Why Couples Friendships Improve Your Relationship

Many couples enjoy spending time with other couples. In fact, for many, spending time with two or more couples tends to make up most of their social engagement, particularly men. Stereotypically, unmarried or single males might socialize a little more, but not by much.  Research shows that there are benefits for couples who socialize with other couples and create couples friendships.

Research into Couples Friendships

Geoffrey Greif and Kathleen Holtz have written about couples friendships and their benefits. In their book “Two Plus Two:  Couples and Their Couple Friendships”, the authors interviewed couples regarding this topic. The participants were broken down into three groups:

  • 123 couples who had both partners present for the interview
  • 122 people who were individually asked questions regarding their relationships
  • 58 divorced individuals

They found that when couples are in agreement with each other, they spend their time together, both as a couple and with other couples. Thus, they have a greater chance of experiencing a higher level of satisfaction in their relationships.

How Couples Find Each Other

It is important to point out that the benefits of socializing benefited both married and unmarried couples similarly. Indeed, couples who seek out and find friendships with other couples tend to have much happier relationships. How these friendships form can vary. Some prefer other couples with similar backgrounds. Others have similar activities and interests with which to connect. 

These friendships start off with two people who get to know each other or are already friends. In heterosexual relationships, these tend to be the female partners. The friendship eventually expands to include both of the male partners as well. In fact, couples friendships may be the only time when the males actually socialize with other people outside of their own relationships.

The Benefits of Health Couples’ Friendships

Researchers have found that healthy friendships can benefit couples in several ways.

  • Seeing your partner interact with another couple can give you a greater appreciation for your partner. This, in turn, increases your affection for each other and strengthens your relationship.
  • Friendships allow couples to observe each other. Seeing a couple in a healthy relationship interact with one another can be a great role model for the other couple. When they handle situations that arise in a healthy way, it is a great learning experience for the other couple.
  • Couples who observe others positively interacting with each other will become more open to accepting the influence of their partners. This can lead to greater relationship satisfaction.

The Secret to a Long Life

If the above reasons are not compelling enough, consider this thought. Research suggests that the most important predictor of longevity in life is what kind of a social life you have.  These are the social connections that you make with others– those that cause you to have a sense of belonging. This is a bigger predictor than even exercise. However, this doesn’t mean having a large number of friends guarantees a long life. Rather, it involves more what kind of a community you have:  knowing your neighbors, talking to a barista at the coffee shop, having a conversation with the mailman, etc.

Couples friendships can have several benefits for each couple. They provide an opportunity for social connection. The friendships also are a chance for couples to learn from each other and to improve their own relationships. Finally, by creating these friendships, couples can increase not just their quality of life but increase their longevity as well. If you and your partner are struggling to find the right balance between being together and finding other similar couples, couples counseling can be a helpful solution.

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Why Emotionally Intelligent Men are More Likely to Have a Lasting Relationship

The benefits of emotional intelligence have been widely reported. Emotional intelligence helps us understand our own feelings and those around us. In doing so we typically have a heightened understanding and compassion for others. We also become open to different perspectives and opinions. These are important considerations for men who want a successful and lasting relationship.

Emotionally Intelligent Men

According to Dr. John Gottman, emotionally intelligent men are more likely to accept influence from their partners. Gottman also says that couples who accept influence from one another are more likely to stay married. In his research, he found that 1/3rd of men are good at accepting the influence of their partners. However, a certain percentage of men reject outright any influence from their partners of any kind. These are typically men who can be violent in relationships. The third group of men is just “ok” when it comes to accepting influence. The overall trend though is that men have a long way to go when it comes to accepting influence.

What is Accepting Influence?

In simple terms, accepting influence means compromising and listening. For example, let’s say you are watching television and your partner says they want to talk to you. They need your support and want you to listen. You could choose to turn off the TV and accept the influence of your partner by giving them your undivided attention. Or, on the other hand, you could reject that “influence” or request and continue to watch your show.  

Of course, both men and women can struggle with accepting influence. However, heterosexual men are simply not as good at accepting influence from their partners than women.  Communicating in a humorous, gentle, or soothing manner has been found to help men be more open to accepting influence from their partner. This approach is of course very different from communicating in an attacking or complaining manner (which will likely only lead to conflict).

How Does Mindfulness Come Into This?

An emotionally intelligent man will be much more open to accepting influence than one who avoids influence (or ignores their partner). Sometimes men will avoid the influence of their partner because they are afraid of her having power in the relationship. According to Gottman, these men are afraid of being controlled. If they accept their wife’s influence, the husband believes their wife will have power and control over them. Not surprisingly, these men are not connected with their own emotional selves either. In fact, they are typically afraid that if they give in to this influence they will be controlled for the rest of their lives.

Gottman cautions though, that men are not 100% of the problem when it comes to conflict in relationships. Yet, men who are emotionally intelligent and do accept the influence from their partners are much more likely to have a connected and satisfying relationship.

How to Accept Your Partner’s Influence

  • Accepting influence should be looked at as a learned skill. It starts by paying attention to your partner every day. When we resist our partner’s influence, often we do so without realizing it. Stereotypically, men who are not emotionally intelligent often don’t realize that their partners are trying to express themselves and connect with them.
  • Start to track and observe when you are either resisting or accepting your partner’s influence. Is there a pattern? Are there times that you accept their influence vs. times that you don’t?
  • It is also important to pay attention when you are trying to influence your partner.
  • During a conflict keep in mind that the goal should be to try to truly understand your partner’s perspective. Find an area of agreement or potential compromise. The goal is to develop an understanding that is mutually agreeable.
  • If you and your partner are still stuck and are at odds with one another, it is important to get professional help and attend couples counseling.

Through practice and effort, men can learn how to become more emotionally intelligent. Improving their emotional intelligence not only increases their relationship satisfaction but can noticeably enhance all their interpersonal relationships.

Turning Towards, Not Away:  If You’re Not Doing This Then Your Relationship Could be in Trouble

So you’re engaged and set to be married in a year. Your aunt pulls you aside to say that she has the secret to a successful marriage. She goes on to say that the secret is even supported by scientific research. The question is, would you listen?  

The Research

It turns out your aunt has a secret worth sharing. Dr. John Gottman of the Gottman Institute co-directed a research study involving heterosexual newlywed couples with a follow-up after six years. These newlywed relationships – similar to the general population – turned out in very different ways. Some of the relationships were successful and the couples stayed married. Others saw their relationships dissolve into divorce.

What Gottman found was that couples who stayed married turned towards their partners. In fact, couples who stayed married for the full six years of the study actually turned towards their partner 86% of the time. The couples who divorced only turned towards their partner around one-third of the time. It’s easy to conclude therefore that turning towards one another is an important factor in relationship success.

Understanding Bids for Connection

In order to fully understand turning towards vs. away, it is important to understand bids for connection. A bid for connection is when one partner makes an effort to get closer to their partner. This could be as subtle as a smile or a look. Or, they may say, “You never will guess what happened today.” The other partner then has a simple choice:  they can either accept their partner’s bid for connection, or turn away from the bid, and in essence, their partner. It should be noted that even the healthiest couples are not going to be perfect and turn towards one another 100% of the time. However, it is important to recognize when these bids for connection take place and whenever possible, turn towards your partner.

Why Turning Towards Your Partner Matters

Every time that you turn towards your partner you are signaling to them that you are ready to listen, support, and connect with them. This means that they can be open and vulnerable with you.  These conversations, over time, build trust. Of course, we all know that trust is a fundamental building block of any successful relationship. Also, when your partner turns towards you, you get to return the favor when they make a bid for connection. Over time, as you both practice turning towards each other you strengthen the connective bonds of your relationship as well as the love you both share. The result is that you truly create a trusting “partnership” that is built to last.

Tips to Improve Turning Towards Your Partner

  • Pay attention to your partner’s bids for connection and recognize that they may not always be obvious.
  • Notice how often you make a bid for connection with your partner. If you don’t frequently make a bid try to determine what is getting in the way. Is there a conflict with your partner?
  • Pay attention to how often you turn towards vs. turn away. What makes it challenging to turn towards your partner?
  • When your partner turns towards you, pay attention to how that feels. Do you sometimes take it for granted that they are turning towards you?
  • If you are feeling stuck with making progress in feeling more connected with your partner consider going to couples counseling.

Research shows that turning towards one another is critical to the success of your relationship. Recognizing when your partner wants you to turn towards them (and is making a bid for connection) is important. Yet, if you and your partner have been struggling and feeling disconnected, then it may be difficult for both of you to recognize the bids. However, it is possible to recognize your partner’s bids for connection through open communication, attentive listening, and the assistance from couples counseling. Over time you both can create a relationship built on listening, caring, and mutual respect.

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Marital Struggles and Men’s Health

Many studies show that married men are healthier and live longer than unmarried men. Yet, little research has focused on how marital quality (and specifically how marital quality changes over time) can affect men’s health. However, a study from researchers at the University of Bristol and University of Glasgow examined the risk of cardiovascular illness in fathers participating in a long-term study from 1991.  

Details of the Study

During the study, these men had different body functions tracked, which included:

  • Blood pressure
  • Body weight (BMI)
  • Fasting glucose levels
  • Resting heart rate

The data was collected between 2011 and 2013 and included 620 married men in Great Britain, (who were already participating in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children or ALSPAC). The researchers were specifically interested in determining the impact of marital quality on men’s health. They also factored out other potential variables such as income levels, age, and height when generating the results.

Research Results

The results of the study determined that more satisfying relationships were connected to improved cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Furthermore, poor relationship quality was associated with more health problems, such as higher blood pressure levels and cholesterol. Interestingly, the overall research found that cardiovascular indicators were affected when marriage quality changed (when quality increased or when it deteriorated). Yet when marriage quality was stable – including when it was consistently good or consistently poor – there was no noticeable health impact.

Some Things to Keep in Mind

The researchers noted that their study was observationally based and that they could not conclusively show that very low-quality marriage leads to significant health problems. They discussed that the health benefits of being married vs. unmarried was connected to the social aspects of being married vs. single. This is especially significant for men since their spouse likely accounts for most, if not all, of their social connections. Women typically have a broader base of social ties. This might be one reason why their health hasn’t been linked to their marital status.

Questions to Consider

Future research should examine if marriage counseling is the best course of action for improving men’s health. Another thought to consider is when is the “point of no return” for men from a health and relationship perspective. In other words, is there a point when it is too late for counseling or other measures to both improve a man’s relationship and their health?

An additional consideration is that the study used marriage as the indicator for long-term relationships. It did not examine couples that were in committed cohabitating arrangements. This is important since currently, many more couples are choosing cohabitation before marriage or as an alternative to marriage.

What Does This Mean for Men?

So what should men take away from this research? One, that it’s always important to get regular physical checkups in order to keep track of any health concerns (including cardiovascular health). Also, men should take ownership of their health by watching what they eat and exercising regularly. However, it is also important for men to take steps to improve their relationships in order to maximize psychological and physical health. Having a periodic relationship check-up with your partner is a good idea. This way you are both are on the same page and can maximize your relationship satisfaction. Some things to keep in mind when gauging the health of relationship:

  • Do you both communicate consistently or are important topics ignored?
  • Are you and your partner finding quality time with one another?
  • Is your sex life satisfying?

If you realize that you and your partner are struggling with these issues, it’s time to strongly consider couples counseling. A skilled therapist can help you reconnect with your partner and open up the communication channels again. Remember, improving your marriage quality is not just important for your relationship, but for your physical health as well.

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Five Ways to Solve Sexual Desire Differences

Unless you are still in the honeymoon stage of a relationship where sexual desire is at its peak, you’ve probably experienced sexual desire differences with your partner. However, if you are no longer in the honeymoon phase, but have noticed either you or your partner is not interested in sex at times, this can signal a discrepancy. Unfortunately for couples, this can become more pronounced over time, revealing a sexual mismatch called desire discrepancy (DD).

Research into Desire Differences

Lisa Day and Amy Muise examined how couples decide whether to engage in sex or not. They were particularly interested in how couples decided whether or not to be sexually active and if these couples experienced desire discrepancies (DD).

What they found was quite interesting. First, that 80% of participates experienced a DD within the past month. Also, couples often experience DD as much as 5 out of 7 days per week.  Additionally, they learned that a person’s motivation to meet their partner’s sexual needs – which they labeled as a partner’s sexual communal strength – made a huge difference in:

  • Whether or not a couple has sex.
  • How satisfying the sex and also the relationship is in general.

The authors describe:

“People who are high in sexual communal strength-those who are motivated to meet their partner’s sexual needs without the expectation of immediate reciprocation-were less concerned with the negatives of having sex-such as feeling tired the next day. Instead, these communal people were more focused on the benefits to their partner of engaging in sex, such as making their partner feel loved and desired.”

The authors go on to say these motivators, even when one isn’t as interested in sex as the other, in the end leaves both partners being more satisfied with their sex lives. So, even if your interest in sex is low but the desire to please your partner is high, the result is that both of you experience some sexual satisfaction.

Factors Important for Sexual Satisfaction

The key is to determine how partners can acquire sexual communal strength. It seems unlikely that everyone is going to have this high motivation to meet his or her partner’s need for sex. Couples that are currently emotionally connected and are skilled communicators are much more likely to find this motivation (as opposed to couples who are disconnected or have built up resentments). It becomes much more likely both partners would have a desire to please one another. If you have a solid, healthy relationship and your partner wants to have sex, it could be helpful to give yourself a nudge in that direction. Of course, if you are not in a good place to have sex it is rarely a good idea to consent to become intimate. Doing so only risks making things worse for both of you and the relationship.

Tips to Navigate Desire Differences

1. Practice open communication with each other regarding sex. What does each of you consider a healthy sex life? What does each of you desire in your sexual relationship?

2. Learn each other’s sexual turn-ons and turn-offs. Uncover what makes it more or less likely each of you would be interested in having sex. Go here for some more information.

3. Make sure to avoid blaming each other. Would you really want your partner to go through with it if they strongly didn’t want to have sex? This only creates resentment, which festers, grows, and damages your relationship.

4. Avoid “all or nothing” thinking in terms of having sex or not. Try to find the middle ground and explore becoming affectionate with each other. There are many options that do not require a sexual encounter but are still an opportunity to be intimate (such as a massage).

5. Address any relationship issues that are contributing to any emotional distance. Otherwise, desire differences will only be more difficult to navigate.

If you have tried these above tips, but you or your partner still feel stuck, strongly

consider getting professional help. A skilled couples counselor can help in resolving these desire differences and improve your sex life, which will significantly increase your relationship satisfaction.

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