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, Love, marriage, Romance

Crated with Love: A Small Date Box with a Big Punch

cratedwithlove

This may be one of my favorite date night boxes yet! My husband and I opened the box we received from Crated with Love and found various materials for not just one date, but for at least a month’s worth of potential dates. I really like this company and will be ordering from them again.

This was my husband’s favorite date box so far, because it included a number of games–he’s always stoked by a friendly competition. I was impressed by the variety and creativity of this product. The creators were thorough and intentional in their efforts to spark romance and connection between couples. They even took the time to explain the rationale behind each activity and how it pertained to couple bonding. Not only did the box contain a wide range of materials for games and a massage tool, but a special password for unlocking additional content on the Crated with Love website

After my husband and I played four of the games, we visited the website for ideas and continued the fun. Some of the website’s content included recipes, additional night-out instructions, ideas for using the boxed materials in various ways, and many extra date ideas.

I also like the purchasing options for this box. You can choose whether or not you want the “Story Mode,” $19.99/month membership including themes, challenges and an invitation to write your own love story, or a “Diamond Membership,” which for $7 more allows you to access additional content and provides all the materials for the suggested date activities in the boxes. If you order a year in advance, you get a 33% discount per box. My husband and I tried the “Diamond Membership,” box, so this review is specific to that line of products. The website also has an option for sending two date boxes as a gift or ordering date boxes individually.

With Valentine’s Day only a few days away, this is a great gift idea!

 

Couples, Love, marriage, Romance

Valentine’s Day Idea: Order a Free Sample Date Night Box with Datelivery

48902701 - happy couple opening cardboard box or parcel at home

OK, y’all know I’ve been trying out date night box subscriptions in time for Valentine’s Day, and I’m excited to tell you about Datelivery, where for the cost of shipping, you can order a sample date box, which is a smaller version of their regular date box.

This is some of what the box includes:

  • A fun and sexy seven-part scavenger hunt
  • A couples’ massage guide and massage oil
  • The Bonus Round relationship builder (you’ll just have to open it to find out how it works!)

If you order it, my helpful hint is to open it right away to prevent massage oil leakage. Even though the oil was wrapped with multiple layers of bubble wrap, the oil still managed to leak out over the 4 weeks I had it stored in my room. Even after that little mishap, however, the box was fun and convenient. I so wish this service had been available when I was in the throes of raising my family and had a minimum of three loads of laundry a day just to keep up (four boys at once playing sports year-round, so…..yeah, that happened).

Like the other date subscription boxes I’ve reviewed, Datelivery also offers a monthly subscription option, which can be cancelled at any time.

With a free sample box option, there’s no reason to not try out Datelivery.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

 

Couples, Couples Therapy, Love, Romance

Marriage Subscription Box Reviews 2018: Modern Love Box

modern love boxI’m writing about another excellent marriage date night subscription box company: The Modern Love Box.  This box was slightly more expensive than the box I previously reviewed, but totally worth it. The creators are a husband/wife team who recognize the importance of introducing novelty and the unexpected into a relationship, given that one of them is a relationship therapist who runs a private practice on the side. Their boxes are designed to promote connection and new experiences between partners via a ready-made date night. All the work is done for you, which is incredibly convenient. Customers can order single boxes centered around different themes, or pay for an annual subscription for boxes to be delivered in quarterly increments.

I chose the “Good Fortune,” box to try out with my husband and had no idea what to expect. To be honest, my expectations were low because I’ve been married for 30 years and was actively working toward a profession in marriage and family therapy before my husband and I were married. In other words, I have had decades of approaching my marriage like a marriage therapist, which includes being constantly on the search for new dating experiences. I often joke with my husband that we have “come to the end of the internet,” because it’s rare to find an idea I haven’t heard before. However, The Modern Love Box offered a genuinely new experience for date night.

The creators thought of everything. They included his and her notebooks to take notes about date night experiences for future reference. Besides questions to encourage discussion, the box included a book about various ways to determine one’s “fortune.” I never would have purchased it on my own nor viewed it as a couple activity; however, it’s presented as an interactive exercise in comparing “fortunes,” which led to new conversations. The exercise was the perfect balance between contemplative and light-hearted.

Another activity we had not done before was writing “wishes,” both for each other and for our marriage together and ceremoniously lighting them on fire to send them upward. Besides offering a new and whimsical experience, sharing the wishes cemented our dyadic commitment by identifying joint hopes for the future. In fact, this is the type of activity I routinely recommend as a relationship therapist.

The creators also included  materials to facilitate physical connection. Often, couples can  become either hyperfocused or avoidant of the sexual relationship forgetting how much other forms of intimacy can impact the quality of physical connection. From start to finish, the box includes elements designed to create emotional safety, which often leads to greater sexual safety and couple exploration of this important, intimate part of the relationship.

I will definitely be subscribing to The Modern Love Box because I’m confident that the creative team will not disappoint in their quarterly theme-related offerings. This would be a great idea for Valentine’s Day. In fact, the site is offering a discount for last year’s Valentine box.

Overall, it’s apparent that the contents are informed by a relationship therapist and a creative design expert. This company knows what it’s doing as far as promoting positive couple connection. I highly recommend!

 

Couples, Couples Therapy, Grandparents, marriage

Adventures in Grandparenting: One of the Best Reasons to Avoid “Gray Divorce”

22159793 - grandparents having great fun with their grandchildI still had my eyes closed in a state of sleep one morning last month, when I felt a shift in the force field centimeters from my nose. My eyes flipped open to an image of my new granddaughter, beaming, in a sunny yellow dress. As I blinked, trying to make sense out of my surroundings, I slowly realized that my husband had pulled her photo up on his phone and stuck it in front of my face to wake me up. I wasn’t quite conscious when I heard him say, “Look, Grandma! We have a precious new granddaughter, and we get to see her in a few weeks. She wanted to wish you good morning!” Her parents were bringing her to visit and we were both beyond ecstatic.

I had been looking forward to watching my husband as a grandfather for months, and he did not disappoint. A few months before my grandchild was born, we had a Chilean family over at our house for dinner. Their 4 year-old son spoke no English. A few minutes after they arrived, my daughter elbowed me and said, “Mom, look…dad is going to be the cutest grandpa.” I saw him down on his hands and knees, helping the little boy with a toy car he brought over, speaking his language, “Listo? Tírelo….. Mira que rápido que va.“

I understood the general meaning of what he was saying as, “Ready…Look how fast it went,” or goes, or something like that. What was unmistakable, though, was the sheer joy exhibited on the little boy’s face as he laughed and clapped his hands. My husband’s expression was reflective, showing that he was having as much or more fun as his small Chilean playmate.

What makes grandparenting so awesome?

Given a general increase in health and longevity, the potential for grandparenting influences is greater than ever. Many people report the grandparenting role as one of the most rewarding. I agree with the oft-repeated definition of “The fun part of parenting without all the hard stuff.”

Grandparents are storytellers, mentors, nurturers, caretakers, family historians and sometimes surrogate parents (in which case they do take on a lot of the “hard stuff”). They commonly reinforce the transmission of family values. Sometimes they offer more stability than parents. The rewards are reciprocal. Many grandparents report a sense of fulfillment by influencing grandchildren.

Grandparenting can be rejuvenating. Some people report that involvement with their grandchildren keeps them young. I can verify that as soon as I held my new granddaughter, I experienced many of the same feelings I had when I held my oldest son as a baby. Suddenly, I saw the world a different way. I wanted to experience everything anew with my child. That’s exactly the feeling I had with my granddaughter. Rejuvenating is an accurate descriptor.

What is “gray divorce” and how does it affect grandparenting?

One rather unfortunate effect of longevity seems to be a phenomenon called “gray divorce,” referring to the increasing numbers of couples divorcing in midlife or later. People divorce after several decades of marriage for many of the same reasons couples divorce earlier. With couples living longer, some are deciding they don’t want to continue to endure a difficult marriage, particularly if all the children are grown, and they have primarily stayed together for the children.

Sadly, even though any negative effects of grandparent divorce can be mitigated, it’s still a stressor that reverberates through an intergenerational family system. Grandparents who divorce sometimes perceive the grandparenting role as less important…especially males. Depending on the post-divorce relationships, sometimes grandchildren suffer if, for example, one grandparent refuses to show up at a family event the ex-spouse is attending. Sometimes watching grandparents divorce can reduce grandchildren’s confidence in their own abilities to endure a long-term marriage.

I remember when a teenager came in for a session right after her parents announced they were getting a divorce. She burst into tears and the first thing she said was, “I’m never going to be able to take my children to their grandparents’ house together, because they will be in separate households. Forever.” I was quite surprised at how futuristically she was envisioning her losses, but I could easily see why she was upset over the anticipated rupture in household structure. She was right. It was going to shift, and she had to reorganize her hopes and dreams for the future.

Is there hope for distressed “gray” marriages?

I recognize that sometimes divorce is inevitable. Personally, I would rather divorce than stay in a terrible marriage. However, I occasionally see couples who have given up hope when there is still hope left to shift negative patterns and heal previous betrayals, depending on the marital history and current context.

Some of my most rewarding marriage cases are with couples who have been married more than 40 years and feeling entirely hopeless that there’s anything I can offer them for improvement. “Why would anything be different now after 44 years of marriage?” I’ve been cynically questioned.

More often than not, I can point to specific markers of disconnection from their reported history and explain at least theoretically why the marriage can still be healed.  I’ve noticed that many betrayals and injuries in marriage don’t heal automatically, and couples get stuck, confused about how to move forward and rebuild. Many of these couples were surprised that through therapy, they actually did heal past injuries and negative patterns and develop new ways of connecting.

I’ve had several couples experience a state of grieving after improvement, feeling sorrow over having lost so many years of connection, but they also treasure the time they have left. It’s fun to see them excited about each other, and realizing they may have developed more closeness than some of their aging peers in mediocre marriages.

I have only been a Grandma for a few months, but entering grandparenthood with my husband has so far been one of the dearest, most connecting times in our marriage. We are both so jointly entranced by this little person that we can’t be anything but happy when we are taking turns holding and playing with her. We keep looking at each other and saying, “This is our granddaughter. Isn’t she perfect? We had a part in creating this.”

I can’t help but think, “This is why we worked so hard to stay married…because now we get to have this.” She represents our expanding legacy. A grandchild brings unparalleled purpose and meaning to life, and it’s even more fun that my cute grandpa-husband and I are doing it together.

References:

Amato, P. R., & Cheadle, J. (2005). The long reach of divorce: Divorce and child wellbeing across three generations. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 191-206.

Brown, S.L., & Lin, I.-F., (2012). The gray divorce revolution: rising divorce among middle-aged and older adults, 1990–2010. Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 67(6), 731–741.

Canham, S. L., Mahmood, A., Stott, S., Sixsmith, J., & O’Rourke, N.  (2014) ’Til Divorce Do Us Part: Marriage Dissolution in Later Life, Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 55:8, 591-612.

Greenwood, J. L. (2012). Parent–child relationships in the context of a mid- to late life parental divorce. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 53, 1–17.

King, V. (2002). Parental divorce and interpersonal trust in adult offspring. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 924-938.

King, V. (2003). The legacy of a grandparent’s divorce: Consequences for ties between grandparents and grandchildren. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65, 170-183.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Couples, Couples Therapy, Family Adventures, Love, marriage, Romance

One of the Easiest Ways to Immediately Feel Closer to Your Spouse

27241715 - portrait of couple looking at photo albumWhen my youngest son got in the car the other day, he mentioned Danny Elfman, which led to his selecting a song by Oingo Boingo to play from my iPhone. As the first few notes of “Stay,” wafted from the speakers, I thought, “Oh no. This is a song that makes me feel sad.” For some reason, the minor melody and message of loss combined with memories of my younger self often evoke a subtle melancholic yearning. I managed to hold it together enough to have one of our 80’s music conversations. That’s how we bond.

Taking a walk down memory lane can be a mixed emotional experience for most people. Nostalgia, often associated with a form of sadness and teariness, can elicit feelings of longing, but also fondness and a sense of belonging. It can motivate connection in the present. I believe we can shape our emotional responses by intentionally accessing memory.

Recalling positive memories creates closeness

Research on having spouses recall positive and significant autobiographical memories specific to their relationship has demonstrated gains in reported marital quality and closeness, via increased feelings of warmth toward one’s partner. Remembering significant relationship events can generate some of the same positive feelings in the present. I have tried this out myself and I’m suggesting two simple interventions for immediately feeling happier in marriage.

My Dollar Store Intervention

This year has represented a lot of change in my own immediate family structure. We married off our third child and sent two more to live overseas, leaving us only 2 out of 7 children at home. Right after our first grandchild was born this spring, I was trying to think of a meaningful date to create with my husband to define us as a couple amidst this sea of life transition…so of course, I thought of Dollar Tree…because what better place to choose from such a splendid assortment of leftover tchotchkes. First, I had to talk my husband into it. It took some verbal maneuvering on my part.

Me: I have an idea. Let’s go to the Dollar store and take ten minutes and each choose an item that represents our marriage for the past, present and future and then exchange them. What do you think?

Him: (Silence….then….) That sounds……………………hard.

Me: What do you mean, “hard?”

Him: Like I have to be creative.

Me: You’re afraid I’m going to judge you, aren’t you?

Him: Absolutely!

Me: I promise I won’t….it will be a no lose….come on, it will be fun.

He reluctantly followed me into the land of the misfit toys, and we set our phone timers for ten minutes and raced in opposite directions to find our conjugal representations. Miraculously, we were both finished in the limited time period.

Just by choosing the items, I was already feeling positive and excited about our marriage, regardless of his choices. We went to the car for the exchange (I would like to say we went somewhere more meaningful, like the location of our first date, but that would be a big fat lie). Interestingly, we had chosen items representing similar meanings. I was genuinely touched by my husband’s cheesy yet heartfelt offerings, and during the process, we exchanged a few meaningful memories that had been off our radar for awhile.

In short, I was right. It was a “no lose.” We both agreed that it had been worth the ten-minute detour from our traditional dinner and a movie date.

My Marriage Memory Highlights Intervention

My husband and I also celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary last week. That sounds so long, and yet it literally feels like yesterday that I married him. I still feel like the same person, despite so many varied life events. While we were at dinner, I pulled out my phone and said, “OK, let’s make a list of 30 of our favorite memories for our anniversary.”

We took turns, and I typed them into my phone for future reference. The process was more important than the outcome, because we had so much fun reminiscing. It was an automatic avenue to conversation. It also inspired tangential suggestions for things we wanted to do in the future.

I was having fun, and I appreciated my husband’s warm engagement in the conversation, though I’m sure he preferred to be watching a televised basketball game over my head at a less formal establishment. I figured he was just being a good sport, but when we reached the end of the list he suggested, “Let’s keep going to 50.”

On the way home, in the dark, because we were driving through the canyon, he began waxing sentimental about our thirty years, and it was a very endearing message, fueled, I believe, by our walk down memory lane.  A very simple exercise in identifying common special experiences invited shared authentic intimate feelings. It literally brought us emotionally closer.

The key word is “simple.” Any couple can potentially generate warmth by taking a few moments to recollect favorite memories.

Your marriage doesn’t have to be perfect to try this

Lest anyone get the idea that my 30 years of marriage has been free of struggle, I can assure my readers that I’m in the same soup as everyone else. I’m sure my husband got more than he bargained for by marrying me. Just a few days before my anniversary, you would have heard this verbal exchange in my bedroom. I don’t remember what I said first, but this is how the conversation proceeded:

Him: You’re so feisty!

Me: And you wouldn’t have it any other way, right?

Him: Well….sometimes.

Me: (under my breath) Well, you know, there’s always a remedy for that.

Him: What did you say?

Me: Nothing.

Him: No. What did you just say?

Me: (louder) I SAID THERE’S ALWAYS A REMEDY FOR THAT!

Him: And there it is!

Having had two older brothers who tormented me relentlessly, I don’t have a very passive style. If challenged, I’m more likely to come out swinging than to back down. As a result, I can bump up against my husband probably more than he would like…but I also adore him to pieces, and we are masters at repairing our mishaps.

Positive memory and gratitude

Recalling positive memories can protect a marriage against the negative emotion that accompanies inevitable struggle. It is also a way of expressing gratitude, which is the opposite of nostalgic yearning. Going back to my Oingo Boingo serenade, right after my son played “Stay,” he told me the next one up was his favorite, which happened to be “Gratitude.” I was struck by the shift in mood I immediately experienced, because the song made me think about things in life with my husband for which I’m grateful, which facilitates happiness.

Try it. Right now, think of three of your favorite marriage memories.

See? It works whether you’re a quirky 80’s music fan or not.

References:

I’ll Keep You in Mind: The Intimacy Function of Autobiographical Memory (2007) by Alea, N. & Bluck, S. in Applied Cognitive Psychology, 21, 1091-1111.

The first sight of love: Relationship-defining memories and marital satisfaction across adulthood (2010) by Alea, N. & Vick, S. C. in Memory, 18(7), 730-742.

Photo: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_andreypopov’>andreypopov / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

 

 

Couples, Love, marriage, Romance

Kissing Like you Mean it: The Benefits of Lighting Fireworks in your Marriage

Happy 4th of July–a repost from last year–sadly, the last time I tried to buy the Trader Joe’s Fireworks bar last month (mentioned in this post), they told me they were discontinued.

Uniting Couples to Strengthen Families

fireworks

As I was explaining to my husband that I was trying to write a blog post about kissing in marriage, he threw his arms open and offered enthusiastically, “And you want to practice?”  “No,” I answered, “But I admire your optimism and thanks for giving me my opening sentence.”

For most couples, kissing is a natural part of relationship development, particularly as they move toward higher levels of commitment.  Researchers confirm that kissing can be a strong reinforcer for mate assessment and attachment. In other words, if you think you like someone and the kissing goes well, commitment is likely to increase, while the reverse is true for couples who just aren’t “feeling it.”   As people form attachments, prolonged kissing behavior generally increases in romantic relationships.

However, I’ve noticed that really great make-out sessions diminish over time for lots of married couples.  Even couples who maintain frequency in sexual relations…

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