: issues such as reduced libido, difficult orgasming and dryness in the vagina[iii]. However, these do not necessarily have to lower sexual satisfaction or the quality of your sex life. This merely becomes another life transition that couples go through and can learn to successfully navigate. Follow me here. A study by Deeks & McCabe in 2001[iv] interviewed 304 women aged 35-65. Menopause predicted higher rates of sexual dysfunction (inability to orgasm, reduced desire etc), but sexual satisfaction and frequency were better predicted by age than by menopause status. Meaning that yes, complications came in, but it didn’t necessarily derail sexual satisfaction and enjoyment — for some it was getting better as they got older. To understand this, we have to look at how couples going through this phase of life are facing the potential challenges of menopause. A study in 2003[v] interviewed 30 women about their sex lives post-menopause and found that "few women focused on menopausal changes when they discussed their sex lives". Issues like relationship quality, communication and willingness to change sexual activities were more important. Many women with lower sexual satisfaction after menopause stated that this was due to their husband's reaction- for example complaining about their wives’ vaginal dryness or getting frustrated when the woman doesn't want to have sex because it is painful. "These accounts suggest that some women continue to enjoy their active sex lives regardless of menopausal changes because they communicate openly with their partners and change the ways they have sex.
Jun 28, 2017
How to Porn-Proof Your Marriage
Suggesting that it is possible to porn-proof your marriage may appear to be preposterous. Porn is so prevalent in 2017 that it may be simply impossible to prevent yourself from seeing and coming into contact with pornography. However, what if you could build a marriage relationship and a shared worldview where pornography was not even attractive? To begin with I want to clarify what we’re proposing, and who this is for. You cannot walk through a mall, drive on a major highway, watch TV or use the Internet without being exposed to pornographic images. By ‘pornographic images’ I mean images capable of provoking sexual attraction, thoughts or fantasies. Such images are nearly impossible to avoid on a daily basis. That’s a sad but true commentary on our society's sexualization of women in particular. So when I talk about porn-proofing your marriage, I’m not necessarily talking about living a life where you don’t ever come into contact with these images: that would be pretty much impossible. Which is sad. But what I’m aiming at is creating a marriage and a shared worldview where pornography holds no traction (there’s no grip) and no attraction (there’s no real desire to pursue it). I also want to point out who this post is for and not for. Who it is for: If you’re currently in the grip of pornography addiction, I hope you will find this useful. If pornography is not a factor in your marriage and you want to keep it that way: this is for both of you. If one or both of you are recovered pornography addicts then I believe this will be helpful as well. Who it is not for: If your spouse is in the grip of pornography addiction and you want to single-handedly shape your marriage in order to out-compete or even just eradicate pornography than you’re probably coming at this the wrong way. This post is not really for you until you fall into the previous category. You see, it’s not your job to manage your spouse’s recovery. Your job is to both confront and refrain from enabling, and I think you should even go so far as to refuse to take responsibility for your spouse’s recovery. It’s the addict’s job to own all aspects of his or her recovery, not yours. We do have a previous post on steps you can take when you’ve just discovered your husband’s porn addiction, so that may be helpful for people in this situation. Having said that, it’s not fair for you to choose movies with pornographic scenes while also holding the conviction that pornography is wrong, and expecting your previously- or currently-addicted spouse not to be triggered by this. I mean, if you’re comfortable with some pornography, then you should be comfortable with your spouse viewing some pornography too, right? Finally, we should mention for those who are new to our website and podcast that Verlynda and I speak from a born-again Christian worldview. It is our belief that pornography does not have anything to add to your marriage because the Bible and even secular research both support the notion that the best sex is happening inside marriage. We could go a lot further explaining our beliefs and the theological underpinnings but I think that is an adequate summary for now. Pornography and Marriage Quality Let me cite some research relevant to pornography and marriage quality. Stack et al[i] noted that high marriage quality was linked to lower porn use. Another researcher[ii] also observed that satisfaction with real-life sex is not linked to rates of porn use (i.e., porn use is not compensating for lower satisfaction with sex, and increasing porn use is not equal to increasing sexual satisfaction). In fact, Poulsen et al[iii] showed that high levels of porn use lead to lower sexual satisfaction for both men and women. A Barna Group study called the Porn Phenomenon also reported a number of other potential impacts of pornography, including: A dramatic reduction in a spouse’s capacity to love their wife and children
Jun 21, 2017
Is It Even Possible to Have a Happy Marriage?
Marriage can have some really, really tough times — maybe you’re in that mode right now — and have been for a while. You wonder: is this all there is? Does anyone really enjoy this? Or maybe your marriage is not horrible but it’s only just tolerable. Maybe steady but dull. You’re wondering if there’s more. Or perhaps you’re contemplating marriage but what you witnessed of your parents’ marriage leads you to continue to wonder: is it even possible to have a very happy marriage? There is a mixed perception of marriage in western culture. On one hand, marriage is viewed as the "happily ever after" that everyone aspires to, on the other it is considered a restriction of freedom; being stuck with the same person for life and giving up on what you want in favor of what’s best for the marriage and the family. "These two competing visions of marriage- the wedding as a doorway to happiness and the wedding as an obstacle to individual growth- subsist side by side in contemporary American culture.[i]" So we’re not all sold on this, right? We still wonder: does marriage actually make you happier? Does Marriage Make You Happier? I am very happy to say the answer is “Yes!" Research almost universally shows that married people are happier than non-married, divorced or widowed[ii][iii][iv]. “Marriage has often been found to be one of the strongest correlates of happiness and wellbeing[v]”. One study[vi] of over 14,000 people over a ten year period found that marriage was one of the most important predictors of happiness. Now before we get all giddy — we have to ask. Does marriage make you happier? Or is it that happier people are more likely to get married? A study from 2006[vii] found that happier single people are more likely to opt for marriage. Uh-oh. However, in a 2014 study[viii] that controlled for pre-marital levels of happiness, it was still found that marriage will increase happiness over and above pre-marriage levels, suggesting a causal effect. So the evidence suggests that even if happier people tend to get married, marriage still causes an increase in happiness above what it was pre-marriage. Stats on Marriage and Happiness/Satisfaction So what about the stats on this? What are we looking at? 79% of married men and 81% of married women report being "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with life[ix]. This is higher than for those living together, or those who are single or divorced/separated. 40% of married people reported being "very happy" with their lives, compared to under 25% for single people[x]. I just want to the sidebar for one sec here — in case you happen to be single and reading a post on a marriage website— there are still nearly 1 in 4 people who are single and very happy. Yeah, it’s less than the percentage of married and happy. But don’t choose to stake your happiness on being married — because there are people who are not married and are still happy. I just don’t want to leave anyone with the idea that if you’re single, you can’t enjoy life or if you’re single, you aren’t reaching a standard that the rest of us have who are married. It’s just different. It’s about what you make of it for your singleness as much as for those of us who are making something of our marriages. I’m going to go over several factors that lead to happiness and joy in marriage. I’m just summarizing them here. If you want to learn how to take each of these to a deeper level, you’ll want to be sure to download the bonus PDF for this topic. That file is available to our faithful patrons who support the ongoing production of our show by making a monthly commitment. These are folks who are truly serious about strengthening their own marriage as well as the marriages others — we’d love for you to go deep on this topic and also join our group of patrons in support of the work we do here through the Marriage Podcast for Smart People. Finding the Joy in Your Marriage However happy you are with your marriage currently,
Jun 14, 2017
The Essentials of a Successful Cross-Cultural Marriage
One of the benefits of being a patron of The Marriage Podcast for Smart People is that you’re given the opportunity to request topics. One of our patrons asked us to address cross-cultural or inter-racial marriages. It’s an interesting area, with research showing that there are some common difficulties inter-racial couples face, as well as some real strengths they can draw from their different backgrounds and perspectives. We should acknowledge at the start that we do address this issue from a place of white privilege — even though we have a bizarre last name, we are both white and so a set of privileges was defaulted to us at birth. However, we have been studying this issue and want to bring some wisdom to those of you who are inter-racial couples. We’d also love to hear your feedback in the comments section below. Interracial couples face challenges in their marriages that often find their source in issues that aren’t marital. Socioeconomic Differences For example. A study in 2006[i] looked at survey data for interracial couples and found a higher risk of severe distress compared to intra-racial couples (same race). What is interesting is that they noted that issues to do with socioeconomic status accounted for half of the variance. So they concluded that one of the largest challenges in interracial marriages was to do with money and socioeconomic status. It’s an unpleasant fact about the western society that racial minority families are, on average, less well off than white families. So an interracial couple may be coming from very different economic backgrounds, which can create tension. Another study along these lines[ii] pointed out that interracial couples have fewer resources available to them in terms of being able to share finances, possessions, and workloads due to this disparity in socioeconomic status. Tied to this was the observation that these couples may be less able to get support from their extended family due to the possibility of the family disapproving of the marriage, which could also add to marital strains. I think the point here is that we all know financial issues put strain on marriage: but for interracial couples, the likelihood of experiencing this stressor is higher. Yet, in this, I also want to offer hope. Financial stress does impact your marriage: however, financial stress does not mean there’s something wrong with your marriage. To me, the question then becomes: how can we acknowledge this reality but have it become something we face together rather than something between us? For those readers not from interracial marriages, that’s actually something you can use for your marriage too! If you want a bit of extra help we have a whole series of posts on marriages finances, with some useful info on topics like how to build a budget and how to reduce debt. Stigma There has been a stigma about cross-cultural marriage in society — probably forever. It was even illegal in many US states and in many countries — perhaps still is, in some. I don’t know. This stigma and disapproval of cross-cultural marriage is an issue: in ways that those of us with intra-racial marriages may not even consider. For example, stigma may make it harder for interracial couples to show affection in public[iii] due to that fear of being judged. Stigma can also affect you outside of public settings: think about families. More conservative families may dislike the idea of you marrying someone from a different race or culture. Older research suggests this stigma issue may even have a “Romeo and Juliet Effect” where parental or family disapproval actually works to increase feelings of love[iv]. However, most modern research shows the exact opposite: disapproval from your social network often leads to lower relationship quality[v]. So there’s this sense of isolation and disapproval from your family and from society in general. It’s possible that this could bring you closer together as a couple in a “you and me against...
Jun 07, 2017
Can You Fix Your Marriage Without Dredging Up The Past?
This is a great question! Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just leave all the past behind, turn over a new leaf, and start afresh?  Most couples have problems and difficulties that they’ve been through and are trying to put behind them. Some of you might even have serious issues in your past that are still causing you pain and affecting your marriage today. And so you may be wondering if it’s possible to move on from difficulties in your marriage without bringing up all these issues again. Is it possible to leave past conflict unresolved and still have a happy marriage? Turns out it’s not a simple “yes” or “no” answer. For those of you that are new to the site, we speak to marriage issues out of a Christian worldview but what makes our approach unique is that there’s a ton of research in psychological journals that becomes part of our content. So when we come to a question like this we aim to give you a very balanced, reliable recommendation that is going to truly help you move forward in your marriage. Because that’s our goal: to help you create thriving, passionate marriage. And if you are reading this it is probably because you don’t have that but you want it. And we want to help you get there! How Unresolved Conflict Impacts Marriage A good starting question is: can you have a happy marriage while leaving past arguments or differences unresolved? It turns out that unresolved conflict does not appear to impact the duration of your marriage. But: it is negatively correlated to relationship satisfaction. Meaning that as the amount of unresolved conflict increases, it might not lead to the complete breakdown of your relationship but you’re probably going to become less satisfied with your marriage[i]. What is interesting is that this researcher then factored conflict out of the equation. You can do this with multifactorial analysis to pinpoint what exactly is causing the effect that you’ve observed. And when the amount of conflict (or frequency of arguments) was removed from the equation, the satisfaction still went down. Meaning that it truly is about the fact that things are left unresolved: this is the key factor, not the conflict itself. But the researcher did have something to conclude about conflict styles: the more unresolved conflict, the more negative conflict styles were present. When higher levels of unresolved conflict were present in couples he observed more things like withdrawal during arguments, escalating small issues into arguments, etc. Which makes sense. Not dealing with stuff causes a buildup of pressure so that when things do spill over into an argument it’s going to be more extreme and all these other unresolved issues are going to get thrown in as well. Poor communication strategies are likely to follow. As another researcher put it: "To leave conflict unresolved is a risky course of action. An unresolved conflict could fester to the point of causing an explosion.[ii]" So the evidence says: resolving conflict is better than leaving it unresolved. And I think most of us know that on an intuitive level: we have to deal with the things that just aren’t going away. But: there is also some research to indicate that avoiding conflict (and even leaving things unresolved) may be a good idea if your conflict style is very negative and volatile. If you really do not have any functional, adaptable ways of resolving issues then you may need to contain the fallout. In that case, leaving things unresolved may be the lesser of two evils[iii]. That’s fine for the research to point out but I would still contend that if this is your situation it would be better to learn those skills. Read a book, get some counselling: do something to help you guys learn how to resolve conflict. I just cannot see this working out well in the long term even as I understand and acknowledge why it may be helpful in the short term. Avoiding conflict because your way of dealing with it is so destructive doesn’t sound like a health...
May 31, 2017
How Much PDA is OK?
When it comes to PDA, or public displays of affection, what are you comfortable with? Holding hands? A light kiss? How about a passionate kiss at sunset on the end of a pier somewhere in Florida? Or is that starting to get gag-worthy?  PDA is often a touchy subject in married couples (pun intended -- my bad). But seriously, it can be difficult to find a level of public affection that you’re both comfortable with. Research has some interesting findings on the use of PDA, how it can help marriages, and some ground rules to bear in mind. If PDA Includes Sexual Behavior, That’s an Issue Ultimately this discussion of PDA is about what you each are comfortable with and how to work with that in your marriage. We want you to maximize the amount of affection you show and experience. But there are limits here. There’s a line crossed from a public display of affection to a public display of sexual behavior. The former is a great way to show love to your spouse; the latter is not such a good idea. I think there are some clearly sexual behaviors: touching your spouse’s private parts in public with your hand is sexual — that is indecent in any public context. That’s immodest. It is not respecting your spouse. It is objectifying your spouse in front of others. Think about it this way: intimacy is about vulnerability. The greater the vulnerability the greater the safety required. You can’t offer safety for this level of vulnerability in public. So if it’s not safe to be this vulnerable, don’t be that intimate. But there is a grey area. For example, kissing. In North America, a kiss goes all the way from a peck on the cheek — that’s probably the most innocuous — to a full fledged French kiss where we have tongues playing tonsil hockey and so on. At this stage you have to respect a couple things. First is your culture. Our podcast, at the time of recording, has been downloaded in 169 countries. In some of them, the peck on the cheek might earn you jail time or at least attention from a policeman if it was seen. In others, if you didn’t actually greet your spouse with this if you reunited in public (say, coming off an airplane) then your family would wonder what was wrong with your marriage and start worrying about the two of you. So keep your culture in mind. The second comes back to sexuality. If your kissing is becoming sexual then we go back to the previous cautionary note about respecting each other and respecting the people around you. As the Bible says, “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful” (1 Cor. 10:23). It might be legal. It probably isn’t helpful to anyone. So let’s establish those two general guidelines: “is it sexual?” and “what does your culture allow?” as starting points. Now as we go through the research keep in mind that from now on we’re making the assumption that we’re looking at decent PDA. Let’s actually look at PDA and relationship satisfaction because we want to be focusing on marriage. And then let’s look at factors affecting PDA inside each marriage, and then how to find the balance. PDA and Relationship Satisfaction The research shows that both private and public physical affection increase relationship satisfaction. Expressing affection and love for your spouse through a variety of means is unquestionably a good thing. We’ve looked previously at the concept of the Five Love Languages, of which physical touch is one, but today’s research suggests touch is something everyone should be using. Here are a couple of studies. First, Kent & El Alayi[i] surveyed women in committed relationships and found that they experience higher relationship satisfaction, relationship commitment and feelings of intimacy when private and public displays of affection were part of their marriage. Most couples believe that physical touch is a good thing. That’s obvious to us but it’s not to everyone (we’ll get to that later) but "research has shown that individuals believe physical affection to serve a causal role...
May 24, 2017
Why a Fair Division of Labor is Important in Marriage
Well, this should be a fun subject! There are a lot of factors that go into how household chores get divided up between husband and wife, and today we want to give you guidance as to how to do that without creating any unnecessary conflict or resentment. Have you and your spouse ever had an argument over whose turn it is to do the dishes? Or do you ever resent your spouse for doing less around the house than you? Issues around the division of labor are common in most marriages and there’s a lot to unpack in terms of what society expects men and women to be involved with and what you each perceive as being “normal” or “fair”. And the research shows that it’s that perception of fairness that’s key to diving the work in a way that leads to a happy, distress-free marriage. Unequal Division of Household Work According to a piece of research by Breen & Cooke[i], husband’s contribution to household work is on average one third of the time that the wife puts in. This ratio, they claim, has persisted even with the increase in women having full time jobs and financial autonomy. Women still take most responsibility for, and spend the most time on, household tasks. This is not due to any kind of power-struggle within the marriage and is not caused by different amounts of time available. "Rather, it is the non-conscious ideology developed from parental modeling that preserves traditional sex roles[ii]”. Meaning that women naturally end up doing more of the housework because that’s how things worked in their parent’s house and that’s still considered the norm in most of society. So, do we have a gender inequality issue? I think that’s the question that we have to start with. These researchers go on to say that we need to get past gender inequality. Women do more unpaid work around the house than men, irrespective of whether they work and the amount of time those women have available. And this often comes from expectations and from unacknowledged ideas about gender roles. So, the researchers say, you need to work to balance this out. But: not so fast. Let me make a few points, and we have to keep all these points together. If you quote me on only one of them I’m going to sound like a liberal and the other, I’ll sound like a misogynist — we all know what that word means since the last US election, right? I’d like to give a balanced perspective on this. First, the Bible calls on husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way (1 Peter 3:7). The Bible puts the onus on us as husbands to be considerate. I think a lot of guys don’t think through their own assumptions and don’t understand why their wife is disappointed about how chores get divided up. I want to challenge husbands to be the leaders in this discussion — not leading in the sense of authoritative decision making but leaders in the sense of facilitating an open, understanding, receptive discussion about how each of you feel about how fairly you divide up the housework and childcare. So husbands need to be particularly considerate of the possibility that their wives are working harder than they are. Equality vs Fairness The next point to this section is that we also need to consider that there is a difference between equal and fair. I’m not talking about whether you and your wife are equals. You are. There’s nothing to discuss there. I’m talking about the equal division of labor vs. the fair division of labor. An equal division and a fair division might not always be exactly the same. You may disagree on the equality of the division and feel that one of you does more than the other, including the outside work you do. Or you may agree on the equality of the division of labor but feel that it is unfair. For example, if Verlynda and I split hours of household 50/50 and I work outside the home and Verlynda doesn’t I might say, that’s equal household hours but to me, it still feels unfair. The next couple, however, might be in the same situation but feel that thi...
May 17, 2017
A Marriage Survival Guide for Parents with Toddlers
Maybe today find yourself in that crazy busy time of life: raising toddlers. It’s that endless flow of diapers, trying to get kids to sleep properly, picky eating, piles of laundry, their boundless energy and so on and so forth. The question is: how do you even begin to create time and energy for your marriage in this stage of life? I understand how this stage goes — dealing with the frayed nerves and seemingly endless to-do list that comes with having young children, while juggling other responsibilities like careers or the ever-increasing needs of elderly parents. And it makes sense that you’re reading this post because you know that the strain that this stage can impose on marriage is significant. I’m glad you’re being proactive about it. Understanding the Toddler Stage of Parenting and Marriage It’s worth covering the typical scenario so you understand that your reality is normal and common and so you know you’re not alone. This is often called the “Sandwiched” stage of life because in addition to caring for young children you may also be caring for parents. So you’re stuck between the two. Or even if your parents are able, the same issues apply. We went through this a little younger but many people in this stage are in their mid 40’s, both are working full time, have 2 young children living at home, are also caring for 2 aging parents (usually with activities like shopping, transportation, housekeeping and money management). They spend about one working day a week caring for elderly parents, with the wife usually spending a couple more hours per week than the husband in this role[i]. This can definitely be a difficult time. Research shows that there are a number of possible negative consequences, including: Greater instances of depressive symptoms in both husband and wife [ii] Greater conflict between work and home life[iii] Higher rates of burnout[iv] Decreased ability to save financially, such as for children's college fund[v] Difficulty finding time for yourself/spending time with your partner[vi] Difficulty maintaining a social life due to having to be constantly "on call"[vii] Many sandwiched couples feel like they are caught in a "tug of war" with their time and energy being pulled in different directions. Often couples find that their own health suffers (in terms of getting enough sleep, time to look after yourself properly etc) and you end up putting your parents/children's needs first[viii]. So there’s a LOT going on. Lots of activity. Lots of responsibilities and only a finite number of hours in the day! Busy Doesn’t Mean Your Marriage is Doomed We’re going to talk about some specific coping strategies in a minute but I just wanted to stop and address this issue of busyness. First of all make sure you check out episode 114, where we specifically look at the question, is it possible to have a hectic life and a happy marriage? What you need to know is that just because your marriage is busy and you don’t have as much time for each other, that doesn’t mean your marriage is doomed. I just want to make that point because it’s very easy to get into the place of seeing yourselves not have time for each other and starting to give meaning to that lack of time that is not actually valid. For example, you have less and less time, so you start to interpret that as your husband not caring. Or, your wife is always tired and exhausted so you start to internalize the belief that she isn’t interested in you any more, you’re not attractive, or whatever. And the reality is that your spouse's views of you or the marriage probably haven’t changed at all — this is just a busy phase of life! But when you have these destructive beliefs starting to form, confirmation bias can kick in and then your brain is starting to gather evidence to confirm the belief. So the more you start to think something, the more you start seeing evidence for it and the more you end up believing it to be true.
May 10, 2017
2 Questions To Think About Before You End Your Marriage
What do you do when your marriage is absolutely at the end of the road? Is divorce your only option? Does separation ever help couples reconcile? And is there ever such a thing as a marriage that’s beyond recovery? I’ve had a number of individuals reach out to me lately through our website saying that they are absolutely at the end of their rope as far as their marriage goes. They aren’t just whining or complaining. Some have been married for decades and the marriage has been very difficult for that entire time. They want out. But their value system tells them it’s wrong. If you are seriously considering ending your marriage there are some critical questions that you need to ask yourself first. Is It Ever Too Late to Save the Marriage? Let me start by saying that for our readers who are believers (born-again Christians), which is most of you, we don’t intend to get into the divorce and remarriage debate today. We just want to assert that God is pro-marriage, and so are we. That’s the core value that is driving the content of today’s post (and all of our content!). If you’re looking for someone who will justify the termination of your marriage for you, you’ll have to look to other resources. Having said that we are not at all unsympathetic to the profound distress many of our listeners are experiencing in their marriage. We’re just pointing out that we want to take you in the direction of healing and recovery in your marriage. So this is a great question. And there are a couple of things to look at. One is the desire for reconciliation. A study in 2011[i] interviewed divorcing couples and found that: 1 in 4 individuals indicated some belief that the marriage could be saved, even as they were going through the final stages of the divorce process Only for 1 in 9 couples (~11%) did both spouses have this belief 1/3 of couples were interested in external reconciliation services This data seems to suggest that even as couples go through divorce, a reasonable minority still have some form of hope and belief that the marriage can be reconciled. And so I think if you’re in the process of divorcing I hope you’ve taken the opportunity to ask your spouse this question: do you believe our marriage could be saved? If you get a flat “no” then you know where you’re at. If you get a “yes” it’ll probably be a “Yes, if…” or a “Yes, but…” and then a list of demands or things that need to change. And I would say for that discussion: don’t spiral off into an argument about what was said after the “Yes”. If you want to save your marriage and both you and your spouse believe it is possible, then surely it’s worth a shot? Why not ask them if you can both take that “Yes” and then get some outside help to work on the “if” or “but” conditions. All those grievances and things that need to change are much easier to face if both of you want to get through them and both of you believe that it’s within the realms of possibility. Another study from 2012[ii] interviewed couples going through a divorce. The most common reasons for divorce were “growing apart” (55% of couples) and not being able to talk together (53%). These factors decreased participant’s interest in the idea of reconciliation, as did differences in tastes and financial issues. But there were other reasons cited for divorce that actually increased the interest in the possibility of reconciliation: “Not getting enough attention” is an example. Presumably because in this situation you still want your spouse’s attention, you just feel you aren’t getting enough of it. “Problems with the in-laws” also predicted higher interest in the possibility of reconciliation. Finally, being involved in abuse did not affect the desire to reconcile. It’s interesting that these are all couples going through a divorce but the interest in the possibility of reconciliation is tied to some of the reasons why they were going for a divorce. It is really complex to try to tease all these a...
May 03, 2017
My Husband Is Not an Emotional Guy
If I had a dollar every time a husband told me he wasn’t a very emotional guy, I’d be retired by now. But hey, I’m not judging. I used to think the same thing. Turns out: it’s pure bunkum. And it’s messing up your marriage too. It’s definitely a very commonly held view that women are more emotional than men. The stereotypical view is that women’s emotions are all over the place and they’re only too happy to let you know about it, while men are more muted; less extreme in their emotions and less willing to talk about how they’re feeling. But the research on emotion and gender paints a rather different picture. There are some differences around our ways of expressing ourselves, but nothing so drastic as being able to say that men “just aren’t as emotional” as women. Sorry, guys. Does Evidence Support the Idea that Women are More Emotional? We have to start by looking at our culture, and the subset of a culture known as emotion culture. Emotion culture is defined as a way of viewing emotions and their expression within society. It’s the unspoken rules and implicit assumptions that guide how we see and express different emotions. Unsurprisingly, these rules differ for women and men. Part of western emotion culture then is the belief that women are “both more emotional and more emotionally expressive” than men[i]. Also it is widely thought that we differ in the emotions we feel and express: for example anger is a masculine reaction to things and sadness is more a feminine reaction[ii]. But does this commonly held view hold up to scrutiny? A study by Simon and Nath[iii] used a questionnaire about daily emotional experiences for which they analyzed 1460 responses. They looked at: The frequency of feeling emotions in general The frequency of reporting feeling different emotions (changing emotional state) Emotional expressiveness (how much expressivity happened) They found: No difference in the frequency of feeling emotions between genders. Men feel as frequently as women do. Some differences around which emotions are felt by men and women, but not a strong link. Often these differences were accounted for by differences in roles or situations. For example, women reported feeling negative emotions more often but this difference was accounted for by their lower household income. Men often reported feeling calm more often than women did, but when the effect of having children under 18 was removed, this effect disappeared. Men aren't naturally calmer than women--women are just less calm because they are dealing with the kids! Women DO express their emotions more readily than men. But the underlying level of feeling is not different. Now you have visibility into emotion culture: humans all experiencing the same amount of feeling, but culture is dictating the extent to which you express it. We’ll unpack that more in a minute. I only cited one study. Let me drop a couple more in just so we know that we’re being fair in our consideration of the research. Kring & Gordon[iv]: measured people’s emotions while watching film clips that were either scary, happy or sad. They observed participant’s facial expressions, self-reported emotional reaction and skin-conductance, which is part of the physiological or biological aspect of emotion. They found no difference in self-reported emotions or skin conductance between men and women, but women were again more expressive with their facial expressions. Men were reporting feeling the same emotions as women, they just weren’t showing them externally. So again: male and female feelings were the same. Only women were more expressive of those feelings. Another study: Lively & Powell[v]: looked at differences in expression of anger between men and women. Found that "social domain and status differences are such powerful predictors of emotion expression that they eclipse the influence of other individual characteristics, most notably the gender of both the individual and the target ...
Apr 26, 2017
Why Every Couple Needs to Pray Together
So for a long time, I thought praying together was just a nice thing to do. It was one of those optional, lets-do-this-if-we-remember kind of things. But with time, my perspective on this has shifted. A lot. Regular readers of the blog will know that we offer sound, research-based advice, as well as speaking from a Christian worldview. Even today when we’re looking at the effect of prayer on your marriage we’re referring to what we can learn from Scripture and from secular research because we believe that God also reveals truth in creation. When I was coming to the research that had been prepared for this post I had in my head that we would only be looking at praying together, but there’s also some great info about praying for your marriage that I want to share as well. The research shows that both praying for your marriage and praying with your partner have some incredibly beneficial effects on your marriage. Prayer Increases Long-Term Marriage Satisfaction I wasn’t expecting this but it does make sense. It turns out that praying for blessings for your spouse predicts marriage satisfaction later in life[i]. So this study showed that who praying for the wellbeing of your spouse predicted relationship satisfaction at a later point in time. The opposite was not true! Relationship satisfaction did not lead to an increase in prayer. So it was apparent that prayer is a catalyst to increase relationship satisfaction. As the researchers considered this, they speculated that prayer encouraged spouses to think about the long-term aspects of the relationship. Here’s a quote: "Praying to an eternal and unchanging being and asking for positive things for my partner, may prime me to use a longer time frame in thinking about my relationship to my partner as well.[ii]" That might be the case. I have a different idea. In 1 Peter 3:7, Peter is instructing husbands and he says, “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.” (NKJV). Notice here that there is a prescriptive and behavior that Peter requires of husbands so that their prayers are not hindered. In other words, you have to behave a certain way, giving honor to your wife and understanding her, in order for your prayer to be effective. I think this is also one of the ways that prayer impacts marriage. It puts back-pressure on your behavior. I know if I get to the end of the day and if I’ve been crusty with Verlynda or disrespectful towards her or have just been a jerk: I can’t pray. It just feels so fraudulent. So one of the things I’ve noticed is that having a daily time of prayer together forces me to confront myself with my care for my wife and how I’ve related to her that day. I think that has a regulatory effect that challenges us to live— in both behaviour and attitude— in a way that allows us to arrive at the end of the day in a way that we can pray with authenticity. So of course that is going to have a positive effect on marriage. There’s another part that this researcher noted: praying for your spouse also involves God in the marriage. Because of this, there’s a sense of accountability towards God which means both that I’m watching my behavior again, but also that I’m checking in on my commitment levels. And, as we discussed in episode 45, a top 5 predictor of marital success is commitment. So if praying for your spouse and your marriage increases commitment, that’s definitely something we want to be doing as well. I’d like to issue a challenge on that note: do you pray for your spouse? And I mean, more than just “Father I pray for Verlynda and I pray for our dog etc etc”. Like you’re actually praying about stuff that matters to her and to you. Further, these same researchers noted that praying FOR your spouse and praying WITH your spouse were highly correlated. So I know we’re talking about praying together but ...
Apr 19, 2017
What To Do When You’ve Just Discovered Your Husband’s Porn Habit
This week we’re hitting a very specific moment that is occurring in many marriages; that moment when you discover your husband’s porn habit. The revelation that your husband is addicted to some form of pornography is obviously a huge problem and a real shock to your marriage. But we're going to look at what the research says is the best way to deal with it in the immediate aftermath and how to look towards getting through it. We’re going to help you see what’s going on in his world, and then go through first steps towards recovery. We’ll be coming at that through two approaches: one if he is on board to get help and the other if he is in denial. One quick preparatory comment: we’re going to be using the word ‘addiction’ quite a bit in this episode. Researchers can debate the definition of this word and Christians even more so. I want to skip that discussion for now simply because this episode is for wives whose world has just come crashing down around them and a ten-minute theological diatribe is not going to be helpful. Discovering a porn addiction is an incredibly difficult thing to experience, often just as devastating as discovering an affair. Even if the problem is “just” online rather than in the real world, that same sense of betrayal, of being lied to, of a breakdown in trust, of repulsion, anger, and even fear are felt in response to this horrifying discovery. Wives may well wonder if their marriage can have a future after discovering that their trust has been violated on such a deep level for such a long period of time and angry thoughts of revenge are common. Defining Porn Addiction Let me give you a definition that can be used to help understand what’s going on for your husband and will give us a basis for what we need to go over today. I also want to say that while my main specialty is marriage therapy, my second most experienced area of work is with pornography recovery. Also, this problem, unfortunately, has been a part of the history of our marriage and so Verlynda and I will be drawing out on our own respective experiences too. Addiction is "when a person compulsively uses sex to alter his or her mood to produce pleasure and/or to provide an escape from internal discomfort and is employed [or, entrenched] in a pattern characterized by recurrent failure to control the behavior and continuation of the behavior despite significant negative consequences[i]". I like that definition for a few reasons: It identifies why your spouse is engaging in this behavior. Not for the purpose of justifying it but helping us to understand: he’s using porn to alter his mood and/or escape. This is important because there is a valid need and an invalid coping mechanism at play. Your husband has a desire to feel better or escape from the pressures of his life, which is normal but has turned to a very unhelpful way of meeting that need. If we want the invalid coping mechanism (the porn) to go away, we have to also take care of the valid need in a healthy way. It also points out the recurrent pattern: this could be daily, weekly, monthly, even quarterly. There’s a recurring pattern here. And it also highlights the fact that at some level, even on the verge of his awareness, he knows there are significant negative consequences to his behavior. Why doesn’t that stop him? That’s a separate discussion where we would have to look at addictive cycles and come back to that valid need. Keeping a Healthy Perspective If you’ve just discovered his porn addiction, it will probably be a real shock and there will be all kinds of feelings going through you. To help you get a handle on the situation there are a few things you need to know. The first is that you’re not alone. This is a profoundly common problem but also one that carries a lot of shame for both husbands and wives. Because of that, it doesn’t get talked about. Usually, couples that go through this go through it feeling very alone and without sharing it with others.
Apr 12, 2017
The Impact of Trauma on Marital Sexuality
Did you know that 89% of veterans experiencing PTSD report one or more kinds of sexual dysfunction? And that survivors of childhood sexual abuse have a very common set of negative feelings and beliefs about sex? That’s the bad news. The good news: your marriage can become a place to help heal trauma — even through what happens in your most intimate moments. In our previous  post we asked whether trauma might be having an unseen impact on your marriage, and how you can identify and begin to heal this issue. Previous trauma can have a major impact on a marriage by  damaging your ability to trust and open up to your spouse. It can also have a major impact on marital sexuality. Like last week, we’re not trying to encourage anyone to make up something that isn’t actually there. But I believe that trauma is impacting more of our marriages than many of us realize. And one area the symptoms are particularly evident in is the area of sexuality. We’re going to start by looking at how trauma impacts female and male sexuality individually. And then we’re going to show you how to improve your sexual relationship directly. If trauma is affecting your situation or even if you don’t have any trauma that you’re aware of, the last half of today’s post is going to have some very useful teaching on becoming more conversant about your sexual relationship. How Trauma Impacts a Wife’s Sexuality Unfortunately, a common cause of trauma in women is childhood sexual abuse. And although this also happens to men, we do have a very useful study from 2012[i] that specifically looks at the impact of childhood sexual abuse on women’s sexuality. Based on their review of the research, this study found that trauma impacts women’s sexuality in the following ways: "Women with a history of CSA report more negative feelings about sex and experience less sexual satisfaction than do non-abused women[ii]”. I want to be clear: this is normal. I know when statements like this are made it’s easy to put yourself in the “damaged goods” category. But that’s not what this is about. It’s really helpful when we’ve been through something profoundly difficult like trauma to know that we’re not alone in our struggles. Finding out that this is a normal experience should normalize it. So you’re not crazy, you’re not the only person like this. The good news is that there is hope and recovery. So just stay with me here. The first take-home point is that it’s not uncommon to report more of these negative feelings. Next, “Forming intimate adult relationships is often difficult” for survivors, and “when relationships are formed, sexual and emotional fulfillment is often lacking[iii]”. So if you’re listening today you may be listening because you want more from marriage — more from your relationship with your husband. That’s great! Research has found that the most common sexual difficulties in survivors are “disorders of desire, arousal, orgasm, and less often dyspareunia (painful sex) and vaginismus[iv]”. Vaginismus is the term given to recurring, involuntary tightening of the muscles around the vagina whenever penetration is attempted, making sex difficult or impossible. So these are common issues that female trauma survivors face in the context of married sexuality. What causes these sexual difficulties? That’s a good question to ask. One common underlying factor is often that survivors of sexual abuse have been found to have "more negative self-schemas [ways of thinking about self] than non-abused women[v]". When psychologists talk about schemas they are referring to our core beliefs- the things about ourselves and the world which we hold as irrefutably true. You can imagine that in intimacy when these deeply held negative ways of thinking about yourself are the dominant stories, it’s going to have an effect. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your husband thinks you are — you just can’t see yourself any other way. These messages are the main headlines running through you...
Apr 05, 2017
Is Trauma Impacting Your Marriage?
Do you ever get the sense that an unseen force is at work in your marriage? I’m not going all woo-woo on you here, but what if you could identify that force, understand it, and then use your marriage as a place of healing? If you've been through some kind of deeply traumatic experience then it's perfectly reasonable to expect that it will have had some effect on you as a person. But trauma can also have a big impact on your marriage, often without you even knowing. How big of a deal is trauma? I wanted to examine this because I see it at play in a lot of marriages and I am hoping that by reading this you will be able to self-evaluate your circumstances to see if this is relevant or helpful. Trauma has different definitions and can be caused by many different things. Experiences such as childhood illness or hospitalization, near death encounters or experiences where death is witnessed, accidents, extremes like genocide and war, rape or torture are all examples of situations where trauma may result. Basically any deeply distressing or disturbing experience can result in trauma. Often you’ll see this where a person’s ability to cope is simply overwhelmed and you end up feeling powerless. What’s interesting about trauma is the rule of nine. If you have events on a scale where zero is not a big deal and nine is witnessing something really terrible, the rule of nine is about how there are different figures you can multiply together to get to nine. If you experience one incident at a nine level of intensity you can have trauma as a result. Or you could also get it from having three incidents at a three-level; none of the incidents on their own would be big enough, but they add up together to a traumatic experience. Or even nine events that are a one level of intensity, where you have repeated exposure to something “small” that’s not big enough by itself, but by repeated exposure, it works up a trauma response. So trauma ends up being the emotional response you carry to a very negative event or series of events. Trauma is a normal reaction to painful or difficult experiences but it can impact your ability to cope with normal life. And it can also have a major effect on your marriage. How Trauma Impacts Marriage A study from 2000[i] looked at 96 couples where at least one spouse reported a history of childhood abuse. Of course, that would be a likely source of trauma. These couples exhibit some particular attributes. So we’ll look at what these are and then why they appear, and then examine how we can help heal this. This study made a few observations. First, if one or both spouse reported a history of physical and/or sexual abuse in childhood the couple was more likely to experience lower relationship satisfaction and higher individual stress symptoms than couples where neither spouse reported an abuse history. This is why we are dealing with the subject of trauma: it can impact marriages for sure! They also noted that couples with a history of childhood abuse scored lower on cohesion than non-abuse couples. Cohesion is about the closeness of the couple- the emotional bonds they share. So there is more distance experienced in marriages where childhood abuse has been part of one or both spouse’s history. It is common for individuals who have experienced abuse to report that they experience emotional distance and isolation. So yes, this definitely has the potential to touch marriages. If you’re reading this and it feels familiar, just stay with me though: we have good news for you later on. Why Does Trauma Affect Marriage? We’ve talked about attachment before — the science of love or the love bond that exists between two spouses. Trauma impacts attachment and, related to that, one’s ability to be emotionally engaged. Let’s talk about some examples of what this looks like based on the work of Johnson and Williams-Keller[ii]. By the way, this is Sue Johnson who has really pioneered EFCT— the approach to couples’ therapy that ...
Mar 29, 2017
The Best Sex Happens Inside Marriage
Is this just a Christian myth? Is the idea that the best sex occurs within marriage something that is only believed by church-going people? What does the research say? If you’re struggling with your sex life we offer sound, research-based advice, and today, hope for a constantly improving sex life too. Today we’re going to be looking at why the best sex happens inside marriage. Actually, it’s hard to believe that going through a bunch of research might be arousing but today we’re going to take a crack at it. Why Sexual Boundaries Are A Good Thing We’re going to do something very deliberate today: we’re not going to refer to the Bible at all. Now if you’ve just started reading our posts you need to know that Verlynda and I are born again Christians who are very involved in our local church and we always think and write out of our Christian worldview. We often refer to Scripture as well as to research. And today could definitely be a Bible-thumping episode. In the New Testament, there are only a handful of epistles that refrain from addressing sexual sin, from lust to fornication to adultery. So that message is clear. And I think that a lot of people, perhaps from more agnostic or atheistic backgrounds, look at Christianity and see it as being very prudish because of these restrictions. Like we’re missing out. But I think it’s actually very much the opposite: the sexual revolution of the 1960s to 1980s has actually done more to erode the quality of sex that people are experiencing than to enhance it. It’s telling that just now, in 2017, we’re starting to see articles in the New York Times and Washington Post raising the alarm over pornography use and its detrimental impact on male sexuality. This is nearly 50 years after the first adult erotic film had a wide theatrical release in the USA. Where culture has got this backwards and impressions are still inverted is that God put boundaries around sexuality to increase the amount of pleasure and sexual satisfaction that can be experienced, not to decrease it. And we’re going to demonstrate this from the research today. At the end I’m going to tell you why this is important to your marriage, and to ours, of course. What Statistics Say About Sex Within Marriage Overall, research tends to support the idea that the best sex happens within marriage. Let’s start with a study from 2000 by Christopher and Sprecher[i] which compared sex within marriage to sex within dating and cohabiting relationships. They found that married couples generally reported being satisfied with their sexual relationship. They cited a study where 88% of married couples reported being “either extremely or very pleased in their [sexual] relationship” 88% Rockin' It What I think is really cool is the words that these same extremely pleased or very pleased married couples used to describe how they felt about having sex: loved, thrilled and excited. So not only are married couples typically satisfied with their sexual relationship but Scott and Sprecher also showed that studies have found that married individuals are more satisfied with their sexual relationship than single and cohabiting individuals. This was particularly the case for monogamous married respondents. So it’s not just being married that’s the key, but being monogamous in marriage too— can’t make any assumptions here since the Sexual Revolution. So this is great: sex is better within marriage. But why? Again, we could go to the Bible and argue that it just makes sense because God is good, and He designs us to flourish when we are obeying him. And of course, that’s very true. But instead, let’s go to the research again and see what these researchers are observing.
Mar 22, 2017
Why You’re Using the Love Languages All Wrong
I was originally thinking of coming up with an inflammatory title for this post like “Chapman’s Love Languages Debunked” because that makes for good clickbait on the internet! But this is The Marriage Podcast for Smart People and I figured, well, smart people are going to see that I’m just trying to create hype. And my mission is to help marriages, not create hype. So we’re actually going to look at research that examines the validity of the 5 Love Languages Concept and challenge you on how you might be using or abusing this concept in your marriage. We have an exciting post for you this week. Today we’re going to be talking about Gary Chapman’s famous book, the 5 Love Languages. Now, the premise of the 5 Love Languages is that everyone has one single primary way in which they prefer to receive love and one secondary way. The five options are: Gift giving Quality time Words of affirmation Acts of service (devotion), Physical touch The idea is that once you discover what yours and your spouse’s love languages are you’ll be better able to give and receive love in a way that resonates with them. This concept has been widely accepted in mainstream thought and seems particularly popular in the Christian world. But the purpose of what we do is to offer sound, research-based advice, which sometimes includes questioning popular ideas. Most of all, we offer hope and because we tell you what actually works in marriage. So I’m working from the assumption that Gary Chapman is a brother in Christ and I have no desire to cut him up or attack his reputation. Where we’re coming from today is we’ve noticed a number of occasions in marriages now where the 5 Love Languages has actually been counterproductive to the health of the marriage. While it’s nice to put yourself in a box, we’ve seen it become an issue in a number of ways. So we want to look at what works, what doesn’t, and give you some research and some points to consider before you swallow the whole 5 Love Languages idea hook, line and sinker. Is There Empirical Support for the 5 Love Languages? If you look on the Wikipedia article it’ll say right away that there’s some question as to whether Gary’s concept can be empirically validated. Well, we’re happy to tell you some researchers have taken up the challenge. In 2006, Polk and Egbert[i] set out to determine if the claims made in Chapman’s book could be supported through an empirical study. They took 86 couples and asked them to pick one of the five languages that best described the way they prefer to receive love. So these folks each had to pick their primary love language. Then they had to complete two surveys: how they preferred to receive love and how they preferred to give love. They also used a standardized assessment called the Quality of Relationships Inventory to measure the quality of these relationships (this is the non-Chapman part of the study). Following this they bunched the people into three categories: Match: both spouses gave and received in their preferred Love Language. The way they gave and received love in their marriage was perfectly complementary. Partial match: only one spouse received his/her preferred Love language. Mismatch: neither spouse received their preferred Love Language. Here’s what the researchers found, for and against Chapman’s ideas. There was no correlation between the survey regarding how you preferred to receive love and your actual perceived preferred love language. In other words, if I said “choose one of the 5 Love Languages as your preferred one” and then gave you a detailed survey that asked 20 questions to help determine the same there would be no statistically dependable matchup between the two. What you think your Love Language is when you pick one vs. trying to measure this by looking at what you actually do to express love and maintain your relationship doesn’t match up. There are a few possible conclusions.
Mar 15, 2017
Post Infidelity Stress Disorder
How would you react if you found out that your spouse was cheating on you? No doubt it would be a severe shock and you would find yourself filled with anger, surprise, sorrow and all kinds of other emotions. In fact, research shows that the effect of discovering infidelity is so severe it can be likened to recovering from a life-threatening traumatic event. Today we’re going to be looking at something many wives experience following the disclosure of infidelity which is basically PTSD with a twist. If you’re struggling with your marriage after infidelity then today’s sound, research-based advice, should bring you hope. A guy called Dennis Ortman literally wrote the book on this in 2005. It’s not a well-researched subject area since it is relatively new. However, this is definitely something I have observed and it is very real[i]. So Ortman noticed that many of his clients who had experienced infidelity within their marriage showed similar patterns of stress in response to the betrayal. I don’t have a reference for this but I remember when I was studying for my masters in the late 2000’s I came across one article that pointed out that 60% of wives who were sexually betrayed shows all but one of the symptoms of PTSD. And Ortman noticed that these spouses he was working with also mirrored the criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder But: it’s worth noting that one of the diagnostic criteria for PTSD is that you have to have witnessed severe bodily harm or death. And of course that doesn’t apply here but he was seeing that all of the other criteria were being met. So while traditionally understood PTSD would occur in response to witnessing something deeply traumatic and violent, in PISD there is no life-threatening event but the deep impact of the betrayal leads to similar symptoms, including: Experience of intense fear, helplessness, or horror: Individuals who have experienced infidelity become overwhelmed by feelings of fear, helplessness, and horror when they remember the affair. They live with a constant feeling of helplessness and fear that it will happen again[ii]. Re-experiencing of the event: Victims of infidelity “relive the horror of the event and all the overwhelming feelings, sometimes years later.” Just as a war veteran may duck at the sound of gunfire or have flashbacks of traumatic moments that happened long ago during war, “victims of adultery relive the painful discovery of infidelity[iii]”. Avoidance of reminders of the event: Victims of infidelity “cope by trying to forget the terrible things that have happened to them by avoiding thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the trauma[iv]”. Emotional numbing: Victims of infidelity “become so overwhelmed by their feelings of anxiety, rage, and helplessness that they attempt to cope by withdrawing into an emotional cocoon...They detach from life and from themselves to survive the emotional storm[v]”. Heightened anxiety: Victims of infidelity, “live on high alert for recurrence of the [infidelity].” They struggle to sleep and often have nightmares[vi]. Irritability and rage: “Individuals who have been traumatized become preoccupied with how they have been victimized, which causes them to become angry with the perpetrator, with life, and with themselves. At some level, they blame themselves for allowing the trauma to occur. Consequently, they are often irritable and experience temper outbursts[vii]”. Why Can Discovery of an Affair Cause Such a Strong Reaction? The main reason I see for this is that an affair or a betrayal of this magnitude is an incredible blow to the marriage bond. Discovering an affair or discovering porn or sex addiction is a betrayal of trust that shakes your belief in your most important relationship and leaves you feeling vulnerable. Trust is a fundamental component required for a marriage in order to flourish. Think about it: if you had everything going great in your marriage except for trust,
Mar 08, 2017
When to Leave (or Stay In) an Abusive Marriage [3 of 3]
Today’s episode is twice the challenge: we’re dealing with the difficult subject of abuse in marriage but we’re also talking about when to leave a marriage too, which, under normal circumstances, is contrary to our personal values and our mission to help save marriages. So read carefully and thoughtfully as we navigate this very difficult topic. Today we’re going to be guiding you through this subject of when to leave or stay in an abusive marriage. If you missed last weeks’ post we discussed trajectories of healing and recovery for abusive marriages. You’ll definitely want to check that out for some background to today’s episode if this is the first time you’re listening in Also, make sure you hit the subscribe button so you don’t miss any upcoming shows from us. Let’s get into this topic by starting with our values and then going to some really interesting research. I think the most important thing we need to keep in front of us and for our readers to bear in mind is the context in which we are writing. We are sitting here in Florida writing this from our travel trailer. But when we publish this episode it will be available in over 100 countries and will be downloaded thousands and thousands of times. We have people of all faith backgrounds that read our posts. And even when most of our readers are evangelical Christians we have a spectrum of opinions on the subjects of separation, divorce and remarriage. Rather than going into a huge sidebar on that I’m just going to say this. Our mission is to save marriages — we want to reach and influence as many marriages as possible. We hope your marriages never comes under this kind of strain and believe that no marriage is beyond recovery. We have written previously about certain exceptions to this and whether genuine ultimatums are ever justifiable in marriage, and while we still believe that separation is not the ideal from a Christian standpoint, when we talk about abusive marriages we are dealing with a whole different ball game. You may well have your own opinions on whether divorce is ever acceptable. I would just ask that if you are not in an abusive marriage and if you have never been close to someone who is on the victim side of that relationship, that you suspend judgment until you hear some of their stories and experiences. On the other end of the spectrum, we will have women listening to this who are facing another beating today. In this very moment, they are afraid — possibly even for their lives. So we have this wide audience reading but we really want to speak to those of you who are in an abusive marriage and are trying to figure out what your next step is and are maybe even afraid for your life, certainly for your wellbeing and possibly that of your children also. Should I Leave My Abusive Marriage? Let’s start with a very interesting study from 2007[i] where the researchers collected data from over 400 women who were seeking help due to being in a violent relationship. They interviewed these women every 3 months for the next year. These women had four patterns of relationship that the researchers identified Completely apart: the women remained uninvolved with their partner from the second interview to the end of the study Together then apart: women who were “in” the relationship with this partner for at least one-time point [during the first 6 months of the study] but were “out” of the relationship [during] the last 6 months of the study Fluid: women who were involved with their partner for at least a one-time point [during]…the last 6 months of the study, but were “out” of the relationship for at least a one-time point between the second interview and the end of the study. Completely together: women who remained involved with their partner for the entire study Where this study is helpful is it showed how women fare in an abusive relationship based on their decisions to stay, leave or live out some combination of the two.
Feb 22, 2017
Can Abusive Husbands Change? [2 of 3]
Will the abuse get better? Or is it going to stay the same? Abuse is deeply rooted in belief systems and so we want to talk about recovery rates and how to figure out if you might consider sticking things out or if there is no hope for your husband. Today we’re going to be looking at what the research says about trajectories of abuse. Meaning: if you learned from the last episode that you are in an abusive relationship, what hope is there for change? So last week we looked into how to know if you’re in an abusive marriage or just a distressed marriage, and at ways of defining the different forms of abuse. Be sure to give last week’s post a read. What Research Says About Trajectories of Abuse A study from 2008[i] looked at physical and emotional aggression and measured them using the Domestic Conflict Inventory— a tool for measuring conflict in marriage that includes elements of physical and emotional aggression which we describe in our previous episode. They looked at 118 couples and found that: Physical aggression significantly decreased over time (43% per year) Emotional aggression did not significantly change over time. They actually found that husbands showed a 3% increase per year. Just note that this means that 3 or 4 or of the men out of the 118 couples changed. Longer duration marriages had lower physical aggression. What we are seeing is that research tends to support these results. Physical aggression changes over time — often decreasing — but emotional aggression tends to remain stable over the years. Another study from 1996[ii] found that even when the husband’s physical abuse decreased over a 2 year period the same was not true of emotional abuse. The frequency of emotional abuse remained stable even as the physical abuse decreased. Now, for men that get involved in batterer programs and seek help, more recent research shows that these programs can be effective in helping them reduce aggressive comments and helping them communicate more positively during arguments. Not all batterer programs offer this kind of skills-based training but this does help reduce verbal abuse, but the researchers also noted that good communication skills need to be taught to both the man and the woman to be most effective[iii]. Another thing that is worth noting here is that the abuse interventions need to be seen as an ongoing process, not just a one-time cure[iv]. So men who successfully stopped being violent towards their spouses often stated that they were violent due to patterns of behavior learned from their parents. Or they were violent because it helped them feel more “masculine” and in control. So violence and abuse are deeply engrained into this type of thinking as you might image. Consequently, you can’t shift this in one intervention. The change in thinking and beliefs is most successful in men who continually engaged with counseling and intervention such as batterer programs. The men reported that they would sometimes “forget” the right ways of coping with situations when in the moment but that long term interventions helped them become more aware of their own motivations in being abusive, which helped them towards change. What I hear when I look into this kind of research is that your husband will do best when he considers himself to be on a journey of self-discovery and personal growth. This, obviously, is going to look very different than him just apologizing, even being tearful, promising he’ll never do it again, and then not actually engaging in any process to help him recover. A tearfully apologizing husband may mean every word he says and genuinely want to change, but that in-the-moment remorse is rarely enough to change long-standing patterns of thought and behavior. So just keep that in mind as you gather evidence about what kind of a trajectory he is on. How Many Abusive Men Recover? The answer to this question depends a lot on the type of abuse being perpetrated.
Feb 15, 2017
Is My Husband Abusive? [1 of 3]
Abuse is such a tough situation. We want to speak to all the brave wives out there who are putting on the mask every Sunday and acting like things are OK when every week you live through a cycle of walking on eggshells, explosions, the honeymoon stage and then starting all over again. But abuse isn’t always as obvious as physical threats or violence; there are lots of subtler— but equally damaging— forms abuse can take. We have a sad but necessary topic for you this week. For the next few episodes we’re going to be looking at abuse in marriage. Today we’re starting with the question, Is My Husband Abusive? I think one of my biggest fears coming to a topic like this is that there are a lot of times that the “abuse” word gets thrown out there to describe stuff that really isn’t. And there are a lot of times when something should be called abuse and it is not. We wanted to take this first episode to really help you go through these issues if you think it might be your situation — before we start talking about how to get help in our next episode. One of the things we put together for this episode is an assessment tool so that you can go through a specific set of questions and then evaluate your relationship to see if your husband is abusive. We’ll look at about how you can get hold of that later on. As you might expect, abuse gets categorized in a number of different ways. I often like to point out that in the simplest terms that when you’re dealing with an abusive situation it’s to do with issues of power and control. You do need both of those things, not just one. There are a lot of us who struggle with anxiety who try to exert a lot of control on the world around us to try to help reduce the uncertainty — that’s an anxiety problem, not an abuse problem. And there are power struggles in marriage too — probably for most of us — but that doesn’t constitute abuse by itself either. So let’s lay out some groundwork here about the types of abuse in marriage. Types of Abuse in Marriage I think it’s good to look at physical versus non-physical abuse. I’ve actually encountered wives experiencing physical abuse and they didn’t recognize it as such because not all forms of physical abuse look like a balled up fist. Physical abuse includes any type of violence. Going from least to worst seriousness, this can include: Throwing something with the intent to hurt or intimidate Pushing Grabbing Shoving Slapping Pulling hair Choking Hitting with an object Attempting to drown Beating Threats or use of a weapon such as a knife or gun[i]. In addition to that researcher’s definition I would include blocking, acting threatening or intimidating by posturing physically. Types of Non-Physical Abuse Non-physical abuse can be more difficult to identify. I want to pause here to make one point. A few years ago I came across my first situation where I had a wife asking for help with abuse. To help me make sure I was brushed up on the topic I consulted with a therapist who has written a book on the subject. During my consultation with this therapist and author, she mentioned the case of a woman who had been stabbed several times by her husband, rolled up in a rug and left in a field to die. The woman survived and her words were: the stabbing was awful, but his words hurt me more than anything else. I think for a lot of us that have been blessed to grow up in safe families where there was no physical violence we often think of the worst kind of physical abuse as being the batterer. And I don’t want to discount that at all. But I just want to raise the point that non-physical abuse is incredibly brutal too, and should not be belittled. The old playground epithet that “sticks and stones may hurt my bones but words never do” is a bunch of baloney, especially in an abusive context. Just keep that in mind if you’re just beginning to learn about abuse. There are four categories of non-physical abuse described in one of the journal...
Feb 08, 2017
Stop Bottling Up Stuff In Your Marriage
I find it’s pretty easy to avoid conflict. I kind of stockpile the issues until it gets really big and then I feel like I’m ready to talk. But the irony is: that’s actually when I’m least ready to talk. As soon as I open my mouth I know it’s not going to go well. So if avoiding conflict and bottling everything up until I burst isn't the answer, is there a better way of approaching conflict? We have an intriguing topic for you this week. Today we’re going to be looking at one of those things we are all doing wrong in marriage: avoiding conflict. I know that sometimes I find myself cataloging a list of issues I want to bring up with Verlynda. And then I kind of realize this is going to come out as way too much at once. It’s like we villainize the other person and adopt this belief that they won’t hear us unless we have a really exhaustive list of how bad they are. Or like we have to build up a comprehensive “case” against them, rather than just addressing each small thing as it arises, or our points will be rejected as being too “small” or “petty”. Avoiding Conflict Leads to More Conflict I want to start by asking you to consider whether you might have an avoidance orientation in your relationship. An avoidance orientation just means that you attempt to avoid conflict during conversations. A study from 2015 observed that couples who have this style of relationship often experience “communication difficulties and the perpetuation of avoidance [1]” They studied 365 couples and found that if you’re more avoidant, you’ll be more reactive to your spouse’s negative behavior. So avoidant spouses are more likely to explode when they are having difficult discussions because they’ve been bottling up issues and resentments for so long that eventually the dam just bursts and it all pours forth. So basically if you think that avoiding tough topics and just keeping things calm is a good idea, the research shows- and your experience probably resonates with this- that avoiding these issues actually leads to less productive discussions when you actually start talking about what matters. As we said in an earlier podcast episode: talk about it sooner before it's a big deal. Crucially, the study found that this was independent of relationship satisfaction and neuroticism. This is important to note— firstly because it doesn’t matter about how good or how poor your marriage is, avoidance is still not helpful. Secondly, when they say it is independent of neuroticism they are saying this is not about one spouse being a nutcase. This is not one person’s fault. It’s simply a matter of a technique that you’re using in your marriage that just doesn’t work. Of course, I get why we do this. We want to keep the peace. We don’t want to upset our spouse. We don’t want to rock the boat. We say things like, “Happy wife, happy life” and if that means keep silent and don’t complain, that’s what we do. Does that sound like a God-filled marriage? All over the Bible, we are told both to forgive and to exhort each other. In Ephesians, we are told to speak the truth in love. In Colossians, we are told to teach and admonish one another in all wisdom. Gary Thomas talks about this in his book, Sacred Marriage, and he points out that the purpose of marriage is to make us holy, not make us happy. When we avoid topics we need to be talking about, we are thwarting one of the purposes of marriage: personal growth and sanctification. Conflict isn’t fun. But: it leads to forgiveness, where avoidance does not. And, if done in the right way, it leads both you and your spouse closer to God’s ideal view of your marriage. Why Do Couples Avoid Conflict? Before we go to the “how to” of stopping this bottling up of stuff in our marriages, let’s take a look at why we avoid conflict in our marriages. There’s a number of reasons why we do this. Research has shown that: Poor marital satisfaction (not being happy and almost preferring to keep evidence rather than challen...
Feb 01, 2017
Emotional Intimacy is the Key to Great Sex
What do you do when you want to spice up your sex life? We usually start thinking about new positions, or lingerie or maybe traveling to some exotic location with our spouse. Physical things. But what if the key to great sex was found in a completely different dimension? Sexual Experience Types & Attachment The research we’re looking at today will actually have a profound impact on the whole scope of your married life. So this is definitely going to be a pivotal topic for many couples who are reading. We are going to talk about attachment. I know that sounds like something to do with velcro but attachment in the science of relationships is simply about the love bond between two people. So every time you read “attachment” just think “love bond” so that this new term doesn’t throw you off. What we’re going to see is that the quality and nature of your attachment to your spouse has the largest impact on your sexual satisfaction. If you’re in a sexless marriage, or you have a lot of conflict about sex, it almost always comes back to this attachment issue. The only exception would be if there is a genuine sexual disorder such as erectile dysfunction or vaginismus— those may be related to physiological issues or they may find their root in other things like childhood sexual abuse. But: if you solve the attachment issue you’ll also have a safe place to talk about these other issues, and I would certainly recommend you do so with a qualified sex therapist. We will look at how attachment affects different ways of experiencing sex, and finish with a look at 7 steps to growing a secure attachment in a sexual context. Three Experiential Patterns of Sexual Intercourse The first thing you need to know is that both men and women experience sexual intercourse in one of three patterns: Relationship-centered orientation: This pattern is all about being connected to your spouse on an emotional level during sex. So it is about the “individual’s feelings of being loved and esteemed by one’s partner and the desire for partner’s involvement, as well as the sense of being the subject of love (i.e. feelings of love toward the partner, and attentional and emotional focus on her/his needs and reactions.) [i]” This is healthy, whole-person sex that encompasses both physical and emotional experience and is focused on both giving and receiving from your spouse. Worry-centered orientation: This pattern revolves around a focus on you and your own worries over giving and receiving from your spouse. This includes worry about "the personal vulnerability and sense of estrangement related to sexual activity, the negative and immoral meanings of this activity, the lack of partner’s sexual competence, and the potential evidence of one’s sexual inadequacy, along with the occurrence of interfering thoughts[ii]”. This is sex that’s not going well. Anything from doormat sex to abusive sex to my body-is-here-but-my-brain-is-not kind of sex. Or if you’re lost in self-consciousness. It’s not engaged sex. Pleasure-centered orientation: This pattern reflects sex on a more basic level that's focused on pleasure and not on the emotional experience. It's about “the orgasmic cycle of excitement-pleasure-relief-satisfaction, which is accompanied by a sense of power and strength and two complementary states of mind — cognitive/emotional dissociation from the environment and focused attention on reaching the orgasm [iii].”. This is sex that’s purely about crossing the finish line; focusing on the physical sensations, with no real person-to-person connection. Safe Conversations About Sex Need help with this? We created a Discussion Guide specifically for this episode. The guide is about creating a safe place to talk about sex in your marriage. We show you how to do that and we give you the questions you need to talk through in order to start having the conversations you’ve been avoiding or afraid to have!Get the Guide! Gender Differences in Sexual Experience Remember,
Jan 25, 2017
Overcoming Infidelity: 30 Days to Recovery
Has infidelity impacted your marriage? Do you feel like you need guidance through recovery and rebuilding your marriage? A few months ago we ran a 15 Day Marriage Challenge and were absolutely stunned by the number of people going through that process who were dealing with betrayal in the form of an affair or infidelity. Caleb created the 30 Day Betrayal Devotional set as a response to this need. This is a very unique product in the marketplace and in this podcast episode Caleb answers some questions and tells us about it. By the way, these were written for the more common situation of husband betraying wife. If you are a couple where the roles are reversed, and the wife has betrayed the husband, just switch books and pronouns. Broken Couples Need to Heal From Affairs Together The first thing we recognized is that both the betrayer and the betrayed need to be working through their own issues in this process, but they need to be doing so in a way that opens them up to each other. These devotionals comes in a set of "His" and "Hers" and are complementary to each other. They're two separate journals but come in a set. What happens is that you are working on things that complement and correlate with what your spouse is working on. For example, a few days in Caleb speaks to the betrayer about being willing to acknowledge his spouse's feelings and is talking to be the betrayed wife about sharing her feelings rather than always pursuing facts about the betrayal.  The two parts match up day by day as you go through this journey. And some good news: rarely is there a couple recovering from an affair where there was not some sort of intimacy deficiency in the marriage. Those couples who make a sincere effort to rebuild and recover often speak of their marriage being WAAAY better than before. What changed? All of a sudden everything becomes open and vulnerable. It's incredibly painful and risky but you have two people who are seeing way further into each other than they did before. As they heal and rebuild, they don't let go of this newfound intimacy! Recovering From Infidelity Needs a Proven Plan The second thing that we realized is that couples need a plan. To be honest, we initially didn't want to do a devotional because we didn't want to string together some warm fuzzies and lead people down an unrealistic pathway that was sprinkled with Christian platitudes. So, Caleb wrote these devotionals with some very challenging Scripture readings but he also integrated them with a clinically proven pathway towards rebuilding and recovering from an affair. This is a proven process that you're stepping through. The first ten days help you confront the facts of the affair but move towards owning the feelings and the trauma of the affair: how it impacts the betrayed spouse, but also showing the betrayer how to demonstrate accountability and honesty. The next 10 days deal with the 'why' of the affair. This is the part where you really start to make meaning of the affair. It's a very touching part of the devotional where you go deep with root causes in order to find the healing. By the end of this, you still won't like that the affair happened or the pain it caused, but you should be able to see that there is hope, there is purpose and that God is going to turn your grief and pain into blessing and recovery. The last 10 days takes you through the decisions to forgive and reconcile. Do you want to do it? If yes, then it becomes about walking you through that as well. That is a very tough process to navigate through without guidance. Recovering From An Affair Should Result in Transformation We would never recommend having an affair in order to catalyze growth and transformation. However, since this has happened and it is a part of what you have experienced, the next thing I'm looking for is how can we take this heart-breaking, profoundly betraying, devastating discovery and turn it into something that is transformational. Obviously,
Oct 12, 2016
Why You Can’t Trust Your Spouse
Do you ever wonder why you can’t trust your spouse? Especially when you think you should be able to? Before we start, we want to make it clear who this episode is for because it may not be immediately apparent from the title. We’re speaking to men and women who are struggling to trust their spouse and recognize that this trust issue lies primarily within themselves at this point. There may have been a past betrayal or not. If there was you might say something like, “I know in my head that I can trust him or her now, but I just can’t get past the doubts.” You know your spouse is trustworthy, but you can’t get there yourself as far as trusting them. So, if you’re struggling to trust and you cannot, and you are sure this is about something happening within yourself, this article is for you. On the other hand, if you’ve gone through a betrayal and you’re struggling to trust and maybe your spouse is continuing to act in ways that are concealing or suspicious in nature and your lack of trust is legitimate, this is not for you. Trust your gut. But if it’s more like you feel something’s wrong in you rather than in your relationship, we’d like to help you. Finally, if you’ve betrayed your spouse and you can’t get them to trust you, don’t just stick your spouse in the bucket we are discussing today. A severe betrayal takes a long time to recover from. In fact, their discovery of your betrayal was probably a traumatic event and your spouse may be suffering from a variation of PTDS called Post Infidelity Stress Disorder. Remember, everything said here should be seen as a self-help tool and not as a replacement for counselling! So…trust. Trust has been defined as the “confidence that [one] will find what is desired [from another] rather than what is feared.[i] It’s the idea that when I turn to Caleb for something I have this innate confidence that he will provide what I desire. He’s safe. He’s reliable. He’s predictable. Now, if he’s all those things but I cannot trust him, then I have a problem that I need to address. Trust is implicit in love. 1 Corinthians 13 talks about love, and verse 7 says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Do you hear the trust implicit in that? Proverbs 31:11 has this really neat little statement talking about the virtuous woman: “The heart of her husband trusts in her”. Trust is an emotional confidence in another person. That’s why betrayal hurts so bad and why it takes time to hear – because it touches you to the core. On the other hand, when you can’t trust but you should be able to, then this affects your marriage bond because of that fact that trust is implicit in love. In terms of why you can’t trust your spouse, here are a few different possibilities that may apply to you. Lack of Trust as Means of Maintaining Control The first possibility is that you may be holding onto a lack of trust as a means of maintaining control. In 2015, some researchers looked at the influence of trust on conflict discussions. Typically, if you’re a trusting person you tend to make positive attributions about your spouse even in questionable circumstances. You also tend to display more positive emotions than negative when you’re in conflict. On the other hand, if you’re a low-trust individual, you tend towards pessimistic views.[ii] For example, if you find a long black hair on your husband’s sweater and no one in your family has long black hair, a trusting spouse would remove the hair and that’s it. Instead, a low trust spouse may start the conversation with, “Who does this belong to?” When you’re less trusting, you often move very quickly towards tactics that really destabilize the relationship or even harm it because you have this underlying belief that your spouse is concealing negative events from you. In marriage then, low-trust spouses are more influential than high-trust spouses. They tend to pull down the high-trust spouse towards more negative o...
Oct 05, 2016
What to Talk About on Your Next Date
Even if you're happily married you might find dates with your spouse kind of awkward sometimes. What do you talk about? I know we struggle at times to have an easy flow of conversation, too. I don’t know what it is about dates that make it difficult to know what to talk about. Sometimes we’re just distracted or exhausted but sometimes if you’re up to date with each other then you’re also not sure what to go over. Certainly, if there’s an ‘elephant’ in the room, that gets in the way too. This is a good place to start because where couples struggle sometimes is they haven’t dealt with something that’s pretty major. One spouse initiates the date as a way to try to repair or even extend a peace offering. We could go down quite a rabbit trail with this but I think it would be good just to point out that you want to set up your dates so that you have the same goal/agenda when you go on them. If your marriage is distressed, be sure that you’re both heading in with an open mind that you’re doing this as one little step to move towards repair and reconciliation. If this is your situation, don’t go in with super high expectations and give your spouse the benefit of the doubt and show some generosity by extending good will. This is one time that we’d actually recommend avoiding the elephant in the room. If the ‘elephant’, or issue, is too big for you, put that out there before you go and also suggest how you’d like to resolve that: set up a time to talk, ask for help from a spiritual leader in your church, or get some counselling. On the date itself, though, is not the time or place to hash out difficult issues. What you want to try to do is to set up your dates to allow a little sweetness to percolate into your marriage. Warmth. Kindness: both given and received. When you’re going on a date in the context of the distressed marriage you want to point the conversation toward topics that help you to build little wee connections with each other again. On the other hand, if your marriage is reasonably healthy but you just need a way to freshen up your dates and your relationship we’re going to point you toward the same topics! We know that life happens. We all get super busy and because we’re always in the whirlwind we tend to lose track of those little details that are happening in each other’s lives. Remember how when you were dating you used to love finding out those tiny little facts about each other? Well, date conversations should steer in that direction. Talk About Relationships and Experiences Generally, and looking at research on conversations that people tend towards, about 55% of conversation times for males and about 2/3 for females is devoted to talking about relationships and experiences.[i] See, most people like to talk about relationships and experiences because these are the most influential forces in our lives in terms of our emotional wellbeing. A much smaller amount of time goes to work or school-related trips, then to sport, then arrangements for future social activities, then culture and art and politics and religion. So let me give you a few different ideas about this. You definitely want to spend more time asking your spouse about the relationships you see less of. For example, how’s it going with their boss, with their mother, with their closer friends that maybe you don’t hang out with as a couple too much. These things are really important to your spouse. Watch for little hints of emotion there and try to catch those and expand on them to learn more about your spouse’s feelings. Be curious. Rather than assuming you know something, ask about it. Watch how you add your interpretive layers to what they’re saying, though. You may find more value, instead of thinking about how you see something just to stay with more neutral non-judgmental questions to ask your spouse how they experienced their friend or the specific circumstance at work. Part of this is not only having the topics to talk about but ac...
Sep 28, 2016
How to Appreciate Your Spouse
Maybe your spouse has complained to you that he or she just doesn’t feel appreciated. Well, let’s just take that at face value today and work on this whole appreciation thing. It can only help, right? One of my favorite Bible verses is: “You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear.” If every word we spoke in our marriages was tested by this verse, we would see some vast improvements! What Does Appreciation Look Like? There is a measurement tool used in research called the Appreciation in Relationships Scale which looks at these items:[i] Telling your partner that he/she is the best Telling your partner how much you appreciate him/her Not taking your partner for granted Acknowledging and treating your spouse like s/he is someone special Noticing when your spouse does nice things for you and saying thank you, even for the really small things Feeling struck with a sense of awe and wonder when you think about your spouse being in your life. Basically, appreciation is any feeling or expression of gratitude for who a person is and what they do. When you perceive that your spouse sees you as valuable, you feel appreciated. This, of course, leads to a greater sense of security in the marriage and also the feeling that you can be confident of how your spouse sees you. It’s difficult when you’re not sure what your spouse thinks of you. This may be why your spouse is saying that s/he doesn’t feel appreciated. For some reason, they may not actually be sure of what you think of them. When you take these needs for appreciation that we all have and you bring them into your marriage what you’re doing is shifting your focus away from your own self-interest and really starting to include your spouse’s needs. This shift in thinking is fundamental to showing appreciation because you have to start to mentally position yourself around what you’re giving rather than what you’re getting from the marriage. When this shift takes place, you’re now expressing behaviours that help to maintain and build up your relationship. This is the whole point of appreciation! 8 Ways to Appreciate Your Spouse To help you get really good at this, we’ve created 8 Ways to Appreciate Your Spouse – some practicable, doable tactics to show appreciation. Incorporate these things into your marriage so that you can be an appreciative spouse.Get It! How Appreciation Blesses Your Marriage Here are five ways that appreciation benefits your marriage. We’ll show you why this works and what it does for your marriage so that you can really become intentional about putting this into place. First, Appreciate Your Spouse and Your Spouse Will Appreciate You A study from 2012 showed that “feeling appreciate by one’s spouse promotes one’s own appreciative feelings….people who feel more appreciated by their romantic partners report being more appreciative of their partners. In turn, people who are more appreciative of their partners report being more responsive to their partner’s needs.”[ii] Appreciation begets more appreciation. When you appreciate your spouse, your spouse is more likely to appreciate you back. Appreciation starts a healthy cycle in your marriage – as one partner considers the other before self, the other partner starts to do the same, and the relationship as a whole benefits from this. Second, Appreciation Leads to Commitment and Protects from Divorce Further results of the 2012 study showed that people who are more appreciative of their partners are more committed and more likely to remain in their relationships over time.[iii] In this way, displays of appreciation are protective against divorce and separation. Anything that contributes to the happy longevity of your marriage is really worthwhile! Third, Appreciation Positively Changes How You View Your Marriage Different research, from 2010,
Sep 21, 2016
Your Marriage Needs an Intimacy Checkup
Intimacy is one of the deepest needs of the human heart. We all crave it and we all enjoy it when we experience it in our marriages. Today, you need to pause and consider how you’re doing on the intimacy in your marriage. We experience and express intimacy in different ways, so think of this as an intimacy checkup. You go to your family doctor for your annual physical, well, today is your annual relational! Intimacy Self-Evaluation We put together a self-assessment which is a perfect tool to go along with this article. Download and work through the self-evaluation of how intimacy is working in your mind, your heart, your soul, and your body, and you’ll have a picture of where your strengths lie and also where your growth areas are.I Want It! Intimacy is a full person experience: it’s your mind, heart, soul and body all in one. In the world of marriage research, we talk about cognition, emotion, physical intimacy, and spiritual intimacy. Rather than get all “woo woo” talking about intimacy, we want to keep it very real. Intimacy is nothing more than an exchange or a mutual interaction.[i] It’s a sharing between two people. You can share your thoughts, your emotions, your spirituality, and your body. When you share all of those things in a deep way then you have deep intimacy. We’re going to go into each of these areas one by one so you can consider how you’re doing and if it is an area where you need to open up more. But first a caveat: If you’re in an abusive marriage, more intimacy is not going to help. You need safety in order to share more intimately. If you give intimacy to someone who is not safe, you’re really giving them knowledge. And knowledge is power, and if that power is abused it is going to lead to even more hurt. On the other hand, if you’re both healthy people – even if your marriage is unhappy and distressed and you both get your ugly on – becoming more intimate and showing your softer, deeper emotions and thoughts will give your spouse something easier to embrace. If this is reciprocated, you start to create healing and something new and much healthier in your marriage. Cognitive Intimacy: Sharing Your Thoughts Ever used the expression, “A penny for your thoughts!”? Think about that request: we say that when we want to know someone more intimately. When we say “a penny for your thoughts” we’re asking to be invited into the world of their mind. Here’s a good quote from a study in 1993: “The amount of personal information individuals disclose is positively related to how intimate they consider their relationship and positively related to marital satisfaction.”[ii] Remember, we defined intimacy as an exchange. In cognitive intimacy, or in the context of our minds, this is just an exchange of information. When we disclose our thoughts to one another, this is cognitive intimacy. Caleb gave me a man's perspective on this. He said often he has WAY more stuff going through his head than what he verbalizes. (I tend to think out loud, so this is a foreign concept to me…) He has to put sincere effort into disclosing his thoughts. He’s not holding back intentionally, he’s just in his head. But here’s the deal: self-disclosure significantly predicted ratings of intimacy by husbands and wives on a day to day basis, meaning that you feel more intimate if you’re sharing what’s going on in your head. There are a few parts that go with this and you need all of the following parts in order to do this type of intimacy well:[iii] Obvious, but you have to share your thoughts. This is called initial disclosure and is the starting point. Your spouse needs to do the same. The next critical point is called partner responsiveness which just means that the listener has to audibly and visibly react to the disclosure in a way that is relevant to the content that has been shared. Respond in a way that is relevant and that communicates that you understand, you care, and you confirm your spouse’s perspective.
Sep 14, 2016
So You Stayed Married Just for the Kids’ Sake, Now What?
What happens if your marriage really hasn’t been that great but you’ve been sticking it out for the kids, or for some other reason. Let’s say the reason you’ve been sticking it out is no longer relevant… Now what? If the purpose for staying married is no longer relevant, is your marriage toast? Or can you do something to redeem and reconfigure your relationship so that new life is breathed into it? Barriers and Rewards in Marriage Why do people stay married? In 2003, two researchers set out to answer this. They cited past research that showed that people typically stay married due to either rewards (positive outcomes associated with being in a relationship) or barriers (psychological forces that restrain people from leaving relationships).[i] Happy marriages often stay together because of rewarding aspects of marriage, while unhappy marriages often stay together because of barriers to ending the marriage. The researchers were interested in specific rewards and barriers that kept marriages together and used data from a 17-year longitudinal study of marital instability to find some answers. In this study, couples were asked to list (1) specific barriers that prevented them from moving forward with divorce, (2) specific rewards that kept them together, and (3) whether they stayed due to a lack of alternative relationships. The results showed: When couples were asked why they stayed in their marriage, 74% listed various rewards, 25% listed barriers, and 1% listed lack of alternatives. Of those who listed barriers, the number one barrier to ending the marriage was staying for the sake of the children. The second largest barrier listed was religion. “People who attributed the cohesiveness of their marriages primarily to barriers (such as staying for the children) tended to be relatively unhappy with their marriages and were likely to be thinking (or acting) in ways that might lead to divorce.” “Thinking about marital cohesion exclusively in terms of barriers predicted divorce up to 14 years later, even after controlling for marital happiness and divorce proneness.[ii] The researchers also noted that barriers were not as powerful as rewards in maintaining cohesion. Without a strong attraction between spouses (as reflected in love, friendship, or positive communication) many people eventually find ways to overcome existing barriers and leave their marriages. For example, couples that are concerned about the effect of divorce on children may wait until their children are older or have left home before divorcing. Here’s the point: what’s keeping you together now could lead you to your ungluing later. You can think of this from a Scriptural perspective, too. Marriage, in terms of purpose, is cast in Ephesians 5 as a way to express the relationship of Christ towards his people on earth: there’s communication, intimacy, covenant faithfulness, loyalty and commitment, and deep, unfailing love. If your marriage has been carried along on the winds of any other kind of purpose, it’s time to seriously consider how you can remanufacture and build something that is aligned with the divinely ordained purpose. Surely, this is a far richer, far more joyful, perspective! But, just because you’re staying together for the wrong reasons doesn’t mean divorce is inevitable! If there’s pain in your marriage, why not find a place for the truth of redemption to be expressed in your marriage? Surely this is a better route than the devastation of divorce. Don’t Wait to Get Help Based on the research (above), marriages that stay together for the children are often unhappy marriages that could be headed for divorce once the children grow up. What should these marriages do? How can they find help? A large part of the problem is that many unhappy marriages don’t seek help at all. Other research shows that “most distressed couples do not seek marital therapy” and those who do wait an average of 6 years after serious relationship problems d...
Sep 07, 2016
I Want To Fix Our Marriage and He Doesn’t. Now What?
Here's today's question: "Background: I grew up in an abusive home (my father is an addict and a bully, but my mother never reported his abuse to authorities or tried to explain that what he was doing was wrong- we just pretended that nothing had happened afterwards) and my husband grew up in a home with not much affection or healthy communication. I am a newly trained mediator and I know we have issues (small issues but after 11 years they have grown to cause serious problems) but when I try and utilize my training, his radar goes up and he shuts down, Even though my communication is pretty terrible when I'm not using mediation (or at least, we have these awful cycles---he says he can't talk to me when I'm upset (voice raised or if I'm panicky or angry) he brings up things unrelated to what we are discussing (which granted, yes, need attention, but if I'm trying to resolve something that's bothering me and I want peace and harmony and to be a TEAM instead of petty ineffective blamers, imo, he sabotages the conversation and I go back to reptilian brain, angry or hurt mode and everything shuts down. So my question is, I'm trying so damned hard....I know he would like this stuff resolved too....but how on earth can things get fixed when he seems to prefer our dance of dysfunction???? And also, side note, I had a dream last night about being sad and single and so lonely and thinking of ways to meet someone to love and cherish me and be on the same side together....only to realize in my dream that I'm married (in my dream I had forgotten apparently) dark, foreboding stuff. :( Signed, Sad and ready to give up in Alberta" Listen to the podcast for Caleb's answer!
Aug 31, 2016
My Spouse is Flaunting Him/Herself on Social Media
A listener wrote in with the question: "How do you set boundaries with social media? What's acceptable to keep the marriage from the pressures of the world. For example: One spouse doesn't like revealing pictures put out and the other is getting physically fit and feeling the need to parade?" Listen to the podcast for Caleb's answer!
Aug 24, 2016
Extreme Sex Drive and Infidelity From Testosterone Therapy?
This week, we have a question from one of our audience members who wanted clarity on her expectations around side effects of her husband's testosterone therapy. "What experience do you have with testosterone therapy for men? I believe part of the cause of my husband's infidelity is due to much testosterone pellets and an excessive need for sex. I do not excuse him for one minute for the devastation he caused. think If that is going to be an available treatment for a medical condition some kind of information and counseling should be required as to how you will feel. We are 2-1/2 years past D day finding out of multiple hookups just for sex. We'd been married for 36 years!!! He is 59 and I am 57 right now. I credit my faith in keeping this altogether without telling anyone or counselling. Not a great idea after the fact. He's moved on from the infidelities and I still struggle at times. Q2: I guess I'm trying to understand if testosterone can make you impulsive and have the need to have sex in abundance. I feel you should be in control if your self, but if you are on the high end of the testosterone scale 1200-1500 can it change you? I do know hormones are powerful and make you feel all sorts of things." Listen to the podcast episode for Caleb's answer!
Aug 17, 2016
After Infidelity, How Do I Trust My Husband Again?
This week, Caleb answers a very touching question from Betty*, one of our email subscribers. She asked, "I responded a few months ago, rather aggressively, may I add, to your husband's question. And of course, he graciously responded with a question that pierced through my pain and frustration and found my heart. He asked," Do you still want to be married?" I thought about it for weeks!! Please let him know that we found a local counselor, who is also our pastor, and have been progressing, to say the least. What you two do is so vital in a world that opposes marriage and commitment in general.Thank you! Thank you! Anyways, to respond to your request, my question would be  ... " After infidelity strikes, how do you trust your husband again?" I know it takes time to learn how to trust again, but how do you truly grant yourself the space to be vulnerable in that way? Or ... are you bruised for life? Sometimes I feel like I am a shell of who I once was; a child learning to be confident in herself and womanhood, it's embarrassing.  So glad, this is anonymous! lol . Even if this isn't broadcasted I'd love your take on this." Listen to the podcast episode for Caleb's answer! *name changed for confidentiality reasons
Aug 10, 2016
If My Husband is a Sex Addict, Should I Divorce Him?
Peggy* wrote in to ask about sexual addiction and its effects on marriage. She writes, "Verlynda, First, I think your plans for traveling for a year sounds awesome!  What an exciting adventure to undertake.  Your family will be in my prayers that you will only experience slight bumps in the road and have a wonderful family bonding time! I love the podcasts and feel so lucky to have found you.  I think the first one I listened to was something on infidelity.   I'm wondering if you might consider doing a podcast on sexual addiction. While the effects on a marriage are similar to infidelity there's a deeper undercurrent with it.  I knew there was something off in our relationship and questioned if my husband was having an affair,  he always answered "no,"  so I just thought he was a workaholic along with the impact of binge drinking.  Finally, in the depths of his addiction he began receiving texts messages and phone calls that tipped me off.   Sexual addiction has a broad range of activities from porn and beyond.  My husband's issue started with pornographic magazines back in the 70's and escalated to going to bars for lap dances.  It basically followed the invasive changes that sexual addictions has taken in our society and how accepted it has become.  The attitude of" boys will be boys" doesn't help but speaks to the maturity level of some men in the American culture.  He was taken with being desired by other women and became infatuated with several but insists he never loved them only me.  I still deal with the hurt and pain that he could break our marriage vows and the years of deceit and lying.  I really don't feel I was acting co-dependently in this because I was asking if something was wrong and we consulted several marriage counselors over the years.  He admits he wasn't honest with them also.   I have listened to many podcasts and YouTube's on this topic.  I feel that Marsha Means and Barbara Steffens approach to looking at the PTSD or PISD (post infidelity stress disorder) it causes for the spouse has truly helped me.  Plus I accept that this addiction is rooted in an intimacy disorder.  Many "experts" support divorce but I chose not to take that path because of my religious beliefs.  So I was wondering if you might look at the issues of sexual addictions from a perspective of staying in the marriage.  Thanks so much, Peggy* PS  I have to admit I love both of your laughs!  Keep up the great work! Listen to the podcast episode for Caleb's answer! *name changed for confidentiality reasons
Aug 03, 2016
My Husband’s Sexual History Is Affecting Our Intimacy
Today we have a question from one of our audience members who is asking for help to overcome some significant mental barriers around her husband’s sexual history. Hi, I have a question.  I got married just recently and much later in life...around 40 years old.  I was a virgin when I got married. My husband was not. However he shared with me that he had not had any sexual partners for at least three years prior to our being married, because of his renewed commitment to Christ.  I've been a Christian since I was a youth and my husband had also been a Christian since he was a child however he was not sexually abstinent in his relationships. We did not have sex prior to getting married. Since we have been married we have had a great sex life, but I have struggled with the fact that he's had previous sexual partners. My question is how can I best deal with my husband's previous sexual history and not let it interfere with our sexual relationship now.  Of course, this is a vulnerable issue for me since I came into the marriage without sexual experience... So I get feelings of insecurity...wondering if he is comparing us to other relationships...etc. These thoughts can be intrusive for me.  Now, today I had a bomb dropped on me when I got the results of a recent Pap smear saying I tested positive for HPV.  It's very upsetting to find out that after being abstinent all these years and waiting for my husband to have sex; that he gave me a STD that could cause cervical cancer. The strain I have is the dangerous strain and will require more testing.  I've already been struggling with feelings over his sexual past and now it's intensified a thousand fold as a result of contracting this STD  from him.  I feel like this is definitely going to affect my feelings toward him and toward sexual intimacy with him.  He was tested for std's before our marriage but there is not a test for men for HPV, so in his defense he could not have known he had been exposed unless his previous girlfriend knew and told him.  I'm hoping and praying that my immune system will fight off this virus and I will be okay, but unfortunately I've had previous health problems that have weakened my immune system so I'm really upset and stressed that I may end up not fighting it off.  I'm just disappointed, sad, upset and hurt that I have to deal with an STD after waiting all this time to have sex with one man in my life.... My husband.  I'm sure this is going to cause me anger and resentment for his choices and not being abstinent as a Christian man who proclaims Christ.  I really have to say, at the risk of sounding judgmental.... That I am so tired of Bible believing Christians completely ignoring the word of God when it comes to sexual integrity! Why is it that people just wink at this sin like it's no big deal ??? People that I see at church every week that are living with their boyfriends and girlfriends that are having sex and acting as though it's not a sin.  I don't understand it's very frustrating! Christians act as though it's inconsequential and casual... Please pray for me that I can be full of grace and forgiveness toward my husband and that we would grow stronger and more in love and that I won't withdraw from him like I feel like doing at this moment.  The last piece of this puzzle is the question of fidelity?? Has he had sex with someone else during the time we've been together and contracted this STD and now passed it to me??  I really, honestly in my heart and soul, mind and spirit are telling me that he is being truthful about his sexual history and hadn't had sex for 3 years before we met...and that was his previous girlfriend for a couple years. But, my question is...why wouldn't she had let him know she had HPV. Most women know they have it because of their annual Pap smear. She would have known either back then or since then. They broke up in 2013. And they remained good friends.  So wouldn't a good friend tell you this??
Jul 27, 2016
My Wife Won’t Stop the Affair. How Do I Save My Marriage?
Jason* wrote in to say: "First all, huge thanks for what you are doing. My marriage is still in trouble, and it's even getting worse and worse. But thanks to your podcasts, I'm more ready to forgive and to accept my wife after her infidelity disclosure. The question is as follows. How do I fight for my marriage and my family (there are children) and my wife while she's undecided to stay or to leave as she feels in love with her affair mate? She's saying she can't imagine to be my wife anymore while she can't imagine losing me as a father of our children and part of the family. In other words, she wants to do life together, but not as husband and wife..." Listen to the podcast episode to see what Caleb had to say to Jason. *name changed for confidentiality reasons
Jul 20, 2016
How Can I Help My Wife Be More Trusting?
Joshua* writes: My wife and I started dating, got married the next year, had our first child a year later, and then our second child the following year. Around the same time as our second child was born, an ex-girlfriend texted me. Conversations started as just "Hey, how's life?" but quickly escalated to sexting as we used to do when we dated. Right before I could tell my wife, she saw the texts and got very upset. I had already ended communications with this girl and just couldn't strike up the nerve to tell my wife what I had done. Fast forward a couple months and we had been through about a month of counselling session. Things were getting better between us and then I had to go on a business trip. I had a few friends I had planned on meeting with while there, but there was one in particular my wife was not comfortable with me talking to. So I told her I wouldn't meet with that friend, but I lied. She later found out and again had to start mending our relationship. Things have been going pretty well, except now I have a week long business trip coming up and she keeps bringing up the past issues. I know what I've done and how I've messed up, but she keeps bringing it up. I ask her not to because it still hurts so bad, but she does anyways. What can I do in this next month or so in order to help build her trust again and help her to stop bringing up my past mistakes? Listen to the podcast episode for Caleb's answer! *Name has been changed for confidentiality reasons
Jul 13, 2016
Hectic Life + Happily Married: Is It Possible?
The common perception is that you can be super busy OR happily married. What we wanted to know is if you could be super busy AND happily married. Do you need to change your lifestyles, or are you good to go? No pressure! A lot of research and marriage advice points to the importance of spending time together as a couple, but perhaps this is not the most important factor when it comes to a healthy marriage. How Do You Treat Each Other When You Are Not Busy? It turns out that how you treat each other when you do have time together is what actually matters. In 2004, researchers looked at a particular type of marriage that tends to be particularly hectic – the medical marriage. These researchers wanted to analyze correlations between busyness, marital adjustments, and overall satisfaction with work/life balance in marriages in which husbands worked as physicians. (Stay tuned, we’ve got a wife-as-physician study next!) What they discovered is “more than hours worked, it is how a couple treats each other when they are not working that most powerfully determines the quality of contemporary medical marriage.”[i] How were these successful marriages treating each other? The researchers found these qualities in the marriages that self-identified as satisfying: Husbands didn’t let work stress negatively affect their at-home behaviour (good job, guys!) Husbands often indicated their concern about how their work/life balance and busyness required them to spend time away from family (that’s sweet) Wives found ways to keep themselves busy when their husbands were working long hours. Wives who were satisfied with their marriages learned to “accept this role without rancor, to build their individual support systems, and to carry on with family activities during their husbands’ work-related absences.”[ii] (that’s wise) Wives held specific perspectives about their husband’s work – that it was done for noble reasons (common mission!) In summary, “these busy couples did not have marriages that were less satisfying than those of other people in general. Quite the contrary, despite the hectic nature of medical life, physician’s wives claim to be quite satisfied with their marriages.”[iii] Even if you’re not a doctor, if you’re plain busy and you have these elements in your marriage, you should be good to go! Let’s switch genders and see what happens. In 2013, researchers looked at medical marriages in which the wife was the physician. They interviewed spouses of internal medical resident and faculty physicians, as they wanted to know how these couples made their marriages work in the face of the inflexible schedules of doctors. These three themes emerged from these interviews in terms of what these husbands of doctors felt was important to the health of their busy marriage: Having a set time for synchronizing schedules: Couples in these hectic marriages would often set a specific time where they would sit down and do their best to synchronize their schedules. Often schedules revolved around the physician’s schedule out of necessity. Frequent verbal support: This was important in both directions. Husband’s verbally supported their wives’ busy careers. Wives verbally supported the husband’s sacrifices, work, and willingness to take care of things at home when they were not able to. Shared decision-making: “Joint decision-making within physician families serves to increase the personal agency of female physicians’ husbands and may reduce work-life stress for physician wives.”[iv] So it looks like you CAN have a hectic life and be happily married! The Importance of Mutuality and Intimate Partnership Much of the advice from these two studies applies to marriages in which one spouse is extremely busy and the other spouse is not, but what about marriages in which both individuals are living hectic lives? A study completed in 2003 pointed towards the importance of mutuality in dual-earner couples living lives.
Jul 06, 2016
If Your Spouse Is Too Jealous
Jealousy. This can drive some people absolutely nuts - and their spouse feels completely justified. It’s a real conundrum. And it’s particularly worse when the jealous spouse has had prior reason to become jealous — a betrayal has occurred. What does a person do? Healthy And Unhealthy Forms of Jealousy. Research shows that jealousy can have positive or negative effects on a relationship, depending on the type of jealousy that is being displayed. There are three kinds of jealousy: Reactive jealousy: the degree to which individuals experience negative emotions in reaction to a betrayal/unfaithfulness. Possessive jealousy: the effort jealous individuals can go to to prevent contact of their spouse with individuals of the opposite sex. Anxious jealousy: a process in which the individual ruminates about and cognitively generates images of a mate’s infidelity, and experiences feelings of anxiety, suspicion, worry and distrust.[i] It is important to note that, in contrast to reactive jealousy, neither possessive nor anxious jealousy actually need a rival or a betrayal to be triggered. Results from the same research showed that individuals high in anxious jealousy had lower relationship quality, as did individuals married to spouses who were high in anxious jealousy.[ii] Remember, anxious jealousy is just about rumination thoughts – there isn’t necessarily any reality to it. The conclusion here was that anxious jealousy is bad for your marriage. Other clinical studies show that this type of thinking is characteristic of pathologically jealous individuals who, in general, experience great relationship distress. If you’re the anxiously jealous individual, I’m guessing that you’re not enjoying being that spouse any more than your spouse is enjoying your jealousy. Ruminating is not fun. It takes a lot of energy and creates a lot of negativity. I want to encourage you to get some help. Life doesn’t have to be this way. You’ve probably had some very real, even traumatic experiences or really, really significant disappointments in very important relationships, but there is healing. It doesn’t have to go on like this. The best thing you can do is take this to a good therapist and work with them towards finding a less anxious way to evaluate the world around you. The study also found positive associations between relationship quality and reactive jealousy.[iii] When a spouse reacts jealously to a betrayal, it is likely to be interpreted by their offending spouse as a token of love and caring and can even enhance the relationship. While reactive jealousy is good – you should be jealous if your relationship is threatened, we don’t recommend inducing reactive jealousy as a way to enhance your relationship. There are many other, safer ways to work on your marriage! Another finding from the study was that possessive jealousy was not found to be consistently related to relationship quality.[iv] Remember, that possessive jealousy is considerable effort a person goes to in order to prevent contact with the opposite sex. What the researchers felt is that this depends on how this jealousy was expressed. If you are buying flowers or romancing your spouse to keep them interested, it may help your marriage. In contrast, when you use threats or violence or debasement to prevent unfaithfulness, that will reduce the quality of your marriage. In either case, you need to ask yourself if this possessive jealousy is coming out of a place of fullness or a place of neediness. Fullness is – I appreciate what we have so much, I’m going to guard it. Neediness is – I can never be sure of what we have so I’m going to keep slapping romance Band-Aids on my anxiety to try to reduce the pressure. That is not healthy. Relabeling Jealousy in Your Relationship If your spouse is jealous and you have found this frustrating in the past, you might consider reframing it. For example, if you understand that reactive jealousy does not negatively affect the qu...
Jun 29, 2016
Find Yourself in a Roommate Marriage?
If your marriage is sexless, there is a way back to rekindling intimacy. It’s not easy, but it might not be as impossible as you think, either! We’ll help you understand some potential causes and then give you some direction to start point your marriage relationship back towards the wonder and joy of sex. The Problem of Roommate Marriages Sexless marriages are more common than I thought. In fact, research has found that 16% of marriages identify as sexually inactive.[i] However, what is surprising is that the research is not as common as you might expect. This topic was more difficult to find research on! The first study we found looked particularly at marriages in which one spouse greatly desired sex to be a part of the relationship, but was forced to remain involuntarily celibate (desiring sexual contact but not receiving it for 6 months) due to the wishes of their spouse. This is a common situation in sexually inactive marriages.[ii] The 6-month mark was someone arbitrary, but the researchers suggest that the length of time one has been celibate is not as important as whether one self-defines as involuntarily celibate.[iii] The bottom line is your marriage is sexless if your spouse thinks it is, or you do. Another study looked at whether sexually inactive marriages were less happy and stable than those with sexual activity. Donnelly found that sexually inactive marriages were correlated with the following: Unhappiness in the marital relationship Increased likelihood of separation Lack of shared activities Few arguments over sex. She concluded that “although sexually inactive marriages are not uncommon, they are not happy, stable marriages in which the partners simply do not have sex. Lack of sexual activity may be a danger signal for many marriages.”[iv] Perhaps it would be more useful to think of sexual inactivity as a symptom of a problem rather than thinking it is the problem itself. Think about it; if it doesn’t change, and your marriage remains sexless, you’re at risk of seeking to fill that cavity elsewhere. That’s not good. Consider thinking of it as a symptom because if you take care of the relationship you’ll probably see this take care of itself. In fact, when Caleb does marriage counselling, he spends more time repairing and reawakening the bond that exists between the couple. When that secure, emotional connection is thriving again, most couples sort out the sex issues by themselves. To those of you who are withholding sex… I want to challenge you. I get why you might be doing that, but there are consequences that I want you to be aware of. Here are some of the consequences of sexless marriages, all taken from the same study[v]: “some of the most common responses to involuntary celibacy are sexual frustration (79%), feelings of depression (34%) or rejection (23%)” 26% report problems with concentration 35% described deficits in self-esteem that occurred as a result of being rejected. If you’re unhappy in your marriage, I can see why you’d withhold sex to kind of force the issue or try to regain some power, but in all likelihood, it’s actually really working against you – if repairing the marriage is what you want to do. If your husband or wife is acting like a monster, why would you want to have sex with him or her? I get that! At the same time though, withholding sex is not a successful strategy for moving towards repair. The Bible even talks about the danger of withholding sex in 1 Corinthians 7 – we’re not to do that. Yet, I would guess the reason why you’re withholding or your spouse is, is because you want intimacy – not just sex. If your spouse is not abusive, a better strategy would be to address the lack of intimacy rather than just highlight it by withholding sexual intimacy as well. So let’s get practical here. How are couples who find themselves in this situation supposed to move forward? There is not a lot of research on this,
Jun 22, 2016
Is My Marriage Beyond Recovery?
We know for some of you, this episode is going to be a tough one. We’re going to speak the truth in love because we’re committed to integrity, but at the same time we want to give you hope because this IS hope, and recovery of your marriage IS possible. If you’re at the point where you think your marriage is fine, I hope you will take from this post the need to be proactive. Don’t want until you’re wondering if you can recover your marriage to take action – take action now! A Marriage Checkup If you want an objective evaluation of your marriage, download this assessment tool. Even if you feel your marriage is doing great, this might highlight some blind spots you weren’t aware of, so that you can work on them. Remember it’s only a measurement tool: what you do with the information is what really matters!I Want It! Personally, we don’t believe that any marriage is ever beyond recovery. We do believe that in some cases, like an abusive marriage, it is not safe to recover the marriage until the abuse issue is addressed thoroughly. We do not have any judgment for folks that have decided to move on – we’re not God and it’s not our job to judge that – but if you’re out there today and you just want someone to tell you there’s hope, then listen, there is hope! We’re going to talk about a number of things that challenge that hope, but we will end up with some things that you hope, so stick with us. Indicators That a Marriage is Moving Beyond Recovery Research indicates that the following behaviours may be warning signs that a marriage is headed past recovery and towards divorce. A Lot of Spouse Hostility Hostility without warmth is a major warning sign that your marriage longevity is seriously threatened. A study was conducted of over 400 couples married an average of 18 years. The study went on for five years and looked into the hostility of these marriages, the divorces that happened, and the quality of the interaction between spouses.[i] Hostility became a theme in the marriages that ended, so let’s look at hostility for a moment. The researchers looked for the frequency of how often a spouse had: gotten angry been critical shouted or yelled, ignored their spouse threatened to do something that would upset their spouse tried to make him or her feel guilty, or said that their spouse had made him or her unhappy. On the other hand, warmth looked like times when their spouse had: asked for his/her opinion listened to his/her point of view let them know that he or she cares acted in a loving and affectionate manner let them know that s/he is appreciated helped them something important to him/her had a good laugh with them, or acted supportive or understanding. Here’s what they found: “In every instance, greater marital instability was associated with more hostility and less warmth in marital interactions.”[ii] This warmth vs. hostility dynamic was so apparent that the researchers were able to predict with an 80% level of accuracy which couples would divorce the following year. All they had to look for was high levels of hostility and lesser levels of warmth. The researchers summarized their findings with the following statement, “Couples observed to exhibit high levels of hostile, angry, critical, stubborn, inconsiderate, defiant, or rejecting behavior that is not counterbalanced by considerate, cooperative, or affectionate behavior were more likely to perceive high levels of hostility in their marital interactions, were more likely to have unstable marriages, and were more likely to actually separate or divorce.”[iii] All that to say, that hostility needs to be counterbalanced with warmth in a marriage, or it will have lasting negative effects. We all get our ugly on once in a while unfortunately, but if those times are balanced with a lot of warmth and affection, it will serve your marriage much better. Significant Ambivalence and Lack of Responsiveness
Jun 15, 2016
Why You’re Not Getting Enough Sex and What To Do About It
If you’re some creepy dude reading this to try to extract more pleasure from your wife – go away. This is not about exploitation. But, if you’re a husband or wife who wants more physical intimacy, and you’re committed to the growth and overall health of your marriage, then you’re in the right spot. This is more about what what you’re not giving than what you’re not getting! First, we’ll start with three short term strategies about what you can do differently today, then we’ll move into three longer-term strategies that are more strategic and more about marriage building. We might stereotype a bit here as typically men have a higher desire than women. If your relationship is the opposite, that’s fine – just switch genders throughout this blog post! Three Ways to Initiate Sex Today (Short Term Strategies) A recent study looked at what factors had an impact on the sexual desire of women in long term relationships. Out of all the factors that they listed, two are particularly relevant “partner characteristics” that relate to things an individual can do to increase sexual desire in his spouse.[i] Display Attentiveness To Your Spouse When the women from this study observed their spouses putting effort into the relationship, it made them more likely to want to engage in sexual activity.[ii] This is a great starting point! If your heart isn’t in the marriage, Mr. Husband, why do you expect your wife to have her heart in the sex? We shouldn’t have to say things this obvious but sometimes we need to really wake up and be confronted with the truth. Caleb has literally had wives tell him in the counselling office that they just feel “like he needs me in the kitchen and in the bedroom.” That is not a good feeling! What these researchers noted is that this care for the marriage relationship was demonstrated through romantic or thoughtful gestures that happened OUTSIDE of a sexual setting. When you extend romantic gestures outside of a sexual context and do so without any expectation of sexual activity, that tells your spouse you appreciate them as a person – not just as a sexual possibility. If you only warm up the romance when you’re trying to get her sexual engine going, you’re basically just objectifying your wife. This study had some great quotes from the women they spoke to. Men, listen closely. Women – can you relate? “When it comes down to it, when you’re hopping into bed at night and there has been no romance through the day, for me, I’m like “Back off, you can’t just expect that right away.” (Jill, 28)[iii] Another woman suggested that if her spouse took her out to dinner this would increase her desire afterwards, instead of just proposing sexual activity when they were in bed together. “It just shows that he’s planned something or that he put thought into what’s going on instead of rolling over in bed and saying, ‘hey, what’s going on?’ Like, it just feels like it’s more thought being put into it and I think that’s what I appreciate more.” (Carly, 21)[iv] Murray and Milhausen, the researchers, conclude that sexual scripts are effective – setting the stage helps both spouses understand where things are headed. It makes things predictable. The other point here that is critical is the idea of being invested in the relationship for the sake of the relationship; not just for the sake of sex. That’s why people use prostitution – they want sex without a relationship, but it doesn’t fulfill the deeper more important need of whole-person connection (i.e., relationship). That’s what makes marriage sex the best is that you’re building intimacy with the whole person! Engage in Intimate Communication With Your Spouse Going back to the same study we’ve been looking at, “most women indicated that having an intimate, emotionally revealing conversation” with their spouse brought them closer. One woman explained that being emotionally close with her spouse through conversations “made her want to get closer to him physically as well.
Jun 08, 2016
10 Sure-Fire Ways To Make Time For Each Other in a Crazy Busy Marriage
Life is super busy. We get that. Rather than focusing on the hopelessness of the ‘busy’ problem, why not take the time you do have and make the most of it? Here are 10 sure-fire ways to make time for each other in a crazy busy marriage. These are not things that will ADD to your busyness, but allow you to connect WITHIN the context you’re already in. It would be wrong for us not to challenge you at this point though, to look at your busyness objectively and ask yourself if there aren’t some things you can eliminate. You need to be really careful that you’re not using busyness to take you away from what you need to be attending to, which is your relationship with each other. Not every busy couple is guilty of this, but it’s worthwhile asking yourself if you find meaning in busyness. If so, why? Is your busyness a coping mechanism for something else that’s going on? Is your busyness functional or is your busyness dysfunctional? Don’t use your busyness as an excuse to not connect with your spouse. Some Surprising Statistics About Modern Day Couple Leisure Time How has couple leisure time changed over the decades? The answer may surprise you! A study from 2010 analyzed time budget diaries from 1965, 1975 and 2003. In these diaries, married couples recorded how they spent each hour of their time each day, enabling the researchers to see how leisure time has varied over the years. They expected to see that the percentage of leisure time with a spouse decreased but actually found the opposite. In 1965, the percentage of leisure time spent in the presence of a spouse was 59%. This increased to 62% in 1975 and 66% in 2003. The researchers stated that “the increase in the percentage of time spent in the presence of a spouse over the past four decades was particularly evident for social activities, such as going out to a restaurant, café, bar, party or reception. In addition, joint leisure time spent on in-home social activities increased, such as visiting and receiving friends and playing games.”[i] They concluded that the evidence contradicts the popular idea that people are increasingly busy nowadays and have less time for their families, and suggest that over the years, couples have managed to find more time to spend with one another.[ii] We have a couple of issues with this conclusion. One thing is that they’re talking about the percentage of leisure time – not the quantity of time the couple spends together. So we have no way of knowing if they have more or less leisure time, just that they spend a higher portion of that time together. Another issue is that they don’t actually describe whether that lovely couple spending leisure time at a sidewalk café are engaged at an emotional level or if they’re both on their phones or watching the traffic go by. But, it is still good news that more of the available leisure time is going to spousal time! Making the Most of Your Limited Time Together We’re still really busy people. One point to consider in all your busyness is that you can dwell on how little time you have together instead of the quality of that time. Rather than obsessing over the quantity of time you’re not getting, how about focussing on making the most of the time you do have? Studies suggest that when it comes to couple time together, the quantity of time together is not the most important factor. The most important factor is how satisfied couples report feeling with the leisure time they spend together.[iii] Many studies have shown a correlation between couple leisure time and marital satisfaction, but a particular study in 2014 looked at this correlation more specifically. It looked at 1200 couples and how satisfied they were with their marriages and their leisure time together. It turns out what really matters is how satisfied you feel with leisure time. That matters more than the amount of leisure time when looking at marital satisfaction.[iv] That is good news for busy couples!
Jun 01, 2016
How to Create More Intimacy in Your Marriage
If you really want to build more intimacy in your marriage – and who wouldn’t??? – here are four ways to do that. Take the time to hear, and digest this. 1st Way to Build Intimacy: Intimacy is Built Through Disclosure and Responsiveness Given that intimacy itself is purely emotional, let’s put a nice, sterile definition on it… Intimacy is what happens through interactions of self-disclosure and partner responsiveness to disclosure. This process is believed to develop feelings of closeness between the speaker and the listener.[i] Gotta love it! Perhaps the definition that Caleb uses will be easier to understand. He says that intimacy is really like “Into Me See”. When I let you see into me and you respond appropriately, and when that is reciprocated, you get intimacy – That’s what deepens love. So, the first way that you can increase the level of intimacy in your relationship is through disclosure and responsiveness, or doing the “into me see” thing. Husbands, Caleb has some words of wisdom for you. When you let your wife see your emotions, that creates far more intimacy than when you let your wife just see facts and information about you.[ii] It’s cute and fun and worthwhile for you to share that you got a bike for your sixth birthday. However, when you tell her how you felt after you fell off your new bike and your dad got all mad at you for scratching it, that will create greater intimacy than just telling her you got a bike. Again, when you complain about the guys at work, that’s fine. You need to share. When you tell her you’re afraid of losing your job though, and that you’re carrying this fear around like a dark cloud in your heart, that will create intimacy far deeper than the facts regarding your work situation. Wives, the same deal goes for you. You need to be connecting emotionally with your husband. Intimacy is built up when I let you see into my emotional world. That’s very vulnerable. The flip side of this is that when your spouse shares an intimate detail with you: you have to respond. You must, must, MUST acknowledge it. Even if all you can think of is “Wow, I never knew that”, then just say, “Wow, I never knew that”; or “Thank you for sharing that with me – that’s really special.” Something, please! It’s not just enough to share: responsiveness needs to happen too. 2nd Way To Build Intimacy: Intimacy is Built Through Knowledge and Understanding There is a great study from 1998 which is worth mentioning, even though a lot of couples have already figured this out. First, couples who are better at predicting each other reported greater feelings of marital intimacy.[iii] That’s just saying that couples feel more intimate if they know each other well. Become a student of your spouse! Intimacy comes from knowing and understanding each other. There is a positive cycle that happens here. When you accurately understand and know a person, that will lead to greater trust. You trust the people you know best (assuming that the knowledge is positive…). When you have that greater degree of trust, you feel safe to be more expressive of your inner world of emotions and thoughts. In other words, you become more vulnerable and you’re more willing to self-disclose. Then what? That leads to more knowledge and understanding between the two of you, and more predictability and then there is more trust. And what happens when there is more trust? Intimacy! It’s a brilliant positive cycle. This is why marriage should keep getting better and better. So, you can build intimacy by increasing your knowledge and understanding of each other, but how do you really tease out that knowledge and understanding? 3rd Way to Build Intimacy: Intimacy is Built Through Curiosity Curiosity is the tool you need to go down that path of seeking further knowledge and understanding. A study from 2014 investigated the link between curiosity and intimacy. The study had a definition full of research lingo, so let me summarize it for you.
May 25, 2016
Codependency in Marriage: What It Is and What To Do About It
Codependency is a term that gets thrown around a lot. What’s a little freaky about it is that we all have a touch of this in our lives. We’re not here to put people in buckets, but to help you make sense of the world around you. If codependency is part of your world, here is some great advice on how to shift to a healthier place in your marriage. What is Codependency? Codependency is actually surprisingly hard to define. Perhaps the easiest way to get a succinct, lightweight but accurate definition is to google the phrase “codependency jokes”. If you’re worried that you may be codependent, and you have a good sense of humour, you may actually find some help there. But to those of you who realize this is part of your world, it’s no joke. It’s serious. It’s really hard sometimes, and it’s a bewildering world to try to navigate your way out of. One more thing – going back to what I mentioned earlier, we’re not here to put people into buckets. Actually, it can sometimes be very unhelpful to put people into buckets. It tends to give people a label, and then we treat people according to their label. It fails to honour your individuality, your personhood, the fact that you too are created in the image of God and you are, like everyone else, a valuable fallible child of God. So, please don’t think we’re just trying to stick you in a bucket and give you a label. What we’re hoping to accomplish is to help those of you are who in codependent relationships to begin to make sense of your world. We want to give you a starting point that you can work from. If you’re feeling lost, your way out starts with understanding where you are today. Am I Codependent? To help you, we created a self-assessment that you can download and complete to score yourself. It’s adapted from a professional tool but you’ll be able to complete this and get a sense of where you’re at in terms of the likelihood of codependence being a significant part of the way that you interact with your spouse or family or origin. So, if you’re wondering, “Is this me?” make sure you get a copy of this free assessment!I Want It! Ok, back to our definition. It’s rather difficult to define codependency, but here is a fairly recent definition from the research: Codependency “involves relationship patterns, with two people meeting each other’s needs in dysfunction ways.”[i] That’s good, but pretty generic. Some other researchers define codependency as “a pattern of compulsive behaviors that is motivated by dependence on another’s approval and is designed to find a sense of safety, identity, and self-worth.”[ii] These are more tangible dynamics. They go on to identify some of the traits and patterns that can be found in codependent individuals. Codependent individuals place their self-esteem in their ability to “control and influence the behavior and feelings of others.” This attempt to control can actually look like the codependent individual catering to the needs of another person. However, often the codependent individual can never do enough, and their attempts are neglected and resented by those they cater to. The codependent person then feels inadequate, feeling like they need to do more. Doing more often does not work, and the codependent individual turns to denial, rationalization, and projection. “As these defenses are used more often, persons become unable to recognize their true feelings, and they become unable to understand and take care of their own personal needs.”[iii] This is where we have a lot of compassion because it ends up feeling very disorientating – something doesn’t feel right, but you can’t figure out what or why. At the same time, what’s confusing is that there are parts of this that are normal – taking care of others is a good thing, right? And I feel better about myself when my hubby is distressed and I can help him find joy again. The key here is recognizing there is so much ‘catering to’ that it is dysfunctional.
May 18, 2016
What To Do When Your Spouse Offends You
So, your spouse just blew it. Again! How can you move from the place of being offended – and maybe feeling like a victim – to feeling like you’ve moved the dial on your marriage in a positive direction? We’ve all been in that situation where we’ve been offended by our spouse – when what we heard hurt us. But, what is it that we hear and feel that hurts? Once you understand what’s coming at you, you can learn how to respond accurately. Some messages that we get from our spouse hurt more than others. Why do some hurtful messages have a greater impact? The Difference Between Intentional and Unintentional Offensive Statements This research will seem pretty obvious to you, I’m sure, but I think it needs to be stated too, just so we can see what is actually happening. In 2000, researchers concluded that intentionally hurtful statements were more impactful than unintentional statements. Specifically: Intentionally hurtful statements have more of a distancing effect on the relationship Intentionally hurtful statements make the recipient feel less satisfied with the relationship When these statements are ongoing, that also has the effect of distancing Feeling disregarded added to the effect of distancing and created more hurt feelings.[i] We’ve had clients in counseling say to us, “Yeah, I know I was just saying that to be mean or to hurt him.” Think about that for a moment. We are mean for a number of different reasons, but often we just want to be heard or acknowledged or understood. We fire a barb in there so that we can actually hook into our spouse. Unfortunately, the effect of that is distancing even though the very thing we’re wanting is closeness. It just doesn’t work. There is another lesson here when you’re on the receiving end, and that is to ask: was this intentionally hurtful or unintentionally hurtful? I know I’ve said things to Caleb that were never intended to hurt but they did. Either it was completely innocent (at best) or just not thoughtful (at worst) – albeit I didn’t start out determined to hurt him. Other times, yeah, couples do get mean with each other. And that’s wrong. So, if you’re issuing these hurtful statements we have two challenges for you. The first is to download the worksheet (see box below). The second challenge is more difficult. In Ephesians 4:29, Paul says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” The challenge here is that this verse doesn’t just apply during the potluck supper at church. This needs to be true for all of your conversations – including the conversations in your marriage. This is what we call a ‘project verse’ because we’re working on implementing this ALWAYS and without exception. But where do we make the most exceptions for this? With our family! This command from Scripture doesn’t list any exceptions though. So we want to challenge you specifically to start obeying this command in your marriage today! It’s a challenge to have zero corrupting talks and 100% what is good and builds up and gives grace to your spouse. Types of Offensive Statements So, how else do we get offended? What we’re hoping here is that by labelling and describing these things you’ll be able to take ownership of your own unhelpful behaviours and that your spouse will be willing to do the same.  Here are some types of statements that offend us: Relationship Denigration – making it sound like the relationship is not important or valuable. Humiliation – making your spouse feel shame Verbal/Nonverbal Aggression – speaking in a mean way, forcefully or hostilely Intrinsic Flaw – making your spouse feel like something is wrong with their character Shock – saying things for impact, or saying surprising things Ill-Conceived Humor – being malicious, involves teasing that isn’t funny Mistaken Intent – reflecting that you have been misunderstood or mischaracterized...
May 11, 2016
3 Things To Talk About Every Day
Talking to each other seems like a pretty obvious topic, right? But, how many times have I asked Caleb, about a couple we’re working with, “Do they not talk???” This is a really fundamental issue that we see in most marriages we help. Folks are simply not having the basic day-to-day conversations they need to, and as a result, there are misunderstandings, miscommunications, and then conflict! If we can just make sure we talk about these essential subjects, we can save ourselves a whole lot of pain! One of Caleb and my earliest fights, when we were dating, was just because we hadn’t clearly communicated our expectations and plans. And let me tell you, it was a good fight...or bad fight, depending on how you phrase it! One of the things we’ve learned to do over the years which saves us a ton of grief is just to talk frequently about what’s going on. This talking is not always profound – but just about what’s happening, who’s going where, and what our expectations are around that. It’s really just collaborating about the busyness of life. This is where we jump into the research because reduced communication is actually associated with troubled marriages. Reduced Communication Frequency is Associated with Troubled Marriages One study we looked at found that greatly reduced the quantity of communication in a marital relationship is associated with lowered marital satisfaction. The researchers asked the question, “Can reduced communication serve as a reliable marker to identify marriages which are in trouble?”[i] The study looked at 26 individuals who reported low to moderate marriage satisfaction as well as 93 divorced individuals. They then measured the amount and topic of communication each individual participated in within their marriage or past marriage. They found that the data from divorced individuals is very similar to that of married individuals who are less satisfied with their marriages. "The results suggest that less satisfied married individuals’ and divorced individuals’ reports … are very similar. Given these results, reduced communication in a marriage should be considered a probable marker variable indicating a marriage under stress.”[ii] The point here is that it’s really important to the long term viability of your marriage to make sure that you are talking to each other frequently. It’s also more than just a viability issue though: it actually will improve the quality of your marriage too. It’s one thing to make a marriage last. It’s another to make it enjoyable! More Frequent Conversation is Associated with Higher Marital Quality Another study looked at nearly 400 married people to understand the connection between the frequency of conversation and marital quality. They measured four relationship characteristics to determine marital quality: liking, satisfaction, commitment, and trust. Those are all key ingredients in a happy marriage. Not surprisingly they found that the more frequently couples communicated, the greater the quality of their marriage.[iii] So, we want YOU to really be thinking about growing the frequency of your communicating in order to make your marriage last and to make it more enjoyable! There are three parts to this though: First, you have to be communicating Then, you need to look at HOW you’re communicating Finally, we’ll tell you WHAT you need to be communicating about. The Five Universal Rules of Social Communication So, how should we communicate? A study from 2004 suggests that while the frequency of conversation is important, how couples go about these conversations is even more important.[iv] It turns out that quality of communication, as measured by the five universal rules of social communication (see below), was also positively related with all four measure of marital quality (liking, satisfaction, commitment, and trust). The five universal rules of communication are: One should be polite One should try to make it a pleasant encounter
May 04, 2016
How to Recover From Betrayal
Betrayal is such a ground-shaking event. Probably because it so deeply challenges your beliefs about someone incredibly significant in your life, and that, in turn, challenges your beliefs about yourself. So: what does the road forward, after betrayal, look like? Unfortunately, betrayal is a journey that every couple goes through at one time or another. It is sometimes something as severe as an affair but other times, it can just be that we’ve let our spouse down in the every-day-living of life. If you’re in this place as either the betrayer or betrayed, you’ll definitely benefit from this article today. If the betrayal in your life is a recent event, the pain you’re experiencing may be so fresh and raw that this information will be difficult for you to process. If that’s the case, after you read this, bookmark this page and come back to it in a little while. Give yourself permission to grieve and hurt and heal. The Three Stages of Recovery from a Marital Betrayal Betrayal is defined as “the perceived violation of an implicit or explicit relationship-relevant norm.”[i] It may not be that you, as a couple, have ever spoken about this “norm”, but the fact is you perceive it to be in place, and when your spouse violates it or crosses that line, you feel violated. When a spouse “knowingly departs from the norms of decency and fairness that are assumed to govern a relationship, thereby causing harm,”[ii] betrayal has taken place. This can be something as simple as secrecy. Sometimes we think that there is no harm if our spouse doesn’t know what we’re doing, but in fact, secrecy is more damaging than most things. I have heard wives of porn-addicts say over and over that the porn use hurt, but it was the secrecy and lies that were the most damaging. “If he lied/hid this, how do I know if I can ever trust him again?” is a question I hear a lot of. The definitions of betrayal (above) may sound rather technical, but don’t let that take away from the severity of the experience. I know, for example, that over half of the spouses who find out their spouse has had a secret porn addiction develop most of the symptoms of PTSD. Betrayal can be a very, very traumatic experience. What makes is even more difficult is that betrayal is something we don’t want to disclose to our support network – really, it would be a betrayal for them too – and so we carry it alone. How can a marriage recover from something like this? Recovery from a marital betrayal is a process that goes through three stages.[iii] In the First Stage couples must grapple with the effects of the betrayal on themselves and the relationship. This is the Impact Stage of Recovery, and it is characterized by the following responses: The betrayed spouse realizes that important assumptions about their marriage have been disrupted.[iv] The betrayed spouse must process various violated assumptions including: (1) “beliefs that one’s spouse can be trusted, (2) that the relationship is safe, (3) that one can predict how one’s spouse will behave, (4) that one has reasonable control over one’s own relationship, and so on”[v] Injured spouses no longer can trust their assumptions to guide their daily interactions or to predict future events.[vi] During the impact stage, the injured spouse often withdraws from the relationship to protect themselves. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it may help the betrayer seek proper help and recovery as they grasp the significance of what they have done. Betrayal has a huge impact on a relationship, and the betrayed spouse’s ability to think about their marriage as well as their personal life. Everything they thought was truth, has been turned upside down. The effect is traumatic. To move forward, both partners must move through the next two stages of recovery. Stage Two is called the Meaning Stage of Recovery in which the injured spouse seeks to “discover why the betrayal occurred in order to make the partner’s behavior more understand...
Apr 27, 2016
Fight The Problem – Not Each Other!
Conflict can be such a painful, frustrating experience. Is it really possible to turn conflict into an opportunity to grow closer rather than it being a catalyst to push you further apart? Both Caleb and the research think it’s possible! This topic was spawned by the question, “How can we do conflict as if we’re passionate about solving the same problem instead of having it something that’s against each other?” So, today we give you a new perspective on conflict – a perspective that is concrete but unique. Fighting Together: Understanding a Collaborative Conflict Style The first thing we want to discuss is the conflict style. People think their fighting style is part of their personality, but really it’s just much more of a habit. If you don’t have the right style, the first thing you need to do is change your style! A very insightful study from a couple years ago helps us to understand the nature of conflict and how collaborative conflict styles compare to other styles of conflict resolution.[i] First off, you need to understand that conflict is what happens when one person perceives the other person is frustrating their own concerns. Whenever I get in the way, prevent, obstruct or interfere with your actions – then we have conflict going on. Inside of conflict, there are two dimensions at play. The first is assertiveness, or how concerned you are with your own outcomes. The second dimension is cooperativeness – how concerned you are with the outcomes of your spouse. The following styles describe how each dimension plays off the other. The best style is the collaborative style. This style is high on both dimensions; it is assertive and it is cooperative. It looks like openness, the free exchange of information and a steady resolve to produce win-win solutions where the needs of both parties are met. This happens when we place equal emphasis on my interests and your interests. There are two not-so-great styles: avoidance and accommodation. Avoidance is low on both dimensions, so you never really get to the bottom of things but you probably don’t have a lot of conflict, or else it’s not very intense. Accommodation is where you are low on assertive behaviour and high on cooperative behaviour, which will probably lead to the “doormat” feeling. The worst style is the competitive style which is where you are high on assertiveness and low on cooperativeness. Rather than give you our opinions about each style, we’re going to stick with the research here. A study completed in 2000 showed that a “collaborative conflict management style has the highest correlation with both marital satisfaction and spousal satisfaction with conflict management in the marriage.”[ii] In contract, where one or both of the spouses used the competitive conflict management style, the lowest marital satisfaction was reported. Think about your style right now. Which style do you use? The next time you find yourself in conflict, try to use the collaborative style where you’re both asserting your own needs and also attending to cooperating with your spouse’s needs. This is the start of how you shift to fighting the problem itself instead of fighting each other. Fighting is Also About Goals The next part that comes into play is goals. As couples, we usually have no idea this part is going on! We just talked about styles and how that impacts conflict, but we also have these goals that account for this other dimension of our conflict. Basically, all behaviour is goal-directed, BUT, in the middle of an argument, we often don’t know what our goals are. And, just to make life more confusing for our spouse, our goals may change partway through arguments, too. Here’s a real-life example which some of you may be able to relate to… “Consider a relatively common conflict: a couple arguing over directions while traveling…Both partners want to get to the destination, and neither seems to benefit from arguing about directions. Yet,
Apr 20, 2016
3 Essential Principles for Successful In-Law Relationships
The definition of mixed feelings: Watching your mother-in-law drive off a cliff in your brand new car. Ha ha ha. We all joke about the infamous mother-in-law, but life with her doesn’t actually have to be so terrible. Here are three ideas for how to structure your relationship, as a couple, with your parents and in-laws for the greatest benefit to your marriage. Before we begin, we have a few caveats: if you or your spouse has a parent with a personality disorder, or with substance abuse issues, or even with a non-diagnosable challenge (such as really poor boundaries), you are going to have to take what we say and really scrutinize it carefully to see what will work for you and what won’t. Another reality is that some of you are taking care of aging parents in your home. Again, you’re going to have to nuance what we say here to your situation because there are stresses related to caregiving that would be in effect if that was anybody in your home, never mind a parent or in-law. None of us have perfect in-laws nor are we going to be perfect in-laws ourselves; but today we speak to the broader context of having reasonably healthy, imperfect parents and in-laws. Getting Along With Your Mother in Law Yes, cows do fly. This bonus worksheet is morethan just tips – it gets you thinking through some of the challenges around your in-law relationships and considering new ways of coming to those problems. You don’t want to miss this download!I Want It! How In-laws Influence a Marriage You may be asking the question, “So, I have a few issues with my in-laws – does that actually impact my marriage?” The research says, “Yes! It does.” A study from 2001 looked at the marital success compared to discord with in-laws in nearly 300 wives and 300 husbands. They found that: “The quality of the in-law relationship did predict the stability, satisfaction, and commitment expressed by the spouses in the study.” It is hard to predict causation, but in plain English they are saying that your in-laws can make your marriage painful. For wives specifically, your perception of marital success is predicted by discord with mother-in-laws (MIL) and father-in-laws (FIL). For husbands specifically, this was only noted with the relationship towards the FIL.[i] We’re not sure why there is a difference there, but the point is that it is helpful to your marriage to have good relationships with your in-laws! It doesn’t mean that if you don’t, your marriage is going to fail, but there is an impact there and it is measurable. So, if your spouse is complaining about your parents and the relationship, you need to take that seriously. We’ve now seen that in-laws definitely influence marriage satisfaction, so let’s look at three principles that should guide our in-law relationships. Principle 1: The Autonomy of Family Units When marriage was established at the beginning of creation, God’s instructions were that a man should leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife. Now, exactly what that looks like is going to be largely informed by your culture. We’re speaking out a white, north American background here, so if you’re from another culture the same principle is true, but how you might apply it will look a little different – keep that in mind! The research comes to a very similar conclusion: “The new family has the task of forming a stronger, autonomous bond than the two from which the partners originated. If partners are unable to accomplish this task, their union may be threatened.”[ii] It was even studied way back in 1954 and found that marriages were more likely to be cohesive if the couple was autonomous and had little conflict with their parents.[iii] So the research and the biblical principle are aligned, and that is where I am pointing out that we need to observe this principle of autonomy. The predominant responsibility is on the man to leave and cleave. This is leadership, but he is especially responsible to make his bond to hi...
Apr 13, 2016
Always Fighting About the Kids?
On the Marriage Podcast for Smart People we don’t often talk about parenting. But when it’s impacting your marriage, then it’s our business! Fighting over kids, or parenting issues is a very common source of marital conflict. It’s common, but it’s also really frustrating and it can be a tough rut to get out of. A further negative of this fighting situation though, is that disagreements on childrearing can actually have negative effects on your children’s wellbeing. It’s not just a source of conflict between you and your spouse, but it can also put a burden on your children too. To help you, as parents, align, and to make things easier on your kids, we have a few ideas for you to try that we know will help. Show a United Front When Parenting Research has shown that children react to incongruent parenting styles with various emotional and behavioural problems including anxiety, depression, aggression, and rule-breaking.[i] Results of that study showed that when children perceive a lot of difference between maternal and paternal parenting, it has a negative effect on the child’s emotional and behavioural well-being. These results display the importance of parents working together in the face of child-rearing disagreements to display a united and congruent front to their children. Kids are way smarter that we all think they are. They’re using their brains way sooner than we think they are, too. Developmentally, babies and toddlers are picking up on parenting differences before they can talk and possibly even before they can walk. A united front is essential with children of all ages. You’re probably thinking, how can we show a united front when that is precisely the problem: we aren’t united!? Here are some ideas. Flexible/Inflexible Areas Help Clarify Parenting Priorities Caleb has used this intervention with many couples (including premarital couples only just thinking about raising kids) and it is a huge help. It’s an exercise from Dr. Gottman, and we call it flexible/inflexible areas. Take a blank sheet of paper, and on it draw a circle as large as you can. Inside that, you’ll draw another circle, about the size of the largest coin in your currency. In the small circle write two words: inflexible area. In the large circle, write two words: flexible area. When you are disagreeing with your spouse, ultimately all of the content of your disagreement falls into one of these circles. The flexible area has all the little reasons you give but, at the end of the day, you would be willing to compromise on. The inflexible area is the core, essential thing you are trying to protect. This is something that you cannot and will not budge on. Before we figure out how to sort things out, let’s look at why most people never get to the bottom of their parenting arguments: They only talk about the details of the flexible area They try to make the flexible area – things they would otherwise compromise on – as large as possible so that they can protect the inflexible area They don’t talk about the inflexible area – the one area that they most need to discuss openly. Or, they stuff as much of the flexible items into the inflexible area and make it seem so big that they are totally stuck, even on little things – and often come across as unreasonable during a disagreement. If you want to start working together instead of against each other, you have to bring the absolute core of that inflexible area out into the light and share it with your spouse. That’s you saying something like, “I’m willing to be flexible on all sorts of things, but this is the one thing that I cannot see myself compromising on.” And then tell your spouse why – it’s probably something from your childhood that informs this inflexible area. Here’s the key! You don’t have to have alignment or agreement on the inflexible areas, you both just have to agree to honour each other’s inflexible areas. Now, instead of fighting about the kids you’ve said what is s...
Apr 06, 2016
100 Episodes of The Marriage Podcast for Smart People!
Episode #100! Wahoo!!! Normally we focus on real-world, research-based strategies to help your marriage. Today, we’re mostly just going to stop and reflect on our podcast and and talk a little about our future plans. But, this being the marriage podcast for smart people, hosted by a research-guru…we couldn’t have no research! So here’s the research, and if you want all our nitty-gritty details, you’ll have to listen to the audio. What Caleb and I do is called copreneurialism. An entrepreneur is a person who runs his or her own business. Copreneurs are when a husband/wife team start and run a business. So, that’s what we are! According to the research, about 14% of households in the USA have their own business. Of those, about 30% are husband-wife teams.[i] Here are some possible tensions for being in business together (and our responses in brackets). As I said, more details are on the podcast. Underestimating the tensions (we’re guilty) Boundaries (ok) Conflict (a little) Roles (a struggle) Neglect of personal needs (didn’t exercise for 18 months) Inequitable division of responsibility (feel that) Time and financial pressures (for sure) Loss of ability for the uninvolved spouse to act as a sounding board for new ideas or for ways to reduce work tension (not a problem).[ii] That’s all the research for today. Short and sweet! If you want more details, or are curious about what’s ahead for listen to episode 100 of the Marriage Podcast for Smart People. But before I go, I just have to give you guys the credit. It’s exciting to hit episode 100, but if it wasn’t for you guys, we wouldn’t have made it. We give you the info, and sometimes push you WAY outside your comfort zone, but YOU are the ones putting it into practice in your marriage. You are the real heroes making your marriage something you love today and will treasure for a lifetime! Kudos! [i] Glenn Muske et al., “The Intermingling of Family and Business Financial Resources: Understanding the Copreneurial Couple,” Journal of Financial Counseling & Planning 20, no. 2 (December 2009): 27–47. [ii] Ibid.
Mar 30, 2016
Making Time For Your Spouse: 2 Strategies That Actually Work
Why does it seem to be so difficult to create time to spend together? We all want to spend more time with our spouse and do more together, but so often it doesn’t fit into the schedule and we don’t quite get around to doing it. Sometimes the truth hurts. Today we’re going to give you two key strategies for creating more time with your spouse – what you can actually do to create the time together that you want to have. The first one is really helpful. The second one is also very helpful, but it could be rather painful… The Importance of Making Time For Your Spouse Numerous studies support the idea that spending time with your spouse is important to the health of your marriage. That’s no shock! One study looked at 280 couples and how much time they spent together. They came back to those same couples fives years later to see how they were doing. The study found a positive relationship between shared leisure time and marital stability (the marriage enduring to the end of the five years). On the other hand, marital dissolution (divorce or separation) was associated with less shared leisure time.[i] The two activities most associated with marital stability were recreation (active recreation activities such as bowling, swimming, skating, skiing, fishing, boating, camping, and pleasure drives) and TV Watching.[ii] The first one I understand, but the last one surprised me! Caleb and I are biased against the consumption of TV. From what we hear listening to other couples though, it seems that some couples get really into the story of shows together and that becomes a point of common interest, discussion, interaction etc. But we don’t know! What do you think? Do you find that watching TV is a positive, shared point of contact between you? What do you watch? What does that do for you? Let us know here or in the comments below. Leisure time is also associated with greater marital satisfaction. Another study states that the most satisfied couples spend about 50 percent more waking hours with each other than the least satisfied couples.[iii] These are just two studies but it is common sense and supported by the research that spending time together makes for a more satisfying marriage. So What Makes Spending Time Together So Hard? A study in 2011 looked at just over 4000 households to determine what household characteristics predicted couples’ time together. The results highlighted two areas that were significantly correlated with spending less time together: long working hours, and small children in the household.[iv] Interestingly, they found that the differences between the ability for single-earner and dual-earner couples to spend time together was small – as soon as one spouse has to go to work, it becomes difficult to do things together. Obviously, we can’t all quit our jobs to spend time with our spouse… so what can we do? What You Can Do to Spend More Time With Your Spouse Here are two strategies for you to think about. The first is to look at your roadblocks and then redefine them as opportunities. The second is to do the harder, value-laden work of deciding what is most important to you. That’s where we get to the more painful stuff. Redefine Seemingly Unmoveable Restraints as Possible to Work Around Every couple has “restraints” to work around. Restraints being all of the activities they are required to complete in a day – things like work, school, childcare, housework, etc. All these demands can appear inflexible and impossible to work around, but are they? Fein said that couples can create more leisure time together by…[v] Postponing housework Arranging alternative care for children Taking paid or unpaid leave Doing nonmarket activities together (work that is unpaid such as housework and childcare) Reassess who contributes to housework and other household demands Connecting at different times. For example, Caleb would love to connect after supper, but with little munchkins around that wasn’t poss...
Mar 23, 2016
Phone Addiction is the New Alcoholism
My cousins boss and the boss’ wife went fishing one day. It was the first time in a long time they were doing something together rather than him working and being on the phone ALL day. Apparently, his phone rang so he answered it (which fellows, was the wrong thing to do!), so his wife grabbed the phone and pitched it as far into the ocean as she could throw. Is the cell phone becoming a problem in your marriage? We certainly struggle with this! Thankfully it hasn't quite got to the point of throwing our phones into the ocean... What Do We Know About Mobile Phone Addiction? The research is just starting to come out and researchers are just beginning to understand the basics of mobile phone addiction, including how we develop this addiction and the impact it has on our lives. Some of you younger ones probably don’t have any concept of a world without cell phones, but I still remember our first phone, and I still remember our first iPhone! These new technologies hit the market, met a need, and we rely on them so heavily. Only now are we starting to step back and ask how this is impacting lives beyond the convenience factor. One journal article that was a literature review of problematic cell phone use concluded that mobile phone use may become uncontrolled or excessive which impacts daily living. It pointed out evidence to show a behavioural addiction is possible and this would impact social, familial and professional life.(Billieux, 2012)[i] In that study, Billieux noted three typical areas of problems: Dangerous use: tendency to use the mobile phone while driving Prohibited Use: tendency to use the mobile phone in banned places Dependence Symptoms: loss of control, negative affects in situations in which the use of the phone is not possible or allowed. People are actually losing it a bit if they can’t use their phone. Another study connected mobile phone addiction with additional qualities found in substance abuse addiction including: Tolerance: increasing frequency and duration of cellular phone use to obtain the same level of psychological satisfaction as earlier. (Taneja, 2014) Withdrawal: feelings of nervousness and anxiety when away from one’s cell phone or when unable to use it (Taneja, 2014), using the phone to escape other problems and negative consequences in all areas of life. Financial: the tendency to use the mobile phone to the extent it incurs enormous changes and financial issues for the individual (Billieux, 2012).[ii] These are serious things. That’s why we’ve started saying that phone addiction is the new alcoholism. Who Tends to Develop Mobile Phone Addictions? Studies show that women use mobile phones more than men, especially when it comes to text messaging. Other studies have found that women are more prone to experience dependence on the mobile phone, while men have a greater tendency to use the mobile phone while driving. Problematic mobile phone use has been associated with personality areas of neuroticism (tendency to be emotionally unstable) and extraversion (tendency to be sociable). It has also been associated with the trait of impulsivity. (Billieux, 2012) Based on our personality types, some of us are going to have to be extra cautious about our cell phone usage. I am one of those people. All the research so far has been about the general use of cell phones – not marriage research. However, we do have a study that discusses the impact of internet usage on marriage, and I think that it’s not unreasonable to extrapolate from internet use to phone use as most people have smartphones nowadays. How Internet Usage Impacts a Marriage Researchers studied 199 newlywed couples who had been married an average of one month. They looked at associations between frequency of internet use, compulsive internet behaviours, and various relationship factors such as loneliness, passion, intimacy, and commitment. They were really trying to get a broad sense of how internet use might be impa...
Mar 16, 2016
Do Opposites Attract? Here’s the Research
Sometimes we ask more philosophical questions about the future of our marriages. One of those is that age-old question, do opposites attract? It turns out they do – and they don’t... How confusing is that! The research actually seems very contradictory over the whole opposites/similarities thing until you start to pull it apart carefully. Which is what Caleb loves to do… :) This topic actually came from a concern from one of our listeners, and we’ve heard it echoed elsewhere – that uncertainty of “our marriage is struggling and we’re just so different. Can this really work out for us?” Spoiler Alert: Yes, it can! It may just take a bit more work… Do Opposites Attract? Let’s try to answer this question. People say opposites attract but is that the case? Well, when it comes to the methods people use to choose their future spouse, some research suggests that people tend to look for individuals who are similar to themselves and who represent their ideal preferences for a romantic partner. In 2003, 978 individuals completed a two-part questionnaire. They “first rated the importance they placed on 10 attributes in a long-term spouse and then rated their perception of themselves on those same attributes.”[i] These attributes were grouped into four categories: wealth and status, family commitment, physical appearance, and sexual fidelity. The results showed that people looked for a spouse who was similar to themselves. This makes it look like people don’t attract opposites until you really look at the four categories. These categories are based on values, appearance, and socioeconomic status. In those ways, we often do look for someone similar to ourselves. What Happens When You Marry Your Opposite? Despite the fact that the previous research supports a “likes-attracts rule”, many people end up married to someone who is their opposite. When we look at the research on whether opposites or similar get along better, there’s some interesting conclusions. Unfortunately, there’s no straight answer to this question. Some research suggests that similar couples are happier and other studies suggest that too much similarity can lead to difficulties in the marriage. The research is conflicting! Marrying Your Opposite Can Lead to Lower Marital Satisfaction One study we looked at said that opposites don’t work as well. The researchers supported the idea that personality similarities are positively related to marital quality. They measure marital quality and personality in a sample of 291 newlyweds. Marital quality is the usual stuff like measuring intimacy, how they handle conflict, how agreed they are on different areas of life, etc. Personality was measured using the Five-Factor Personality Inventory which looks at the five factors of: Extraversion: level of sociability and enthusiasm Agreeableness: level of friendliness and kindness Conscientiousness: level of organization and work ethic Emotional stability: level of calmness and tranquility Intellect/autonomy: level of creativity and curiosity The results showed a positive association between personality similarity and marital quality. So, the more similar these newlywed couples were, the greater their marital quality.[ii] Dissimilar Personalities Can Lead to More Passionate Relationships However, other research suggests that this is not always the case! A study from 2007 investigated three things in 137 couples: relationship onset (love at firs sight vs. gradually becoming involved), personality (same 5 measure as above), and relationship quality.[iii] Results of the study showed that “partners who fell in love at first sight…showed more dissimilar personalities”.[iv] However, it also found that “individuals prefer to select partners with similar personalities as themselves, but that they only succeed in doing so when they have the opportunity and time to get to know each other.”[v] Also, “partners who fell in love, at first sight,
Mar 09, 2016
Why Christian Couples Feel Guilty About Sex
Not every Christian couple feels guilty about sex, but a surprising number do. In fact, we’ve even been asked the question, “I’m married now, but I really, really look forward to and enjoy sex with my husband. Is that OK or is there something wrong with that?” To give you some context here, our moral convictions are that sex is intended for married couples only but inside of that marriage bond, it is intended to be enjoyed and explored in a way that grows and deepens and becomes a richer and richer experience over the lifespan of one’s marriage. So, we’re not here to try to help you get comfortable with extra-marital sex or polygamy or anything else that falls outside the bounds of healthy marriage sex. Yet, in coming to this issue, we’re not only speaking to couples today to try to encourage you to embrace the full opportunity of being sexual with your spouse, but also to those who lead our churches and who teach about marriage and who speak to young people about chastity: we need to be very careful how we talk about sex to make sure that while we communicate the boundaries that God has placed on sexuality, we also communicate the blessing part as well. Caleb talked to a guy who once said, “I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve had sex in our many years of marriage.” The issue there was the teaching that she had received that sex was dirty and wrong and bad, and when she finally found herself in a situation where it was legitimate, she just couldn’t flip that switch. We’ve also heard from a wife in our survey telling us that she lives in a sexless marriage and it’s tearing her heart out. He’s a great guy but has the same hang up. Something needs to change with regards to guilty feelings about sex. Let’s start by looking at the impact of religion on sexuality. The Impact of Religion on Sexuality Over the past few decades, many research studies have been completed on the correlations between religion and specific sexual attitudes and experiences. In 1970, Masters and Johnson examined how religious upbringing affected sexual arousal, orgasm, sexual satisfaction, and pain during sex. Their results were published in the classic book Human Sexual Inadequacy and was cited by Woo (2012). They found that a “strict religious upbringing in Judaism, Catholicism, and Protestantism was associated with different types of sexual dysfunction.”[i] These sexual dysfunctions included: Impotence: erectile dysfunction Anorgasmia: inability to achieve orgasm despite adequate stimulation Vaginismus: painful spasms in the vagina during sexual intercourse. These are all very real issues. Other Christian sex therapists also point to strict, anti-sexual teaching from our pulpits as one of the root causes of these types of sexual dysfunction. If you’re out there and you’re experiencing pain during intercourse, or you can’t get an erection or experience orgasm because of the feelings of guilt and shame that arise whenever you think about your private parts of feel attracted to your spouse, you’re not alone. Not only are you not alone, there’s probably actually nothing physically wrong with you. You may have just been so burdened by unhealthy messaging that it’s affecting your body’s ability to respond appropriately to what is legitimate. Maybe in your head, you can believe that sex with your spouse is good but you can’t get your heart and body to follow. Or, maybe it’s been so hammered into you, that you can’t even accept that sex is possibly a good thing, never mind one of God’s greatest gifts to married humanity. Sex Without Shame If you’re having trouble experiencing sexual arousal because of feelings of guilt, this audio track explains what is going on and what you can do about it so that you can move towards embracing the blessing that sex can be to your marriage. Become a patron today to listen to this track!Listen Now! The Problem of Sexual Guilt and Shame What is the reason for these complications between religi...
Mar 02, 2016
Power Struggles in Marriage: Your Styles May Be the Problem
Do you ever fight about who does what in marriage? Or, how decisions are made? Who has the most say, or power, or who can make the final call on some decisions? Most of the time these disagreements come down to the model of marriage we hold to: and when that’s different than the model our spouse holds, conflict is inevitable. Power structure is a topic that is fundamental to marriage. Rarely though, do we actually sit down to discuss our model of marriage when we’re dating or engaged or newly married. So, let’s look at the three models of marriage, how they impact marital satisfaction and then what we do and recommend. Power Structures in Marriage Christian authors have come to various interpretations on the Bible’s teachings about how men and women should relate with one another in marriage. Many of these interpretations center around the issue of gender roles and what the Bible means when it speaks of headship and submission. At the end of the day, it really comes down to power. Various models have been created to explain how husbands and wives should function together in the areas of decision making, work, and leadership (which, when we’re distressed as a couple is usually not about leadership but about the much less noble but more pragmatic issue: power). Here’s a rundown of three models of marriage. View #1: Authoritarianism Husbands hold unlimited authority and leadership. Wives are expected to respond with unqualified submission. As leaders and heads of the house, husbands have unlimited say in all decision and wives are not permitted to question the husband’s leadership in any situation.[i] What we see happening in these marriages is that the wife gains power and influence in other ways: withholding sex, using Scriptures to manipulate, guilting her husband, etc. However, there are authoritarian marriages where both spouses buy into the model and both are very happy. It is easy to get judgmental of this kind of marriage, but if it’s working for two people and she has chosen this model as much as he has, who are we to take it away from them or say it’s wrong? View #2: Complementarianism Upholds the equality of men and women, while simultaneously recognizing the different roles, strengths, and weaknesses each gender brings to the marriage. Men hold headship in the marriage while upholding their call to love their wives. Women act as helpers while upholding their call to submit to their husbands. (Helpers is the word from the author, we do not endorse that word) Decisions are made jointly, except in rare causes of an impasse when final decision making is given to the husband.[ii] View #3: Egalitarianism Men and women not only live as equals, but any hierarchy or headship in the marriage is erased. Distinctions in gender differences are downplayed or removed completely in favor of recognizing our oneness in Christ and joint calling to do His work. All decisions are made together.[iii] In each of these models, roles are an issue, as is the degree to which we acknowledge or bypass gender issues. Decision making and power are also critical. Power Struggles? To help you understand your own situation better, we have an assessment worksheet you can download which also gives you ways to discuss those sticky topics with your spouse.Get It Nowt! Beliefs vs. Practice An interesting study was completed using data from the 1996 Religious Identity and Influence Survey to “examine the relationship between religious identity, gender ideology, and marital decision making.” The results of this study showed that: Conservative Protestants profess a traditional gender-role ideology that the husband is the head of the family and the leader in making decisions, BUT the actual decision-making strategies they practice are similar to other religious groups who profess more liberal ideologies. Theologically liberal Protestants profess a more egalitarian ideology in terms of decision making BUT the actual deci...
Feb 24, 2016
The One Thing Every Distressed Marriage is Doing Wrong
Did you know that some of the very things you do to try to save your distressed marriage are in actual fact destroying it? Seriously. What is even more shocking is that they exist in every marriage. One of those things that we see everyday is called the pursue-withdraw cycle. Very simply, you have: A pursuer: I am going to keep coming at you because I am afraid of losing you. Negative emotional connection feels better than no connection. And a distancer: I am overwhelmed, I can’t fix this. Maybe if I retreat (withdraw), it’ll be calmer and I won’t lose him/her. See how they both are trying to keep each other? Unfortunately, things don’t work out the way each spouse is hoping. The pursuer desperately wants connection, but instead prompts distance. The distance also wants connection (but with the calm, soft part of his/her spouse) and by withdrawing prompts anger and attacking. For Caleb and me, this is what it looks like: I flood Caleb with a ton of emotions. I don’t necessarily start out mad, but I’m usually loud and have tears. I just want him to understand how huge this is for me, and how much I hurt. All he sees is the loud part of me, and he feels completely overwhelmed. He is just trying to process everything, and would love to find a hole to hide in until I blow over as he doesn’t like to see me upset. He doesn’t respond, so I get louder and (usually, mad by now) try to break through his calm exterior. It really is a spiral that can escalate quickly. We both want each other, but our ways to attain it are pushing each other away. So, how does this demand-withdraw pattern work? The Nature of the Demand/Withdraw Pattern The demand-withdraw pattern can be defined in the following way: “One member (the demander) criticizes, nags, and makes demands of the other, while the partner (the withdrawer) avoids confrontation, withdraws, and becomes silent.”[i] Eldridge et al (2007) studied this demand-withdraw pattern in 128 couples who were divided into three groups: severely distressed, moderately distressed, and nondistressed. The researchers used self-report and video-taped discussions of relationship problem topics and analyzed them to come to the following results: The more distressed the couple, the more demand/withdraw tactics they used. The pattern of wife-demand/husband-withdraw was more common than husband-demand/wife-withdraw.[ii] There are a small group of couples that demand-demand or withdraw-withdraw. The first looks very volatile. The last looks like one nasty storm cloud that never actually does anything. It could also be just a plain/stony feel to the marriage. So, typically, most marriages have a wife that finds herself demanding and a husband that withdraws. Hence the proverbial man-cave and the proverbial nagging wife. They’re proverbial for a reason: we all do this! Research completed in 2009 gives further information on demand-withdraw patterns. The researchers studied “116 couples who completed diary ratings of instances of marital conflict occurring at home.”[iii] The results of these diary ratings were as follows: The individual who initiated the conflict predicted the demand-withdraw pattern. When husbands initiated the conflict it led to the husband-demand/wife-withdraw pattern. When wives initiated conflict, it led to the wife-demand/husband-withdraw. Demand-withdraw patterns were more likely when disagreements concerned the marital relationship, and less likely when it was disagreements about issues outside the relationship. Demand-withdraw patterns were consistently related to greater likelihood of negative tactics (i.e., threat, physical distress, verbal hostility, aggression) and higher levels of negative emotions (i.e., sadness, anger, fear) and to lower likelihood of constructive tactics (i.e., affection, support, problem solving, compromise) and lower levels of positivity.[iv] In other words, we all do this, and it doesn’t work that well!
Feb 17, 2016
Sex Drive – Differences Can Be a Problem
So, you want less sex than your spouse does. Is that a problem? Well, it turns out that’s a question for your spouse. But if it is a problem, today we’re going to help you navigate your way through this delicate issue. Maybe you haven’t heard the terminology ‘low desire versus high desire’. Many marriages will have sexual desire discrepancies in which one spouse desires more sex than the other spouse. Often, but not always, the husband is high desire and the wife is low desire. If your marriage is the other way around, and the wife is high desire and the husband is low desire, that’s fine too! There is no judgment on low is bad or high is good, we just need to be aware that in almost every marriage there is a difference in sexual desire. That is not a bad thing. It just is what it is. It can be a pain point though, if we don’t know how to handle it or we think it is a bad thing. The spouse with low desire often wants to meet the desire of the other spouse, but feels unable to do this when they just don’t desire sex. So what should they do? That’s the dilemma… Are You the High Desire Spouse? The focus of this post is the low desire spouse – if you’re the high desire spouse, we have a one-page document for you because your role is critical too. Become a patron of our show today and download “Tips for High Desire Spouses” now. The three ideas in the PDF will help you get what you want more of: sex and intimacy.I Want It! Let’s start by looking at the nature of sexual desire, then the problems that sexual desire discrepancies can cause in marriage and finally look at practical ways in which the low desire spouse can move forward. The Nature of Sexual Desire In 2003, Levine wrote an influential article entitled The Nature of Sexual Desire in which he defines sexual desire as “the sum of the forces that lean towards and away from sexual behavior”[i]. He states that sexual desire is made up on three components: Drive – “a biological component which has an anatomy and neuroendocrine physiology.” This is just about how you’re made, how you’re wired, and how the chemicals in your body balance out. For example, we know that testosterone levels in men affects sexual desire. Testosterone levels, in turn are affected by things like obesity, depression and more. Motivation – “the psychological component” which is influenced by three things: Personal mental states such as joy or sorrow. Often we talk about “not being in the mood”. This is usually a reference to how our motivation is affected by our current emotional state. Interpersonal states such as mutual affection, disagreement, or disrespect. How well are we getting along? Or how much non-sexual intimacy are we experiencing? Social contexts such as relationship duration and infidelity – other factors from the circumstances of our lives. All three of these affect our motivation! Wish – “the cultural component that reflects values, meanings, and rules about sexual expression that are inculcated in childhood.” This can be huge for people of faith. We hear time and again of couples where a spouse was taught for the first 20 years of his/her life that sex was bad. Then they get married and are expected to become sexually active but cannot switch the belief that “sex is bad” over to “sex is good” because they made some wedding vows. Issues can come up in one or multiple of these areas to lead to issues in desire: drive, motivation and wish (or beliefs). The Cost of Sexual Desire Discrepancy in a Marriage Now that we know the nature of sexual desire, let’s look at the type of issues that come up when we’re not aligned. A study in 2014 of 1054 married couples looked at the associations between sexual desire discrepancy and four relationship outcomes (how satisfied the couple was with their marriage, how stable their relationship was, how much conflict they had, and how much positive communication they had)[ii]. The study compared how much sex couples actually had...
Feb 10, 2016
What To Do When Your Spouse Doesn’t Want To Work On The Marriage
What do you do when you want to fix your marriage and your spouse doesn’t think there’s a problem? Or maybe sees the problem but refuses to work on it? This is a really tough situation to be in where you are really worried about your marriage but your spouse isn’t on board – for whatever reason – with doing anything about fixing it. This is actually not an uncommon situation. In fact, the research shows that it is a common marital situation for an unhappy spouse to be married to a spouse that is not unhappy. Yes, that is a lot of “un’s” to keep track of! It turns out though that unhappy spouses are much more common than unhappy marriages. So, you are not the only person out there going through this! In fact, we’ve been through it too. There was a period of time where Caleb was just dragging himself through life – in a cloud of mild depression all the time. I was the unhappy, concerned spouse. Thankfully, Caleb was able to come out of that and we re-engaged, but it was not a happy time for me when he couldn’t see that anything was wrong. The Problem of Unhappy Spouses In 2002, Waite et al completed an extensive study of unhappy spouses using the National Survey of Families and Households. They looked at 645 spouses in the USA who had rated their marriages as unhappy and then re-interviewed them again five years later. They found that, “while Americans usually talk about unhappy marriages…unhappy spouses were far more common. Only about a quarter of unhappy spouses were married to a spouse who also reported being unhappily married.”[i] The implication being that ¾ of unhappy spouses are married to spouses who are satisfied with their marriages. If you are the unhappy spouse, could you do us a favour and send us a note on our Get In Touch page? We’d love to hear what it’s been like for you – and I promise, if you write to us, we’ll write you back! The statistics also showed that unhappy spouses are more likely to experience symptoms of depression, have lower levels of global happiness, a lower sense of personal mastery, and lower self-esteem than happy spouses. It’s not an easy situation to be in. I think the most challenging part of being unhappy is the powerlessness associated with it. Like when you’re at someone’s house and their picture isn’t hanging straight but you can’t touch it – only 1000x worse! You can see what needs to be done. You can feel it in your gut. But you can’t change it! But be encouraged – there is hope for you and your marriage! Hope for Unhappy Spouses The study mentioned above actually looked at the difference between unhappy spouses who decided to stay married and unhappy spouses who decided to get a divorce. They made a couple of important discoveries. First, “unhappy spouses who divorced or separated actually showed a somewhat higher number of depressive symptoms, compared to unhappily married spouses who stayed married.” Perhaps their most important finding was this: “Two out of three unhappily married adults who avoided divorce or separation ended up happily married five years later.”[ii] This gives so much hope! If you’re an unhappy spouse who decides to stay committed, over time you will most likely come to a happier place in your relationship! What are the reasons for this? Obviously, if you’re reading this, you want to be in that two out of three people, so let’s look at some of the common situations that lead to unhappy spouses and how unhappy spouses found happiness in each type of situation. Three Common Causes of Unhappy Spouses Outside Stressors: Things such as illness, unemployment, depression, financial problems, problems with kids, etc… This was the most common story given by spouses who were interviewed. Their marriage became unhappy because of outside situations that could not be controlled. These are major issues that can insert themselves into our lives at any time. Husband Behaving Badly: These issues included infidelity, alcoholism, fighting, cussing, abuse,
Feb 03, 2016
How To Support Your Spouse During Hard Times
Nobody is exempt from hard times. Sometimes we get hit as a couple and other times it is really just our spouse that bears the brunt of the burden. How can you draw alongside and support your spouse during those hard times? There is this innate advantage to being a couple in that we have the ability to lift each other up when we fall down. The proverb in the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes puts it this way: “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” The next question that comes to mind is, “How do I lift up my spouse when they’re down?” Sometimes we’re not sure how to help or sometimes we can even miss the cue when our spouse is asking for support. Other times we get stuck wallowing around in our own stuff and aren’t much use. Even if we mess up though, we all want to be a spouse that’s really there for their wife or husband. It feels good to know what to do and how to do it and to see your spouse benefit from it. So, let’s look at the importance of support, and then at how to give the right type and right amount of support. The Importance of Support in Marriage Supporting each other is important for two reasons; not only for the well-being of the spouse who is experiencing the hardship but also for the well-being of your marriage and the intimacy you experience as a couple. It works not only for your spouse but also the bond between you. A study in 2009 looked at patients with cancer who were married or in intimate relationships. They noticed that these patients often had difficulty talking about cancer-related concerns with their spouse, so they decided to test the effectiveness of an emotional disclosure intervention between patients with GI cancer and their spouses. 130 randomly selected GI cancer patients and their spouses were selected to receive sessions of either partner-assisted disclosure (one spouse disclosing feelings and concerns to their spouse related to the cancer experience – relational and emotional) or couple’s cancer education/support intervention (including information presentations related to living with cancer as well as written handouts – educational and informative). Results showed that, compared to the education/support sessions, the partner-assisted emotional disclosure led to greater improvements in relationship quality and intimacy.[i] This really underscores the importance of intimacy. Husbands (although both genders can be prone to this, it is more often seen in males), don’t go on a huge search for facts about the problem when the reality is you need to connect with your wife at the feelings level. That emotional connection is so critical. As you can see, supporting your spouse is important, but the catch is that not all support is equally helpful. The way in which you support your spouse makes a big difference in whether or not it will bring you closer together. The Kind of Support Really Matters This is where we talk about support preferences. One important aspect of giving support is something known as “partner sensitivity.” What this means is that you are sensitive to who your spouse is as a person, including his or her unique preferences. Because you know your spouse so well, you know how to support your spouse in a way that matches how your spouse wants to be supported. Some researchers in 2007, believing that ‘partner sensitivity’ is a key building block for the formation of intimacy, studied the concept in 59 married couples who were videotaped disclosing information to each other. They found that: “Matching support following the disclosure of emotions was predictive of perceived partner sensitivity.” If your support response was aligned with the way your spouse preferred to receive support, then your spouse will perceive you as being someone who is sensitive to their needs.
Jan 27, 2016
Social Media is Destroying Your Marriage
We had a couple of people reach out and mention how they got into emotional affairs on Facebook – and almost into physical affairs. They really freaked themselves out and it’s thrown a real wrench into their marriage but they’re working on things now. While we’re not anti-social media, it’s time to realize the huge impact it has on marriage. Social media is quite a new thing. Given that we don’t have our parents to warn us about the dangers, we have to prepare ourselves for it and also figure out the healthy boundaries we want to put in place to make sure we don’t get caught up in something that we never intended or wanted to happen. Remember, very few people wake up in the morning and think, “I’m going to go looking to have an affair today.” Rather, it’s something we slide or drift into most of the time and it’s even easier to do that online than it is in person. Internet Use and Romance Let’s look at this generally to start with and then focus in on distraction, jealousy, and infidelity. A study in 2014 looked at the relationship between social media usage, marriage satisfaction, and divorce rates by looking at surveys of married individuals as well as state-level data from the United States. The study found that: The use of social media negatively correlated with marriage quality and happiness. (media use up, marriage down) Use of social media positively correlated with experiencing a troubled marriage and considering divorce. (both increased together) They continued to find these correlations even after taking into account various economic, demographic, and psychological variables that are known to be related to marriage well being. This suggests that social media plays a much larger role than we think in our marriages.[i] Another study from the same year cited another interesting statistic: 1/3 of divorce cases mentioned Facebook. They also noted that the top Facebook concerns are inappropriate messages to individuals of the opposite sex. That is a very specific use of social media which is detrimental to marriages, but what about social media use in general? The Pew Research Center did a phone survey of couples on their social media usage and how it affected their relationship. Out of the individuals that they surveyed: 71% of married couples use social networking sites 10% of internet users who are married or partnered say that the internet has had a “major impact” on their relationship, 17% say that is has had a “minor impact” and 72% said that it has “no real impact at all”. Of those who indicate that it did have an impact, 20% said that the impact was mostly negative, 74% said it was mostly positive, and 4% said it was both positive and negative. 8% of internet users in a committed relationship have had an argument with their spouse or partner about the amount of time one of them was spending online. 4% of internet users in a committed relationship have gotten upset at something that they found out their spouse or partner was doing online. These numbers related more closely to relationship tension for younger adults between the ages of 18-29 due to larger consumption of social media. 18% of online 18-29 year olds have argued with a partner about the amount of time one of them spent online (compared with 8% of all online couples) 8% say that they have been upset by something their partner was doing online (compared with 4% of all online couples).[ii] Now that we have an overview, we can get into some of the details, looking at three different areas in which social media negatively affects marriages. The point here is that you need to think about how and how often you’re using social media and make sure that you and your spouse are both good with this. Distraction and Time In 2007, Young looked at excessive internet use that qualifies as internet addiction. They define internet addiction as “any online-related compulsive behaviour which interferes with normal living and causes sev...
Jan 20, 2016
How to Ramp Up Positivity in Your Marriage
The difference between negativity and positivity in marriage is the difference between a marriage filled with nagging, complaining, and criticism versus a marriage that is filled with affirmation, gratitude, and positive emotions. Let’s look at how negativity can be damaging to our marriages and then look at some specific strategies for bringing positivity into play. Negativity Impacts Mood and Marital Satisfaction We may not even realize how the negativity we are expressing in our marriages is actually hurting our own mood and marital satisfaction. There is a really neat study that examined the “saying is experiencing effect.” This phenomenon is pretty much just what it sounds like: you experience what you say or hear. They ran four experiments to look at mood before and after complaining or affirmation. While this study wasn’t specifically for marriage, they found it true to human nature that: Complaining leads to decreases in mood. Affirmation leads to increases in mood. The effect on mood was equally strong for both complaining and affirmation. This effect was found after listening to others affirm or complain. This effect was also found after hearing one’s own affirming or complaining communication.[i] Another study that looked at marriages over a 13-year period found that negativity in the marriage was directly associated with marital dissatisfaction. As negativity increased, dissatisfaction with the marriage increased. This makes it pretty clear that when we bring negativity into our marriages it impacts both our mood in the short term but also really begins to erode our marital satisfaction over the long term. This is critical because negativity doesn’t have to be a huge blatant thing. It can just be subtle or minor or more about a bit of an attitude. It’s like cholesterol that just builds up over time. It’s not as momentous as a broken leg but after a while you find yourself in a crisis. A How-To You may have realized you have some negative habits in your marriage and aren’t sure what to do with them. To talk about them with your spouse seems negative, but you don’t want to live with them anymore. What to do? Listen to the bonus audio clip that deals specifically with how to give helpful feedback to your spouse.I Want It! Expressing Gratitude and Appreciation Will Strengthen your Marriage Stop and think for a moment. When was the last time you pointed our directly to your spouse, without any sarcasm or joking, but sincerely expressed something to him or her that you appreciated? We all want more of this, right? You’re maybe hoping that your spouse would give you more. I get that! But, how much are you GIVING? You can only change yourself directly. We’ve noticed in our marriage that this gratitude and appreciation thing is a cycle – the more you give the more you get. We go in and out of this cycle all the time, but we’re trying to be more in than out. We’re looking for those moments when we can say, “I really appreciate how you handled our daughter in that difficult situation” or “Thanks for doing my laundry – again!” One of the classic cycles we get into as couples is the demand/withdraw cycle. Probably 80% of the time (or more) it is the wife demanding and the husband withdrawing.  It looks like an attacking wife and a husband distancing himself.  Because the demand/withdraw cycle usually has a negative effect, a study from last year looked at how gratitude impacted these demand/withdraw patterns. They found that expressing gratitude to your spouse is a practical process that both promotes and protects the quality of your marriage.[ii] What is really neat about that is that anyone can do gratitude and it will have a positive impact on your marriage. To take this further, a study from 2012 found that: People who feel appreciated by their romantic partner report acting more appreciative towards their partner in return. (That’s the positive cycle happening)
Jan 13, 2016
How Body Image Issues Can Ruin Your Sex Life – Part 2
This is Part 2 of the series on Body Image and Sexual Functioning. If you have not read the first part, do so here. In the first half of this topic, we talked about the impact of social media, culture, and pornography on self-image and sexual self-consciousness. Today we talk about how you can help yourself and your spouse overcome issues with body image and thereby improve your sexual satisfaction. Improving Body Image and Sexual Satisfaction Body Image & Sexuality Make sure you grab the worksheet to go with this topic because this is very serious stuff and the worksheet will help you distill your difficult thoughts and help you move yourself towards a place of healing and greater intimacy.Get It Now In addition to the worksheet there are three things to think about today. First, recognize the buffering effect of marriage. The very fact that you are married needs to be recognized. In 2004, researchers studied what they call the “cultural standard of an impossible-to-attain ideal body image”.[i] They compared married couples and single individuals and found that marriage lessens the importance of the ideal body image for both men and women. In this study, married people, when compared to single people, rated it less important for their spouses to possess the ideal body image. The importance of long-lasting, satisfying relationships decreases the importance of body dissatisfaction and mitigates the impact of unrealistic ideal body image. This should be not underestimated as popular media and the marketing world would pitch the ideal sexual partner as young, single, attractive, fit, a model or movie star. The actual human brain, on the other hand, which you have and your spouse has is actually wired to appreciate a healthy intimate relationship over ideal body image. Your brain is real – Hollywood is not, and porn is not. Trust this God-given reality that when we get married God makes two people one flesh. There is a sacred union and he designed that union and us as people so that as we age together and make babies and bodies’ grow old and mature, the intimacy actually can improve while the physical appearance is going the other direction. Secondly, sexual function is related to body image, not body weight. Again, this is a very important point. In 2013, a study that looked at the effect of body image and body mass index on the sexual functioning of women found that:[ii] The positive body image of women had a positive effect on their sexual function. Women who were overweight and obese based on BMI had poorer body image, but the weight had no effect on a woman’s sexual function. How you see yourself is more important than what you look like. Speaking on behalf of men, Caleb points out two things at play here. One is that husbands appreciate their wife’s self-care, but the second is that they don’t need their wife to have the perfect body. It is valuable to bring the best version of ourselves (both husband and wife) to the marriage, but what is most important is the connection and love that we have. In the context of sexual intimacy, what a husband wants is for his wife not to be able to get enough of him. To quote Caleb, “You, coming at me hungrily, is more important by FAR than you coming at me with a perfect body. It’s not even on the same scale, in fact. I just want to be wanted.” Other Christian bloggers and podcasters are saying the same thing – you don’t need to buy into the unrealistic standards that are out there. Thirdly, husbands – you play a critical role in your wife’s ability to move forward. Caleb and I know a guy who would point out a woman on the street and say to his wife, “Why can’t you look like that?” Let me add, his wife was taking pretty good care of herself at the time too. Ladies – if this is your husband, this is HIS problem, not yours. I know it’s yours in that you feel the pain, but this is about his own issues. It is NOT about you. Another study of 144 couples found that wives’ s...
Jan 07, 2016
How Body Image Issues Can Ruin Your Sex Life – Part 1
Body image and sex….  a super sensitive topic for a lot of people. We’ll try to be gentle, but we’ll also be challenging you to do some serious thinking about your self-image and the expectations you’re bringing to your sexual intimacy. This is a really stressful topic, and guys walk on eggshells around it. Caleb likens the topic of sex and body image to a mousetrap. There is a lot of high-strung energy there, and if you don’t touch it everything is ok. But if you DO happen to touch it, it snaps and releases every bit of energy at once. No wonder men get nervous about the topic! The Problem of Sexual Self-Consciousness There is a wide range of research that supports the fact that holding a poor body image impacts my own sexual functioning negatively. There are a number of theories out there as to why this happens, but one of the more prominent theories is the issue of sexual self-consciousness.[i] Sexual self-consciousness is when your mind and thoughts are overly preoccupied with your body in a sexual context. When this happens, you direct your attention towards your appearance and away from the sexual pleasure which takes you far away from enjoying the moment, or the sense of togetherness and connection. Thoughts such as “Am I jiggling while we’re doing this? Does he think I’m too fat? He seems disinterested - Is that why he always has his eyes closed? We can only have sex with the lights off” show that you’re more focused on what you look like instead of being present with your spouse. Here is what the researchers found when looking at the issues of sexual self-consciousness:[ii] Women are significantly more likely to report appearance concerns than men. No surprise there. But here’s something to note: appearance concerns were positively related to sexual problems for both men and women.  So the concern is there for more women than men, but if the concern is there, it doesn’t matter what gender you are. The relationship between body shame and sexual pleasure and problems was mediated by sexual self-consciousness during physical intimacy. Men and women’s body shame was related to greater sexual self-consciousness, which in turn predicted lower sexual pleasure and sexual arousability. That just means that there is a chain of thought from shame to self-consciousness to reduced pleasure and arousability. Sexual self-consciousness affected men and women’s sexual arousability and pleasure to the same extent, but women’s body shame was a stronger predictor of sexual self-consciousness, so a higher vulnerability to body shame was there. So, it seems that body shame in a sexual context affects both men and women in the same manner, but women are more susceptible to being triggered into feeling sexually self-conscious which leads us to the question, why do women have such high levels of body shame? The Social Context of Body Shame and Poor Self-Image Body shame literally means feeling ashamed of your body and physical appearance. This comes from our culture’s emphasis on women’s beauty and physical appearance which leads to self-objectification. Self-objectification is the tendency to regard one’s physical self primarily in terms of appearance and to adopt an outsider’s perspective on the physical self.[iii] We can define our physical self in terms of health, self-care, comfort in our own skin, etc, but it’s difficult. My physical self does have an appearance, and all the marketing is about appearance. It is easy to buy into this idea that my physical self is entirely defined by my appearance rather than the healthier notion of asking myself if I feel comfortable in my own skin. Our culture teaches women that their sexual partners are mostly concerned about their physical attractiveness. Even in the context of a marriage with Christian values, wives carry this same belief that their husband is primarily concerned about her physical attractiveness. This heightens this sense that physical appearance is of primary imp...
Jan 05, 2016
Self-Care Is Marriage Care
So, we all know the old saying, “You can’t change your spouse, you can only change yourself”. Well, apparently that saying isn’t 100% true. You can actually leverage your self-care to feel better about yourself and consequently, improve the well being of your marriage. Self-care is integral to the health of our marriages. There are not a lot of studies to 100% prove the link between self-care and marriage where, for example, they study exercise and measure marital outcomes, but we want to look at the overall idea of taking good care of ourselves by eating well, exercising, sleeping and making leisure time because this does become a marital issue. You see, when we fail to take care of ourselves, our mood, stress levels, and emotional responses all suffer. This, in turn, has a detrimental effect on the people around us. Think about how this works. Husband is stressed so doesn’t sleep well. This causes the wife not to sleep well. As husband gets tired, he becomes more quiet and withdrawn; as wife gets tired, she gets grumpy. Soon there is an attacker-withdrawer cycle going on. (Don’t ask me how I know this.) The research, as well as real-life, shows us that emotions, hormones, moods and stress levels of a couple are intimately tied together. This comes into play through a phenomenon in marriage that is known as coregulation. Take Care of Yourself Work through the key areas of self care with this self-guided worksheet. Available to our patrons (become a patron today to receive immediate access).I Want It! Coregulation in Marriage Coregulation is the dynamic, reciprocal interchange between partners across multiple biological systems.[i] That just means that we influence each other’s emotions and well-being. This is an important dynamic at play in our marriages and it is happening automatically all the time. You don’t even think about it! It goes in both directions so that spouses can pull each other up or pull each other down. The good part of this is that it helps us stay in sync and hopefully reach out to each other and lift each other up. Coregulation Ties Spouse’s Emotions Together A study in 2008, looked at how couples affected each other after spending time apart pursuing their own activities. They found that if a couple scored high on interpersonal insecurity (ie. They felt insecure about their relationship) then if one spouse reunited with negatives emotions the other spouse got on board with those negative emotions right away. On the other hand, if the husband was the type of guy who was willing to see his wife’s perspective and they came back together with softer negative emotions (like sadness or gloominess) then they would also match emotions. There are other variables at play, but the point is that any couple’s emotions are interconnected pretty quickly when they reunite after pursuing individual activities.[ii] For example, if the husband gets home and the wife is angry, he’s likely to get on board with that. If she is sad, he’ll join her in her sadness. We don’t want to oversimplify because there are other variables at play, but the point is that generally, we do have this emotional pull on each other. We are – to some degree- tied at the hip when it comes to emotions. Coregulation Ties Spouse’s Hormones and Moods Together It’s funny what studies researchers think up sometimes… Saxbe and Repetti took saliva samples to measure cortisol levels in 30 married couples, multiple times a day over three days. “How’s your marriage? Just spit in this little cup right here.” They found that a couple’s cortisol levels (cortisol is the 'stress' hormone) moved together. They also found that couples’ mood moved together.[iii] The same thing was found when another study looked specifically at stress levels and compared the genders. It was found that wives had a greater impact on husbands than husbands did on wives. It actually was noted that high-stress levels on the wife’s part had a pretty significant impact on th...
Dec 16, 2015
Respect vs. Contempt – Heart of Marriage Series (5 of 5)
Respect. We all want it, and we don’t want any exceptions - but we all know how easy we can turn it off and get our ugly on when things aren’t going our way! Respect is on the decline, generally, in our culture, but one of the most important places we can show respect is in our marriages – both as husbands and wives. It’s not something that is talked about very often; so today we will look at the specific dangers of contempt (lack of respect) and how you can move your marriage towards greater respect. A book that was helpful to us early on in our marriage was Love & Respect by the Eggerichs'. This book taught us how to safely say, “I’m feeling disrespected right now.” It gave us a healthy way to express our feelings and helped us realize when we were being inconsiderate of our spouse. Sadly, respect isn’t a consistent presence in every marriage, and contempt abounds. There are actually a lot of words that we thought of that could mean the opposite of respect, but they basically all fall under the umbrella of contempt, so that’s the word we’ll be using today. The Problem of Contempt Contempt is a problem because it is destructive in marital conflict and is also an early predictor of divorce. It is more than criticism. It adds this mean element where the intent is to insult and psychologically abuse your spouse. Contempt can look like insults, name-calling, hostile humour, mockery, and sneering.[i] You may ask the question, as Gottman did if all negative emotions are equally corrosive in marriage? We all have moments as a spouse that we’re not proud of, and we don’t like ourselves when we act that way but are these moments of anger (excluding all abusive behaviour) as bad as contempt? Gottman and his fellow researchers found that contempt, belligerence, and defensiveness were prime suspects in causing marital instability. Anger wasn’t nearly as damaging to the marriage as these three things. In other words, as it relates to our topic today, contempt in the middle of marital conflict is a very strong pointer leading towards divorce.[ii] There is a positive side to this research though; there are ways to show the respect that can neutralize those moments when our spouse does something unattractive. In the study, the couples that handled conflict well behaved in a way that was gentle and soothing and worked towards de-escalating (calming down negativity). The real challenge here is being strong enough to decide that you’re not going along with your spouse’s negativity and not getting on board with their contempt. 10 Ways To Show Respect Download this quick self-evaluation to review where YOU are at in terms of showing respect. As a bonus, we give you 10 ways that you can practice showing respect in your day to day interactions. I Want It! What Does Respect Look Like? It can be challenging to define respect. It is not an emotion. It’s not just a behaviour. It’s hard to define, but we certainly know when we are getting it or when we are not. Really, respect is an attitude accompanied by emotions, thoughts and behaviour.[iii] It has a sense of equality (people who see themselves as equals show respect to each other), and as part of that, there is also mutuality (give and take: both are into it). Caring and supportiveness are also involved. This alludes to one of the reasons why respect is so important in a marriage – and in all of our important relationships; it has to be going both ways in order to feel right. If you’re more powerful than someone else and they show you respect, that’s really just servitude. They feel like a servant. Marriage is more than that though – we don’t just want respect; we want to be able to respect our spouse. It has to be mutual. The best way to do a quick check on the level of respect in your marriage is by the following six questions that are used in a tool called MIDSS (Measurement Instrument Database for Social Sciences, developed by Hendreick and Hendrick)[iv] and also used in the bonus ...
Dec 09, 2015
Sacrifice vs. Entitlement – Heart of Marriage Series (4 of 5)
It’s easy to feel entitled to certain rights and benefits from our marriages. That entitlement always seems to be there but is never helpful in creating a great marriage. Take hope though,  there is a better way - it's called sacrifice. Gary Thomas’ book “Sacred Marriage” speaks to this when he asks the question, 'What if marriage was more about making you holy than making you happy'? He confronts the idea that we think marriage should make us all goo-goo ga-ga happy but instead we run smack into our own humanity, and our own sin. The beauty of marriage is that is in an opportunity to have these ugly things brought to light and then work on putting them out of our lives and thereby experiencing transformation through the power of the Holy Spirit in our marriage. So let’s take a look at entitlement and how this can damage our marriage, then, how to, instead, move towards giving sacrificially to one another. Our premise is, that at the end of the day, giving sacrificially benefits both myself and my spouse and also my marriage as a whole. A Sacrificial Marriage Download our convicting, searching worksheet that will help you take your sacrificial love to the next level.I Want It! The Problem of Entitlement in Marriage Very simply, entitlement is about what I think I deserve from others. It’s about my expectations. In a marriage, entitlement really stinks because marriage is supposed to be about an entity called “us” and yet entitlement is about the entity called “me”. Yet, the irony of it is, in marriage the intensity of entitlement feelings is unique and amplified compared to other relationships. Tolmacz looked at this and noted that couple relationships have two very specific dynamics that make them prone to unique issues around entitlement: Couple relationships have a high level of intimacy Couple relationships generate wants, needs, and expectations. He found evidence from clinical settings and practice shows that entitlement influences the quality of our marriages, and the level of satisfaction we each experience in our marriages.[i] Caleb has found the same thing – when helping distressed marriages heal and recover, there is always some unhealthy entitlement in the mix that has caused the distress. What is particularly interesting about this study from Tolmacz is that he found that gender is a huge factor in the issue of relational entitlement and that women are especially affected. This relates to the identity roles we bring to our marriages as men and women where women are socialized to be concerned about meeting the needs of others. This is a great trait but leads to the depreciation of their own wishes, needs, and self-worth and consequently, they are more prone to being on the receiving end of the entitlement problem. This gets more serious though as this same researcher found that entitlement contributes to desire for a divorce, and does more so among men and women in making the divorce decision. Generally speaking, is entitlement was a weapon, men are holding it, and women are on the receiving end of its brutality. It gets even more severe too. There are numerous studies linking entitlement with violence in intimate partner relationships. Abusive men use a sense of entitlement to give an excuse for their violence towards women. Not only that but men who feel entitled to their wife’s body act more violently than other men. So, realize, that while we experience and express entitlement at some pretty basic and relatively innocent levels, it also has this really dark, dark side to it. For that reason, even if you are not anywhere near that severe end of the spectrum, we’re asking you to take it very seriously. Husbands, this is a challenge primarily for you - Make sure you get the worksheet. For the part of our audience that shares our Christian faith – let’s look at Ephesians 5 for a moment. This is a chapter which abusive men who like to use the Bible like a stick – which is not how it was ever i...
Dec 02, 2015
Loneliness vs. Intimacy – Heart of Marriage Series (3 of 5)
This is a big question. Are you lonely in your marriage? That is not a fun place to be, but there is good news – growing your intimacy can expel loneliness from your marriage and stop it from creeping back in. There is a bit of a chain reaction when it comes to loneliness in marriage. It’s clear from the research that we’ll look at in a bit that loneliness can arise from a lack of intimacy. Loneliness and intimacy are affected in turn by the quality of communication and emotion skills in the marriage. If we can build up these two skill sets, then your marriage will see more intimacy. If there is more intimacy, obviously we’re going to help stave off those feelings of loneliness. Take It Up a Notch If, at this point, you’re sucking in a deep breath and saying to yourself, “I have no idea how to bring emotional skills to my marriage”, then we have more good news for you. Caleb has recorded a special recording just for our patrons. Become a patron today to receive instant access.Bring It! The Problem of Loneliness in Marriage Loneliness is not as uncommon as you might think. Ironically, if you’re out there feeling lonely, you have company! Caleb and I have even had times of this in our own relationship despite having a marriage that we enjoy very much. Research reveals that individuals in intimate relationships often feel lonely because the level of intimacy in the relationship is not meeting their desires or expectations.[i] That is why we’ll look at intimacy as well as loneliness in this post. So, how many people are experiencing loneliness in their marriage? A study from 2009 found that between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 experienced moderate to strong emotional or social loneliness.[ii] That’s sad. That is a high number. Given that loneliness appears to affect the quality of our intimate relationships,[iii] we have a vicious cycle going on. Loneliness affects relationship quality which makes us lonely which affects our relationship quality which makes us lonely... What Causes Loneliness in Marriage? Many factors can contribute to loneliness in marriage, but two major ones we look at today are communication and emotional skillfulness. A lack of these two things will significantly contribute to loneliness. Researchers, in 2009, looked at married couples and compared the extent of their loneliness to the functioning and quality of their marriages. They found that stronger emotional and social loneliness was found in those who did not receive emotional support from a spouse and who did not have frequent conversations with their spouse.[iv] A second article found that married folk who were lonely displayed fewer positive behaviours than non-lonely individuals. Lonely marriages displayed: Fewer positive attempts to make interactions pleasant Less openness, including fewer direct conversations, less advice, and less listening to one another. Fewer assurances Fewer social networks and relied less on friends and family Fewer shared tasks such as performing routine chores together. All this research just shows why it is particularly helpful to focus in on these two areas of communication and emotion skills. And more good news – learning skills is something that anyone can do. It’s something you can add to your marriage and something new that you can bring to your relationship to strengthen it and help move yourselves away from loneliness and toward intimacy. Let’s talk about building intimacy first by learning emotion skills and second by learning communication skills. Building Intimacy Through Emotion Skills A group of three researchers wanted to specifically test the theory that emotional skillfulness affects the intimacy process in relationships. In other words, they wanted to see how being good at handling emotions impacted marital satisfaction. They found that: There was a link between the ability to identify/communicate emotions and marital adjustment. (Marital adjustment in this context means how well the spo...
Nov 25, 2015
Acceptance vs. Rejection – Heart of Marriage Series (2 of 5)
It’s not rocket science to know that rejecting your spouse is a really, really painful thing to do. But, think about the opposite for a moment: if I asked you to sit down and list the things you do regularly to communicate your unconditional acceptance of your spouse: how long would that list be? First though, let’s start with the opposite of acceptance-rejection. I think it is clear to everyone that it hurts to be rejected, but it is worth knowing how severe that impact is in marriage. A study from 2013 looked at the psychological adjustment of individuals who had grown up experiencing rejection from their parent and they were rejected by their spouse. As a side note here; this is something we should be aware of. We tend to choose a spouse who will continue to treat us the same way our parents did: either for good or bad or more typically, for a mixture of those. We’re comfortable with the familiar and so unless we experience some personal growth between receiving caregiving from our parents and entering into marriage, we tend to perpetuate generational problems. These researchers found that:[i] 72% of men and 68% of women who received acceptance from both their parents and their intimate partner were psychologically healthy and adjusted. On the other hand, 71% of men and 60% of women who experienced rejection from both their parents and their intimate partner showed serious psychological maladjustment. (Psychological maladjustment meaning that they showed high levels of hostility and aggression, overdependence, negative self-esteem, and self-adequacy, were emotionally unresponsive, emotionally unstable, and had a negative worldview). We don’t tell you this to make you feel messed up – just to point out that rejection is a very severe experience with very real, very detrimental impact. The scary thing is, we do this to each other all the time in marriage. Every time your spouse makes a bid to connect with you and you decline – that’s rejection. It might be tiny, it might be big. Everything from declining a bid or proposition for sex that night to ending a hug a little early to an invitation to converse that just elicits a grunt. We think of rejection as a spouse with a suitcase leaving a note behind on the bed – that’s the most severe, dramatic type, but what about those times when your spouse is trying to talk to you and you’re like “…Huh? Hang on, I’m on my phone.” A thousand minute rejection like this compound to the severity of the one major walk-out kind of abandonment. It is really important to stop and consider the way we think about rejection because most of us intend to be (or want to be) loving, kind, engaged spouses. But… we also drop the ball a lot and may not fully grasp the cumulative severity of this. Let’s look at the positive side now and talk about acceptance. The Important of Acceptance The first thing to look at is unconditional regard which is one form of acceptance. Unconditional regard is the basic acceptance and support of a person regardless of what they say or do. In Christian language, this is brotherly love coupled with the effort of separating the sinner from the sin. (Carl Rogers originally birthed the idea of unconditional positive regard – not sure if he’d agree with Caleb’s Christianized definition, but it works for us!) A study looked at college students in romantic relationships – I’m presuming most were unmarried but I think the principles apple to marriage. Here’s what he found[ii]: Negative conflict acts as a mediator between unconditional regard and relationship satisfaction by the effect is has on unconditional regard Negative conflict may lower the extent to which an individual feels accepted or understood by hi or her partner which then has an influence on relationship satisfaction. In plain English… Fighting in marriage makes you feel less accepted and less understood, which decreases your satisfaction with the marriage.
Nov 18, 2015
Commitment vs. Abandonment – Heart of Marriage Series (1 of 5)
There are some things you can do without in marriage – and still have a pretty good marriage. Commitment is NOT one of those things. It is foundational. If you don’t have it, your marriage is toast. But, the good news is, even if you don’t have it right now, you can choose to be committed today and start building this essential piece into your marriage. There is a lot of content out there about marriage. A lot of people are talking about a diversity of things in the world of marriage. Some of it is helpful. But I want you to think of commitment like one of the crown jewels. You need to protect it, preserve it, and give it special attention. Commitment is one of the core areas at the heart of a healthy, lasting, thriving marriage. What is Marital Commitment? Think of words like loyalty, faithfulness, dedication, maybe even focus or integrity. In the research, there are a variety of definitions that range from vague (“having a long term orientation toward the relationships”[i]) to specific (personal: wanting to stay married, moral: feeling morally obligated to stay married, and structural: feeling constrained to stay married[ii]). Perhaps you are a little cynical about commitment due to your circumstances or history or even the experience of your parent’s marriage and think it is overrated. You prefer your freedom to being tied to another person. Ironically, a study in 2002 showed that couples with higher levels of commitment felt less trapped and were more satisfied with their relationships. Higher commitment creates more freedom and more satisfaction. We have jokes and comments in our society about the “ball and chain” of marriage and how a man is trapped once he’s been to the altar, but this is not the reality. The experience of highly-committed couples is one of greater satisfaction and even a greater sense of freedom because they have that secure base in their marriage. So the question to ask your self is how committed are you, right now, to your spouse? The Consequences of Abandonment The opposite of commitment could be abandonment. This often happens through divorce or infidelity. How Divorce Affects Spouses and Children Divorce, in particular, is especially devastating. We have a textbook in our office written for marriage therapists that states emphatically that we just need to get over divorce being a big deal and we need to just accept it as a normal transition in our culture. That is total garbage! The reality is that divorce is devastating. Here’s what the research says about divorce: Divorced individuals are unhappier, have more psychological distress and have poorer self-concepts. Divorced individuals have more problems with their health and greater mortality risk. Divorce can lead to greater levels of depression and alcohol use. Children of divorced families struggle in school, have more conduct issues, struggle in social situations, and have lower self-concepts.[iii] There is also a generational impact from abandonment and low marital commitment. Another study by the same researcher found that marital instability is transmitted across generations because children see the weak commitment of their parents, which becomes the norm to them. So, when they consider their own marriages this is their native paradigm. In their study, they found that children who had divorced parents had double the likelihood of their own marriage ending in divorce. In looking at this, the reason given for this elevated risk of divorce was because they “hold a comparatively weak commitment to the norm of life long marriage.”[iv] Serious stuff. How Infidelity Affects Commitment The obvious point from the research on this one is that infidelity is a leading cause for divorce, and only a small portion of couples who go through infidelity are able to improve their relationship afterwards. [v] The consequences of infidelity are a loss of trust, decreased personal and sexual confidence,
Nov 11, 2015
Who Wears The Pants In Your Marriage?
This is the second part of a topic that’s pretty common and can be pretty difficult for a lot of couples. It’s really just the idea that the wife is running the marriage and family and the husband is the breadwinner but not really engaged or involved as much as they would like him to be. We’re assuming you want to change that. Last week we looked at the wife’s role in this scenario. Today we are challenging the men. Before you get defensive, husband, know that we realize what a horrible place it is to feel disempowered or marginalized or even kind of useless. If you want to lead, to be involved and engaged, then this is for you, even though it may be tough to hear. Does Your Involvement As A Husband Matter? Yes. That’s the short answer. Yes. Even if your wife wants to do everything and run the family and the marriage, the research says this is not beneficial to her or to the family. Your involvement will help both your wife and your family to function better. Housework Let’s look at housework for a moment: when husbands are involved in housework, their wives have less psychological stress, feel more satisfied with their marriages and are overall happier.[i] These results were found in a study that compared the well-being of wives whose husbands were highly involved in housework with wives whose husbands were minimally involved in housework. It found that “wives whose husbands were minimally involved were 1.60 times more likely to be distressed, 2.96 times more likely to be uncomfortable with their husbands, and 2.69 times more likely to be unhappy.[ii] Parenting An article compiling the research from hundreds of articles looked for the benefits of father involvement. Here are a few things they found:[iii] Academic Benefits: School-aged children of involved fathers are better academic achievers. They are more likely to get A’s, have higher grade point averages, get better achievement test scores, receive superior grades, perform a year above their expected age level of academic tests, obtain higher scores on reading achievement, or learn more and perform better in school. Emotional Benefits and General Wellbeing: When fathers are involved, their children are less depressed, have fewer conduct problems, less emotional distress and negative emotions such as fear and guilt. Social wellbeing: Children with involved father have more positive friendships with less aggression and conflict and more generosity. Parenting Relationship: There is a positive correlation between marital quality and levels of father involvement in childcare, the quality of the father-child relationship, the father’s satisfaction with his role as a parent, and the father’s competence as a parent. I’m sure we could keep going on this idea that involved fathers and husbands makes for a better family and marriage. So we would encourage you, even if your wife has explicitly communicated she doesn’t want you involved, to challenge her on it. Maybe you’ve only assumed her desire from some non-verbal communication or misinterpreted some Womanspeak. It’s going to be a difficult conversation but you can find some help with it in Episode 55: How to Disagree Without Sinking Your Love Boat. The next question then, is how can a husband get more involved if his wife is taking control and pushing him out? How To Get Your Pants Back Before we actually get to the “how-to’s”, let’s look at some psychology. There is an area of research called Identity Theory. Identity Theory says that individuals seek to verify their identity – the person they see themselves to be – by controlling the situations around them so that these situations match their desired identity. For example, you may see this at work: a manager who sees himself as a problem solver actually kind of tweaks the experience of his direct reports so that they’re dependent on him and keep having to come to him to solve problems. It reinforces his identity and makes him feel better about himself.
Nov 04, 2015
Husband Doesn’t Help With The Kids? It Could Be Your Fault!
Are you sick and tired of having to do everything? And your husband just doesn’t carry the load? And – on top of that – when you try to talk about it, you guys just end up fighting! No fun, hey? Sometimes we even hear wives describe their husband as another one of the kids she has to take care of. That’s really sad. It is also understandable given that some husbands are completely disengaged in relation to domestic duties. We learned this week though, that everything may not seem as it first appears… What spawned this topic was a conversation Caleb had one day with a disengaged husband. After digging a bit, Caleb found out that when their first child arrived, his wife kind of parked him to one side and he felt that she said, “You don’t know what you’re doing, I’ll take it from here”. He bought into that and chose to go along with it. So, we’re going to speak to both wives and husbands because we believe it takes two to tango. We’ll try to keep it fair. Wives, this post is for you, and husbands, your turn is coming next… We’re hoping that these articles will promote some useful conversations between you and your spouse so that you can restore a healthy balance, both feel engaged and involved and together as a couple and as parents, and both feel like you are contributing in your marriage. Why Is He Not Engaged? Here are some observations from a study in 2008 entitled “Withdrawal from Coparenting Interactions During Early Infancy”.[i] They found that if the husband is invested in the status quo and a child shows up he may well withdraw in order to avoid change. Additionally, they found that first-time mothers who were unhappy with the division of childcare labour escalated their demands (along with their stress!) resulting in more pronounced demand-withdrawal patterns in the marriage. This demand-withdraw pattern is a classic, common pattern. To sum it up, the more a wife demands, the more the husband pulls back (or the more a husband demands, the more the wife pulls back). What is ironic is that they both are acting in their respective ways to save the marriage. She wants to be close to him so pursues, he doesn’t want to get into an argument so withdraws, and the cycle keeps on going. The study also found that new fathers often feel excluded by the developing mother-infant bond. Some men respond by pressing their wives for more time, others channel their energies into the baby, while others progressively distance themselves from the mother-baby dyad. But what kind of men pulled back or withdrew? Fathers who withdrew were less ego resilient (not open-minded or perceptive, not interested in understanding why others behave as they do and not open to viewpoints other than their own), and more likely to be in a marriage that was already showing distress signs before the baby arrived. These men also felt less respected as a parent by their wives which leads us to the subject of maternal gatekeeping. Maternal Gatekeeping Maternal gatekeeping is a phrase that refers to the beliefs and behaviour that a mom shows to discourage or restrict father involvement in childcare.[ii] Given that research has shown that greater father involvement in children’s lives has been found to be associated with benefits for parents and children alike (more about this next week), this sense of maternal gatekeeping seems to be unhelpful. Generally, the more domestic demands you place on a father and the more his ability to respond, the more he will contribute to childcare. Maternal gatekeeping undoes this because in an effort to maintain primacy (take first place) as mother, the wife ends up monitoring and restricting their husbands level and type of involvement in childcare. This is more common among working-class employed mothers who are caught between gender role ideologies and the financial necessity of working full time. That’s a hard place to be – caught between this messaging about how you should be a stay at home mom and invest your heart...
Oct 28, 2015
How To Help Your Spouse’s Anxiety
If you’re living with another human being in this wonderful institution called marriage, then there is a good chance that at some point in your experience as a couple, your spouse is going to experience anxiety. I’ve seen this over and over and believe me, some couples handle it much better than others. Here are some how-to’s and how-not-to’s. This topic was actually spawned by a conversation Caleb had some time ago with