Tuesday, December 4, 2012


I know, I know. I'm SLOW on the posts lately. It's quite sweet to hear from those of you who miss them, though. My only excuse is actually a quite practical and fabulous one, I'd say: the life of an involved mom and partner co-raising two teens is, well, quite involved. The good news: it's also a quite lovely time of life and I'm enjoying every nutty moment. Okay, I just lied. I don't enjoy every moment. But, probably about 94% of them. Not bad. But not good when you're wanting to be an active blogger and sharer-of-happy-relationship-knowledge.

But, let's get to the point. This happy post is best made - and rather quickly too - by simply quoting an email from a student and received two days ago. Why it made this happy-couple-researcher-author quite delighted is, well, self-evident:

Dr. Bruess, 

I am excited to tell you what happened over thanksgiving weekend. I have been babysitting for this wonderful family for years. It is a family of six and they have the most beautiful children with so much talent, and you can literally feel the love and warmth in their home. The mom inspires me because she is so put together and on top of things and I know she works very hard at her marriage and for her kids. Anyways, I was babysitting overnight and _______ (the mom) insisted I sleep in her bed and she laid out all this blissful bath stuff so I could relax, just so adorable. Then on her bed stand was your book "What Happy Couples Do." I wasn't the least bit surprised that she read the book because she and [her husband] are clearly a happy couple. 

The moral of the story? Take the time to send nice emails of little moments to those in your life you adore, appreciate and love. I'm not saying this student adores, appreciate and loves me. But ... well ... it's quite nice to receive such a note (and, speaking from experience, sending them is even better)!

And if those emails you create and send happen to be about the secrets, moments and stories of happy couples, be sure to 'cc me too. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sew Sweet

What do happy couples do?

I'm not ever fully sure, but I think I saw yet another glimpse of it last week, and in my basement no less. (multicolor thread image from thecraftysister.files)

While I typically don't like to make the happy couples blog a feature about me and my pal (the two middle-aged, midwesterners going on 21 years of a mundane but happy marriage), I can't stop thinking about this little moment last week, one which reveals what I think is a tiny yet grand part of the happy couple equation, at least for us.

While I was doing something I LOVE to do -- sew and design vintage-inspired clothing -- while preparing for a big event being held at our university (for some reason they invited me to be the emcee as we announced a $515 million capital campaign success - oh, wow!), my sweet spouse was spied out of the corner of my eye observing my late-night and early-morning stitching, cutting, ripping of seams, steaming, pressing, re-stitching and fitting.

"Watching you sew makes me happy" he said.

Wow. I didn't know that. Or, actually, I think I did. Did I?

I guess I did, as I thought about it, because what typically makes me happy is what makes him happy. And vise versa (him: jiggin' for walleye & hangin' with his dad and mine).  But I guess I sort of forgot. Yet I didn't and I do always know as much deep down. But even so, it was his verbal acknowledgement-of-admiration that reminded me, as well as built and warmed me up, last week ... and is still well into this one.

What if we all had such a command of how to "amplify the other," the beautiful words of Dr. Tom Faase, our late friend and mentor featured in a blog post once upon a time here at WHCD?

Magic, I say. In my case, sew very magical: that my spouse adores my favorite hobby and seeing me practicing it! [Photo of the finished product, under the bright stage lights, here]:

photo by University of St. Thomas photographers

Sew (so!), here's the question for you: Might you shift your thinking (and your language) toward appreciating and acknowledging something your sweet partner or even friend does, loves or appreciates ... just because it is indeed what she/he does, loves or appreciates? And you must do so for no other reason than it is what it is, and nothing more or less. That kind of simplicity, indeed, is what's magical about being in a relationship.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ridiculous. Or Not? That's not the POINT.

As a marriage researcher as well as communication professor, I'm forever attempting to keep up with the latest research, as well as cultural conversations about my two favorite topics. Yes, you know them: "Happy" and "Couple!" No big news there, I know.

Some of the most intriguing articles I find are those posted by the CCF (Council on Contemporary Families) from major news outlets around the country. They highlight the research and thinking of the best couple/family/marriage scholars in the world, citing CCF-members' work, scholarship and smart (almost always) thoughts about all-things family and relationships.

Today I was reading an article published in the New York Times last week. Yep - I'm way behind in life (hence why I haven't been posting much lately; sorry loyal readers!) As I read the piece, I scratched my head and furrowed my brow (or do you furrow both brows?) Anyway, my brows were doing something as I tried to discern the key question of the piece: would making marriage a 20-year (or even shorter-year) contract result in happier partnerships?

Before I read the article I wanted to say (scream. Okay, I wanted to yell a bit): WHAT? That's SO dumb!

But as I read, I realized that while the concept might be odd and altogether outright ridiculous, the point of both researchers and everyday folks alike trying to figure out happiness in coupledom is that ... duh ... we really do want to figure it out (how to be happy and how to be a great couple). We do! And maybe some day we will. 

Until then, give this article "Till Death, or 20 Years, Do Us Part" by Matt Richtel a read
Till Death, Or 20 Years, Do Us Part by Matt Richtel and while you do ... whether you think it's a ridiculous, dumb idea or a really innovative approach to an old institution ... simply vow to stay in the conversation! 

The point of the contracts and "ridiculous" suggestions and new/old models and even good-old-fashioned controversies about couple-hood is that we do, essentially, want to collectively figure this stuff out. We do, I believe, want to figure the happy couple stuff out so we can all get it right.

I know, right? That, dear friends and strangers, is a really good idea. Period. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Happy Couples in Japan?

Continuing the "Quiet" post of last week ...

I was, of course, quite curious and asked many questions about the state of "happy couples" when in Japan. Ironically - or not - an article appeared in The Japan Times shortly after our arrival ("The Truth about Japanese Love: We just don't get along" by Karori Shoji, June 18, 2012) and revealed the perspectives of at least one Japanese woman/journalist who says that there is wide unhappiness between men and women in modern Japanese relationships. 

Not my photo, unfortunately, but found at http://japanese.lingualift.com/Check out their site for simple explanations of Japanese customs and traditions.Loved reading, of course, about Valentine's Day in Japan, includingthe giri-choco (義理チョコ), or “obligatory chocolates."
She argues "Generally … Japanese women and men prefer to stick to their own genders," citing that her grandfather even used to say "that men and women should sit at the same table no more than once a week, because it led to bickering and stress." Hmmm. Interesting advice. I hear a little Dialectical Theory in there, yes? 

Shoji cites a long history of women not appreciating many of the qualities/ways/traditions of "Japanese men" going back to the first samurai to set up a shogunate who, according to historians and sociologists, was no match - despite his conniving and calculating ways - for his wife who was the ultimate victor over him and his wealth/success. As a result of women's and men's contempt/distrust/dislike of each others' ways much of the time (my paraphrase), she says women in Japan have been finding many ways to distance themselves from men. For example, an obvious/contemporary example are women-only train cars. Other examples manifest in daily practices, usually ones that are not at all subtle and reflect the gender separations of men/women in Japan: "women's" menus and feminine hotel satchels given to female guests, containing items of interest to women, of course, to comfort, beautify, and pamper. 

We didn't get to take photos of the wedding we saw,
but it looked a whole lot like this one which I
found using my handy google machine
Despite the news that men and women don't like/love one another according to this one article, I have asked as often as I can - casually among friends/acquaintances/hosts in Japan and before I left and after I've returned - about love/marriage in Japan. The word on the street (real scientific, I know) is that women have quite a bit of power ... mostly because most women manage ALL finances of the family. Such is a tradition that continues to this day in, as I've discerned, almost all Japanese families. 

Anyway, so much more to learn and explore. We did get a pretty cool peek at a wedding taking place at a Shinto shrine during one of our class excursions, and also observed a couple getting their wedding photos taken - they wore traditional wedding kimono - in Japanese central garden/park in Tokyo. Cool! And quite beautiful, both of those occasions. 

My naive perspective: happy couples everywhere have struggles, and some find great joy, but always with work.

Friday, August 17, 2012

We were with some friends

So ... yesterday we visited some friends who live out of state and have, what we’ve already and often observed, is a deeply happy marriage. It’s not just a delightful, joy-filled partnership; it’s also a long-term one of over 40 years.

While we don’t know them as intimately as friends we might have known for decades, it felt fully okay over dinner and some delightful pinots last evening to plainly ask: “What would you say to a couple who desires your type of happiness in marriage? What’s your deal?”

“He’s my hero."

I’ll call her Julia and she didn’t hesitate for even a moment to describe her admiration for what her best friend and partners is, has become, does, and represents. She wasn’t talking about his work, although his vocation is unquestionably admirable too … fully selfless.

“And she is mine.”

I’ll call him James, who was quickly and fully as sincere and authentic as they both are about life, love, relationships … of all kinds. So much evidence of such, all around them.

My dear pal/partner/spouse and I drove to where we were staying that night. Yep, that’s what we keep hearing from the happy couples, and yet again this night: It's the amplification of the other (indeed, the idea resonates from a post from long ago, thanks Dr. Faase), deep admiration (not fake – totally real), and full respect of who the other is, will be, has journeyed, is becoming, will yet grow to embody.

Neat. Period.

And another great lesson from a wildly, in-their-element, just darn full-of-life happy couple.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Quiet (静かな)

The Happy Couple Blog has been oddly quiet this summer, hasn’t it? Wassup with that, sista? I know, right?

Mostly, it was a month of teaching and traveling in Japan with a dozen students, my own kids, my spouse and my pal/assistant instructor Chie. Whew. The journey was … so many of you have kindly asked? In a single, often-overused word: INCREDIBLE. And fabulous. And amazing. And, well, life-changing (for my kids, and hopefully the students too).

But it surely and unexpectedly threw me off the blogging-track. While the bullet trains were always dizzyingly swift, my recovery from jet lag time was nothing of the sort. But the upside is that the quiet of the post-Japan weeks has allowed needed and fruitful reflection time about many of life’s quirky ways, especially what we loud and talkative happy couples of the West might learn from the more quiet Japanese ways of the East.

While the communication and interaction style in Japan is – don’t get me wrong – not all about being quiet, hushed or low-in-vocal-volume, it is for sure guided by the cultural urgency to always preserve wa平和 (harmony). And I mean always: in every context and interaction. What a cool concept, wa. Often it’s simply the shhhhhh … the being a bit more quiet … the non-disturbance of others.  But more than that, wa is a deeply-ingrained way of living, being, and doing, well, everything you do. Preserving wa seems it would be a natural no-brainer goal for us happy couples, right? Right! It surely resonates most loudly in my overly-talkative, busy U.S. American brain, something we can attempt to apply here, borrowing from the experiences and approaches of couples and individuals there.  

The Japanese widespread practice of, and high value placed on gaman, is an intriguing wa manifestation. Gaman? Some say it defies translation. I learned it as calm forbearance and grace, especially in the face of adverse situations or events. Essentially, gaman knows the answer: “Why bother others with your emotions or burden them with your needs?” Gaman is deeply instilled in the Japanese from the time you are born; you must always carry on with grace; with quiet perseverance; and with poise. Gambaru: to do your best. To be strong. (Oh, and to do so without having to talk about it, yell about it, let everyone know about it, or to scream, kick and grumble your way through it).

While gaman is a manifestation of wa, an intriguing manifestation of gaman is one’s “honne” and “tatemae.” The unscholarly Wikipedia offers a tidy explanation: Honne and tatemae represent the contrast between a person's true feelings and desires (honne 本音) and the behavior/opinions one displays in public (tatemae 建前). It’s the substance and the form. It’s being direct versus being diplomatic. It’s the reason and the pretext.  
While some of us in the West might call tatemae deceptive, the impetus for tatemae is … duh … happiness. The goal is harmony. It’s the answer “nope” to the question “Do I need, right now, to burden you with my negative thoughts, comments and opinions?”

When I learned of honne and tatemae I immediately thought of the theoretical underpinnings grown out of research on U.S. relationship dynamics: good old Dialectical Theory. If you’ve been a long-time reader of the HC blog, you know what DT tells us about the beautiful messiness of healthy relationships. That we must forever manage the simultaneous but opposing needs for openness and closedness, revealing and concealing, and being close versus having a little “space.” Such are the needs that always pull. Such are unrelenting. And yet accepting them as normal and never completely “in balance” is a key to happy relationships in the long haul, according to DT.

So … gaman, honne and tatemae? Maybe they teach us that even here in a culture where we prize verbal expression and making sure we’re heard and felt, usually clearly and often loudly, maybe a slightly more Japanese approach is one of the keys to long-term happy coupledom? Could quieting our negative and critical thoughts open a space for seeing a moment, a movement, a partner’s actions more kindly and generously. Some say the Japanese have elevated tatemae to an art. I say that successfully navigating our relationships over decades is for sure a fine art, and always an un-finished practice. And learning when we should say what we’re thinking in any culture is, surely, a very high art. No, it’s not one I have mastered.
With that in mind, I’ll continue this post in a few days with more on what we happy couples can learn from Japanese couples. It’s a myth to think they have it all figured out and are all blissfully happy. Hold your sushi. For instance, later this week I’ll blog about an article that ran in The Japanese Times while we were in Tokyo: “The Truth About Japanese Love: We Just don’t get along.” Intriguing stuff.

Until then, arigatogozimasa for not giving up on the HC blog and for reading again! It’s great to be back at the keyboard! Yes, the exclamation points are my honne AND tatemae speaking! Woo! (Can one do both of those at once?) Who knows. If not, sumimasen, which means my apologies, sorry, excuse me, and/or forgive me. It also works when saying "thank you," so it's quite the handy word. While in Japan I used it every day, most of the day. One word and you’re good. Sweet! So that makes me think: what if we had a single, nimble, awesome word like that here in the U.S.? Probably, we’d have happier people and nicer relationships. There’s got to be a million-dollar happy couple idea in there somewhere, I know right? チャットしよ. Let’s chat.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Five Myths about Marriage

Did you see the Washington Post Opinion page last week by Stephanie Coontz, one of my favorite historians and experts on marriage? Well, never fear if you didn't, I've linked it below.

Who is Coontz? (that has a nice ring to it). Dr. Coontz is a professor of history and family studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA and Co-Chair and Director of Public Education at the Council on Contemporary Families, a non-profit, nonpartisan association of family researchers and practitioners based at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I like (appreciate and applaud - better words) Coontz's work for a number of reasons, mostly because she always bases her writing on great research, she seeks to disabuse the oft-held/wide-spread myths about family and marriage, and she usually summarizes the most contemporary scholarship on family/marriage in 10 seconds flat (I know ... I know ... I have a lot to learn from her). A big shout out to Stephanie Coontz here! And while you cheer, check out her latest article in the Washington Post:

Five Myths About Marriage by Stephanie Coontz in Washington Post http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/five-myths-about-marriage/2012/05/25/gJQAofiMqU_story.html

Monday, May 28, 2012

Yep ... it's a ritual

Yes, the family ritual strikes again, like it or not soon-to-be-driving-teenager.

Our son - 16 this weekend - says "NO WAY" to the family tradition (the rather large, obnoxious wanna-be-martha-stewart-door-ish-but-not-even-close sign announcing your age).

We say: "YES, WAY!" Like it.


Door sign on your birthday? Always.

Happy Birthday to our always "kid." Yes, you'll always be our little (not so - sad face - but super cool) first-born child.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What the heck?

I know, right? Where have the posts been? Sorry, loyal readers! So kind of you to write and inquire if everything's okay. Awwww.

And here's what I've said - with a smile, of course - to you who've noted an absence: The end-of-semester is for academics like tax-season must be for accountants. Invigorating! Nuts. Crazy. Thank goodness for it (lucrative?!) But amen that it is over. Exhale.

Thanks for logging back in and not losing faith in the What Happy Couples Do Blog. Amen for you, I say. Exhale. Repeat. Ahhhh.

A couple of (pun) things as I get back at it:

1. Okay, so I and my family are heading to Japan for part of the summer. I'm teaching study abroad. And my sweet 15 year old's response? "I don't like rice." Ugh. Anyway, expect some hopefully neat (I'm optimistic) observations about couples who are influenced by confucianism. Yay! Issues and cultural values of harmony 調和 ("Wa") consume me lately ... and will be my lens while in Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Kusatsu. While the course is about interpersonal and intercultural communication more generally, I have - no surprise - assigned a reading to my students titled "Intercultural Marriages in Japan:  Cultural Conflict and Harmony." We'll see. Might I discern significance for happier couples right here in the complicated U.S.? 絶対に Surely, right? My dear sweet hubby and I are going to be spending some much-anticipated time with his BFF (also named Brian) and his wife Yuka (+ their two cheeky Japanese wonders, age 4 and 6). I'm proposing to friend-Brian that we do a little research on rituals of connection in a Japanese context. He's got a Ph.D. in Japanese stuff and lives a cross-cultural marriage. I've got a degree in marriage stuff ... and I live a life of intense curiosity about why it's so dang fun -- yes, and hard -- to stay happily married for 72 years. Arigato gozimasa. Oh yea! (and oh so U.S. American to say as much, I know, right?).

2. Tonight at 5 p.m. I did a little (yes, real-time makes me nervous) live segment with Twin Cities' Fox 9 news, commenting on the much-publicized "relationship contract" issued between Mark Zuckerberg and his new wife Pricilla Chan. In a word: billion dollar idea, Pricilla! Why? But, of course, she basically was saying to billionaire husband: "I'm making our rituals of connection - our relationship -- a priority." Amen, I say. アーメン Watch, if you want (and yes, you have to watch the commercial first - be patient - but it's kind of funny anyway): http://www.myfoxtwincities.com/video?clipId=7321623&autostart=true

What do you think about the Mark-Pricilla contract?

In addition to what I said on camera: I think a contract of the "let's stay connected" sort is one that simply gets out front of the whole deal and says "I anticipate that it might get tough ... and I want it to work!"

But, honestly, what say you?

3. More blogs soon, promise. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

It all boils down to ...

... oh, if it were only so simple, right? If only we could say "Being a happy couple forever more" boils down to: a) lots of intimacy. Or b) sharing the housework and childcare duties equally. Or c) maintaining loving little rituals. Or d) having shared-friendships. Or e) not taking yourself too seriously. Or f) having a joint sense of purpose. While research would support your choice of a-f above, there is really no one, single, it all "boils down to" point for all happy couples (darn it, I know. If only ...). That said, I just had the really cool opportunity to host one of the best relationship researchers in the country at our university this past week. He studies relationships and intimacy over the lifespan, with a particular focus on older adulthood. Dr. Jon Nussbaum is his name, currently a Professor at Penn State, and author of 14 books, hundreds of studies on relationships and family dynamics, and keynote speaker this week at two events at which I had a front row seat (lucky me, I know, right?) And I learned this week that he's a really cool, nice guy, too. Great to meet you, Jon! I feel like I just made a neat new friend. While I could fill the pages of this blog with tidbits about his fascinating findings on brain health and relationships, marriage in the later years (hint: it can and typically gets WAY better ... when you look at it the right way), and how daughters and wives are really (with big emphasis on REALLY) good for men's longterm health and happiness, I was most struck by his discussion of one simple (I should put that word "simple" in quotes) communication strategy that will serve us well in almost every relationship situation - friendship, marriage, parenting, in-law relationships, aging parents and grandparents, family conflict, you name it. And this advice is coming from a guy who has collected so much data and done so many studies his vitae (academic resume) is as thick as the spring issue of InStyle Magazine.
How might we up our chances of enjoying intimacy, wellness, happiness and long-term healthy relationships? Find patience. Ugh - Dr. Nussbaum - why couldn't it be something easier? Like "Saying 'I'm sorry' more often" or "hugging" or "apologizing" or "laughing more." Those I can do. Right now! And fast. While each of those behaviors we do know - based on great data and much research - are also important for sustaining positive relationships over time, the much-waning art (and I do think patience is a bit art plus a bit training and a lot a bit of intention, and is a behavior becoming less and less common in the digital age) is under-estimated and under-valued. It's takes grace and practice to take a deep breath and not react, not attack, not tackle, not over-question, not over-think, not defend, and not respond too quickly nor assertively/aggressively (yes, those are two different things, but both should be held in check and applied carefully in relationships). Let me say all that more concisely: patience is king when navigating relationships, especially long-term relationships, the kind that take us through multiple stages of life. From a life-span perspective (Jon reminded me how key taking such a perspective is), we put front and center the reality that everything WILL change. And continues to change. And is forever changing. Sometimes we don't want it to, but it will. The good will change (darn it). The bad will change (whew). The neutral will change (hmmm). As such, and especially in moments or years of being annoyed or irritated with the people in our family and relationships we are supposed to love the most, we must: step back, get perspective, re-evaluate, look at an interaction/event/conversation from multiple sides, re-evaluate again, imagine multiple strategies and outcomes of how you might first like to "tackle" the issues ... and then maybe - just maybe, let a little time-passing be our friend. Nothing about healthy relationships can ever really be boiled-down, can it, to one simple truth or fact? That said, thanks Dr. Nussbaum for helping me think about yet another way to put all of our relationship research in perspective. With patience, almost anything is possible. Ommmm. Check out Jon's research and writing, if you want some more of his smart insights, here are a few places to start:

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Cash Mob Happy Couples at "i like you" in Minneapolis!

Oooooo ... this is going to be fun! One of our favorite local gift shops with one of my all-time favorite names ("i like you" - yes, that's their name) was voted to be the site of a Minneapolis CashMob this Saturday, April 14, Noon - 6 p.m.

Besides the fact that you will like (LOVE) everything at i like you - they feature all Minnesota artists - you might just be delighted to find a bunch of Happy Couple books, happy couple juice glasses, happy couples communicate well kits (oh, yes they do!), and happy couples "crave warmth" mugs. And might we mention i like you also features What Happy Parents Do books and What Happy Women Do books, and they're serving cookies - oh happiness!? Does it get any better?

It doesn't, so I know that me, my daughter and mom (she's coming to town this weekend and who, like me, loves to shop local), will be there! Will you? One-stop mother's day, wedding day, bridal shower, birthday shopping ... and supporting local business. A serious woo hoo for everyone.

i like you
small things for a prettier life...
501 1st Ave NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413

(Don't know about Cash Mob? Now's the perfect time (cashmob.com): "A cash mob brings community members together much like a flash mob; however, instead of the normal flash-mob activities, the cash mob storms the doors of a preselected mom-and-pop business that is often a cornerstone of a community and its history. Each mobber spend a previously agreed upon amount, usually $20.")

Saturday, March 31, 2012

DIY: Happy (new) couple (video)

One of my undergraduate students is doing a super cool research project: investigating how couples use Facebook and other social media tools to share the big news of their couple-lives. She's asking couples when/how/if they do so and how family and friends like (or not) digitally hearing things like "We're engaged!" and/or "We're having a boy!" and/or "We just bought a little brick bungalow" and/or "We're expecting quads!"

During her search for "what's up" in the academic literature on the topic as well as in the lives of couples around the country, she ran across a super creative DIY happy couple "status update" approach, featured last July as video of the week on the Brides Magazine (Brides.com) website. It is just too cute not to re-share here. CLICK HERE TO VIEW.

Maybe there's a new book idea in Joe and Emily's approach? What Happy Digitally-Savvy, Facebook-Using Couples Do. Okay, maybe not.

What is for sure: Joe and Emily, whoever you are, two thumbs up for your fresh start to your new life together. And as a thank you for making me giggle, here's an offer. Send me (carol@whathappycouplesdo.com) a little e-mail, I'll send you a gratis and personally inscribed copy of little old What Happy Couples Do! Let's see how many degrees of separation this blog post is from Emily and Joe of the Brides.com video. Ready, set ... let's find them (digitally, of course).

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Six years?! Wowza.

I sure like the New York Times. It teaches me stuff, every day, especially when the reporters are exploring my favorite topic: Happy couples, of course!

What did I learn by reading the March 2, 2012 article by Elizabeth Weil "Does Couples Therapy Work?" Well, first was less learning than it was affirming; I was absolutely right when I decided 20+ years ago to take a Ph.D. track in graduate school (becoming a researcher/professor) instead of the clinical track (becoming a therapist). I've always said and forever believe: "No way I'm skilled, smart nor brilliant enough to do therapy! Not even close!" Yes, that deserved two exclamation points. And I continue to say and believe with great exclamation: AMEN for those who can and do! I admire and shout you out every day. Read the entire Weil article (link here) and you'll know what I mean about their talents and necessary skill set (ninja like, indeed).

But the ah-ha moment in the article was a simple statistic. While I had heard it before, it continues to widens my eyes each time I see it again, captured in the following excerpt from Weil's article (p. 2 of 3 in the online version):

Still, the entire field of couples therapy suffers from a systemic problem. Couples often resist seeking help until they have been distressed for a long time. Brian D. Doss, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Miami, says the average couple is unhappy for six years before seeking couples counseling — at which point relationship problems are very difficult to fix. Thomas Bradbury, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, compares a troubled couple to a man with a broken leg. Seek help straight away and you’ll heal up just fine. Hobble around injured for months or years, and a full recovery becomes nearly impossible, as by that time, Professor Bradbury says, the therapist has to attend not only to the psychological equivalent of the broken bone “but also to the swelling and bruising, the sore hip and foot, and the infection that ensued.”

SIX YEARS. Does that shock anyone else?

So, my not-so-surprising and not-always-simple (I know, right?) advice for being a happy couple if you're not feeling like one often lately: Get help! Now. And keep looking if you don't find a therapist or counselor you like in your first hunt. Just like apples, there are a whole lot of varieties out there. Seeking third-party support is a sign of your incredible strength, not weakness. You'd get a cast, splint, x-ray ... CT scan, antibiotic, surgery ... suture, Rx, remedy ... for whatever pains you daily, right? Take care of your relationship with the same diligence and you'll feel great, or at least significantly better.

True story: I recently said to my happy husband: "Let's go see a marriage therapist so we can be an even happier couple!"

He looked at me like I had just just suggested cutting off the dog's leg. "WHAT ARE YOU THINKING WOMAN? We are as happy as it gets, mama bear!" (my nickname lately. I know - ewww). I reminded him about the apple a day. You know ... prevention .. proactive ... choices ... and then even cited some research.
He didn't bite. Probably because we really don't need it. That's true. But if we do, I'll be first in line to pick the right, talented, awesome, smart, caring, experienced therapist out there. For those of you who are out there pickin' and talkin' right now, I'm cheering for you.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Good to Remember

A few evenings ago I did a "What Happy Women Do" talk to a really hip and cool group of women, each connected to a hip and cool health organization in the Twin Cities. The attendees ranged in age from high school (the letter jacket gave it away) to an 85 year old (I learned her age when she volunteered it and some smart advice to all of us during the Q&A). Each woman was there to learn more about the profound connection between her physical and relationship health.

During the fun lecture (fun for me, I mean, to see people nodding, smiling and enjoying the stories of sisterhood, friendship and the importance of fulfilling connections both within and outside of our coupledom), I noticed a woman crying. She was visibly touched, it was clear, by the story I had just read: "Remembering Cathe," story #6 in What Happy Women Do. I love the story for many reasons, partly because it's brilliantly written by the woman who shared it; partly because it reminds us to have great friendships and salute them, always; partly because we all can relate to mystery, laughter and loss.

I share it again below to remind all of us happy-couple-readers to make sure we round out our couple-ness with great friendships. Research shows our social networks (not of the digital kind, the actual human kind) do significantly influence our marriages and partnerships.

Remembering Cathe

A little more than five years ago, a dear friend from college, Catherine, died after an on-again, off-again battle (she called it "inconvenient") with breast cancer for years. She was 49. Her little boy was 11. It broke our hearts.

Cathe had a way of collecting friends like some people collect coins. She polished all of us and scooped us together in a pile. Low and behold, we became friends, good friends who gather several times a year to flirt with Italian waiters, eat too much, and drink a bunch of wine. Sometimes we top it off with a forbidden cigarette, just because Cathe liked being a bit of a rebel.

After she died we had a tree planted in her honor on the campus of her alma mater, the College of St. Catherine. Each spring it boasts pink blooms, and a bench now graces the site, too. On July 31, the anniversary of her death, I sat there again, drinking in a kind of silence almost antithetical to Cathe's nature: She was Irish and never shut up, except sometimes in church, and even then she usually found something to whisper and giggle about.

As I sat there thinking about Cathe, I hoped there is, indeed, the afterlife to which we Christians cling. I have some good gossip I need to tell her and I need to feel again the special kind of exhaustion that endless laughter brings. I need her to tell me a story. I miss her "cackle."

Suddenly, my reverie was interrupted. Someone walking to his car after a campus summer music conference had burst into a perfect-pitch rendition of "Amazing Grace." Thanks, Cathe.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

a LOVE-ly little surprise today!

... appeared, totally unexpected and without warning, in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Sweet! You bet What Happy Couples Do is a top gift for Valentine's day if you want something for both the head and heart. Dang. I love these lovely little surprises (especially when they come in full color and in a large-ciculation newspaper! Yoo hoo!).

What do you have planned to surprise someone you love on Tuesday? I'd share what I have up my sleeve, but then it wouldn't be a surprise, would it? Whatever comes your way this week of intentionally expressing kindness, love and gratitude may it be colorful, wonderful and, well, all-around LOVEly.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Science of Love! (Is there one?)

First, smoochy-kissy thanks to all you fun blog fans who came to What Happy Couples Do Tuesday night! The crowd was 250+ strong and you, of course, were my favorite peeps in the whole group. Every one of you. Even though I don't necessarily know who you were. But in spirit, anyway, I was grateful that your happy faces were in the auditorium. Did you like?! Feedback is always useful for making improvements in future talks.
(Google.com image, Swanheart).

One of the topics I raised Tuesday - and have often in this blog - is the yet-to-be-fully-understood connections between our physiology, biology, hormonology (new word I just made up), anthropology (all of those sciences and more) and our relationships. So, the equation of Science + Love = ?? I want to know the answer ... I mean answers (plural, surely). It's a fascinating set of interdisciplinary questions that are quite intriguing, no, if we're considering ALL of the variables for creating/sustaining happy couples?

Today one of my favorite neuropsychologist colleagues - Roxanne - sent me a live chat link hosted on Science Magazine's webpage called "The Science of Love." Okay, fascinating stuff here. Take a look. Why not then comment on the most fascinating thing you learned? We can start our own little 'love-chat' about the science of happy couples, eh?


Monday, February 6, 2012

Your EXCLUSIVE and last-minute invitation to a What Happy Couples Do Talk - in St. Paul - Feb 7!

"Honey, I just read on the Happy Couple Blog that one of the authors is doing a happy couple talk at the University of St. Thomas tomorrow night! (Feb 7, 2012 from 7-8:30 p.m., OEC auditorium). We should go ... make it a date! Fun, eh?"

"Well .. hmmm ... um ... I dunno. I kind of wanted to just be home tomorrow night. You know. Relax. It's a Tuesday. Let's just watch TV or sit side-by-side on our laptops and pretend that we are enjoying each other's company."

"Silly. No! We can do that every other night. But we have this really cool opportunity to hear the author of that cute book with the belly button fuzz story and the bare-chested hugs. It will be lively, interesting, funny, and inspiring! We could go and get all jazzed and educated about being an even happier couple than we already are!"

... "And on the blog I read that if I mention that I saw the invitation on the WHCD blog, we get in FREE! There are already over 200 people registered and they all had to pay $15 each to attend. Seriously - this is a deal. An hour of free knowledge about YOU and ME. Screamin' deal, I say. Let's go!"

"Well ... hmmm ... um ... okay. If you insist. But only if you promise not to raise your hand and share our cute little nicknames, okay my little twizzler?"

"Promise! And you have to agree to hold my hand during the talk so we can really tune into each other and all of the great, most contemporary research on how we can be a happy, happy, giddy, crazy-happy couple. K?"

"Yes, sugarlumps. I will"

WHCD blog Readers: as a thank you for reading this blog loyally, you were just invited to attend the What Happy Couples Do lecture I've agreed to do tomorrow night and am - gulp - being told is selling tickets like crazy. Looking like 225 or more in attendance, oh my! But no ticket needed for you. Just walk up, mention to the nice lady named Susan at the door that you read this invitation on the Happy Couple Blog, and walk right in for free (it's on me). Then commence to enjoy the surely-interesting and always-engaging lecture (I'm saying that out loud, hoping it will then happen! Positive psychology, I think it's called).

Come. Participate. Enjoy (I pray!) There will be beverages, sweets and books for sale after.

If you hate the talk, just smile and pretend you don't, okay honey-pumpkin-sugar-face-cup-cake-blog-reading-pals-of-mine? Sometimes we happy couple-types just need to fake it until we can make it. Right on.

Oh, and if you can't get your date or mate to join you, no problem. There will be much to learn about becoming a better member of your couple-team. Promise! Come one, come in twos, just come!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Hey, Sugar

If I've said it to an undergraduate student once I've said it, oh, probably 18x100 times lately: the future of studying marriage/couples/relationships is in figuring out the intimate connections between our physiology (heart rate, cortisol, adrenaline, blood sugar ... all that) and how we respond/talk/yell/scream/get defensive/smile/use kind words. You know, how we "communicate." (That word always makes it sound so simple - like it's just one thing. So not true, right?)

There's some super interesting research, for instance, going on about the stress hormones in kids' bodies when they hear their parents fighting. And we've written in this blog, so many times, about the superstar Gottman research program, some of which investigates just these kinds of connections between flooding and stonewalling ... emotion and word choice ... stress hormones and saying things like "You're a big loser!" (not recommended)

Then today I read an interesting report on a recent study. (I haven't yet read the original report; am looking for it!) Here's the quick summary of the researchers apparently found:

- 50 couples
- each removed all processed sugar in their diets
- number of conflicts between the couple decreased by 86%


Of course. Sugar: it makes us feel good. But what goes up (blood sugar and mood) must come down (blood sugar ... and our willingness to think of the nice, soft way to express irritation when she leaves crumbs to harden in the sink or he takes an unsavory tone with the dog).

When couples took the step of taking something so common (cookies, soda, crackers, white bread) out of the equation, something quite stunning happened: they were calmer. And they got along better. Who would have thunk (my kids like that word), though, that the results would be so dramatic. Not me, I'll admit.

I'm no MD nor nutritionist, so I'll await further reading to share or say more.

What I can say is this: a couple friend of mine once shared a great rule they have in their marriage. Before arguing, both people must eat something. It makes more sense now.

Want to be a happy couple? It appears you need to move over, sugar.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Oh yea, it's Hot Mama!

In my email inbox last night, oh yea, was a message from the founder of the 22-stores across 11 states Hot Mama.

What did she say? Oh, just that they have ordered What Happy Couples Do for ALL of the their 22 stores to be sold and beautifully displayed at their cash wraps.

Why? Because they saw the lovely connection between their mission ("Empowering Moms") and how our happy little couple book, as Megan the founder wrote, "... reminds us of the importance of nurturing relationships with our spouses, even after we become moms."

Oh yea! Right on, sister.

I love Hot Mama. And in the interest of full disclosure, I felt that before they found our books.

SHOUT! Squeal. YAY! Hot.

P.S. the books will arrive and be displayed, it sounds, in about a week. Oooo ... we sure love Valentine's Day here in happy couple land.