Be honest: how many movies have you seen where the culminating event, the anticipated conclusion, or the “happy ending” was a wedding? Why is that? What is it deep within us that yearns not just for marriage, but for a tremendously happy marriage?
While we may believe that Aladdin and Jasmine (or countless other fictional couples) deserve marital bliss, do we believe that such a “happily ever after” exists in real life? And do you believe that this can happen for your own marriage?
For those who have a serious desire to improve your marriage (a noble goal even if your union is already good), let me first share a few helpful tips.
1. Remember that marriage is largely effort based.
One of the reasons that I love being a marriage educator is that we all have the ability to be a good spouse. You may notice that I often use the word “intentional” in my posts. If you truly want to improve your marriage, decide now (or recommit) to be more intentional in how much effort you give to this sacred relationship. This may require a change in priorities, a reduction in hobbies, or genuinely forgiving your spouse for their humanness. Have the courage to do so! You have the potential to make immediate changes that can bless your relationship.
Years ago I played basketball in high school. While I was a good shooter, I didn’t put as much effort into playing defense. I can still picture my coach exclaiming “Stewart, defense is 1% technique, and 99% ‘wanna wanna’!”
In some ways, marriage is similar. For instance, there are techniques that can help us communicate better, improve the management of our finances, and even argue in a way that is less damaging to the relationship (these techniques and more will be covered in future posts). But most importantly, you have to “wanna wanna” give the necessary effort to nourish your marriage.
2. Be patient with your spouse (and don’t nag).
Change can take time (for you and your spouse), so exercise a lot of patience! Admittedly, it may be easier to have patience with a spouse who struggles with punctuality than one fighting with some type of addiction. However, consider ways in which intentionally being more patient could bless your relationship.
Not only that, but nagging just doesn’t work! Recent research suggests that when one spouse begins to nag the other spouse begins to withdraw (and thus becomes even less likely to change their behavior). In fact, I am not convinced that nagging has even improved one single marriage or inspired one person to change their behavior It just doesn’t work!. However, I am aware of instances where the reduction of nagging has actually led to a change in the desired behavior.
3. Shoot for the stars!
I fear we sometimes set the bar way too low with regard to marriage. While it is an accomplishment, especially today, to be married for 50 years, should simply surviving marriage be our main objective? What about the quality of the relationship?
While expecting perfection in yourself, your spouse, or your marriage can be very damaging, the happiest couples not only expect marital happiness, but they intentionally work at their marriage until they have such happiness. You can too! The reward is sweet and so very worth it!
Generally speaking, husbands want to have sex more frequently than their wives. This probably doesn’t surprise you. But, you may be surprised to learn that this mismatch can actually strengthen your marriage.
Pop Quiz for You Wives:
Ladies, be honest, do you ever intentionally stay up later than your husband – under the guise of doing important stuff – though you’re secretly giving hubby enough time to fall asleep before you get to bed?
Or, notwithstanding persuasive evidence about the importance of marital kissing (see my article on the six second kiss) do you sometimes withhold your lips in fear that they may send an unintended message?
Maybe you routinely make not-so-subtle comments as you get into bed?
Monday – “Whew, I sure am tired tonight, that exciting Monday Night Football game drained me.”
Tuesday – “Those allergies seem to have returned in force, you really don’t want to kiss me right now.”
Wednesday – “I’ve got a busy day tomorrow, busy, busy, busy…need some solid REM”
Thursday – “I’m pretty sure I’m coming down with smallpox (if not something worse). I’ll understand if you want to sleep on the couch tonight.”
Friday – “…I’d love to, but I just ‘started’ this morning.”
Husbands, Quit Laughing – Your Turn for a Quiz:
Men, do you suddenly become quite a bit more helpful around the house when you are “in the mood”?
Do you find yourself frequently thinking about having sex with your wife, yet you forget other details about her – such as her birthday?
Are you surprised to find out that true intimacy includes much more than just sex? (If you don’t believe me, ask your wife.)
Supported By Research
These are clearly extreme stereotypes that likely don’t accurately describe your marriage. But, research does suggest that, generally, husbands desire sex more often (and often much more often) than wives.
Of course, your marriage may not follow the statistical “norm.” And, in some marriages, wives may want as much or more sex than their husbands. But for any couple with mismatched levels of sexual desire, what can be done? What should be done? And, how on earth can this actually strengthen a marriage?
Wouldn’t it be easier if men and women were created more equally with regard to sexual desire? Really, just think about the conflict and frustration that could be removed from marriage if both spouses were completely in-sync with regard to when and how often to have sex. In fact, wouldn’t marriage be easier if spouses were also hard-wired to spend money the same way, or if they preferred the same vacations, restaurants, and entertainment?
In short, yes, this would be easier. But on the other hand, we would be missing a fantastic opportunity for growth!
A Broader View of Marriage
If the purpose of marriage was individual and immediate gratification, then a sexual mismatch may seem disastrous. And, while I fear too many people see marriage with this “what’s in it for me” mentality, truly successful couples have a much broader view of marriage. These couples genuinely care about their spouse’s needs more than their own (inside and outside of the bedroom)!
Marriage, more than any other relationship, grants us the ongoing opportunity to overcome our selfishness by striving to put our spouse’s needs before our own. And the sexual aspect of marriage provides an ideal opportunity to be lovingly selfless.
Thus, in a very real way, couples that learn to bridge their “sexual mismatch” by openly communicating and tenderly compromising will become stronger as a couple!
Marriage is More Than Just Sex
While marriage consists of so much more than simply sexual satisfaction, I am convinced that a marriage cannot be truly happy if there is lingering frustration in this aspect of the relationship. I love this quote by Dr. Douglas Brinley:
Marriage is not just for sex, of course, but sex is a profound means of expressing love and commitment. It is designed to be a physical, emotional, and spiritual union; hence a high form of validation. Just as a good marriage increases sexual interest, so satisfactory sexual relations adds soul-binding emotional strength to marriage. There are few ways as powerful as the sexual union of a man and woman that are so expressive of mutual love.
How Healthy is Your Sexual Relationship?
The good news is that countless couples thoroughly enjoy their sexual relationship and view it as an important part of a healthy and happy marriage. The bad news is that, for too many couples, physical intimacy is a cause of stress, disappointment, and frustration.
So how are things going in your marriage? (This is rhetorical; please don’t email us with a response.)
I hope things are going well for you! However, some of you may be inadvertently guilty of sexual ignorance or sexual selfishness. For instance, do you know how often your spouse desires to have sex during a week or month? Likewise, do you know if your spouse is currently happy with the state of your sexual relationship? Do you two talk about this important aspect of your marriage? Are you genuinely concerned about your spouse’s needs and desires?
Remember, your sexual relationship has the potential to be a wonderful aspect of a healthy marriage. It can also be an area of disagreement, stress, and frustration. How we respond to the “sexual mismatch” can greatly influence our overall marital happiness!
I challenge you to sincerely ask yourself, “How can I be more selfless and less selfish with regard to our sexual union?” For some of you it may mean seeking sex less often out of kindness and love for your spouse. For others it may be accepting a spouse’s advances more often (and even initiating love making periodically). Whatever it may be, have the courage and kindness to act on those thoughts! Your marriage will be stronger for it.
And, because there are so many couples who silently struggle in this area, please take a minute and share this article through email and your social media channels. Together, we can help strengthen marriages!
Falling in Love While on a Chemical High
Do you remember how much time you spent with your spouse when you were first dating?
I’m guessing that you spent every possible moment together. Other “stuff” wasn’t as important as spending time with your new love.
Many students see their grades begin to slide when they fall in love. Similarly, work performance often suffers during this time.
Why is that?
As couples begin to fall in love they experience an initial “chemical high”. According to Dr. Pat Mumby “Falling in love causes our body to release a flood of feel-good chemicals that trigger specific physical reactions.”
You remember those days right!? Sweaty palms, a racing heart, and when you were apart (which wasn’t that often) your thoughts were still centered on your guy (or your girl).
These chemicals (dopamine, adrenaline, oxytocin, norepinephrine) are actually quite useful in helping us fall in love as well as helping us desire to progress to courtship and marriage.
But, what happens when the chemical-levels drop?
This “high” doesn’t last though. After a few months, our body’s chemical levels return to a more normal level.
This is actually a really good thing- otherwise most of us would have flunked out of school or been fired from our jobs. The “love high” can be fun, but it is difficult to live a productive life in that chemically altered state.
But, does our love fade when this “high” is gone?
Well, it depends!
There are plenty of neglected marriages which leave both individuals riddled with hurt, disappointment, bitterness and anger.
By contrast, when couples choose to continue to prioritize their marriage (long after the initial “high”), then this relationship can grow into something much deeper and sweeter than anything experienced during the “chemically aided” beginning of their romance.
The Intentional Marriage
Before you were married, you were likely very intentional about spending time with your significant other. Sure, the “chemical high” helped, but by choosing to prioritize your relationship, you grew closer and had an ever increasing amount of love for each other.
However, according to William J. Doherty, PhD:
When we get married and especially after we have children, this reverses. Other things – the children, our work, our hobbies, even our religious involvement – become central and the marriage recedes to the background and only receives our attention when something is wrong.
Does this describe your marriage?
I hope not . . . but it might.
I have seen countless couples (even marriages between two wonderful people) who allow their relationship to fall into the background.
Valentine’s Day Vows
If your marriage is currently in the background, will you decide today to recommit to your sweetheart? Will you decide to prioritize him (or her) above all others?
Commit to prioritize your sweetheart about your career!
Commit to prioritize your sweetheart above your hobbies!
And, yes, even commit to prioritize your sweetheart above your children!
When describing this type of a marriage, Dr. Doherty noted that the happiest of couples have an absolute commitment towards each other and their marriage. He noted that happily married couples make these type of vows to each other:
- “Nothing will break us up.”
- “We will fight through whatever obstacles get in our way.”
- “We will renovate our marriage if the current version gets stale.”
- “If we fight too much or too poorly we will learn to fight better.”
- “If sex is no longer good we will find a way to make it good again.”
- “We will accept each other’s weaknesses that can’t be fixed”
- “We will take care of each other in our old age.”
He then concludes that in these happiest couples, these commitments aren’t simply made one time but are renewed over and over throughout a lifetime.
You on January 1st
“No really, this is the year I am getting into shape. I have purchased my treadmill, I have a pantry full of Gatorade, and I’ve downloaded an app on my phone to track my progress. I’m on fire (pronounced fiyaaa).”
Your Craig’s List ad on January 18th
“Gently used treadmill for sale (seriously, almost brand-new). Doubles as a clothes hanger – trust me I know. I will throw in a case of Gatorade at no extra
To quote Ned Ryerson from the 90’s movie Groundhogs Day, “Am I right or am right? Or am I right? Right?”
There is an 8% Chance That I’m Wrong
Okay, so actually I hope I am wrong and that the above scenario does not accurately describe your plight here in the first weeks of 2017. However, according to a 2013 Forbes article, only 8% of people actually achieve their New Year’s resolution. A 2015 US news article was slightly more optimistic noting that only 80% of New Year’s resolutions end in failure. But, a 20% success rate still represents a lot of failed goals. “Am I right?”…okay enough of that.
What You Already Know
You’ve likely heard great advice in the past about effectively setting goals. One of my favorite ideas is that of SMART goals – setting specific, measureable, assignable, realistic, and time-related goals. This is sound advice!
However, I want to share two other critical factors necessary to achieving meaningful goals.
What You May Not Know
Sometimes we just don’t care enough about achieving the goals that we set. If your goal was to lose weight in 2017 and yet by noon on the 1st you had already eaten 2 maple bars, an apple fritter, and a Bear claw, it would be a fair to ask how much you really wanted to lose weight. Similarly, if 10 days into the year you have a hard time remembering what your goals even were (I’ve been there 🙂 ), it is probably safe to assume that your heart wasn’t really in it.
In order for us to effectively reach our goals, we have to have passion for those goals. A lukewarm desire to change doesn’t supply us with the necessary fuel to do the hard work that is often required to meet these goals!
But, passion isn’t enough. It is my observation that most of us who set goals truly want to make those changes or improvements. But, passion or not, we often give up on our goals when life gets busy or when we encounter obstacles.
So, for us to actually meet our goals, we not only need the passion but we also need perseverance. Those who succeed often have a “no matter what” attitude. As a recently diagnosed pre-diabetic who has gone weeks now without any desserts, I know that we all have the capacity to persevere and do hard things!
So, yes, set SMART goals. But, recognize that without passion or perseverance you will likely fail in achieving your goals.
Dr. Angela Duckworth refers to this combination of passion and perseverance as grit (a new buzzword of the last few years). Her compelling research suggests that those who are consistently successful in reaching their goals have learned to develop grit. And, for those of us who don’t yet have grit, we can work to develop those characteristics.
Don’t You Run a Marriage Website?
What does all of this have to do with marriage?
Fair question! This article really has little to do with marriage… unless, of course, your goals are marriage related.
Allow me to speak bluntly!
You should always be trying to improve your marriage (even if you are already happy). A healthy plant today will be shriveled and dying within a few weeks if you stop providing water and sunlight. Conversely, a dying plant today can be rejuvenated with sufficient care.
I don’t really care if your plants live or die, but I do care about your marriage. So, please make a resolution (New Year’s or otherwise) to work on your marriage. Powerful goals could include any of the following:
- Strive to forgive and forget previous mistakes
- Shut off technology earlier and spend more time connecting with your spouse each day
- Hold hands and kiss like you did when you were newlyweds
- Take time to be more intentional with your marriage
You get the idea. I really do hope that you lose those 20 pounds, or pay down your debt, or whatever else your goals may be. The principles that I shared will help towards that end. But, not all goals are created equal. Whatever else you do, have 2017 be the year to improve your marriage!
Before considering how selfishness may be showing up in your marriage, let me first share a quick disclaimer about the title.
Honestly, I was pretty proud of myself for making a clever play on the old saying “sex, money, and rock n’ roll.” Then, a few hours later I sadly realized that the saying was actually “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” – thus making my title less clever. But this not-as-clever-as-I-once-envisioned title was still better than my other lame attempts…so I’m running with it. 😎
Now, on to selfishness within our marriages.
The Sexual Relationship
Healthy marriages are clearly based on so much more than just the physical relationship. However, a mutually satisfying sexual relationship still plays an important part! Author and intimacy expert Laura M. Brotherson shared a number ways in which couples can benefit (both individually and as a couple) as they prioritize lovemaking.
Among these reasons, she noted that sex can improve emotional intimacy, can be a great stress reliever, can actually boost the immune system, can build self-esteem, can improve sleep, and more.
A healthy and mutually satisfying sexual relationship really is a necessary ingredient for a happy marriage.
So, how are things going in your marriage? Is it possible that you’re allowing sexual selfishness to sabotage your marriage?
Sexual Selfishness Quiz
- Do you only consent to sex when you are in the mood?
- Do you insist upon sex when your spouse isn’t in the mood?
- Do you genuinely care about your spouse’s sexual satisfaction?
- Do you place this bonding marital act low on your to-do list?
The sexual relationship can be a wonderful aspect of a healthy marriage. However, when selfishness exists, this part of marriage can become an area of disagreement, stress, and frustration.
Money issues can cause stress in many marriages. Let’s face it, life can be expensive! Lots of articles talks about how financial stress can harm your marriage (see this NY Times article as an example).
Sadly, too many of the “money issues” couples deal with are self-inflicted.
As you take this quiz, honestly check yourself. Is financial selfishness is an issue in your marriage?
Financial Selfishness Quiz
- Do you often find yourself thinking more about buying what you want rather than what your spouse would prefer?
- Do you thing about whether or not your purchases fit within your family’s / couple’s budget?
- Do you purchase things without your spouse’s consent (or against his/her will)?
- Are you sneaky with your spending (like hiding some of your purchases from your spouse)?
Over the years, I’ve come to realize that selfish financial behavior is pretty common. If you struggle with this, please recognize that these habits could really hurt your marriage.
There’s one more area of selfishness that’s a bit sneakier: self-loathing (see this article for more information). Let me clear: being consistently down and hard on yourself is not a very pleasurable form of selfishness. But if we’re consistently “blue,” it can still damage the marriage just like other forms of selfishness.
We all experience some sadness of course. And there are some who struggle with clinical depression and may benefit from medical attention to help with this illness. However, for the rest of us, as we frequently allow ourselves to remain mired in our own “pity parties,” we are unable to give our best to the marriage relationship.
Take this last quiz and ask yourself, are there “pity parties” that are hurting your relationship?
Self-loathing selfishness Quiz
- Do you often find it hard to love and serve your spouse because of how you feel about yourself?
- Do you allow negative thoughts about your body or your appearance to impact your physical relationship?
- Do you convince yourself that you are not a good spouse and then allow those destructive thoughts to become a reality?
Among other things, marriages need consistent attention, friendship, and passion if they are going to thrive. Since we all have a limited amount of time and energy, if we choose to focus inwardly we won’t be able to give the time or energy needed to have a great marriage!
I have yet to see a marriage that hasn’t encountered selfishness at some point. But how we respond to our own “humanness” (as well as the “humanness” of our spouse) makes all the difference.
If you’re guilty of any of these forms of selfishness, for the sake of your marriage, work at it! We all have the ability to improve!
Please remember that happy marriages don’t simply happen. Rather, they are the result of consistent effort and intentional decisions to nourish the relationship.