Couples, Uncategorized

15 Benefits of Mutual Couple Relationships

68710005 - happy friends driving in cabriolet car at country

Last fall, my friend and I fulfilled one of our midlife crisis dreams by taking our husbands on a trip to the Mediterranean. The hype and expectations were off the charts, considering we spent between 2-3 years researching, planning and preparing. My friend was someone I had known since college—one of those friends with which I had an instant and enduring connection—a renewed friendship after losing touch. I knew she and I would have a fabulous time, but our husbands had only accompanied us on an occasional double date. Even though my husband possesses a high likability quotient and makes friends easily, I had no idea how our quartet would hold up after 2 ½ weeks on a 5-day jaunt through the Pyrenees followed by 11 days at European sea ports.

At dinner on the first evening while en route, my friend’s husband said, “I just don’t want to end up in a blog post.” “Oh, there will be a blog post—or several,” I confirmed, “But don’t worry—I won’t use your real names. I’ll call you Justin and Jessica, and your anonymity will remain intact.”

Throughout the trip, they played along good-naturedly. Occasionally I looked at my friend and remarked, “I think Justin and Steve (my husband) just earned themselves a blog appearance, don’t you?” seeking her confirmation that their actions were indeed blog fodder.

In short, we had the perfect vacation. The trip confirmed many benefits of mutual couple friendships. A few years ago, authors Geoffrey L. Greif and Kathleen Holtz Deal published Two Plus Two: Couples and their Couple Friendships, revealing many positive benefits for couples seeking and sustaining mutual friendships. Couple friendships can be used to enhance a couple relationship in many ways, and it’s often an under-utilized resource.

Benefits of couple relationships:

Another couple can provide a mirror to your own relationship.

At one point early in the trip, Justin commented that I was probably evaluating them and judging them for being so “screwed up.” “Actually,” I comforted, “it’s just like looking in a mirror—in an eerily predictable sort of way–incredibly validating, in fact.” I found myself completing sentences in my head accurately for both partners, based on my own spousal interactions.

At our first stop in Spain, I watched as Justin purchased a questionable culinary delight he experienced when he lived in Spain decades earlier as a young adult. He was excited to share what looked to me like the equivalent of a chocolate filled hot dog, evoking memories of my husband’s curious obsession with Argentine alfajores. The dulce de leche-filled cookies were one of the first things he wanted to share with me when we visited Argentina years ago, and even though they tasted to me just like the imports in the U.S., he was convinced they were far superior on Argentine soil. My palate was not discriminating enough to tell, and I’m not a dry cookie lover. On our first morning in Girona, Spain, when Jessica mentioned that she was hungry, and Justin remarked, “I already got you a chocolate hotdog for breakfast. What more do you want?” I smirked, recalling a similar conversation between my husband and me. When he parallel parked the car in a limited space with finesse and made a comment to Jessica, it reminded me of the many times my husband parked similarly and looked over at me and asked, “Honey, are my parallel-parking skills a turn-on?” I knew this would be a fun trip.

Another Couple Can Share the Humor.

One of the greatest benefits people identify in a long-term monogamous relationship is shared humor, and adding another couple to the mix is potentially more fun. Bottom line—if you don’t have a sense of humor, we probably can’t be friends. I think most people take themselves way too seriously. When Justin remarked that his calves were so awe-inspiring that they earned the “golden calves,” moniker, it led to endless jokes about worshipping at the golden calves. My husband played it up every time we had good luck, “It must have been Justin’s calves—she took one look and was mesmerized into giving us what we want.”

In another incident, we noticed a gentleman on our cruise whose appearance was both eccentric and comical. We even wondered if he was a candid camera plant (which he admittedly could have been). He was hard to miss at over 6’3” and gangly, sporting an impressive comb over that began only an inch above his ear and was obviously dyed turd brown to hide the gray roots which would have blended more congruously with his wrinkled skin. His outfits were so flamboyant that it took the eyes time to adjust. His garish wardrobe consisted at times of a bright “Members only” jacket, plaid pants and floral cuffs. A cartoon mustache completed the look, and my husband nicknamed him “Inspector Clouseau.”

During the trip, I commented on my husband’s own appearance, “Sheesh—could you look any more like an American tourist?” referencing his adornment of Nike swooshes and ubiquitous baseball caps. “Well, I am an American tourist, so…,” he replied, confirming that he could not care less about his global image.

At one point, I was running late while he and the other couple were waiting outside my cabin door. I hate being late, so, fueled by stress, I threw open the door to the hallway and nearly collided with my husband, who was right outside the door waiting, staring at me through mirrored sunglasses, striking a pose with arms folded. He had turned up his polo shirt collar and accessorized it with his sweatshirt thrown over his back and loosely tied in the front, “preppy style.” Jessica’s mascara, applied artfully on his upper lip, resulted in a fake “non-American-tourist,” mustache. While I feasted on his new “not tourist,” look, our friends were enjoying my reaction to his transformation. “Whaa…..?” I was dumbfounded. “Hey, you’re the one that claimed that I looked too American—is this European enough for you?” effectively shaming me out of future wardrobe complaints. Later, he snuck a photo of “Inspector Clouseau,” and sent it in a group text with the words, “How to not look like an American tourist,” leaving us all in stitches.

Another couple can make terrible moments less painful, or even funny.

We had the good fortune of planning our entry into Barcelona from our Pyrenees adventure on the very day that the Catalonian independence movement declared a general strike and protested Spain’s aggression toward their political vote by blocking all major roads into Barcelona, center of Catalonia. A trip that should have taken us just over an hour took several, and our strategy of mapping side streets to avoid the congested highways landed us smack dab in the middle of a local Catalonian independence parade in a small village. We had no choice but to crawl forward in the slow line, give the thumbs up sign, honk our horns and yell “Independencia!” with the masses, receiving smiles and reciprocal affirmative gestures for our show of support. Had my husband and I been alone, we would likely have been annoyed, but with friends, it was hilarious. When most stores were closed in the strike, barring purchase of food, it also led to several jokes about how “I could really go for a chocolate hot dog right about now,” lightening the mood.

Another time, at a gelato shop at a French port, Jessica got up to use the bathroom but arrived back at the table looking rattled. She explained that she ran into a French man by accidentally going into the men’s bathroom and she embarrassingly explained to him, “Yo hablas Ingles.” If you’re paying attention, you realize that she was telling a man who speaks French that she speaks English, except she said it in Spanish with the wrong verb tense. It was very funny.

Another couple in your same demographic cohort can help you feel better about your age and reminisce about your glory days.

Jessica and I left our husbands to check out the solarium and spa o’high pressure sales tactics (e.g. “You’re going to die of aging embarrassment if you don’t buy this cream, offered now at the special price of three times the manufacturer’s suggested retail value—if you don’t apply it in the next ten minutes, don’t blame me when you are unexpectedly atomized by environmental toxins). Upon return, it took us a minute to find them. “Oh look,” I pointed at the basketball court, where they were taking turns shooting, “Isn’t that cute? How long do you think it will take before they hurt themselves?” “I hope Justin doesn’t aggravate his Achilles’ tendon,” my friend said while I mused about Steve, “He can’t jump…he’s having a hip replacement in six weeks.” For the rest of the trip, our husbands got cozy with the community Ibuprofen bottle and dinnertime conversation was saturated with comparisons of aches and pains earned from the day’s activities.

You can be sillier.

In Rome, we arranged for a private tour guide who Jessica aptly described as someone who “Seemed like he was trying to quit smoking but really needed a cigarette.” He was intense, anxious and loud. On our way to the Coliseum, when we were trying to clarify our return location, any question he had previously answered began with the subtly punishing, “Like I already told you……..” It became a joke among us that the man does not like to repeat himself. When we got back in his van to go to another location, I whispered in Jessica’s ear, “And don’t you dare ask him the same question twice, you ignorant American tourist!” As we drove toward the Vatican, he was pointing out various points of interest and Jessica, always one to inspire a charitable attitude and compassion for her fellow man, engaged with verbal interest in his recitations while I stayed silent, actively avoiding his verbal aggression. Plus, I had been to Rome and thought it was crowded and dirty the first time. At one point, we rounded a large thoroughfare which we had previously passed from a different side. When she asked, “What’s that?” more to be friendly than to satisfy her own curiosity, he spat, “It’s what I showed you before!” I couldn’t help myself. I poked her in the ribs and worked hard to muffle my laughter, instantly reverting to my junior high persona. She was trying so hard to curry his favor and in the end, he was as terse as ever. We still laugh about that.

Another couple can solidify all your gender stereotypes.

At the end of the trip, I told Justin and Jessica that I thought I had enough material to manufacture a push button device reducing the need for males to generate independent thought in spousal conversation. “I am thinking of calling it the Manologue,” I explained. “I think we can at least approximate a high degree of predictable conversational accuracy with a few key phrases. When your wife expresses worry about any potential outcome, you just push the button labeled, ‘OK—so then what’s the worst thing that can happen?’ For general use, we can add, ‘That’s not what happened,’ ‘No I didn’t,’ and ‘Well, you need to be more specific.’” The deluxe version will include, “You never said that,” “I didn’t hear you,” “I forgot,” “I can’t find it,” and “Huh?”

Somehow, a conversation related to the “Not About the Nail,” video came up, which led to our husbands bonding over the accuracy of the male experience in the video while we argued that it is dismissive and misses the point (no pun intended). While touring a medieval cathedral, my friend asked how the sculpted saint died, and one of our husbands blurted, “The nail in the forehead,” pointing to the stake protruding from her brow. High fives accompanied, “See—if she had just taken it out….” This was one of many similar testosterone-affirming displays.

Another couple can validate your stress.

While waiting in line on our ship for a land-bound tender, in a chaotic stream of people who were entering one hallway from several directions, Jessica called out, “The line starts back here.” Her husband gave her a death stare and sarcastically thanked her for keeping everyone else in line. “She’s just saying what the rest of us want to say,” I affirmed, relieved that someone was as rattled as I was about the whole mess. Every time Jessica asked the time or mentally calculated distance/time ratios, I was relieved that I wasn’t the only one who worries about time.

Another couple can increase your compassion for your spouse.

In another blog fodder moment, after my husband spent the better part of a few days priding himself on his “still got it,” reflexes to kill any bees who dared buzz anywhere near our food, he got stung by a bee, in a display of radical beehive justice. Amid my “you deserved that,” mentality, I realized that my friend was much more compassionate, and asked my husband later how he was doing. “Wow, I should probably be nicer,” I learned. Several times.

Another couple can expand your narrow culinary experience.

Chocolate hot dogs aside, I have Justin to thank for my religious experience with fresh churros y chocolate in Barcelona. We could easily have missed this gastronomic specialty without his expertise. I doubted I would offer new ideas for our comestible journey, but my strange fondness for floral-flavored desserts led to my obsessive quest for a gelato shop offering rose, lavender, poppy, hibiscus, orange blossom and violet flavors, which was worth every contemptuous eye roll it took to complete my order. Jessica and Justin also sampled my violet candy. “If you travel with my wife, you’re going to eat perfume,” my husband accurately confirmed.

Another couple can provide a layer of support when you need it.

It became a predictable mantra that when Jessica expressed concern, Justin would say, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” On one occasion, when she was worried that we were on the train going the wrong way, he took a vote about who thought we were going the right way. We all voted yes. Except Jessica. When the train started, going the wrong way, our husbands cleverly manipulated the conversation into the benefits of going the wrong way, and how much amazing scenery we were viewing which would have been entirely missed by going the “right way.” Jessica amazingly stifled an “I told you so.”

In another mirror moment, while entering Barcelona in the middle of the public declaration of independence, traffic was a nightmare. Jessica was trying to tell Justin where to go, but so many streets were blocked off that it seemed impossible. We were tired and cranky. In the chaos, suddenly, Justin yelled “HON!” and showed frustration about her directions. While Jessica left the car to talk to our hotel personnel, her husband apologized for his impatience. When I was about to say that my husband would have responded the same way, my husband said, “What? You said ‘hon,’” which led to a round of laughter, breaking up the tension.

Another couple can reduce the tension.

One night, we arrived at a tiny mountain village called Estamariu, where we had reservations at a relatively obscure bed and breakfast, booked by Justin because, “You said you wanted adventure.” In this case, part of the adventure was hunting down a key in a medieval village devoid of signs of life, eliciting scenes of Stephen King novels and zombie raids. Part of the discussion was, “If we were murdered for harvested body parts/zombie food/zombie recreation and thrown off the precipice, how long would it take to find us?” We were all tired, and Jessica offered the possibility that a door hidden in an archway down a ramp might be the way in, and she was actively ignored. Finally, one of the men said, “What about this door?” (the one Jessica had pointed out three times previously) and it opened right up. “What? You mean the one that I asked about first?” Jessica asked with the slightest hint of annoyance. I was impressed that she didn’t slap someone upside the head, despite the late hour.

While a tender was pulling away from the cruise ship after depositing tourists at the end of a long day, I realized my husband was still on the tender (no surprise—the man likes to take his time, which is a constant thorn in my side, I tell you). Instead of having to panic by myself, I calmly pointed out that my husband was still on the tender; Justin and Jessica did the yelling for me to alert the tender operators about their stowaway—and then I could laugh instead of being more annoyed with my husband.

Another couple can motivate skill development.

Let’s just say that pickle ball was an important topic of conversation, along with musings of becoming seniors pickle ball champions. To be continued….Also, my husband and I realized that foosball is not our team strength.

Another couple can increase opportunities for embarrassment.

While I rarely had to kick my husband under the table to keep from embarrassing me, I wanted to muzzle him when he recounted a previous cruise in which we entered a doubles ping pong tournament. He was exaggerating my skills. Justin, an athlete through and through, decided we needed to face off in a couple’s match. Despite my protests that I hadn’t played in a LOOOONG time, my husband agreed that we were up for some healthy competition. “Why why why why why did you have to throw down the gauntlet?” I whined. “I’m totally out of practice.” “You’re a natural,” my husband said, “It’ll be fun.” I found every excuse to avoid the “tournament,” but to no avail. By some cosmic miracle, I didn’t completely lose face, but I was annoyed with my husband for embarrassing me.

Because I’m a foodie, I can go a little crazy on cruises because I want to try everything once. At my urging, Jessica joined with me in ordering more dishes than normal so we could taste them. As the waiter began bringing her food, her husband repeatedly exclaimed, “You ordered that, too? How much food did you order?” Despite my explaining, “She ordered it because I told her to—I ordered just as much—so we can taste it. Blame me,” he couldn’t seem to control his reaction. I could tell she was getting embarrassed, even though it was my fault, essentially. For the rest of the trip, I started our meals by suggesting, “Whatever you do, can you please order 8 of them, so I can hear Justin remark loudly and frequently about how much food you ordered?” Justin was a good sport about the whole thing, to his credit.

Another couple can amplify the adventure.

Something about having another couple along seems to increase risk-taking behavior (read: male bravado). At one point, our rented auto was positioned at the entrance to the old Jewish quarter in Girona. The quarter is hidden in a medieval labyrinth of ridiculously narrow cobblestone roads, tapering into obscure dead-ends and pedestrian collectives, winding into pathways of creepiness, but ending in adventure. With Justin at the wheel asking whether he should risk the path in a motorized vehicle, my husband goaded him forward with the equivalent of a triple-dog-dare, “Do it!” Jessica and I exchanged glances, recognizing that the only other vehicles on the maze-like structure seemed to be somehow official. We guessed that the high police presence was related to the Catalonian independence vote taking place in the square below. Had we been alone, I don’t think we would have experienced the neighborhood in quite the same, “everyone pray that we don’t scrape the sides of the car in this alley,” way. Also, we would have missed the adrenaline-inducing feeling of finding the car maliciously dented after we took leave of said rental chariot to explore on foot. At least it enlivened our conversation, as we conjectured about which group of police officers likely damaged the car either as a warning or protest of tourist invasion.

There are people to side up with you.

At the airport for departure, Jessica and I worried about whether we properly labeled our luggage. We wanted our husbands to ask for clarification (being that they both speak Spanish fluently and we don’t), but they were allied in their mutual protest that they didn’t need to ask. Finally, they asked someone and the airport employee answered in Spanish and followed up with a heavily-accented “Don’t worry,” for our benefit. For the remainder of the trip, that became our husbands’ gloating mantras. At least we each had a partner with which to collude.

Just before take-off in Amsterdam, we realized that Justin had been detained by security, preventing him from boarding the plane. The minutes seemed to drag on while every other detained passenger entered except him. I could feel my friend’s stress, and I tried to get my husband to check on the situation. Of course, my husband’s response was what her husband’s response would have been, which was, “It’ll be fine. They’re not going to take off without him,” followed with a heavily accented “Don’t worry!” Neither of us was comforted by his dismissal. As flight attendants closed all overheads and made announcements about departure, my husband finally hauled himself up to ask about our friend, but only after clarifying that it was for us, because he knew it would be fine. Eventually, Justin was returned to us and explained that because a screw was missing from his laptop, they were suspicious that he had tampered with it and were uncertain about letting him on the flight. “You were probably racially profiled,” I said, in reference to his dark skin and hair. Traveling with a trio of Mayflower and French Huguenot descendants would be the perfect cover. I turned to my husband, “See, honey, that’s one thing you can thank your pasty white skin for–there are benefits to looking like the love child of Thor and Queen Elizabeth.” He wasn’t amused, but I was.

Not only did I have a friend who thought like I did, but it was a relief to know that my husband’s “play it cool,” attitude was non-discriminating and he wasn’t personally resistant to me, but to generally risking looking like a dork in a crowd. When he didn’t move any faster for her than he would for me, I took comfort in the fact that it’s more about him than his resistance to my worry.

Since Justin took to calling us “twins,” I’m assuming he and Jessica had similar mirroring experiences. I’m happy to participate in the confirmation that his wife is much more normal than he was giving her credit for (being that paragon of normality that I am). “See—don’t you feel like you have a great marriage now? You’re welcome!” I gushed, “Now I just need to get busy on those revelatory blog posts.”

When I returned home and explained to people that we spent 2 ½ weeks with another couple, a common response I got back was, “Who did you find to spend 2 ½ weeks with, without hating them at the end?” I explained that while I understood that proximity with many couples for that length of time might be a trial, we looked at each other after the trip and both agreed, “Wow—and we still really like them!” We also have a healthy collection of inside jokes to hold us over until our next joint getaway. Yes, even after all that time, we could imagine planning another trip with this couple.

As couples, we are both committed to our marriages. Hanging out with another couple helped us accept our own flaws a little easier and celebrate our small successes more readily. Overall, it helps us be more compassionate about our human foibles, inside and outside the marriage, while having more fun in the process.

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Couples

Better Couple Bonding with Ugly Holiday Sweaters 2017

63189203 - romantic moment for nerd couple

This is a modified version of last year’s post, with updated links and groovy additions. Please note that some items are technically not “sweaters,” but I’m trusting that my readers can adapt.

Since ugly Christmas sweater parties are all the ironic rage, I went on a hunt for couples’ combinations.  I’m sure there’s still time to pay double the price to get them before Christmas.  Now you can express your love, cohesion, and bad taste in one social setting.

I have added my own descriptive labels.

  1. The “Newlywed” Christmas Sweater. You only get one first post-nuptial Christmas, so why not make it memorable by declaring your connubial bliss on your person? I’m guessing we could conduct a quick and dirty study finding a significant statistical association between couples who wear matching holiday garb and a lower divorce rate; therefore, buying and wearing holiday couples’ attire prevents divorce, right? (Wink)
  2. The “You’re All I Need” Sweatshirts. Spouses, this might get you out of parting with your hard-earned cash…or it can be a new way to start an argument when your partner is upset that you didn’t buy a material gift, which can be a backdoor way to a make-up session. Therapists do love their reframes.
  3. The “Happy 70’s Christmas and Also I’m Hungry…Denny’s, Anyone?” Combo. The quirky combination of 70’s Elton John and Kiki Dee music hit paired with breakfast items sporting holiday threads. Need I say more?
  4. The “Minimalist” Pairing. For the couple who wants to make an understated statement of unity.
  5. The “AAAWWWWW SO CUTE” His and Hers Attire.  Extra points for getting your partner to go out in public wearing this. I have a soft spot for the endearing appeal of gingerbread men, but no amount of oobie doobie mind tricks will effectively convince my husband to leave the house wearing a cookie on his chest.
  6. The “Elf Yourself” Christmas Sweaters. Just order two of these androgynous crewnecks, and you have the perfect makings for an imaginative holiday role play…Quinkie and Snowflake get lost in Santa’s toy shop…a fantasy that will make shopping for your children while emptying your bank account less painful.
  7. The “Take That, PDA” Sweatshirts. This is for the couple who is still under the influence of a brain-induced love cocktail, thus clouding their vision of how nauseating their outward expression is to those around them.  If this sweater is sold out, you can make an even more impressive version with a photo of your love connection.  Print the words, “All I want for Christmas is,” and insert photo.  To add more “blech,” value, add the words, “This guy (or gal),” at the bottom.
  8. The “Enmeshment” Sweater.  Marriage and family therapists love this term, indicating too much closeness in family systems.  Don’t wear one of these to marriage therapy unless you want to earn a label soaked in psychobabble.  This sweater is perfect unless you want to walk in opposite directions.  For couples who are really in love, this will not be a problem, because they will be able to accurately mind read every move their partners are about to make, in addition to deciphering every unspoken emotional need.
  9. The “Monosweater of Christmas Shame.” Named for the spousal bonding potential in a shared “shame attacking” exercise à la Albert Ellis, a technique often promoted by cognitive behavioral therapy guru David Burns. If you’re confused, read more about it here.  In short, publicly embarrass yourselves together.
  10. The “You Complete Me” Set. A DIY project guaranteed to generate couple closeness.  Just be strategic about which part of the reindeer represents your better half.
  11. The “Communication Problems” Sweatshirts. An homage to the most common reason for seeking marriage therapy.  If you don’t understand the meaning at first, look closer at the “What,” gingerbread man’s head.  It took me a minute.  I’m pretty sure my husband wishes he could use that excuse.
  12. The “Light Me Up” Display. Can be used as an across the room signaling device in addition to being an excellent marital metaphor. Due to the gaudy detail, this model also gives you as a couple the clear advantage for winning the ugly sweater contest.
  13. The “Let Your Freak Flag Fly” Project. Because what is more bonding than using glitter, glue and additional craft décor to assemble exceedingly heinous matching vestures?
  14. The “Couple Cliché for Christmas” Tee. Technically for one, but the couple’s connotation was so rich I couldn’t leave it off the list.
  15. The “What Are You Going to do, Bleed on Me?” Shirt. Lastly, if you buy two of these, you can play a game together to count how many people understand the movie reference throughout the day.

If you’re not brave enough to don matching sweaters, consider matching Ugly Christmas Socks.  Then, you can work your way up to the ultimate in holiday wear–The Gaudy Holiday Suit (see tabs for both men and women) for the most advanced couples. Because OppoSuits attract! (My husband read this post and asked, “So did you order our suits?” I would love to see the look on his face if they actually showed up on our doorstep).

Until my next post, have a happy holiday and merry mind-reading of your partner’s emotional needs!

Photo credit:Copyright: https://www.123rf.com/profile_gpointstudio’>gpointstudio/ 123RF Stock Photo

Couples, Love, marriage, Romance

Fight Flirting with Flirting: Keeping your Marriage in the Fun Zone

flirtingIf you saw my husband calling out my name while holding up a piece of string cheese, and raising his eyebrows when I made eye contact, you might assume that he was just generously offering me a high-protein snack. You almost certainly would not construe it as open flirtation. That’s because you’re not me.

You see, when my husband and I were engaged, we went on a picnic, and in the silliness of young love, I peeled a strip from a piece of string cheese and offered, “Let’s race to the middle,” hanging one end out of my mouth. He put the other end in his mouth and just as we reached the middle, he vigorously bellowed, “OW!” pulling away from me, “YOU BIT ME.” I was rattled by his reaction. He pulled his lower lip down so I could see the blood oozing from soft tissue where I had indeed ripped out a small chunk in my over-zealousness to reach the middle first. “You’re so competitive!” he complained. I felt terrible. My intention was to meet up for a mozzarella kiss, but turning it into a race had destroyed the moment. That incident became part of our private language, so now if he offers a piece with raised eyebrows, I know he’s playfully alluding to this scene and inviting me for a “do over.” The flirtation is a small way of connecting—while trying to get me to kiss him.

People generally associate flirting with the first stages of a potential romantic relationship. It’s true that the ambiguous language, with non-verbals like smiles, touch and eye contact, can be used as a low-risk way to test interest in a love match. Flirtatious behaviors are generally playful and motivated by interest to pursue a romantic connection. Given that the sexual system is a common feature of romantic relationships, flirtation is often motivated by an interest in sex, particularly for males (unsurprisingly).

What if I told you that flirting might be even more important for a long-term relationship?

While many people think of flirting as an early stage relationship tool, it can be a useful maintenance strategy in marriage. It can shape a marital relationship toward increased happiness and commitment.

Here’s how flirting can maintain a marriage:

  1. It introduces positivity into the marital environment. This is important since many problems develop over time from “negative affect reciprocity,” meaning that eventually the negative emotional exchanges flood the marriage, so spouses are viewed through persistent negative filters.
  2. It creates a “private world.” In other words, if the innuendos are only understood by you and the other, it makes it special.
  3. It can reassure a partner that you still want him/her, or it can be a way to gain reassurance that you are wanted, reaffirming the marital relationship.
  4. It’s a way to reinforce commitment.
  5. It introduces playful fun.
  6. It invites physical connection.
  7. It invites sexual interaction.
  8. It reassures partners of ongoing desire and attraction, which increases confidence.
  9. It can help manage conflict.
  10. It adds interest to the relationship. It’s a way of stepping out of the box and inviting novelty.
  11. In general, all the above elements make the marriage feel SAFE, which sets up an environment where more risky playfulness can flourish.

Flirt Early and Often

The best time to be intentional about flirting is EARLY in the marriage, BEFORE DISTRESS has set in. One thing I’ve noticed about couples in therapy is that the playfulness is gone. Very little playful banter or flirting, if any, is happening. Sadly, playfulness and flirting, while less risky during relationship development, somehow become riskier in long-term relationships. Reaching out playfully in a shared context only to get rejected, is painful. When the marriage doesn’t feel safe to take risks, people essentially stop flirting. It doesn’t feel good to be playful and risky if the relationship is uncertain. I completely understand why this happens, because if my husband and I have had a negative exchange, the last thing I’m going to do is flirt with him.

For couples in distressed marriages, I’m going to propose that flirting can be approached from varying degrees of risk, and you can choose a less risky way to flirt as a start to try to reverse the downward trajectory of negativity.

Simple ways to flirt:

  1. Wink from across the room.
  2. Allude to an inside joke.
  3. Smile at your partner.
  4. Touch your partner while you are talking.
  5. Make eye contact.
  6. Share something that makes you laugh.
  7. Compliment your partner specifically about how he/she looks.
  8. Take a risk to invite a sexual encounter in a playful way. If I can be stereotypical, this is especially geared toward females, because we are socialized that males should be the sexual pursuers; that’s probably why the innuendos come from them more often. A wife’s inviting sexuality in a playful way can be a powerful affirmation for many husbands.
  9. Bring home your partner’s favorite snack or drink.
  10. Text flirtatious messages. Don’t skimp on emojis or the various dazzling effects. My husband likes to use the fireworks, heart and confetti effects on a regular basis, and it’s adorable.
  11. Think initials carved into a tree as a love declaration. I mention this because for my entire marriage, my husband has found various clever ways of presenting me with “SS + LS,” surrounded by a heart. He has printed them as a watermark on paper, written them on the bathroom mirror with my lipstick and shower door with soap, written on my car windows with window paint, stamped it in the snow, mowed it in the grass, traced it in the sand, squirted it on a sandwich with mustard, written it in whipping cream on dessert, traced it in almond butter, written it in a text message, wallpapered it on my iPhone, chalked it in the driveway, etc. He started before we were married and has never stopped. At least once a month I will find it somewhere. Small gesture with huge reaffirming impact.
  12. Have a secret non-verbal code. Right after we got married, my husband sat me down and said, “When I squeeze your hand in this pattern, it means ‘I love you,’ so if we are around a bunch of people, I can say it in a way only you will know.” He still uses that pattern frequently if we are in public.
  13. Whatever you do, don’t stop. This might be the most important. When flirtation stops, many couples end up in a game of chicken to see who will make the first move at reaffirming desire and love for the other.

My husband walked into our bedroom last week and noticed the clothes I had dumped on our bed. He saw his opportunity, “Honey, if I fold these clothes, will it turn you on?” Used to his ongoing innuendos, I matched his tone, “I don’t know. I guess you’re going to have to fold them to find out,” keeping it ambiguous.

If I’ve learned anything after three decades of marriage, it’s to fight flirting with flirting.

References:

The “How” and “Why” of Flirtatious Communication Between Marital Partners (2012) by Frisby, B. N. & Boothe-Butterfield, M. in Communication Quarterly, 60(4), 465-480.   DOI:10.1080/01463373.2012.704568

“Without Flirting, it Wouldn’t be a Marriage”: Flirtatious Communication Between Relational Partners (2009) by Frisby, B. N. in Qualitative Research Reports in Communication, 10(1), 55-60. DOI: 10.1080/17459430902839066

Photo credit: Copyright: langstrup / 123RF Stock Photo

Couples, marriage

How to Start a Marital Argument with Mind Reading

14358323 - funny wedding symbol - game overMy husband and I were recently asked to participate in a Newlywed Game activity with other couples in front of several hundred people at a summer camp for adolescent girls.  I feel pressure at events like these because someone always manages to harass me with some version of “OK Mrs. Marriage Therapist Lady—let’s see what you’ve got.”  It’s as if my entire professional career hangs in the balance of reading my husband’s mind for answers to 5 questions.  In my estimation, the Newlywed Game is just mind reading for dummies, AKA “How to pick a fight with your spouse without even trying.”

On the way up in the car, my husband suggested that we practice.  I was feeling good about our matched responses when he pointed out that, “Their questions aren’t going to be this easy—you know they are going to think of obscure questions to ask.”  At my agreement, he directed me to “think of some obscure questions.”  “Umm…I think by definition obscure questions are….obscured, so….questions we aren’t supposed to be able to figure out,” I responded.  “Yeah,” my husband agreed, “but you’re a marriage therapist—so think of some,” which sounded a lot like, “Dance, puppet!”  “Again,” I repeated, slower this time, “By definition, obscure questions are…” “Oh never mind,” he cut me off and wondered aloud why I had to be so difficult.

Sure enough, right out of the gate, the first question, to husbands, was, “My wife is a natural born (blank).”  “Wow,” I thought, “This is going to be worse than I thought—so many choices—I hope he’s nice.”  I quickly wrote “Reader,” crossing my fingers that my husband would recall the many times I had recounted my obsession with the kindergarten book corner.

We were chosen to reveal our answers first.  Feeling optimistic, I held up my card simultaneously with my husband’s, which was met with an eruption of laughter.  “Oh no,” I asked, “What did you write?”  He showed me his card which radiated “LOVER,” in all caps, underlined in bright red ink.  I raised my eyebrows and threw up my hands, mouthing “Wha….???” conveying, “Of all the available words in the English language, you really chose the word, ‘lover,’ dripping with a variety of potentially salacious interpretations…in front of the youth?”  He whispered, “I was about to write ‘reader,’ but that sounds boring and you’re definitely not boring.”  “OK, can you please remember that we are going for accuracy and not scandal?” I entreated.

I was excited that we were in the running for the win when wives were asked, “Name something that your husband is good at that no one else knows about.”  I enthusiastically scribbled “Juggling,” with hurried penmanship, desperately attempting to telepathically transmit my answer to my spouse.

As the answers were revealed, a few couples got a match on “Golf.” “Lame,” I judged, “That’s cheating…basically a safe answer that technically doesn’t meet the standards of something ‘other people don’t know about.’”  I felt fleetingly virtuous and hopeful about my legitimate response before my complete deflation when the moderator frowned and pronounced our answers a mismatch.  I turned toward my husband, “What did you…Waterskiing?  Seriously?  That’s not something people don’t know about!”

“But can he juggle while waterskiing?” someone heckled.

“Well,” he explained, “I was about to put ‘juggling,’ but then I decided I’m really not good at juggling.”  “No,” I argued, “Compared to a professional juggling circus clown you’re not good.  Compared to the average population, you’re really good.”  He rolled his eyes.  “Plus,” I continued, “People know you waterski.”  “People don’t know I waterski,” he contested.  “Are you kidding me?” I was so confused, “You have two different ski boats in our driveway alternating all summer long depending on your mood for the wake you want to ski that day.  I think the cat’s out of the bag…people know you waterski…at least more than know you juggle.”  “But I’m not good at juggling,” he repeated, which just increased my frustration.  He was focusing on the first part of the question and I was focusing on the last part.  “Just stop. We aren’t going to agree on this,” I declared, and he was happy to drop it.

A half hour later when we walked into the camp of our local congregation, the camp cook called out to me, “Hey Lori, the first thing the girls said when they walked into camp is that your husband told everyone you are a natural born lover.”  I shot him a “told you so” look and explained our mismatch on the juggling question.  “But I’m not good at juggling,” he argued again.

“Watch…be amazed!” I told the group in front of us as I tossed him some oranges.  “Let them decide.  Juggle,” I ordered, which I’m sure sounded to him like “Juggle, clown!”  He was surprisingly cooperative as he smoothly juggled the oranges in the air, occasionally switching up his impromptu routine.  “We didn’t know you could juggle,” several people oohed and aahed.  “Right,” I made eye contact with him, “You didn’t.  That’s exactly my point.”  “But I’m not good,” he started in again.  “OK…I’ll concede that you should probably keep your day job instead of running away with the circus, but you juggle well…at least well enough.  Observe…are they not entertained?” I gestured toward his adoring fans.  “OK, you were right.  I should have written juggling,” he conceded as I walked away, worn down by the struggle.

This exercise in futility reminded me of my first year of grad school in a marriage and family therapy.  We were taught how common and harmful “mind reading,” is in marriage.  Spouses frequently assume that they know what their partners are thinking and make judgments based on those assumptions, which then direct their behaviors.  We don’t bother to verify because we are so certain we are correct.

Mind reading is also a problem when one spouse expects the other to know what he/she is thinking.  A common example starts with the words, “You should have known….”  I can confidently report that this tendency is alive and well in the annals of “How can I ruin my marriage today?”  It might even be more common than the first type, and is at the core of many an anniversary fail.

In actuality, all of us are natural born mind readers.  Social convention requires it. Human interaction is founded upon assessing others in social settings.  We naturally decipher non-verbal signals, comparing them to verbals for congruency.  Then, we act accordingly.  In close personal relationships like marriage, we get so good at reading our partners that we are unwilling to admit when we get it wrong and almost offended when they think differently than we do.

Did you notice what happened when my husband and I disagreed?  I tried to persuade him that my thinking was right.  He tried to convince me that his thinking was correct.  What we didn’t do was get curious about the other’s view and ask for more understanding or even take the time to try to see it from an alternative perspective.  Our cognitive biases are so fixed that it requires active intention to consider alternative explanations from our own.

The antidote to mind reading is to ask for understanding and to toy with the idea that someone else’s viewpoint might be valid…and not necessarily threatening to the relationship.

My husband I were both right…sort of…if you understand where we were both coming from.  Yes, there are many humans who juggle better than my husband, and yes, there are many people who don’t know he water-skis, and the bottom line is we were both disappointed that we didn’t mind read accurately for the win.

But we will be so prepared to win next time…especially if I can predict all of those obscure questions.

Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_rszarvas’>rszarvas / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

 

 

 

 

 

Couples, Holidays, Humor, Romance

Better Couple Bonding with Ugly Holiday Sweaters

63128617 - couple with funny christmas masksSince ugly Christmas sweater parties are all the ironic rage, I went on a hunt for couples’ combinations.  I’m sure there’s still time to pay double the price to get them before Christmas.  If not, perhaps some readers will be inspired to pin this to a “Tacky romantic must-haves for Christmas 2017,” Pinterest list.  Now you can express your love, cohesion, and bad taste in one social setting.

I have added my own descriptive labels.

  1. The “Newlywed” Christmas Sweater.  This is for the couple who is still under the influence of a brain-induced love cocktail, thus clouding their vision of how nauseating their outward expression is to those around them.  If this sweater is sold out, you can make an even more impressive version with a photo of your love connection.  Print the words, “All I want for Christmas is,” and insert photo.  To add more “blech,” value, add the words, “This guy (or gal),” at the bottom.
  1. The “Enmeshment” Christmas Sweater.  Marriage and family therapists love this term, indicating too much closeness in family systems.  Don’t wear one of these to marriage therapy unless you want to earn a label soaked in psychobabble.  This sweater is perfect unless you want to walk in opposite directions.  For couples who are really in love, this will not be a problem, because they will be able to accurately mind read every move their partners are about to make, in addition to deciphering every unspoken emotional need.
  1. The “You Complete Me” Christmas Sweater.  A DIY project guaranteed to generate couple closeness.  Just be strategic about which part of the reindeer represents your better half.
  1. The “Communications Problem” Christmas Sweater.  An homage to the most common reason for seeking marriage therapy.  Also, technically a sweatshirt.  If you don’t understand the meaning at first, look closer at the “What,” gingerbread man’s head.  It took me a minute.  I’m pretty sure my husband wishes he could use that excuse.
  1. The “Light Me Up” Christmas Sweater.  Can be used as an across the room signaling device in addition to being an excellent marital metaphor.
  1. The “Let Your Freak Flag Fly” Christmas Sweater.  Because what husband does not want to use glitter, glue and additional craft décor to assemble an exceedingly heinous vesture?
  1. The “Simple Yet Definitive” Christmas Sweater.  Again, technically a sweatshirt, for the couple who wants to make an understated statement.

If you’re not brave enough to don matching sweaters, consider matching Ugly Christmas Socks.  Then, you can work your way up to the ultimate in holiday wear–The Gaudy Holiday Suit by OppoSuits.  Because OppoSuits attract!

Until my next post, have a happy holiday and merry mind-reading of your partner’s emotional needs!

Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_gpointstudio’>gpointstudio / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

 

Holidays, Humor, marriage

Halloween, Happiness and a Holstein: A MOOving Memory

This story seriously never gets old for me

Uniting Couples to Strengthen Families

cow Copyright: tomwang / 123RF Stock Photo

The current trend in Psychology to study “happiness,” has resulted in consistent findings that making memories brings more enduring happiness than accumulating material possessions.  In our family, there are few holidays that evoke more lasting memories than Halloween.

I love Halloween.  However, I definitely prefer the kinder, gentler Halloween of smiling Jack-o-lanterns and friendly looking ghosts to the gruesome displays of zombies, open wounds and scenes from the dark side.  Mostly, I have enjoyed dressing my kids up in costumes and watching their excitement at being in character for the day.

Before I had so many kids, I used to sew my kids’ Halloween attire, because I thought that’s what good mothers did (I know—and I regularly thank the high heavens that I dodged the Pinterest bullet, which was non-existent in my young mother days).

One year, in a pregnancy-induced nausea fog, I managed…

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Couples, Family, Humor

Couple Conflict After the Laughter

older couple laughing

My husband can never just gently get into bed.  At any given time, he outweighs me by 80-100 pounds, and it always feels to me like he is flopping onto the bed with as much force as possible, which has the effect of both startling me and bouncing me out of my comfort zone.  He denies that he has this habit and always responds to my protests with, “What?  I’m just getting into bed like a normal person. What do you want me to do?”

So, the other night, while I was sitting in bed knitting, my husband got into the bed with his usual vigor, and my arm jerked several stitches off of my knitting needle which I had to go back and fix, and which also annoyed me.  I immediately snapped, “Steve!  Seriously?” which was code for, “How many times have we talked about this?  How hard is it to just ease into bed without announcing your arrival with the exertion of a bull elephant?”

I expected him to defend his technique as usual when instead, he said, “Well, it could have been worse…I could have done this…,” at which point he popped up on the bed and started jumping up and down like an 8 year-old.  The scene was so absurd that I couldn’t stop laughing, and instead of engaging in another tired quarrel, we shared  a moment of playful connection.

Dr. John Gottman identified humor as a common “repair attempt,” that many functional couples use to manage conflict.  If used well, and in a way that is inclusive and not contemptuous, it can be a very effective technique.

With nearly 30 years of marriage and 7 children, my husband and I have had lots and lots of practice both engaging in and averting typical couple power struggles.  A long time ago, I remember at one point saying to my husband, “Stop trying to control me.  You can’t control me,” because I do have a rebellious streak a mile wide with a tendency to do the opposite of what someone is trying to make me do (which is all coming back to me through my teenagers).  Neither of us likes to feel controlled.  It has become an ongoing joke now that if things start escalating, one of us will commonly interrupt with, “Are you trying to control me?” with a tone of voice that suggests that we are being ridiculous, and we end up laughing.  Once, I remember him throwing out, “I’m trying to control you right now and you’re not cooperating,” and it was so unexpected with the comical look on his face that I was completely disarmed and laughed, and another conflict was avoided.

Humor can be used to manage potential family conflict as well.  Parenting and finances are two common potential points of contention for many couples.  On one family vacation, I remember an incident in which those both collided, and I started getting irritated with my husband.  It was a typical vacation in which one child had already vomited in the car, there were ongoing quarrels about who was in whose space and who was breathing whose air, and my nerves were raw from all the noise.  On the way home, when my husband stopped at a gas station, I couldn’t wait to get out of the car and walk away somewhere by myself to breathe.

When I walked back to the car, my then three year-old began pulling my hand to show me something she wanted at a vending machine.  It was a pink mustache for 75 cents, and she was so insistent that I decided to hit her dad up for the money.  Instead of thinking it was cute like I did, he thought it was a ridiculous waste of 75 cents and he was tired of bleeding money on our vacation.  Instead of agreeing, he gave me a look that said, “A pink mustache? Really?  Why don’t I just hand you three quarters to go flush down the toilet?”

Soo…instead of lashing out about what a cheapskate he was, I decided to take a different approach.  I knew he was tired and stressed like I was from the torture of being in a confined space with 7 noisy children.  I picked up a quarter from the bottom of my purse and announced to my teenage sons, “Okay everyone…your sister wants a pink mustache that costs 75 cents, and I personally think that would be amusing to look at, and so I am willing to donate a quarter to her pink mustache fund.  Does anyone else want to donate to see the pink mustache?”  Immediately, two brothers anted up and even offered to take her in to purchase the disguise.  When she came back, delighted to be wearing a pink mustache, we all laughed, and even my husband had to admit it was adorable, and instead of being upset with me over an argument, he was grateful that I hadn’t undermined him in front of the children and escalated conflict.

Humor is effective if the relationship already feels safe.  If you see your partner as your collaborator, you are more likely to join with them in the silliness.  You take bigger comedic risks, because humor is often about presenting the unexpected.  If you see him/her as the enemy, it can easily be misinterpreted.  Humor also requires a fair amount of creativity, which is more expansive when people are not emotionally flooded, so when people struggle to regulate emotion, it can be more challenging to access humor.

Couples who can use humor are couples who work at building friendship actively outside of conflict.  They are couples who have lots of experiences laughing together.  I don’t think I could endure a relationship in which my spouse didn’t appreciate my sense of humor; I am well aware that not everyone finds me as amusing as my spouse does.  However, because he laughs at my lame jokes and laughs at shared comedic references with me, it feels safe to explore humor with him.

Humor can be accessed intentionally in a spirit of playfulness.  If you don’t know where to start, listen to a funny podcast.  My favorite is NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!  For additional inspiration, watch the Argument Clinic by Monty Python’s the Flying Circus, which you can access on YouTube here.  I might be showing my age with that suggestion, but I promise you won’t look at an argument the same way again.