Happy New Year! Did you make all your resolutions? What are your goals for this year? Whether you made some or not, I’d like to challenge you to add one resolution: Make this year one of growth for your marriage.
Marriage isn’t easy, but a great marriage is achievable with intentionality and commitment. You can form and keep habits to help you strengthen your relationship and grow your marriage in this new year.
Here are six good habits to start for your marriage:
1. Be intentional about intimacy.
I get it. Life can be hectic. We all have those times when we let intimacy slip a little. With intentionality, you can make intimacy a central part of marriage. But intimacy isn’t just sex. That’s part of it, but there is much more to it. There are actually six types of intimacy: intellectual, experiential, emotional, spiritual, physical, and sexual. When you’re intentional about increasing intimacy in these areas, your marriage grows deeper.
2. Date regularly.
Regular date nights are crucial to a healthy marriage. There are numerous benefits to date nights as well. Here are some of them:
Help couples connect
Date nights don’t have to be expensive, either. You can get creative and go for a picnic, enjoy a park together, or just grab a coffee or hot tea and chat. Dates don’t have to be limited to the evening, so get creative with what works best for your schedules. If you don’t date regularly, start with once a month and increase frequency to fit your lifestyle. Pull out those calendars and make sure you’re both aware of what each other has going on. Schedule your date nights so you don’t book something else over them.
3. Express appreciation for each other.
As we navigate the daily grind, it can be easy to take each other for granted. Expressing appreciation helps connect us, and it starts with a simple “thank you.” Science tells us the benefits are enormous. Helping our relationship thrive and making us physically healthier are just a couple of advantages. Make gratitude an everyday habit in your marriage.
4. Play together.
Remember how fun it was to date before you got married? If playing is no longer part of your relationship, it’s time to create a new habit. Playing together can range from just being goofy to playing games together. My wife and I have always enjoyed a good Nerf battle.
5. Make time to talk.
Communication is essential in any relationship, but it’s at the core of a healthy marriage. We must make time to talk daily to strengthen our relationship. Setting aside at least five minutes per day to talk with your spouse can make you both feel more connected and understood. This means sitting down face to face – no technology, no kids – just the two of you. According to Dr. John Gottman, “If you don’t work at communication, the relationship will deteriorate over time, just like a car that’s not taken care of will fall apart.”
6. Share your dreams and goals.
Remember when you were dating, and you’d share your dreams? Well, don’t let that die! Our dreams change as we get older, and that’s ok, but keep sharing your dreams. My wife and I started keeping a dream journal a couple of years ago. Nothing complicated – we just grabbed some notebooks. We started writing down places we wanted to go, things we wanted to accomplish, and any other dreams we had.
Also share your career, health, and financial goals, or whatever they are. If you set goals for the new year, share those. Be each other’s accountability partner and cheerleader. Your marriage will thrive when you’re growing together.
Start this year off by forming habits to deepen your connection and strengthen your marriage. Although it takes time to create a new habit, the time it takes depends on you. Your marriage is worth the effort and focus. Don’t give up! Keep working to make this the best year yet for your marriage.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Untitled-28-01.png5001200Mitchell Quallshttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngMitchell Qualls2022-01-01 12:30:002022-01-07 16:56:59Six Good Habits to Start for Your Marriage in the New Year
A healthy response to disappointment can be a game-changer for your marriage.
Disappointment hurts, especially from the one you love the most. And when your spouse disappoints you, you probably experience several emotions. Anger. Frustration. Hurt. Sadness. Bewilderment. (What were they thinking? Right?)
Disappointment in your spouse can spark uncertainty and shake your trust. It might even make you wonder if you can rely on them at all.
First, let me just say: You’re not alone, and every married person disappoints their spouse at some point. Your feelings are honest, legit, and okay. And even though disappointment is common in marriage, knowing that doesn’t really make things easier. So let’s talk about it.
Some things to consider:
Unmet expectations breed disappointment.
Everybody enters marriage with a certain standard in mind.1This is a good thing. It means you have relationship goals. You want your marriage to thrive. If your spouse lets you down, it hinders those goals. Enter disappointment and the emotions that follow.
What do you expect from your spouse? How do your expectations connect to your overall relationship goals?
Disappointment comes in different flavors.
Although everybody experiences disappointment in marriage, it’s not all the same. It may stem from a specific issue. I can’t believe they forgot to take the trash out… again. Or, it can be more general. This is not how I thought it’d be.
Disappointment can also happen over seemingly minor or explicitly major issues (whether it’s the trash or infidelity). Of course, disappointing situations feel major to you.That’s why they’re disappointing.
Healthy responses to disappointment may be somewhat different depending on the situation.2 The big lesson here is to become aware of why you’re disappointed.
What exactly did your spouse do or not do that disappointed you?
Is the disappointment in something specific or general? Issues that are minor or major?
You are coping with your disappointment in one way or another.
You can’t help but respond, whether involuntarily or by choice. Even if you’re not sure what to do, you may feel angry, passive-aggressive, secretly imagine getting back at them, or avoid the issue altogether.
However, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to cope and respond. Choosing to respond in a healthy way is key to working through the disappointment.
How are you coping or responding right now? Would you say your responses are healthy or unhealthy?
Be careful about what your disappointment might lead you to assume.
When your spouse disappoints you, it usually doesn’t mean:
He or she is a bad person.
They aren’t right for you.
Your marriage is doomed.3
At the least, it means that expectations need to be clear. And for the more serious offenses, your partner may need help to overcome certain behaviors. (More on that in a bit.)
Why might your spouse have acted (or failed to act) the way they did that led to your disappointment?
What do you do, then, when your spouse disappoints you? How do you handle it?
Reframe it. Ironically, even though it feels like your disappointment drives you further away from your spouse, it can be an opportunity to grow closer. Try looking at it as a chance to clarify what you both expect and strengthen your marriage goals.
Express it, but being aware of your composure is key. Remember: How you come across when you explain your disappointment influences your spouse’s response.
Have forgiveness at the ready. Forgiveness is a process. But it’s tough to move forward if you harbor resentment and bitterness.
Re-clarify your expectations. What do you specifically hope for from your spouse? Does your spouse think they can successfully meet your expectations? Work on compromises and talk about how expectations can be realistic and shared.
Ask your spouse how you can help each other be more successful at meeting expectations.
Continually affirm your spouse for their effort.
Realize that it might be best to seek a professional counselor’s advice at some point. This is especially true if your spouse’s behavior is recurring or addictive, or if they show apathy or disinterest in working toward a solution. Seeing a therapist together is best. Butif they won’t go with you, seeing a counselor on your own can help you find healthy ways to cope.
It’s not fun when your spouse disappoints you, but it is normal. And it’s a chance to be in a better place today than you were yesterday. Choosing healthy responses can help you grow closer to your spouse in the midst of disappointment.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Untitled-22-01.png5001200Chris Ownbyhttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngChris Ownby2021-12-20 12:02:362021-12-21 09:49:06What to Do When Your Spouse Disappoints You
Can healthy couples fight too much? How much fighting is healthy?
No two people agree on everything. That’s undoubtedly true in marriage. (If it’s not true in yours, then I’d really like to meet you. And really… why are you even reading this?) The result is often misunderstanding, a failure to see eye-to-eye, and a tug-of-war to get each other’s point across. Sometimes, a fight ensues.
An important caveat right off the bat: Many people say they “fight” when they argue or disagree. I’m guessing you’re reading this because you are experiencing “fighting” in marriage (if not, see the paragraph above). But for others, this word evokes memories of violence and abuse, which is never okay. For our purposes here, fighting is used to describe verbal disagreements.
With that in mind, hear this loud and clear: Even happy, healthy couples fight.
Congrats: You’re normal!
A 2012 survey would even suggest that “highly happy couples” describe some of their arguments as “painful.” (Food for thought: The survey also indicates that these couples might be “highly happy” because they know, even during a fight, that they care about and want what’s best for each other. I’ll just leave that right here…)
As a matter of fact, never fighting could indicate that the relationship is in a less-than-ideal place. Experts say that avoiding conflict and discussing differences can cause a buildup of frustration and resentment that leads to problems in the long run.1,2
Truthfully, it’s not whether you fight or even necessarily how often you fight that matters. It’s how you fight that matters.
Here are five warning signs that can tell you if your disagreements are unhealthy:
1. The same, sore subject keeps coming up. Over. And Over. And Over…
Whether it’s how the dishes go on the rack, how one of you works too much, or the fact that your mother-in-law makes that annoying sound when she laughs… It always comes up and causes a ruckus. And it never gets resolved.
2. Communication roadblocks emerge.
Researcher John Gottman identifies four negative communication patterns that cause trouble:
Criticism: Blaming, fault-finding, or attacking your spouse’s character
Contempt: Communicating with meanness, disrespect, sarcasm, ridicule,
Defensiveness: Fishing for excuses, avoidance of accepting responsibility, or
blame back to your spouse
Stonewalling: Withdrawal from interaction, shutting down, or ceasing to respond
to your spouse
3. You feel like you understand each other less.
Disagreements and differences of opinion can be opportunities to better understand your spouse’s point of view. However, when your main goal is to get your point across or simply “win” the argument, you come out on the other side with less understanding of the person you love the most.
4. You can’t reach a resolution.
No matter the subject of disagreement, it’s always left open-ended. No solution, compromise, or forgiveness. Not even an agreement to disagree. And because of that, there’s no sense of closure.
5. You’re not okay to agree to disagree.
Often, couples use this phrase to simply avoid arguing. However, it can be healthy to recognize that you’re not going to see things eye to eye. One study indicates that only about a third of the couples’ conversations are resolvable issues. The rest are simply ongoing areas of disagreement.3 This doesn’t mean a couple can’t find workable compromises. It just means you’re not going to see things the same way on a particular subject.
If you’re like me, you never experience any of these warning signs… amiright? The truth is, they pop up in every couple’s communication from time to time. Remember: Healthy couples fight. But when these signs become a regular pattern, beware: Trouble’s a-brewin’.
The good news is that you can avoid all these things. Healthy communication and conflict skills can be learned and practiced. (Looky here and here and here). Outside help is sometimes a great idea, too. A trusted mediator can help determine compromises. And don’t be afraid to use a professional counselor to help get through more deep-seated issues.
There are times when it’s good and healthy for couples to fight, but it really does matter how you fight. You’ve got this.
1Hackman, J.Richard., Collaborative intelligence: Using teams to solve hard problems, Oakland, CA: Berrit-Koeller, 2011.
2Orbuch, Terri L., Five Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great, Austin, TX: River Grove Books, 2015.
3Gottman, John M., The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples, New York, NY: WW Norton & Company, 2011.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Untitled-14-01.png5001200Chris Ownbyhttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngChris Ownby2021-12-14 14:34:302021-12-21 10:24:57How Much Should Healthy Couples Fight?
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Being thankful in marriage is packed with research-backed benefits!
I know… this sounds like the beginning of a cheesy infomercial. But unlike many infomercials, this little factoid really is backed by science.
Studies show that expressing gratitude for your spouse strengthens your marriage.1
Being thankful is associated with increased long-term happiness in marriage.2
Being thankful can have a healing effect when there are rifts in the relationship.3
Thankfulness can help a person reframe negative experiences in a more positive light, giving a more hopeful outlook on their marriage.4
And get this: Showing and receiving gratitude is associated with more satisfying sex in marriage.5,6
Thank goodness for being thankful!
But it’s important to understand that gratitude in marriage is a lot like a muscle: You need to exercise it. You need to strengthen and flex your thankfulness to enjoy the full benefit.
So how can you practice and strengthen thankfulness for a muscled-up marriage? Check out these keys to being thankful in marriage:
1. Journal your gratitude.
There is strong evidence that journaling what you are thankful for in your marriage improves overall well-being and marriage health.6 Try writing down three things you appreciate about your spouse daily. Look back on past journal entries for a dose of perspective and encouragement, especially on the tougher days.
2. Don’t just tell your spouse thank you. Let them know howthey have helped you.
When you rub my shoulders, it helps me feel less anxious. Thank you!
I sure appreciate you cooking dinner; it made this day a lot less hectic for me!
Telling your spouse specifically how they meet your needs has been shown to build a stronger relationship. It can also reinforce your spouse’s positive feelings about your marriage.8
3. Keep a picture in your pocket.
Or on the visor. Or on your phone. (Wherever you’ll be reminded of your spouse regularly.) Gratitude is often prompted through our senses. Having a visual reminder of your spouse provides a constant nudge to count your marital blessings.
Doing mindful exercises to practice being “in the moment” can promote thankfulness.9 Mindful breathing, walks, and meditation10 are just a few practices that can strengthen gratitude and contribute to a healthy marriage.
5. Go through the motions (even when you aren’t feeling particularly thankful).
Robert A. Emmons, gratitude researcher at the University of California, Davis, explains that the motion of gratitude can trigger the emotion of gratitude. Prodding yourself to smile, say thank you, or write thank you notes to your spouse can help flex those thankfulness muscles. These actions help jumpstart more sincere feelings of gratitude.
Just like any muscle, being thankful in your marriage is something you can stretch and strengthen. Otherwise, gratitude can atrophy and weaken. If you want to get your marital thankfulness in shape, try one of the keys above. You can thank me later!
10Shapiro, S. L., Schwartz, G. E. R., & Santerre, C. (2002). Meditation and positive psychology. In C. R. Snyder & S. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 632– 645). London, UK: Oxford University Press.
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Ever had the same old fight over and over? Do you wonder why, or what in the world you can do about it? Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is, disagreeing with your spouse is normal. The bad news? According to Dr. John Gottman’s research, 69% of problems in relationships are perpetual or unsolvable. Couples will return to these issues over and over again in their relationship. These are often grounded in fundamental differences between two people: differences in personalities, needs, or expectations.
So, what do we do if all our problems can’t be solved like the fairy tales taught us? Gottman suggests creating a dialogue around them instead of attempting to solve them.
Sometimes, disagreements can bring a couple closer together. The key is how you and your spouse handle it when you disagree. Successful couples learn and grow together through difficult times.
Here are some steps to take when you disagree with your spouse:
1. Don’t avoid the issue.
Disagreements are best handled when you acknowledge they exist. If you’ve been married more than a minute, you’ve probably run into a disagreement or two. Let’s be honest: Planning a wedding is full of disagreements, so why would we expect marriage to be different? If the best way to navigate disagreements is to create a dialogue, it’s best not to avoid them.
The more you practice managing your disagreements, the better you can stay connected and engaged as you navigate them.
Becoming a good listener is essential if you want to maintain a healthy relationship. Far too often, people listen to respond, but the key is to listen to understand. Listen to your spouse’s viewpoint. Ask questions, don’t interrupt, and seek clarity. Good listening skills will help you recognize those perpetual issues. (READ The Art of Communication for more great info!)
3. Practice empathy.
According to U.C. Berkeley researchers Levenson and Ruef, empathy is the ability to accurately detect the emotional information being transmitted by another person. But empathy isn’t just understanding how they feel; it goes a step further. Empathy is an action. It’s feeling what your spouse feels. Don’t worry too much if you struggle with empathy, because it’s a skill you can learn.
4. Be respectful.
A common theme in our house is that everyone deserves to be treated with honor, dignity, and respect – not because of anything they have done but just because of who they are. This starts with our marriage. When you disagree, attack the problem, not the person.
We’re all individuals with our own opinions. Be careful not to belittle your spouse just because they don’t see eye to eye with you. Remember, we grow through our differences.
5. Seek a resolution.
People often say, “Let’s just agree to disagree.” That can be a great thing in marriage. Suppose your disagreement is due to a perpetual issue. In that case, you won’t find a resolution, but you may be able to compromise. You can agree that it’s okay to disagree and seek a compromise you both can live with.
Brush up on those negotiation skills and meet each other in the middle.
The goal of managing a disagreement isn’t to win. It’s to understand each other and find a mutually beneficial solution. Marriage is a partnership of two imperfect people choosing to build a life together and move toward each other throughout the journey. You’re going to disagree with your spouse, but you can use those disagreements to grow closer together.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Untitled-1-01.png5001200Mitchell Quallshttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngMitchell Qualls2021-11-02 12:20:312021-11-10 14:04:32What to Do When You Disagree With Your Spouse
These skills can take your talk to the next level.
It’s not exactly news that healthy communication is the foundation of a happy and satisfying marriage. But let’s be honest: As you interact with the one you love the most, it’s easy to let healthy communication habits slip.
Marital communication is a skill. And like any other skill, you can learn and constantly improve upon it. Fortunately, it’s not super complex. Using a few good tools can keep communication heading in a healthy direction.
Here are a few communication tools you can try today:
1. Precision Timing
You probably know the frustration of trying to talk when one of you is in the middle of something (like a chore, or the game, or a nap).
Asking, Is this a good time (to ask a question or to tell you about such-and-such), cuts down on a ton of frustration and gives attention to your communication.
And if the time is not right, a better time needs to be scheduled. Let me finish this one thing, and then I’m all ears. Or, Can we wait until halftime, and then I’d love to hear about such-and-such? These are words that show respect and foster good communication.
One caveat: If your spouse urgently needs your attention, do what you can to drop what you’re doing and listen. They obviously have a need that takes priority over what you may be doing.
2. Laser Focus
Whether you’re speaking or listening to your spouse, eliminate distractions.Cut out the static as you tune in to them. Turn off the phone or the game. Send the kids to their rooms. Face your spouse and make eye contact. Listen as if they’re the only thing that matters at that moment. (Because, really, they are!)
3. Crystal Clarity
A stellar rule of thumb: Clarify, ask for clarification, and re-clarify.So what I’m hearing you say is… That must make you feel like… Am I understanding you correctly when I hear you say you need…
Make your thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs as clear as possible. This is what I need right now… I’m feeling very strongly about… I’m thinking this, but I’m not sure I have it all thought out…
Be patient with your spouse as they try to understand; they aren’t you. It might take a fair amount of re-clarifying before you feel understood. That’s ok; the value of communication is in this process.
4. Controlled Tone
We often communicate much more through our vocal tone than actual words. Confusion happens when our words don’t match our tone.
It’s Fine. I’m Fine. Everything is just FINE!
This often indicates that our tone is truer to our feelings than the words coming out of our mouths.
Awareness is key.
Be clear in communicating your needs, and temper your tone to express those needs in a healthy way.
Sometimes, you get a more-desired response from your spouse using a calmer tone of voice rather than “letting it fly” just to be sure they know exactly how you feel. Perhaps emotions tend to get the best of you in a heated conversation. If so, it might be best to drop back and process your emotions first before you approach your spouse.
5. The Magic Question.
You probably know listening is critical. But understanding why your spouse wants you to listen is the golden ticket to excellent communication.
The Magic Question can help you understand exactly what your spouse wants from you. Here it is:
Is this something you’d like me to help you find a solution for, or would you like me to simply listen and understand?
It’s amazing what using a few good communication tools can do for your marriage. And you can easily implement any of these tools today. Give one or two of these a try this week. It’ll make a difference!
Vazhappilly, J. J., & Reyes, M. E. S. (2018). Efficacy of Emotion-Focused Couples Communication Program for Enhancing Couples’ Communication and Marital Satisfaction
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Disagreements provide opportunities to problem-solve together.
Some things in marriage are inevitable, like conflict.
But wait. Isn’t the point of marriage to avoid conflict? To live in marital bliss and peace, happily ever after?
It’s commonly thought the less you fight, the healthier your marriage. As a matter of fact, both researchers and counselors seem to agree some conflict is not only inevitable, it’s normal. And it could even be good for your marriage.
That word: conflict; it’s tricky. Some might be tempted to picture marital conflict as a knock-down, drag-out, throwdown of debate and insults in the effort to “win.”
But if we’re to thrive in our marriage, it’s necessary to reframe how we think about marital conflict.
Conflict is simply disagreement. It’s a temporary inability to see eye-to-eye. Sometimes it involves strong feelings. But in no way is conflict some kind of omen for dysfunction. It’s just gonna happen, even in the healthiest of marriages. It’s, well, inevitable.
Side note here: There’s something to be said about the frequency of conflict in your marriage. If you find yourselves constantly at odds with each other, this could spell trouble. And it’s a possible sign that either: A. You aren’t handling conflict in a healthy way, or B. Other dynamics are eating away at your marriage. If this is the case, it may be a good time to consider seeking help from a professional marriage counselor.
So when it does come around (and it will), every married couple is tasked with handling conflict in healthy ways.
But how do you get there?Keep these ideas in mind:
You and your spouse wear the same jersey. You’re on the same team. Even teammates have different ideas of how to get the ball down the field. But at the end of the day, you both share the same goal: Resolve the issue at hand and keep your marriage strong.
Attack the problem instead of each other. In other words, keep the goal the goal. Nothing gets accomplished when you go after each other’s character. Avoid those four nasty responses to conflict described by researcher John Gottman: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.1 They kill communication and suck the life out of your marriage.
Be aware of how you speak in a conflict. Avoid using harsh start-ups, launching into a tirade with your emotions driving the boat. Don’t start sentences with “You…” Instead, use “I” statements to own your feelings and opinions.
This is going to require some listening on both your parts. Listening is key to working toward a resolution.2 Since you share the goal, you share in the solution. Listen to seek to understand the other person’s view, even if it doesn’t align with your own thinking.
Know when to forgive, and perhaps more importantly, when to ask for forgiveness. It deters the lingering effects of a conflict, even when a solution is found.3 Forgive and leave the offense there.
If you and your spouse experience conflict in your marriage, don’t fret.
It doesn’t mean you’re doomed. It’s just a part of life and a part of the marriage journey. And evidence even suggests that conflict can be positive for your marriage.4
Although conflict is inevitable, it provides an opportunity for making change where it needs to be made. And working through an issue to find a solution creates a stronger sense of connection and intimacy between couples.
Don’t let conflict throw your marriage off track. Maximize it to find solutions and strengthen your marriage.
1Gottman, J., Coan, J., Carrere, S., & Swanson, C. (1998). Predicting Marital Happiness and Stability from Newlywed Interactions. Journal of Marriage and Family, 60(1), 5–22. https://doi.org/10.2307/353438
2Lachica, N., Stockwell, A., & Gamba, J. (2021). What did I just say? An individualized behavior skills training for listening behaviors of adult participants in romantic relationships. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 1–24. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681994.2021.1922664
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Untitled-3-01.png5001200Chris Ownbyhttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngChris Ownby2021-10-20 12:25:142021-10-26 13:43:21Is Conflict in Marriage Inevitable?