In his latest book, Love Illuminated, Daniel Jones concludes, after culling over thousands of essays written to his Modern Love Column in the New York Times, that what most people really want is a loving and permanent relationship.
Evidence for this is the over 13.5 million self-help books addressing relationships and the interest by so many couples in improving and sustaining their love.
Given the deluge of information offered, I have siphoned out four essential ingredients that can be found in satisfied, long-lasting marriages.
I was recently in a shop with a friend when a young man in his late twenties came in to get his hair cut. Friendly and likeable he was amusing the hairdresser with some stories of his birthday. It was not until he struggled to get the money out of his wallet, that I realized his hand was quite deformed. I was so struck by this positive young man that I said to my friend, “ I love his resilience.” I was very surprised when my friend replied, “ I envy it.”
Given that she had managed a considerable amount of anxiety over the course of the year while working and dealing with family loss, I was struck that she seemed unaware of her own resiliency.
Do you recognize your own resiliency?
If you have ever been in a long-term relationship or you are one of the 14 million people (3.7 married) who define yourself in a long distance relationship due to education, dual-careers, military, etc., you might well feel this to be true.
A recent study by L. Crystal Jiang and Jeffrey Hancock reported in the Journal of Communication offers supporting scientific evidence.
This study adds to an increasing body of research that has found that the relationship stability, satisfaction and trust reported by long distance (LD) couples appears to be equal or better than those reported by geographically close (GC) couples.
Most families are a group of related people of different ages with a mix of personalities, needs, feelings and expectations. They may be a nuclear family, an extended family, a reconstituted family or a blended family. In any case, they share an identity as family and, as such, consciously and unconsciously have an impact upon each other.
Their lives can be touched by the joy shared by one family member, the excitement of another and the heartache and loss of still another –sometimes all on the same day.
Most would agree that at times of pain and joy, families are the greatest source of support and the greatest source of applause. They can also be the greatest source of stress.
Holidays seem to turn the volume up on all possibilities.
No matter how hard we try, we really don’t manage time. We manage to live within its’ parameters. We can’t make the months of our spouse’s deployment less than they are. We can’t change the fact that we will be 50 years old on our next birthday or that we face an 8-hour workday, an hour commute, and two children who need to be at practice at a certain time.
We can’t manage time because time is finite. What we can manage, however, is our energy. Unlike time, we can expand our energy. We can increase our energy in a way that significantly improves the success and the quality of our life.
The original idea for “managing energy, not time”, comes from the work of Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy, whose Energy Project was directed toward correcting the corporate mistake of making more demands of employees to increase productivity. The problem was that as managers and employees pushed harder, often working more hours, the results were negative. There was a decline in engagement, high turnover rates and increasing medical costs among employees.
The Energy Project proposed a different solution. Defining energy as the capacity to work, they considered that managing energy, not time, would change people’s productivity and involvement. Rather than increasing hours, they recommended and trained employees to draw upon the four sources of energy – body, emotions, mind and spirit. What is dramatic in their research is that the employees’ identification and use of seemingly small and brief energy enhancing rituals on a regular basis had a significant impact on productivity compared with companies who had not adapted the program.
Given the fact that most people, be they working adults, parents or school children are being asked to do more, be more and produce more in a finite amount of time, it is worth considering ways to conserve and revitalize your energy.
Energy Saving Strategies:
Everyone agrees that exercise rejuvenates body and mind and can help re-set sleep cycles. The problem is time.
A viable answer is fractionizing your exercise in and around your workday.
If you are human, in a relationship and living on this planet there will be decisions to make and problems to solve. They may be intrinsic to your circumstances, imposed upon you by outside factors, or a function of your personal needs and goals.
For most couples issues related to jobs, residence, children, socializing, religion, sex, money, in-laws and more demand decisions but often invite dissent.
If you want a clear example of the type of behavior to avoid when problem solving as a couple you have only to take a look at the presidential hopefuls.
Recognizing that they are, of course, contenders and putting aside the specifics of their platforms or the campaign engines that drive their rhetoric, they nonetheless offer a glimpse of the type of the exclusionary thinking and reactivity that erodes collaboration, jeopardizes problem solving and risks relationship success.
Dynamics to Avoid:
Consider avoiding the following as you and your partner build the platform for your life together.
When children head back to school this year, they should not be carrying emotional baggage from home.
When we worry about how our children will handle school- what they will face and how they will cope, we often overlook the impact of marital strife on their physical, emotional and intellectual functioning.
It is difficult to feel confident, curious or open to new school friends or ideas when you are a young person weighed down by exposure to adult conflict and issues.
While we know that the impact of most traumatic events on children can be reduced if parents remain calm & learn to manager their own feelings, marital strife poses a bigger challenge. In the case of chronic marital strife, the very people who are supposed to offer safety are the ones creating the danger!
Don’t All Couples Fight?
Yes, in fact if a child never saw any discord or disagreement, he/she would have no model for conflict resolution or regulating a broad range of emotions.
Marital strife that creates a potential emotional crisis for a child of any age is a different animal altogether. It involves expressions of anger that can include chronic but subtle verbal abuse, the silent treatment, bitter fighting and at the extreme, domestic violence that warrants a 911 call.
Unregulated marital discord demands too much of children and teens.
Do they need this extra job as they face new appropriate childhood challenges?
Is this a learned pattern of survival we want a youngster to take with them in life?
In their necessary avoidance they tragically lose not only the connection with their parents, but a world of knowledge, relationships and …
When you take into account the effort, the planning, the stolen moments, the affection, the creative communications and the anticipation of connection – you have to wonder what having an affair with your spouse could do for a marriage.
The likelihood is that it will do great things.
Having an affair with your spouse is something I have recommended to couples for years. It is an antidote to what Esther Perel describes as “Mating in Captivity,” the neutralizing of connection, the tendency to take each other for granted, the need to prioritize the kids, the jobs, the house, the money…. over the romance.
Does having an affair sound irrational, unlikely, possibly erotic and without guarantees? Yes. That’s the nature of affairs…only this one has a real chance of a happy ending.
What Do You Need to Have an Affair?
Here are the ingredients for having an affair – Do you have anything to lose?
Building on this, we can define sexuality as the way we experience and express ourselves as sexual beings. What makes sexuality a complex dimension is that it is determined by many factors including our body, gender, age, culture, history, media, religion and family.
What makes our experience of our sexuality important is that it affects our overall sense of self, our relationship with others and the life we live.
The most important factor enhancing our sexuality – one that is often overlooked but can out-trump age, culture, prior history, and body type is ATTITUDE.
Developing a positive attitude will enhance sexuality. Here are some strategies.
On May 8th, 2012, award-winning author and illustrator of the children’s book, Where The Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak, died. He was 83. In a postscript written about him in The New Yorker this week, Mariana Cook revisited some of what he had offered in a 2009 interview. In that interview, Sendak shared his feeling that it is hard to be happy and that some people find it easier than others. He ended with the question,
“Do you believe it when people say they are happy?”
In one of the final interviews Maurice Sendak allowed with Terri Gross on NPR in late 2011, he said something different, “I have nothing now but praise for my life. I’m not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people.”
In his words, this very creative man underscores the challenge, complexity and possibility of happiness.
Resonating with this, I recently wrote a blog for the final newsletter of “This Emotional Life” entitled “The Pursuit of Happiness: Your Inalienable Right.” In it I draw upon research that suggests happiness is a “many factored thing.” Often considered a sense of well-being, I add that, as such, happiness is neither a static place, nor one that is incompatible with tears or challenge.