Rank #1: 3 Things To Talk About Every Day
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
Rank #2: How Much Foreplay Does Your Wife Really Need?
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.
Rank #3: 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...
Rank #4: Learn to Date Your Spouse Again
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,
Rank #5: Q&A on a Disconnected Marriage and Shared Leisure
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!
Rank #6: How to Rebuild Trust in Your Marriage
In every human relationship, probably without exception, there are moments of betrayal. This has been happening for millennia: think even of the words of King David in Psalm 41:9, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.”
Jesus Christ himself was betrayed, so know that you’re not alone. He understands, he’s been there. It happens to everyone.
As common as it is though, there may be no blow as severe as a betrayal – we feel it keenly. The good news though, is that it doesn’t have to be fatal to your marriage.
If you are the injured party, this post is especially for you. We hope it will be a comfort to you as well as help you figure out how to move forward after a betrayal.
FREE RECORDING: For the Betrayer This special recording speaks directly to the one who has injured their spouse. If you want to make things right, Caleb recorded these specific strategies to help you reconcile things with the spouse you've betrayed.Get the Recording!
If you have been betrayed, there is a process you’re going to go through. Of course, your own journey is always unique but here’s typically what we see when working with couples in distress following the disclosure of an extramarital affair, perceived abandonment, disclosure of a pornography addiction, or even major changes of lifestyle and values and even religion.
Generally there are three phases:[i]
Stage 1: Roller Coaster
This is no surprise here. Researchers wrote that “initial responses to a partner’s disclosure of infidelity were often intensely emotionally charged” which makes perfect sense.
We see folks swinging between severe grief and numbness to thoughts of murder and escape. There is often a lot of confrontation and anger being expressed and a flood of conflicting emotions going on.
These conflictions emotions are wanting to get past the offense but at the same time refusing to. Or, wanting revenge by doing the same thing, but hating what has been done, etc. No matter what feelings are going on here, they are very strong. You can see why it is called the roller coaster stage.
The important part here is being willing to express the strong emotions to trusted confidante’s: a counsellor, a church leader you can trust, and to your spouse who has injured you. He/she needs to see your pain.
Stage 2: Moratorium
When the emotional reactivity slows down and you find yourself trying to make meaning of the betrayal, you’ve moved into the moratorium stage. This period typically involves quite a bit of obsessing about details, retreating or pulling back from your spouse physically and emotionally, and recruiting the support of others to try to make meaning of the betrayal.
As a cautionary note: If this was a sexual betrayal, obsessing about details is not always healthy. You need enough to make you feel safe, but if you start getting all sorts of voyeuristic details, they’ll create memories and images that will be very difficult for you to overcome.
According to the researchers, here’s what you probably should know in the case of an affair:[ii]
Who the extramarital partner was
How long the affair lasted
How often they met
Where they met.
If you find yourself on an endless search for facts, it may be because it is easier to talk about facts than feelings. When you feel yourself going down this pathway, as the betrayed spouse, stop and think about what you are feeling and what you need. You are probably needing reassurance that your spouse wants to work on the marriage and still finds you attractive and loveable. Learn to be more vocal about this and focus on feelings,
Rank #7: 50 Romantic Text Messages to Send to Your Spouse
Lame, lame, lame.
But you're married now and looking for a way to keep the flame alive, right? So, today as part of our mini-series of short summer episodes we're looking at a redemptive use of text messages: romancing your spouse!
Romantic Texts Help You Keep Connected
Text messaging works great for this because it is so quick and easy. Not to make it sound cheap. Quite the opposite, actually.
Marriage is a big deal. A very big deal. But even the simple, quick tokens of love that can be sent via text message go a long way to creating resilience and positivity in your marriage.
And when you shoot a quick, heartfelt text to your wife or husband, it can be really touching because it shows that you are thinking of them. The unprompted spontaneity is heartwarming.
Romantic Text Ideas
We've got a PDF of great ideas you can download but first, let me give you the general concept.
The best text messages are going to be those that come from your own heart in your own words.
So here are some general ideas to workaround:
Something you appreciate about your spouse
How about flirting? or be suggestive?
"I love you" out of the blue always hits the mark
Gratitude and appreciation. Simple is fine: thank him/her for making your lunch!
How about a Bible verse that is encouraging?
Share something you just discovered that speaks to a mutual interest
Strengthen him/her in some area where you know he/she doubts himself
Express your commitment and loyalty
FREE GUIDE: 50 Romantic Text Messages This PFD has plenty of fresh ideas that will inspire you to romance your spouse!Get the Guide!
How Is This Helping?
What this is doing is helping you develop your fondness and admiration system. That system is a core resiliency in thriving marriages that will help you weather the stress and challenges that life throws at you.
It also helps buffer you against the conflict that we all experience in our marriages.
We'd love to hear from you! What is the most romantic thing your spouse has ever texted you?
Rank #8: How To Make The Most of an Unhappy Marriage
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.
Couples in an unhappy marriage often end up withdrawing away from each
Rank #9: When Did You Divorce Your Husband and Marry the Kids?
Should I Focus on My Marriage Or My Kids?
The title comes from Salvador Minuchin (possibly! Caleb wasn't sure if his memory was working right here), the father of Family Systems Therapy who, when dealing with a dysfunctional family turned and asked the mother when she divorced her husband and married her kids. That is, why did she abandon her marriage relationship and focus completely on her children?
We've had some great advice over the years and this issue was a part of that. Advice was given to Verlynda at a baby shower before she had her first child,
You were a wife before you were a mother – don’t forget that.
And a piece of advice Caleb was given:
The best gift you can give your children is to love their mother.
This is a common issue. William Farley, in Gospel-Powered Parenting, points out the risk of child idolatry in our culture and says the Puritans actually warned against loving our children too much. Farley says we need to love God more than our children, which ultimately is better for the kids as well and so we unpacked this idea further in the show.
The research also supports the idea that prioritizing the marriage over parenting was better for both the couple and the children. Even at the start of child rearing, a study by O’Brien and Payton in the Journal of Family Psychology, 2002: found that a higher perceived difficulty with parenting was related to lower levels of initial marital intimacy. So you can see how they observed that marital intimacy makes parenting even feel easier.
The Baby-will-save-our-marriage Trick is Probably a Bad Idea
You want your baby to land right in the middle of a secure emotional bond between dad and mom, not into a war zone!
Our proposition is that you give more to your kids through good ‘husbanding’ or good ‘wifing’ than through good parenting because the second flows most effectively from a solid marital foundation.
This was reinforced by Erel and Burman (1995) who did a meta-analysis (a study of other researcher's work) of 68 studies examining relationships between marital quality and parenting. They found two conclusions:
Positive marital relationship=positive parenting relationship
Parents invest more deeply in their children when there are problems in the marriage.
Compensating for problems in the marriage by turning to the kids is the wrong approach!
In the Scriptures, the relationship that God chose to be the one institution that would symbolize his love for the church is that of marriage, not parenting. So loving our spouse well preaches the Gospel of God's love to our kids and to others. Our children should be attracted to God and his love, seen in the gospel, by virtue of what they see in a husband's love for his wife.
The same values are evident in what the Journal of Family and Psychology, 2004 stated, that kids (5-6 yr olds) adjust to school better when Dad and Mom are in love with each other. Again, parental love fortifies the children, makes them feel more secure and gives them more confidence to face new life experiences.
The Handbook of Parenting, Volume 4 “Social Conditions and Applied Parenting” reviews a lot of studies. They conclude “happily married parents are more sensitive, responsive, warm and affectionate toward their children…the marital relationship appears to serve as a primary source of support for parenting.” It also stated, “having skills and knowledge is not sufficient for competent parenting if marital tensions and conflict undermine the co-parenting alliance.”
To sum up: you will be more successful with creating happier children by focusing on your spouse....
Rank #10: How to Increase the Love You Feel Towards Your Spouse
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 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
New and exciting experiences
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.
Rank #11: Infidelity Starts Long Before The Affair
What got us started down this road of thinking is the observation that you can be in a committed marriage and never have sex outside that marriage for forty years, but still be giving members of the opposite sex a lust filled looking over.
This begs the question about what loyalty and fidelity mean in a marriage. If you proudly say “I am faithful to my wife… but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the scenery”, is that really fidelity?
Let’s assume for a moment that we’re all clear that the extremes of unfaithfulness are wrong: we’re not talking about adultery here, or pornography use, or any act of physical intimacy, or even an emotional affair with a person you’re not married to.
However, disloyalty can go in all sorts of directions, and show up in many different ways:
A wife makes a comment about some famous Hollywood actor being ‘eye-candy’? There is no hope of an actual act of infidelity occurring there, so is it OK?
A husband rubber-necks as he drives through town on a warm summer day. Is it OK for him to check out other women?
A spouse says, “Why can’t you look like that?” (Ouch…)
Perhaps it’s just the joking and camaraderie that kind of fringes toward mild flirting – even in a group setting. Is this allowable?
While some definitions of fidelity are really clear (like having sex), others are very much going to be defined by each couple. In The Journal of Marriage and Family Therapy (JMFT), Blow reported that a breach of trust has more to do with the perspectives and beliefs of the individuals within the relationship than any overarching norms. In other words, the couple creates their own standards.
[Again, we’re holding this up in the assumption that we’ve already established that there are objective, moral boundaries that must not be crossed. Like, no sex outside of marriage. We are NOT promoting ‘open’ marriage; we promote the Biblical values of faithful marriage.]
For example, a wife or husband on a business trip sits down on the airplane beside an attractive, friendly member of the opposite sex. For one couple, the expectation might be to limit the interaction to a friendly greeting and then plug in the headphones or read a book. They’re comfortable with that boundary.
For another couple, it may be totally ok to have an engaging conversation and share pictures of your spouse and children. No flirting, just friendly and proper, and then that spouse relations the conversation when he/she gets home to the other spouse. Both spouses in that marriage are comfortable with that boundary.
Neither scenario is morally wrong. Does the second approach carry a higher element of risk? Yes, probably! This is where couples need to discuss what they consider reasonable and what they can tolerate in their marriage.
There is a subjective element to fidelity. Scheinkman and Wenecke in the Family Process also support this subjective aspect.
Nevertheless, here’s what’s so important to know. It IS a fact that there is a slippery slope from smaller disloyal thoughts and behaviours towards an affair.
The Clinical Psychology Science Practice (2005) pointed out that the decision-making process before extra-marital involvement consists of smaller decisions and steps. Like, having coffee with an opposite sex coworker…then spending more time with them…then engaging in more intimate conversation.
This is where we start to get some practical checkpoints for early warnings of infidelity. Following are two items you need to watch for in order to be proactively working against affairs in your marriage.
1. Pros VS Cons
Decisions to engage in extramarital involvement are conscious decisions that involve weighing potential costs and potential benefits. Ask yourself, am I doing a cost/benefit analysis about the behaviours or thoughts I am engaging in? If so,
Rank #12: Can You Fix Your Marriage Without Dredging Up The Past?
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...
Rank #13: Figure Out What Your Spouse is Actually Upset About
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
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,
Rank #14: Working Through Betrayal Trauma
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.
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].
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)
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.
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),
Rank #15: Four Ways 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 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,
Rank #16: How To Keep The Romance Alive in Your Marriage
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.
Rank #17: Defensiveness in Marriage
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.”)
Rank #18: Is Fear Wrecking Your Marriage?
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.
Rank #19: How to Appreciate Your Spouse
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,
Rank #20: Holding Onto Self Worth When Your Spouse is Overly Critical
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.