Before you get rid of all those old habits, consider keeping just a few.
"Couple rituals," says William Doherty, Director of Marriage and Family Therapy at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, can add up in the long run.
Rituals are mutually agreed upon, scheduled moments that help couples maintain connection. They can also provide "the glue we need to help us cling together in times of stress and in seasons of despair," says Doherty. Connection time can include things like greeting each other lovingly, talking over coffee, or taking an evening walk.
When creating or enhancing your own "couple ritual," remember the following:
- Be intentional. Agree on a time and activity, and commit to maintain it.
- Make a clear transition. Get alone and talk about personal stuff.
- Resist the urge to problem solve for the family, and keep conflict out of the conversation.
- Decide to alter the time or nature of an activity together. Be sure that you both understand these changes.
Want Out of the Clean Your Plate Club?
You've finalized the holiday rounds—whose parents to visit first—but you can't figure out how to avoid getting stuffed? You're not alone. When 1,003 Americans were surveyed by the American Institute for Cancer Research, over one-quarter admitted that the amount of food they are served dictates how much food they consume. Avoid a belly-ache this holiday season by following the advice of Melanie Polk, Director of Nutrition Education at the American Institute of Cancer Research.
First, use the Food Guide Pyramid to figure out how many servings make up your personal portions, based on your activity level, age, and height (www.usda.gov/cnpp, or call (202) 606-8000). Then, take a day to measure out your favorite foods together and remember what they look like on a plate. You'll be ready to limit the amount of food you consume and savor visiting the in-laws.
What's the Secret to a Happy, Healthy Life?
Marriage! One of the most consistent findings in social research is that married men and women do markedly better in all measures of well-being when compared to any of their unmarried counterparts. Married individuals are healthier—physically and mentally—and they live longer, enjoy a more fulfilled life, and take better care of themselves (and each other). But that's not all. Marriage continues to support well-being into a couple's late years. Research done at the State University of New York–Buffalo shows that for those fifty-five and older, being married is consistently associated with better overall health. So relax—the best has yet to come.
from Why Marriage Matters (PinonPress), by Glenn T. Stanton.
Does Winter Make You SAD?
If the coming winter's got you choked up instead of cheered up, consider building a snowman with your sweetheart. According to Edward Pellicano, a psychiatrist at Gateway Community Service Board in Savannah, Georgia, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is marked by feelings of depression when exposed to little sunlight and feelings of elation with increased sunlight. If you're looking for relief from your winter blues, start by looking for your winter boots and take advantage of as much daylight as possible. Increasing your daily exercise can also help boost your mood. And so can making up after you fight in the snow.COUPLES DEVOTIONAL
Tested by Fire
The worst phone call I ever made was to my husband the day our house burned. Still cold from running door-to-door for help in sub-zero weather, I called from a neighbor's house to tell Dan the bad news. He'd gone to work that day, fully expecting to return to all the comforts of home. Instead, he came home to complete loss. Well, not complete. What mattered most to him—me—was safe and waiting for him.
As the day wore on, my shock dissipated, giving way to despair. What would we do? We'd just moved into this house five months earlier, and we didn't have any family nearby or any close friends to turn to. But Dan told me the fire revealed something significant about us: In losing our possessions, we could see more clearly what we really have—each other and a home that can't be destroyed by fire.
That first night in a hotel, Dan and I lay entwined in our bed. As he cradled me, a salty mixture of grief and joy began to wet my pillow. Here we were without a home, yet I felt completely rooted and sheltered by his love. At that moment I discovered what it means to have a sense of place. Mine is with my husband.
by Marian V. Liautaud, from The Couples' Devotional Bible (Zondervan).
Invest in Fiscal Intimacy
You can keep a few secrets from your spouse, like plans for a surprise birthday party or embarrassing nicknames that you were called in elementary school. But there's no secret category for finances. Money matters must definitely be discussed with your spouse. It's unfair to both of you if only one knows about your finances. Does this mean you have to present each other with daily cash receipts for your Starbucks coffee? Of course not. But you both need to have a general idea of how much money you've got and where it goes. Allowing financial secrets to add up can be expensive—in more ways than one.
from God is in the Small Stuff, for Your Marriage (Promise Press) by Bruce Bickel and Stan Janz
Make a Love Map of Your Mate
Are you making moves to befriend your spouse? According to John Gottman, a University of Washington psychology professor who has conducted over 25 years of research on what makes marriage blossom, friendship is foundational for a lasting and happy marriage. And here's a move you can start pulling today: make a "love map."
This is a place in your mind "where you store all of the relevant information about your partner's life—their dreams, aspirations, worries, and fears," says Gottman. "Couples with love maps remember the major events in each other's history, and they keep updating their information as the facts and feelings of their spouse's world changes. Love maps are about knowing your partner, and being known."
So instead of feeling lost, start taking down directions. You'll be looking for the chance to stop for more.
Doubt Your Spouse Likes You?
If you're doubting your spouse's feelings toward you, it may be time to examine your own. Researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo and the University of Waterloo found out that personal insecurities have a profound impact upon the marriage relationship, since they may affect your perceptions of your spouse. The study revealed that people with low-self esteem react to doubts about themselves by doubting their partners' feelings toward them, while people with high self-esteem react to self-doubts by becoming more convinced of their partners' acceptance. So the next time you feel like kicking yourself, try a hug instead. Then you can ask your spouse for one.
Can't Read His Lips?
Try staring at his forehead instead. Calin Prodan, a University of Oklahoma neurology resident, says that while you can always put a smile on your face, the forehead, eyebrows, and eye creases often reveal true feelings. But just staring at your mate's upper face may not be enough. Prodan found that when participants used their left visual field, there were almost twice as many accurate readings of emotions than when they used their right visual field. So next time you think you're being handed a line, just let him know you'll be keeping your left eye on him.
Psychology TodayBETWEEN THE COVERS
Lose Anger, Get Joy
"What would you give to have joy in your marriage? Not just happiness, but enduring, deep-rooted joy that weathers every storm? It's yours to have—provided you go to the right source," says Gary Smalley in his new book, Joy That Lasts (Zondervan). If you're wondering where to go, Smalley hints, "It's not your spouse."
Sharing insights that he's learned from his own marriage, Smalley feels that this book is the most important of the fifteen-plus he's written. In it he reveals what kills a marriage, as well as the keys to keeping it alive and healthy.
What kills a marriage?
Over 90 percent of marriages are ravaged by the relationship "germs" of fear, frustration, and hurt feelings—all of which turn into the disease of anger. Anger is what kills love between a husband and a wife.
How is anger at the root of relationship problems?
A person can build up anger in their life, and not know it's there. Fear, frustration, and hurt feelings are the main ingredients to anger. These things dull our hearts and spirits towards one another, and we start to isolate ourselves from our mate. It happens subtly and slowly. That's why the Scriptures tell us to go ahead and get angry—it's okay and it's healthy to be angry—but resolve it before the sun goes down.
What can a couple do to combat this anger "disease?"
There are marriage skills that we can use to help dissolve anger on a daily basis. First, we need to recognize how powerful anger is. Secondly, we need to learn that we can grow in mental, spiritual, and emotional maturity if, instead of reacting to the things that make us angry and letting it build up inside, we learn to use anger as our ally.
How do you do that?
Anger reveals our own level of maturity. When we encounter angry emotions, we can say, "Thank you, God, that you're teaching me things about myself and maturing me." Anger can also be used as a spring board to minister to others. It allows us to realize that those who hurt or frustrate us have issues to deal with, too. We can thank God for showing us another's needs, so that we can pray for them or help them in some way. I might not have known about their need other than through their hurtful actions.
This book challenges us to turn our trials into triumphs. It's our choice to look to God, to see what he is allowing to happen in our lives, and to watch how he's using it for our good.
You said it!
"Often the difference between a successful marriage and a mediocre one consists of leaving about three or four things a day unsaid."
"I think men that have a pierced ear are better prepared for marriage. They've experienced pain and bought jewelry."
"Let the wife make the husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave."
"The great truth is that women actually like men, and men can never believe it."
"By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you'll become happy; if you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher."
Cuddle—Without cutting off circulation.
If you've got that loving feeling, but you've lost all feeling in your arm, don't give up snuggling just yet. With the advice of Dr. Brett Acker, a private family physician in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, we've developed a technique to numb-proof your cuddle time. And remember, folks, always try this at home.
Taught from the perspective of the "cuddlee."
- Have spouse extend his arm out to the side, placing it under your neck. Note, however, that his shoulder will go to sleep if his arm is held in one place too long, especially when lifted out in this position.
- Select a "meaty" spot on your spouse's upper arm or shoulder. Areas with less padding (muscle or fat) are more quickly affected by prolonged pressure. Other high-risk numbing areas include: places where blood vessels lie close to the skin or nerves run through bony structures (like the "funny bone"). However, pretty much all areas will suffer if exposed to prolonged pressure without movement.
- Lean back; rest head. Enjoy.
- Remove head. Although you've just started to settle down, numbness will start to settle in after ten minutes of draping his arm across your shoulders. The sensation of "pins and needles" may also follow, due to pressure on the inside of the upper arm and armpit.
- Re-adjust arm height and position. The best way to avoid the ill effects of prolonged pressure is to avoid prolonged pressure. Keep moving every so often, altering arm height and head placement as you do.
- Repeat steps 2-5.
Planning a Dinner By Candlelight?
Don't let it make you sick. Though you may love romancing your spouse over scented candles, you may not be as fond of the musty lead particles they may be emitting into your home.
Director Sidney Wolfe and the Public Citizen's Health Research Group in Washington, D.C., examined 285 candles from 12 stores in the D.C. area. Of the eighty-six candles they found with metal wicks, nine contained high amounts of lead. The effects of burning one of these candles for three hours can cause lead levels in the air to increase nine to thirty-three times higher than federal safety standards.
How can you tell which candles are safe? Look straight down at the candle to see if there is a metal tip in the center of the wick. Though not all metal wicks contain lead, to be on the safe side, don't burn candles that have them. Lead poisoning aside, you can feel free to bask in each other's glow a little longer.
Better Homes and Gardens
Don't Just Whistle While You Work
Be on your guard. Workplace temptation is predictable—and common. An unguarded action, although innocent at first, can lead to painful consequences. Dennis Rainey, founder of FamilyLife Ministries, suggests these ways to protect your marriage at work:
- Never meet in total privacy with someone of the opposite sex—keep the door open or cracked.
- Establish a "no secrets" policy in your marriage. Tell your spouse everything.
- Don't share marital problems with a co-worker of the opposite sex. Never.
- Be careful about how—if ever—you touch a co-worker. A mistake here can spell a lawsuit as well.
- Keep your "Joseph sneakers" on. Be ready to flee if caught off guard by a tempting situation.
- Above all else, guard your heart. Your legacy depends upon it.
NOTE: For your convenience, the following products, which were mentioned above, are available for purchase from the ChristianityToday.com Shopping Channel:
- Why Marriage Matters, by Glen T. Stanton
- The Couples Devotional Bible
- God is in the Small Stuff for Your Marriage, by Bruce Bickel and Stan Janz
- Joy That Lasts, by Gary Smalley
Copyright © 2000 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.