The Marriage Podcast for Smart People

by Caleb & Verlynda Simonyi-Gindele

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Best The Marriage Podcast for Smart People episodes upvoted by the community

Last updated on May 28, 2020, 11:00 am

#2

3 Ways To Support Your Spouse When You Disagree

April 15, 2015

I know what you’re thinking. Why on earth would I want to support my spouse when we’re fighting? Well, because you want to stay married, that’s why. That’s the “brutally-loving” truth! But, there’s more. It makes fighting productive. Yes. That’s right. I mean it. It actually makes the conflict helpful for your marriage.   Now, I could go down a rabbit trail about why fighting is good for your marriage but I want you to think about your beliefs about fighting and disagreeing instead. We generally assume that as conflict increases in a marriage, the couple’s satisfaction with their marriage decreases. That’s a good assumption. It is usually correct. But focusing on stopping the conflict as a way to improve satisfaction just leads to avoidance. That’s not going to work. Research in a study presented by Cramer (2003) pointed out that if you focus on unconditional acceptance, understanding and openness, as those increase, marriage satisfaction increases regardless of the quantity of conflict. Pretty cool, hey? This underlines the importance of focusing on the positive, of affirming what you want more of, and overall, the importance of building a healthy, thriving marriage. When that is in place, it’s not about how much you fight any more. I want you to worry more about the quality of your marriage (infusing the good) rather than the quantity of your disagreements. In terms of positive things you can bring to your next disagreement, let’s look at three that are critical. These skills will improve the quality of your marriage. Listen We talk a lot about listening because it is important! Non-defensive listening is vital here. This is a skill that helps “partners to focus their attention on what the other person is saying and to attempt to really understand it. This skill reduces interruptions and the preoccupation with defending oneself and formulating retorts” (Gottman, 1994). That’s a critical definition, and a useful one. You might want to even write that down. Of course, to listen non-defensively is a challenge when we’re already ticked off at our spouse. But you’re doing this for your marriage, not just yourself, right? To listen in this manner is going to require self-restraint. As in, restraining your impulse to dispute your spouse’s perceptions. Don’t worry, the research confirms this is going to be a challenge: “Non-defensive listening requires significant self-control, particularly when there is an important disagreement and passions run high” Fowers, (2001). Think of this as a skill. Like learning to ride a bike, you won’t get it right the first time. There’ll be bumps and scrapes but eventually you will make this a habit. And when you do, you’ll have discovered that you can keep your partner speaking while you exercise self-restraint. This is a huge act of generosity! It is giving to your spouse the gift of attention and interest and it’s sending your spouse the signal that you believe he or she has something worthwhile to say. So we can be generous or miserly with each other. But generosity, remember, is a top five predictor of successful marriage and so I’m challenging you to be generous by choosing to listen well. Validate Of course, if you are doing a good job of listening you’ll be well positioned to validate your spouse. Validation can be as simple as what we therapists call “listener backchannels”. As in, those simple verbal cues that tell the other person you’re following them. Things like, “mmhmm” and “yeah…” and nodding, eye contact and all that good stuff. When you do this it doesn’t need to mean that you agree. But it is just saying to your spouse that you’re listening, you’re interested, and you may have your own point of view but you want to hear him or her out. That’s the key point. I’m not asking you to agree with your spouse. I am asking you to communicate that you understand her/his feelings and you acknowledge those...

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#3

Do Opposites Attract? Here’s the Research

March 09, 2016

Sometimes we ask more philosophical questions about the future of our marriages. One of those is that age-old question, do opposites attract? It turns out they do – and they don’t... How confusing is that!   The research actually seems very contradictory over the whole opposites/similarities thing until you start to pull it apart carefully. Which is what Caleb loves to do… :) This topic actually came from a concern from one of our listeners, and we’ve heard it echoed elsewhere – that uncertainty of “our marriage is struggling and we’re just so different. Can this really work out for us?” Spoiler Alert: Yes, it can! It may just take a bit more work… Do Opposites Attract? Let’s try to answer this question. People say opposites attract, but is that the case? Well, when it comes to the methods people use to choose their future spouse, some research suggests that people tend to look for individuals who are similar to themselves and who represent their ideal preferences for a romantic partner. In 2003, 978 individuals completed a two-part questionnaire. They “first rated the importance they placed on 10 attributes in a long-term spouse and then rated their perception of themselves on those same attributes.”[i] These attributes were grouped into four categories: wealth and status, family commitment, physical appearance, and sexual fidelity. The results showed that people looked for a spouse who was similar to themselves. This makes it look like people don’t attract opposites until you really look at the four categories. These categories are based on values, appearance and socioeconomic status. In those ways, we often do do look for someone similar to ourselves. What Happens When You Marry Your Opposite? Despite the fact that the previous research supports a “likes-attracts rule”, many people end up married to someone who is their opposite. When we look at the research on whether opposites or similar get along better, there’s some interesting conclusions. Unfortunately, there’s no straight answer to this question. Some research suggests that similar couples are happier and other studies suggest that too much similarity can lead to difficulties in the marriage. The research is conflicting! Marrying Your Opposite Can Lead to Lower Marital Satisfaction One study we looked at said that opposites don’t work as well. The researchers supported the idea that personality similarities are positively related to marital quality. They measure marital quality and personality in a sample of 291 newlyweds. Marital quality is the usual stuff like measuring intimacy, how they handle conflict, how agreed they are on different areas of life, etc. Personality was measured using the Five-Factor Personality Inventory which looks at the five factors of: Extraversion: level of sociability and enthusiasm Agreeableness: level of friendliness and kindness Conscientiousness: level of organization and work ethic Emotional stability: level of calmness and tranquility Intellect/autonomy: level of creativity and curiousity The results showed a positive association between personality similarity and marital quality. So, the more similar these newlywed couples were, the greater their marital quality.[ii] Dissimilar Personalities Can Lead to More Passionate Relationships However, other research suggests that this is not always the case! A study from 2007 investigated three things in 137 couples: relationship onset (love at firs sight vs. gradually becoming involved), personality (same 5 measure as above), and relationship quality.[iii] Results of the study showed that “partners who fell in love at first sight…showed more dissimilar personalities”.[iv] However, it also found that “individuals prefer to select partners with similar personalities as themselves, but that they only succeed in doing so when they have the opportunity and time to get to know each other.”[v] Also,

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#4

Commitment vs. Abandonment – Heart of Marriage Series (1 of 5)

November 11, 2015

There are some things you can do without in marriage – and still have a pretty good marriage. Commitment is NOT one of those things. It is foundational. If you don’t have it, your marriage is toast. But, the good news is, even if you don’t have it right now, you can choose to be committed today and start building this essential piece into your marriage.   There is a lot of content out there about marriage. A lot of people are talking about a diversity of things in the world of marriage. Some of it is helpful. But I want you to think of commitment like one of the crown jewels. You need to protect it, preserve it, and give it special attention. Commitment is one of the core areas at the heart of a healthy, lasting, thriving marriage. What is Marital Commitment? Think of words like loyalty, faithfulness, dedication, maybe even focus or integrity. In the research there are a variety of definitions that range from vague (“having a long term orientation toward the relationships”[i]) to specific (personal: wanting to stay married, moral: feeling morally obligated to stay married, and structural: feeling constrained to stay married[ii]). Perhaps you are a little cynical about commitment due to your circumstances or history or even the experience of your parent’s marriage, and think it is overrated. You prefer your freedom to being tied to another person. Ironically, a study in 2002 showed that couples with higher levels of commitment felt less trapped and were more satisfied with their relationships. Higher commitment creates more freedom and more satisfaction. We have jokes and comments in our society about the “ball and chain” of marriage and how a man is trapped once he’s been to the altar, but this is not the reality. The experience of highly-committed couples is one of greater satisfaction and even a greater sense of freedom because they have that secure base in their marriage. So the question to ask your self is how committed are you, right now, to your spouse? The Consequences of Abandonment The opposite of commitment could be abandonment. This often happens through divorce or infidelity. How Divorce Affects Spouses and Children Divorce in particular is especially devastating. We have a textbook in our office written for marriage therapists that states emphatically that we just need to get over divorce being a big deal and we need to just accept it as a normal transition in our culture. That is total garbage! The reality is that divorce is devastating. Here’s what the research says about divorce: Divorced individuals are unhappier, have more psychological distress and have poorer self-concepts. Divorced individuals have more problems with their health and greater mortality risk. Divorce can lead to greater levels of depression and alcohol use. Children of divorced families struggle in school, have more conduct issues, struggle in social situations, and have lower self-concepts.[iii] There is also a generational impact from abandonment and low marital commitment. Another study by the same researcher found that marital instability is transmitted across generations because children see the weak commitment of their parents, which becomes the norm to them. So, when they consider their own marriages this is their native paradigm. In their study they found that children who had divorced parents had double the likelihood of their own marriage ending in divorce. In looking at this, the reason given for this elevated risk of divorce was because they “hold a comparatively weak commitment to the norm of life long marriage.”[iv] Serious stuff. How Infidelity Affects Commitment The obvious point from the research on this one is that infidelity is a leading cause for divorce, and only a small portion of couples who go through infidelity are able to improve their relationship afterwards. [v] The consequences of infidelity are a loss of trust,

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#9

How Shame Perpetuates Porn Addiction

August 21, 2019 • 25m

Shame is such a powerful emotion. The problem is, it can lead to seemingly contradictory behavior, particularly in the context of addiction. Shame’s close relationship with pornography consumption can cause porn addicts to fall into cycles of shame over their addiction, followed by giving into their addiction, followed by more shame. As with most addictions, porn addiction typically has roots in other deficits. Because you are hurt, lack something, or desire something, you might turn to porn as a coping mechanism, hoping that it will provide the feeling or fulfillment you seek. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that porn is a maladaptive coping mechanism. Rather than helping with the problems it is supposed to solve, it simply makes them worse, particularly in the case of an addictive cycle. The Link Between Porn and Shame As the widespread use of pornography is a relatively new phenomenon, there is only a limited amount of research on its connection with shame. Despite this, there is a lot of anecdotal knowledge among counsellors and psychologists about the connection between, and combination of porn and shame. This link has been documented as far back as 1989. In the book “Contrary to Love,” Patrick Carnes, the grandfather of the sexual addiction treatment movement, identifies shame and guilt as fuelling the despair in addiction. An addictive cycle looks like this: The addict experiences despair.In order to alleviate this feeling, they seek relief by acting out.Upon acting out, they feel shame and guilt.These feelings increase the feeling of despair. While this cycle was discussed in the context of sexual addiction, porn addiction operates in much the same way. As you can see, the efforts of the addict only serve to temporarily deal with the feeling of despair. So you can see how shame only deepens the cycle of porn addiction. Rather than equipping the addict to deal with the source of their problem, porn simply makes it worse for them. In order to deal with porn addiction, you need to discover and deal with the root issues, not as a way to excuse the behavior, but to find where you need healing to start the process of recovery. Shame Buried Out of Sight A common denominator among some porn addicts is an early form of relationship trauma. These can range from abuse (sexual, physical, verbal, mental, etc.) to parental disregard or a variety of combinations. With all of these issues, you can see a similar feature. Typically, the child will not find validation of their distress. Often their problems are minimized, ignored, or not acknowledge. As a result, they do not find healing, which perpetuates and often magnifies the pain they felt. And when not dealt with, this lack of validation will cause the adult to seek it out elsewhere. Porn is an easy “fix” for this. So if you were never validated by your mother, you might find that porn stars are very validating. In some ways, they are. But that validation is just an act. A fake, exaggerated facsimile of genuine human connection. The validation offered by porn doesn’t work because it’s not real. But the imitation is close enough that it subconsciously fires the reward circuits that keep you trying to get that need met.  Porn acts as an outlet for repressed emotions, wounds, and unrequited yearnings. Instead of having these needs met, porn is so accessible and provides enough temporary pleasure that it becomes an easy outlet or sort of balm or salve for these wounds. However, it never actually heals them, instead it requires more and more while returning less and less.  It is a lie. It cannot meet your needs. Of course, this is not the same for everyone with an addiction to pornography. People can have a healthy childhood and still get hooked. But even in those cases, they experience this cycle of shame and addiction. What’s the Problem With Shame? The effects of shame are well documented. In 2015,

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#11

How Much Foreplay Does Your Wife Really Need?

November 01, 2017

We are going to look at foreplay today. But before we do, please be reminded that emotional factors are a much stronger determinant of sexual satisfaction and orgasm frequency than biological or practical factors like sexual frequency and lack of foreplay. So make sure the emotional connection gets most of your focus, and then consider what we’re thinking about in this episode! Questions around foreplay and orgasm are fairly common in marriages. How much foreplay does my wife need to reliably reach orgasm? How much time should I expect my husband to devote to foreplay each time we have sex? Today we’ll be looking at some of these factors that affect foreplay, orgasm frequency and sexual satisfaction overall, so if your sex life isn’t all you’d like it to be, this is definitely worth your time. But let’s just briefly reiterate the disclaimer above. A study from 1993[i] showed what we probably all know already: individual relationship variables like closeness, intimacy, marital satisfaction etc. predict female sexual satisfaction over and above biological and practical issues like sexual frequency and length of foreplay. We’ve seen this fact reflected numerous times in the research for this podcast, and even produced a whole episode on why emotional intimacy is the key to great sex. So we’re going to talk about these things, but if you want to improve your sex life, you’ll get the most benefit from improving your emotional connection to one another. Foreplay and Orgasm Duration of Foreplay What’s interesting about this research is that there are some general observations, but the research also really seems to highlight the fact that everyone is unique. There’s no recipe for orgasm: it’s more like a journey of discovery that a couple needs to tackle together and explore together. It requires gentleness and collaboration and curiosity. So, for example, a couple studies we found indicate that increased time spent in foreplay is often linked to increased probability of orgasm[ii][iii]. However, if you are experiencing some kind of sexual dysfunction then there may be no benefit to spending more time in foreplay: A study by Huey et al[iv] examined 619 women who reported sexual dysfunction and found no support for a link between length of foreplay and female orgasmic response. Further, the duration of foreplay may differently affect women depending on how regularly they already achieve orgasm during sex. “Extending foreplay and intromission (penetration) might enable some women who were already orgasmic to have more frequent orgasms than they would under shorter periods of stimulation.[v]” For women who already achieve orgasm at least some of the time, increasing foreplay can make orgasm even more regular. However, for women who rarely or never achieve orgasm, duration of foreplay appears to have little effect. This again suggests that foreplay is not the main issue in sexual satisfaction and orgasm: if you already have the emotional connection then foreplay can help, but if you don't have that connection then foreplay isn't an adequate replacement in itself. Assuming you’ve got the emotional connection thing nailed, then is there an ideal amount of time to spend in foreplay? Unfortunately it’s not that simple. There are high levels of variability between women. We do not mean to imply promiscuity, but just managing expectations about one’s own personal experience. Some women achieve orgasm with little or no foreplay and some remain inorgasmic after twenty minutes or more of foreplay[vi]. There is also high variability in desired levels of foreplay: when given a questionnaire about their ideal foreplay length, different men and women both reported anywhere from "less than five minutes" to "more than thirty minutes"[vii]. So there’s a huge range in what both men and women prefer. Nature of Foreplay Now the nature of foreplay also is worth considering in addition to the duration of foreplay.

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#14

How Retirement Affects Marriage

December 11, 2019 • 23m

Transitioning from full-time employment into retirement is naturally going to impact both your life and your marriage. Retirement comes with lots of changes, and there are ups and downs to the process. Whether you have parents going through this, you’re coming up to retirement, or you have recently retired, there’s lots to learn about how to handle the changes that come with moving into retirement since it’s a brand-new stage of life. Research shows that there are both positives and negatives that can come as a result of retirement. Certainly, in North American culture retirement is idealized and celebrated as something to look forward to at the end of your career, but many couples also experience some disappointment when it turns out to be not as great as they had hoped.  Marital Satisfaction for Couples at Different Life Stages One study looked at positive interactions between couples of different ages. The study showed that younger couples had the most positive interactions: good healthy, positive day to day moments. Middle age couples (40’s) had the least. And older couples (about 65 and over…the retirement group) had an intermediate amount of positive interactions. But the study also found that negative attitudes decreased with age. It’s normal for couples to go through tough stages of becoming parents, establishing their careers, getting mortgages paid off: this requires adjustments across the lifespan. It is reasonable to expect that going into retirement is going to require some adjustments as well.[1] According to studies from around the turn of the century and current research, the divorce rate rises within the older population compared to the divorce rate of the younger generation. This raises an important question: if retirement is pitched as such a wonderful thing, why are people struggling in their most important relationships? Retirement is a Life Transition Transitioning into retirement comes with a lot of adjustments. Going from working to not working is just one of the changes that come with retirement. Many couples find themselves facing changes in where they live, changes in their routines with their spouse, and even changes in their identity. A retiring therapist might ask himself questions such as “Am I still a therapist if I am not doing therapy? What am I now? What is my purpose? What is our purpose?”[2] When retiring from any profession, one or both spouses may find themselves facing a shift in their sense of identity as they move into a new stage of life. There are many other questions that come up for couples in retirement: How will you and your spouse decide what to do with your time? What is your retirement plan in terms of your savings: can you live without employment income for 10, 20, or 30 or more years?  In addition to these questions, the couple have to adjust to changes on the relational side of things. Couples find that they’re spending a lot more time together, more than they have for many, many years. Most retired couples are not raising children, caring for parents, or heading off to work for the bulk of the day. Suddenly, whatever your marriage is like, it is all right there in front of you and it has to be faced.[3] If your marriage has been strong and healthy — you’ll see the effects of that. And that’s great! For those couples, marital satisfaction will increase because they have even more time to spend together. But if your marriage really hasn’t been great for 20 years but you’ve made it through by focusing on raising and launching your kids, or concentrating on your career or business, and now you’re past those things and you’re just left with a “not great” marriage: that’s a challenging place to be in. Those escape mechanisms of work or other things are gone and not available any longer, and there’s a lot to figure out.[4] Retirement Factors that Affect Marriage One factor that impacts couples when they retire is whether or not they retire tog...

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#15

Holding Onto Self Worth When Your Spouse is Overly Critical

August 01, 2018

Initially, I was a little hesitant about this episode. Dealing with criticism? Sounded like it was going to be a real drain. But as we looked into the research we actually found a lot of hope, not only for you if you are on the receiving end of the criticism, but even for the critic as well. I feel like I need to say right off the bat that we are not attempting to minimize the destructive potential of criticism in our episode today. In fact, it may even be worth checking out our mini-series on abuse as sometimes I have had women come to me just thinking their spouse is critical not realizing that there is a profound belief system in place that is fundamentally abusive. On the flip side of that coin, there is a lot of plain misbehavior and bad attitude that gets labeled abuse that is really not abuse. And I think there is a difference between verbal abuse and emotional abuse. The first is using words to hurt someone which is something we have all done in our lives, and the second is a conscious or subconscious systematic attempt to undermine someone’s self-worth and dignity. Neither are acceptable but the latter is particularly damaging. Today we are staying on the lighter end of the spectrum in the bad behavior category. So this is not particularly about abuse, but just about the critical rut that we or our spouse can get into and what to do about that if you’re on the receiving end. Understanding Where the Criticism Comes From I think the first step to creating some safe space around criticism is to actually take a step back and understand where criticism comes from. The nature of criticism is that it wants you to think there’s something wrong with you. But when you see or experience criticism I think it is worth considering where that may actually be coming from. So instead of focusing internally on yourself as the target, focus on the source. Attribution: What is The Critic Actually Unhappy About? Attribution is such an important piece in any marriage. The human mind naturally interprets things around it in line with its current mood and beliefs. If someone is happy, they are more likely to interpret things around them as being positive, and more likely to see positive things and ignore negative[i]. If they are unhappy, the reverse is true. In marriage, this means that someone who is happy with their spouse and with the relationship will see lots of things to be happy about, and interpret what their spouse does in a positive way. But someone who is dissatisfied with the marriage will see more reasons to be unhappy, and interpret things in a more negative way, thus leading to negativity and criticism[ii]. The point here is to take a step back and ask yourself am I doing something upsetting or wrong or inconsiderate that I should genuinely be considering? Or are there other circumstances in our marriage or in our lives generally that are leading my spouse to be critical of me? This is very nuanced to sort out. Let me give you a couple examples. Your spouse may have lost his job and his dad is in the hospital with cancer and you’re receiving a lot of criticism. I’m not saying it’s OK for him to take that out on you, but you can at least make some space for your own mental well-being by acknowledging that this is about what is going on inside him emotionally and not actually about flaws in you. That’s a fairly clear example. We’ll talk about what to do in this kind of situation at the end of today’s show. A tougher one to sort out is if the marriage is in distress. Typically both spouses have a role to play in a distressed marriage but if one spouse has poor conflict resolution skills s/he may try to correct the problem by pointing out all the perceived deficits in the other spouse. I know this may feel like a bit of a jump: but typically this is a desperate attempt to connect. The belief is that if these issues can be set aside by me pointing them out and you correcting them then we can be safe ...

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#17

Codependency in Marriage: What It Is and What To Do About It

May 18, 2016

Codependency is a term that gets thrown around a lot. What’s a little freaky about it is that we all have a touch of this in our lives. We’re not here to put people in buckets, but to help you make sense of the world around you. If codependency is part of your world, here is some great advice on how to shift to a healthier place in your marriage. What is Codependency? Codependency is actually surprisingly hard to define. Perhaps the easiest way to get a succinct, lightweight but accurate definition is to google the phrase “codependency jokes”. If you’re worried that you may be codependent, and you have a good sense of humour, you may actually find some help there. But to those of you who realize this is part of your world, it’s no joke. It’s serious. It’s really hard sometimes, and it’s a bewildering world to try to navigate your way out of. One more thing – going back to what I mentioned earlier, we’re not here to put people into buckets. Actually, it can sometimes be very unhelpful to put people into buckets. It tends to give people a label, and then we treat people according to their label. It fails to honour your individuality, your personhood, the fact that you too are created in the image of God and you are, like everyone else, a valuable fallible child of God. So, please don’t think we’re just trying to stick you in a bucket and give you a label. What we’re hoping to accomplish is to help those of you are who in codependent relationships to begin to make sense of your world. We want to give you a starting point that you can work from. If you’re feeling lost, your way out starts with understanding where you are today. Ok, back to our definition. It’s rather difficult to define codependency, but here is a fairly recent definition from the research: Codependency “involves relationship patterns, with two people meeting each other’s needs in dysfunction ways.”[i] That’s good, but pretty generic. Some other researchers define codependency as “a pattern of compulsive behaviors that is motivate by a dependence on another’s approval and is designed to find a sense of safety, identity, and self-worth.”[ii] These are more tangible dynamics. They go on to identify some of the traits and patterns that can be found in codependent individuals. Codependent individuals place their self-esteem in their ability to “control and influence the behavior and feelings of others.” This attempt to control can actually look like the codependent individual catering to the needs of another person. However, often the codependent individual can never do enough, and their attempts are neglected and resented by those they cater to. The codependent person then feels inadequate, feeling like they need to do more. Doing more often does not work, and the codependent individual turns to denial, rationalization, and projection. “As these defenses are used more often, persons become unable to recognize their true feelings, and they become unable to understand and take care of their own personal needs.”[iii] This is where we have a lot of compassion because it ends up feeling very disorientating – something doesn’t feel right, but you can’t figure out what or why. At the same time, what’s confusing is that there are parts of this that are normal – taking care of others is a good thing, right? And I feel better about myself when my hubby is distressed and I can help him find joy again. The key here is recognizing there is so much ‘catering to’ that it is dysfunctional. There is an extreme focus outside oneself. There’s a lack of expression of feelings, and there is too much personal meaning derived from relationship with others – like a hero complex. Where Does Codependency Come From? So, how do codependent relationships start? Where do they come from? Research suggests that codependent relationships are most common in families that are under a great deal of stress. In fact,

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