Neal and Pat Smith had a pretty consistent routine for 38 of their 50-plus years of marriage. Mr. Smith went to work and Mrs. Smith took care of the household chores and the children. Twelve years ago, Mr. Smith asked his wife what she thought about him retiring. She told him that was his decision and then promptly sought advice from a friend whose husband had been retired for a number of years.

“She gave me some wise advice,” says Mrs. Smith. “She said that since I was an only child and my husband was an only as well that we needed to give each other plenty of space to do our own thing. I think that has made a huge difference. We are together almost every evening, but during the day we can be in the house together, but not see each other for several hours as we pursue our own interests.”

Even though people say they look forward to the retirement years, experts know that the changes that accompany retirement can wreak havoc on a marriage. If one person is used to giving orders at work, he/she might inadvertently start giving out orders at home, or if a spouse sees his/her identity as what they do for a living, when that is no longer the case it can be a very challenging time.

“Neal retired the first of January,” Mrs. Smith says. “I think those first two weeks were really hard. I remember one morning when I was headed to the mall, and I asked him if he wanted to go along. He grumbled and got in the car. When we arrived at the mall, we had to wait on some stores to open. There were all these people walking the mall. Neal was still grumpy. I looked at him and said, ‘You are such a grump – look at all these people that are happy.’ To which he replied, ‘I did not retire to walk these d–n malls.’ I realized that while he thought he was ready to retire, maybe he was having some doubts.”

In spite of a bit of a rocky start, the Smiths will tell you that the last 19 years have been a lot of fun.

“If I had the opportunity to talk with couples before they retire, I would definitely tell them that having a plan, not just a financial plan, but a plan for your marriage is very important,” says Mr. Smith. “If you retire and sit at home with no idea what to do or you think that you have to do everything together, odds are nobody is going to be happy. We have taken trips with friends, we both have our separate interests and the things we enjoy doing as a couple.”

Mr. Smith meets every week with a group of retired men. They call themselves ROMEO (Retired Old Men Eating Out). They meet at 8:30 for breakfast, discuss the problems of the world and in their words, solve none of them. Then they finish around 9:30 and go on about their day.

“It took us a little while to get acclimated to retirement,” Mrs. Smith says. “The first week of retirement was traumatic. Sometimes it was the little things that created a bit of tension. Neal had always pulled his car in right behind mine because he was the first one to leave. I told him he would have to find another place to park his car because three mornings a week I left before him. I also said that the last person out of bed had to make the bed. One of the most fun changes is that Neal does most of the cooking now!”

If you are considering retirement, make sure your plan includes how you will deal with this transition in order to keep your marriage on track. The Smiths made the following suggestions to help couples prepare for this time of transition:

  • Make a plan for how you will live within your means. The Smiths talked ahead of time about how retirement would impact their lifestyle. When the time came, they were ready to make the necessary changes.
  • Talk about how things will be different. Keeping the lines of communication open is critical during this time of uncertainty.
  • Connect with other retired folks. Spending time with people who have already been through the transition can help make your passage to retirement easier.
  • Find some hobbies or expand the ones you already have. Mr. Smith is an avid fisherman and loves woodworking and gardening. No matter what time of year it is, he has a project going – whether it is preparing for the next fishing trip or planning his garden.
  • Have a sense of humor. Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself because crazy things will happen!

“Even though it took us a while to adjust, retirement has been great,” the Smiths say. “It has allowed us time for leisurely visits with our grandchildren without having to worry about rushing back for work. We have made some great friendships and have taken some fun trips. Best of all, we still enjoy each other’s company.”

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

4 Ways You Can Protect Your Marriage From Social Media

Don't let a screen distract you from your most important relationship.

Does media use really impact marital quality? And what can you do to protect your marriage from social media if it does?

These questions have been swirling around for years now. According to attorneys, social media use impacts divorce cases now more than ever before. Counselors also say it’s increasingly common for couples to argue about media use in counseling sessions.

You only have to look around to see how media use impacts marriages.

Next time you eat out, watch as couples sit together at a table. Chances are, both of them will on their device instead of talking to each other.

Jeffery Dew and Sarah Tulane, colleagues at Utah State University, studied more than 1,300 randomly selected married couples. Then, they measured their use of television, video games and social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter. The couples rated their marital quality in terms of happiness in different areas, how often they fought and how likely they thought they were to get divorced.

The findings showed that the more husbands used social media, the worse they both felt about their marriage – and both spouses reported more conflict. Women whose husbands spent more time on social media reported lower levels of marital happiness, and they both perceived higher levels of divorce likelihood.

It is interesting that the husband’s use of social media appeared to impact marital quality more than the wife’s. Dew and Tulane speculated that, since women use communication to build their relationships more than men do, they see it as just another tool to communicate and connect. However, men’s use of social networking sites may violate social norms and expectations about their behavior, which could lead to marital issues.

How can you protect your marriage from social media?

  • Make time for face-to-face conversation. Focusing on your phone, television, Facebook, etc. takes away from focusing on each other. While you can use media to communicate with your spouse, there’s no substitute for face-to-face conversation.
  • Pay attention to how much time you spend playing video games individually. When spouses disagreed about how much time the other was spending gaming, marital quality decreased.
  • Ask each other about how media use affects your relationship. You may need to take a break from media. Invest that time elsewhere.
  • Establish media-free zones. Too much of anything can be a bad thing. Decide together if certain times or places in your home (like the bedroom) are off-limits for media use. Hold each other accountable.

Sitting beside each other doesn’t mean you are spending quality time together, especially if you both are in your own worlds on media. Take steps to ensure that media doesn’t distract you from the most important relationship in your life.

Looking for more resources? Watch this episode of JulieB TV for an in-depth look on this topic!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Popular shows like Married by America or The Bachelor might lead you to believe that marriage, which has been declining for 30 years, is making a comeback. But look closely at these shows: their focus is more on romantic relationships and lavish weddings.

Is marriage only about fulfilling our emotional needs, or is it something more?

According to Dr. David Popenoe, co-director of Rutgers’ National Marriage Project, marriage means much more than that.

“What people seem to have forgotten is one very important element or purpose of marriage,” said Popenoe. “Throughout history, marriage has been viewed as a child-rearing institution. As a society, we, like other modern societies, are drifting ever further from that understanding. While Americans aspire to marriage, they are evermore inclined to see it as an intimate relationship between adults rather than as a necessary social arrangement for rearing children.

“There is a robust body of research that indicates that children raised with their two, married biological parents (mother and father), who are in a low-conflict relationship, on the whole do much better in life than children raised in other family forms. To the degree that we as a society want our children to do well in life, we should be very concerned with what is happening to marriage.”

Popenoe believes that the stakes are high, and that it’s worth a good fight to correct the current situation. He says the weakening of marriage has contributed to a new kind of child poverty: a poverty of connectedness.

Four decades of persistently high levels of marital disruption and non-marriage have taken a toll on children’s primary sources of emotional nurturance and security. Parent-child, especially father-child ties, have become more fragile, inconsistent and distant. Children’s emotional lives have become more turbulent, insecure and anxiety-filled as a result.

In the midst of materially abundant society, signs of emotional want and deprivation are growing – even among the most economically-privileged young. Anxiety, depression, eating disorders and other psychosocial difficulties are on the rise. Overall, a child’s quality of life was no better in 1998 than in 1975. Children have borne more than their fair share of the burdens associated with the weakening of marriage.

American society today requires ever-higher levels of individual competence and educational achievement for a successful adult life. To meet these demands, children need strong character, healthy bodies and able minds. Warm, consistent and firm parental attachments help children defer gratification, set and stick to goals, and resist harmful peer pressures. Close parent-child bonds protect teens from emotional distress. But they also protect them from risky behaviors such as early sexual activity, smoking, drinking and drug use. Young adults’ ability to form strong, lasting marriages enhances their own emotional well-being. It also confers psychological benefits on their children as well.

“One of the best things that the society can do for children is to create the conditions for healthy marriages,” Popenoe said. “This does not mean pushing marriage at any cost on everyone. But it does mean increasing the proportion of parental marriages that are low in conflict and high in mutual respect, cooperation and duration. It also means reducing the economic and social obstacles that stand in the way of successful and long-term commitment to marriage.”

The research is encouraging. For the first time in 40 years, the percentage of two-married parent families has slightly increased. Through conflict resolution, mediation, premarital education and communication skills, couples are learning how to have a healthy, long-lasting marriage. While marriage is a covenant between two adults, research shows it is not just for their benefit; it benefits children and society as a whole.

“We go to great lengths to educate our children in hopes that they will have a bright future,” Popenoe said. “Certainly, having a strong marriage and family is every bit as important as having a good education.”

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Have you “friended” an old flame on Facebook without telling your spouse?

Once you marry, is it OK to have close friends of the opposite sex?

If asked to choose between going out with your friends or staying home with your spouse, which would you prefer?

Do you discuss details about your marriage relationship with your parents?

How you answer these questions can have a dramatic impact on your current or future marriage relationship.

Most people are excited about spending the rest of their life with the one they love. However, the journey gets complicated when one person wants to do something or believes they have a right to do something and their spouse doesn’t share that same viewpoint. While the questions would be great discussion topics before you marry, it’s probably safe to say that most couples don’t talk about these issues until they hit them square in the face.

“Social media, friends of the opposite sex and in-laws are part of life,” says Dr. David Banks, relationship coach. “How you handle them can either enhance your marriage relationship or hurt it, which is why boundaries are important. Most people think of boundaries in marriage as bondage. In reality they are the key to keeping your marriage healthy. Think of a four-way stop or a railroad crossing signal. These are in place to protect you from danger.”

Dr. Banks encourages couples to talk about these issues and to put a plan in place that builds up their marriage.

“A hot topic for couples is the role that in-laws will play in their marriage so they don’t inadvertently become outlaws,” Banks says. “Some in-laws want to hover and be super-involved in the newlyweds’ lives. This is not appropriate. You can be supportive without interfering with the couple as they learn how to make their relationship work. Couples have to learn how to crawl before they can walk.”

Other topics you might want to discuss include:

  • How to decline an invitation from the in-laws. Never throw your mate under the bus by saying, “We’re not coming because my wife/husband doesn’t want to come over to your house.” Create ground rules that will help you build a healthy relationship with your in-laws. Just because Sunday dinner at your parents’ house has been a ritual for years does not mean you have to keep doing that after you marry.
  • The importance of working together as a team. The goal is not what is best for you, but what is best for the team. Is “friending” an old flame really worth the tension it can create in your relationship?
  • How will you be intentional about taking care of your relationship? Avoid talking outside your relationship about things you haven’t talked about together. Discussing marital issues with an opposite-sex co-worker or friend can endanger the health of your marriage.
  • When facing a decision, ask yourself, “Will this be helpful to my marriage?” If the answer is no, don’t do it.

These may be topics you didn’t discuss prior to marriage. However, there is no better time than the present to do something that will help you tighten the knot.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

What are the keys to effective communication? Well, research on what makes marriage work show that happy and healthy couples have a ratio of 5:1 positive to negative behaviors in their relationship.

This means there are five times as many positive interactions between happy couples (i.e. listening, validating the other person, using soft words, expressing appreciation, affirmation, physical affection, compliments, etc.) as there are negative (i.e. raising one’s voice, stating a complaint, or expressing one’s anger).

Tips for improving the effectiveness of communication in your relationship:

Be intentional about spending time together.

On average, couples spend only 20 minutes a week talking with each other. To change this, turn off the technology and make it a point to spend 20-30 minutes a day catching up with each other.

Use more “I” statements and less “You” statements.

This decreases the chances of your spouse feeling like they need to defend themselves. For example, “I wish you would acknowledge more often how much work I do at home to take care of you and the children.”

Be specific.

When issues arise, be specific. Broad generalizations like, “You do it all the time!” are not helpful.

Avoid mind-reading.

It is very frustrating when someone else acts like they know better than you what you were really thinking.

Express negative feelings constructively.

There will be times when you feel bitterness, resentment, disappointment or disapproval. These feelings need to be communicated in order for change to occur. But how you express these thoughts is critical. It’s one thing to say, “I am really disappointed that you are working late again tonight.” But if you say, “You clearly do not care one whit about me or the kids. If you did, you would not work late every night,” will convey something entirely different.

Listen without being defensive.

For a marriage to succeed, both spouses must be able to hear each other’s complaints without getting defensive. This is much harder than learning how to express negative feelings effectively.

Freely express positive feelings.

Most people are quicker to express negative feelings than positive ones. It is vital to the health of your marriage that you affirm your spouse. Positive feelings such as appreciation, affection, respect, admiration, and approval are like making deposits into your love account. You should have five positive deposits for every one negative. If your compliments exceed your complaints, your spouse will pay attention to your grievances. If your complaints exceed your compliments, your criticism will fall on deaf ears.

What's Your Communication Style With Your Spouse?

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Sally, an outdoor enthusiast, is happily married to her husband, Sam, a computer buff.* Instead of nagging Sam about not being outside with her, Sally joined a weekly hiking club to meet her need to experience the great outdoors. Sally made lots of new friends. On hikes, they would talk about kids, spouses, etc. While Sally loves Sam, she shares the love of the outdoors with these men and women.

“This is often how inappropriate relationships begin,” says Dave Carder, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of Torn Asunder: Recovery from Extramarital Affairs. “People move from talking in generalities to more specific things like, ‘Help me understand my spouse,’ to even more private issues. This starts a gradual erosion of boundaries and often leads to an affair.”

How can you know if a friendship is inappropriate?

“If your heart races when you anticipate seeing this person, that is a definite sign that there is more to the story than friendship,” Carder says. “If you have said or thought to yourself, ‘If I weren’t married, I would marry this person,’ that definitely puts the relationship in a different category. This is often when you see people acting like they are drunk in love.”

What if you suspect your spouse is having an affair?

The best thing you can do, according to Carder, is to ask him/her. Be very direct. “Do you have an emotional or sexual relationship with someone outside of our marriage?”

“Very few people I have worked with over the years have gone out looking for an affair,” Carder says. “Most people literally fall into them. It is so exhilarating he/she hates to leave it behind. You start to save conversational topics for this relationship that you don’t share with your spouse – you used to share them, but now you save them for the friendship. You start nourishing the friendship and starving the marriage.

“Marriages often become so encumbered with life (kids, career, household responsibilities) that the couple loses that lovin’ feeling, that way they felt before they married. So the ga-ga feeling and the exhilaration of doing crazy things spontaneously is very appealing in these extramarital flings.

“The good news is there are huge numbers of marriages that don’t just survive affairs, they are significantly better than they were before the affair. The key to a marriage surviving an affair lies in its good marital history. If 20 percent of a couple’s history is simultaneously viewed as positive by both spouses, they have a better than 90 percent chance of making it.”

Common risk factors for affairs include these issues and more:

  • Poor impulse control;

  • A history of infidelity in the family;

  • An abusive or chronically conflicted past; and/or

  • A promiscuous adolescence.

Can a marriage survive infidelity?

Once an affair has occurred, Carder says four universal concepts can save a marriage: forgiveness, rebuilding respect, building trust and building love.

“If you don’t rebuild respect, you will never have an appropriate love relationship,” he says. Even if you don’t stay married, you still need to go through this process in order not to continue to pay the price of the affair in future relationships.”

Carder encourages people to look at this situation like an alcoholic would look at getting sober. The person in the affair might want to cut back or keep it innocent, but they want to keep the relationship. It’s a mood-altering experience. For restoration of the marriage, this is not possible.

“You have to leave the club,” Carder says. “You have to get out of the music group, be very direct and cut off the relationship. There is a big difference is saying, ‘We gotta stop this,’ and ‘Don’t ever call me again.’”

Carder recommends the following action steps to couples dealing with infidelity:

  • Don’t try to go it alone. Find friends with experience. If you’ll be brave and share your situation with some friends, the number of people who have been there will probably amaze you.

  • Nobody can work on two relationships at once. Stop the one, and work through the marriage first.

  • Find a therapist who meets the following three criteria: structure for the recovery, a safe environment and a goal of marriage stabilization – not future determination.

Outcome studies indicate that couples who save their marriage after infidelity report the highest satisfaction levels of their mutual history. With time, both partners can forgive without forgetting, rebuild trust, restore respect and rekindle love.

Every marriage faces challenges. Whether it’s infidelity or a continual conflict that creates friction and tension, there are plenty of obstacles to overcome. Learn how to move forward in your relationship by registering for Maximize Your Marriage on our home page. It’s an experience to help married couples gain helpful skills to better communicate, handle conflict and create expectations for the future of their marriage.

*Not their real names

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Want to take date night up a notch?

DISCOVER A DEEPER LEVEL OF INTIMACY IN THE MIDST OF UNCERTAINTY WITH HOT LOVE.

This premium on demand virtual date night guides you and your spouse to learn the secrets to growing deep intimacy. You’ll work together to learn…

  • Tools to reframe your mindset
  • Ways to discover and remove roadblocks to intimacy
  • Strategies for turning up the temperature

Marriage expert and creator of divorcebusting.com, Michele Weiner-Davis, and her husband, Jim, have been married for more than 30 years. Since Weiner-Davis is an expert, you might assume that marriage would be easy.

“Expert or not, marriage is hard work,” says Weiner-Davis. “At times you consider quitting. Creating a lasting marriage is a humbling experience. It is part skill, part luck, elbow grease and blind determination.”

Having devoted her life work to helping couples, Weiner-Davis knows that all marriages go through stages and predictable crises.

“All couples experience hills and valleys, yet predictable transitional periods are often misunderstood, causing overreactions,” Weiner-Davis says. “Those who weather these universal stormy periods usually end up with greater love and commitment to their spouses.”

Though all marriages are unique, most marriages experience five predictable stages.

Passion typically fills the first stage of marriage. Starry-eyed in love with your mate, you finish each other’s sentences and usually overlook annoying things. At no other time in your relationship is your feeling of well-being and physical desire for each other as intense. The newness and excitement of the relationship stimulates production of chemicals in your bodies that increase energy, positive attitudes, heighten sexuality and sensuality.

Joy ultimately gives way to an awakening; marriage isn’t what you expected.

Enter stage two. This is when reality sets in. Little things start to bother you like stinky breath in the morning, toilet seats left up, stuff strewn on the counter and forgetting to pay bills. You argue a lot. Reminding yourself you made a life-long commitment, you start to understand the real meaning of eternity.

“While feeling at odds with your once-kindred spirit, you are faced with making life-altering decisions,” Weiner-Davis shares. “Should we have children, where to live, who will support the family, who pays the bills and who will do the cooking? Spouses often start to feel like members of opposing teams.”

Then comes stage three. At this point, most people believe there are two ways of looking at things, your spouse’s way and your way. Couples battle to get their partner to admit they are wrong. Every disagreement is an opportunity to define the marriage. Both partners dig in their heels.

“Convinced they’ve tried everything, many couples give up, telling themselves they’ve fallen out of love or married the wrong person. Other people resign themselves to the situation and lead separate lives together. Still others decide it’s time to investigate healthier and more satisfying ways of interacting. Requiring a major leap of faith, those who take it are the fortunate ones because the best of marriage is yet to come.”

During stage four, couples realize seeing eye-to-eye on everything is unlikely. They work to live more peaceably. They seek wise counsel from close friends and family, and marriage seminars or counseling. Hardheadedness is easier to forgive as each person recognizes that neither party is exactly easy to live with. When disagreements occur, couples try to put themselves in each other’s shoes more often. They recognize they have to accept the good and the bad. Fights happen less frequently and are not as intense or emotional as before.

Finally, stage five.

“Many couples never get to this stage,” Weiner-Davis states. “No longer struggling to define what the marriage should be, there is more peace and harmony. You start ‘liking’ your spouse again. While both agree marriage hasn’t been easy, there is shared history and you feel proud you’ve weathered the storms. You appreciate your partner’s sense of commitment to making your marriage last. You begin to appreciate differences between you and your spouse. What you don’t appreciate, you find greater acceptance for. You realize you have come full circle.”

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 8, 2015.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

David H. Olson, founder of Life Innovations and one of the creators of the Prepare/Enrich marriage enrichment tools, has surveyed 21,501 married couples in all 50 states to identify the top ten strengths of happy marriages.

Research shows the strongest couples are those who have strong communication skills, a clear sense of closeness as a couple, flexibility, personal compatibility and good conflict management skills.

In strong marriages, there is a balance between separateness and togetherness. These couples make togetherness a top priority, ask each other for help, like doing things together, and spend most of their free time together.

  1. Partners are satisfied with communication.
  2. Partners handle their differences creatively.
  3. They feel very close to each other.
  4. Spouses are not controlling.
  5. Partners discuss their problems well.
  6. They are satisfied with the affection they show and receive in the marriage.
  7. There is a good balance of time alone and together.
  8. Family and friends rarely interfere.
  9. Partners agree on how to spend money.
  10. Partners agree on spiritual beliefs.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

YOU CAN BE HAPPILY MARRIED.

And no, that’s not just a fairytale. Sometimes we settle, we coexist, we go along to get along, or we just try to keep the damage to a minimum. There are no perfect marriages. There are also no unicorns. So what? You can always Maximize Your Marriage. You know what’s NOT a mythical creature? Your marriage being BETTER than you could ever imagine.

To help you write the next chapter of your marriage story, each module features…

  • A simple, easy-to-understand video lead by marriage experts,
  • A download to help you personalize the key concepts for your marriage, and
  • Action items to transform your marriage as you go through the course.

You’ll have access to two marriage experts every step of the way to answer any questions or just give you a little encouragement. (THIS is what makes Maximize Your Marriage customized & personalized!)