By Gina Barreca/Hartford Courant, October 20, 2014
Here’s what I’ve learned in 23 years of marriage: Love isn’t blind, but it can be hard of hearing.
At the beginning of a relationship, you hang onto each other’s every word the way you hang onto each other’s arms: more to display affection than to satisfy a real need. You laugh at every story and gasp in delight at every exaggerated tale.
Every conversation begins a new pathway.
Your heart beats faster when you hear your name or an endearment murmured by your beloved. You spend hours wondering whether you should repeat how much you care or if that would be overdoing it. Your sweetheart probably heard it the first time, but it might be worth repeating.
Then familiarity sets in and, like the foundation to a house, you settle into each other for better and worse.
You’ve learned every pause for comic effect and quirky inflection of the well-worn funny story. You know when an exaggeration is close to a fib and when a fib is close to a lie. Your heart beats faster when you hear your name or an endearment because it often precedes a request or a rebuke. If there’s no answer when you shout, you wonder whether you should shout again or if that would be overdoing it.
You realize how important it is to be heard and how even more important it is to listen. Listening can’t be overdone.
So you each listen, and you both learn your cues.
In a good relationship, the dialogue always changes slightly, even when you’re more or less rehearsing other conversations. If you’re lucky, you’re rarely playing to an empty house.
And at the best of times, in the most fortunate of lives, in the most hard-won, fiercely protected and carefully cultivated relationships, there can come a time when you go beyond listening with your ears and know it in your bones.
It’s not only about finishing each other’s sentences, although that’s part of it. It’s knowing that the ground on which the foundation is built is unyielding; it’s understanding that there are pathways to each other that rest beneath both of you like power lines, buried under the earth, unseen and silent.
There’s an old joke about an aging couple. He wants to prove that his poor wife is losing her hearing. He decides to collect hard data to take to their family doctor. While she’s cooking, he starts the test. Approaching her from the doorway without being seen, he asks, “What are we having for dinner tonight, honey?” No response. He moves 10 feet closer and speaks louder. “What are we having for dinner tonight, honey?” Still nothing. She doesn’t even turn around. He feels bad, but she needs to admit she has a problem. Finally, now standing no more than two feet behind her, he makes his final attempt. “WHAT ARE WE HAVING FOR DINNER TONIGHT, HONEY?” he yells. “FOR THE THIRD TIME ALREADY,” she yells back, “WE’RE HAVING CHICKEN.”
My husband has tinnitus, which used to be known as having “ringing in your ears” but is now defined as the perception of sound when no external sound is present. If you live with me, according to Michael, there is no such thing as having “no external sound present,” but we’re managing.
Sure, there are some odd conversations: On a recent holiday, he stopped to ask for driving directions. A local woman told him to take the “roundabout.” Only Michael heard what she said as “banana boat.” She was pointing in the direction of a yellow building and he assumed that’s what she meant. “Is that the banana boat?” he asked. She kept pointing to the traffic circle, trying to override his comment. “Roundabout! Go toward the roundabout!” “Banana boat? Is that the banana boat?” Finally she just smiled and walked away.
As he told me the story, when he returned to the car, we laughed so hard we were wiping tears from our eyes.
After 23 years, it turns out that conversations can become epic journeys (with some roundabouts).
And the best parts are worth repeating — with bells on.
By Gina Barreca/Hartford Courant, October 20, 2014
There’s no doubt that it it takes work to maintain a strong, loving, meaningful marriage, but it’s that work combined with compromise that can also make a successful marriage so fulfilling. If you’re looking for ways to strengthen your marriage and make sure it withstands the test of time, hone in on the fundamentals of marriage such as communication, honesty and romance—and think a little creatively, too. Here are a few unconventional ways to ensure that love keeps burning strong.
According to Science-Based Life, there are three components to romantic love: intimacy, passion and commitment. Intimacy requires the sharing of inner emotions, fun and fear. Many confuse intimacy with either sex or emotional meltdowns. Though you can be intimate during these events, many day-to-day activities can also inspire intimacy, such as playing games together.
Play video games together. They don’t require special weather conditions like outdoor sports do, and they enable couples to communicate and work together while playing. Plus, it’s just a lot of fun. Pick up a PlayStation 4 and use it for gaming, watching videos or exercising together. These daily bonding activities are the basis of a truly intimate lifelong relationship.
Evaluate TV in the Bedroom
For years, marriage experts have advised against TV in the bedroom, saying that the room should be reserved for sleeping and passionate endeavors. “Many couples with televisions in their bedroom use it as a distraction from connecting and to avoid intimacy, which can be thwarting to your sex life,” says Emily Morse, Ph.D., sex and relationship expert and co-founder of Emily & Tony. However, this depends on the couple, she advises. “If couples are setting ‘date nights’ around their favorite TV shows or watching erotic movies together and this inspires them to cuddle and have sex, the benefits for this type of situation are clear.”
Consider how watching TV in your bedroom affects you and your partner—is it something that distracts from your relationship, or is it something that brings you and your partner closer? Aim for the latter.
Because of work demands and finances, many couples do not take vacation. Because of this, they miss out on the opportunity to rekindle passion, explore intimacy and develop another component of love: commitment.
Make vacations a priority. They don’t need to be long to be effective—even a weekend getaway can help to break the routine of everyday life. Focus on making memories together and getting out of your comfort zone, even if it’s a staycation for just a day or two. By re-prioritizing your relationship, you’re taking your passion and intimacy and recommitting it into the marriage.
Take Up a Hobby
Adopt a new hobby and learn something new together. Whether it’s ballroom dancing, ice hockey, playing the guitar or photography, you’ll forge a new bond by exploring something new together. Make your new interest a priority by scheduling time for it on a regular basis. As you discover new layers within your hobby, you’ll also learn more about your partner.
By Emma Jackson
To define the characteristics of a good marriage is, in many ways, to open a hornet’s nest, since happiness is a difficult thing to define and relationships are often so intricate and personal that only those within them know the secret ingredients that keep them together. According to relationships expert and author of many best-selling books, including The Dance of Intimacy, Dr. Harriet Lerner, despite our differences, there are clear and defined basics that mark all healthy relationships, including marriage. In this article we share a few of her useful tips:
• Respect for difference: We sometimes fall in love with a person but make the mistake of trying to change ingrained aspects of their personality or way of processing events and information, only to become frustrated when they do not conform to our ideal. In all relationships, it is vital to respect that a significant other does not feel or think the same about some aspects of life or about particular situations. In The Dance of Intimacy, Lerner suggests that unity is important, but so is the recognition of independence. Lerner says,
“ ‘Being who we are’ requires that we can talk openly about things that are important to us, that we take a clear position on where we stand on important emotional issues, and that we clarify the limits of what is acceptable and tolerable to us in a relationship. Allowing the other person to do the same means that we can stay emotionally connected to that other party who thinks, feels, and believes differently, without needing to change, convince, or fix the other.”
• Think of yourselves as a team: A team has common goals, though each component has his/her own role to play. When serious issues come up (involving finances, child rearing, etc.), a team spirit will help you focus on where you are going rather than on arguing for your corner.
• Argue about an issue, not about the person: According to Michael Hyatt in One Little Word that Almost Always Provokes Conflict, when arguing over a heated issue, couples often make the mistake of attacking the person through conflictive language such as “You always…” “You never…” Remember to stick to the issue at hand; do not bring up a string of anecdotes from the past in an attempt to attack your spouse’s character or general behavior. This leads to defensiveness and stops you from solving the problem at hand.
•Be committed: At times, marriage can be tense. Don’t take the easy way out by seeking solace in a third party or ending the relationship as soon as the honeymoon stage is over. Try to work out your differences, with love and respect. Of course, this does not mean allowing healthy limits to be crossed.
•Talk about important issues: Communication regarding important events and issues is vital; allow your spouse to express themselves and try to remain non-judgmental so that talks are fruitful instead of incendiary. Try to avoid the temptation to interrupt; it can be very frustrating for spouses when they feel they are not listened to or that their opinion or interpretation of an event does not matter.
• Keep promises made to each other: Even small promises (like agreeing to take a spouse out to dinner every Saturday or to do the cleaning up on the weekend) need to be kept, so that spouses feel valued. When many small promises are broken over time, it can lead to a loss of trust.
• Be sensitive to your partner’s needs and show them you care enough about them to change behavior that hurts or annoys them: You don’t have to change who you are, but if something you tend to do or say hurts your partner, try to change it to make them happy.
• Do not be a ‘fixer’: In addition to trying to change our spouse, we can also fall into the trap of trying to fix situations and even people, by allowing them to cross limits, or fixing up the damage they may have caused third parties. According to Recovery.org, this is especially true where tough conditions like alcoholism or substance abuse are involved. If you are constantly picking up after your spouse and rushing to the rescue, or fixing problems created between them and other family members, you need to stop, without feeling guilty about it. Encourage your spouse to seek help, but make it clear that you will no longer pick up the pieces they leave behind. This does not mean giving up on them; make it clear that you love them and that you are willing to help them, but do not be afraid to establish your limits and stick to them strictly. This will not guarantee that your spouse will seek the help they need However, according to Harriet Lerner, the focus in any case should be n your own behavior and the changes you need to make, rather than those your spouse needs to make.
• Try to maintain respect and love beyond the ‘honeymoon period’: Don’t stop saying words of love to your spouse; they are necessary and act like a powerful ‘glue’ many years after you say ‘I do’.
By Sherri Goodman
Whether you’ve been together for 4 years or 4 decades, every relationship can use a tune up. Bettering your relationship doesn’t require taking a second honeymoon, going cliff diving together, or any other crazy stunts. You and your partner can strengthen your bond simply by putting a little more effort into areas you may have started to overlook.
Show Your Appreciation
It’s all too easy to take for granted the daily grunt work your partner does in order to ensure that you’re both happy. Paying bills, household chores, and cooking meals—these things are all necessary to make life go smoothly. However, they are seemingly mundane enough that the work that goes into making them happen can be overlooked.
In a recent blog post, Adam & Eve stated, “men who assist their partners with the housework have 50% more sex than the men who don’t.” The statistic wasn’t from a random survey or anything like that, either. The University of California concluded it from a study.
It’s not just about housework, though; it’s more about being helpful. Taking tasks off your partner’s to-do list shows that you understand that their time is valuable. Not only that, but completing chores that benefit you both (doing the laundry, mowing the yard, cooking dinner) show how much you care. By helping, you are acknowledging this and making your appreciation known. Better still, you can complete tasks quicker by working together or dividing them equally.
Try Something New
Over the years you’ve probably come up with a sexual routine, sometimes without even meaning to. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
Well, while the saying may be true for cars or appliances, it’s not exactly true when it comes to your sex life. Mixing things up can introduce you to something new that you may enjoy even more than your standard go-tos. Psychology Today writes in this article that trying new things in your relationship can help prevent and alleviate boredom. This will make you feel closer to your partner, happier in your relationship, and more satisfied with life in general.
If you’re hesitant, know that trying something new doesn’t mean you’re doing anything permanent. If you find that even just trying out a new position in the bedroom isn’t for you, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to the classics. What matters is that you give it a shot.
Spend Some Time Apart
This doesn’t mean you should take a break in the relationship, just that you should remember the importance of being your own person.
An article from Success said that too often people would give up the time they used to devote to hobbies or personal pastimes in order to devote more time and energy into a relationship. While a portion of your time is understandable, if not necessary, the problem comes when one partner gives up all of their personal time. Eventually, this can cause them to be emotionally out of balance, leading to “Relationship stress, miscommunication or worse: resentment and emotional pain.”
It’s possible you could benefit from taking some time to yourself without even realizing that you’ve needed it. Try doing something that’s just for you. Take a class, keep a weekly tentative date to spend time with your friends, or just set aside some time to work on a hobby. Engaging in activities can give you confidence, boost your self-worth, and help you reestablish your identity. The side effects can then spill over into your relationship, helping to make it stronger as well. And remember, absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Even people in the most stable relationships have to put the effort into maintaining their bond with their partner. And as much as you may have heard otherwise, it doesn’t take a lot of work. In fact, if it’s something you really care about making happen, it won’t seem like work at all.
Sherri Goodman is a freelance relationship writer and photographer from Richmond, Virginia. When she’s not working you can find her scrounging through sales at outlet malls or cheering on the Virginia Tech Hokies.
Date night for married couples typically consists of dinner, dancing, and hopefully reliving the consummation part of marriage at the end of the night. But Dr. Arthur Aron, a psychology professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook told the New York Times that couples need dates that introduce new, enjoyable activities to keep the relationship fresh and the dopamine flowing in the brain.
Those romantic moments of eye gazing and holding hands will eventually be replaced with familiarity and predictability as long as couples continue with the status quo. There’s no better environment to reinvigorate a marriage than the great outdoors. Here are three ideas for couples to consider.
7-Day Camping Trip
Families with both husband and wife working full time comprised 47 percent of all couples in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Add children to the mix and that means couples are playing the mom and dad role far more than they are being husband and wife for one another. A week-long camping trip far from home with only your backpacks and tents is the perfect romantic getaway for those in this situation.
Couples should pick a fresh, new destination, that they haven not traveled before. The only food you should take along is saltine crackers, so the two of you are forced to fish and hunt for sustenance. You may only catch one trout or trap one rabbit, which isn’t exactly a large meal. But you’ll be forced to share what you have and be grateful for it. The experience will bring couples closer because there is nobody else to rely on but one another.
The best part about camping is sleeping at night. Cuddling not only lower blood pressure and relieves anxiety, but also lowers cortisol in the brain, aka the stress hormone, according to a 1987 study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine. Couples will need one another’s body heat in their sleeping bag to stay warm. There are also studies that link frequent sex in marriage to stability and long-term commitment.
There’s a good reason Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Lines are known for their honeymoon packages. The tranquility that comes with being surrounded by water in every direction stimulates romance and love unlike any other environment can. Elaine and Jade Michaels, owners of House Boats For Two in Washington State, told the Seattle Times they specifically outlaw pets and children in their rentals so couples can fully enjoy the company of one another while on the water.
An all-day trip in a rowboat is the perfect weekend getaway, particularly for those living in areas with a lot of navigable waters. Of course any boating excursion, paddle or otherwise, can be ruined by bad weather and shoddy preparation. Make certain you check and re-check the forecast before heading out on the water. Canadians will need an operator card for any motorized vessel, while most American jurisdictions require a license of some sort. Take some Dramamine tablets along as well. They will come in handy for those not used to being on boats and susceptible to sea sickness.
Panoramic views and being one with the outdoors naturally makes hiking a romantic activity for couples. You don’t even necessarily have to live near a national park or mountains, as many cities have trails for these types of getaways.
The key to making the most of a hiking trip is to take your time. Stop and look at plants you’ve never seen. Lie down in the grass together face up, while holding hands and talking about everything from your first date to childhood memories. You may even encounter wildlife that will either be interesting to observe or force the two of you to protect yourselves from imminent danger.
The outdoors is the ultimate elixir to boost and maintain a healthy, romantic marriage. You’ll grow as individuals, but more importantly as a couple.
by David Banks, PhD
Dr. Banks will be speaking at the Better Marriages Conference, July 9-12, 2015 in St. Louis
When was the last time you really hugged one another? Do you just wave or call out “goodbye” to each other when you part? Do you just pat each other on the back as you leave in the morning or do a sideways hug? Taking time regularly to give one another a great embrace will strengthen your marriage.
Stand close together and face one another. Adjust the actions as needed to match your mutual heights.
Husband: Wrap your arms around your wife’s waist.
Wife: Wrap your arms around your husband’s neck or waist. Put your head on his chest or shoulders or lean against him in a way that feels comfortable.
Husband: Rest your head on her shoulders or the top of her head or lean against her in a way that is comfortable.
Both: Close your eyes and feel yourselves being held in each other’s embrace.
Nationally Recognized Marriage Professionals to Address Hundreds of Married Couples
at Better Marriage’s Keystone Event
Winston-Salem, NC, August 18, 2014 – Better Marriages™, the nation’s leading nonprofit marriage enrichment organization, today announced that Drs. Charles and Elizabeth Schmitz, “America’s #1 Love and Marriage Experts” will speak at the group’s biannual event, the Better Marriages Conference on July 9, 2015 in St. Louis, MO. The Schmitz, award-winning authors, will provide couples with practical insight and valuable take-home strategies to maintain a happier marriage and boost couple satisfaction.
- What: Better Marriages Conference
- When: July 9, 2015
- Where: St. Louis, MO
- Who: All couples who take growth in their relationship seriously, as well as relationship professionals and authors who serve them
- When: July 9, 2015
Couples, professionals and the media are encouraged to learn more about the event or register for the conference at: www.bettermarriages.org/conference. Additional highlights of this important international marriage event include:
- Educational marriage keynotes and couple-led workshops
- Access to national experts and foremost marriage professionals
- Hands-on learning environment designed to improve communication and marital satisfaction
- Couple, Faith-based, and Professional tracks
- Relationship building exhibits and take-home resources
- Family, parenting and workplace sessions to bolster marital relationships
- Networking with other married couples from around the nation, and around the globe
The Better Marriages Conference brings together couples and marriage professionals from all walks of life and all socioeconomic backgrounds. Couples spend three days learning about marriage, learning how to resolve conflicts, and dramatically improving their relationship. “This marriage event is a no-brainer for our relationship. Every time we attend it brings us closer and strengthens our relationship in ways that nothing else can,” mentions Karl and Beth Friedman, Better Marriages members and repeat conference attendees. Hear what other couples are saying about Better Marriages here.
About Better Marriages
Better Marriages is a nationally-recognized marriage enrichment organization dedicated to educating couples and helping them build better relationships through couple dialogue and marriage enrichment groups (MEGs). Founded in 1973 by David and Vera Mace as the Association for Couples in Marriage Enrichment (ACME), Better Marriages is a not-for-profit, non-sectarian organization headquartered in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. For additional information, visit the organization’s website at: http://www.bettermarriages.org
We all know that every relationship has its stressful moments. But which topic of disagreement do you think is the biggest red flag in relationships: Children? Sex? Work? Nope. One of the strongest predictors of divorce are disagreements about money, according to the National Survey of Families and Households. If you’re in a relationship where you or your partner has an unhealthy level of debt, we have some tips to help you have a productive conversation and get your financial life back in order.
First, Set Some Ground Rules
Use “I” instead of “you.” Instead of placing blame on the other person, express what it is about a situation that bothers you. For example, “You don’t seem to care that we have $25 left in our savings account” comes across very differently to the listener than “I feel stressed out when we have less than $1,000 in savings.”
Postpone the conversation when anger slips in. When you feel your heart rate spike, take a deep breath, count to 10, and restate the issue at hand to clarify misunderstandings. If this doesn’t calm the tone, agree to walk away from the table and readdress the problem when you are feeling less heated.
Define what acceptable behavior is and isn’t. Some basic guidelines include no swearing, no yelling and no interrupting.
Take Into Consideration
Talk while taking a walk or hiking; side-by-side conversation is especially helpful for men, who can often communicate more effectively when doing some activity. Listen carefully to your partner and give him or her silent space to finish sentences
Speak up; leaving small issues unaddressed can lead to resentment and anger, which becomes a much bigger problem to address. Once you have hashed out what has frustrated you about your financial situation, create a plan and hold yourselves accountable for making tangible changes.
Tips for Creating a Plan
Lay out reality. Find out what you owe, along with the interest rates you are paying on each debt, and write down your monthly payments. Get a sense of what your monthly living expenses are. On the flip side, take stock of what money you have access to, including any equity in a home, any annuities you may have, vehicles, checking and savings accounts, insurance policies and retirement plans.
Make a budget. The online financial planning platform LearnVest proposes a 50/20/30 guideline for budgeting. Fixed costs like mortgage, utility and car payments should be no more than 50 percent of your income. They recommend using 20 percent of your take-home pay on building a financial base, including paying down debt, saving for retirement and building an emergency fund. The remaining 30 percent of your income can go toward flexible expenses like groceries, eating out, hobbies and gas.
Lower your payments. If you have credit card debt, consider transferring the balances to a zero-interest card. If the situation is right for you and the cost of doing so will be less than the ultimate change in your cash flow, you can look into refinancing your mortgage or consolidating loans.
Free up assets. If you receive periodic payments from an annuity, consider selling some or all of your future payments to a company like J.G. Wentworth for a lump sum of cash now. You could then use the money to help pay down your debt. Similarly, if you can make do with one car instead of two or three, sell it and make the compromise to carpool for a period of time until you’ve paid off your debt and can buy another car with savings.
No matter how much you love your spouse, there comes a time when the flames of romance begin to die down. Keep the spark alive by planning a unique or adventurous date. According to Psychology Today, the excitement of trying something new allows you to create fresh memories with your partner, and thus strengthening the bond you have with him or her. Choose a date with the right level of excitement to avoid overwhelming your sweetheart. After all, you’ll both want to feel exhilarated after a date, not stressed.
Improvised Play: Adrenaline Level Low
Blank! The Musical is a Broadway play with a twist. There is no script and no rehearsal, the perfect ingredients for an unpredictable night. With the audience acting as the director in this quirky act, you and your loved one are sure to have an amazing time. Before the play begins you’ll have the chance to choose the title, cast and lyrics on your smartphone and watch your creation develop right before your eyes, says Telecharge. The show is approximately 90 minutes long and prices vary depending on date and time.
Themed Cooking Class: Adrenaline Level Low
This unique date is great for couples that are tired of eating take-out. You’ll earn yourself some tasty leftovers while you improve your cooking and teamwork skills. If you want to earn bonus points with your better half, let him or her choose between Vietnamese, Mediterranean or Mexican classes. Sur La Table is a great place to begin your search for the perfect cooking class as the website offers advanced search features and a wide variety of classes. Be sure to find a full course meal and a fun theme to ensure an unforgettable night.
Random Restaurant Date: Adrenaline Level Medium
Up the excitement by throwing caution to the wind. Go to Yelp and choose a random restaurant from the list. It could be a complete disaster or it could become your new favorite place to have dinner—not knowing is half the fun! If you’re on the go, you can download the Urbanspoon app, which finds a random restaurant for you based on your location, cuisine preference and price range filters. This free app is available for both iOS, Android, Windows and Kindle Fire. And to add to the spontaneity level, be sure to try something you have never had before.
Adventure Obstacle Course Race: Adrenaline Level High
Who says obstacle courses are just for kids? Race against the clock or try to beat your partner in an obstacle course race. These challenging events vary in theme and difficulty. For instance, The Tough Mudder is a great obstacle course race for beginners, says A Shot of Adrenaline. The race features plenty of mud so both of you will have to be okay with getting a little (or a lot) dirty. Couples with serious athletic skills will find The Death Race more suitable. This race, which can last over 70 hours (yes, you read that right), is the most extreme obstacle course race to date and is designed to push your physical and mental limits. If you have the courage, this experience is sure to bring you and your significant other closer together.
Couple Skydiving: Adrenaline Level High
Skydiving is certainly not for the faint of heart. But if you and your spouse are adrenaline junkies, this might be just what you need to make your marriage fresh and exciting again. Many skydiving companies offer special packages for couples, too. Skydive Chicago, for example, has the Shove Your Love package, which includes a skydiving class, a one minute fall at 120 MPH and a picnic lunch afterwards. When choosing a skydiving center, look for one with a high USPA rating, suggests Esquire.
July 9-12, 2015 in St. Louis, MO
What do you want for your relationship?
More relational skill?
More mutually satisfying JOY?
The shortest distance from where you are to where you want to be is the Better Marriages Conference July 9-12, 2015 in St. Louis, MO!
Meet and Learn from Dozens of Marriage Educators, Relationship Experts, and Authors.
Leave with “put into practice now” relationship tips.
Up close and personal conversations with authors
Transforming experiences for couples
Networking opportunities and CEUs for professionals
“This marriage event is a no-brainer for our relationship. Every time we attend it brings us closer and strengthens our relationship in ways that nothing else can.”