Transforming Ordinary into Extraordinary Marriages
Sweethearts Have Healthy Hearts
Health research is now confirming what the poets and country western song writers have always told us: happy marriages promote healthy hearts, unhappy marriages can lead to achy-breaky hearts.
Psychologist John Cacioppa of the University of Chicago reported at the 2000 annual meeting of the American psychological Association that loneliness is a major risk factor of heart disease, as bad as a high-fat diet, high blood pressure, obesity, smoking or physical inactivity.
John Murray, an economist at the University of Toledo, in a recent issue of the academic journal Demography analyzed data, including health information, collected from a sample of 1,961 Amherst College students born between 1832 and 1879 and followed until their deaths.
Murray's analysis of the all male students showed that married men were about half as likely to die in any given year than lifelong bachelors, even after accounting for their health status in early adulthood.
Just getting married to avoid loneliness won't work though, according to two recent studies. The first by Dr. Brian Baker, a psychiatrist at the Toronto Western Hospital, and his associates looked at the long-term impact of marriage on high blood pressure found that the quality of marriage mattered.
Patients diagnosed with hypertension, but in good marriages, had lowered blood pressure after doing things with their partners. On the contrary, those with hypertension in bad marriages were found to have thicker heart walls, a sign that their hypertension had worsened. Even the mere presence of their spouses could aggravate their blood pressure. Dr. Baker concluded: "In that case, it was better to avoid your spouse if you had a bad marriage."
The second study by Kristina Orth-Gomer, MD, PhD, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden which was published in the Dec. 20th issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association found that female heart patients under severe marital stress had a threefold greater risk of heart attack than women without such stress in their union. Unlike men who are stressed by work and marital stress, women are only damaged by marital stress.
Heart doctor, Dean Ornish, writes:
Love and intimacy are at the root of what makes us sick and what makes us well, what causes sadness and what brings happiness, what makes us suffer and what leads to healing. If a new drug were introduced that had the same impact, virtually every doctor in the country would be prescribing it for their patients. It would be malpractice not to prescribe it."
Conclusion: Marriage is good for your health but only if you and your spouse are happily married.
Making every day Valentine's Day
Why do we do extra special things for our spouses just one day a year when it is so easy to make every day a special day in your marriage? Believe it or not you can turn around a boring marriage in just twenty minutes a day if you:
- Do four small kind things for your spouse.
- Notice what your spouse does for you.
- Thank each other for those things and all the rest that is going well.
- Take ten minutes to catch-up on a deeper level than the brief, "How was your day, dear?" The question is: "How was your day really, dear?"
- Try to exchange some affection even if it is a quick hug or kiss.
When distressed couples consult us for help with their marriage, often they have shut down emotionally. Implementing the above suggestions can improve the emotional climate of a marriage sometimes in only 2-3 weeks.
Increasing Love through Better Emotional Management
While the above plan will improve the general emotional atmosphere of a marriage, it won't solve all the problems of a marriage.
Emotional Intelligence describes the kind of smarts that mark a person who knows how to handle emotions. Raise the emotional intelligence of your marriage by trying some of these tips:
- Monitor your own emotions daily. Take responsibility for how you feel. Your partner cannot make you "feel" a certain way; you have to soothe yourself.
- Have at least three "happy" activities that can turn around a bad mood. Spending time with your hobby such as wood-working or quilting can cause a chemical change that bathes your nervous system in "happy" chemicals.
- Take a look at the big picture of your life before you blame the marriage for your unhappiness. Are you doing satisfying work? Are you feeling good about your parenting and about your relationships with your family of origin? What needs fixing that you can control?
- Manage your own emotional rough spots by better stress management. When you eat healthy, exercise regularly, and watch caffeine and alcohol use, you will notice your partner is less aggravating.
- Listen to your internal self-talk. Are you inciting a riot in your emotions by focusing on the negatives about your partner and what he "should" and "shouldn't" do?
- To combat that negative self-talk, focus on what your partner does that pleases you.
- If something aggravating happens, ask yourself if there are any alternative explanations to why she did it other than "just to aggravate me?"
Execute your plan not your mate
When something is leading to chronic unhappiness in your marriage and you have done all the above suggestions, ask your spouse for some time to talk about the situation. Stay away from a blaming mode by picturing both of you against the problem instead of against each other. Describe what is bothering you while your partner listens and paraphrases each section. Ask your partner's help in brainstorming creative solutions. Pick one or more to form an action plan and execute it. Don't forget to come back later and evaluate if the solution works. Repeat as needed. If you are a highly conflicted couple or don't know how to take a problem-solving approach, consider hiring a marriage coach to guide you.
Our audiotape series, Secrets of Extraordinary Marriages, covers problem-solving and emotional management strategies of extraordinary couples.
Dean Ornish, Love & Survival:The Scientific Basis For The Healing Power of Intimacy.
David Goleman. Emotional Intelligence.
Notorius & Markman. We Can Work It Out.
Stanley, & Blumberg. Fighting for Your Marriage.
Copyright 2001 Drs. Susan & Philip Robison. Feel free to copy and reproduce as long as you print with contact information: