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.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Untitled-5-01-1.png5001200Chris Ownbyhttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngChris Ownby2021-11-05 15:42:412021-11-09 09:52:025 Keys to Being Thankful in Marriage
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
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Untitled-1-01.png5001200John Daumhttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngJohn Daum2021-10-28 09:20:102022-09-23 11:57:34Are You Married To A Narcissist?
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
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Untitled-5-01.png5001200Chris Ownbyhttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngChris Ownby2021-10-26 14:43:402022-11-29 12:46:395 Tools for Healthy Communication in Marriage
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?
Fostering good relationships with your in-laws is a win for your marriage.
Marriage is usually a package deal… I mean, yes, your greatest priority is your commitment and love for your spouse. But sometimes a spouse comes with extras… like their family. At times, those relationships bring added joy and challenges, especially when it comes to your spouse’s siblings.
So how do you foster a good relationship and get along with your spouse’s siblings?
Of course, a lot depends on the context. How well does your spouse get along with their siblings? What’s their stage of life and personality? How does your spouse’s family function overall? These factors often affect what getting along with your spouse’s siblings looks like.
But if you keep the following tips in mind, you’re more likely to have good sibling-in-law relationships.
1. Have Realistic Expectations
You probably know how you want the relationship with your spouse’s siblings to go. Maybe you’re ready to adopt them as “brothers and sisters of your own.” And who knows? They may feel the same about you.
But your spouse’s siblings might feel differently, and those who are less eager to get close always set the relationship’s pace. If that’s the case, try to avoid taking offense. Remember, if you’re new to the family, there’s history that you’re not a part of. Rather than looking for that automatic connection, simply be gracious and open to their acceptance.
2. Look for Opportunities to Support
Whatever their level of connection is, adding value to your sibling-in-laws’ lives opens the door wider. Find ways to use your time, energy, strengths, and skills to support what’s important to them.
Support their business. Help with homework. Offer to help with yard work, pick the nieces up from school, or connect them with a colleague for a possible internship. Offer support without expecting thanks. Even if they turn down your help, continue to look for those small opportunities.
3. Invite Them to Be a Part of Your World With Your Spouse
Invite them over or out for dinner. Ask them to watch the game with you. If the context seems right, create traditions in your home that include their siblings, like the annual college rivalry game or the summer camping trip. Including them in your world builds connection and a sense of bonding.
4. Avoid Turning Down Invitations to Be in Their World
If they invite you to shoot some hoops, grab a cup of coffee, or go shopping, take the opportunity if you can. If you can’t, ask for a rain check and set a date. Your willingness to accept invitations speaks volumes about your desire to foster that relationship.
5. Keep Your Marriage First
Here’s the thing: You want to foster a positive bond with your spouse’s siblings. But in their eyes, trust is based on the fact that you married their brother or sister. They’re looking at your commitment to their sibling. And when they see you keeping your spouse (their sibling) first and foremost and holding your marital commitment as a high priority, that goes a long way. Do all you can to strengthen your marriage and devotion to your spouse.
Getting along with your spouse’s siblings involves an understanding that every family is different. Chances are, your family is different from your spouse’s family. It’d be easy to spot the differences and count them as deficiencies. However, to do so would be a barrier to creating a connection with your siblings-in-law.
Seek to understand them. Appreciate and understand your in-laws’ unique history. Let them get to know you. Respect the pace at which they allow you to know them. Relationships with your spouse’s siblings may take time; these tips and a little patience can hopefully add joy to the package deal of marriage.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Untitled-2-01.png5001200Chris Ownbyhttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngChris Ownby2021-10-04 14:03:092021-10-05 12:33:105 Tips for Getting Along With Your Spouse’s Siblings
Try these steps to prevent miscommunication in your relationships!
Have you ever gotten frustrated with your spouse because they didn’t listen to you? Misunderstood someone? Been misunderstood? I have. We’ve all miscommunicated and misunderstood. As the poet said, “To err is human.”
At the heart of most relationship issues lies miscommunication. Whether it is parent to child, husband to wife, spouse to an in-law, or friend to friend, missteps in communication have the potential to devastate a relationship. Big time.
Communication is an art. But, how do we improve it? How do we lessen the misunderstandings in our relationships?
In his book, Happily Ever After, Gary Chapman suggests that we can master the art of communication with these three tools:
The Art of Listening
If you haven’t already figured it out, you can’t read minds. And no one can read yours. That’s really a good thing. (Flashback to Mel Gibson becoming overwhelmed when he can hear the thoughts of every woman around him in What Women Want.)
We can observe behavior, though. That starts with listening.
Dr. Chapman breaks down listening into five steps:
1. Ask questions.
Asking questions that show you’re sincerely interested in someone’s answers is far more effective than simply assuming you know why they do what they do.
2. Don’t interrupt.
We’re all tempted to jump in and finish someone else’s thoughts, but doing that is harmful to the conversation. Chapman writes, “The purpose of listening is to understand, not make a point.”
3. Clarify meaning.
We often listen from our perspective. Take the time to ask additional questions and understand exactly what they’re saying. Repeat it back to them if necessary. You can always say, “Let me make sure I understand what you’re saying.” Then tell them what you heard.
4. Express appreciation.
Thank them for sharing. You don’t have to affirm what they said if you disagree. “You are affirming their humanity, the right to think and feel differently from other people,” Chapman explains.
Now, this is important: You must complete these four steps to earn the right to move on to number five.
5. Share your perspective.
“Because you listened, you are far more likely to be listened to,” Chapman stresses. You haven’t interrupted, you’ve clarified what they said, and you affirmed that they have value. Now you may share your viewpoint.
The Art of Speaking for Yourself
A crucial practice when communicating is to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements.
“When we begin a sentence with you, we are speaking as though we have ultimate knowledge of a person. In reality, we have only a perception,” Chapman shares.
“You” statements can come across as accusatory and may lead to arguments. They are based on assumptions. Assuming is dangerous when it comes to relationships.
Beginning a thought with “I” shows you are revealing your feelings and your thoughts. You’re indicating a problem without condemning the other person.
Instead of saying something like “You never listen to me,” try saying, “I don’t always feel heard.”
The Art of Negotiating
If you’ve been in any type of relationship, you know compromise is king. We all think differently and have different experiences.
When you learn how to effectively negotiate, you can build bridges with others.
“Making a proposal is the first step in the process of negotiating. The second step is listening carefully to counterproposals,” Chapman notes. “Remember, negotiating has to do with two people trying to understand each other and reach an agreement that both of them will feel good about.”
“A proposal opens the opportunity for dialogue,” he continues. “The process of listening, understanding, and seeking to find an agreement is the process of negotiation.” When negotiating, it’s essential to get into the habit of making requests, not demands.
Your relationships are worth the effort to master the art of communication. We’ll all make mistakes and miscommunicate from time to time, for sure. But you have value, and the people you are in a relationship with also have value. Take the time to communicate effectively and show lots of grace. Remember, to err is human.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Untitled-1-01-2.png5001200Mitchell Quallshttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngMitchell Qualls2021-09-30 11:39:072021-09-30 12:12:40The Art of Communication
I have been a resentful spouse. My spouse has also resented me. Coming up on 28 years of marriage, my wife and I have five children, and we’ve seen it all. From socks that never made it to the hamper, to financially disastrous decisions, to weaponized sex, to disagreements about parenting, to not getting simple tasks done around the house, to navigating personality quirks. And did I mention infidelity? Yup, infidelity.
There are tons more examples, big and little. It’s not a contest. Whatever brought you to this blog is the biggest thing in your world. Nobody is dealing with resentment exactly the same way you are. But no matter why or how you arrived at this blog, resentment is a tumor in your marriage, and without proper treatment, it will keep growing.
Tumor?! Why would I refer to resentment with your spouse as a tumor? Resentment is a negative emotion that builds up over time. If you don’t deal with it, it will poison more and more of your relationship. It will come to dominate your marriage, making romance, compassion, and intimacy all but impossible. And the sooner you catch it, the easier it will be to treat.
Resentment cannot be taken lightly, but it does have a relatively straightforward solution. Each spouse will have to communicate – probably in a series of conversations. Each will have to express themselves appropriately and honestly. And each will have to listen to the other in good faith. The goal is to compromise and implement a plan. The plan will no doubt be revisited and modified. Resentment should yield resilience.
Compromise and a Plan
The beauty of compromise and a plan is that they’re tangible and measurable. Ideally, as you see your spouse working toward compromise and following the plan, you can be confident. Perhaps confident enough to let go of some resentment and rekindle that spark you once felt. And when your spouse feels that spark, it’ll feed their efforts. Watch that positive cycle go!
So how can you put together a plan and work toward compromise? Here’s a 6-step process you can use as a guide. This isn’t an end-all-be-all on how to stop resentment. But instead, use these steps to help guide you and your spouse toward a compromise and a plan you both agree on that works for your relationship.
A Plan for Working Through Resentment With Your Spouse
1. Catch it early.
It’s much easier to manage and process through resentment before it builds.
2. Communication is everything.
This assumes you feel safe communicating in your marriage. You might need an older, wiser mentor couple. You might need a therapist or counselor. And you might need to establish some rules:
Each person gets to speak uninterrupted for 10 minutes.
Try to separate the person from the behavior.
Use “I” statements: I feel, I need, I’m hurting.
Don’t escalate with volume, tone, sarcasm, or words meant to just inflict hurt.
Focus on being a good listener. Remember your body language.
3. The source of the resentment in your marriage needs to be front and center.
“When you do _____ it makes me feel _____.”
“I’m having a hard time moving past _____.”
“I don’t think you understand how much _____ hurt me.”
“We’ve talked about changing _____, but it hasn’t changed.”
4. Compromise is the goal. Both spouses need to win so the marriage wins.
5. Develop a plan for handling the situation(s) in the future. Write it down.
Think through different scenarios and have a plan for them.
The plan is the accountability and enforcement, not the spouse.
You can always revisit the plan and modify it where necessary.
6. Last but not least, start again with a clean slate. In good faith, you move forward.
The clean slate is going to be the hardest part. You’re hurt and you’re defensive. You’re in survival mode. Trust may have been broken. But if you really want to deal with resentment in your marriage, you have to move forward in good faith, with patience, believing the best, and extending grace. And hopefully, you will watch the downward spiral of resentment slowly stop as the positive emotions pick up some momentum.
For my wife and I, we’ve gone so far as to say, “THAT marriage is over. We start a new marriage TODAY.”
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Untitled-2-01.png5001200John Daumhttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngJohn Daum2021-09-23 14:24:452021-11-10 14:05:37Working Through Resentment With Your Spouse