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Posts tagged ‘doing what works’

5 Biggest Little Ways to Improve Your Marriage

SOURCE:  Shaunti Feldhahn/Family Life

A few small actions carry surprising power in building a lasting relationship.

Not long ago, the marriage of some close friends—I’ll call them Daniel and Jessica—suddenly imploded. We did everything we could to stand with them in their crisis to speak hope for their future together. Unfortunately, their marriage didn’t survive.

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with Jessica one day. Through her sobs, she said, “He worked so hard for a year to take us on that amazing vacation to Hawaii. But all I really wanted was for him to put his arm around me at church!”

Huh? Do you think in the midst of all her pain that she was thinking clearly? Actually, I do.

I could fill in lots of other details, but ultimately the pattern is a sadly common one. You may have seen it too. Daniel was a godly, well-intentioned husband who showed his love in several ways, including working long hours to provide for his family and to do nice things for them. You see, for him, providing is love.

Unfortunately, he didn’t realize that what he was working so hard for wasn’t what Jessica most needed—and in some ways was actually robbing her of the closeness she needed the most. (And of course there were ways she didn’t know she was hurting him.) What she needed most, more than all the expensive vacations in the world, were a few simple, specific day-to-day actions.

But as simple as loving gestures in public? you wonder.

Yes! My research on happy couples showed that an extraordinarily high percentage of them were (often without realizing it!) doing a few little specific actions that were making their spouses feel deeply cared for. Jessica, as it turns out, is like nearly all other men and women in her deep rooted desire for these surprisingly meaningful gestures.

Day-to-day actions

Clearly, a few small actions won’t fix deep relationship problems. But for most of us, a handful of simple day-to-day actions increase the likelihood that our spouse feels that we care deeply about them, instead of feeling that we don’t. There’s just enormous power in that!

For nearly every man or woman, the same few small, gender-specific actions not only matter but have a huge impact on a couple’s level of happiness. But these little actions take on even more power when accompanied by those that matter to your spouse individually.

Let’s begin with the few small actions that the surveys indicate matter a lot to almost every man or woman—what we might call the Fantastic Five.

When individuals were asked on the survey if a particular action made them happy, the affirmative response numbers were staggeringly high for five specific actions for each gender, even among the struggling couples. Close to 100 percent of all husbands and wives said these actions mattered, with between 65 and 90 percent of all husbands and wives saying these actions would deeply please them.

In other words, you are very likely to make your spouse feel deeply cared for if you make a habit of doing the same five things consistently.

The Fantastic Five for him

A wife will have a big impact on her husband’s happiness when she does the following:

1. Notices his effort and sincerely thanks him for it. (For example, she says, “Thank you for mowing the lawn even though it was so hot outside.” Or, “Thanks for playing with the kids, even when you were so tired from work.”) This deeply pleases 72 percent of all men.

2. Says “You did a great job at __________.” This deeply pleases 69 percent of all men.

3. Mentions in front of others something he did well. This deeply pleases 72 percent of all men.

4. Shows that she desires him sexually and that he pleases her sexually. This deeply pleases 85 percent of all men.

5. Makes it clear to him that he makes her happy. (For example, she expresses appreciation for something he did for her with a smile, words, a big hug, etc.) This deeply pleases 88 percent of all men.

The Fantastic Five for her

On his side, a husband will have a big impact on his wife when he does the following:

1. Takes her hand. (For example, when walking through a parking lot or sitting together at the movies.) This deeply pleases 82 percent of all women.

2. Leaves her a message by voice mail, e-mail, or text during the day to say he loves and is thinking about her. This deeply pleases 75 percent of all women.

3. Puts his arm around her or lays his hand on her knee when they are sitting next to each other in public (at church, at a restaurant with friends, etc.). This deeply pleases 74 percent of all women.

4. Tells her sincerely, “You are beautiful.” This deeply pleases 76 percent of all women.

5. Pulls himself out of a funk when he’s morose, grumpy, or upset about something, instead of withdrawing. (This doesn’t mean he doesn’t get angry or need space; it means he tries to pull himself out of it.) This deeply pleases 72 percent of all women.

Keys that unlock any door

Did you notice that all these happiness-inducing actions are simple, learnable, and doable by any wife or any husband? If you put each of the five biggest little things to work every day, I’m betting your marriage will improve—in some cases, radically.

And here’s more great news: All these small but powerful actions matter regardless of what the person’s love language is. For example, most wives (82 percent) are affected when her husband reaches out and takes her hand, regardless of whether physical touch is her thing.

There’s no looking back for our friends Jessica and Daniel. But I’m so thankful that God is good. He is always at work to redeem our broken hearts—and I know He’ll do it for our friends. Still, a corner of my heart mourns the heartbreak that might have been prevented if they had truly understood the power of doing these best little things.

We all know that small, thoughtful acts are not a magic cure-all for every marriage problem. But having talked to so many who nurtured much happiness with simple but powerful actions, I know all of us can build that all-important foundation that helps us believe that our mate notices and cares.

Because as it turns out, believing that the other person cares is far more important to building a happy marriage than most of us ever realized.


Adapted from The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, by Shaunti Feldhahn

Five Marriage “Rules” Every Couple Should Break—Sometimes

SOURCE:  Karen O’Connor/Todays Christian Woman

My mother gave my husband, Charles, and me what she called a “silly” gift as part of her wedding present to us. It’s a plaque we still have hanging on a kitchen wall after 30 years of marriage. “Never yell at each other unless the house is on fire.” Every time I look at it I chuckle. It’s a good “rule” to follow, though I don’t always.

Other rules also make their way into our marriages, and they’re not so good to follow—at least not without question. In fact, I believe some of them are worth “breaking”—maybe even abandoning. For example, can a marriage really be lived on a 50-50 basis? What about finances? When it comes to spending and saving, does the one who earns more have a bigger say in such matters? Is it important to have full agreement before making a decision? Living by rules can actually hurt a relationship if the couple does not take time to talk about their expectations and desires before they make a commitment.

For some couples there are no rules and never have been. My husband and I are among that group. Neither of us likes to be held captive to a certain way of relating. But we do want to follow Paul’s admonition in Philippians 4:8: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” We don’t do this perfectly. In fact, sometimes we follow it very imperfectly, but we keep going back to it.

To add to the conversation, I asked three couples to chime in with their opinions and experience related to the following five rules, chosen because they seem to have the most “charge.”

“What does each rule mean to you?” I asked, “and why do you keep, toss, or break it in your relationship?” Here are their candid responses.

Rule #1: Share Everything 50-50

Michele and Dean (from Pennsylvania):

“Oh, my,” said Michele. “If anything, this ‘rule’ is one that could destroy a marriage instead of building it up. My husband and I are in this together, 100-100.”

One year Michele underwent three surgeries in eleven months, suffering debilitating pain from three herniated neck discs. She was unable to do anything during her two-month recovery time. “My husband, Dean, after working an 11-hour day, unloaded the groceries, made supper, cleaned up the dishes, and took care of me. He never once complained or showed a bad attitude.”

Michele then did her part for Dean when he was busy one summer building front and back decks on their house. “I took over mowing grass, tending to the garden, and burning garbage. We’re empty-nesters now, but throughout our 39-year marriage, each of us has done whatever it takes to make it work.”

Sue and Jim (from Washington State):

“We each do whatever is needed,” said Sue. “If one is not feeling well or is unable to perform a usual chore, the other person does it. I do most of the cooking, but recently my husband has been doing the grocery shopping and errands, since I have difficulty standing or walking for extended distances. Jim does all the heavy chores, such as vacuuming, mopping floors, making the bed, taking out trash, and maintaining our cars, watering plants and so on—due to my chronic back problem.”

Now that both are retired, Sue takes care of the finances, taxes, and bill paying. “But we discuss and share where the money goes,” she said. “We carry out the admonition to share with and care for one’s spouse.”

Rachael and Steve (from Indiana):

“When we were raising our children, my husband’s job as a small-town family physician often left me with responsibility for planet earth! But now, with a less demanding medical job and the kids grown up, we tend to follow fairly traditional roles—generally our strengths—but we help each other out when needed.”

Rule #2: Focus on Common Interests

Michele and Dean:

Michele smiled, acknowledging that she wonders how her marriage to Dean has lasted as long as it has when she reflects on all that they don’t have in common. “I love to read; he dislikes reading. He’s an avid outdoorsman. I love the outdoors too, but I’d rather curl up with a good book. He loves the guy movies, such as Braveheart. I’d rather watch You’ve Got Mail. I’m spontaneous; Dean has to plan everything down to the hair-splitting detail, which drives me nuts. I love surprises; he likes stability. Yet I love the man and everything he is and isn’t.

“Focusing on common interests doesn’t leave room for growth,” said Michele. “Allowing each other to pursue different interests fosters individuality, harmony, and expanding each other’s borders. We give one another the freedom to be what we are and do what we enjoy.” For example, Dean never complains when Michele attends a writer’s conference and she supports him when he goes on hunting trips with his sons. “We miss each other during those times,” said Michele, “but we like seeing the other one happy.”

Sue and Jim:

“My husband and I share many common interests such as music, art, reading, traveling, theatre and movies, family, friends, genealogy and photography,” said Sue. “Since moving to the Northwest, we really enjoy the seasonal changes. We also have our own interests. Jim loves sports and technical and military topics, computer software programs and data entry, and other ‘guy’ things. I like to garden, decorate, cook and compile photo albums. I love talking with friends and family and I like to plan and organize parties and reunions.

“In most cases, we’re able and willing to shift gears when we’re involved in one of our personal activities, as the opportunity arises for something we both enjoy.”

Rachael and Steve:

“The ultimate common interest that forms our foundation is our relationship with God,” said Rachael. “We share many others that help build and strengthen our marriage, but they are secondary: intellectual and artistic interests, music, watching basketball games, especially the Indiana University Hoosiers, and riding our tandem bicycle.”

Rule #3: Reach Full Agreement Before Making Decisions

Michele and Dean:

“Full agreement? We’d probably never make a decision if we followed that rule. For most of our marriage, Dean left the decision-making to me. At times, I resented it, feeling like all the weight was on me, especially the consequences. Now we thoroughly discuss and research all the options, pray about it, then pursue the one that seems best. Dean still prefers that I make the decision, but I make sure he has plenty of input.”

Sue and Jim:

“We generally share all major and many minor issues, purchases, opportunities, and choices with each other before making a decision. We don’t always agree, but in most cases we honor each other’s opinions.” The couple said they’ve never held this custom as a “rule” so there is none to “break.”

Rachael and Steve:

Rachael grinned. “We didn’t discuss this one much—probably because Steve is trying to talk me into something right now!”

Rule #4: Pray Together Daily

Michele and Dean:

“We pray over meals daily and include anything else that may be on our minds and hearts. Forcing a daily prayer time together didn’t work for us, so it’s never been a rule. We each pursue our relationship with God individually. It’s like a triangle, with God at the top and each of us at the lower angles. The closer we each get to God, the closer we get to each other.”

Sue and Jim:

“We do not pray together,” said Sue, “so this has never been a rule for us. We see prayer as an individual matter.”

Rachael and Steve:

“We feel passionately about praying together and do so every morning before we get up. But it wasn’t always that way!” said Rachael. “Actually, I wrote an article about this for Marriage Partnership a while back.

Rule #5: Resolve Disagreements before Going to Bed

Michele and Dean:

“We can disagree, but being disagreeable is unacceptable. If we disagree on something, we’ve found it’s best to wait until the time is right to talk about it, when tempers, usually mine,” said Michele, “aren’t flaring and emotions aren’t so sensitive. It may take a day or two, even longer, but forcing the issue doesn’t work for us.”

Sue and Jim:

“Our disagreements get resolved when both of us are ready, instead of on a schedule,” said Sue. “It’s more honest to make up or resolve our disagreement when it feels right, rather than because we have to. Therefore, this has never been a rule for us.”

Rachael and Steve:

“We try to avoid going to bed angry with each other, as the Scripture says. But some disagreements take a long time to resolve. In the real world, some are never resolved,” said Rachael, “but we’re required to accept that we’re different people with different approaches—and, hopefully, willing to offer extra hugs and extra grace when things get rocky.”

I came away from these interviews feeling renewed and encouraged. I looked at my own marriage and those of the couples who shared their experiences, with a new point of view. Marriage is a living, breathing unit made up of two unique people who agree to love and support one another and to change and grow together as time goes by. It is not a staid partnership that is run by rules and unrealistic expectations. “Each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).

The rest is optional!


Karen O’Connor is a retreat speaker, award-winning author, and writing mentor from Watsonville, California. Visit Karen’s

Unsettled Spats –> New Idea

SOURCE:  Keith Gatling/Kyria

Unsettled Spats

When their arguments were going nowhere, Keith and Cheryl Gatling knew they needed to find a way to resolve their squabbles.

Keith’s Side: I’m Slow to Respond

Whenever Cheryl and I would disagree about something, she’d insist on talking it out. But when she talked she gave me too much information to process and respond to at one time. I’m an analytical kind of guy. I need time to think over things before I respond with a half-formed thought I may have to take back later, or say something I could have phrased a little more clearly.

With so much information coming at me quickly, I just couldn’t get my thoughts together to respond the way I needed and she wanted. As a result, during these discussions, I usually just sat there saying little and feeling stupid because I couldn’t answer her back immediately.

Invariably, after I’d had a chance to think about what Cheryl had said, I’d actually have some good responses. But that might not be until the next day. By then, it was too late—as if I were simply “dredging it up again.” Besides, even if I did bring up my good responses, Cheryl would only end up throwing more information at me than I could handle, all over again.

After a few years this got to be annoying. It bothered Cheryl that I never said much when we argued. And it annoyed me that by the time I figured out what I wanted to say, it was too late to say it without causing trouble again. Something had to change.

Cheryl’s Side: I Wanted Resolution

Keith and I rarely had conflict while we were dating. We had so many common interests. We were always doing something fun together—concerts, dancing, church, day trips.

When we married, we weren’t prepared for the work involved in hammering out the details of living together. We began to argue, as I said jokingly, “like two rams butting heads.” Our arguments were probably similar to those of most newlyweds learning to negotiate housework, sex, time management—and whether or not to reuse the towels after one shower. But what drove us both crazy is that our “discussions” never seemed to resolve anything. We had the same arguments over and over. When an old issue would return, both of us would think, Not the towel thing again! We both had such strong feelings that we weren’t able just to let things drop. A sense of futility started to creep in. Were we doomed to butt heads forever?

Our strong feelings were part of the problem. Each of us not only had strong opinions on the topic of towels (and every other subject), we also had intense feelings about how to argue. When Keith would express dissatisfaction with something, I interpreted that as his attacking me, and I rushed to justify myself. When I didn’t think he was “getting it,” I kept trying to find new ways to explain my reasoning.

But the more I explained, the more I saw Keith shut down and withdraw from the argument, which made me even more frustrated! I felt as though he wasn’t hearing me or even trying to understand my point of view.

What Keith and Cheryl Did

One day after another fruitless discussion, Keith sat down and wrote an e-mail message to Cheryl, putting down all his thoughts on the subject. He took the time to make sure they were clear, thorough, and exactly what he meant. He sent the e-mail to Cheryl’s account and asked her to read it. He left the room while Cheryl read. She replied by e-mail. He wrote again. She replied. And soon they were communicating, not merely talking at each other.

E-mail became a tool that helped both of them. Keith and Cheryl have separate computers and separate accounts, and they both check their e-mail frequently, so it’s never a long wait before they read their messages.

Keith says, “The wonderful thing about this system is that I was able to write, edit, and rewrite before I pressed the send button. Not only was I able to answer Cheryl point by point, but I could do so without interruption.” He no longer felt at a disadvantage when it came to getting his point across. He also liked that it was harder for his words to be misinterpreted: “She couldn’t accuse me of saying something I clearly didn’t say.”

Cheryl says, “Writing e-mails slowed down the process of arguing enough to remove most of the heat generated by raised voices. I found I was able to concentrate more on the issues and less on my hurt feelings.” As Keith and Cheryl responded to each other’s e-mails, they cited each other’s exact words in quotations, so they both knew they were being heard.

Now that they have a mechanism to resolve conflict, Keith is more confident and Cheryl more relaxed. That has spilled over into their real-live conversations, improving their verbal communication skills. They’ve learned how to wait to talk things out—verbally or by e-mail—rather than try to settle things in the heat of the moment. And the results have been noticeable.

“Keith talks to me much more than he used to,” says Cheryl. “I think he feels safe to express himself. Since I feel less threatened by his opinions, I’m able to let him have his say without overreacting.”

Keith adds, “I’m happy now that when we argue, and I start feeling overwhelmed, I can tell Cheryl I need time to think about everything before giving her an answer. I no longer feel pressured to respond immediately.”

“We both still have strong opinions,” Cheryl says. “But instead of butting heads, we’ve found that our e-mail strategy helps us to resolve our differences in a much more civil manner.”

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