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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Almost three years ago I had my first “porn talk” with my kids. This came about after reading a simple article about teens and their ever increasing access and inevitable use of pornography. As I read, I became frustrated, then scared and finally determined. I knew I had to educate my kids immediately about this danger, as well as every parent I came in contact with.
I didn’t have all the answers that first day, but it didn’t matter. I opened the door to a new dimension in my relationships with my three kids. A dimension that brought a closeness and unity to our family that was not there before.
Just days after this first talk, I began doing serious research into the devastating effects of porn consumption by children. I read, I dug, I pondered, I planned and within a few months I had created a non-profit organization. An organization that focuses on teaching parents how to create deep connections with their kids and start some pretty challenging conversations about the dangers of pornography, and its opposite, healthy sexuality.
In those first few months of researching, organizing and layering conversations with my kids, I had a tremendous worry. Was I “giving my kids ideas” (or creating an unhealthy curiosity that was not there before)?
The answer became apparent. Yes! I was “giving them ideas.”
And I want you to give your children the same ideas.
Give your kids the idea that you are a great source of reliable, honest information. Let them know through your words and actions that you can speak calmly, comfortably and rationally about human issues that affect all of us, namely, curiosity and sexuality. As you initiate discussions about these topics and pornography, share your personal experiences, spiritual values and expectations kindly and thoughtfully, your child will soon get the idea that his parents are human and make mistakes. They will also see that you are ready to talk about “tough” topics and more importantly, listen to them. I promise you as you answer your kids questions openly and sincerely and they will come back to you for your wisdom and empathy.
I also want you to give your kids the idea that there is nothing shameful or “awkward” in asking questions about and discussing one of the most amazing experiences available to human beings: true intimacy expressed through sexuality. By discussing the positive aspects of sex, you can help them know that sexual intimacy is good, beautiful and enjoyable. Follow this up with a discussion about healthy sexuality’s opposite: pornography. Take the time to explain how porn is the opposite of intimacy, can be addictive, can condition the brain, harm relationships and damage a person’s ability to relate and empathize with others.
Finally, if you continue these discussions at each stage of development, your child will get the idea that curiosity is a God-given gift. He will get the idea that his feelings and questions are normal and natural when you let him know that any question is okay and that you will not judge him harshly for asking ANYTHING.
So if you find yourself saying, “I don’t want to give them ideas.” My answer to you is “Yes! Yes you DO want to give them ideas!” By tackling these crucial topics, you and your child will grow closer together and she will know that she can rely on you to provide helpful information in a loving manner. Here are some topics to guide your conversations:
What Does a Younger Child Need to Know About Sexual Intimacy?
Protective Information (my body belongs to me, good touch/bad touch, how to say “no”)
Bodily Knowledge (anatomy, functions of anatomy, where do babies come from)
Relationship Basics (self-respect, respect for others, romantic love vs. friendships)
Media Savvy (healthy and unhealthy media messages, body image)
*When your child is ready, discuss the mechanics of sex
What Does a Younger Child Need to Know About Pornography?
What it is (define it)
Where it exists (smartphones, tablets, computers, etc.)
What to do when you see porn (Name it, Get away from it, Tell parents, Discuss feelings with seeing it, Deconstruct the images seen, How to prevent further exposure)
Why it should be avoided
What Does an Older Child/Teen Need to Know About Sexual Intimacy?
Sex is healthy and amazing
Intimacy (connecting with another human being) should be the focus
Positive and negative aspects of sex
Protective Information (consent, how predators groom kids/teens)
Bodily Knowledge (puberty, body image, masturbation, mechanics of sex)
Relationship Advice (self-worth, boundaries, healthy vs. abusive relationships)
Media Savvy (healthy/unhealthy media messages, sexting, social media)
What Does an Older Child/Teen Need to Know About Pornography?
My years as a single mom taught me how to strengthen my family and become a better mother.
When I left my husband 8 years ago, I was an emotional train wreck. My very young daughter was clueless as to what was happening, but she knew things had changed and she didn’t like it. It was a dark and scary time for us. I clung to the Lord, and He led me every step of the way. I learned how to create a strong family amidst the rough battle of divorce.
There were, surprisingly, a few perks to my new reality; it was a relief not to worry about dividing my attention between my spouse and my child, and being able to make all the decisions without having to compromise was a huge plus!
If you find yourself in a similar situation, I hope you will find use of these 6 ways to ensure a strong family as a single parent:
1. Speak kindly of your ex.
I could write novels about all the terrible things my ex did during the course of our marriage and fill bookcases more of all that has transpired since then. But as far as my daughter knows, her dad is an angel. She adores her dad, and I’m thrilled that she feels that way. No one wants to hear that someone they love has done something wrong. Your children should not know what caused the separation. They should not know when your ex does or says something mean. It is your responsibility to protect them from the pain and disappointment. If you need to vent, write in your journal or call a friend when you are certain the kids can’t hear your conversation. This step is vital!
2. Schedule time together daily.
Show your children that they are a priority by spending time with them daily. Help them with homework, play a game, watch a favorite tv show. What’s most important about this time is that it’s free of distractions (especially phones and tablets), and that you are doing what your children want to do, not what you want to do. Take an interest in their interests, learn what makes them annoyed and what thrills them. Do this consistently and without a hidden agenda. Soon, they will trust you enough to tell you the things that they fear, things that they are tempted by, and their innermost hopes and dreams.
3. Continue routines.
As much as possible and as is appropriate for your family, continue the routines your children were used to. Like you, they have been through much change and need some consistency. Routine can feel like a safety net for children. If you have always read a bedtime story to your children, keep reading! If every Friday you order pizza, don’t stop now! It will be wonderful for you all to have something familiar during an unfamiliar circumstance.
4. Start new traditions.
While it’s important to maintain normalcy, it’s also important to start some new traditions as you form a new identity as a family. This can be a great discussion you have with your children- maybe each of you could choose 1 new tradition to start. Keep in mind that your visitation likely does not allow you to see the children each holiday, so you may need to celebrate Christmas a day early or Valentines a day late. My daughter told me the best part about having divorced parents is getting to have Santa visit her twice!
5. Make rules clear and consistent.
It is so difficult for children to go back and forth from Mom’s house to Dad’s house with new rules and guidelines at each place. Something you can do to ease their burden is to be very clear about what you will and will not allow while they are in your home. When is bedtime? How much TV is allowed each day? Be clear about consequences, and always follow through. Your children need boundaries, now more than ever.
6. Be strong and optimistic about the future.
If you are constantly negative about your circumstance and expressing worry for what’s to come, you are saying to your children that life is miserable and it probably won’t get better. It is alright to be upset, sad, and worried. But it is not alright to be transparent with your children about those feelings. Be the pillar of strength they can cling to when their world tosses them around.
Raising children alone is difficult, and sometimes feels impossible. But by following these steps you can increase the likelihood of happiness within your family!