Tuesday, February 7, 2012

We've Moved

We've just relocated the blog to its own URL, www.weddedness.com. Click on over and check us out.

And when you're done, be sure to like us at www.facebook.com/weddedness or follow us on Twitter @Weddedness.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Top 3 Predictors of a Happy Marriage Among Parents

Photo used with permission from ElvertBarnes.
One more quick thing to note from Tara Parker Pope's coverage of the National Marriage Project's recent generosity survey of nearly 3000 men and women:

The top three predictors of a happy marriage among men and women are ... wait - take a second, close your eyes, and guess. What do you think they'll be?

No, seriously, guess ...

Okay, got your guesses? Here's the official findings. If you're a parent and you want a happy marriage, then focus on these three things:

1. Sexual intimacy
2. Commitment
3. Generosity

If you're not sexually satisfied, then you're likely to have a 6-7% overall happiness rate with your marriage. Ouch. But commitment and generosity are right behind: if you're not sure of your relationship (commitment), I'd be unhappy too.

The generosity thing is surprising at first, but not if you remember that the division of household labor is vital to a woman's happiness in marriage. In her book For Better, Tara Parker-Pope says research shows that 10 percent of men feel the division of labor in their home is unfair. By comparison, a whopping 50 percent of women complain of carrying an unfair housework burden.

We've covered this before, but it's worth repeating: when both spouses are satisfied with the division of labor (in other words, when you're generous with giving your time to the household), the couple has sex one more time a month. Which means taking care of #3 can improve #1.

Get busy, folks!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Not the Results I Expected

Photo used with permission from Tim Green
I'm an A student. Always have been. So I was disappointed with the results of a New York Times quiz I took this afternoon: how'd I do? Just average.

Average is a curse word.

Even worse, the quiz was, I thought, in my wheelhouse. Featured on Tara Parker Pope's column (she's a favorite of mine), the quiz asked, Do You Have a Generous Relationship?

Yes! I thought. And I felt pretty good as I answered the five questions: yes I appreciate Cliff. Yes I tell him so. Sure I do little things for him, sometimes.

Ahh ... I was honest there with the "sometimes." Honestly, I don't do that kind of "little thing" nearly enough. And apparently that's why I'm only average at being a generous spouse.

Why is this important? Here's what Tara Parker Pope's article, The Generous Marriage, reports, citing a study from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia:
Men and women with the highest scores on the generosity scale were far more likely to report that they were “very happy” in their marriages. The benefits of generosity were particularly pronounced among couples with children. Among the parents who posted above-average scores for marital generosity, about 50 percent reported being “very happy” together. Among those with lower generosity scores, only about 14 percent claimed to be “very happy,” according to the latest “State of Our Unions” report from the National Marriage Project.
I feel pretty happy in my marriage, so I won't let my average performance on the quiz worry me. Just the same, it can't hurt to redouble my efforts at generosity.

Take the quiz and let me know what you think.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Three Positive Parenting Tricks That Will Work On Your Wife Too

Photo used with permission from Ben Fredericson.
Cliff's been out of town this week. And like all weeks where I'm on my own as a parent for several days in a row, by the end of it I have to work especially hard to hold my parental, err, stuff, together.

Thankfully I've got a bag of parenting tricks that I often remember to use. Last night, as Maggie was screaming from the bathtub and Sam was pretending exhaustion so that I'd let him watch television, I employed a few of them ... and realized these tricks would totally work on me too.

So here you have it: Three Parenting Tricks that Will Work On Your Wife. 

1. Praise Every Little Thing. You know how this goes with children. You say things like:

  • Maggie, thank you for sitting still in your chair instead of climbing out and falling on your head, like you did yesterday.
  • Sam, what a great job getting yourself dressed. I love the green shirt with the Super Man pajama pants. You have a fabulous sense of style. 
  • Kids, terrific job picking up one toy each. You're great at that. Now let's tackle the toy box explosion that is the living room floor.
As parents, we do this to encourage good behavior and to teach our kids that we think they're terrific. There's all sorts of research about how praise of this sort doesn't work after age 8 because kids are smart enough to recognize the slight tones of insincerity in your voice. But I'm here to tell you, it's nice to have the little things recognized. Be sincere, let her know she's great, and do it for your wife today.

Sure, it's her job to take out the trash, or do the laundry, or balance the checkbook, or however your family divides up chores. But after a few decades of doing these tasks, they can come to seem pretty thankless. Say thanks today, and it might encourage more good behavior and (more importantly) remind your spouse that you notice and appreciate all her hard work.

2. Show Sympathy First. When my daughter climbs out of her chair and falls on her head, I rush to her, make sure she's physically okay and give her the cuddling she needs before I remind her that it's her own darn fault and that I've warned her about this a dozen times. Wives (and husbands) need sympathy first too. Sure, we're likely to complain about the same things all the time - rough days at work, rough days with the kids, rough conversations with family members. Instead of jumping right to the solution, or letting us know it's our own darn fault, start by showing a little sympathy.

3. Ignore the occasional infraction. Consistency is the bedrock of good parenting. I believe that totally. At the same time, sometimes you have to ignore the little things: sure Maggie threw her spoon on the ground again, but I'm going to overlook this little error so we can concentrate on something more important (like not standing up in her chair, for example ... can you tell I've seen a lot of that this week?). Likewise, sometimes I overlook a bit of bad behavior from Sam because I know he does know better, and it's not consistent with his normally obedient and cheerful personality.

I want Cliff to overlook a few things with me, too. When I rant for three minutes in an angry tone that's inconsistent with my normal outlook, write it off as an anomaly. When I forget to do something I said I'd do, forgive me quickly because you know it was an accident. Ignore the occasional minor infraction.

Cliff's pretty good at all this stuff. And frankly, these sorts of "tricks" work on him (and probably all husbands) just as well as they work on wives. We all want to know our spouse appreciates us, cares about our concerns, and forgives our little mistakes. You need the same tool set for good parenting and good partnering.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why Reading Fiction is Good for Your Marriage

My daughter with the books she felt she must read before nap. 
Guess she's on her way to high emotional intelligence. 
I love novels but I try not to read more than a few a year. Why? Because when I let myself get lost in a book, I get really lost: I've found myself praying for fictional characters before. And while that kind of distraction is a blast, it's murder for your To Do list, and not so great for the husband and kids that want your attention too.

Luckily, I'm married to a man who likes a good novel too - and so on our five day 10th anniversary trip, we each read the entire Hunger Games series. Delightful. Turns out, reading fiction was a darn good way to make us better partners.

Last week Harvard Business Review's Anne Kreamer published a post titled, "The Business Case for Reading Fiction." (Thank you, Ms. Kreamer, for giving me an excuse to read instead of tackle my email inbox.) Kreamer makes the case - through research - that reading gives us a level of emotional intelligence that makes us better colleagues. And, by extension, better partners or parents.

The research Kreamer highlights shows that reading fiction makes you better at perceiving emotion in the eyes and interpreting social cues. (This, perhaps, explains why all the science fiction nerds you knew in high school are now happily married to hotter-than-expected spouses.) Fiction also develops your empathy skills, which means you respond with, "I'm so sorry to hear that," when your wife tells you about her awful day at work, rather than, "Not again. I will not hear this story again."

I'm also convinced that reading can feed our need for adventure, as we live vicariously through the characters. When you're in year 10 of what you hope will be a life-long marriage, a little safe adventure is a good thing.

In our relationship, reading the same books, sometimes even aloud, has been a great way to spur conversations about ethical choices, our future dreams, and social issues. It's also made long car trips fun adventures instead of a drag. (Now that our kids are old enough to listen in, we've moved to the books of Roald Dahl, which are kid-safe but delightfully entertaining for adults.)

I didn't need another excuse to love good fiction, but I'll take it. Thanks, Ms. Kreamer. And friends, tell me what books you've been engrossed by lately: I think it's time for date night at the library.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

When was the Last Time You Made an UglyDoll?

Photo used with permission, by hahatango.
I'm a sucker for a good love story. Let me share one I learned of this past holiday season.

Our son Sam, now 5, added "UglyDoll" to his very short Christmas wish list. Since my knowledge of what's hot in childhood toys is stuck somewhere around Cabbage Patch Dolls and Monchichis, I had to do a little research. Turns out UglyDolls are creatures like you see in the photo on the left - nonsensical creations with misplaced eyes, horns, extra appendages, etc. They are, as the website reminds me, Hip and Hug-gable.

In doing my UglyDoll research, I came across the story of the dolls' creators, David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim. Here's how Wikipedia tells their story:

It started with a letter David Horvath wrote to Sun-Min Kim just after she had to move away due to a student visa expiring, long before they were married. That letter had a cartoon of his character Wage at the bottom saying: "Working hard to make our dreams come true so we can be together again soon" next to it. That dream was to tell stories through books and toys. As a surprise gift Sun-Min sewed a doll of Wage, and sent it to David in the mail. David showed Wage to his pal Eric Nakamura, owner of the Giant Robot magazine and store, who thought David was pitching him a product and immediately ordered a few more for his shop. David wrote to Sun Min asking her to sew more, while sending emails with stories about Wage, Babo and Ice-Bat's first ever adventure ...
Terribly romantic, don't you think? These are the sort of things we do when we're madly in love: send letters filled with cartoons, sew handmade creations, work to make your dreams come true. Grand gestures of love.

So here's your question of the day, When was the last time you made an UglyDoll?

Now I can't sew to save my life, and drawing isn't my thing either. But I'm capable of my own sort of grand gestures of love. I made a few, about 10 years ago. And just because we aren't separated by miles, or in the early years of our romance, doesn't mean Cliff doesn't still deserve an occasional UglyDoll. Find a grand gesture and surprise your partner this week.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The marriage particle accelerator

You probably think that a particle accelerator is a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles towards each other at high speeds. But marriage particle accelerators look a little different. You don't need a synchrotron or beam aperture to propel two spouses towards each other at high speeds...you just need a small space and lots of uninterrupted time together.

Like many couples, Amber and I were informed during our pre-marital counseling that marriage is not a band-aid but a magnifying glass. This statement's obviously pretty cliche, but sometimes a statement gains cliche status because it's somewhat accurate. Were a friend to imply that his present relationship troubles will be alleviated after he finally gets married, I would probably chuckle nervously and repeat the old adage myself. Married people know that's not how it works. Conflict and troubles are more likely after marriage, not less likely. And conflict and troubles are more likely when two friends become roommates too. According to the old cliche, previous patterns/issues (both good and bad) get magnified; that said, I would actually argue that a particle accelerator is a better analogy.

Amber and I often called Peace Corps our own personal marriage particle accelerator. After all, we were pretty much together 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for nearly 2 years. We slept in the same bed, worked in the same building and ate at the same table. That's a lot more chances for us to irritate each other or make thoughtless remarks. It's not that our conflicts were magnified...it's just that they were much more likely to happen. When you start propelling particles around in a small space, you're likely to get some collisions. That's what our Peace Corps experience was like, but we learned some good tricks along the way. Here are a couple:

1) Give each other breathing room - When Amber and I were reading different books in Peace Corps, I had a really bad habit of asking about the book, waiting a few seconds, sharing something from my book, waiting a few seconds and then starting the cycle again. Eventually, I learned to let her read in peace. We were together constantly...my little question or update could wait. Even in a small room, it's possible to provide breathing room.

2) Look on the bright side - When two partners spend whole days apart, they need to update each other during the evenings. But spending every moment together transitioned us from updating to...well...complaining. There were annoying co-workers and frustrating circumstances and language difficulties and a host of other problems, after all. For a while there, our togetherness seemed to engender bitch sessions more than encouragement. We learned to limit our rants to around 3 minutes (an old interpersonal communication tip that Amber brought to our relationship) and sometimes avoid certain topics altogether. 

There were other tips too, but I think you get the idea. These practices came in handy just recently. The holiday season is a mini-accelerator every single year. We're in cars and we're in cramped quarters and we're not getting alone time. If we weren't colliding with each other before, we likely will be during that two week stretch. So I let my wife read in peace while our daughter napped and she did not complain every time she could have. Marriage might turn into a particle accelerator sometimes, but there are ways to avoid being caught in super-collisions.

- Cliff (aka The Husband)