Question #1 – Do your marital expectations harm or enhance your marriage?
Harm – You and / or your spouse have unrealistic expectations, assuming your marriage will automatically be “happily ever after.”
Unfortunately, the media does a fantastic job portraying the dangerous myth that marital bliss is immediate and effortless. Have you bought into this myth? While marriage offers the opportunity for extraordinary happiness (and I intentionally stress the word opportunity), this takes consistent effort!
Harm – You have resigned yourself to always having a sub-par marriage.
This mindset will poison your relationship. Our expectations – good or bad – frequently influence our decisions. Regardless of how happy you are presently in your marriage, you won’t achieve the healthiest version of your marriage without first understanding that the possibility of marital happiness exists for every couple!
Enhance – You recognize that a healthy marriage is possible and that it is worth every effort to achieve such a relationship. You also realize that there is no shortcut to marital happiness. Finally, you recognize that destiny and soulmates aren’t the ingredients to marital happiness (sorry Hollywood), rather friendship, forgiveness, and hard work!
Every successful marriage for every happy couple in the world is the result of intentionality and hard work. In all of my years studying marriage and observing couples, I am yet to see an exception to this rule.
Question #2 – Are you following the blueprints to build a marriage shack or a marriage mansion?
Marriage Shack – Not to be confused with The B-52’s song “Love Shack,” if your goal is to build a marriage shack you really need set better goals [Symbol]. As you know, a shack is either haphazardly constructed of cheap materials or refers to a structure that may have once been nice but has since fallen into disrepair.
If either of these analogies describes your current marriage, you need to tear up those blue prints and create a much better design. Why have a shack when you could have a mansion?
Marriage Mansion – Admittedly, I have never lived in a mansion. But I’ve visited a few! Usually, they seem to be beautifully decorated and meticulously maintained with plenty of space.
This applies to marriages as well. The happiest of relationships are built on a beautiful friendship. These couples pay meticulous attention to each other’s needs, hopes, fears, and desires. And these couples nurture their marriage by spending ample time together.
You may not feel like your marriage resembles a mansion just yet. But if you ever hope to have that marriage mansion, it is critical that you follow the right blueprint. Marital mansions are constructed with kindness, selflessness, forgiveness, resilience, and emotional and physical intimacy. Further healthy communication and sufficient time together are always necessary to construct such a marriage.
Like me, you also may never actually live in an actual mansion (not a huge tragedy). But missing out on the opportunity to construct this type of a marriage really is a tragedy.
I encourage each of you to carefully evaluate your expectations for your marriage as well as your current blueprint for maximizing the happiness in this relationship. Remember, a truly happy marriage is worth every effort!
You’ve probably already figured this out, but parenting is hard work!
Before I go any further, I want to get one thing straight. I love being a parent. My wonderful wife and I have been blessed with 6 talented, beautiful, and sweet children. No, they are not perfect. But, I genuinely believe that they are much better children than I was at their age. It’s really a privilege to be their dad. And more than that, it’s a lot of fun!
That said, not every day is just fun and games. While being a parent brings many joys, it also brings its fair share of challenges.
While I do love being a dad, sometimes I get down on myself because I long to be a better parent. And the harsh reality is that I really have no excuses! I have two degrees in Family Studies (including my PhD), and I have taught family classes at the university level for the past decade (including parenting classes).
I really do know what I’m supposed to be doing. So why do I mess up so much?!
Some of My Frequent Mess Ups
- I am often too impatient with my children. (Honestly, I didn’t even realize that I struggled with patience until I became a parent!)
- I’m too quick to correct a child in front of other family members. I know this is wrong, I really do – but in the emotion of the moment, it’s easy to make the wrong choice.
- I sometimes mishandle children’s emotions. As my oldest child entered adolescence, words like “this really isn’t something to cry about” would sometimes escape my lips – which isn’t exactly following the counsel that Dr. Tim provided here.
Hang in There!
Unfortunately, wallowing in my weaknesses will never help me be a better parent. Sometimes we simply need to get up one more time when we’re knocked down and recognize that our children will generally forgive us of our “humanness” – especially when they know we’re trying our hardest.
As you honestly assess your own parenting deficiencies, please also remember the many, many good things you are already doing for your children. The fact that you would read a blog article like this speaks volumes to you as a mother (or father). Yet for many of you, especially women, it can be hard to notice the good things that you’re doing; it’s so easy to be blinded by our feelings of inadequacy!
As a scholar, a teacher, and a father, I assure you that there is no greater cause than helping our families successfully navigate life. And in my opinion, there is no other job, duty, or task as important as being a parent.
So the next time you’re having one of those not-so-fun parenting days, hang in there. You’re doing better than you think!
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.