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If your marriage was in trouble, who would you turn to help you out? Would it be a spiritual leader, female friend or a co-worker? Or maybe a male friend or a family member?

“Results from our online survey indicate that people are most likely to confide in a female friend, followed by a family member, male friend and co-worker,” says Dr. Bill Doherty, professor at the University of Minnesota and developer of the Marital First Responders training. “This is important information because we know from experience that friends and family can be helpful. But, they can also throw gasoline on the fire by taking sides, giving pointed advice or criticizing the other spouse.”

After years of working in the field of marriage and family and seeing this happen, Doherty and his daughter, Elizabeth Doherty Thomas, took action. They came up with the concept of Marital First Responders.

“How many times have friends or family members confided in you that their marriage was in trouble, and you honestly had no idea what to say?” asks Doherty. “I think it is very important for people to be able to find support from those who love them and truly have their best interests at heart.

“A couple of years ago, I found a journal article about Mental Health First Aid Training in Australia. It was started by a couple who was dealing with mental health issues. Within 10 years, 1 percent of the entire adult population in Australia had gone through this training. It has now gone worldwide. I thought, ‘If they can do this for mental health, surely we can do it for marriage.’

“One woman shared that, after she learned of her husband’s affair, she kicked him out and went straight to a divorce lawyer,” Doherty says. “In the midst of the chaos, she confided in a longtime friend about what had happened. The friend shared that 25 years ago she’d had an affair. But instead of divorcing, she and her husband talked about it, got help and worked things out. The woman admired her friend and thought, ‘If they can figure out a way to make it work, I should at least try to make our marriage work.’ Both couples are together today as a result of the helpful words from a trusted friend.”

While marriage may not remedy all social ills, the research is solid that a healthy marriage benefits society at large. Whether you are married or not, you can help your married friends by being a good friend to their marriage.

Also, celebrate and take care of your own marriage and the marriages around you.

***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.***

When the kids leave the nest and are almost off the payroll, that second half of marriage is within sight. You finally have time to breathe. But suddenly you have questions…

  • What in the heck will we do with the second half of our marriage?
  • How will we handle the challenges of aging parents, crises with the children or unexpected medical issues?
  • What about retirement, finances and the like?

While some couples look forward to the years ahead, others feel trapped. They’re unhappy in a marriage that is less than fulfilling, and they wonder if this is all there is. For them, the idea of the second half is quite scary.

So… what does a thriving marriage look like in the later years? 

Gary Chapman and Harold Myra interviewed “second half” couples for their book, Married and Still Loving It: The Joys and Challenges of the Second Half. They found few couples who had escaped the unexpected challenges of life. However, some traits appeared to be significant between marriages that flourish in the second half and those that don’t. Laughter and acceptance, resilience and faith seemed to make the difference.

Whether the second half is just around the corner or you find yourself dreaming about it, you can prepare for it now. Chapman and Myra quote Swiss psychiatrist Paul Tournier’s book, The Adventure of Living:

“To make a success of one’s marriage, one must treat it as an adventure, with all the riches and difficulties that are involved in an adventure shared with another person.”

Even if your marriage is stuck in a rut, you can intentionally turn it into an adventure.

After years of marriage, it’s easy to focus on the differences between you and your spouse. But these differences aren’t necessarily a bad thing. The key is to figure out how to make your differences an asset instead of a liability.

Chapman writes, “While differences can be deadly, they can also be delightful.” Thriving couples learned to accept their spouse and were even able to laugh about their differences. This goes a long way in finding fulfillment in your marriage.

What about the kids?

While many couples have terrific relationships with their adult children, others encounter one crisis after another. Chapman and Myra encourage these parents to maintain a balance between self-preservation and self-sacrifice. Many marriages suffer when they become so focused on helping the children that they lose themselves. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help to overcome these challenges together.

Despite encountering unexpected job loss, illness, family crises and difficulty adjusting to retirement, thriving second half couples kept putting one foot in front of the other. Their commitment to marriage enabled them to stand together through life’s ups and downs.

And finally, these thriving couples said their faith was central to it all. That includes working through personality differences and all of the other challenges they have faced.

Although you might be anxious about what the future holds in the second half of marriage, Chapman and Myra encourage couples to embrace the challenge and to enter this season with great anticipation.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 6, 2016.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV 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.***

Do you ever feel like you and your spouse are roommates instead of lovers? Does it feel like your marriage is in a constant state of chaos? Have you caught yourself wishing for the life you don’t have?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you aren’t alone. Truth be told, there are many chaotic marriages out there where both spouses are feeling disconnected and lonely.

When people feel disconnected in their marriage, anxiety, distrust, uncertainty and suspicion often creep in. Couples stop believing they are on the same team and start looking out for themselves. This leads to feeling the need to have the last word, always be right and a “my way or the highway” attitude which certainly doesn’t create an environment where a relationship can thrive and grow.

The first step toward changing the direction of your relationship is to identify what is creating the chaos or disconnectedness. Usual and customary suspects include: children, career, community commitments, busyness and phubbing (otherwise known as snubbing your mate in favor of your smart phone).

Clearly, you can’t ship the children off, jobs matter and it’s unrealistic to think that technology won’t be part of your relationship. However, if you are resolved that something needs to change, it might help you to know what research reveals about how happily married couples keep their marriages out of the ditch.

In her book, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, Harvard-educated researcher Shaunti Feldhahn uncovered 12 things highly-happy couples do. Here are a few of them that you can apply to your own relationship:

  • Remember the little things. There are a few small actions that matter a lot to men and women. In fact, surveys indicate that consistently doing these five things will likely make your spouse feel deeply cared for.
    • For women: Notice his effort and sincerely thank him for it. Tell him when he does a great job. Mention in front of others something he did well. Show him you desire him sexually. Make it clear that he makes you happy.
    • For guys: Hold her hand. Leave her messages during the day. Put your arm around her. Sincerely tell her she is beautiful. Pull yourself out of a funk.
  • Believe that your spouse is well-intentioned and truly cares about you. It is unlikely they began their day plotting how to make your day miserable.
  • Sometimes going to bed mad is a good thing. When conflict and anger are hard to resolve, sometimes sleeping on it overnight can lead to a quicker resolution.
  • Boss your feelings around. Highly-happy couples lead their feelings instead of letting their feelings guide their actions.
  • Cultivate generosity. According to the research, generosity toward one another is one of the greatest contributing factors to a happy marriage.
  • Hang out together. In the beginning you were friends. Couples who cultivate their friendship over time seem to have happier marriages than couples who do not.
  • Get in over your head. Highly-happy couples were willing to put it all on the line for the sake of their marriage. The research showed they have dramatically increased security and happiness.

If you are tired of the chaos and feelings of disconnectedness in your marriage, try incorporating some of these habits into your marriage. Although creating an environment for your marriage to grow and thrive may not happen overnight, these habits could be just what your relationship needs.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on October 30, 2016.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV 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.***

Can a simple date night really make that much difference in a marriage? That’s a great question!

You probably know about the benefits of family meals and the preventative factors associated with pulling off this feat. For example, your children are less likely to try drugs and alcohol, and they’re more likely to do well in school. Believe it or not, the same thing applies to your marriage.

The Power of Connecting with Each Other

Eating meals together as a family and going on dates with your spouse are so impactful because of connectedness. Connecting in meaningful relationships such as marriage and family tends to make you feel more secure, supported, understood and valued. This usually leads to more positive interactions with loved ones.

Some find it hard to believe that simply going on regular date nights can actually enhance your marriage. Yet studies show that couples who engage in novel activities that are fun, active or otherwise arousing – from hiking and dancing to travel and card games – enjoy higher levels of relationship quality. Spending time together also counteracts your tendency to take each other for granted.

Regular date nights may potentially reduce unnecessary marital conflict, too. It’s because you’re actually making time to communicate with each other. Why is this a big deal? Because research indicates the average amount of time couples spend talking with each other per week is a whopping 17 minutes!

And, there are even more benefits. Date nights can:

  • Intensify or rekindle that romantic spark,
  • Help sustain the fires of lasting love, AND
  • Strengthen your sense of commitment to one another.

Couples who put one another first, steer clear of other romantic opportunities and cultivate a strong sense of ‘we-ness’ or togetherness are markedly happier than are less-committed couples.

According to the National Marriage Project, couples who spend time together at least once a week are:

  • About three times more likely to say they are “very happy” in their marriage than other couples.
  • More likely to report high satisfaction with their sexual relationship compared to those who spend less couple time together.

Convinced yet?

If you haven’t been on a date in a while, it just might be a really good idea for your marriage. We’ve got plenty of great ideas for some creative dates that don’t have to break the bank.

 

***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.***

Greg Smalley first met his bride-to-be during a rather embarrassing moment. Greg had fallen asleep in class. Erin, who sat behind him, decided to have a little fun. She shook his arm and said, “Stand up.” Greg looked at her with a dazed look. Again she said, “Stand up, the professor asked you to pray. Stand up!”

Greg stood up and proceeded to pray. Then he realized that everybody in the class seemed to be laughing at him. When he finally sat down, the professor said, “Greg, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but could you wait to close us in prayer until I have finished lecturing?” When Greg looked at Erin, her face was red from laughing so hard.

“At that moment I thought to myself, this girl has real potential,” says Dr. Smalley, co-author of The Wholehearted Marriage. “I figured marriage with her would be quite the adventure.”

Erin and Greg have been married since 1992, and the practical jokes continue to this day.

“My motto for our marriage is, ‘expect the unexpected,’ because I never know when Erin is up to something,” Smalley says. “We have had a lot of laughs, but we have also learned some very valuable lessons throughout our marriage. I would have to say that one of the most important things we have learned is that the state of our hearts is foundational for a healthy marriage.”

Smalley contends there are a lot of people who live life with a closed heart and the impact of that on a marriage can be devastating.

When people feel emotionally unsafe in a relationship, they will close their heart and disconnect. People usually describe them as self-centered, insensitive and mean.

“I believe couples should strive to make their marriage the safest place on earth,” Smalley states. “When people feel safe, they naturally open their heart and intimacy occurs almost effortlessly. When a spouse feels emotionally safe, he knows he can open up and reveal his true thoughts and feelings and his wife will still love, understand, accept and value him.”

One of the ways to create safety in your marriage is to recognize your mate’s value.

“I often ask couples what they value about each other and encourage them to write it down,” Smalley shares. “When you are really angry, you can pull out that list and remind yourself of why you value your mate.”

Another key to creating safety is to understand there will be times when your spouse irritates you somehow. How you respond can either create or destroy safety in your marriage.

“When couples refuse to discuss sensitive issues until they both have had time to calm down and think about their own contribution and expectations in the particular situation, the outcome is usually much better,” Smalley says. “Most people think along the lines of win/lose. If one person loses, the whole team loses. In safe marriages, the goal is to find a solution where both people feel good about the outcome.”

 

***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.***

Vice President Pence has been the subject of many conversations lately regarding his rule about not dining alone with a woman other than his wife. People have varying opinions on the matter. Some think it is a good rule; others say it is archaic.

Regardless of your opinion, plenty of research indicates that it’s worthy of our attention. Noted relationship experts – including psychologist and author, Dr. Shirley Glass, psychiatrist and author Dr. Scott Haltzman, and Dr. Thomas Bradbury, psychologist and principal investigator of the UCLA Marriage and Family Development Study – raise a red flag of warning regarding marriage and opposite-sex friendships.

In her book, NOT “Just Friends”, Glass says that most people don’t plan to have an affair. And, it’s faulty thinking to believe that attraction to someone else means that something is wrong at home. It IS possible to think someone else is attractive, even if you have a good marriage.

The single most important protector against an affair is appropriate boundaries. In a culture where men and women work so closely, it’s important to make sure you are not creating opportunities for an affair to occur. This is especially true when you might be vulnerable – like right after a fight with your spouse.

Many relationship experts understand that one of the most common pathways to an affair is when a man and woman who are “just friends” innocently begin to discuss their marriage problems. In other words, they are doing their marriage work with someone who might not be a friend to their marriage.

Can opposite-sex friendships exist in marriage? It depends. Many enter marriage with opposite-sex friendships where they describe the person as “like a sister/brother,” yet their spouse seems uncomfortable with the relationship. What do you do with that? This is a question each couple must answer.

If you haven’t talked as a couple about how you can protect your marriage, these guidelines can help inform your discussion:

  • Establish clear boundaries. It creates great guardrails and shows respect for your marriage. Discuss expectations and boundaries in your marriage. You probably believe you would never be weak enough to fall prey to a relationship outside of your marriage. The reality is, few who found themselves there say they were looking for it. A marriage where people believe they are not susceptible is perhaps the most vulnerable.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. Talk with your spouse about how you can avoid creating walls of secrecy between you. How will you make sure you do your marriage work with your spouse? How can you avoid creating unhealthy attachment or dependency on someone else?
  • Be aware, and value your mate’s opinion. For example, a couple attended a party where the wife observed another woman flirting with her husband. When they left, the wife told her husband the woman was being flirtatious. With big eyes, he emphatically denied it. But after encountering the woman again, he agreed that she was indeed flirting. He thanked his wife for bringing it to his attention.
  • Recognize the danger zones. Sometimes people can be oblivious to tempting situations. Being on guard in social and business settings where alcohol is present (and spouses are not) may prevent unnecessary drama in your marriage. It’s common knowledge that drinking can impair judgment.
  • Intentionally protect and nurture your marriage. Have an open conversation about how behavior impacts your marital health. For example, images of Prince William drinking and dancing with another woman went viral. We don’t know what was really happening, but it left room for questions. Avoiding behaviors that could create suspicion can’t hurt your marriage.

So, we all know what Mike Pence has chosen to do in an attempt to safeguard his marriage. Perhaps the best thing we can do is focus on what is best for our own marriage. And let’s cheer others on to do the same.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on April 9, 2017.

***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?

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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