6 Simple Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship

School is almost back in session, you’re running your kids around for activities, you’re trying to make time for yourself, and the list of to-dos goes on and on. Having children is great, but about 67% of new parents experience a drop in marital satisfaction after a new birth of a child (Shellenbarger, 2005). So, with so many things going on, what can you do to nourish your relationship with your spouse?

Seeking to connect is incredibly beneficial but it can be daunting to try and find time to do so. However, creating moments of connection does not have to be a huge part of your to-do list and can be done through very simple means.

Here are 6 simple ways to start strengthening your relationship:

1. Set aside time together.

Spending time together is important in building any connection. As your family grows, the time you can spend with your partner seems to decrease. You can make this priority by setting aside 20 minutes each day just for the two of you, no distractions. You may want to schedule a weekly date night so you can leave the house and spend one-on-one time together. Creating moments just for the two of you can make such a world of difference (Abreu-Afonso et al., 2022).

2. Make ordinary things feel more special.

You can make ordinary things special by using them as a vessel to help you spend time together. Maybe you can weed the garden together or you can help your partner work on the car (Harris et al., 2016).

3. Find a hobby or interest that you both can get on board with.

Planning time to invest in a hobby together can help you find another avenue through which you can spend time together alone (Tenginkai et al., 2017).

4. Remind yourself that no family or relationship is perfect.

Every person you know has gone through some sort of stressor in their personal and family lives. It’s important to remember you aren’t the only one who may struggle (Tenginkai et al., 2017).

5. Take time to remember and talk about special moments in your relationship.

Take time to reminisce on all the good memories you have. Share those memories with your partner (Abreu-Afonso et al., 2022).

6. Be kind to each other and express love for each other in front of your children.

Expressing love can be as simple as complimenting the breakfast your partner made. Doing so in front of your children helps them see how others should be treated. It also helps your partner feel appreciated (Harris et al., 2016). 

Try taking a few minutes out of each day to work on a few of these simple methods. Be patient with yourself and your partner and look for results over time.


Abreu-Afonso, J., Ramos, M. M., Queiroz-Garcia, I., & Leal, I. (2022). How Couple’s Relationship Lasts Over Time? A Model for Marital Satisfaction. Psychological Reports, 125(3), 1601–1627. https://doi.org/10.1177/00332941211000651

Harris, V. W., Bedard, K., Moen, D., & Álvarez-Pérez, P. (2016). The Role of Friendship, Trust, and Love in Happy German Marriages. Marriage & Family Review, 52(3), 262–304. https://doi-org.dist.lib.usu.edu/10.1080/01494929.2015.1095268

Shellenbarger, Sue. “Not in Front of the Kids: Documenting The Emotional Toll of Parental Tension.” Wall Street Journal – Eastern Edition, vol. 245, no. 122, 23 June 2005, p. D1. EBSCOhost, https://search-ebscohost-com.dist.lib.usu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=asn&AN=17399009&site=ehost-live.

Tenginkai, G. S., Chadha, N. K., & Sharma, C. B. (2017). How to maintain a strong marital bond? Indian Journal of Health & Wellbeing, 8(9), 1093–1095.

By Hannah Butler, Extension Intern Cindy Jenkins, USU Extension Assistant Professor

Three Tips for Preventing Injury in the Yard and Garden

Whether you’re a weekend gardener or spend time in the dirt daily, you have probably experienced working too hard and feeling sore. Soreness can stem from exerting a new or weak muscle, and it subsides after a few days. But pain that lingers can occur from overworking or doing something incorrectly. These types of injuries can be serious, such as a rotator cuff injury, or they can be a repetitive strain injury (RSI), which occurs in muscles, tendons, and nerves in hands, wrists, shoulders, elbows, knees, and lower back. These injuries are caused by doing the same movement for an extended period and can lead to pain or weakness.

 Consider these tips to prevent injuries and minimize pain while gardening.

1. Adapt the garden. Create a garden that promotes healthy posture, movement, and maintenance. Incorporate raised beds and vertical gardens to avoid hunching over and kneeling. Carefully place stepping stones, pottery, and other gardening hardscapes so you can work around them without twisting, over-reaching, or pulling.

2. Adapt the tools. Use tools that are appropriate for the job and that fit your abilities. Tools with ergonomic handles and attachments provide a comfortable grip and help keep the wrist straight. Rakes and shovels with height-appropriate handles help you maintain a straight back and avoid hunching over.

3. Adapt yourself. Be prepared, and use safe movements.

  • Wear comfortable, breathable clothing and closed-toed shoes with ankle support. Even if it’s cloudy outside, wear sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses if needed.
  • Drink water before, during, and after gardening. Start out hydrated, drink every 15-20 minutes while gardening, then drink after to replace what you may have lost through sweat. 
  • Keep your tools and other essentials (trash bags, water bottle, cell phone, snacks, etc.) in a bucket or cart nearby while you work.
  • Work during cooler times of the day, and break tasks into shorter activities. If possible, avoid gardening for more than 1.5 hours at a time. 
  • Change tasks every 20 minutes to use alternate muscles and intensities (e.g., change from standing to kneeling). Remember to take breaks to stretch your muscles and hydrate.
  • Engage your leg muscles rather than your arms and back when lifting, carrying, setting items down, changing directions, and moving back and forth (e.g., raking and shoveling).
  • When working low to the ground, kneel rather than crouching or squatting, and use a foam mat or knee pads. Kneel on one knee while keeping the other foot on the ground for support. This helps avoid hunching while keeping your back straight. Alternate legs every few minutes. 
  • Stretch before, during, and after gardening. Gardening is a physical activity, so treat it like any other exercise. Warm up your muscles first, then as you take breaks, stretch the used muscles. At the end, do whole-body stretches.

The more you practice safety in the garden, the more it becomes part of your routine and the less likely you will be to experience soreness and pain.

Six Tips for Planning Menus around Farmers Market Selections

 Farmers markets are known for offering an ever-changing variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Although variety is a benefit of shopping at local farmers markets, it can be difficult and overwhelming to come up with a menu for the week without knowing what will be available at the market. Being flexible allows you to choose the produce that looks the best and is offered at the best price. Below are tips for planning meals around the unpredictable availability at farmers market.

            1. Reverse your menu planning schedule. Shop at the market first, then build a menu for the week based on what you purchased. This will ensure that you use what you bought, which will reduce food waste.

            2.  Plan the non-vegetable portion of your meals, then add the vegetable part after seeing what looks best at the market.

            3.  Have a general sense of when different fruits and vegetables are usually in season. Plan your menu with at least two options, then buy the one that is offered at the best price.

            4. Bring your menu to the market. If there is something that looks great, but isn’t in your plan, revise your menu on the spot to incorporate it.

            5.  Include a few meals in your menu that use a variety of produce such as stir-fry, soups, or omelets.

            6. Be open to making last-minute changes to your favorite recipe. Consider these fruits and vegetables that work well as substitutions.

Recipe calls for Try this instead
Apples Pears, grapes, cherries
Beets Radishes, turnips, rutabaga, potatoes
Blueberries Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, pitted cherries
Broccoli Cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts
Cucumbers Zucchini, celery
Zucchini Yellow squash, patty pan squash, eggplant
Potatoes Carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, rutabaga, turnips
Spinach Kale, Swiss chard, bok choy
Onions Shallots, leeks, scallions
Peaches Nectarines, plums, pears

By: Heidi LeBlanc, Utah State University Extension Home and Community Department director, Heidi.leblanc@usu.edu and Casey Coombs, Create Better Health assistant director, casey.coombs@usu.edu

Opioid Facts for Parents

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioids are the most commonly misused drugs by Americans over age 14. Opioids can be natural, such as heroin; semi-synthetic, such as oxycodone; and synthetic, such as fentanyl. Opiates, including morphine, heroin, and codeine, are opioids from natural plants.

Opioids bind to receptors in the brain that help relax the body and dampen pain signals. In addition to lessening pain, opioids can make a person feel relaxed, euphoric, and “high.” However, they can also cause dizziness, constipation, nausea, and slowed breathing. When opioid levels are too high, breathing can slow to the point that an overdose occurs. In 2019, 12 people in Utah died every week from an opioid overdose.

Consider these commonly asked questions parents have regarding opioids.

Q. What are street names for opioids?

A. Several street names include happy pills, OC, oxy, oxycotton, percs, vikes, and fentanyl (a synthetic opioid 50–100 times more potent than morphine).

Q. Why do teens misuse opioids?

A. Teens misuse opioids for various reasons, some of which they may not even realize.
Reasons can include: a negative coping strategy (self-medicating), an escape from problems to avoid facing them, pressure to fit in, lack of confidence or self-worth, lack of correct information, knowledge regarding consequences, and an act of rebellion.

Q. Should I allow my doctor to prescribe opioids for my child? 

A. Opioids can be safely prescribed for youth under 18 for surgery or significant injuries. However, it is important to ask the prescribing physician about risks and possible alternatives such as heating pads, ice packs, or over-the-counter pain medications. 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions to help determine if opioids are necessary for your child. Some may include: 1) Do most patients experience low, moderate, or severe pain after the procedure?

2) What are non-opioid methods that can treat pain after the procedure? 3) If we have unused opioid medication, where can we safely dispose of it?

Q. How can I be prepared in case there is an emergency?

A. Overdoses are the number one injury cause of death in Utah, so it’s important to 

have a plan in place. Include the Utah Poison Control number (800-222-1222) on all family members’ cell phones. If anyone in your household is taking prescription opioids or using illicit opioids such as heroin, make sure to have naloxone (Narcan®) in your home. Naloxone can safely reverse an opioid overdose short-term so a patient can access emergency services. It is available from your pharmacy, physician, or health department. 

Q. How can I prevent opioid misuse in my family?

A. According to youth.gov, there are two key factors surrounding opioid dependency: risk factors and protective factors. A risk factor is a biological, psychological, family, or community characteristic that can bring about negative outcomes. Protective factors are those things that can reduce the negative impact of a risk factor. 

Building strong family connections is a key protective factor. Let your children know you value their safety. Provide tools to help them make healthy decisions, including meditating, establishing boundaries, and asking for support. Set aside time when your child has your full attention and can feel comfortable discussing problems. Be involved in your child’s life, and help him or her feel a connection with you. 

Though opioid misuse is a concerning topic, the positive news is that teenagers in Utah are 28.16% less likely than the average American teen to have used drugs in the last month.

For citations and links, click here and here

Additional members of the Health and Wellness Team include: Paige Wray, Katie Zaman, Gabriela Murza, Gabriel Glissmeyer, Elizabeth Elsmore, Maren Wright Voss, Suzanne Prevedel, Stacey MacArthur, and Sandra Sulzer.

By: Tim Keady, Extension assistant professor, health and wellness, tim.keady@usu.edu, and members of the USU Health and Wellness team

How Does Your Garden Grow? Tips for July

It can be a challenge to keep gardens growing as summer heats up, so Utah State University Extension provides a Gardener’s Almanac to help. The Almanac also includes links for tips and additional information.

July Checklist

·         Start enjoying the tomato harvest.

·         Fertilize potatoes in the garden with nitrogen in early July.

·         Harvest summer squash and zucchini when they are still small and tender.

·         Deep water established trees and shrubs about once per month during the heat of summer.

·         Deadhead (cut off) spent blossoms of perennial and annual flowers.

·         Divide crowded iris or daylilies once they have finished blooming.

·         Remove water sprouts (vertical shoots in the canopy) of fruit trees to discourage regrowth and reduce shading.

·         Renovate perennial strawberry beds by tearing out old crowns (mother plants) and applying fertilizer to stimulate new runners.

·         Remember that turfgrass only needs 1 ½ to 2 inches of water per week. See irrigation needs in your area.

Pests and Problems

·         Check under leaves of pumpkins, melons, and squash plants for squash bugs.

·         Watch for Mosaic virus in vine crops such as cucumbers and watermelons, and remove infected plants to reduce spreading.

·         Watch for holes in the leaves of petunias, nicotiana, geraniums and other annual flowers from Tobacco budworm feeding.

·         Protect black locust trees (not honey locust) with a registered chemical to prevent locust borer damage.

·         Control codling moth in apples and pears to reduce wormy fruit.

·         Plan for next month, as control for walnut husk fly in walnuts, peaches and apricots usually takes place August 1 and 15.

·         Learn how to identify a hobo spider.

·         Control European paper wasp with traps.

·         Monitor for damaging turfgrass insects.

·         Click here to subscribe to the Utah Pests IPM Advisories for timely tips on controlling pests in your yard and garden.

·         Consider taking an online gardening course. Courses cover topics such as container vegetable gardening, creating the perfect soil, planting trees, and controlling pests. Courses are geared to both beginning and professional gardeners. Use the code “GARDEN5” at checkout to get $5 off.

·         Explore more gardening tips on Extension’s yard and garden website. For drought information and tips, click here.

·         To see a video of the July Gardener’s Almanac tips, click here.

By: JayDee Gunnell, Utah State University Extension horticulturist, Jaydee.gunnell@usu.edu

Common Reasons for Feeling Disconnected in Marriage

When many people are asked what they want for their marriage, they reply that they want to love and be loved. And while that is true, most couples want even more. They have a deep desire to feel understood, respected, safe, needed, heard, appreciated, and perhaps most of all, to feel connection (Johnson, 2008). 

When most new relationships are formed, there is often a feeling of excitement and anticipation surrounding the “newness” of the relationship. Our brains and bodies release a host of happy neurochemicals designed to draw couples together. 

But for all couples, at some point, the newness wears off and the reality of stresses and imperfections arise. Busy schedules, bills, and babies come along and that feeling of closeness and connection becomes more difficult to maintain.

What happens to the connection between couples and what can be done? Here are 8 “D’s” of disconnection that help explain why most couples grow more distant over time.

1. Drifting

Over time, without being mean or nasty, all couples experience a slow drifting apart. Like two people in inner tubes floating a slow river, without intentionally holding on to each other, they will naturally drift apart. Over time, all couples get used to each other and when they get casual and comfortable, they tend to get critical. This often leads to “affection deprivation” and ADD or “attention deficit dilemma” as couples get busy and neglect doing the things that created feelings of connection earlier on.

2. Darts and Daggers

Many couples feel hurt when unkind things (darts and daggers) are expressed. Excessive complaints, criticism, name-calling and contempt drive distance between people. It has been said that reactions can wreck relationships. Couple connection could be strengthened if partners pay more attention to their temper, tongue, and tone of voice. And when unkind things are said, be quick to apologize and forgive. One more tip – don’t parent your partner. No one likes to constantly be told what to do.

3. Disruptions to Daily Life

Often circumstances out of our control cause chaos and disruptions that create distance and disconnection in a marriage. These range from mental health and moving to job loss, car troubles and even having a baby. These anticipated and unanticipated disruptions and stresses can create tension that creeps into couple relationships. The key is to be aware of them, manage them in healthy ways, and don’t let a challenge to be solved become more important that a person to be loved.

4. Distance

Close relationships require meaningful time together. Some couples drift apart due to factors that keep them from being together. These can include being physically apart for long periods of time, working long hours or different hours than your spouse, working multiple jobs, and frequent travel. Long periods of physical distance can lead to emotional distance in relationships.

5. Destructive Decisions

Marriage requires consistent clear communication about all aspects of life. Making some decisions without discussion or one-sided, secretive hidden habits can diminish trust, connection, and closeness. This could be things such as excessive spending and pornography addiction to substance abuse and even affairs. How each partner uses their time and how they make decisions can make or break some relationships.

6. Disagreements and Defensiveness

All couples will experience disagreements and it is natural to become defensive and even feel some resentment when there is a heated discussion. Common topics of disagreements include money, sex, how time is spent, and how to parent children (Schramm et al., 2005. Anger and resentment can create icy distance that melts feelings of closeness and connection. Instead, view irritation as an invitation for understanding and compassion. 

7. Daily Hassles

Living with another person and managing schedules and daily stresses can be exhausting and overwhelming. The arduous list of to-dos ranges from cooking and cleaning to paying bills and running errands. All couples will face daily hassles—connected couples find ways to check in regularly with their partner, express gratitude, ask how they can help, and practice patience.

8. Digital Distractions

Married couples today encounter a relatively new 8th challenge—managing digital devices and screen time balance. Social media, working from home, gaming, emailing, texting, television—all of these can consume our time and more importantly, our attention. Perhaps the greatest gift you can give your spouse is not your time, but your full undivided attention. Living in the digital age has plenty of perks, but when it intrudes into couple time it can create “technoference,” and quickly erode connection (McDaniel & Coyne, 2016). It may be wise for couples to consider kicking technology away from two areas of connection—tables and beds.

It is important to point out that these 8 “D’s” of disconnection are relatively common in most relationships. The key is finding balance, managing emotions and differences in healthy ways, responding with patience and kindness, being aware of how you use your time and attention, and intentionally investing in ways to connect and communicate.


Johnson, S. M. (2008). Hold me tight: Seven conversations for a lifetime of love. New York: Little, Brown.

McDaniel, B. T., & Coyne, S. M. (2016). “Technoference”: The interference of technology in couple relationships and implications for women’s personal and relational well-being. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 5, 85– 98. doi:10.1037/ppm0000065

Schramm, D. G., Marshall, J. P., Harris, V.W., & Lee, T. R. (2005). After “I do”: The newlywed transition. Marriage & Family Review, 38, 45– 67. https://doi.org/10.1300/J002v38n01_05 

By David Schramm, Extension Associate Professor

Five Tips for Using Grocery Store and Fuel Apps to Combat Inflation 

Inflation has increased 8.6% since May 2021, according to data released this month from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. An average family of four is spending about $700 more per month on the same things they purchased a year ago. Inflation is most noticeable at the gas pump and grocery store. While price increases affect each family differently, most consumers are feeling the pinch and changing the way they spend to accommodate surging costs.

One way to tackle increased food and gas prices is to take advantage of grocery shopping apps and fuel rewards programs. Consider these tips.

1. Stay within budget. Download grocery store apps on your smartphone to plan shopping trips or place a pick-up or delivery order. The apps can help monitor grocery bill totals and help you stick to your spending limit. In addition, they can help you avoid adding more than you need to your grocery cart since you don’t see the enticing items on aisles or end caps. These items are usually the culprits for pushing shoppers over their spending limit.

2. Use all coupons for stackable savings. Many grocery store apps include in-app coupons or specials where coupons are loaded onto your account, saving you money on often-purchased items. These savings are in addition to manufacturer deals and promotions. The key is adding these coupons or savings to your account before checking out. Shoppers can often use digital and traditional paper coupons, so remember to use both if they are available.

3. Earn points for gift cards and other perks. Some shopping apps provide opportunities to accrue points that can be cashed in for gift cards to grocery stores, restaurants, or even PayPal. Apps such as Ibotta, Shopkick, and Fetch help shoppers earn points by adding coupons or promotions before shopping. Many can be used in addition to paper or digital coupons from grocery store apps. These apps allow shoppers to use their phone camera to scan items while in a store looking for promotions or bonus points and can also provide paper receipts after a shopping trip. Over time, shoppers can redeem these points for gift cards or PayPal credit, helping offset spending in other budget categories. An average user could earn $10-$20 a month or more, and frequent users could earn up to $100 per month. 

4. Use the app consistently. Grocery and shopping apps work best when used consistently. Choose an easy-to-navigate app you can remember to use. Also, choose one that will transfer points to gift cards or credits that align with your spending habits.

5. Join a fuel rewards program. Fuel rewards programs connected to grocery or warehouse stores provide one of the best ways to reduce spending at the pump, aside from carpooling or reduced driving. Join a fuel rewards program for a gas station that is convenient for you. When comparing fuel rewards debit or credit cards, be sure to read the terms of use carefully and pay off the card in full each month.

By: Melanie Jewkes, Utah State University Extension professor, Melanie.Jewkes@usu.edu

Co-Parenting During the Summer: Tips for a Successful Summer

Child playing with two parents

With the arrival of summer, stepfamilies may be gearing up for visits from stepchildren. Often children living with one parent during the school year will spend time with their other parent for extended periods of time throughout the summer months. Extra complications may arise within the stepfamily due to changes in routines and schedules, but by incorporating a few strategies, summer transitions can run smoothly for all family members (Bonnell & Papernow, 2019).

1. Provide structure and routine for children

During the school year, children have routines and scheduled activities, so by making a summer schedule, including planned summer camps and events, children will have some consistency between both households. The schedule should also include pick-up and drop-off times and locations, so all parents are prepared. Scheduled pick-up and drop-off times also provide clarity for children about where they will be and when (Papernow, 2013). Communicating the summer plan with the other parent helps to keep them in the loop and provides important information about their children. Finally, it is helpful to give the children a copy of the calendar, whether it’s a hard copy or electronic copy. This will provide consistency and predictability for children as they transition between households. 

2. Be consistent about rules and expectations at both houses

Parenting expectations and family rules are common areas of disagreements that can cause stress and tension among parents. Although children do not need both households to have the exact same set of rules, agreements on basics such as bedtimes, screen time, and curfews create consistency for children (Bonnell & Papernow, 2019). Keeping expectations similar at both houses not only instills good habits in children, but it also helps with the transition between households. 

3. Create a living space for the children

Every child needs a space that they can call their own, especially if they are spending an extended amount of time in a different home. Creating a personal space for children, including a bed, closet, dresser, etc., helps them to deal with the transitions between households.

4. Create memories with your children

Co-parenting during the summer months can be stressful, but it provides opportunities for children to strengthen their relationship and create memories with their non-residential parent. Spending quality time with both parents provides reassurance for children and helps to strengthen and reinforce family customs and traditions (Ahrons, 2004).

The summer months often provide opportunities for children to visit their non-residential parent, and the transitions between households can be complicated. By focusing on co-parenting strategies, the summer experiences can also serve as an opportunity to make life-long memories for all family members.


Bonnell, K. S., & Papernow, P. L. (2019). The stepfamily handbook: From dating, to getting serious, to forming a “blended family.” CMC Publishers.

Ahrons, C.  (2004).  We’re still family. Harper Collins.

Papernow, P. L. (2013). Surviving and thriving in stepfamily relationships: What works and what doesn’t. Routledge.

By Shannon Cromwell, Extension Associate Professor

Seven Principles for Water-Wise Landscaping

Our landscapes provide us with beautiful surroundings, natural cooling, and the cleansing of our environment. Nearly 65% of the annual culinary water consumption in Utah is applied to landscapes. Unfortunately, many landscapes are over-irrigated, wasting precious water.

Keeping water-wise landscaping principles in mind as we design, install, and manage our landscapes can help conserve a great deal of water. Though the heat of the summer is not the best  time to install and irrigate new landscape plants, it is a good time to make plans for the fall when temperatures cool and less water is needed for irrigation. Consider these principles from the USU Extension Center for Water-Efficient Landscaping.

1. Planning and design. Develop a landscape plan, paying attention to sun, shade, soil conditions, slope, etc., then determine where plants should be placed for both function and aesthetics. For example, deciduous trees can be planted to increase summer shade as well as winter sun.

2. Soil preparation. Proper soil preparation improves plant water use efficiency in the future. Consider soil texture, structure, organic matter content, nutrient status, and pH when choosing plants. Soil can be tested at the Utah State University Soil Testing Laboratory.

3. Plant selection. Choose plants for the size and function of the area. Consider irrigation requirements, adaptability, bloom-time offsetting, mature plant size, and climate hardiness zones.

4. Practical turf areas. Plant grasses where they are functional. Choose species and varieties with lower water requirements and mow to a height of 2 ½ or 3 inches for deeper rooting. Properly fertilize to improve drought tolerance and recovery, and don’t gather grass clippings when mowing.

5. Mulch. Cover bare soil with mulch to prevent crusting, compaction, and evaporation of moisture. Organic mulches include wood or bark chips, nut shells, pine needles, etc. Inorganic options include gravel or crushed stone, lava rock, and cobblestones.

6. Efficient irrigation. Hydrozone or group plants with similar water requirements in the same irrigation zone(s). Use drip irrigation systems to apply water directly to plant roots. Water trees and shrubs less frequently than grass areas, but for longer periods of time.

7. Landscape maintenance. Control weeds, fertilize regularly, and control plant growth through pruning. Also monitor for and control damaging diseases and pests. Visit Utah Pests for tips.

For further landscaping tips, visit seven principles for water-wise landscaping.

By: Kelly Kopp, Utah State University Extension turfgrass specialist, Kelly.Kopp@usu.edu

Working Through Religious Differences in Marriage

Have you ever had a conversation with someone that you love and disagreed with them? These conversations can be very uncomfortable, especially about firmly held beliefs. Differences in religious beliefs or spirituality can be a source of pain and discontent if not addressed in a respectful and accepting manner. 

According to the Pew Research Center, the religious landscape of the U.S continues to change at a rapid rate. With adults who identify as non-affiliated, atheist, or agnostic increasing yearly, changes and differences in religiosity and spirituality have the potential to negatively impact intimate relationships. This is further complicated because religiosity and spirituality affect more than Sunday worship, such as decisions on parenting, finances, and friendships. Even couples who practice the same religion may not agree on religious or spiritual practices. For example, a couple who belong to the same church may disagree on how often to attend service or engage in church activities. It is important for couples to recognize the pitfalls and potential for hurt when either engaging in a mixed faith relationship or when one partner’s beliefs change and are no longer in alignment with their spouse’s beliefs. 

There are many mixed faith marriages and relationships that are able to thrive despite having significantly different beliefs. Here are some tips from relationship expert Dr. John Gottman to help you navigate religious differences (or any type of conflict) in intimate relationships. 

1. Explore your own relationship with your faith.
There is a difference between identifying with a religion or spiritual practice and how you engage in that faith. Explore your religious or spiritual identity and what that means to you. It is necessary to understand your own faith identity to be able to navigate the differences with your partner. Here are some questions that Gottman recommends to help you with this process of exploration

  • Did you grow up in a religious or spiritual household? If so, what was practiced? What was your experience like?
  • What brings you peace? What helps you get through tough times?
  • What aspects of your religious or spiritual beliefs do you hold onto tightly?
  • Which ones are you more flexible with?

2. Acknowledge the difference and what they will mean for your life together.
Recognizing the differences and how they may affect your life together is an important step. Avoidance is not a sustainable option, identify the ways that may affect you so you can make a plan together for how to deal with these differences as a couple. 
According to Dr. Gottman, 69% of problems in relationships are perpetual, meaning they are not solvable. While that number sounds high it is reassuring to know that this is normal and includes happily functioning couples. Instead of trying to change the other person’s mind/belief, approach these conversations with curiosity and interest, try to understand your partner’s point and realize that this is an opportunity to increase your love for them.
The way that you start a conversation can predict how the rest of the conversation will go or be perceived by your partner. Be intentional in your tone of voice and the words you use to initiate a conversation. Using soft start up techniques such as ‘I messages’ and positive statements to start conversations allows for your partner to better receive and understand what you are saying.

3. Share stories
Sharing stories is a great way for you and your partner to get to know each other and this aspect of who you are. Stories can share your cultural and religious experiences with them in a way that is not threatening and invites understanding.

4. Participate before negotiating. 
It’s important to show genuine interest and curiosity in your partners beliefs and practices. Go with them to their religious events services and as they observe rituals. This is not a promise to leave your own beliefs and convert, this is a powerful way to communicate that you value them and are embracing who they are. 

5.  Make Repairs. 
We will inevitably mess up. Don’t beat yourself up over mistakes, apologize and move forward. Well used humor (not sarcasm) can help ease these tense moments. The main goal with a repair attempt is to determine what when wrong (not blame our partner) and resume being on the same team to address an issue together instead of treating each other as the issue that needs to be fixed.

6. Therapy is a helpful support.
Talking about faith is deeply personal, it can be hard despite our best efforts. Some differences might seem impossible to figure out. Seeking the help of a professional can provide relief. Find a therapist who specializes in helping interfaith couples.
It is unlikely that you will change someone else’s views, feelings, or beliefs on the topic of religion or spirituality, but you can practice respecting each other’s beliefs and purposely refrain from criticizing or attempting to sway them. Dr. Gottman maintains that disagreements provide an opportunity for increased intimacy and connection, and religious differences provide an opportunity for increased respect, understanding, and love.


Gottman, J. (1995). Why marriages succeed or fail: And how you can make yours last. 
Simon & Schuster New York
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By Elizabeth Davis, Extension Assistant Professor