Couples and families have it in their power to be happy with each other and create a pleasant and peaceful home environment. However, no couple or family on earth is perfectly happy, perfectly stable, perfectly functioning. Every couple and family has difficulties. The key is how well they can work together to deal positively and effectively with these challenges.
Couples and families can build stronger and more satisfying relationships by practicing these characteristics of strong families:
· Appreciation and affection for each other. Genuinely felt, and expressed regularly.
· Commitment to the family. Work and other priorities are not allowed to take too much time away from family interaction. The family is highly valued by its members, and individuals are faithful to each other.
· Positive communication. Family members enjoy talking with each other and listening to each other. The interactions are open, honest, straightforward and pleasant.
· Enjoyable time together. Similarly, family members like to be with each other and spend a considerable amount of time enjoying each other's company. They are good friends.
· Spiritual well-being. Family members share a sense of hope, optimism, faith, safety and happiness together. Their home is a sanctuary and their relationships bring them comfort. Spiritual well-being can be seen as the caring center within each individual that promotes sharing, love and compassion.
· The ability to manage stress and crisis effectively. Strong families are not immune to troubles in life, but they know how to work through hard times together rather than exploding and blaming each other when difficulties arise.
The Truth About Marriage and Family
Chapter 2 Families Across the Lifespan
Family researchers and theorists today discuss stage theories of life, focusing on the stages of family development.
Every human life is unique. However, there are common patterns in life that many couples and families experience, and that is why family development theory today remains useful to discuss. It helps us see that we are not alone in the world - many people are facing the same challenges we are facing. In sum, most of us seek a long-term, satisfying relationship with a partner.
For those couples who do not have children, most will find meaning in life through their partnership, their work, and their friendships.
These grandparents summed it up very well as they thought of their grandkids: When our granddaughter was born, we saw how well our daughter and her husband cared for this new baby. It was miraculous. And we looked at each other and said, "Well, we raised our daughter to be a good mother and we probably influenced her good decision in choosing a husband. Maybe we didn't do so bad as parents after all."
The Normal, To-Be-Expected, Satisfactions and Challenges Couples and Families Experience
Chapter 3 You Don't Marry an Individual, You Marry a Family
It is important to remember that a focus on strengths tends to make life go smoother and happier. If we insist on digging up dirt on our partner, we're going to find it. Look for problems and you will find them, because no human being is perfect (and if a person were, that person would be impossible to live with!).
Is this a way of looking at life through rose-colored glasses? Are we saying that you should ignore problems altogether? Not at all. What we are saying is that it's easy to focus on the negative, and when this happens we easily can forget all the positive things that brought us together as a couple in the first place. The search for perfection can be oppressive for everyone involved.
Likewise, spend time praising and thanking your partner for all the good things he or she does to make your life joyful. When we do this, it is likely that they will continue to do these nice things. Since couple relationships work both ways, concentrate on ways to make your partner's life more joyful, more fulfilling. Accentuate the positive is old advice that works extraordinarily well most of the time.
Successfully Merging Two Individuals from Different Family Cultures
Chapter 4 What Are Our Strengths as a Couple? How Can We Build On Them?
For a month, work together on enhancing the two strengths you have chosen to focus on; and, work together on improving the area of potential growth you have chosen. Mark your calendar for a month from today. Make a note that you will have a date together to sit down in a relaxed, loving and friendly manner and talk about your progress in building on your strengths as a couple!
Questions to get conversation going on your couple strengths:
1. What personal strengths attracted you to each other?
2. How do you celebrate each other's strengths? Example: Words of affirmation
3. How can your strengths become your weaknesses and how will you recognize the change?
4. How will you each solve the issue of differing perceptions on a comment or a situation?
5. What will be the outcome of regularly checking your Couple Strengths Inventory?
What Are Our Strengths as a Couple? How Can We Build on Them?
Chapter 5 Positive Communication & the Development of Emotional Intimacy
Learning the art and science of positive communication can bridge differences and make sound intimate relationships likely. Keys to open, honest and straightforward communication include the fact that we need to see communication as a cooperative effort rather than a competition between each other; that building an intimate and loving relationship is not about telling other people what to do, but instead focusing on the process of creating a bond with each other; that nonverbal communication sometimes sends important messages that we may not know we are sending, and that self-disclosure is essential if we are to communicate well with each other; that learning to talk clearly and calmly is important, but learning to listen with one's heart is absolutely essential; that aggression doesn't work in an intimate relationship, nor does avoiding issues; and that an assertive communication style for both partners ensures that each feels free to express their personal feelings and beliefs while respecting and honoring the feelings and beliefs of their partner.
As the adage goes:
People forget what you say
They forget what you do
But they don't forget
How you make them feel.
Couples Communicate Best When Communication is a Cooperative, Not a Competitive Effort
Chapter 6 Differences Are Inevitable: How to Resolve Conflicts
Every marriage has conflicts. The key is to learn ways to resolve conflicts effectively. Here are some ideas you can use:
· Focus on the positive aspects of your partner.· Call a time-out.· Listen very carefully to your partner. Check out what he or she is saying: "Let me see if I understand your point here: Are you saying that ...?"· Get to the point. Say what you mean - what you really mean.
When couples have disagreements, there are some don'ts to keep in mind:
· Don't expect your partner to be able to read your mind.· Don't humiliate your partner in front of others· Don't give ultimatums.· Don't fight dirty. Avoid attacking your partner.· The silent treatment is fighting dirty. Don't pick a fight.
When couples have disagreements, there are some positive things you can do:
· Grow up. Calm down. Act like an adult.· Be kind to your partner. Hate begets hate. Love begets love.· Use "I" statements rather than "you" statements.· Discuss one thing at a time until it is resolved.· Win-Win is much better than Win-Lose
Even when couples disagree, there are positive steps to resolution:
· Solve the conflict, make things better, and create a peaceful and harmonious relationship.· Agree to disagree· It's hard to talk about all this.
Differences Between Couples are Inevitable
The Truth About Anger
Chapter 7 Friendship, Love, & Sexual Intimacy
Some couples will tell you that it was love at first sight. Some will say that it was love at first sight for one but not the other. Some will say it was infatuation or desire at first sight or joke that it was lust at first sight, but not love. Some will say that they were aware of each other for many months or many years but did not become interested in each other as a partner until much later. Some will say they were just friends and the friendship developed slowly over time into love.
In other descriptions of how couples get together, we learn of those who were in bed with each other on the first date, and of others who did not make love until they were married. Some will say that just because they were in bed didn't mean love had anything to do with it at all. Some will say they fell in love quickly but grew into love slowly over time. The stories partners tell about how they met and how love developed in the relationship are fascinating and remarkably unique, but there are some common patterns.
Our view is that infatuation, romance and sexual desire play a great part early in a relationship. Human behavior, by its very nature, is rooted in biology and our bodies have enormous control over our thinking and our behavior.
Thus, falling in love is easy but staying in love is much more difficult. Our bodies make falling in love a relatively simple prospect, but the area of our brains that controls rational, clear.
A Good Definition of a Great Marriage is that the Partners are Best Friends
Sexual Intimacy and Emotional Intimacy
Love, Jealousy, and Abuse
Chapter 8 His Work and Her Work: Roles Partners Play & Power in the Relationship
Throughout history and even today, men have been seen as strong and hard-driving, while women are seen as kind and gentle. When household tasks are divided based upon stereotypes such as these, the partner relationship may suffer and resentment can grow.
It is helpful to talk about your personal beliefs regarding household roles in the partnership:
· Do you each have specific roles?
· Do you share some roles?
· Does it seem fair to each of you?
· Would there be some things you would like to change?
· How can you work together to make these changes possible so that your partnership will be even stronger?
Discussing these questions with your partner leads toward mutual respect in the couple relationship. Partners see the unique and important gifts provided by each other which rekindles the loving relationship.
Roles Partners Play and Power in the Relationship
Chapter 9 Beliefs, Behaviors, and Cultural Differences
The Big Issues: Religion, Politics, Sex, on and on
Can a Christian love a Buddhist? Can a Muslim love a Hindu?
Can a Republican love a Democrat?
Can a man love a woman?
Taken altogether these seem like an odd collection of questions, don't they? But look closely and the meaning is clear: many people around the world get wound up about religious differences and believe that cannot be resolved; similarly, many see political differences as hopelessly divisive.
The important ground rule we have noted before still applies here: During these discussions over differences the couple has to keep telling themselves that they are on the same team. They are not on opposing teams trying to beat each other, but on the same team working together to find a solution to a difficulty and thus, improve the quality of their relationship.
This is not easy to do, of course. But it is essential to keep trying!
Values, Beliefs, Behaviors, and Cultural Differences
Chapter 10 Money, Money, Money: The Best Things in Life Are Not Things
Money is a critical factor in all couple relationships. It is complex with many issues involved, sometimes emotionally charged and filled with individual attitudes that often don't show themselves until later in a relationship. Attitudes about spending and saving money are influenced by past life experiences, financial behaviors of one's parents and each individual's personality factors.
Couples must learn the difference between needs - those things required for survival such as clothing, food and shelter; and wants, the things in life that make us more comfortable or make life more enjoyable for us. Wants are sometimes hard to keep in perspective.
Topics that are part of finance include creating a spending plan, determining whether a couple will share a checking account or each have their own, planning for savings, decisions and cautions about credit card use and how financial counseling can be a help if qualified professionals are used.
Money and Marital Happiness
Chapter 11 And Then There Were Three (or Four or More): Staying Connected With Your Partner After the Advent of Children into the Family
Fifty percent of marriages currently end in divorce and children are nearly always a part of those divorce statistics. So often our society tends to look at children in the family as a problem rather than a gift. But the addition of children to a relationship has so many positive results and can often strengthen the couple relationship if parents focus on a positive attitude.
Great marriages, not just good marriages, can be achieved by studying the underlying strengths that great marriages possess, strengths identified by a team of researchers studying great marriages. The strengths those marriages possess include 1) appreciation and affection; 2) positive communication; 3) commitment; 4) enjoyable time together; 5) spiritual well-being and 6) effective management of stress and crisis. Descriptions of how these strengths are applied by couples in great marriages helps guide understanding of these qualities.
There are three important messages we can learn: The addition of children to the family can deepen a couple's marriage bond in many ways; learn to live in the present, enjoying your children and your spouse rather than worrying about what is to come or what hasn't turned out perfectly in your eyes, and life can be divided into four parts. Those four parts are life as a partner, life as a parent, life as a worker and life as an individual. Putting balance into those four parts is critical to maintaining a happy marriage and family life, and yet there are many times when individuals may find their emphasis is primarily on the working life and the parenting life, leaving the roles of partner and individual to go un-nurtured for long lengths of time, dangerous to the individual's physical and mental health and most certainly to the couple relationship.
Staying Connected with Your Partner after the Advent of Children into the Family
How Children Serve to Deepen a Couple's Marital Bond
Chapter 12 Why Did We Get Married, Anyway? What to Do When Passion Fades
When the partnership is at the point where the passion has inevitably faded a bit, where the sparks just aren't quite there like they were earlier in the marriage, what can be done to bring back some interest and a bit of the old flame?
Here are some tips:
S-L-O-W your lives down. Count up all the different things you're involved in and cut 35% of them out. They aren't as important as you think. Cut the things that are not as important as your marriage.
Spend more time together. Take time to nurture your personal spirit and your marriage. You loved being together when you were dating and you can love being together today.
Do something new and different together. It doesn't have to be expensive.
Have at least one date a week. Better yet, two. Couples are never too old to quit having dates. Go fishing or see a movie. The main thing is that it's just the two of you.
Spend time with other happy couples. Be sure to cultivate solid friendships with other loving couples. Limit time with negative couples.
Get away from the kids. Have some alone time. The best thing a couple can do for their children is to love each other and nurture the marriage day-by-day.
Work together to do some good for the world. Live your values. Show your children that you know how to put your beliefs into action.
Be active together. Join a dance club, a gym, a volleyball team, go walking regularly together.
Make love. Making true love is not just sex. It starts long before bedtime, early in the day as you talk together, listen to each other, attend to each other's needs.
Why Did We Get Married Anyway? What to Do When Passion Fades
Chapter 13 Through Thick & Thin: Loving Each Other When Hard Times Come
If a couple and a family have developed several important strengths in their relationship, they are more likely to succeed in the face of difficulties in life. We have seen that strong couples and strong families in America and around the world share six interrelated, major qualities. How can these strengths be used to help them through hard times?
· Appreciation and Affection. Under stress and during a crisis, people who have an abundant reserve of appreciation and affection for each other are likely to seek shelter in each other's arms, band together, care for each other when the going gets rough.
· Positive Communication. If a couple is in the habit of talking in a kind, gentle, and supportive way to each other, when hard times hit they will not be as likely to fall into a downward spiral. By practicing positive communication when life is going well, a couple is immunizing their relationship for protection when life does not go well.
· Commitment. Couples who have a well-developed feeling of commitment toward each other are, by nature, more likely to weather hard times. Because of this commitment, they do not have to worry about the future as much; they can be confident the other person will be there when they are needed.
· Enjoyable Time Together. We all seek shelter in a storm, and a couple who has always enjoyed being with each other will naturally look to their partner for a warm, loving and comforting place to be until the storm blows over.
· Spiritual Well-Being. Countless people seek spiritual solace in hard times. The solace is found, for many, in the community of a church, a mosque, a synagogue. For many others a sense of hope, optimism and joy in the face of difficulty is found in nature, in prayer, in meditation, in connection with something greater than oneself. There are myriad ways this sense of connection and consolation is found. And a sense of peace is found at home in the comfort of each other's arms.
· Managing Stress and Crisis Effectively. Strong couple and family relationships, by their very nature, are resilient and resourceful
Loving Each Other When Hard Times Come
Chapter 14 Stepfamilies: Can Different Family Cultures Be Blended Together?
To succeed as a stepfamily, the couple must find ways to keep their relationship
as the number one priority in the family, the foundation for everything else. It is important to get off to a good start in the first two years of this new marriage. With this
strong relationship in place, the stress from raising children, former spouses, job demands,
health issues and finances can all be manageable.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 60% of second marriages end in divorce. By including children in appropriate family decision making as often as possible, stepfamily strengths are enhanced. The more unified the family, the greater the chances for the stepfamily to thrive.
Chapter 15 Where Do We Go From Here? The Future of Our Relationship, The Future of Our Family
Even the happiest of marriages have their ups and downs. Research on great marriages - relationships in which the couples report that they are happy with each other, love each other, are satisfied with the relationship, and often consider themselves to be best friends - even in these very strong partnerships there can be some extraordinarily difficult periods.
For example, a study conducted at Utah State University at Logan and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln focused on couples who believed that they had created a great marriage over the years. Sarah Tulane, Linda Skogrand and John DeFrain found that more than one in four of these couples at some time in their marriage had considered divorce on at least one occasion (25 couples out of 91, or 27%, had discussed the possibility of divorce). What we can conclude from this is that even for many of the most successful couples, married life is not always likely to be a bed of roses.