The Perfect Last-Minute Valentine’s Gift

Perfect Valentine's Gift

Valentine’s day is upon us, which means, among other things, overpriced chocolate and roses. For struggling relationships, it may provide a disappointing reminder of the love that you don’t feel.  For others, it’s an exciting day to celebrate your love. And for some, it’s an opportunity to try to get your relationship back on track.

No matter what the current state of your marriage, I’ve got the best and most simple Valentine’s gift you could give to yourself and your spouse. When I say best, I don’t mean most expensive or even most creative. When I say simple, I don’t mean easy. But what I do mean is that this gift could do more for your marriage than perhaps anything else.

The Gift

For the rest of this year, until December 31st, your gift is a non-negotiable commitment to do something (which I will describe below) every day. This means that you refuse to go to bed without doing this thing. This means that you are committed to do this even if you are tired, don’t feel like it, or even if your spouse is acting like a jerk. This isn’t their gift to you, it is your gift to them. So, give it no matter what. And if you forget, it is a commitment to make it up by doing two things the next day. Here is your daily objective: 

Every day, do ONE thing that sends a clear message to your spouse that you love them. Don’t do the same thing every day. Mix it up a bit. Spend a few moments contemplating the needs and desires of your spouse, and then respond to their needs or desires in a thoughtful and loving way. Do this without telling your spouse that this is your gift.

Where to Start

For those who don’t know where to start, here are a few ideas: 

  • Write a love note and hide it in a place you know they’ll find it 
  • Do a household task that your spouse normally would do, expecting nothing in return 
  • Offer to give your spouse a back or foot rub, whichever they would prefer 
  • Pick up their favorite treat while you’re at the store 
  • Look your spouse in the eye and tell them one thing about them that you are truly grateful for 
  • Initiate some form of physical touch: a kiss, a hug, a hold, or even sexual intimacy (you should be able to guess whichever they would prefer) 
  • Suggest that you watch a movie that they would like to watch, even if it’s not something you would ever want to watch 
  • Surprise your spouse with a breakfast or lunch date 
  • Send a quick mid-day text to your spouse asking them how their day is going to just to say, “I’m thinking about you. I love you.” 
  • Offer to watch the kids or finish some household tasks while your spouse does something that he or she would like to do

Commit to Love

Buying flowers or chocolate would be a lot easier and even more flashy. But chocolate and flowers won’t produce the effect on your marriage that you really want. You want to feel in love and feel joy in marriage. You want your spouse to know that you really do love them, even though you sometimes don’t act like it (and maybe sometimes don’t feel like it). And you want to set a powerful example to your children that love can be constant in marriage and that there really is love at home.

This is what you really do want, so make a commitment on Valentine’s Day to go get it — even if you think that some of these things are not possible for you. Research shows that you can maintain a strong romantic connection throughout your marriage — if you really want it. What does it look like to really want it? The type of daily, non-negotiable commitment I’ve described.

Why You Should Give This Gift

If you are in a struggling marriage, this type of gift may seem too difficult or even pointless. I promise it’s not. Here is why this activity is not too difficult or pointless and is good for all marriages, even in very difficult circumstances: 

  1. It is one simple thing a day. Anybody can do that every day. It’s a small price to pay for a significant improvement in your quality of life.
  2. You increase the chances that loving feelings will return to your marriage (if they’ve been lost) to both you and your spouse. Loving feelings are the fruit of loving thoughts, words, and actions. If loving feelings are already there, this gift will help you maintain those feelings even when life gets hard.
  3. Your perspective on your spouse and your marriage can improve significantly because every day you are placing more effort and focus on the positive (in thought, word, or deed). For those who already have positive views of their spouse, this gift can protect those views. For those who are struggling, this can help you break out of destructive thought cycles.
  4. You will become a better person and develop a critical life skill: You will learn that you can choose to act certain ways even though you may not feel like it. This is a critical life skill for any successful marriage. This is also a life skill that is required if we are to find joy in any circumstance.

For Valentine’s Day, this is the gift your marriage needs. (Because you are not going to tell them that this is your gift, it might also be a good idea to provide some chocolate or flowers. 😉 ) However, over time, your real gift will taste better than chocolate and smell better than roses.

This article was originally published at www.byuido.org titled “Need a Last-Minute Valentine’s Gift? Here’s the Best Valentine’s Gift You Could Give“.

Dr. Cole Ratcliffe has a PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy from Kansas State University. He currently practices marriage and family therapy and teaches at Brigham Young University- Idaho. He also heads a team of Certified Relationship Educators in sharing their knowledge with those who want to strengthen their relationships.

5 Benefits of Intimacy in Marriage + How to Increase It

happy couple

As human beings, we’re hard wired to connect. In other words, we have a biological need to build close bonds with people! Even as a baby, we connect to our parents for warmth, food, security, and love. When parents meet those needs, bonds of closeness form called attachment. On the other hand, when a parent isn’t there to meet the child’s physical and emotional needs, the child may feel anxious and insecure about seeking help.

These same patterns follow us into our adult romantic relationships as well. When spouses respond with love and make themselves available for each other, they grow closer together.  Not only this, but having a close relationship allows you to share intimate details and experiences with the one you love. This can be a big help during stressful times.

When people hear the word intimacy, they often think of sexual relationships. But intimacy is more than just physical! True intimacy includes emotional closeness too.  Being close emotionally and physically are important and healthy aspects of any good relationship. And what’s more, this intimacy can lead to several health benefits.

Here are just five of the benefits of intimacy in marriage:

1. Intimacy Helps Reduce Stress.

Studies have shown that chronic stress can have a huge negative effect on the body, including insomnia, muscle pain, cardiac events, a weakened immune system, and irritable bowel syndrome.  Thankfully, intimate relationships help reduce stress by allowing spouses to act as a buffer for stressful events.

2. Intimacy Counters Loneliness to Reduce Risk of Mortality.

Recent health studies have linked social isolation (essentially a lack of intimacy) with increased morbidity and mortality. And some studies have found that in addition to higher mortality, loneliness can also affect our thinking, sleeping, and mental and physical well-being. But staying close to your spouse can help reduce your social isolation and feelings of loneliness.

3. Intimacy Fuels a Better Sex Life.

Emotional intimacy can lead better sex in your marriage, which has health benefits in and of itself. Being authentic, open, and willing to listen to each other’s needs will really improve your sexual intimacy experience. Sexual intimacy also releases oxytocin (aka “the cuddle hormone”), which in turn brings you closer to your spouse.

4. Intimacy Helps Reduce Feelings of Anxiety and Depression.

Being sexually intimate with your spouse releases a burst of hormones that will improve mental well-being. But sex isn’t the only thing that releases the feel-good hormone of oxytocin! Studies have found that sharing an intimate act of decision-making or even a simple touch from our loved one changes our brain chemistry and our oxytocin levels. Then those increases help defend against the negative effects of stress.

5. Intimacy and Emotional Support Strengthens You.

Discussing issues with a close, empathetic spouse can be really comforting in times of stress. Your attachment bonds can act as emotional barriers to stress and provide you with security when you’re feeling vulnerable. On the other hand, when emotional insensitivity occurs in a relationship, this can often exacerbate pain.

How to Increase Intimacy in our Relationships

Clearly, being emotionally and physically close to your spouse does a whole lot of good. But just how can you increase that intimacy in your relationship? Here are a few ideas:

  • Be open and honest with each other. Close relationships are built on a foundation of trust and openness. It’s important to share with your spouse the details of your life, both the good and the bad. As you’re authentic in sharing these details, you’ll be able to connect in ways that bring you closer as a couple.
  • Remember that intimacy takes time. You have to spend time together and get to know each other if you want to be close. So spend time getting to know each other’s wants, needs, hopes, and goals. Put down your digital device and actually share with each other face-to-face. Spending electronics-free, quality time with each other will be worth it!
  • Be accepting of your spouse and open to learning. Dr. John Gottman, a nationally recognized marriage therapist, says it’s important to be a friend to your spouse and accept them with their mistakes and weaknesses. Also, as you’re open to learning from your spouse, you can show more empathy and understanding. This will really increase that emotional intimacy with your spouse.
  • Accept your spouse’s bids for connection. Gottman also talks about how important it is to turn toward your spouse as an anchor, which reinforces those bonds of closeness. When you respond to your partner with interest and enthusiasm in small, everyday moments, you build up an “emotional bank account” that helps the relationship weather conflicts. These bids for connection are powerful opportunities to connect with our spouse both emotionally and physically.

Having an intimate and close relationship with our spouse or loved brings many physical and emotional benefits. Reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, increasing our sex life, and countering loneliness are just some of the benefits. Connecting with others can be a huge health benefit and comfort, so start working on your intimacy today!

Dr. Kevin M. Green is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE). He is a full-time professor at BYU Idaho and specializes in human connection and intimacy. He loves baking, reading, and spending time with family and friends. He has been married to his wife Mallory for 21 years and has four amazing children.

3 Keys to Having the Best Date Night Ever!

date night

 

What was once the best day of the week while you were dating can easily become mundane, boring, or even forgotten about once you’ve been married. Date nights have an incredibly important role within marriages. Unfortunately, the plethora of responsibility we each possess relating to roles in school, work, church, and community often make it difficult to prioritize date night like we should.

A few fancy dates per year on special occasions aren’t enough, either. Research has shown that couples who have weekly date nights are 3.5 times more likely to report being “very happy” in their marriages, 3.5 times more likely to report sexual satisfaction within their marriage, and almost 3.5 more likely to report above-average communication satisfaction. Plus, there is a direct correlation between the amount of times that couples spend together and the probability
of divorce.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that date nights are crucial to marital success, the majority of couples report that they “hardly ever” have it. For the sake of our marriages, it’s time to break the status quo and recommit to regular date nights, and we have a few suggestions on how to make them the best they can be.

 

1. Try Something New Together

 

If your date nights are feeling so stale that they aren’t worth it anymore, why not try reinventing them? While it’s fun to have a location or restaurant that’s “yours” as a couple, it’s also important to switch things up every once and a while. Social psychology professor Arthur Aron suggested, “Rather than visiting the same familiar haunts and dining with the same old friends, couples need to tailor their date nights around new and different activities that they both enjoy.”

Research suggests that when you do something new with your spouse, brain circuits are ignited. These brain circuits are the same ones that were ignited when you first fell in love, so trying a new activity together can truly take you back to the most thrilling stage of your relationship, helping you remember what made you first fall in love with your spouse. It doesn’t have to be anything major, either. You can try a new restaurant, swap the time of your date and plan a sunrise or breakfast, visit a landmark that you’ve never been to, or take advantage of community arts classes, like pottery or social dance. With a little planning, it’ll be easy to plan a novel, economical, and totally memorable date night this week.

 

2. Put Your Phone Away

 

Having your phone out during a first date is considered rude and taboo, yet phones often work their way into marital date nights. If you want to plan the best date night ever, phones can’t be anywhere on the itinerary.

Dr. Emma Seppälä, author The Happiness Track, stated, “Intimacy comes from being able to share authentically with another person. If you are looking at your phone rather than in your partner’s eyes, there can be no intimacy.”

A study completed by the University of Chicago proved that simply having a cell phone in the room causes decreased cognitive capacity and focus. Your spouse deserves the focus and attention that you gave them on your first date. Turn your phones on silent, put them away, and if possible, just leave them at home. If you want date night to be special, you need to treat it differently than the other nights of the week, and that means leaving social media, the news, and entertainment apps out of it.

 

3. Take Turns Asking Each Other Out

 

While considering how date night was different now that my husband and I are married, I realized that perhaps the most exciting aspect of our date nights had been entirely lost. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how genuinely ecstatic I felt when I was asked out on the first date with my now-husband, and the second, and the third, and the fourth, and so on. Every time he called to ask me out on another date, I truly felt over-the- moon excited. So why was that practice now lost?

We decided to experiment with this. We took turns planning weekly date nights and made the rule that the respective spouse had to formally ask the other, just like we had when we were first dating. I’ll admit that initially the formality seemed a little silly, but then something happened. I began finding myself looking forward to getting asked out by my husband and wondering when the invitation was coming, and when it did, some of those exact same over-the- moon feelings came back. I found myself taking extra time to get ready for the date night and documenting the date nights with photos and videos, just like we had early in our relationship. Date nights quickly became more like a special event, and less like a necessary weekly formality.

If you wish date nights felt as exciting as they used to while you were dating, why not make them more like when you were dating? Whether it’s formal invitations or something else entirely, examine some of the aspects of your former date nights that have since been forgotten and commit to incorporating them once again in your relationship.

If you aren’t currently having regular date nights and the idea of working a weekly date night into your schedule seems overwhelming and unrealistic, strive initially for some sort of progress and work your way up. Start where you are now, and as you prioritize increasing the frequency and quality of our date nights, you’ll also be prioritizing your family, your marriage, and your spouse.

 

Miriam Merrill has a Bachelor of Science in Marriage and Family Studies with an emphasis in Family Advocacy and Policy. She recently interned with both The Sutherland Institute and Family Policy Resource and attended the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. When she isn’t writing or researching, you can find her performing, singing, and making happy memories with her husband, Sam, and puppy, Jimmy Stewart.

2 Tips to Make Your Valentine’s Day Better Than Ever!

Growing up, Valentine’s Day may have been my 23rd favorite holiday of the year. In fairness, I’m not sure if there are 22 other holidays. Still, you get my point.

It wasn’t that I hated Valentine’s Day. Rather, as a younger version of the male species, I was utterly indifferent to the holiday. What’s more, Valentine’s Day had the misfortunate of aligning itself with my least favorite month of the year.

To a young Dr. Rob (who was certainly no doctor and actually went by Robby at the time), February was the most flawed month. I mean, can’t we all agree that we’ve had our fun with winter by the 2nd month of the year? By February it’s been cold for way too long (at least where I’ve lived), it’s been dark for a long time, and spring still isn’t all that imminent. The one saving grace for February is that it has enough sense to only have 28 days . . . most of the time.

Returning to my previous apathy for Valentine’s Day, you might ask, “Didn’t you have a crush growing up? Didn’t you like girls?” To that I answer with a resounding yes . . . but, shy as I was, none of them ever knew about it. 🙂

But alas, fast forward to 2018 and I now genuinely love this holiday . . . and yes, this a guy we’re talking about (see 48 second mark).

 

Valentine’s Day Tip #1: Focus on love, not just romantic love

 

I often hear individuals reference Valentine’s Day as “Single Awareness Day.” I really do understand that this day, which often focuses on romantic love, can be hard for those either not in a relationship or not terribly happy in their current relationship.

However, focusing more on others and less on ourselves has been and always will be a secret to happiness. So whether you’re 20 years into the marriage of your dreams or that type of relationship remains a future dream, I encourage you (and each of us) to look for ways to help others feel special and loved during Valentine’s Day!

 

Valentine’s Day Tip #2: Focus on intimacy (no, not that kind)

 

This second tip is for those of us who are married. This strategy is just as helpful for those who’ve been married for 5 months as it is for those who’ve been married for 5 decades.

I’ve written in the past about the need for couples to prioritize physical intimacy (here, here, here, and here). No, my thoughts have not changed. Keep prioritizing physical touch on Valentine’s Day and every other day.

However, today I’m talking about the need for emotional intimacy. This form of intimacy leads to the sweet closeness and friendship that you observe in the happiest of marriages. According to Dr. John Gottman, the most successful marriages are built on a deep and abiding friendship.

There are obviously many ways to build a friendship (romantic or otherwise). Not surprisingly, marriages that are filled with kindness, forgiveness, and intentional time together are much more likely to be happy.

For the sake of this article, I want you to focus specifically on another strategy that can help increase the emotional intimacy in your marriage – developing an ongoing love map. Dr. Gottman refers to love maps as knowing the little things about your partner’s life, which creates a strong foundation for your friendship and intimacy.

Understanding the concept of the love map is not too challenging. The challenge comes in prioritizing the time needed to connect. However, as we put down the technology a little more, prioritize date night and couple time, and really focus on understanding and knowing our spouse (hopes, dreams, fears, etc.), each of us can increase the emotional intimacy in our marriages!

 

From the team at Family Good Things, we not only wish you a happy Valentine’s Day but hope you make this one to remember!

valentine'sday

 

Please help us strengthen families by sharing this article with your friends and family! For more of Dr. Rob’s articles (as well as articles by Dr. Tim), be sure to also check out the rest of our blog and our Facebook page.

5 Reasons Why Marriage Matters

marriage matters

Marriage means different things to different people. For some, marriage is just a piece of paper. (In fact, the Pew Research Center found that almost 4 in 10 Americans think marriage is obsolete.) For others, marriage is a nice but perhaps unreachable ideal. And for others still, marriage is desirable but just hasn’t happened yet. (More Pew Research data found that about 6 in 10 unmarried Americans want to get married.)

Regardless of what people think about marriage, here’s the question: Does marriage really matter? Is the institution of marriage obsolete, or is it something that can benefit individuals, families, and society as a whole?

Here are a *few reasons why social science suggests that marriage really does matter.

 

1. Marriage Strengthens Families

While non-traditional families can still have a great deal of love, social science research shows that marriage promotes even stronger relationships. For example, according to the Institute for American Values, when parents are married, they’re more likely to have positive relationships with their children.

Marriage also provides a more stable family environment for kids. An international report from the Social Trends Institute found that children born to cohabiting parents are “more likely to see their parents split by age 12 than children born into married families.”

 

2. Marriage Improves the Economy

Marriage may have great benefits for families, but it’s not just the families that benefit. Research shows that marriage does a lot to improve the economy! Marriage both reduces poverty and increases wealth. In fact, the Heritage Foundation says that marriage may be “America’s greatest weapon against child poverty”!

 

3. Marriage Helps with Physical Health

Surprisingly enough, having a healthy marriage can lead to physical health benefits too! One meta-analysis explains that the physical health benefits of marriage “may be as large as the benefit from giving up smoking.”

Read that sentence again. Yeah, you read it right! Marriage may do as much for your health as it would to quit smoking. That’s a pretty big health benefit right there.

Marriage may also lead to not just a healthier life, but also a longer one. Research shows that on average, married people live longer than unmarried people do.

 

4. Marriage Helps with Mental Health

Marriage does more than just help your physical health; it can help your mental health too! One international study found that married couples are happier overall, even compared to couples who live together. And as marriage researcher Paul Amato explained it, married people “report fewer symptoms of depression and are less likely to think about suicide.”

 

5. Marriage Reduces Crime and Domestic Violence

Healthy marriages can help reduce crime for both parents and children. Studies show that married women are much less likely to experience domestic abuse. Not only this, but kids who grow up with married parents are less likely to become involved in criminal activity. (Check out the US Department of Justice’s report on how family life affects crime here!)

 

So What?

If marriage really does matter so much, then what should you do about it? Here are some things to consider.

 

  • Share the facts. People in the world today don’t always realize just how great or important marriage is. So share it with them! (You can start by sharing this article. 😉 )
  • Teach your children. Because much of the world says marriage isn’t important (remember that Pew survey?), your kids won’t see why marriage matters unless you tell them. And perhaps more important than telling them is showing them.
  • Strengthen your marriage. These benefits are found most in healthy marriages. So do what you can to strengthen your marriage, and you’ll be much more likely to see the plus side of marriage.

 

Now you may be wondering, is marriage the magical cure-all for personal and societal problems? Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Most of these benefits are associated with healthy marriages, which takes work and effort. (For example, check out Dr. Rob’s article about the importance of being intentional in marriage.) But as we try our best to improve our marriages, we’ll have happier, healthier families and a happier, healthier world.

 

*The idea for this article came from the Institute for American Value’s publication, Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences. Check out the summary of it in their PDF here.

 

Elizabeth Warner is the content manager for Family Good Things, just gave birth to her first child, and recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marriage and family studies. For more articles by Elizabeth, Dr. Rob, or Dr. Tim, check out the rest of our blog and our Facebook page.

 

Dealing with Disclosure: Handling Pornography in Your Marriage

spouse pornography addiction

Sarah’s Story*

“I could barely function. My home quickly became a disaster. Dirty dishes were stacked in my sink for days while the cockroaches multiplied. I couldn’t sleep. I had no appetite and lost over five pounds in my second trimester of pregnancy. I threw my toddler in front of the TV for more hours than I would like to admit. … The first month after his disclosure we ate fast food almost every night and the second month we ate frozen food. …Anytime I talked to friends I would think, If only you knew what my life was really like. On the outside it seemed like I had everything together, but I felt like my life was falling apart.”

Discovering Pornography Addiction

The discovery of your spouse’s pornography addiction will cause a variety of mental, emotional and physical responses. From anxiety, depression, and overwhelming doubts and fears; to feelings of undesirability, decreased self-worth, migraines, fatigue, nausea, and cold sweats, the response is as varied as the spouses who experience it.

Research shows that pornography addiction is viewed as infidelity, and is often described by the spouse or partner as “betrayal,” “cheating,” or an “affair.” Just because your spouse hasn’t been with someone else physically, it doesn’t hurt any less. In fact, it’s still called betrayal trauma.

According to the book Love and Betrayal: Stories of Hope, betrayal trauma “refers to the damage that is caused when someone experiences a betrayal in their primary relationship that damages the trust, safety and security of the bond they have with their partner,” and is truly trauma in every sense of the word.

Clearly, the disruption this event causes in your life can have no other description than trauma. And just as any other traumatic event, it leaves wounded people behind, in need of care and attention. When it is your spouse’s pornography addiction, you are the wounded. Because of this, you need to experience your own healing too!

With that in mind, and while there isn’t a one-size-fits-all remedy, here are a few points that will assist you as you seek additional help in this journey.

1. It’s Not Your Fault

The most important thing to realize is that the addiction of your spouse is not your fault. There isn’t a thing that could be further from the truth! The guilt-trip-go-around will not fix your spouse, it will not help you heal, and it will only make your personal suffering worse.

Wondering where you went wrong or blaming yourself for not being enough will only make you lose more sleep at night. Instead please, please know it is not your fault, and dismiss that dialogue from your head.

2. Time and Space to Grieve

While it isn’t your fault, you are not immune from the effects of your spouse’s addiction. Naturally, your spouse’s disclosure may leave you feeling unsafe and vulnerable. Because of this, you likely need time and space to grieve.

Creating space can help you find feelings of safety and deal with what you’ve just been told. This may include a literal separation from your spouse for a time, be it sleeping in different rooms, staying in different living places, or simply spending time away from each other. During this time, avoid making major decisions about whether or not you and your spouse should permanently stay together. The point is to give yourself time and space to deal with the new information and cope with your changing relationship.

3. Practice Self-Care

After the disclosure of addiction, it feels like your world has been shattered. Getting up in the morning feels impossible, and easy tasks now require incredible effort. While you may take a few days off from work, or have the kids stay with grandma for a time, you can’t check out of life forever.

You need to find healing yourself, and part of getting better is practicing self-care. Self-care constitutes the things you do for your mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health to feel well. Even if you can only do one thing, like go for a daily walk, do it!

Other ideas for self-care include reading a favorite book, taking a nap, eating healthy foods, exercise, having a hot bath, listening to relaxing music, etc. The point of this is to begin healing you by focusing on you. Practicing self-care will help you to take care of you and what you need so that you can cope with the issue at hand.

4. Find Your Support Team

Though this is your personal healing journey you are on, you shouldn’t undertake it simply on your own. You need support! While there may be a member of your family or a good friend that is willing to listen and offer support, this may not be sufficient. Support groups for spouses can be an invaluable resource for you. Also, finding a credible therapist, coach or peer specialist will help you work through your experience and help you develop new skills to help you thrive.

Please note, whether your additional help be through a counselor, coach, peer specialist, therapist and/or support group, you should seek professional help.

The Healing Journey

The journey through discovery, disclosure, betrayal and trauma is not an easy road. Nor is it a road for just your spouse to walk. You too need to work through and heal from the aftermath of a pornography addiction: the lying, broken promises, shattered expectations, emotional loss. You are worth every investment you make on yourself, and you need healing as much as your spouse does.

 

*Sarah’s story is told in the book Love and Betrayal: Stories of Hope. While this is her story, it represents many other spouses with similar experiences.

 

Katherine Wahlen is a marriage and family studies major at Brigham Young University – Idaho. She currently works for a company called Change My Heart that helps with addiction recovery for individuals and their spouses. Katherine is also developing a research-based curriculum for husbands and wives to find support and recovery through their spouse’s pornography addiction.