TIME psychology

5 Ways to Strengthen Your Friendships

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Harvard happiness expert Daniel Gilbert identified friends as one of the biggest sources of joy in our lives. Seeing friends and family regularly is worth an extra $97,265 a year:

So, an individual who only sees his or her friends or relatives less than once a month to never at all would require around an extra £63,000 a year to be just as satisfied with life as an individual who sees his or her friends or relatives on most days.

Not feeling socially connected can make you stupider and kill you. Loneliness can lead to heart attack, stroke and diabetes. Good relationships are more important to a long life than exercise.

Not spending more time with friends and family is one of the things people regret the most.

So what does the research tell us about how to strengthen and improve our friendships?

The Basics

Want to improve any relationship? The first step is try. Yeah, so easy you forgot to do it.

Simple things can have the most profound impact, like actively showing interest in the other person. Listen to what they have to say and ask them to tell you more.

Enthusiastically respond when they share good news with you. The best responses are active and constructive. What’s that mean?

It is engaged, enthusiastic, curious and has supportive nonverbal action. Ask questions. Be excited. Ask for details. Smile. Touch. Laugh.

Share your own good news when you have some:

…sharing good news with others increases the perceived value of those events, especially when others respond enthusiastically, and that enthusiastic responses to shared good news promote the development of trust and a prosocial orientation toward the other. These studies found consistent support for these effects across both interactions with strangers and in everyday close relationships.

Show gratitude. Gratitude is a miracle drug:

Stay in touch. Communicating every two weeks keeps friendships alive:

…“the leading cause of persistent relationships is reciprocity — returning a friend’s call.” Further, they said friends ’til the end tend to touch base at least once every 15 days.

Leverage technology to improve your relationships, don’t let it replace them.

Technology can increase happiness and improve relationships if you leverage it to connect with other people:

The results were unequivocal. “The greater the proportion of face-to-face interactions, the less lonely you are,” he says. “The greater the proportion of online interactions, the lonelier you are.” Surely, I suggest to Cacioppo, this means that Facebook and the like inevitably make people lonelier. He disagrees. Facebook is merely a tool, he says, and like any tool, its effectiveness will depend on its user. “If you use Facebook to increase face-to-face contact,” he says, “it increases social capital.” So if social media let you organize a game of football among your friends, that’s healthy. If you turn to social media instead of playing football, however, that’s unhealthy.

The typical reaction to all of the above statements is: That’s obvious. I know that. And then guess what?

People don’t do them for six months and wonder what happened. Knowing and doing are two different things.

Work On Yourself

Improve your self control. People more in control of themselves have better relationships.

…the more total self-control, the better the relationship fared. Multiple benefits were found for having mutually high self-control, including relationship satisfaction, forgiveness, secure attachment, accommodation, healthy and committed styles of loving, smooth daily interactions, absence of conflict, and absence of feeling rejected.

How do you strengthen those self-control muscles? Go here.

Trust beats out not trusting. Expecting others to be selfish can be a self-fulfliing prophecy:

The expectations people have about how others will behave play a large role in determining whether people cooperate with each other or not… One’s own expectation thereby becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: those who expect people to act selfishly, actually experience uncooperative behaviour from others more often.

Don’t be a conversational narcissist. What’s that? “Conversational narcissists always seek to turn the attention of others to themselves”

Conversational narcissists always seek to turn the attention of others to themselves. Your first reaction to this statement is likely, “Oh, I don’t do that, but I know someone who does!” But not so fast. Conversational narcissism typically does not manifest itself in obviously boorish plays for attention; most people give at least some deference to social norms and etiquette. Instead, it takes much more subtle forms, and we’re all guilty of it from time to time. Everyone has felt that itch where we couldn’t wait for someone to stop talking so we could jump in; we pretended to be listening intently, but we were really focusing on what we were about to say once we found an opening.

Here‘s how to be a better listener.

Scientific Insights

Keep the 5 to 1 ratio in mind. Five good experiences for every bad one.

Via The Ape in the Corner Office: How to Make Friends, Win Fights and Work Smarter by Understanding Human Nature:

It turned out that the fifteen high-performance teams averaged 5.6 positive interactions for every negative one. The nineteen low-performance teams racked up a positive/negative ratio of just .363. That is, they had about three negative interactions for every positive one…

And:

What’s even scarier is that Losada’s five-to-one ratio also appears to be essential when you get home and try to muster the energy for a successful marriage. John Gottmann at the University of Washington has found that couples with a ratio of fewer than five positive interactions for every negative one are destined for divorce.

Also:

Curiously, the magic number also seems to have a close parallel in the ratio of positive behaviors…and negative behaviors…among monkeys and apes.Thus the five-to-one ratio begins to look suspiciously like a basic primate need.

Don’t take that to mean you always have to be positive: Sharing negative feelings about a third party can increase closeness between two people.

We all value warmth over competence in friends but we often forget this:

  1. When assessing someone else, warmth plays a more important role than competence.
  2. When assessing ourselves, we believe that competence (the capability of someone to carry out intentions) is more important.

So stop trying to be useful and just be kind.

What’s the best way to give a friend advice? You need to provide a suggestion without it feeling like you’re telling them what to do:

Say “When I’ve had that problem in the past what I’ve done is…” instead of “You should do this…

And you’re gonna screw up. We all screw up. Know the keys to a good apology.

Turning Enemies Into Friends

Similarity is very powerful. Always always always always always be thinking about things you have in common.

How can you win over someone who already doesn’t like you? Compliment them or ask their advice.

Even fierce enemies can be turned into friends by working together to achieve a common goal. Robert Cialdini’s must-read book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion references this study:

…superordinate goals (goals so large that it requires more than one group to achieve the goal) reduced conflict significantly more effectively than other strategies (e.g., communication, contact).

Trying To Make New Friends?

Here are 4 things to keep in mind:

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME psychology

5 Things That Make Love Last

I’ve posted before about John Gottman. He can listen to a couple for 5 minutes and determine, with 91% accuracy, whether they’ll divorce. He was featured in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink.

What system do they use in his lab for quickly telling who will stay together?

Via What Makes Love Last?: How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal:

We’ve settled on five basic dimensions that I believe express the richness of the subjects’ stories. Called the Buehlman Scoring, this assessment is extraordinarily accurate in predicting the death of a relationship. When applied to couples in another of my studies, which looked at 120 couples with preschool-aged children, the scoring predicted with 94 percent accuracy whether a couple would break up within the next four years

In the book, Gottman explains the five points that allow his lab to make such spectacular predictions.

#1: Fondness and Admiration

Happy couples tell their tales with warmth, affection, and respect for each other… Spontaneous compliments are common… couples with a weak fondness and admiration system tend to recall unfavorable first impressions of their partner.

#2: Me-ness vs. We-ness

Happy couples tend to relate stories where they worked well as a unit. The sense that they are “in this together” is palpable… The clue to the dead romance… is not that they aren’t able to resolve an argument. It’s why they are stuck in it: They are both focusing on me, not we.

#3: Knowing your partner

…Detailed descriptions indicate that they continue to understand and respect what makes the other tick: what their partner cares about, what makes him or her sad, or happy. We also note whether there is positive energy or a lack of it in their descriptions…Couples who lose this connection…remain impersonal and guarded when recounting their history, mentioning nothing specific about each other. Their view of their past is “generic” rather than individualized.

#4: Glorifying Your Struggles

Couples who describe their relationship history as chaotic are usually unhappy in the present. They don’t tell stories of pulling together or learning from their negative experiences. There’s no sense in their descriptions that their past troubles and conflicts strengthened their mutual trust... happy couples express pride over having survived difficult times. They glorify the struggle by emphasizing how it strengthened their commitment. They believe they steered their own course together, based on their common goals, aspirations, and values. They have built a system of shared meaning and purpose. Whether couples display this positive energy when recalling past hardships is not at all dependent on the depth of the difficulties they faced. How they interpret the negative and positive events is the key.

#5: Disappointment vs. Satisfaction

When couples are at risk for splitting, at least one of them will express disappointment that the relationship isn’t what it promised to be. Often, when reviewing the choices they made in the past, they express cynicism about long-term commitment… satisfied partners believe that their relationship has met their expectations.

And there is a point where the rift cannot be undone:

…once the Negative “Story of Us” switch is thrown, it is very hard to reverse. Any intervention is almost certainly too little, too late. Even if there’s a positive change in one partner’s behavior, the other remains suspicious, thinking something like, Well, the demon finally did something nice, but this relationship is still hell.

What’s the core takeaway you should keep in mind?

Either they emphasize their good times and make light of the rough spots, or they accentuate their failures and not their successes. Likewise, they either underscore their partner’s positive traits in favor of their more annoying characteristics (cherishing), or they do the opposite (trashing).

 

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More From Barking Up the Wrong Tree:

The Science Of “Happily Ever After”: 3 Things That Keep Love Alive

What are the four things that kill relationships?

What should you look for in a marriage partner?

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME psychology

10 Things That Can Predict Whether Your Spouse Will Cheat on You

Join over 90,000 readers and get a free weekly update via email here.

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How To Be Resilient: 8 Steps To Success When Life Gets Hard

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME

6 Weird Scientific Facts About Love

Bride and groom couple
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Sure, you know the basics about the birds and the bees, but how much do you really know about what goes on in your body—and your mind—while you’re falling head over heels or doing the deed? Here are some fascinating facts about love and sex that may surprise you.

Health.com: 15 Everyday Habits to Boost Your Libido

Spouses may have similar DNA

Scientists already knew that people tend to choose romantic partners with similar characteristics, such as age, race, religion, income, and upbringings. But a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that people also tend to marry others with similar DNA. When researchers studied the genetic material of 825 white American couples, they found fewer differences in the DNA between married people than between two randomly selected individuals within the same race. In fact, they calculated that the tendency to pair up with a genetically similar spouse is about one-third as strong as the tendency to do so with someone with a similar education.

Health.com: Best and Worst Foods for Your Sex Life

Watching rom-coms may help strengthen marriage

Watching movies may be one key to marital bliss, says Matthew Johnson, PhD, director of the Marriage and Family Studies Laboratory at Binghamton University. In his study, couples attended counseling or watched relationship-themed movies and completed discussion guides together. Both strategies cut the groups’ divorce rate in half after three years—but the movie-watching activity took 50% less time and took place almost entirely at home. “The key is to talk with your partner about your relationship in the context of a movie,” says Johnson.

Women can make their voice “sexier,” but men can’t

In a 2014 study, Albright University researchers found that women were able to deliberately manipulate their voices—while counting from one to 10—to sound more attractive. But, sorry guys: When men tried to be sexier, they were actually rated as sounding worse! When a woman intentionally drops her voice to make it sound low and breathy, she’s often perceived as more attractive—but not exactly for the reasons you might think. Men tend to prefer women with higher, more feminine voices, says co-author Susan Hughes, PhD, associate professor of psychology. But when a woman lowers her voice to “sound sexy,” she’s signaling her interest in a potential mate—a clue that men are able to pick up on.

Health.com: 8 Reasons Why Sex is Better After 50

You’re less likely to get grossed out when aroused

Sex can be a messy activity with lots of fluids and smells, but in the heat of the moment, none of that (usually) seems to matter. According to a study from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, that’s because sexual arousal overrides the body’s natural “disgust response.” When researchers asked women to watch either an erotic film, a sports video, or a “neutral” video of a train, and then perform a series of unpleasant acts (like drinking out of a cup with a bug in it), they found that those who’d watched the sexual acts rated the tasks as less disgusting—and were also able to complete more of them. Previous research has suggested that sexual arousal has a similar impact on men, as well.

Love is good for your bones

Marriage appears to strengthen men’s skeletons, according to a University of California Los Angeles study, especially if they wait until after age 25 to tie the knot. Researchers aren’t sure why, but they point out that it’s not the first time marriage has been linked to health. Other studies, for example, have suggested that married people live longer, are more likely to survive cancer, and have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

Health.com: 10 Reasons You’re Not Having Sex

Old people do it, too

Sexual interest and sexual function do both decline with age—especially as adults begin to take more medications—but that doesn’t mean that senior citizens aren’t still getting it on. “Many people do continue to have sex into their old age, often until death,” Garcia says. And they’re not always careful: “Besides teenagers and young adults, the elderly is the biggest population for sexually-transmitted disease spikes,” he adds. “They’re not worried about getting pregnant, so they’re not using condoms.”

READ MORE: 20 Weird Facts About Sex and Love on Health.com

TIME

Like Gwyneth and Chris, My Husband and I Consciously Recoupled

Gwyneth Paltrow, left, and Chris Martin
Gwyneth Paltrow, left, and Chris Martin Colin Young-Wolff—Invision/AP

After I heard "I don't love you anymore," my marriage headed into a gray area—and it wasn't all bad

The concept of “conscious living” is a popular one—synonymous with “mindfulness,” we like to apply it to eating, building, working, whatever we are doing. Time even put it on the cover a few months ago. Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin brought the revolution to more tabloid headlines when they announced their “conscious uncoupling.” More recent reports, however, note that the uncoupled pair has been publicly love-birding, so it’s natural to wonder if a “recoupling” is in the offing.

“Coupling” brings me back to the railroad yards of my youth, where my father, a train–parts salesman, would explain how the cars come apart and together using something called a coupler. With only a modicum of bashing and bravado, the trains would line up and be on their way. And with that in mind, “uncoupling” seems a much better word to use for the end of a relationship than the fraught, shameful “divorce.” I know, because in the last seven years, I have uncoupled, recoupled, and uncoupled for good from the person I coupled with in 1988. The Great Northern railroad runs through my small Montana town and I went to the train yard a lot in the last seven years.

Back in 2008, I was met with the words, “I don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever did.” And an encore in 2011: “It’s not that I don’t love you. It’s that I’m not in love with you anymore.” The first time, I believed that the relationship was salvageable. The second time, I knew the marriage had to end. My reaction both times: to choose not to suffer by focusing on what I could own and what I could control, and letting go of the rest. Sounds hard. It was. But I did it as consciously as possible and I am better for having lived that way, even though the marriage is over. My strategy was never about staying together.

I wrote my way through both crises, in an essay for the New York Times and in my memoir, This is Not the Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness. Consequently, I heard from people all over the globe and I can tell you: they want to know that there is some freedom in not knowing what’s around the corner.

Because—usually—it’s not black and white. There’s so much at stake—families, children’s stability, loss of property, future dreams, self-identity, community orientation. They want to know that there is hope. That in the grey area they will they learn something profound about themselves, and even find themselves back in the relationship—only with new perspective and heightened respect. They want to believe in that poster we had on our college dorm-room wall: “If you love something set it free. If it returns, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.”

When I was consciously uncoupling for the first time I was new at employing this practice of non-suffering. I had small kids, which meant that I couldn’t journey for great lengths of time to the Kripalu-Omega-Esalan institutes of the world, or to the top of Everest, or to an ashram. I had to practice mindfulness right there at my kitchen sink. And it worked.

Gwyneth and Chris and I are living proof that we can step outside the story that society spins during times of relationship re-invention—we don’t have to fight and throw plates to be powerful. In the first uncoupling, and even in our mediation sessions, there were times when I reached out and held my was-band’s hand (I can barely use the word “ex”) because we were used to navigating troubled times together. Uncoupling, and recoupling, and uncoupling, if you do that again, doesn’t need to be like the movies or TV dramas, or the war stories you hear from friends. You can find grace in the grey.

In those years of vacillation, I learned to live in the moment, responsible for my own happiness. Perhaps in so-doing, we found our way back to each other for a time. And why our mediator congratulated us in our last session, with the ink still drying on the divorce decree. “Good job, you guys. When you’re ready, I think you two would be excellent candidates for a divorce ceremony. They really help people deliberately and intentionally close this chapter of their lives.”

We’re not ready for that yet. There’s still a lot of grief. But for now we are able to co-parent and communicate with respect, and the kids are thriving. Did we all suffer less because of our conscious variations on coupling? I’d like to think so.

Laura Munson is the best-selling author of This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, and founder of Haven Retreats.

TIME Dating

Geniuses in Love: Mensa and Match.com Partner For a New Dating Site

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Mensa, the society for people with high IQ, and Match.com are teaming up to create a new dating site for highly intelligent people, reports Match.com.

According to Match, smart is attractive: More than 80% of singles claim a partner’s equal or higher intelligence is a “must have” or “very important.”

“Why do we want a smart partner? Because intelligence is correlated with many benefits, including: higher income; sense of humor; creativity; social skills; coordination; and problem solving. These are sexy,” said Match’s Chief Scientific Advisor Dr. Helen Fisher in an online statement.

The new site only allows users that match Mensa’s requirement of an IQ in above the 98% of the general population. According to Mensa, there are plenty of brainy fish in the sea: an estimated 6 million Americans are eligible to become a part of the organization which now has 57,000 members.

Super smart singles are encouraged to put their best mind forward; through July 6th, Match is inviting them to take the Mensa Home Test for $1 to see if they qualify for this genius opportunity.

TIME Sex

15 Everyday Habits to Boost Your Libido

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Easy lifestyle tweaks to crank up your sex drive

If you’ve lost that frisky feeling, you’re not alone. Research shows that nearly a third of women and 15% of men lack the desire to have sex regularly. But there are things you can do to put the sizzle back into your sex life. Jumpstart your libido with these expert-approved lifestyle changes.
Plan more date nights

If a fun Saturday night with your hubby means watching Showtime in sweatpants, it could be killing your sex drive. Rekindle your romance by getting out of the house for an old-fashioned date. Your dates don’t need to be grand romantic evenings; just going to the movies or out to dinner can reignite the spark you felt when you first met. “If it’s too expensive to hire a nanny, ask your friends with kids to watch yours for the night and offer to return the favor,” says Leah Millheiser, MD, director of the Female Sexual Medicine Program at Stanford Hospital & Clinics. Chances are, they’ll need a night out at some point too!

Health.com: 10 Reasons You’re Not Having Sex
Pop a different birth control pill

Hormonal changes take a big toll on your sex drive. Birth control pills can be one of the biggest perpetrators: they can reduce your body’s production of testosterone, and in turn, your desire to get down. Certain varieties may even cause pain during sex.

And even if you’re not on birth control, being aware of your hormonal status can help you dial in your libido. Prolactin, the nursing hormone, decreases estrogen and testosterone in breastfeeding women, which can wreak hormonal havoc. Additionally, Dr. Millheiser warns that menopause can bring a decrease in testosterone and estradiol, a type of estrogen.

Check other meds, too

Take a look at your medicine cabinet—your prescriptions could be behind your lower libido. Aside from birth control pills, common offenders include drugs for high blood pressure, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), anxiety, and depression. “If a medication is the most likely culprit, discuss your concern with the prescribing doctor,” says Dr. Millheiser. “It’s possible that another treatment may be used with fewer side effects.”

Divide household chores equally

After a long day of work, you may head home for your other full-time job: being a parent. “After the kids go to bed, there’s often cleanup followed by work that you’ve brought home,” says Dr. Millheiser. “As a result, intimacy gets pushed to the background.” If you and your partner are both working full-time, keeping the division of household labor equal and ensuring one partner doesn’t shoulder the whole burden will make both of you happier in the bedroom and out.

Health.com: The 10 Biggest Myths About Sex
Set your room up for romance

It’s easy to get in the habit of letting your kids crawl into bed with you after they’ve had a bad dream, or sharing cuddle time with your cat or dog. These are major mood killers, says Dr. Millheiser, who suggests keeping the kiddos and pets out by simply locking the bedroom door at night. It may take some time to break these habits, but making the bed sexy again will make you more relaxed and ready for romance.

Add sex to your to-dos

We schedule doctor’s appointments, work meetings, and drinks with friends—so why not sex? It’s not the most romantic approach, but setting aside a specific time with your significant other means you’re making a commitment to having an active sex life. This way, you’ll feel compelled to keep the appointment and be less likely to make excuses.

Use a lubricant

Getting in the mood can be almost impossible if sex is painful for you—but it doesn’t have to be. One of the leading causes is dryness. “If vaginal dryness is causing pain during intercourse, try using a silicone-based sexual lubricant or a vaginal moisturizer,” suggests Dr. Millheiser. “Silicone lubricants are longer-lasting and more moisturizing than the water-based alternatives. If this doesn’t improve the situation, you may want to check with a gynecologist to see if vaginal estrogen therapy is appropriate.”

De-stress before sex

Everyday stressors—your job, your kids’ grades, the leaky bathroom faucet—have a more powerful effect on your sex life than you may realize. Being stressed causes your body to produce more of the “fight or flight” hormone cortisol, which your body needs in small doses but can suppresses the libido when the body produces an excess. Before you hit the sheets, find an easy way to clear your mind, whether it’s taking a long bath or curling up with a good book.

Eat clean

Following a heart-healthy diet could help you turn up the heat between the sheets. A study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found a link between high cholesterol and women who have difficulty with arousal and orgasm. When cholesterol builds up in the arteries, it makes it harder for blood to flow; in the pelvic area, that can lead to less sensation in the genitals, making it harder to achieve orgasm. Slash your cholesterol levels by loading up on fruits and veggies and cutting down on animal fats and whole-milk products.

Eat aphrodisiacs

A growing body of research shows that certain vitamins and components can enhance sexual function and desire. Avocados, almonds, strawberries, and oysters are just a few foods that may set the mood.

Health.com: 7 Foods for Better Sex
Examine your relationship

A slow sex drive may be a sign of broader relationship problems outside the bedroom. It could be bottled-up resentment over lots of minor issues (he left his toothbrush on the counter again?) or something bigger, like a lack of communication (like too much texting and not enough actual talking, as a recent study examined). “If the relationship quality needs professional help, find a licensed marriage and family therapist in your area,” advises Dr. Millheiser. “If the relationship issue pertains only to sex, look for a certified sex therapist.”

Go for a hike together

Or a run, gym class, cooking seminar—any hobby or interest that you and your partner can do together, suggests Dr. Millheiser. “This can strengthen your emotional connection, and feelings of support boost desire.” In one study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, couples that engaged in new and exciting activities had greater satisfaction in their relationships. “New and exciting” is all relative, so depending on how adventurous you are, that could mean anything from trying out mountain biking to skydiving.

Exercise often

Less stress, an improved mood, and higher self-esteem are all health benefits of exercise—and together they can rev up your sex drive. In fact, a recent study found that women who were taking antidepressants and were experiencing a dulled libido (a common side effect) improved sexual satisfaction by doing three 30-minute sweat sessions per week.

Health.com: 10 Best Workouts For Your Sex Life
Listen to your body

Sometimes, a slow sex drive winds up being one symptom of a larger medical problem. So if along with your low libido you begin noticing weight gain, dry skin, hair loss, and fatigue, don’t ignore it—you may be among the 15 million Americans unknowingly suffering from a thyroid problem. A simple blood test will confirm a diagnosis, and it can be treated with medication. Dr. Millheiser warns that low libido is also linked to other medical disorders, including depression and chronic fatigue.

No dice? Visit your doc

If your engine’s still stalled after these lifestyle tweaks, prescription drugs may help. “Certain medications, such as testosterone or Wellbutrin, can be used on an off-label basis for the treatment of low libido and are only available with a prescription,” Dr. Millheiser says.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Love & Relationships

How Being Good Parents Can Make You a Lousy Couple

couple
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The author recounts how she almost lost her solid, happy marriage to neglect—and what she did about it

Twenty-two years into our marriage, my husband and I hit a rough patch. There were no knockdown, drag-out fights; it was more of a slow withering.

When it started, or how long it had gone on before we noticed, neither of us could say. We just looked up one day and realized that our solid, happy, even enviable marriage was in trouble.

Like countless long-married couples before us, we had somehow let our day-to-day routine—managing the business and boredom of running our household; juggling careers; parenting two kids with their own over-scheduled lives—suck us dry. With our son and daughter, we were still a great family, a great four. As a husband and wife, we’d become a lousy pair.

I was recently reminded of all this—of the pain and sadness that came with recognizing that we’d fallen into such a hole, and the pleasure and happiness that have come from climbing back out again—after reading Love Illuminated, the new book by Daniel Jones.

After 10 years as the editor of the popular New York Times column “Modern Love,” and sifting through some 50,000 submissions, Jones says that two questions about the vagaries of love surface most often: “First, from the young: ‘How do I find love?’ And second, from those struggling through the marital malaise of midlife: ‘How do I get it back?’”

Of course, after my own yearlong journey to find the answer to that second question, I was more than a little curious to see what wisdom Jones had to offer. But I was more than a little disappointed at what he concludes in this particular area.

He suggests that there are really only three choices for long-married parents who don’t what to see their unions end in divorce: quashing, sneaking or restoring.

Quashing one’s desires, he says, is for those who’ve decided to accept their marriage for what it is, though he allows that this “runs the gamut from the bitterly resigned to the appreciatively so.” And while Jones shows little tolerance for those on the bitter end of the spectrum, he deems the “appreciatively resigned . . . among the healthiest and happiest married people alive.”

Those who sneak, meanwhile, are not content to suppress their unfulfilled desires, but try instead to figure out how to get them met elsewhere. They are not cheaters, but rather those who “redirect their passion away from their marriage, into pursuits and distractions and flirtations that entertain and titillate but fall short of all-out betrayal.” Think Facebook dalliances with old flames or Internet porn.

It is, however, with Jones’ third option, the restorers—the category in which my husband and I undoubtedly belong—that I take issue.

Jones argues that in marriages where passion and love have waned due to “the deadening weight of its routines,” restorers eagerly pile on even more routine: “date nights, couples counseling, dance classes, scheduled sex . . . Fresh Flower Fridays. . . required kisses on parting, lunchtime exchanges of erotic texts or e-mails, and possibly some creative midday play at the local Holiday Inn involving nipple clamps, silk scarves and an eye patch.”

He cheekily dismisses such efforts at reconnection as merely checking off a series of boxes until “overachieving” restorer couples “eventually pull back on all the improvement techniques and join the ranks of the appreciatively resigned”—an idea my husband and I had explicitly rejected

While nipple clamps and eye patches were not our thing (or required kisses or scheduled sex or mandatory fresh flowers, for that matter), we were lost and eager to find our way back to each other. We sought counseling as a way to begin the process and were grateful to have the seasoned guidance of someone who could help show us the way.

We took long afternoon hikes in the canyons—in fact, we still do—and made time to go out for dinner, just the two of us, rather than our usual Saturday night out with friends. Instead of always splitting chores, we made a point of doing some of them together, like shopping at the Sunday morning farmers market or taking the dog for a long evening walk.

For us, these have not been merely check-the-box activities but, rather, a conscious effort to reconnect and remember why we were drawn together in the first place.

Like many couples after they’ve had children, we’d found ourselves spending less and less time together. Some of this was practical, a matter of convenience—one of us running our son to basketball practice while the other took our daughter to a friend’s. By the time we’d gotten done with our respective household tasks, we’d often vie for a little “me” time—a trip to the gym for my husband or a quiet spell with a book for me. At that point, conversations had a way of feeling like interruptions.

It wasn’t “work” that our marriage needed so much as attention, and we made a pointed decision to tend to it, to care for it, to nurture it back to health and keep it healthy.

Alone time doesn’t guarantee a great marriage. But, according to a 2012 study from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, couples who spend more one-on-one time together are less prone to divorce and report higher levels of sexual satisfaction, communication and commitment. “Husbands and wives who engaged in couple time with their mates at least once a week were approximately 3.5 times more likely to report being ‘very happy’ in their marriages,” the study added.

I am not so naïve as to misunderstand why Jones celebrates the “appreciatively resigned.” Sometimes, it’s tempting to feel like “good enough” in a long marriage is actually pretty great. But I believe that deliberately not settling, and actively wanting more from each other and from one’s marriage, is what keeps it truly great.

At the beginning and end of his book, Jones asks a seemingly simple question: “Is love a feeling or a choice?” My answer is that it’s both.

Love is the heart-stopping, passionate, adrenalin-producing feeling that makes people want to rip off each other’s clothes when they first meet. But nearly a quarter of a century in—and two kids and a mortgage later—it’s clear to me that love is also a choice you have to make every single day.

TIME Love & Relationships

What Men Share on Social Media But Not With You

Couple on sofa watching television together
Blend Images—Hill Street Studios/Getty Images/Vetta

They won't express their thoughts to you in person, but they'll shout it to their hundreds of Facebook friends and Twitter followers

Here’s a scenario you might recognize if you’re a woman dating a social media butterfly: You’re sitting on the couch together silently watching TV. When you take a moment to peek at your Twitter feed, you see your significant other has been sharing a stream of personal thoughts about House of Cards with the Twitterverse—even though he hasn’t uttered a word to you.

It’s no surprise that men tend to be more tight-lipped than women about their thoughts and feelings, but social media is creating a haven for some men to express themselves online in ways they don’t in person—and never would have before. From a relationship perspective, that can be a good and bad thing. Women can now turn to social media to get more insight into what their partners think, but where’s the intimacy in that when those feelings are also being broadcast to hundreds of Facebook friends and thousands of Twitter followers?

Recent data from Pew Research Center suggests that social media is making its way into relationships more than ever, with 74% of couples surveyed saying the Internet has impacted their relationship in a good way. Women are more likely than men to use social media, with 71% of women participating compared with 62% of men, according to the latest report from Women’s Media Center. However, what psychologists and researchers find especially interesting is that, while women are equally willing to share the the thoughts they spew out into the digital ether with someone face to face, men are much less likely to do the same.

Eva Buechel, a PhD candidate at the University of Miami who has studied why people share content online, has found that men and women who experience social anxiety, and therefore have a greater need to express their negative emotions and seek support, are equally likely to maintain a blog or social media account. However, “while socially apprehensive females share equally across different communication channels—face to face or microblog—males seem to show a very strong preference for microblog,” Buechel says. Introverts also find it easier to share their thoughts online than in person.

Other research from Northwestern University shows that men are increasingly more likely to share their creative work, like writing, music, or art, online. Nearly two-thirds of men in a 2008 study said they post their work online, compared with only half of the women who reported posting.

Females, of course, are well versed at expressing their feelings. “Women usually have close and intimate friendships, which might make it easy to approach a friend when they need to talk to someone,” says Buechel. “Men have different relationships with their friends, and they might find it more difficult to approach someone in particular to talk to when they need someone to listen or comfort them.”

Such friendship dynamics can contribute to men feeling more apprehensive about expressing themselves when it comes to real, rather than digital, life. “When men are texting, emailing, or communicating through another technological channel, they feel less threatened and are more likely to share their thoughts and feelings because they don’t have to deal with the reaction from the other person in-person, in real-time,” says Dr. Seth Meyers, a Los Angeles psychologist.

That’s one reason Avidan Ackerson, 28, a software engineer in New York with three different Twitter accounts, tends to share more personal things on Twitter than he does on Facebook. “I don’t necessarily always want someone who knows me well to know things about me, but I want someone to know these things,” he says.

Ben*, 28, who works in commercial real estate finance in New York City and tweets as much as 50 times a day, has yet to reveal his Twitter handle to the woman he’s been dating for a month, even though he tweeted about their first date shortly after it happened. “It’s not something I am embarrassed to share, but it’s a level of intimacy we have not yet achieved in real life,” he says. And it will probably be months before they become Facebook friends.

“Connecting online offers men the illusion of security, even though it often causes frustration later among their dates who are wondering, ‘Why is he different and more closed when we’re actually together?’” Meyers says.

Though frustrating for women who prefer face to face communication with their mates, social media may offer a halfway point. “Men are not very good communicators,” says Michael Busby, 47, a system programmer and lecturer at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky, and an avid blogger. “When we get frustrated, we really start to break down. There are times when [I get overwhelmed in the classroom], I start to stutter. I have to calm down. But a controlled environment encourages us to have more confidence.”

Jessica Riches, 23, a social media consultant in London says her boyfriend, who tweets constantly, is pretty good at communicating. But visiting his Twitter page and seeing everything from his day-to-day activities to his thoughts and feelings can make her feel closer to him as well. “I look at it more regularly [when] I miss him and wonder what he’s up to.”

Still, for a woman from Venus and a man from Mars, there’s something frustrating about a man’s willingness to communicate with thousands of people—some friends, some strangers—in a way he can’t seem to do with the person lying right next to him in bed.

*Name has been changed for privacy.

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