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Marriage and the Halo Effect


When I went to my local bike shop here in Ames recently I was talking to the sales guy and boasted a tad I’d lost 20 pounds since I’d bought my new bike from him earlier that summer.  He wasn’t surprised and congratulated me.  Then I told him a key for me was cutting back on soda and that I was drinking a ton of water.  I told him I probably ate better, too, when I drank water.  He said, “That’s the Halo Effect.”

“What’s the Halo Effect?”  I asked.

He said, “You know,” and he put his hands above his head to make a halo, “like an angel.  When you improve one thing it tends to snowball into other areas of your life.”

What a cool concept.  I agreed with the bike guy on health and I immediately thought of the positive affect just one improvement to your marriage can make.  Since then I’ve been ruminating and looking back on my clients in my mind’s eye, trying to remember clients that made one little improvement in their marriage and it had a halo effect where it led to many positive changes in a very short time.  Here’s the most common and memorable ones:

1.  Changing how you think:  The ancient proverb says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” and if you think negatively about your spouse (or your child! or mother-in-law!) that will affect how you treat your spouse.  After discussing this concept with a couple married over 25 years that was headed toward divorce, one lady told me of a dramatic change, just in one day.  She said her husband came up to her to tell her something, and she said, “I immediately wrote him off negatively in my head.  And then I remember what you said and thought it wasn’t fair for me to think so badly about him.  He hadn’t even told me yet what he was thinking.  So I gave him the benefit of the doubt and was nice to him and we’ve been nice to each other ever since.”  Good for her.

2.  Cuddling in bed:  “The marriage bed is undefiled”, the ancient writer to Hebrews said, but you’d be amazed how many couples I see don’t even sleep together, let alone cuddle when they sleep. I guess you can’t cuddle unless you are in the same bed, so that would be a first priority, to get back into the same bed together.  For heaven sakes, you 3-year old doesn’t need momma or daddy sleeping with him or her.  They need to learn to comfort themselves.  Your heart needs the warmth of your spouse next to you much more.  The marriage bed is not only undefiled, it is symbolic.  If you aren’t in the same bed, or there’s the Grand Canyon between you and your spouse in your bed, you are non-verbally saying to each other you want nothing to do with your spouse.  Is that the message you want to send?  You are sending it whether your want to or not.  And don’t give me all these excuses why you can’t.  There are myriads of them.  Every one will cause your heart to grow cold and the tenderness between you and your spouse to turn to ice.  You’ll have only yourself to blame, though.  Sorry.  Please.   You don’t have to cuddle all night.  Put your bodies together and have a little pillow talk and just relax.  You’ve heard of brief therapy?  This is the briefest there is.  The couple starts cuddling again and all of a sudden they don’t need therapy anymore.

3. Stop the divorce threats:  I estimate in 80% of the couples I see one or the other has made a threat or veiled threat to divorce (e.g. “I can’t take this anymore.” “You think I’m gonna live like this?”  “I’m done.”) and for some of them, they’ve done this hundreds of times.  Hundreds of times?  How am I supposed to give you my heart if you keep pulling the lawyer card?  No way, man.  I’m going to withdraw from you so it won’t hurt so bad when you leave!  I’ll start preparing myself for the reality of you not being there.  I’ll start fantasizing what it’d be like to have to come and pick up the kids and to sleep alone and to not have as much money and to date again.  You want me thinking about that kind of stuff?  One of my most common interventions is to suggest to couples they stop immediately and for the rest of their marriage, the threats to commitment.  Boom!  Just like that.  Some couples, the moment they quit throwing around the D word, they start to connect again.  You’d be amazed.  Imagine a football player telling his coach if this or that doesn’t happen he’s quitting .  The coach would say, there’s the door.  And that’s just a football team.  Marriage is much more sacred.  You started a new family on your wedding day.  Don’t make light of it.

4. Greeting at the end of the day:  How many marriages have died due to simple rudeness.  It is rude to come home at the end of the day and not greet your spouse with a kiss and/or hug and a little eye contact and a little “miss yous” and “nice to see yous”.  Come on, people!  Really.  You wouldn’t ever do that to your children, right?  Think of this:  What message are you sending your spouse, your kids and your own heart if you give your kids a more enthusiastic greeting at the end of the day than you give your spouse?  This could be 15 seconds that could change your marriage, just like that.  You come home at the end of the day.  Your kids greet you.  You greet them back for a few seconds, a hug, a pat on the back, and then you say, “Let’s go find mommy” or “Let’s go find daddy.”  And then you go looking for your spouse and the two of you stop everything else for a moment and give each other a kiss.  You know, a real kiss.  One that says I missed you and I’m glad to be with you.  Check in with your spouse.  Make sure everything is Okay, and then go ahead and talk with your children.

I could go on, but these are some of the top Halo Effect behaviors my clients have reported to me have been very helpful in turning their marriages around.  One little change had a positive impact and led to other behavior and attitudinal changes that encouraged them both.

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