Trying to Rediscover that Spark? How Puppies can Save Your Relationship

Couples face many hurdles and challenges, especially early on in their relationship. After marriage, trying to juggle jobs, kids, and financial stress can cause couples to lose their spark and personal connection to one another. Instead of falling out of “love” they often fall out of “liking” one another.

Researchers from Florida State University wanted to understand this phenomenon and learn what might help fix the problem other than simply going to couples counseling.

Automatic Associations

The researchers studied families of military personnel who were on deployment overseas.  They were especially interested in “automatic associations.” An automatic association occurs when our brain connects two unrelated things together simply by the fact that they happened at the same time. For example, if you see a nature scene and an image of your neighborhood, that connection could influence how you perceive your community. The FSU researchers hypothesized that our feelings about our partners can be influenced by simultaneously thinking about something else that makes us happy.

Breaking Down the Research

During the study, the researchers surveyed 144 military couples regarding their marital satisfaction and asked for quick replies about the attitudes each had for one another. Then, they began displaying images of puppies and bunny rabbits along with pictures of their partners. They also included affirming words with the images. For the control group, pictures of their partners were paired with neutral images. These pairings occurred for six weeks.

The Results

The results of this research are not surprising. People who saw pictures of their partners with positive reinforcing images saw an increase in the number of automatic reactions about their partners that were positive compared to the control group. In addition, the positive image group exhibited better results in the same marriage satisfaction questionnaire after the six-week session was complete.

What Does This Mean for Couples?

The bottom line is that this research suggests associating positive images along with partners can help improve how you perceive your loved one. You don’t have to buy puppies or bunny rabbits to do this, but you can work to better cultivate gratitude and positive connections with your partner at home. You can accomplish this by:

  • Having a date night each week with just the two of you.
  • Participating in activities that both of you enjoy.
  • Learning something new together by taking a class or seminar.
  • Exercising together.
  • Being intimate with each other.
  • Spending time in nature, such as taking a hike.
  • Laughing together.
  • Sharing your appreciations for one another regularly.
  • Visiting someplace new, whether it is a day trip in your area or a travel adventure.
  • Playing games together.
  • Writing each other affectionate notes.
  • Doing something kind for your partner.

There are lots of other ways that you can create positive associations with one another to strengthen the bonds of your relationship and facilitate positive feelings for one another.  Do some research into what is available in your area and reflect on what your partner would like to do too!

But What if You Are Still Struggling?

If you and your partner are still struggling with creating positive associations to have a more satisfying relationship, then it is time for couple’s counseling. A counselor can work with you to help you better understand each other. They can also develop strategies that improve your connection to one another. It does mean making a commitment to do the work, but the results can mean greater relationship satisfaction.

Having positive automatic associations is just another tool that couples can utilize to improve their perceptions of one another, and, in turn, strengthen their relationship. However, if you are still trying to rediscover that spark and finding that it isn’t working, consider options like couple’s counseling.

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Insecurities can Damage Your Relationship

Having periodic doubts about your partner isn’t unusual, especially after a major argument has occurred. After these times, we do tend to question our relationships. However, new research shows that when concerns or doubts about our relationships exist – especially if we can’t count on our partner – it can lead to instability in the relationship. Also, not surprisingly, these doubts decrease how satisfied we are in the relationship and casts a shadow over it.

Confidence in Relationships

The research, conducted at Florida State University, studied how couples looked at each other. Its emphasis focused on relationship satisfaction and the level of conflict in the relationship. Specifically, this study looked at what happens when one partner feels anxious or insecure about their relationship and their partner. It also tracked attachment levels in the relationship. Basically, the researchers were interested in how confident the participants felt about their relationships.

How the Study Was Conducted

The FSU researchers asked 157 couples questions regarding their communication and expressed their connection or level of attachment to one another. They also looked at:

  • how satisfied partners were in their relationships
  • what kinds of conflicts occurred
  • their comfort level with feeling emotionally connected to one another.

In addition, they examined actions that influenced the lack of trust. They looked at actions associated with attachment anxiety as well, such as being afraid you won’t be taken care of by your partner.

What They Found

The results indicate that partners who were not seriously attached to their partners were more likely to have unsatisfactory feelings about their relationship. Additionally, the volatility of the relationship really had a negative impact on relationship satisfaction. This, in turn, affected the success of the relationship. Interestingly, women who were insecurely attached to their partner negatively affected their partner’s feelings towards the relationship too.  

It should be noted that the study did not look at long term relationships. Three-quarters of the participants were dating and half were in a relationship that was two years or less. Of course, in the dating world, there would be much more instability, but the bottom line is that instability negatively affects those relationships too. Perhaps this is because “just dating” contributes to more positive feelings associated with getting to know a person. However, there isn’t much trust because you are still learning about each other during the beginning stages of a relationship. Therefore, feeling insecure in your relationship can damage your relationship no matter which stage you are in. This includes couples who are casually dating or are in long-term, committed relationships.

How to Create Relationship Stability

Overall, of course, it is better to have more confidence and trust in your partner. A trusting environment translates into a much more stable environment. It is common sense, but now it is actually supported by research.

Here are ways that couples can create more trust and, in turn, greater relationship stability:

  • Following through on promises and commitments.
  • Taking accountability when you make a mistake.
  • Asking for help.
  • Checking in with one another daily.
  • Being consistently truthful.
  • Making sure that both of you are on the same page emotionally.

The key to building trust is two-fold. The first part is communicating clearly and consistently. The second piece is to have your actions and behaviors directly correspond to your words. However, if you still find yourselves having trouble with creating relationship stability, consider getting professional help and working with a skilled couples counselor on these issues.

The research shows that if we are not feeling emotionally attached to our partners, our relationships do tend to suffer. Also, if you don’t trust your partner then it is difficult to be emotionally attached to them. Yet, there are things that we can do to address this problem, including increasing the level and frequency of our communication and following through with consistent actions and behaviors. These can help create more trust between partners, and improve relationship stability and satisfaction.

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How Our Polarizing President is Causing Many Relationships to Break-Up

Typically, political differences in relationships haven’t had a negative effect on those in relationships. That’s mainly because most couples have learned how to compartmentalize their political views in their relationship. However, our current political climate is an entirely different animal. In a recent survey, researchers from Wakefield Research wanted to take a look at the current political divide and determine whether if, and how much, politics affects our intimate relationships.

However, our current political climate is an entirely different animal. In a recent survey, researchers from Wakefield Research decided to take a look at the current political divide and determine whether if, and how much, politics affects our intimate relationships.

Breaking Down the Wakefield Research

The researchers found that 11% of Americans overall have ended a relationship because of political differences. In addition:

    • 1 out of 10 couples, whether married or not married, saw an end to their relationship because of politics.
    • 22% of Millennials had a greater likelihood of a experiencing a breakup because of political differences.
    • 42% of Millennials in a relationship have had a disagreement or argument with their partners since President Trump has been elected.
    • 33% of Americans who did not vote for the President, but are in a relationship with someone who did, have thought about divorcing their partner.For Millennials though, this number rises to 43%.

The researchers at Wakefield noted this “Trump Effect” saying,

“Since Donald Trump’s election, political discourse in the U.S. has been more tense and divisive than ever.”

Having such divergent political opinions is not just negatively affecting friendships, but now they are negatively impacting intimate relationships as well.

What Does this Mean for Couples?

Considering America’s deep political divide, these statistics aren’t shocking. They reflect the current polarization of our politics and how it is trickling down to other parts of our lives, including our relationships. Unfortunately, we see the results of this divide on television, in newspapers/magazines, and especially online (sometimes in graphic detail). Yet, for couples who have political differences there are steps to take to address this problem. These steps can help them avoid the pitfalls that we see occurring on a larger level and foster a greater understanding with one another.

What to Do if You and Your Partner Have Political Differences?

There several ways those partners can work to resolve any political differences. The goals here are actually no different than those with any other kind of conflict in relationships:

  1. Understand your partner’s position and listen to them with an open mind.
  2. Process what these differences mean for the relationship going forward. Do you need to readjust future plans and goals?
  3. Attempt to come to an understanding of those differences. At the very least, attempt to agree to disagree. But ideally, challenge yourself to respect your partner’s perception. Over time, you may even come to appreciate them. There’s even a chance you may change your perspective as well.

As with any disagreement between partners, the key to resolving the issue is having open communication and truly listening to one another. Remember that this is not necessarily going to be a one-conversation-and-done issue. You both may have to work through this for an extended period of time. The important part though is to keep the dialogue going. If you and your partner feel that you need more help, consider working with a marriage counselor.

The deep political divide in our country is a great parallel for when we experience differences and heated conflict in our personal lives. However, you don’t have to let political differences divide you, or cause your relationship to suffer. Listening and communicating effectively are critical and if necessary, couples counseling might be vital. If you can skillfully navigate your political differences it can go a long way towards resolving other difficult issues in your relationship as well.


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3 Reasons Why Women are More Likely than Men to End a Relationship

While it is established that about half of all marriages end in divorce, it is commonly assumed that the breakups are initiated by both genders equally. In fact, it is surprising to most people that women are actually more likely to end their marriages than men.  

The Research

Research by Dr. Michael Rosenfeld, a sociologist from Stanford University, shows that women are more likely to initiate a divorce. This research studied 2,500 heterosexual couples from between 2009-2015. Interestingly, while he found that women are more likely to end a marriage than men, women are not more likely to initiate a breakup in non-marital relationships.

Additionally, the research shows marriage quality was influential in these decisions.  Previously, it has been shown that men have higher levels of marriage quality and satisfaction than women. Yet, in non-married relationships there was no significant difference in relationship quality between men and women. Dr. Rosenfeld discussed three possible reasons for why women end marriages more frequently than men.

Reason #1:  Relationship Sensitivity

The first reason why women were more likely to end a relationship than men was because of relationship sensitivity. This explanation simply refers to the possibility that women are more sensitive to relationship problems than men. As a result of this increased sensitivity to relationship issues, women are more likely to leave their husbands.

Reason #2:  The Gendered Institution of Marriage

The second reason Dr. Rosenfeld gives for women leaving their husbands is what he calls the “gendered institution” of marriage. This means that the notion of marriage is tailored more (in our culture) to favor men and reinforces traditional gender roles between men and women. For example, women are still sacrificing their careers to raise a family. Even within the progressive Millennial Generation, the burden of childcare and chores still falls predominately on women.

Reason #3:  Power Difference in Relationships

Power differences are based on the assumption that the partner who has the better relationship prospects after marriage is the partner more likely to initiate a break up. However, this logic isn’t consistent with the notion that women initiate divorce more frequently than men. This is because, in general, research supported the notion that men tend to have better prospects than women when it comes to attracting a partner post-divorce.

Men are generally thought to be more attractive as they age. They also have greater employability and/or earning potential. One alternate explanation of the power differential theory is that women recognize that they don’t have the same power in relationships as men and thus initiate divorce proceedings to end the marriage more often. 

Research Conclusions

Rosenfeld concludes that the institution of marriage itself contributes to women having lower marital satisfaction than men. Thus, this is the main reason why women initiate divorce more frequently. More specifically, he believes that the gendered institution bias of marriage (favoring men) in our society means that men are on average more satisfied in marriage than women. Therefore they are less likely than women to end their marriage.

What to Do if You Need Help

Overall, many couples are happily married. However, it would be helpful for couples to identify relationship difficulties and examine any power differentials or differences in gender roles in their relationship. Partners need to speak up and be candid with one another regarding these issues. However, if these issues still prove to be problematic and put your marriage at risk, it is important to consult with a skilled couples counselor  to get the help you need.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, about half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. The reasons that marriages end is more complicated than we initially thought. While issues surrounding relationship sensitivity and power differential do impact the health of a marriage, Rosenfeld’s research does implicate the gendered institution of marriage as the most likely reason why women initiate divorce more often than men. Couples would certainly benefit from discussing the above issues with one another. However, it may be necessary to get professional help from a couples counselor to thoroughly work through and resolve any relationship issues.


The Myth of the Honeymoon Phase

There is a common misperception that couples are happiest at the start of marriage, however, recent research challenges that assumption. An Australian study showed that newlywed couples scored lower on satisfaction surveys compared to all married couples, including couples married for over 40 years.

Researching Happiness in Marriage

Researcher Dr. Melissa Wineburg said that decreased happiness among newlyweds is connected to having a “wedding hangover.” Essentially, this means couples are unprepared for the letdown that often follows the nuptials.

While the engagement period is typically very exciting for couples, they usually avoid any relationship issues that arise during that time. After the wedding, couples must deal with them as well as the financial fallout of marriage and the ceremony. Additionally, they realize they have now made a lifetime commitment to one another and must learn to live harmoniously.

The study involved measuring levels of happiness amongst 2,000 people in Australia, using a range between 0-100. The study revealed that:

  • The Australian population as a whole scored 75 on the happiness scale.
  • Couples married for less than a year had a happiness score of 73.9.
  • Couples married for forty years or more scored 79.8.

Now the Good News!

The good news is that the researchers found that the happiness scores increase during the second year of marriage. The actually rebound from their first challenging married year together. The average happiness score was 78.4 for these couples.

In addition, those who had the longest marriages, in some cases lasting forty years or more, were the happiest in the study. The study authors point to three reasons why:

  1. These couples adjusted from their first married year and learned how to live together.
  2. They started resolving conflict more effectively with one another.
  3. They started getting to know each other and learned how to work well together.

The researchers also compared marriages that went through a separation and reunion. Not surprisingly, they found that these couples were unhappiest and had an average score of 69.2.

The “Honeymoon Period”

When people think of the “honeymoon period,” they are generally referring to the period after marriage or the first year of dating. However, many couples today are together for much longer periods of time prior to marriage. They live together and already share many responsibilities shared by married (living in a home, dividing responsibilities, etc.).

Future research should focus on comparing couples with a short courtship versus those who dated for a while before getting married. Also, it’s possible there are some cultural differences between the study’s Australian participants and those in North America.

The Takeaway for Couples

Overall, this research tells us that marriage takes work and there often isn’t a smooth road for most marriages. If couples identify issues arising during the first year of marriage, they should not wait to seek professional couples counseling. A skilled therapist can help couples navigate this challenging time period. Counseling can empower them to communicate more effectively, understand each other better, and learn to resolve conflict together.

Unfortunately, research shows that couples wait way too long to get help. Couples wait, on average, six years after problems begin before seeking help! Six years! That’s much too long to wait before addressing these important relationship issues.

The whole notion of a honeymoon phase is mostly divorced from reality. Couples can be so blinded by the feel-good parts about their relationship and their wedding ceremony that they don’t recognize real relationship challenges or simply choose to ignore them. People too often mistakenly assume that if they are compatible with their partner then everything will be continuously blissful. The reality, of course, is that having a healthy marriage actually takes a lot of work!

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