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How optimism can help—or hurt—your marriage

Beth and Tom were happily married for over 25 years— no small feat in today’s world. At first, their friends could not understand how their marriage succeeded, due to numerous perceived shortcomings.

However, closer scrutiny of their marriage revealed that it was their thinking patterns—the ways they explained and interpreted their partner’s behavior to themselves—that strengthened, rather than weakened, their marriage.

Tom’s lack of self-confidence? No problem! This only made Beth feel very caring toward him. His stubbornness and obstinacy? Again, Beth explained this to herself as “I respect him for his strong beliefs, and it helps me have confidence in our relationship.”

Beth’s jealousy? Tom told himself: “this is a marker of how important my presence is in her life.”

Beth’s shyness? No problem! Tom liked it because “she does not force me into revealing things about myself that I don’t want to…this attracts me to her even more.”

Marriage and health

Numerous studies have shown that the health of your marriage plays a major role in determining your overall physical health. Healthy marriage—healthy body!

Hold on to your illusions

Being able to see things in your mate that your friends don’t is a very positive predictor of marital success according to recent research by a professor at the State University of New York. Remarkably, satisfied couples see virtues in their partners that are not seen by their closest friends.
In contrast to this “illusion” by happy couples, dissatisfied couples have a “tainted image” of each other; they see fewer virtues in their mates than their friends do.

The happiest couples look on the bright side of the relationship (optimism). They focus on strengths rather than weaknesses and believe that bad events that might threaten other couples do not affect them. But, what if you are an optimist and your partner is a pessimist? That can work!

Or, the other way around? That can work, too.

However, two-pessimists married to each other place their marriage in jeopardy because when an untoward event occurs, a downward spiral may follow.

Pessimistic scenario

Unlike Optimists, pessimistic partners make permanent and pervasive explanations to themselves when bad events occur. (Conversely, they make temporary and specific explanations to themselves when good events occur.)

See what happens when Susie is late coming home from the office. Husband Jim explains to himself that “she cares more about work than about me!” Susie explains to herself that Jim is sulking because “he is ungrateful for the big paycheck I bring home!” and tells him so.

Jim defends himself by saying: “You never listen to me when I try and tell you how I feel!” Susie, being a pessimist, responds: “You’re nothing but a crybaby!”

Optimistic scenario

Either partner could have stopped this negative spiral by interpreting events differently. Jim could have interpreted Susie’s lateness as a sign of what a hard worker she is and noted she is usually on time. Jim could have seen that her lateness had nothing to do with her love for him, remembering all the times in the past that Susie has put his needs first.
Susie, if she had been an optimist, could have seen his sulking as a temporary state rather than a character flaw and tried to pull him out of it by pointing out that she really wanted to get home earlier, but her big account unexpectedly dropped in at 5:00 o’clock.

The Optimistic Marriage

The message is clear from both clinical experience and research: optimism helps marriage. When your partner does something that displeases you, try hard to find a believable, temporary, and specific explanation for it, i.e.: “He was tired;” “She must really be stressed,” instead of “he’s always inattentive,” or “he’s a grouch.”

On the other hand, when your partner does something great, amplify it with plausible explanations that are permanent (always) and pervasive (character traits), i.e.: “She is brilliant,” or “She is always at the top of her game,” as opposed to “The opposition caved in,” or “What a lucky day she had.”

What to do if one spouse doesn’t want to have sex

When a Spouse Doesn’t Want to Have Sex

It has been two months since Janet and Mark have had sex. They’re hardly speaking to each other. If you asked Janet about this, she would say that their home has become a battle zone-they fight about every little thing. Janet goes out of her way to avoid Mark to protect herself from his wrath.

Mark tells a different story. His anger, he believes, is justified. He is fed up with Janet’s lack of interest in their sexual relationship. “She never initiates sex. She recoils when I try to kiss or hug her. I’m tired of being rejected.” To cope with his unhappiness, Mark spends longer hours at work and busies himself on his computer at night, deepening the chasm between them.

Both Mark and Janet think that the other one is to blame for the problems between them. They have hit an impasse. The result: A sex-starved marriage. And sex-starved marriages are surprisingly common. In fact, in about one in three marriages, one spouse has a considerably larger sexual appetite than the other. This in and of itself is not a problem-it’s how couples handle their difference that matters.

Here’s what you need to know to fix a sex-starved marriage and make you both happier…

Yearning for Contact

In a sex-starved marriage, one partner is longing for more touch-both sexual and nonsexual-and the other spouse isn’t interested and doesn’t understand why such a fuss is being made about sex.

The less interested spouse thinks, Is this just about having an orgasm? That’s not such a big deal. But the spouse yearning for more physical contact sees it differently. Being close physically is more than a physical release-it’s about feeling wanted and connected emotionally.

When a misunderstanding of this magnitude happens and the less interested spouse continues to avoid sex, marriages start to unravel. Couples stop spending time together. They quit putting effort into the relationship.

They become more like two distant roommates. Intimacy on all levels ends, which puts the marriage at risk for infidelity or divorce.

Typically, the spouse with the smaller sexual appetite controls the frequency of sex. If she/he (contrary to popular belief, men also can have low sexual desire) doesn’t want it, it generally doesn’t happen.

This is not due to a desire to control the relationship-it just seems unthinkable to be sexual if one is not in the mood.
Furthermore, the lower-desire spouse has the expectation that the higher-desire spouse must accept the no-sex verdict and remain monogamous. The higher-desire spouse feels rejected, resentful and miserable.

How do two people with differing sexual appetites begin to bridge the desire gap? Regardless of where you stand on the sexual-desire spectrum, it’s important to keep in mind that loving marriages are built on mutual care-taking. Don’t wait for your spouse to change first. Be the catalyst for change in your marriage. Here’s how…

If You Are the Lower-Desire Spouse

Just do it-and you may be surprised.Over the years, countless clients in my counseling practice have said, “I wasn’t in the mood to have sex when my spouse approached me, but once we got going, it felt really good. I had an orgasm, and my spouse’s mood really improved afterward.”

Why would that be? For many people, the human sexual response cycle consists of four stages that occur in a certain order-desire (out of the blue, you have a sexy thought)…arousal (you and your partner touch, and your body becomes aroused)…orgasm…and resolution (your body returns to its normal resting state).

But for millions of people, stages one and two actually are reversed. In other words, desire doesn’t come until after arousal. These people must feel turned on physically before they realize that they actually desire sex. Therefore, being receptive to your partner’s advances even from a neutral starting place-when you do not feel desire-makes sense because chances are that sex will be enjoyable for both of you.

Give a “gift.”Let’s face it; there are times when people-even people with the typical desire/arousal pattern-simply don’t feel like having sex. It’s perfectly acceptable to decline your partner’s offer from time to time. But when “no” substantially outweighs “yes,” you are creating deep feelings of frustration and rejection-guaranteed.

What’s the solution to an “I’m not really in the mood for sex” moment? Give a gift-a sexual gift-or to be more blunt about it, pleasure your spouse to orgasm if that’s what he/she wants, even if you’re not in the mood for the same. This is an act of love and caring and completely appropriate within a marriage.
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If You Are the Higher-Desire Spouse

Speak from your heart.If you’re feeling frustrated that your spouse hasn’t understood your need to be close physically, chances are you’ve been irritable and angry. Anger is not an aphrodisiac-it pushes your spouse further away. Press your mental-reset button, and approach your spouse differently. Speak from your heart-express your vulnerability (yes, you are vulnerable, no matter how “tough” you are!) and your hurt.

Example: Instead of saying, “I’m angry that we haven’t had sex in so long,” it’s better to say, “When we don’t have sex for this long, I miss being close to you. I feel disconnected. It hurts my feelings that you don’t seem interested in me sexually.”

Rather than complain, ask for what you want.Complaining, even when it’s justified, leads to defensiveness. Instead, ask for what you want in a positive way.

Example: Instead of saying, “You never initiate sex,” say, “I’d really love it if once in a while, you threw your arms around me and said, ‘Do you want to make love?’ That would make me feel great.”

Figure out what turns your spouse on.If buying sex toys or downloading X-rated videos has failed to entice your spouse to nurture your sexual relationship, there’s probably a reason. Your spouse might need to feel courted by you first.

You might be married to someone who feels more connected to you when you have meaningful conversations…spend enjoyable, uninterrupted time together other than having sex…are more affirming and complimentary…or when you participate in family activities together. This is how your partner feels loved-and the truth is, there are many people who want sexual intimacy only when they feel loved first.

If you’re uncertain about your spouse’s way of feeling cherished by you, ask. Say, “What can I do to make you feel loved?” Believe it or not, meeting your partner’s needs, though different from your own, may be a turn-on for him/her.

Try it.

Source:Michele Weiner-Davis, LCSW, is founder of The Divorce Busting Center in Boulder, Colorado. She is the best-selling author of eight books including Healing from InfidelityThe Sex-Starved Marriageand Divorce BustingDivorceBusting.com
Publication:Bottom Line Personal

Lovehacking: Quick fixes to improve your marriage or relationship

How Love-Hacks can give your marriage a tune-up

To fix a truly troubled marriage takes much effort and commitment. But, many marriages or relationships just need a tune-up. One psychologist, Dr. Eli Finkel, calls these “Lovehacks” in his new and very well-researched and well-thought-out book “The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work.”

Lovehacks provide an efficient method for keeping our marriages afloat during challenging or busy times. There are times when we simply lack the ability or the motivation to make hefty additional investment, and there’s no shame, says Dr Finkel, in doing little things to make the relationship a bit stronger than it would be otherwise.

Lovehacks, according to Dr Finkel, have three defining features. First, they don’t take much time – which is crucial for today’s very busy and stressed couples. Second, they don’t require any coordination with, or cooperation from, our spouse. This is very important in those marriages wherein one partner is working harder or is more motivated than the other to resuscitate things. Third, they don’t require a major change or shift in expectations as many other marital therapy interventions do.

Love-Hacks fall into two major categories: those focused on countering weaknessesin your marriage and those focused on savoring strengths.

Lovehacks focused on countering weaknesses in your marriage

Marriage research clearly shows that how we think about and behave in conflict-relevant situations in our marriage is the factor that most reliably distinguishes successful from distressed marriages. As Dr Finkel says, some reactions are like a can of kerosene, others like a bucket of water.

Lovehack #1-Give your partner a break.

Practice perceiving negative behavior differently. It isn’t what they do as much as HOW YOU REACT AND INTERPRETE WHAT THEY DO that causes a problem – or not! Psychologists call this “attribution.”

For instance, your partner is late getting home from work causing you distress. To what do you attribute his lateness? Here are some possibilities:

  • He is late because he is a thoughtless jerk
  • He is late because he forgot to look at his watch at work
  • He is late because his crappy car broke down again
  • He is late because he got stuck in traffic

If we’re confident that our partner is, by and large, a decent person who want to do well by us, we should make attributions that give him or her the benefit of the doubt.

Lovehack #2-Reinterpret conflict.

Using this lovehack, spouses think about a conflict in their marriage from the perspective of a neutral third party who wants the best for all involved. This helps both partners gain perspective of the conflict with high empathy – so each can see the issue from the perspective of the other.

Lovehack #3-Adopt a growth mind-set about marriage.

You have a wide latitude in considering whether problems in your marriage are fixable. People with destiny beliefs think that partners either are or are not “meant to be.” They view conflict and other problems as indicators that they are simply incompatible with their partner.

On the other hand, people with strong growth beliefs think that partners can cultivate a high-quality relationship by working and growing together. So they are willing to try and fix things more when inevitable conflicts occur.

Lovehacks focused on Savoring Strengths:

Lovehack #6-Cultivate gratitude.

Gratitude serves as a “booster shot” for romantic relationships. Research shows that people who experience elevated levels of gratitude also experience stronger relationship commitment and are less likely to break up.

Lovehack #7-Help each other celebrate life’s achievements and successes.

When you respond to your partner’s positive life events in an enthusiastic, celebratory way, ask questions about it and show positive emotion about it, love often grows between you.

Lovehack #8-Affectionate touch.

This lovehack is particularly promising for helping our partner look at us with new eyes. Touching our partner makes them feel more loved by you and more secure in their relationship with you.

Can’t change your partner? Try Looking in The Mirror!

Anger is an emotion. But, angry emotions often trigger a specific behavior (like yelling, throwing things, hitting, insulting someone, etc) which causes problems for you either at home, at work, on the road, or in your family. Most people in our anger classes tell us that one of the reasons they exhibit the angry behavior is because they want to change someone or something, they want somebody to think a certain way (or not)  or to do something (or not).

That is another way of saying that the angry person is trying to somehow “influence” the behavior or thinking of another. Unfortunately, angry behavior usually does not work; even if it does, the cost is so high that it almost always just isn’t worth it. We teach that there are better ways to influence others without getting angry or antagonizing others. But, where to start?

Questions to ask yourself:
The place to start is by looking in the mirror. As painful as it might be, ask yourself if you are behaving in ways that increase the probability of getting what you need and want from your partner? In other words, you have a lot more influence than you might think in terms of getting different responses from your partner. Ask yourself, how do other partners behave that do get what they want or need? (I know what you are thinking: “The reason they get more of what they need is because they have a better partner.” That may be true, or partially true,  but it also may not be. So, better to first ask, “Do I behave like people that do get more of what they want or need ” and then see what happens if you change.

Case study
Jose and Maria have been married for ten years. Jose has his own business; Maria is a stay- at- home mom. Jose sees Maria as lazy because she often does not prepare meals regularly, she does not clean the house up to Jose’s standards, and she often is too exhausted to do fun things in the evenings. Worse, according to Jose, Maria rarely ackowledges his great contributions to the marriage (he is very successful in business, and he is a good dad) ), she rarely shows affection, and praise of any kind is very rarely given.

Jose handles his frustration by yelling at Maria, calling her horrible names related to laziness, and accusing her of using a diagnosis of depression as an excuse for  not doing the things, in his mind,  she should  be doing. As I asked Jose in one of our sessions, what does he think the probability is of getting her to do more around the house by yelling, calling her names, and criticizing? Research shows, I told him,  that yelling, name-calling and criticizing decreases the probability of change in partners.

Jose decided to try to change things by applying the tool of  Respond Instead of React (The third tool of anger management in our system- Video; Respond Instead of React). Next morning, the kids were screaming, he needed help and his wife was still in bed. But, instead of yelling at her as usual, he went upstairs and calmly told her, “Honey, I need your help. I am overwhelmed down here.” Guess what? Maria at first did not stir, but five minutes later she came down the stairs and pitched in. Now this was not an earth-shaking change, but it was a start and it meant a lot to Jose.

There are ways to influence the behavior of someone that work much better than other ways. These ways can be called “relationship habits.” Just like you should copy the golf swings habits of golf champions if you want to improve your golf game, or the financial habits of very successful people if you want more financial success, you should copy the habits of those that may be more successful in relationships than you may be. Old dogs CAN learn new tricks- and often they should!

Related Articles and Blogs:

How to tank your relationship – Part 1
How to tank you relationship – Part 2
How to tank your relationship – Part 3