Monday, August 31, 2009

Self-Denial & Marriage

Once in a while the opportunity arises to think of our spouse instead of ourselves. These fleeting chances don’t come along very often, but when they do, and if we grab them, the warm and fuzzy feeling it infuses in our marriage makes it worth whatever the cost. Here are a few examples of events and opportunities we can look for to deny our own needs and wants inside our relationship, and to enhance the quality of our marriage with very little effort.

We’ve heard for years that role reversal can be a distressing thing, that when we step outside our assigned spot we invite all manner of disruption and discord. But what if we made the reversal something of a routine, thereby lessening its impact? Say we take turns cooking, or making grocery rounds, or even getting the car, lawn mower, furnace and/or air conditioner serviced. None of those items require a specific gender marker, and our mate will be astonished if we step outside ourselves, get over whatever squeamishness we may have about any of the tasks listed above and, as the ad says, “Just do it!” The look on their face will be priceless.

Ask them what they wish we’d stop doing. This one’s tough; we have to be able to listen--we did ask, after all--and what they tell us may not be easy to hear. But they’ll appreciate the gesture, and my guess is, that every couple has things they’d like to discuss with each other about minor irritants (or not so minor). My other guess is that we already know the answer, and we’re just getting them to confirm what we suspect. In any case, the conversation is always helpful, just for the communication if nothing else. Plus, then you get to tell them something!

Don’t be afraid to solicit advice and ideas from close friends. Since we started our marriage website, my wife and I have been amazed at the number of couples who seem almost embarrassed to celebrate their marriage. This self-consciousness about being together is pervasive, and, we believe, corrosive to relationships. Asking others what works for them in terms of rituals, time together, bonding and communicating may elicit stares and stammering from other couples, but it may produce some gems, too. We’ve been pleasantly surprised at our seminars at the great ideas couples have for sharing their love and commitment to each other. The other gratifying thing we’ve learned is that couples with similar values, views, and energy levels attract each other. And it works both ways: negative, acerbic couples seem to enjoy sharing their harsh view of the world; positive, upbeat couples hang with those who share their optimistic, positive view.

Some years ago Carly Simon sang about ‘Anticipation’. The song was atop the charts for several weeks, and is still heard from time to time. It’s likely that no single effort endears people to each other more in relationships than the simple act of anticipating the others’ needs. Many times I’ve been able to enjoy the look on my wife’s face when, as she enters our home after work, the exact meal she hoped would be on the table actually is there waiting for her. It’s moments like these that make a marriage endure. And it’s all about anticipation. In addition, the effort seems to be not only contagious, it also appears to be self-perpetuating. Call it marital telepathy: the more we anticipate our partner’s needs and wants, the easier it is to do the same next time. After awhile it seems to come naturally, like reading each other’s minds. It can get downright eerie after a string of such occurrences. Any number of times my wife and I have experienced a similar urge to call each other with specific information, prepared a favorite meal we knew they’d want, or made arrangements to see or do something to please them--well before they asked for it. This could be a rather subjective method of determining the potential for longevity in a marriage: after a year, see how well the pair reads the others’ thoughts, and judge from that. Instead of the newlywed game, call it perhaps the first anniversary game instead, at which time the exercise can be performed, and a score tallied.

Finally, not so much self-denial as distraction-denial--kids, television, computers, Wii, hobbies, yard work, tasks of all sorts that can wait--these are the things that need to be secondary to a relationship. These are the things that our mate, our best friend, may want us to put aside, but be hesitant to ask for. Willingness to put them first is always a win-win. Here’s the deal: if we’d put those things aside for our best friend--then we should do it that much sooner for our mate.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Reconnecting With Your Spouse

What happens when the kids finally do leave home? It seems as if life with children is lived in stages; when they get out of diapers, when child care issues aren't a consideration, when shuttling kids to & from activities is over, when they get their driver's license (yikes!) when they go off to college, when they move out (after they've moved home again).
Then comes this question we may ask ourselves, "Who is this person I married so long ago and what was it that brought us together in the first place?"
Over the next few weeks we'll share stories of couples who've worked through some of the challenges the empty-nest can bring, as well as ways to enrich your marriage.
One of the stories includes how one couple rebuilt their communication by using a traveling journal. Tune in soon for details on how this fun (and free) tool can enrich your life too.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sawing logs: Snoring, your love life, and some options to sleeping alone.
Here’s a conversation my spouse and I have had several times in the past year or so:
“How did you sleep, dear?”
“Ah, um, well...”
“Damn--Did I do it again?”
“Uh, you know, it’s no big deal.”
“How many times did you try to wake me?”
“Two, maybe three. It’s no big deal, really.”
It is a big deal, though, when your mate has to nudge you ‘two or three’ times during the night, which likely means eight or ten times, when you were sawing logs and keeping them awake. Snoring has become the nighttime national epidemic, robbing our spouses of sleep, stealing quality sleep from us, and signaling at least potentially serious health problems such as sleep apnea. Plus, snoring can interfere with our marital bliss in the one place we most associate with that emotion, our bedrooms. Here are a few alternatives to this raucous, maddening development, and nocturnal marriage threat.

For those of us, myself included, who prefer to awaken with our mate beside us, hopefully well rested, here are a few things to try:

1 An oral appliance which is fit to you, and which must be checked periodically by a dentist. This hardware, like a mouthpiece you might have used in high school football, extends the tongue and soft palate to, hopefully, eliminate snoring.

2 Medical procedures such as a UPPP, Somnoplasty, CPAP.

3 A simple yet effective treatment, and one to try first, may be the old fashioned method of losing weight.
Cut down or eliminate alcohol consumption, especially within four hours of bedtime. The same goes for sedatives, oddly enough. Easy on the sleeping pills; they may be having the opposite effect.
Pillows: if you tend to roll onto your back, prop one on either side, so you stay lying on your side.
Have an allergy, cold, nasal interruption for any reason? That can easily make you snore, even if you never did. Address the symptoms, and get some sleep.

Snoring needn’t come between you and a good night’s sleep. It needn’t become an issue between you and your mate, either. Simply ignoring the snoring monster is a no brainer: don’t do it. Often, just actively seeking a cure for snoring is enough to elicit your mate’s gratitude and help. And if the snoring persists, or gets worse, it might be time to seek medical advice. It could be obstructive sleep apnea, a potentially serious health risk.
If your morning conversation is filled with dread about your nocturnal lumbering activity, your raucous imitation of a sawmill at full tilt, and you repeatedly awake to find your mate gone, off to another, more peaceful part of the house, try the tips above, and sweet dreams.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rituals in Marriage: Couple Glue for the two of you.

“At the core, what rituals do is, they give you a sense of history, predictability, playfulness or something to look forward to.”
Dr. Carol Bruess, author of What Happy Couples Do.

Everyone has rituals whether they realize it or not. Married couples have a lot of rituals, and they act as a kind of glue that holds the union intact, even in good times. Maybe especially in good times. The word ritual in fact, has the same root as the word rite, which is the act that makes us married people in the first place. From Latin ‘ritus’ via middle English for descriptions of ceremonies, the word has a long history with communities and couples. It also gave us the word arithmetic, originally meaning to count, or pronounce noteworthy. From the Encyclopedia Brittanica “Ritual is a specific, observable mode of behavior exhibited by all known societies. It is thus possible to view ritual as a way of defining or describing humans.”
All known societies. That means all of us. In marriage, though, the rituals of our daily interaction describe not just the initiation or onset of a new status or identification, but an ongoing behavior that almost identifies us to each other. Think of the Newlywed Game TV show many years ago. Those young, or not so young, couples were asked to identify behaviors of their mates. Then the recently off-stage mate was asked to identify with those behaviors. It was interesting to note how many times couples got it wrong, meaning that one or the other didn’t recognize a ritual as such. Over time, those people will see more clearly the ways those behaviors impact their mate and the relationship.

Rituals run the gamut from heartwarming to irritating, and everything in between. Some define roles in the relationship: he takes out the trash; she irons clothes, or the other way around. In some marriages he decides on vehicle matters; she defines the house and its contents. He might organize the vacation, while she sets up child care and the kennel.
But the rituals that truly matter in a relationship are the fun, romantic, bonding behaviors that are like the DNA of the marriage. Call it couple glue. Here’s a list of wonderful rituals gathered over many years. They’re loving, fun, even fascinating snippets of creative outreach between people fortunate enough to be deeply in love with their mates, regardless of the number of years together. And the exhilarating part is, they’re available for use by everyone.

Love notes--the old standby. Leave them everywhere, and at random. They don’t have to be extensive. In fact, shorter is better. Forget Twitter--write something.

A single flower goes a long way.

Be on the lookout for casual announcements from your mate such as “I’d sure like to...” Make that happen, and you’re the most romantic spouse on earth.

After ‘hello’, say something uplifting and complimentary. “Have I told you lately that I adore you?” is far better than “Did you remember to cancel the paper?” Make it a ritual.
Whisper. It’s incredibly romantic, and it drives the kids nuts. Great ritual.

Home from work, just snuggle in complete silence for long minutes.

Anticipate chores they hate, and do them ahead of time. This is love in action.

Nicnames may sound silly, but they identify you. ‘Goofball, Fred, Betty, snuggle-butt, sexpot, honey-bear, there are a thousand of them, a million maybe.

Remember their parents’ anniversaries/birthdays/death dates/red letter days.

Two words: Chocolate and Port.

Call them out of the blue.

Carve your initials in a tree. Yes, inside a heart.

Guys--open her car door for her. Old fashioned? Sure, that’s the point.

Women--talk him up. Men simply love it when wives brag, especially if it’s true.

Never share a mate’s deficiencies with anyone.


Women--tell your mate what you want.

Guys--no teasing, about anything.

Women--no criticizing, just pose ‘opportunities to improve’.

Select a keyword. Use it for ‘rescue me’, or ‘I need you to listen’, or ‘I’d rather not invite the Johnsons to dinner because they snipe at each other’. Keywords are handy. My wife and I use ‘fascinating’, as in, ‘The Johnsons are fascinating people, dear’. Guess who doesn’t get invited? Another, somewhat more exciting keyword can signal a desire for sex. The secret there is that every couple has one of these already whether they acknowledge it or not.

Maybe the best ritual of all is to simply show gratitude for everything your mate does. Marriage isn’t all sweetness and light, after all. It involves the interaction of two people who will have two different styles in everything from money to sex to clutter, to child-rearing. The best way to steer clear of petty clashes and irritation about those stylistic differences is to find something positive about the issue at hand, and be grateful for the way your mate handles it. Gratitude goes a long way to soothing upsets. It’s a good ritual to acquire in any marriage.

Rituals are such a critical part of relationships it’s good to identify the ones that define ours. Everyone has them; everyone needs them. It may even be more important to identify those which cause us irritation and discomfort over time--the way dirty clothes are left around, closets in disarray, those after dinner retreats to the den, leaving dirty dishes. Those are rituals, too. They may hold us together in ways we didn’t anticipate, minor irritations that we mention to friends in negative ways. In that regard we ought to turn them around, insert positives in their place, and reap the reward of their impact on the relationship. Couple glue should be warm and bonding. Great rituals can help make that happen.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Empty Nest

Filling the empty nest: Nurturing each other post-child rearing. (For 8/24/09)

The house even sounds empty, doesn’t it? You walk in and your footfall seems to echo; the sounds of the refrigerator clanking on startles you with its suddenness; imaginary kid sounds emanate from empty upstairs rooms. Pictures on the mantel stare back, and you remember when they were that age, and marvel at quickly time has passed. You miss your children: the laughter in the house; the hum of their constant presence; the palpable sensation that they are there, and that they need you. They were job one for as long as you can recall. Now they’re gone, and you miss them.
But there’s something else you miss. You miss each other; the easy interaction before the kids came along; the ability to throw a change of clothes and a toothbrush in a bag, jump in the car, tear away to New York, or San Francisco, or Kansas City for a long weekend, and never even think about the house, or pets, or kids. It was so easy, and you took for granted that it always would be. All you needed was a little cash, and a roadmap, and you were perfectly content.
But it goes deeper than that, doesn’t it? Admit it; you miss each other. The years of looking after the kids, being there for them whenever they needed you 24/7, always, always aware of their needs, presence, attachment, and care really did get between the two of you. Admit it. It happens to all of us. For long years we live for our kids.
And then one day they’re gone, off to school, careers, wives and husbands of their own, and you’re left with each other, almost strangers. And it happens so fast, almost like a whirlwind, that it can take your breath away. The real fear is that it has taken you away. Away from the one person you’ve shared the burden of child rearing with, the one person whom you miss even more than the kids.

Well, those people are still around, just a bit older, wiser, and equally curious about what happened to those two lovers who used to jump in the car and drive five hundred miles on a whim, have friends over till 2 a.m. playing Trivial Pursuit, or make love in the middle of the afternoon, blissfully carefree and unconcerned that you’d be interrupted. That’s the good news, you see? You now have that back again, and more, once you reorganize around the two of you, and let the kids go, because they’re already gone.
Today’s empty nesters have an advantage our parents didn’t have: once we get our kids out the door, launched and successful, we can easily be looking at another thirty years child free. Years of introducing ourselves to each other all over again; years of getting to know our spouses in ways we never could have imagined. We’re different people now, to be sure, and that’s very good news. We are, as indicated above, older, wiser, and even more exciting, we’re more interesting people. When we first met the spark of romance, of curiosity about the other was powerful. Not to mention the physical attraction, which seemed to overshadow everything else at times. Now we’re a lot more knowledgeable about the world, steeped in perspective, sure of ourselves, and confident. Plus, for most people, we have a lot more disposable income with the kids gone. And, if we’re willing to look at it objectively, that’s a much sexier, more appealing package than when we first met and all we had between us was perhaps a backpack full of books and our ambition to change the world.
Once the world has changed us, and the kids go away, here are a few ways to regain the connection we once enjoyed. Here are a few suggestions to reconnecting with your mate.

1 Set up a date. Call each other up, meet at a fine restaurant, and instead of going home, spend the night together at a hotel. Take the time to map out a real plan, a strategy for the next year or so concerning your goals and ambitions. It’s possible that neither of you even remembered the dream of living in Shanghai, teaching English, the fantasy you laughed about in college. You could rent the house, sign up with an agency and truly do that. Why not? At least talk it out. Talk about your money goals: you really could acquire a rental property, especially in this economy, and have it for income and a tax break. Talk about your plan for keeping the kids from returning home. No kidding, the boomerangers can disrupt even the best laid plans. Talk about what you’ll do if one of them can’t find work, and asks to come home. It could happen. It does happen.

2 Find a charity you both support, and make it your shared passion. There are fine organizations out there that need your help*. Get online and research one or two, then make a goal of helping. You were filled with an altruistic impulse years ago; rediscover that, and make it a shared commitment. One charity we support is, a fine group that allows you to bankroll women in third world countries with microcredit so they can establish a business of their own. There are no middlemen, the system works wonderfully well to elevate women in their society, and they even pay you back! There are many charities you and your spouse can help, and they’ll help you in return.

3 If you’re able to, take off for a year and travel. Friends of ours did this with a camper they converted, stocked, and drove all over the United States. Then they wrote about it. Their book ‘Live Your Road Trip Dream: Travel for a Year for the Cost of Staying Home’, by Phil and Carol White** chronicles their journey, and is filled with useful information on how to make it happen for yourself. Don’t have a year? Take the summer. Take a month. The idea is to get to know each other again, and reconnect. Done right, it can be a revelation.

4 Radical ideas may be the best ones. After all, this ain’t a dress rehearsal, as they say. Do you need all that house? If you find yourself asking why you have all that room to bang around in, why not sell it and move in to something smaller? Sure, the market is lousy, but who knows when it’ll get better? Besides, a seller becomes a buyer, and there are a lot of bargains out there. If you buy right, you may be better off. The real plus in this idea is the opportunity to clean out closets, shed a few thousand knick-knacks you’ve been wanting to dump, and to consolidate the artifacts of your life into a meaningful collection. Do you really want to keep that lava lamp? The yard sale could finance the microcredit loan to Kiva.

5 Just talk to each other again. Turn off the TV, the computer, the iPhones. Ignore the doorbell. Let the answering machine get the calls. Disappear into a shell for days at a time.
6 Take dance lessons. Join a travel club. Take classes together, either on campus or on line. Start a collection of something--art, glassware, old train sets, artifacts from your wedding year, autographs of authors or movie stars. First editions. Signed first editions. Write a book together. Start an empty-nesters club for recipes, dinners, plays, movies, sports activities, or the charity you picked. Start an investment club. There are an unlimited number of ways for you to rediscover a shared passion: your marriage, and each other.
The nest is only empty of kids, and it suddenly has a whole lot more room. This is your chance to nurture each other, and to start enjoying that nest egg you’ve been building.

*Try to check on every aspect of an organization, and to find worthwhile causes.
**©Copyright 2004 Phil and carol White

Friday, August 21, 2009

Make love, not laps. Sex benefits our health

The new swine flu, flesh eating bacteria, e-coli at the salad bar, where will it end? Just when you thought science dredged up only bad news comes this from across the Atlantic. Finally, there’s proof that sex, and it seems that it’s happy, satisfying, monogamous sex we’re referring to, actually helps us live longer. In an age of anxiety over health care plans, HMOs, managed care, overpriced insurance and uncertainty out of Washington, it turns out that regular bedroom intimacy with a loving, faithful partner is as salutary as we’d suspected all along.
Yes, there will be the naysayers, and those who claim that it’s just those randy Brits at it again with their prurient diversions, this time from a laboratory, funded no doubt with cash from their socialized medicine coffers. And there will be those who claim, not without justification, that the study was a waste of such funds, since a celibate life isn’t worth living, much less extending anyway. But for the real proof, here it is.
A recent study at Queens University in Belfast Northern Ireland* showed that frequent, satisfying sex has a remarkable affect on overall life satisfaction. No surprise there. As I said, we’ve long suspected as much. But the extensive study also demonstrated that regular sex has a proven affect on overall health and longevity in males. The mortality of about 1,000 middle-aged men was followed over the course of a decade. After a 10 year period, the British Medical Journal Lancet revealed that the men who reported the highest frequency of orgasm enjoyed a death rate 50 percent lower than the others.
It gets better. This and other studies have shown that having sex a few times a week has a direct link to reduced risk of heart disease: In a 2001 follow-up to the Queens University study, researchers looked at cardiovascular health. They found that men who have sex three or more times a week lowered their risk of heart attack and stroke by 50 percent. (!)
There were remarkable other findings as well, none of which are terribly surprising either, it’s just that they’ve rarely been demonstrated in a scientific journal. Here’s an example. From enjoying regular intimate contact with their mates, weight loss was noticeable in men over fifty. It makes sense; particularly after a certain young age, sex is a lot like exercise, not to say work, at times. A vigorous session in bed is about the same as running for 15 minutes or playing a game of tennis. They don’t call a tie score in tennis love for no reason, after all. During sex, your pulse rate rises from about 70 beats per minute to 150, similar to what you'd get from a vigorous workout at the gym. It may be the perfect aerobic exercise. Make love, not laps.
But wait, it gets even better. Sex as pain relief? Here’s another fascinating outcome of the study. Just before climax, our level of a hormone called oxytocin surges to five times its normal level. Five times! This flood of hormonal anesthesia releases endorphins, which alleviate the pain of everything from headaches to arthritis - even migraines. In women, orgasm stimulates the production of estrogen, which can reduce the pain of PMS. “Not tonight, dear, my headache is gone”.

As far as the long-term partner aspect of the study, there was really no mention of the gender of the so called ‘control group’, the other half of the participants. Indeed, the study focused solely on male health and longevity. Let’s hope a similar experiment arrives soon, based on the female model, and what the affects of a robust sexual experience has on them. If the Queens study is any indication, the results will be similar. One potential outcome may be, that women who enjoy a lot of intimate activity just happen to be married to a person who just happens to enjoy as much intimacy as she does, and just happens to want her to stick around for as long as possible. And that would come as no surprise either. We don’t really need to spend a lot of research money that could be put to better use. We could spend those dollars, or pounds sterling, developing vaccines for swine flu, eradicating this flesh eating menace, or buying sneeze shields for the salad bar.

*Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Queen's University of Belfast, Belfast BT12 6BJ

Monday, August 17, 2009

48 hours

Mariah and I have what we refer to as the ’48 hour rule’. Just as the name implies, for any substantial decision, house repair, kid crisis, vehicle issue, expenditure over about 50 dollars, we refer to the 48 hour--let’s-put-this-aside rule, and almost invariably our decision about whatever has arisen is better than an instant, gut-reaction one might have been. Some of the time the decision is identical; sometimes they’re very different, even polar opposite; sometimes, and this is perhaps the larger point, there’s no decision to make because the event, crisis or issue has simply dissipated or resolved itself. And invariably we’re glad we invoked this rule, and remain comfortable with the outcome.

Recently our daughter, newly married, announced that, for reasons irrelevant here, she and her new hubby were through, done, history. She was moving out, finished, didn’t want to talk about it. The way it was presented was, of course, a pretty transparent attempt to get a rise from us, and enlist our help against the scoundrel who do such a dastardly deed. Her vocabulary, volume and sense of indignity were palpable on the phone, reminiscent of some hyperbolic Hollywood vixen scorned and demeaned, bent on the most painful and irreversible mayhem on the lad, my new son-in-law.
The 48 hour rule? Instantly and absolutely. It worked very well when we decided on the spur of the moment to book our vacation to Paris instead of Key West. (The keys are magical). It worked ever so well when another daughter announced she would quit college over a “useless, asinine stats course I have to take and I’ll never use!” The graduation was delightful. It worked even when we decided to go ahead with the purchase of the Honda wagon, even with its 93,000 miles. At 130,000 it’s barely broken in.
The scrapping newlyweds? Love birds once again. How long did the little dustup last? You guessed it, about 48 hours.

It’s a useful tool to cool things off, allow, as doctors say, the tincture of time to do its magic, and to deal with what we have even today, too much information that makes us react too quickly, forcing decisions we likely would have made differently. The 48 hour rule: try it. But wait a couple of days.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Congratulations Iowa

We're excited to be celebrating Marriage for Everyone on Caffection Married to my Best Friend! As former Iowans, we proudly jumped in and created a musical photo album as a tribute to Heartland Marriage Celebration.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Change happens

Change happens.


To everyone.

It's been said that everyone is going into a crisis, in a crisis or just coming out of a crisis. Think about where you are presently. Could it be that you're actually in a better place, and that perhaps the reason for this because of that previous event, whatever it was? Each day we all have a choice. We get to choose how we react to life. Though we aren't always able to smile, be positive, or stay calm, when you're in a great relationship, we're better able to lean on each other for the support we need to get through the tough times.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Wanted: Photos of Happy Couples

We're searching for pictures of happy couples for a new musical photo album. The musical photo album "Mine" was a great hit, enjoyed by those in it as well as their family and friends. Albums that share the joy vibrant relationships bring fosters a greater sense of community for all of us. So if "happy couple" describes your relationship, or if you're not in a relationship, but know a couple who fits the bill, please send us a picture.
Our hope is to fill the Caffection website with testimonials and photos that tell the story of love. For those of you who've sent us pix & stories, Thank You and feel free to send another (perhaps a funny story or a wedding incident -- though this one is hard to top)
Let's work together and build a community of people who support marriage and all it has to offer.
p.s. Congrats and Thank You Jill & Kevin -- your creativity and generosity are enriching marriage and supporting a fabulous cause! We're encouraging our readers who've enjoyed your video to make a donation to the Sheila Wellstone Institute too.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Happy marriages are innovative, fresh, surprising.