the study of marriage

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Blog has moved

Please come visit this blog at its new location, I also have a new RSS feed set up for Hope to see you there!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Blog will be moving

Sorry for the lack of updates the last couple of days; I do have plenty to say about marriage! But I'm working on moving this blog over to Typepad as I can no longer stand to work without categories and other advanced functions. You'll be able to see the blog soon at, and sign up for the new feed there. I'll keep you posted!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Do you really think that men and women are equal?

Was reading a very interesting article on Slate about testing for bias. And there is a research project at Harvard through which you can test your own bias on issues of race, gender, sexuality: The Implicit Association Test.

The method that they use to test bias is very interesting and innovative, and purports to allow a window into what you really think about different groups of people, versus what you say you think.

For the record, I tested as moderately associating men with the sciences and moderately associating women with liberal arts. I haven't done any of the other tests yet, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out that I'm moderately biased in those areas, either.

The good thing about knowing your biases, is that then you can choose to remain conscious of them and make informed decisions, rather than letting an unconscious bias skew you.

So, what's the truth, do you really think men and women are equal, or are you biased?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Does pornography affect marriage?

I was going to post this evening a follow-up on how to spend your 15 hours of quality together time with your spouse, but I admit I've gotten pornography.

No, I haven't been looking at it online. But I have been listening to some podcasts at, in particular the latest episode of their weekly radio show, "Dirty Little Secrets," where they interview Pamela Paul, the author of Pornified: How the Culture of Pornography is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships and Our Families. Warning, if you decide to listen to the radio show, it's fairly graphic and disturbing.

To quote from the podcast, Pamela Paul interviewed a number of men who use pornography during the research for her book, and she reports that many of them were
A lot of men who, again, would never think of themselves as addicts, did say that they were trying to cut back on their pornography use and having trouble doing it...[They] reported even when they cut back on pornography, they were still seeing a lot of the negative effects...trouble maintaining an erection during intercourse, trouble achieving orgasm while inside a woman's body, trouble enjoying sex without watching pornography at the same time or without conjuring images from pornography in their mind while they were with a woman.

From my own personal experience, I know that pornography does dramatically and negatively affect marriage. And I haven't gotten to read Pamela Paul's book yet, but she clearly believes that porn has negative effects. What do you think?

Movies: The Notebook

My husband and I watched The Notebook last night. (Yeah, I know, we are way behind the times.) I enjoyed the movie, loved the characters, and of course I sobbed like the mushy-hearted sentimentalist that I am toward the end of the movie.

WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD, for the three people in the world who are lamer than I am on keeping up with movies.

But at the end of the movie, when the sweet old forever-in-love couple die in each other's arms rather than face life alone...I wasn't crying. Actually it kinda torqued me off. The message is that "I am not complete without you" (gag) and "life isn't worth living without you" (more gagging). Why is it that we, the American movie-going public, think it's so romantic and cool and heroic to die rather go on living without a lover? What about the large family that this couple left behind, now having to deal with the simultaneous loss of both parents, rather than just the death of one? The old couple clearly chose that moment to die together, and I really think that's rather a cruel thing to do to one's children and grandchildren.

I also had some issues with the infidelity of the character of Allie. Sure, she wasn't married to the guy she cheated on, just engaged to be married and with a big fancy wedding all planned. But that doesn't make it cheating any less. I also find it interesting to think that, if the characters were reversed and it had been a man cheating on his suffering fiance...well then the outcome of the movie would have been entirely different, because men who cheat in movies are assumed to be inherently jerks, whereas women who cheat are assumed to be just confused and indecisive. Overall, I have to say, I don't like the romanticizing of infidelity; it's a bad value to be putting out there.

So, I liked the movie, but it's definitely not going on my very short list of "movies that illustrate important truths about marriage."

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Maintaining romantic love, part 2: Fun is fundamental

Picking up from where I left off yesterday, it's time to answer the question, "Now that I'm convinced I should be spending large chunks of quality time giving my full attention to my spouse, what the heck is supposed to fill up that time?"

Do you remember when you and your spouse were dating? Most likely, the majority of the time you spent alone together could be put in the category of "quality together time." You had a lot of fun together doing things you both enjoyed.

Expanding on Willard Harley Jr.'s "Policy of Undivided Attention," from page 53 of "His Needs, Her Needs for Parents:"
Give your spouse your undivided attention a minimum of fifteen hours each week, using the time to meet his or her needs for intimate affection, sexual fulfillment, intimate conversation, and recreational companionship.

While it might be tempting to read the passage above and say, "Oh yeah, sexual fulfillment for 15 hours a week, let's go baby!" ...might I just suggest that perhaps that may not be the most effective approach to take with your spouse. Sex isn't something that happens in a vacuum, although pornography does make it seem like everyone should just be jumping into it with no preliminaries. For that matter, good conversation doesn't happen just because someone decides, "OK, this is the time for conversation, let's do it." (And I know this through extensive empirical testing.) Nor does satisfying physical affection happen without some prep work. (Try giving your spouse a warm hug or deep kiss right after you've irritated their socks off, and I bet you'll see what I mean.)

Today let's start at the beginning and focus on the very first thing you should be doing in your 15 hours per week together: having fun. AKA "recreational companionship." Doing things that you both find fun, and doing them together. Satisfying recreational experiences will naturally lead to good conversation, which naturally will create physical affection, which often then will lead to good sex.

If you have kids, one of the most important elements of having fun together is that you absolutely MUST GET RID OF THE KIDS for your 15 hours per week. Kids are great, I love my kids, but you cannot have quality time and put your undivided attention on just having a good time together when your kids are around. So, solutions? Here are some ideas:
  • Make sure the kids go to bed on time. In our household that means 8 pm for the preschoolers, and 8:30 pm for the older one. That gives us a good two hours of time together each night.
  • Go out on a date. Dates aren't that expensive, especially if you have a family member or friend who can visit. Trust me, you need to be dating your spouse.
  • If you have older kids (age 5 to 10 or so), you may be able to get away with closing the door to your bedroom and having some private time with your spouse on a weekend morning. It may be only half an hour or so, but hey...every moment counts.
  • Go to church together and leave your kids in the kids' classes, if you both enjoy church. My husband and I treat church like a bit of a mini-date; it's a great chance to sit together, hold hands, whisper comments, and so on. Ditto for going to a Bible study...sometimes relatives who won't babysit just so you can "date" are willing to do it if you're going to a church event :D
  • If you have kids who are preteen and up, then you can leave them at home for a couple of hours while you and your spouse go out.

In the future I'll post a big list of date and activity ideas for you (ranging from free to expensive), but for now think of the kinds of things you and your spouse used to enjoy together, and just make a solid commitment to getting back to having fun time for the two of you. It really will make a huge difference in your romance.

Tomorrow I'll go over how to do "good conversation" during your 15 hours per week.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Maintaining romantic love, part 1: Is your marriage worth 8.9% of your time?

If someone was to ask you what you thought the biggest killer of marital happiness is, what would you say--fighting? infidelity? money troubles? It's true, each of those things can cause unhappiness in marriage. But based on what I know from experience in my own marriages, and from my studies, I have a different answer, and it's a simple one: Time. Couples who spend enough high-quality time together will stay in love and happy in spite of conflict or troubles, while couples who neglect to put in the effort to have their best times together will not.

This revelation isn't mine, though. I learned about it from Willard F. Harley Jr. in his excellent "His Needs, Her Needs" series of books. In the 1970s he took a hard look at why traditional marriage counseling wasn't helping couples stay together, and his conclusion was, "if I wanted to save marriage, I would have to go beyond improving communication - I would have to learn how to restore love."

One of the primary components of his love-restoring plan--the foundation of the rest of it, really--is what he calls "The Policy of Undivided Attention." This official-sounding phrase really boils down to "spending fun, romantic time together like you did when you were dating, and no kids or other distractions allowed." From "His Needs, Her Needs For Parents," page 57, here are his basic recommendations:
The number of hours you schedule to be together each week for undivided attention should reflect your love for each other. If you and your spouse are in love, schedule fifteen hours each week to be together. But if one or both of you have fallen out of love, plan more time until marital satisfaction is achieved.

Did you get that? At least 15 hours per week in quality, focused time together. Does that sound scary? Apparently to a lot of couples it does, as Harley says on his website:
It's incredible how many couples have tried to talk me out of their spending more time together. They begin by trying to convince me that it's impossible. Then they go on to the argument that it's impractical. But in the end, they usually agree that without time for undivided attention, they cannot re-create the love they once had for each other.

Let's think about it for a moment. If you live on Earth like me (which you do), you have 168 hours in a typical week, give or take an hour here or there for seasonal time changes. 15 hours to spend hanging out with just you and your spouse, paying attention to each other, is only 8.9% of your total weekly time. It's less than half of the hours you're expected to spend at your job, right? So in reality, it's not that much total time.

Speaking of your job, if you didn't put in the required hours and performance there on an extremely consistent basis, would it be reasonable for you to expect your boss to give you a raise or promotion? Marriage isn't much different--if you don't put in the hours and work, you're not going to be rewarded well, and you'll probably end up with a pink slip.

Now that you're thoroughly convinced that you should be spending plenty of quality time with your spouse, your next logical question is: But what the heck are we supposed to do for 15 whole hours together? I'll start on that answer tomorrow, but in the meantime, be reassured that quality time together isn't all about "sitting and talking about the relationship." To be continued!

Monday, January 23, 2006

The dishwasher

When we were first married, my husband and I had not-infrequent arguments about how to load the dishwasher. We each had our own method, we were firmly convinced that our own method was the correct one, and we were furthermore convinced that our household, marriage, and indeed the world would be a much-improved thing if only our dunce of a spouse would see the light of truth and start doing things our way.

Not terribly long into the deal, we figured out that our household, marriage, and indeed the world would be better served if we just agreed on this complex system:
  • When she does the dishes, she loads the dishwasher however she wants to, and
  • When he does the dishes, he loads the dishwasher however HE wants to.

We haven't fought about the dishwasher issue since then.

About six months ago (that would make us married for 7-ish years at this point), I noticed something both odd and revelatory: My husband and I now both load the dishwasher via approximately the same method.

Did you know that, according to Diane Sollee of the Smart Marriages Coalition, "every happy, successful couple has
approximately ten areas of 'incompatibility' or disagreement that they will never resolve?" And that couples divorce not because of these disagreements, but rather "the number one predictor of divorce is the habitual avoidance of conflict?"

Of course, there are bigger things to disagree about than how to load the dishwasher: Money, child-rearing, where to live, work, friends, extended family...the list of potential hot topics is huge. However, I've found in my own marriage that a gentle agreement to disagree, combined with the passage of time, plus an occasional expression of honest, tender emotion, brings the two of us closer to one another even on these issues. For example, we disagree on how our money should be handled, but we're slowly making progress to a place where we're both comfortable with things. We disagree on pretty much everything to do with housework. We agree in principle on child-rearing issues, but in practice I find that we often conflict with each other. We don't enjoy all the same activities.

Wow, looking at that list makes all of our disagreements seem kinda scary. But I know that if I'm patient, and treat my relationship with my husband as more important than these issues, then we'll be OK--and who knows, maybe in another seven years or so, I'll find that we have a couple more of our former disagreements worked out.