More2Life Hacks—Bouncing Back from Tough Times in Marriage

Image via shutterstock. Used with permission

Image via shutterstock. Used with permission

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the various problems we all experience in marriage Sometimes, we can get so focused on the problems that we think things will never be different.   Here are three More2Life Hacks that will help you bounce back from tough times in your marriage and re-experience the love and joy you crave!

1. Check your Commitment–Happy couples know that recovering from marital struggles starts with being even more committed to their vows than they are to each other.  What do I mean?  At various points, even the happiest husbands and wives become frustrated with each other and can feel like their spouse is undeserving of their commitment.  But where less happy couples use this as a justification for withdrawing their love and entertaining thoughts of divorce, happy couples remind themselves that their commitment is to their marriage, itself, even more than to their feelings for their spouse.  This allows couples to not catastrophize their problems and, instead, get to work on the problems.  Research shows that couples who make this greater commitment to their marriage bounce back from problems more quickly and are happier overall, than couples who regularly allow tough times to call their overall commitment to each other into question.

2. Re-Engage Through Care-taking–Every couple gets stuck in arguments from time to time–even for extended periods.  But happy couples know that sometimes they have to disengage from the fight and find little ways to remind each other of their love for each other BEFORE re-engaging the discussion.  While struggling couples either adopt a “fight til we die” approach or simply give up the fight from exhaustion, happier couples adopt a pattern that allows them to alternate between arguing, intentionally stepping away to build rapport, and then re-engaging the discussion from a more secure base.  If you’re going through a rough patch, don’t stop talking about it altogether, but take breaks where you intentionally choose to do little things that remind each other that your relationship–and your commitment to loving each other– is bigger than this present problem.

3. Seek Help–Happy couples know that when a problem starts to feel overwhelming, it’s time to seek new resources.  When you feel tempted to stop working on a problem–or stop working on your marriage altogether–see that as a sign that it’s time to get help.  Read a new book together that offers new ideas for improving your relationship. Go on a Marriage Encounter or Retrouvaille weekend.  Or seek professional marital therapy.  Research shows that most struggling couples wait 4-6 years before seeking professional assistance but that just makes problems grow.  Seek help early to get the new skills you need to reclaim the peace and joy in your marriage.

For more tips on how to make your marriage thrive, check out “For better…Forever! A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.” AND spend time with us every weekday at 10am ET by tuning in to More2Life on EWTN Global Catholic Radio.

Image via shutterstock. Used with permission

Image via shutterstock. Used with permission

Kids on My Mind: Parenting Changes Dad’s Brain!


We’ve known for quite a while that parenthood facilitates changes in mom’s brain that help her be more nurturing.  It turns out that being a hands-on parent changes dad’s brain too!

“Our findings add to the evidence that fathers, and not just mothers, undergo hormonal changes that are likely to facilitate increased empathy and motivation to care for their children,” said lead author Dr. James Rilling, an Emory University anthropologist and director of the Laboratory for Darwinian Neuroscience.

The study found that oxytocin, known to be the primary hormone in bonding, is more present in involved dads and that increased levels of this hormone stimulate the brain in unique ways.  Specifically…

This heightened activity in the caudate nucleus, dorsal anterior cingulate and visual cortex suggests that doses of oxytocin may augment feelings of reward and empathy in fathers, as well as their motivation to pay attention to their children, according to the study’s findings.

The study goes on to suggest that oxytocin therapy–in which a father is dosed with a nasal spray containing oxytocin–could be a helpful treatment for dads experiencing paternal postnatal depression (PPND–which affects up to 25% of new fathers) and makes it difficult for some dads to adequately connect with their children.

St. John Paul II’s theology of the body teaches us that reflecting on God’s design of our bodies can teach us a great deal about his intention for our relationships.  One of the primary conclusions of TOB is that we were created for connection and that every part of our being cries out for union with God and the people around us. Research like this really shows that God created fathers to be connected and affectionate with their children. Not only is doing so is good for baby’s brains  (previous studies show that affectionate fathers stimulate baby’s brain in ways that help the child regulate aggression) but affectionate connection also good for dad’s physiological sense of well being.  We were created for love, and our bodies speak to this truth. Dads can’t be whole unless they embrace the psychological, spiritual, and neurological invitation to love their children as God the Father loves us.

To learn more about becoming a father after God’s own heart, check out The Be-DAD-itudes: 8 Ways to Be An Awesome Dad



Unhappy Marriage? New Study Reveals 1 Simple Trick Can Turn Things Around.


According to a new study by the UK’s Marriage Foundation, 70% of couples who said they were in unhappy marriages reported being happy 10 years later.  Of those, 30% of the formerly unhappy couples were “extremely happy.”  This was especially true for couples who were feeling the strain a growing family can put on the marital relationship.  If you’re unhappy in your marriage today, it turns out that the one thing that is almost guaranteed to turn it around is to just stay put!

Of course the EVEN BETTER NEWS is that you don’t have to be miserable for 10 years waiting for your marriage to fix itself.  You can take charge of the process and significantly shorten your recovery time.  As I reveal in When Divorce is Not An Option:  How To Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love (which reveals the 8 habits that distinguish marital bliss from a marital miss)  happy couples are proactive about seeking help.  They don’t take unhappiness lying down.  They seek out good books, attend marriage-building workshops like Marriage Encounter, Retrouvaille, or PAIRS, and they seek  professional help early.  Less happy couples wait 4-6 years before seeking assistance for their marriage.  Why wait.  In the last 20 years, new discoveries in marriage therapy has increased the success rate of trained marital counselors (as opposed to individual therapist who, “also do marriage counseling”) to over 90%.

The takeaway?  Hanging tough through tough times is often enough to get you to a happier place in your relationship. But if you want to get there quicker, or fear that you’re stalling out, seeking appropriate resources early can help you not just survive tough times in your marriage but learn to thrive in spite of them.

Sure, marriage can be hard work, but the the good news is that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t just an oncoming train.  It really is the sun peaking through the darkness promising that a brighter, more joy-filled relationship is just around the corner!

Not Listening! Three More2Life Hacks for How to Get Your Feelings Heard


Sometimes it feels almost impossible to get your family, friends, or significant other to listen to your feelings and meet your needs. Here are three More2Life hacks, inspired by my book, God Help Me, These People Are Driving Me Nuts! that will help you effectively communicate your needs and start living a happier, healthier life!

1.  Don’t Bury the Lede–When writers don’t start with the juiciest parts of the story, it’s called “Burying the lede.”  Often, in our attempt to either be polite or give people all the facts, we talk around things rather than stating our needs and feelings up front, then we get offended when people’s attention wanders or they miss the point.  When communicating, state your need or feeling up front.  For instance, “I’d really like to get some time together, when are you available this week?” or “I was really frustrated with the way thus and such turned out. Let’s talk about how to do that better next time.”  If you really want people to listen, don’t start with “Once upon a time” and get to your point around chapter three.  Start with your point.  Let any additional context come out in the conversation.

2. End With A Plan–When you talk with someone about your needs or solving a problem, don’t ever end the conversation without clear follow-up points. Too often, we feel like venting is the same thing as problem solving.  Clients tell me all the time, “we talked about that problem a lot.”  But when I say, “Great, and what did you decide to do about it.” I’m met with stunned silence.  When people say, “I talked to him about that.” What they usually mean is, “I complained about that.” Complaining isn’t communicating, venting isn’t problem-solving.  If a problem or need is important enough to talk about, don’t leave the conversation without know who is going to follow up with what, and when you are are going to check in with each other about it.  If you want to feel listened to, always end with a plan.
3. When Words Don’t Work, Don’t Use More Words–When someone doesn’t want to listen to you, when they ignore your needs or refuse to deal with a problem, continuing to talk about it is not only fruitless, it is counterproductive.  If someone doesn’t want to deal with a problem, one of the best ways to delay it is to simply agree to talk about it more without ever agreeing to do anything.  If you have spoken to someone about your concerns a few times without getting any result, stop using words.  Take action.  Ask yourself what steps you will need to take to address the problem or meet the need on your own, then do it.  If the other person complains, firmly, but gently, point out that you tried to enlist their help but they refused to talk about it, so you had no choice but to handle it. Then explain that next time, if they want a say in the solution, they should help you make a plan when you come to them in the first place.  Don’t get caught up in the game of talking something to death so nothing ever has to change.  When words don’t work, take action.

For more tips and tricks on how to improve your communication and relationships, tune in to More2Life, Monday-Friday 10am E/9am C on EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network.

Almost Two-Thirds of Children Worry “All The Time”


We tend to assume that kids have it better than ever, but in reality, parents may have reasons to be concerned. New research shows that two-thirds of children worry “all the time.”

The mental-health charity Place2Be surveyed 700 children, all ten or eleven years old, across twenty schools throughout England, Scotland, and Wales. The results of the study showed that children deal with a wide variety of anxiety inducing concerns every day, the most prominent topics being family, friends, and fear of failing at school. Additionally, 40% of the children “felt that their worries got in the way of their school work,” nearly 30% stated that “once they started worrying they couldn’t stop,” and 21% said they “did not know what to do when they are worried.”

Similarly, the study revealed several gender differences. Girls tend to worry more about their looks and being bullied, while boys were more likely to worry about being angry. However, these concerns were prevalent in both boys and girls.

While children utilize coping strategies such as talking to their family and friends, or playing video games, more than 80% of the children reported that “the best way for adults to help was to listen sympathetically.” The children also stated that many of them have learned from their own experiences, so they recognize the importance of “being kind to anxious classmate.”

Often children are characterized as always being happy and primary school is viewed as an innocent and happy atmosphere, however, Place2Be charity’s chief executive, Catherine Roche, says, “in reality we know that young children can worry about a lot of things, whether it’s something going on at home, with their friends, or even about bad things happening in the world.”

Worry and anxiety are natural and normal occurrences, but it is extremely important that children know how and where to receive help. “Schools and families play a crucial role in ensuring that children learn to look out for each other and know how to get help if they need it.”

For more information on how to support your child and cultivate healthy coping strategies, check out Parenting with Grace! A Catholic Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Kids.


3 Ways To Be A More Peaceful, Joyful Parent

Image Credit: Shutterstock. Used with permission

Image Credit: Shutterstock. Used with permission

Parenting is tough work,  But there are lots of joys too–even if we can sometimes lose sight of that.

If you are feeling a little fried in your parenting life, here are 3 simple habits  you can practice to reclaim the joy of parenthood and celebrate a more peaceful family life.

1.Find the Eye of the Hurricane– Too often, when parenting is getting stressful we think “If I can just get X to happen, THEN I’ll feel some peace”  For instance, “If I could just get this kid to behave….”  or “If I could just get the house in order….” or even “If I could just get FIVE MINUTES of peace!”  Those are all good things to work toward, but there is something we need to do first–calm down.  Find the eye of the hurricane where you can center yourself even though things around you feel out of control–and remember every hurricane has an eye. Take a breath.  Say a prayer.  Focusing on reclaiming your peace FIRST allows you to approach all those other things (like discipline, housework, or self-care) more efficiently and more effectively, but if you don’t focus on calming down BEFORE you act, you won’t be able to make the other things happen either.  As St John Bosco said, “Master your own character and then you will succeed at mastering those of your children.”

2. Collect Your Kids– Before a shepherd moves his sheep from one field to the next, he makes sure they are altogether.  He collects his sheep to him so they will follow him more readily.  If your kids are wandering–metaphorically speaking–then BEFORE you hurry them along, ask for help, or correct them, BE SURE TO COLLECT THEM.  Get down on their level.  Give them a hug.  Look at their little faces.  Give them a smile and an “I love you.”  THEN say what you need to say.  That extra 15 seconds collecting your kids on the front end will save you hours of stress on the other side.  Take a tip from the Good Shepherd and collect your kids to you correct your kids.

3.Claim Your Joy--Parenting can be stressful but stop settling for stress. No matter how stressful or chaotic the situation seems, actively work to claim your joy.  Not enjoying being a parent?  At your first opportunity, stop what you’re doing and ask yourself what you could do to bring some joy into THIS MOMENT.  Take a few minutes to cuddle with the kids. Make a silly joke.  Plan a game or fun activity.  Find SOMETHING to celebrate.  Refuse to let Satan steal the joy of parenthood.  Focus on creating joyful moments in the moment–especially when they are not happening naturally.

For more ideas on how you can be a more joyful, peaceful parent, check out Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids, or,  for busy moms of little ones, let Then Comes Baby: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood help you find a more life-giving balance.  Every parent deserves to feel like their relationship with their children is a cause for celebration.  If you have lost that sense, know that there really is a way to get it back.  And it might just be simpler than it seems.

Making MARRIAGE Great Again: 3 Ways to Supercharge Your Relationship


Working on your marriage isn’t some selfish enterprise that just benefits you and your spouse.  In his Theology of the Body, Pope St. John Paul the Great reminds us that marriage plays a critical role in God’s plan for saving the world and that creating a beautiful marriage is the primary way that married people can bring people to Christ!  By putting energy into making our marriages strong, loving, understanding, and holy, we not only satisfy the deepest longings of our heart to feel truly loved and connected to another person, we also bear witness to the free, total, faithful, and fruitful love God wants to share with every one of his children.  As a married person, working to make your marriage great–or working to make it great again– is the most important thing you can do to serve the Kingdom of God.  Here are 3 simple tips from For Better…FOREVER! A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage (2nd ed. Rev & Expanded) to help you create the marriage God wants you to have!

1. Have a Marriage Mindset–Throughout the day, even when you apart get in the habit of asking the question, “Is what I’m doing now–and the way I’m doing it–good for my marriage?”

If the answer is “yes”, then good on you.  Keep doing that!  Alternatively, if the answer is “no,” ask what you would have to change to behave in a more marriage-friendly way and start working toward that.  

Asking this question reminds couples that every choice you make as a married person either says, “I do” or “I don’t” to your spouse.  Happy couples don’t just say “I do” on their wedding day.  They say, “I do” a million times a day, every day of the rest of their lives by making choices with the marriage in the forefront of their minds. What are all the ways YOU can say “I do” to YOUR beloved TODAY?

2. Prioritize Your Connection–Everyday, the happiest couples make at least a few minutes to connect across the four domains of work, play, talk, and prayer.   For instance, each day, a couple might take two minutes each morning to pray together about the day ahead.  Additionally, they might clean up the kitchen together after dinner, take a short walk, play a hand of cards, or read to each other for a few minutes, and make a point of checking in about what they could do to feel closer or more supported by each other.  All of this might take a total of 15-20 minutes, cumulative, but it makes a world of difference in marital quality.

Prioritizing and protecting these simple, daily rituals of connection helps a couple make sure they are doing everything they can to at least maintain the skeleton of their relationship. Using these times of simple connection, happy couples will then take plan out other, longer ways of connecting across these four domains of work, play, talk, and prayer throughout the week.  

Where other couples HOPE they might get time together like this, happy couples make a point of making this time happen every single day and planning around this time to avoid conflict.

3. Take Care–Caretaking is the single most important quality for a happy marriage–research by the Gottman Relationship Institute reveals it to be even more important than good communication.  

Happy couple make a point of looking for little ways to make each other’s days a little easier,  more pleasant, or more loving.  They text loving thoughts throughout the day.  They keep each other in prayer.   They look for little jobs they can do to lighten each other’s burdens. They remember to follow through on promises and they ask what more they can do to take even better care of each other.  

The more you take care of each other, the more deposits you make in your emotional bank account with means you have capital to spend on discussing improvements to the marriage and a more than adequate cushion to land on in tough times.  Ask what you can do to take better care of your spouse today!

You Can Do It

Imagine what a difference these simple ideas could make in YOUR relationship if you could do them consistently.  Start today and you’ll be able to  both find the love your heart has been looking for AND find more effective ways to bring Christ’s love to the world.

Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak are the hosts of More2Life Radio and directors of the Pastoral Solutions Institute.  To get more tips for having a more graceful marriage, check out For Better…FOREVER! and learn more about the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s Catholic Tele-Counseling Practice.