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Articles for Married Couples

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    How Boundaries Can Protect Your Marriage

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

    Once you marry, is it okay 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.


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    What's The Point of Marriage?

    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.”

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    Top 10 Strengths of Happy Marriages

    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.
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    Can a Marriage Survive an Affair?

    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 fling 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 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 is 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 will 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

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    Seasons of a Marriage

    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.”

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    Are Opposite-Sex Friends Okay?

    As people marry later in life, many are bringing long-term opposite-sex friendships into their marriage relationship. While the friendships were great during singlehood, in marriage, these relationships may prove problematic.

    “I think it is okay for married people to have opposite-sex friends,” says Lisa Stewart. “However, I believe out of respect for your spouse that even if you were close friends before the marriage, there ought to be strong boundaries around that relationship.

    “For example, I would not be comfortable with my husband meeting a woman for coffee on a regular basis to talk about what is going on in his life. That is a conversation he ought to be having with me.”

    “It is possible for married people to have healthy opposite-sex friendships,” says Dr. Todd E. Linaman, founder of Relational Advantage. “However, give special consideration to a number of factors that, if ignored, can potentially threaten your marriage.”

    Wondering whether or not a close friendship with someone of the opposite-sex poses a threat to your marriage? If so, Linaman offers 20 questions for you to answer. Here are a few of them:

    • Is your mate unaware of your opposite-sex friendship?
    • Would you behave differently around your friend if your partner were present?
    • Would you feel uncomfortable if your fiancé or spouse had the same quality of friendship with someone of the opposite sex?
    • Do you have a physical and/or emotional attraction to your friend?
    • Do you ever compare your mate to your friend?
    • Have you ever entertained romantic fantasies about your friend?
    • Do you and your friend ever exchange highly personal details about your lives or complain about your relationships to each other?

    “If you answered 'yes' to one or more of the questions above, your opposite-sex friendship may be a real threat to the quality of your marriage,” Linaman says. “It may even be in the best interest of your marriage to either significantly limit or actually end your close friendship.”

    An informal survey shows that both married men and women were uncomfortable with their spouse having close friendships with the opposite sex. Not all opposite-sex friendships are dangerous, but it is important to err on the side of caution. It is helpful to discuss the nature of your friendship on a regular basis with your spouse. If not kept in check, a totally innocent relationship could end up causing unnecessary harm to your marriage.

    “I think it is okay to have friendships with the opposite sex. But I don’t share with other women what I haven’t shared with my wife,” says Will Honeycutt. “I think sometimes it is healthy to get input from another female. But on a regular basis I should not be sharing intimate issues with a woman who is not my wife.”

    Here are Linaman's tips to help you manage opposite-sex friendships so they don't threaten your marriage relationship:

    • Develop and consistently nurture a “best friend” relationship with your mate.
    • Develop and consistently nurture close same-sex friendships.
    • Make sure your spouse knows your friend. Also, be certain your mate is completely comfortable with the type and level of interaction you have with him/her.
    • Honor your spouse’s wishes concerning your friendship – even if it means ending it.
    • Avoid establishing close friendships with opposite-sex singles.
    • Avoid close opposite-sex friendships if you are struggling in your marriage relationship.
    • Address unmet needs and unresolved anger in your marriage with your spouse in an open, honest and timely fashion.

    While opposite-sex friendships do have the potential to create problems in a marriage, these friendships can enhance your relationship with your spouse if appropriate boundaries are in place. 

    Check out this video from JulieB TV for more on opposite-sex friendships!

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