Five Ways Happy Couples Fight Differently

Conflict is an inevitable part of human relationships; even the happiest of couples experience it sooner or later.

But surprisingly, research shows that happily married couples “fight” differently than others. While many couples fall into an adversarial, combative mindset, happy couples tend to take more of a team approach. Their priority isn’t winning the argument. Instead, it’s solving the problem in a way that respects their spouse and strengthens their marriage.

Just as great sports teams support one another even in tough situations, couples with a team mindset go out of their way to make sure that their spouse feels loved and cared for. In fact, research finds that happily married couples have five positive interactions for every negative interaction—even during conflicts.

What does this look like in practice? In his book How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love, Dr. Greg Popcak describes some of the strategies couples can use to navigate conflicts in a more loving, caring way. Here are five to try the next time you find things heating up between you and your spouse (or other conversation partner).

 

1. Give a Heads Up Before Difficult Conversations

If you know you need to tackle a tough conversation, try scheduling the conversation with your partner for a later time—and do it in a way that sets the tone for a cooperative, problem-focused conversation. For example: “Hey, I feel like we need to talk about (topic). Could we make some time to do that tonight? I know this isn’t a conversation either of us really enjoys, but let’s think about how we want to handle it between now and then. I’m interested in hearing your ideas.”

 

2. Turn to God for Help

Christian couples have an extra resource to help them manage conflict: the power of prayer. Praying before, during, and after a hard conversation grounds your relationship in the larger reality of God’s love for both of you, opening you to receive God’s help.

You can maximize the power of prayer by praying together, out loud: “Lord, you know how difficult this conversation is for us. Give us the grace to be both loving and truthful with one another, and help us be open to your will for us. Amen.”

 

3. Complain, but Don’t Criticize

At a minimum, couples who take a teamwork approach to conflict focus on solving the problem, not attacking one another. It’s all right to complain. But when that complaint becomes a personal criticism—when you name your partner as the problem—you’re headed for a contentious, unproductive argument.

Here’s a personal criticism: “You obviously have no money management skills; I can’t trust you with a debit card.” And here’s the same issue framed as a complaint: “When you go over the budget we agreed on, it makes me feel frustrated and anxious.” The first statement locates the problem in the partner; the second states two facts (the state of the budget and your feelings about it) that pose a problem to be solved.

 

4. Offering Encouragement and Affirmation

High-functioning teams offer one another words and gestures of support even when they’re in a tough spot. The same goes for happy couples during hard conversations.

You can reaffirm your bond and create a supportive atmosphere with a simple gesture—reaching out to hold your spouse’s hand, for instance, or offering them a tissue or glass of water. A few well-chosen words of affirmation can work magic, too: “Hey, it’s going to be okay. We’ve gotten through worse.”

 

5. Take Mini-Breaks When Things Get Too Hot

Another way couples can care for one another when a conflict starts getting too contentious is to take a short break. The point of the break isn’t to avoid the situation; rather, it’s to give yourselves a chance to calm down and refocus the conversation.

During your mini-break (five or ten minutes may be enough), work on empathizing with your partner and his or her position (even if you don’t agree with it). Then, ask yourself what you can do to shift the conversation to a more solution-focused mindset.

 

For couples who handle conflict in this way, it doesn’t drive them apart—instead, it results in a stronger, happier relationship. And that makes sense: After all, what better testament to true love is there than caring for your partner even when they’re driving you a little crazy?

You can learn much more about this topic in the “Caretaking in Conflict” chapter of Dr. Popcak’s book, How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love. And if you could use some professional help with your marriage or other relationships, reach out to one of the Catholic counselors at CatholicCounselors.com.

Can You Hear Me Now? Cultivating Greater Understanding in Communication

“Where did you get that idea from?!” Sound familiar? Often we feel like we go in circles with our conversations or we try to explain ourselves in a million different ways and the other person still doesn’t get the point. 

Theology of The Body reminds us that the primary work of building the Kingdom of God involves building real communities of love between us and the people that share our life. Seeking to understand another person–especially when it’s difficult–is what allows communication to become communion. Really listening to each other is hard, but if loving another person means helping them become everything God created them to be, then we need to take the time to really listen to each other so that we know what each person needs to grow and flourish.

The more difficult a conversation is and the more important we feel it is to get our point across, the more important it is to listen to the other person’s needs, their concerns, their perception of what we’re saying, and the reasons they are having a hard time hearing us. Of course, all of this requires us to grow in virtue, such as self-control, respect, compassion, and love. That’s why cultivating a spirit of understanding isn’t just good for our relationships, it is a spiritual exercise that allows us to love each other as we love ourselves.

1.  Say Less–The biggest mistake we make in trying to communicate with another person is that we say too much. This is especially true when we aren’t getting the response we were expecting from another person. We tend to think that if we just explain ourselves again, or offer more examples, or say it one more time, they’ll finally get where we’re coming from. In fact, in these situations, it’s better to say less. Instead of throwing more words at the other person in the hopes of being clearer, ask this simple question, “Can you tell me what you’re hearing me say?”  Asking the other person to tell you what they are hearing you say will quickly clarify any confusion and help you and the other person get on the same page. People tend to run the things they hear through their own internal filters that end up distorting or confusing what we say.  Don’t assume that your words are sinking in. Ask them to tell you what is coming across so that you can make sure that the message you are trying to send is the message that’s being received.

2.  Make a Plan–Sometimes we think that if we’ve complained about something or vented our feelings about something that we’ve done a good job letting another person what we need.  Complaining and venting is sometimes necessary to help us sort out all the noise in our heads, but it does nothing to solve a problem.  Remember, the point of most important conversations should be figuring out what to do about a particular situation.  Make sure you don’t leave a discussion until you have a pretty good idea of what you’re going to do about the problem you’ve been discussing, who is going to do it, and when you’ll be getting back together to discuss what else might need to be done.  If you do end a conversation after you’re done venting  or complaining, you should assume that the problem will come back because you haven’t done anything to actually solve the problem. Complaining isn’t problem-solving. If something is worth talking about, it’s worth taking the time to make an actual plan for solving it. Don’t end a conversation until you know what you’re going to do differently moving forward, who is going to be responsible for what, and when you’re going to check back in to see how things are going.

3.  Make Them A Partner–When you feel like another person is having a hard time hearing what you are saying, or doesn’t really want to listen, see if you can make them a partner and get them to buy-in by proposing their own solutions. Tell them, “Look, I’m just trying to do X.  Obviously, you’re not crazy about the ideas I’m suggesting to make X happen. What ideas do you have for making X happen?” Don’t let the other person avoid addressing your actual need. If they propose something that falls short, acknowledge what’s good about their idea, but then explain why it doesn’t completely fit the bill. Then ask them again for an idea that actually would address the actual concern you’ve stated.  If the conversation gets stuck or bogged down at this point, or if they keep trying to convince you that your concern is silly or not worth addressing, that’s a good indication that you probably need to get other people involved to help you solve the problem effectively. Invite another family member, a mentor, or a professional counselor to help you break through the impasse and develop solutions that will work for all concerned. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others to get the help you need to create deeper connection and understanding.

Would you like more support in being heard or cultivating understanding in communication?

Check out these resources: 

Pastoral Tele-Counseling

How To Heal Your Marriage & Nurture Lasting Love

Having Meaningful (Sometimes Difficult) Conversations With Your Adult Sons & Daughters

 

“I Can’t Believe You Said That!”  How To Respond When Words Hurt

Sharp words can cut deep. Sometimes when others say hurtful things to us, we can feel so hurt or be so caught off guard in the moment that we don’t know how to respond. Why are words so powerful and how do we respond effectively in these difficult moments?

The Theology of The Body reminds us of the power of words by pointing us back to Genesis and how God created the world. Specifically, God spoke the world into being. Words have creative power, and God shares that power with us in the hopes that we will use it to build each other up and be co-creators with him as we work to cooperate with his grace and encourage each other to be the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled people we were created to be. But we can also use those words to destroy each other and we often do.

As Christians, we are called to use words carefully; to have a well-trained tongue. That involves both making sure we are using words to build others up and setting appropriate boundaries when someone we are in relationship with is using words destructively. Good boundaries begin trying to explain what are and what aren’t healthy ways to engage you. But if that fails, setting good boundaries means trimming back the relationship to the point where you can still feel safe if the other person is going to continue to act as they have been. Sometimes figuring out what that looks like can be difficult, and we need to seek to figure out what that looks like in practice. But as long as our goal is to work for our good, the other person’s good, and the good of our relationships, it is never wrong to set a boundary to encourage healthier and holier interactions.

Although setting boundaries is healthy, it can certainly be difficult. Here are a few practical steps to setting effective boundaries:

1.  Be Confident And Be Clear–No one ever deserves to be spoken to disrespectfully or hurtfully. Even if the other person accuses you of doing something that they found hurtful or offensive, no matter what you may or may not have said or done, you don’t deserve to be spoken to cruelly or disrespectfully. Be clear about this and be confident in your right to insist that, while you are willing to listen to anything the other person wants to say, you cannot listen to anything that is said in a cruel or hurtful manner. Being clear about this doesn’t only benefit you, it benefits the other person and your ability to address whatever the problem might be. If there is a problem that needs to be discussed, it deserves to be discussed respectfully and effectively. Be confident and clear about the need to insist that “respect is the price of admission” to any conversation a person may want to have with you.

2.  Use Do-Over’s--If you feel attacked in a conversation, resist the temptation to just lash out or shut the conversation down completely. Instead, assume that, given the chance, the other person will be able to say what they are trying to say respectfully.  Give them that chance by asking for a do-over. Say something like, “I’m feeling really attacked right now. I want to hear what you’re trying to say, but I need you to be less aggressive about it. Tell me again what you’re trying to say.” Often, when we hold up a mirror like this, the other person will appreciate the opportunity to see how they are coming across and adjust their behavior. Do-overs allow you to reset the conversation and move forward in a more respectful and productive way.

3. Don’t Feed the Troll–If someone is saying cruel or disrespectful things to you, don’t defend yourself. Don’t try to talk them out of it. Don’t argue back. Any attempt to argue someone out of their unkind view of you will inevitably backfire as the conversation will begin going in circles with new accusations being hurled and as the previous defenses are overcome. The best thing to do in this situation? Don’t feed the troll. As before, stop the conversation and give the person as chance to do a do-over. If that fails, simply say, “I’m really sorry you feel that way. I hope you can get past it. If there’s something you’d like to talk through when you’re feeling a little less angry I’m happy to hear whatever you have to say, but I can’t talk about this with you this way.” Then be done. If you have to say anything, simply repeat that formula, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I hope you can get past it. I’d love to talk to you when you’re in a different place, but I can’t do it like this.” Trolls don’t like to eat broken records. If that’s all you serve them, they’ll look for other places to feed.

Explore more resources for setting healthy boundaries at CatholicCounselors.com

 

Quick Links and Resources:

God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts!

Having Meaningful (Sometimes Difficult) Conversations With Your Adult Sons & Daughters

How to Heal Your Marriage & Nurture Lasting Love

Pastoral Tele-Counseling Services

Spiritual Life Coaching

Dealing with Disrespect

When we are disrespected by others, it’s easy to take that disrespect personally and to feel powerless in knowing how to cultivate a respectful relationship dynamic. 

The Theology of The Body reminds us that, because we are created in the image and likeness of God, we have a right to expect to be loved and respected. In his book, Love and Responsibility, St John Paul put forth what he called “the personalistic norm.” The personalistic norm means that every human being has a right be treated like a person, not a thing. Each person has a God-given right to be loved and respected–no matter what. The reason we feel shocked when we are treated poorly is that God built into each person a sense of this divinely given right to be treated as his sons and daughters. We don’t claim that dignity on our own. God gave it to us as his gift.

Likewise, when we’re treated in a manner that offends our dignity as persons, we have a similarly God-given right to address that offense–as long as we remember that the person who offended us has the right to be treated like a person too. To do this effectively, we need to understand the difference between setting boundaries and being defensive.When we’re defensive, we forget that the offender is a person. We get our back up and we lash out, “How dare you do that to me you jerk!” It’s an understandable–but still inappropriate– reaction. Setting a graceful boundary in the face of disrespect means not tolerating the disrespect while also not taking it personally. Instead of lashing out, we can say something like, “I can tell your frustrated, but please don’t treat me like your enemy. How can we deal with this together?”

Let’s take a look at some practical steps for dealing with disrespect:

1. Pause and Pray–When you are offended or hurt by someone, resist the temptation to react.  Take a moment to pause and pray. Ask yourself, “What are you upset about, specifically?” In other words, rather than reacting to what the other person says or does, ask yourself what it means to you that they treated you that way. For instance, instead of saying, “How dare you talk to me that way!” Say, “When you talk to me that way, it feels really disrespectful. Could you say that again?” Pausing and praying allows you to identify and address the actual offense, instead of adding more fuel to the fire.

2. Stop “Shoulding” on Yourself–Too many people buy into the lie that they “shouldn’t have” to tell other people that they are feeling were hurt because they “should just know.” People are not mind-readers. If someone has hurt you, tell them, clearly and directly what the problem is, and what you need them to do to correct it. For instance, if someone ignores a request you’ve made in the hopes you’ll just forget about it, you might say, “I was really hurt that you chose to ignore me and not do the thing I asked. I need you to tell me, specifically, when and how you’re going to follow through.” Don’t accept vague, non-answers. It’s ok to press for a specific how and when. Holding someone accountable for fulfilling their promises is not being a “pest” or a “nag,” it is simply respecting Jesus’ admonition that yes should mean yes and no should mean no. Don’t say you “shouldn’t” have to hold others accountable. Pray for the grace and courage you need to teach others to treat you with the dignity worthy of a son or daughter of God.

3. Follow Words with Actions–Sometimes people aren’t willing to respond to your concerns no matter how clear you are about your needs. If your attempts to speak up have failed, more words will not help. You’ll need to have a back-up plan to address the problem unilaterally. In this case, setting boundaries means finding ways to scale back the relationship because the person is demonstrating that they can’t be trusted with the level of intimacy that you have attempted to allow them to have. This means asking yourself, “In what contexts or interactions is this person able to treat me appropriately?” and then limiting your relationship to those types of interactions. If and when the other person complains about the actions you’ve taken, say, “I’d love to get back to normal, but first, we really need to work through X first.” As long as your intention is to work for the good of the relationship, you have every right to scale the relationship back to the point that it is healthy and build out from there.

If you would like more direct support for dealing with disrespect, reach out to us at CatholicCounselors.com/Services. 

 

Quick Links:

How To Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love

 

Got Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts!


Recognizing The 4 Stages of Communication Breakdown (Video)

 

 

So This Is Love – How To Have a More Joyful Marriage

Life can get busy and we tend to let the distractions and work of every day life take precedence over our relationships. Although this is a common and often natural tendency, it can really lead to a decrease in the joy and love that we experience in our marriage on a daily basis. 

Working on your marriage is one of the most important ministries a lay person can be involved with.  God wants to use your marriage as a sign of the love he has for his bride, the Church.  

Your marriage doesn’t have to be perfect and problem-free for God to be able to use your marriage this way, but you do have to have to be committed to working together to help each other become the husband and wife God is calling you to be. Doing this work allows God both to satisfy the deepest longings of your own heart for a love that lasts, but it allows God to show the whole world that when two people love him first, amazing things can happen.  

Working on making your marriage more loving, more joyful, and more intimate, isn’t selfish. It’s the role married couples play in God’s plan for saving the world, which is exactly why marriage is a vocation.

Here are three key ways to cultivate a more loving, joyful, and intimate relationship!

1. Meaningful Couple Prayer–God is the source of a joyful marriage and God will teach you to have a more joyful marriage through meaningful couple prayer. Resist the temptation to simply say words at God. Actually bring your marriage to him. You might say something like, “Lord, we give you our marriage today. Help us look for opportunities to cherish each other, to be the spouses you want us to be to each other and to make our marriage a priority.” However you prefer to pray, be intentional about bringing your marriage to God and asking him to teach you how to love each other with the love that comes from his heart.

2. Daily Check-Ins–Take 5 minutes a day to sit down with your spouse, reflect on how close you feel to each other, and suggest one thing that might make you feel just a little bit closer. For instance, you might say, “It’s been a busy day with the kids and I’m just feeling a little disconnected. I’d love it if we could get a walk in this evening?” Or, “I feel great about us, but I miss getting some one-on-one time, let’s plan a date for sometime soon.” Just five minutes a day to reflect on how you both feel about your relationship and what you would both like to do to come a little closer can make the difference between a couple that maintains a strong connection through life’s ups and downs and a couple that slowly drifts apart without even realizing it. Make the time to check in with your spouse for even a few minutes and keep those lines of connection strong.

3. Make Your List and Check it Twice–Want to cherish each other more? Make a love list. Both you and your spouse should write down at least 25 things that make you feel cherished, cared for, and loved.  Simple things like, “I love when you hold my hand.”  “I love when you text me to say ‘I love you.’” “I love when you notice the dishwasher is full and empty it.”  Identify as many simple, loving acts, thoughtful gestures, or caretaking behaviors as you can and write them down. Then exchange the lists. Everyday, make it a point to do at least two simpler things on the list and one thing that takes a little more effort. Try to do something a little different everyday and don’t be slavish about the lists but use them as a springboard that inspires a little creativity.  Your love list will remind you not only that taking care of each other is the most important thing you can do all day, it will remind you that even a little thoughtfulness goes a long way to having a more joyful marriage.

For more ways to live a more joyful and loving marriage, check out For Better… Forever! at CatholicCounselors.com.

Eight Simple Ways To Make Your Marriage Great

By Dr. Greg Popcak

It turns out that the secret to creating a joyful, loving, lifelong marriage isn’t such a secret after all!  

Research on successful couples shows that whether your relationship is frustrating, fantastic, or somewhere in between, every couple can create a more fulfilling marriage by practicing eight simple habits. 

1.Rituals of Connection-–Happy couples prioritize each other by creating regular, daily rituals for working, playing, talking, and praying together.

Take a few minutes each day to do little things together like clean up the kitchen, go on a walk or play a game, talk about ways you can take better care of each other, or pray or engage in other shared spiritual activities. Creating simple rituals of connection like these will remind you to step out of the busy-ness of everyday life and show up for each other.  

2.  Emotional Rapport & Benevolence–Happy couples make a point of intentionally looking for ways to lighten each other’s load. Every morning, before you start the day, get into the habit of asking, “What could I do to make your day a little easier or more pleasant?”  

Simple gestures like this will help you remember to turn toward each other in times of stress (instead of isolating) and help you trust that you have each other’s best interests at heart—even when you sometimes irritate each other.

3.  Self-Regulation–Happy couples are good at monitoring their emotional temperatures. They know when they need to take a break from a stressful conversation and they understand that they can always come back to a difficult topic later once they’ve had some more time to think about it.

When you’re upset about something, don’t jump right into an argument with your spouse. Take some time to calm down, identify the problem, and (for bonus points) try to come up with at least one idea about what you’d like to do to improve the situation.  Now, you’re ready to have a productive problem-solving conversation with your spouse.

4. A Positive Intention Frame--Happy couples realize that most offenses in marriage are due to miscommunication or misunderstanding.  They realize that their partner gets nothing out of being intentionally offensive. They try to understand the true intention or need behind the offense and find more respectful way to meet that need or intention

When your spouse does something that upsets you, don’t attack them. Instead, ask them what need they were trying to meet by acting as they did. Once you’ve identified what they were trying to do, you can brainstorm better ways to meet that good intention next time.

5. Caretaking in Conflict–Happy couples know that the most important thing in problem-solving isn’t actually solving the problem. The MOST important thing in problem-solving is taking care of each other so that they can solve the problem together. Happy couples actively look for little ways to encourage each other through the tension and toward solutions.

Even when you’re disagreeing, remember to look for little ways to remind your spouse that you love them, want the best for them, and appreciate their willingness to stick it out and work through things together—even when the going gets tough. 

6.  Mutual Respect, Accountability, and Boundaries–Happy couples respect each other, which means that they are willing to listen and learn from each other even when it is hard. They don’t have to understand why something is important to their partner.  It is enough that it is important. They respect each other’s boundaries and work to accommodate each other’s needs and preferences even when those needs or preferences don’t necessarily make sense.

Don’t put your spouse in the position of having to prove to you that their ideas, needs, concerns, or interests are worthwhile. Assume they’re smart enough to see something good in those things, and work hard to understand what that is.

7.  Reviewing and Learning from Mistakes–Happy couples know how to learn from their disagreements. They don’t blame and attack each other or endlessly debate what “really” happened last time.  They focus on what they need to do to handle similar situations better in the future.

Here’s a secret. Not even the happiest couples ever agree on what actually happened, who said what, or whose fault it was. Don’t worry about that. If you can both agree that neither of you liked the way things played out the last time, you can focus your energy on figuring out how to handle similar situations better next time.

8.  Seeking Healthy Support–Happy couples are always looking for opportunities to make their marriage stronger and they know where to turn for solid support.

They don’t complain about their marriage to friends who will simply confirm their biases and tell them what they want to hear. Instead, they look for opportunities to develop new skills even when things are going well, and if they need help, they seek it either from mature couples who know and love them both, or marriage-friendly professionals who are qualified to teach the skills they need to address their particular struggles.

How’d you do? Every couple has areas they are best at and areas they could improve in. To learn more about how you to use these habits to strengthen your marriage, check out How To Heal Your Marriage And Nurture Lasting Love.  (Dr. Greg Popcak, Sophia Institute Press). You’ll discover a step-by-step plan for making your marriage everything you want it to be!

For more personal support, contact CatholicCounselors.com to learn how our Catholic tele-counseling services can help you transform your marriage, family or personal life! 

Couple Connection–How to Cultivate a Stronger and More Intimate Marriage

Life gets busy and we tend to place our focus and efforts on the things we feel make us more “productive.” Doing this, however, often causes us to not prioritize our marriage in the ways that we need to and ultimately become disconnected from our spouse.

We tend to think that having a good, loving, marriage is a good thing on a purely human level but we also have a tendency to think that working on our marriage is somehow selfish. We believe that working on our marriage doesn’t build the kingdom of God like feeding the poor, or building a school or hospital, or even singing in the church choir does. We recognize that marriage–generally speaking–is a good thing, but we don’t really believe that God cares what our marriages look like. But he does!  

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Are you looking to cultivate a stronger and more intimate marriage?
Check out:

For Better… Forever!

A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage

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The Theology of The Body reminds us that building the kingdom of God is really about healing the damage that sin does to our relationships with each other. The Sacrament of Marriage is about healing the intimate bond that holds all of civilization together. If we don’t have strong marriages, we can’t have strong families, and if we don’t have strong families we can’t have a healthy society or a godly church. Focusing on doing all kinds of ministry while ignoring your marriage is like trying to build a third story on your house while your foundation is sliding over a cliff. God cares deeply about how intimate, passionate, loving, respectful, and prayerful your marriage is because everything else in his plan depends on it. If loving couples aren’t cooperating with God’s grace everyday to make their marriages stronger it allows Satan to get into the cracks and blow everything apart–not just that one couples marriage, but their family and all of society. The Church teaches that working on your marriage is a ministry that allows us to bear witness to the love that Christ, the Bridegroom, has for his bride, the Church. By working to create stronger, more loving, intimate, and prayerful marriages, we are working to save the world and build the kingdom of God.

Here are three ways to strengthen your marriage:

  1. Make the small moments count—When life gets busy, it can be difficult to make grand gestures or get a significant amount of time to focus solely on your spouse. The good news is, while those bigger moments are important, the little moments count just as much when it comes to building couple connection. What are the little things that your partner appreciates? This could include things like eye contact while talking, a little smile while passing through the room, being surprised by their favorite snack or flowers, a random hug while working in the kitchen. These little moments are the opportunities for us to say, “Hey, I love you,” even in those times where we might have a lot going on. Just like when we’re building a house, we need all those little pebbles in the foundation to make a sturdy house. That is what these little moments are, those moments of connection that create a sturdy foundation and connection for your marriage.
  1. Prioritize couple time first—When we’re planning our week, we tend to add all of the extra curricular activities, work events, or social obligations to the schedule first. And then somewhere in there we hope to maybe have time for some family or couple time. But this is where we set ourselves up for some challenges. To strengthen your marriage connection, prioritize making time for our marriage first. This means, plan time with your spouse on the schedule before any thing else—even if it’s talking a walk in the morning, one evening set aside for dinner together, or time to wind down in the evening together after the kids go to bed—then schedule other events around your couple time. This is one of the most effective ways to put your spouse and your marriage first, which even helps everything else in your week go more smoothly as well!
  1. Practice intentional communication—Often one of the biggest difficulties in couple connection is the disconnection that spouses experience throughout the day. Typically because of work schedules or family responsibilities, spouses don’t see each other for the majority of the day. Then they hope to get a couple minutes (never mind hours) in the evening to reconnect. To strengthen your couple connection, work on practicing intentional communication throughout the day. This can look like sending even little texts to each other such as “I’m praying for your meeting!” “How was your lunch?” Or, “Just letting you know I love you!” No matter how simple or detailed you make your communication with one another throughout the day, maintaining your connection even in little ways can ease the transition into evenings and your time together because you have maintained at least a baseline level of connection instead of trying to go from 0 to 100 with nothing in between.

For more resources on strengthening your marriage connection, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Science Reveals The Upside of Sacrificing for Your Spouse

Are you struggling to connect with your spouse? Does it feel like you’ve been missing that spark in your relationship? Science and faith reveal a few simple ways to cultivate a more joyful marriage.

Theology of The Body tells us that mutual self-donation–that is, generously and even heroically taking care of each other–is the key to both a happy marriage and a happy life.  Turns out, research supports this idea.  An article at the Marriage Research blog, The Science of Relationships, recently highlighted several studies exploring the benefits of sacrificing for your spouse.  It turns out loving your spouse more than your comfort zone doesn’t just make your mate happier, it’s good for you too!  According to the authors, “The act of making a sacrifice for a partner allows people to think of themselves as good and responsive relationship partners. Givers also benefit from seeing that their partners are grateful to them after they make a sacrifice. This gratitude in turn is related to stronger, more satisfying relationships. Indeed, on days when people report making small sacrifices for their romantic partner, they tend to report higher relationship quality. So next time you’re watching your partner try on clothes at the mall, cat-sitting for your in-laws, or taking out the trash for the third week in a row, just think of the silver lining: you’re not just taking care of your marriage, you’re taking care of yourself”

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Do you want to strengthen your marriage?

Check out:

How To Heal Your Marriage And Nurture Lasting Love

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Here are three ways that you can cultivate a more joyful marriage:

Surprise!—Want a more joyful marriage?  Find ways to surprise your spouse.  I mean, don’t jump out of the closet in a monster mask and yell BOO!, but DO leave little “I love you” notes, send a text that says, “I miss you!”, bring home a card, or some flowers, or some other token of affection just because.  God wants your marriage to be a physical reminder of how passionately HE loves you, and God’s love is always fresh, surprising and wonderful.  No matter how long you’ve been married, find little ways to surprise your spouse and let them know what a gift they are to you.

Keep Dreaming—A big part of what makes the early days of dating and marriage so much fun is all the time couples spend talking about their future together.  The longer couples are married, the more they tend to fall into assuming that the future will be just like today, and the day before, and the day before that.  But you’re never too old to keep dreaming together!  Make some time to imagine different versions of your future.  You don’t even have to be serious! Imagine what you’d do if you won the lottery, or actually moved to your favorite vacation spot.  Or share what your ideal life would look like! You might ask, “What’s the point of imagining a future that might never be?”  Well, three things!  First, being silly together is its own reward and laughter truly is the best medicine for marriage. Second, you might just find some ways to make at least parts of those fantasies a reality.   And finally, you might even realize how grateful you are for the life you’ve created together already.  So keep dreaming together.   You’ll be surprised at the joy you find.

Have Faith in Your Marriage—Of course the most important way to have a more joyful relationship is to find more ways to share your faith. Go to Mass together, pray together every day, find ways to serve your parish or community together, encourage each other to the be the people God is calling each of you to be.  Research consistently shows that couples who share a meaningful faith and vision of life are significantly happier than couples who don’t.  So let the grace flow in your home, and live God’s plan for a more joy-filled marriage.

For more support in cultivating a more joyful marriage, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Four Ways to Keep Your Relationship Afloat In Tough Times

Husbands and wives pledge to love each other through good times and bad, sickness and health, wealth and poverty. On the day of the wedding, these promises feel comforting. But when bad times come through the door, love often flies out the window.  How can a couple stick together even when the going gets tough?

Decades of research have revealed the following four habits to be essential for staying close through difficult times. They are like four pontoons that keep your relationship afloat (see what I did there?), especially when the storms of life lead you into choppy waters.

1.Meaningful Couple Prayer—Turns out, the Venerable Patrick Peyton, CSC. was right. The couple that prays together really does stay together.  Research by Baylor University found that couples who engage in meaningful couple-prayer are significantly more likely to think positively about each other and feel closer to each other, especially through hard times.

Meaningful couple prayer isn’t just about “saying words at God.”  It requires you and your spouse to take a little time every day—even just five minutes—to talk to God about your life, your fears, your hopes, your dreams, and your feelings.  Sit down together and speak to God as if he were the person who knew you best and loved you most.  In addition to the graces we receive from prayer, couple-prayer “works” on a human level because it gives couples a safe, quasi-indirect way to reveal our hearts to one another.  We talk to God while our spouse listens in.  Then, as our spouse prays, we ask God to help us really hear what our spouse is trying to say.  What are their needs, their fears, their wants and concerns?  How do these fit with our own needs, fears, wants and concerns?  By listening to each other in prayer, the Holy Spirit can guide you toward graceful solutions.

2.Talk Together—Create a daily talk ritual; a time where you intentionally discuss topics that don’t natually come up.  Specifically, focus on three questions.  1) How are each of you holding up?  Be honest.  What do you feel like you’re handling well?  Where do you feel like you’re struggling?  When were you at your best today?  When were you at your worst?  2)  When did you feel closest to your spouse/most grateful for your spouse’s support today?  First of all, discussing this question daily makes you more conscious of the need to do things to support each other.  Second, acknowledging the ways you have shown up for each other throughout the day reminds you that you aren’t alone. You have a friend who really wants to be there for you. 3) What could you do to help make each other’s day a little easier/more pleasant?  Is there a project you need some help with?  Is there something you need prayer for?  Are there little things that your spouse sometimes does that mean a lot?  Take this time to ask each other to do those little things that say, “Even when life is falling apart, you can count on me to be here and to take care of you.”

3.Work Together—Your household chores aren’t just something to get through.  They’re actually opportunities to build a sense of solidarity and team spirit.  It’s a funny thing.  You might not know how to weather the latest crisis, but doing something as simple as making the bed together, or cleaning up the kitchen after dinner together, or picking up the family room together before you turn in sends a powerful unconscious message that says, “I’m not just here for the fun.  I’m here for the hard stuff and the boring stuff too.  Somehow, we can get through this. Together.”

Research shows that couples who make a daily habit of cultivating simple caretaking behaviors like doing chores side-by-side develop better cooperation, communication and problem-solving skills. It turns out that the way you work together to avoid bumping into each other and stepping on each other’s toes while you clean up the kitchen becomes the unconscious template for how you work together to handle that health crisis, financial problem, or other unexpected challenge.

4. Play Together—When you’re going through tough times, you don’t want to play.  We just want to isolate and hide.  Resist that temptation as best you can. Make a little time every day to do something pleasant together. Think about the simple pleasures you enjoy in happier times and make yourselves do them–even if you’re not really feeling it.  It might not be all laughs and giggles, but worst case scenario?  You might help each other remember that life isn’t completely horrible and you’ll have each other to thank for that little moment of joy.  Psychology reminds us that humor and play are two the most sophisticated defense mechanisms.  They help us stubbornly resolve to make beautiful moments even when life is anything but.  The couple that learns how to gently play together even the face of trials are true masters at life and love.

Life can be hard, but cultivating a love that “endures all things” (1Cor 13:7), isn’t complicated. By remembering to Pray, Talk, Work, and Play together, you can build a relationship that can stand up to whatever life throws at you.

Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of many books including Just Married. Learn more at CatholicCounselors.com

Whose Will You Be? A Gospel Reflection for the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be?”

To whom do you belong? Whose will you be? At it’s core, this is what the Sadducees seem to be asking in this Sunday’s Gospel from the Book of Luke Chapter 20: 27-38. The response that Jesus offers is surprising:  in, “the resurrection of the dead,” he says, we, “neither marry nor are given in marriage.” Does this mean, you might ask, that I won’t be married to my partner in Heaven? Depending on the state of your relationship, I imagine you’l be asking that question with either a smile or a frown.

Rest assured, though: as my own theological mentor often says, Jesus is not offering a deletion of relationship, but rather a completion. That is to say, Jesus is painting a picture of Heaven, not as a place which removes the closeness, trust and intimacy we experience with one person in marriage, but where we can experience that same closeness, trust and intimacy with every person. It has been said that Heaven is where we will “know and be known,” and this is the promise to which Christ refers in his admonition to the scholars of the law. In this redeemed order, marriage would simply be redundant. We will all belong to one another and, most ultimately, to God.
This is a beautiful promise, but it also leaves us with quite the responsibility here on earth. According to Christ’s paradigm, marriage is the “preseason” (if you’ll forgive the sports analogy) to the “game time” of Heaven. Marriage is the training ground where I learn to fully give my fullest self and receive my partner’s fullest self in return. Marriage is the place, it seems, where we first “know and are known.”
Of course, few of our relationships match this perfectly. But do not despair! If nothing else, Christ’s words to the Sadducees call us not to settle for the pettiness of the world but rather to aspire to the dreams and standards of God. Seeing as He’s the one who created us in the first place, He’d probably be the one to know if we (and our relationships) are capable of more than we might otherwise settle for.
Start by asking God to give you the grace and courage to discern how he’s calling your relationship to become more Heavenly, and if you need a little extra help and support, pick up a copy of How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love.
Jacob Popcak, M.A., L.P.C. is an award-winning Catholic artist and a counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. He can be contacted through CatholicCounselors.com.