From the time my children could walk (and even before), my family has enjoyed walking along the ridge of Mt. Washington in Pittsburgh, PA. Our daughters often ran ahead of us and darted out onto the overlooks. They would run right to the edge of the overlook and peer through the fence at the panoramic view of Pittsburgh and the three rivers. We enjoyed those walks. Others did too. We saw high school couples taking prom pictures with the city of Pittsburgh as a backdrop. We even watched one romantic wedding proposal (she answered “yes”). We looked forward to walking, running, and skipping across the ridge of Mt. Washington; and, we never worried about our children’s safety. We simply enjoyed our family while looking over the ridge at the three rivers of Pittsburgh. Know why we never worried? Guardrails! Guardrails lined the ridge and each overlook. They kept us (and our children) from “going too far” and falling over the edge. They protected us. They added to our safety and allowed us to simply focus on enjoying one another in the moment.
Loving rules act as guardrails in families. They clearly delineate the limits and keep family members from “going too far.” They protect family members from hurting themselves or one another. They add a measure of safety to our lives and allow family members to enjoy one another more freely. All families benefit from clear, concise rules that create security. Establishing effective rules can prove a challenge. In fact, the rules may vary according to family, ages, places, or times. But, if you keep these five principles in mind when establishing family rules, you will enjoy the benefits of a healthy security and growing intimacy.
- Keep rules to a minimum. Too many rules become a burden and take the focus away from enjoying the relationship. Besides, you don’t need a rule for every situation. Some things are simply taught during daily interactions and don’t require a formal rule. Rather than making a rule for every situation, focus on rules that promote safety and respectful interactions. (Read Lincoln on the Parental Tyrant)
- Establish reasonable rules. Rules are most effective when they make sense, when they have a logical foundation. When children ask about the reason for a certain rule, give them a clear and concise age appropriate reason. If the only reason for a rule is “because I said so,” you might want to reconsider that rule. (Read Because I Said So to learn more)
- Make sure the rule is enforceable…and that you are willing to enforce it. Nothing undermines a good rule like lack of follow through. Enforceable rules focus on actions and behaviors—not attitudes, feelings, or thoughts. We cannot enforce an attitude, feeling, or way of thinking. However, we can enforce appropriate behaviors reflective of those attitudes, feelings, or thoughts. Effective rules focus on those behaviors. They define specific behavioral expectations and the realistic consequences related to them.
- Effective consequences match the behavior. In other words, make sure the punishment fits the crime. A four-year-old who neglects to brush their teeth requires a very different response than a sixteen-year-old caught drinking. The rules and the consequences need to fit the situation and the child. (Parenting Advice from Horton the Elephant offers more)
- Effective rules are undergirded by loving relationships. Vague, ambiguous rules result in too much slack and free reign to children who do not have the experience or wisdom to make some of those choices. Too many rules and rules based on “absolute black and white thinking” result in a lack of needed flexibility. They create a rigidity that prevents children from internalizing the “spirit of the law” and making it their own. The balance between these two extremes, between permissiveness and rigidity, is found in rules that flow from loving relationships. (Read Relationships Rule for more)
These five principles will help you establish loving, clear, effective rules that will protect your family from “going too far” and allow you to more fully enjoy your family.
The University of CA (Berkeley) and Northwestern University recently published the results of a study following 156 heterosexual couples for 20 years. The authors examined how the couple’s way of managing “conflict conversations” impacted their health over time. They found a link between “stonewalling” (which includes barely speaking, little to no eye contact, emotionally shutting down) and back pain. They also found angry outbursts were associated with cardiovascular problems. Let me repeat those results so you don’t miss it.
- The emotional withdrawal of “shut up and put up” is a pain in the back. It may contribute to backaches, stiff necks, stiff joints, and muscle tension over time.
- On the other hand, flying off the handle with angry outbursts can break your heart. It may contribute to chest pain, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular problems over time.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my marriage to be “a pain in the back” or a “broken heart!” So, what can we do when we disagree or argue to prevent this?
- Remember your love for your spouse. Recall attributes and character traits you adore about your spouse. Keep your gratitude for your spouse’s positive contributions to your life in the forefront of your mind.(Read The Killer Wall in Your Marriage for more info)
- Listen intently for the sole purpose of understanding your spouse. Your differences of opinion open the door for you to know our spouse more intimately. Your spouse becomes an open book voicing her opinion, thoughts, and desires. Listen carefully. You will learn a lot and grow more intimate as you listen with the sole intent of understanding your spouse. (Read Go Ahead & Argue With Honor for more)
- Postpone your own agenda until your spouse feels emotionally validated and understood. Don’t even try to explain your side of the situation until you can restate what your spouse has said and your spouse responds with “Yes. You got it. Now you know how I feel!” (For more read Make Your Argument the Best Part of Your Day)
- Breathe to stay calm. Men, especially, have a tendency to move into a fight or flight mode during disagreements. When you reach this point, you no longer think rationally. You simply defend, fight to win, or run. Breathing can help you stay calm, rational, able to listen, and compromise. Breathe.
- Soothe your spouse, as well. Be aware of your spouse’s sensitivities and don’t push her buttons. Respond in love by respecting your spouse’s vulnerabilities. If you notice you or your spouse “losing your cool,” take a break, express some affection, or tell a joke—anything to help restore a sense of calm to both you and your spouse.
- Allow your spouse to influence you. Sometimes your spouse may make a good point (I know, it’s surprising). Sometimes your spouse may actually be right! Sometimes they may simply have a different opinion than you…and neither of you are wrong. Enjoy the difference. Remain humble enough to admit his/her wisdom. Allow his/her opinion to influence your responses and actions. Doing so expresses love.
Follow these 6 tips and your marriage will not become a pain in the back, nor will it break your heart.
My youngest daughter graduated from high school this year. She and several of her classmates have encountered many painful obstacles on their journey toward graduation. They have comforted one another through an unusually high number of struggles and deep losses. But, this year they received their diplomas and set their sights on higher hopes, greater dreams, and richer visions of conquest. As I watched them graduate, my mind wandered to the story of a man name Bartimeaus. Bartimeaus was blind. Like you, he faced many obstacles trying to get by each day. One day, he heard that a great Teacher, a Merciful Healer, was passing by amidst a crowd of people. Bartimeaus cried out to the Teacher for help. The Teacher didn’t respond, so Bartimeaus yelled louder. The people around the Teacher told Bartimeaus to give it up. Stop yelling. Just sit back and stay where you are, a blind man begging on the side of the road. But blind Bartimeaus had a greater vision than those around him. He knew the Teacher was a Merciful Healer. Even though physically blind, Bartimeaus saw beyond the moment to greater possibilities. He had higher hopes. He brushed aside the naysayers and those who wanted to keep him down. He cried out above those who tried to silence him. He pursued is dream of gaining the Teacher’s attention. When everyone else told him to stop and give up, he persisted. He bet everything he had on the hope of being healed by the Merciful Healer. Then, it happened. The Teacher called for Bartimeaus. Bartimeaus threw aside his cloak and jumped up. He left everything he owned. He threw off every encumbrance to answer the Teacher’s call. He approached the Merciful Healer only to find one more hurdle. The Teacher presented one final obstacle. He asked Bartimeaus a question: “What do you want Me to do for you?” Without hesitation, Bartimeaus announced his deepest desire—to see. The Teacher granted him that desire and gave Bartimeaus his sight. His dogged determination had paid off. Having obtained the sight he had only dreamed of, Bartimeaus discovered yet another, even greater, reward. He saw the face of the Teacher who had given him his sight.
To my daughter and those who graduated with her, I know you have encountered several obstacles and struggles in your high school career. You will encounter many more as you continue your journey through life. Like Bartimeaus, don’t give up. You will encounter naysayers and people who want to keep you down. Call out for your dreams all the louder. People will try to deter you from reaching toward your dreams. They will try to convince you settle. They will tell you to sit back and stay where you are. Don’t do it; become yet more determined. They will try to silence you. Don’t let them. Persist more doggedly. When others try to dissuade you from Teacher’s dream in your life, pursue that vision even more vigorously. The Teacher will hear you. He will call for you. When He does, throw aside every encumbrance. Let nothing hold you back. He will likely ask you what you want (even though He already knows). Let your excitement overflow as you share your dream with Him. Proclaim the vision He has planted in your heart. Your steadfast pursuit, your tenacious persistence, and your resilient determination will pay off when you realize your deepest desire. And, you will gain an even greater reward when that happens. You will see the face of the One who has given you the strength to achieve the dream He planted in your heart. Keep your eyes on Him and never give up!
My wife and I attended a free concert at the Three Rivers Arts Festival the other night. A few days later I had the opportunity to attend another one with my daughter. They were
wonderful outdoor concerts…and free (who can beat that!). People filled Point Park to listen, dance, eat, and sing. I looked around at the variety of people in attendance and was struck by the number of families. I watched as parents danced and laughed with their children. It brought back memories of attending these very concerts with my own family. Children giggled and their eyes sparkled with delight as they danced, bounced, and swayed with their parents. Parents laughed out loud as they enjoyed one another, their children, and friends. The whole family sang and clapped together. I was deeply touched. I had the joy and privilege of watching the miracle of parents bonding with their children through music, fun, and dance. It is such a beautiful sight to see families celebrating together.
This morning I watched a mother and her two young children in a local bakery. Her 3-year-old was a little fussy. At first she was frustrated. She even appeared a little embarrassed by his fussy behavior displayed in public, in front of “people watching.” But she quickly composed herself and knelt down beside her son. She talked with him, explained what she expected of him, and explored what was bothering him. I saw them connect…right before my eyes I watched the miracle of a mother bonding with her son. In that connection, her son calmed down. She gave him a drink and he calmed even more. It was a truly beautiful sight to watch a mother so graciously respond to her son. As I was leaving, I said, “He’s much happier now.” She replied with, “He’s 3. That seems so much harder than 2.” I simply agreed; but, I wish I had said more. I wanted to tell her what wonderful children she had and what a beautiful job she had done responding to her 3-year-old when he got fussy. Maybe I should have. Even more, I wanted to help her cherish these moments with her son. Sure, he got fussy in public. Maybe some people looked on with criticism, but I watched a beautiful connection form between mother and son, the miracle of bonding between a mother and child. It was a beautiful sight! I hope she will cherish that connection. And, I hope that when frustrations arise, she will step back and realize the precious moment of connection, the miracle of bonding that her child’s fussiness provides. These moments pass by all too quickly. Three-year-olds grow up and, before you know it, they become mature adults forging their own lives. Yes, three-year-olds can prove difficult, as will the 8-year-old and the 16-year-old, but the opportunity to connect remains precious…and all too fleeting. Enjoy your children…every dance, every giggle, and every laugh, every frustration and every meltdown too. They all provide one more opportunity to connect and love. That is a beautiful sight!
We underestimate children. By and large we expect too little of our children. We schedule every minute of their day to give them opportunities…and because we think they can’t learn as much on their own. We succumb to video games and TV shows because we think our children incapable of inventing their own activities. We fear they’ll get bored, under our feet, and on our nerves if we don’t turn on the X-Box. We jump in to tidy up their messes, fix their mistakes, and constantly remind them of their innate abilities because we fear their self-esteem will plummet from a momentary failure or less-than-perfect mark. In all actuality our children will learn more from mistakes than successes. They will create amazingly imaginative activities if we allow them to get bored. Yes, we underestimate our children. Unfortunately, discipline issues arise as a result. We underestimate their ability to complete household tasks. We expect they will not complete their homework. We assume they will get bored and nag. Our children simply live down to our expectations. Yes, we underestimate our children. But, there is a way out of this cycle. It takes some time and effort, but it yields huge benefits. “All you have to do” is let your children make a significant contribution to your household. Let me explain.
- Let your children contribute to the household in ways that connect them to the family. Give them jobs that care for the family, not just themselves. For instance, let them help clean the family room, not just their own bedroom (although their bedroom is good to clean, too). Encourage them to help with everyone’s dishes and everyone’s laundry, not just their own. Then thank them for their contribution.
- Collaborate with your children in choosing the tasks they will complete. You don’t need to dictate every chore. Sit down, discuss, and divvy up the household tasks. Then you can talk about doing “our” work rather than “your” After all, everyone does their part. Let your language reflect that you and your child, not just your child, have chores that contribute to the household in a significant way.
- Make your children’s contribution part of the daily routine rather than something done on occasion. Give them the privilege of making a daily contribution to the family just like you do.
- Make the task one you can do together. For instance, gather the garbage from around the house together. Work in the yard together. Clean the family room together—one can vacuum while the other dusts. Fold clothes together. You get the idea. Work together on the household chores. And, talk while you work. Or, if you want to be like one of the seven dwarves from Snow White, whistle while you work.
Your children will gain many benefits when you allow them to work with you to make a significant contribution to your family. Check these benefits out.
- Your children will gain an increased sense of purpose as they are part of something bigger than themselves. They become part of a family, not just an individual with a self-centered focus.
- Your children will gain an increased sense of competence as they master various tasks. They will gain greater independence and confidence in their abilities.
- Your children will gain an increased sense of intimacy. As you work with your children you can talk and laugh together. As you do, you will learn about their interests and values. You will learn about their dreams and fears. You will grow more intimate with them.
- Your children will gain an increased sense of belonging. They will feel like an integral part of the family to which they contribute, the family that needs their contribution.
- Your children will gain an increased sense of personal value and significance as they become an integral part of the family.
As an added bonus, you will have fewer discipline problems. Children and teens who have a healthy sense of purpose, belonging, and significance are better behaved. Children and teens with a sense of competence have nothing to prove. Children and teens with an intimate relationship with parents have less desire to rebel.
For more on children and chores, read Dear Children, The Real Reason I Make You Do Chores and Tips to End Chore Wars
Revlon commissioned a study in 2015 and partnered with Fordham University to complete it. This study recruited 710 women to follow a “daily beauty ritual” and report its impact on their love life. The “daily beauty ritual” included looking into a mirror while applying a fragrance, applying eye make-up, enjoying a chocolate, applying lipstick, taking a deep breath, and smiling. (My favorite parts are enjoying a chocolate and smiling.) After four days:
- 97% of the women felt a positive change in themselves
- 77% of the women felt more outgoing and social
- 74% of the women were more likely to flirt
- 71% of the women reported wanting more romance
- 65% of the women noticed an increase in compliments from their partner
- 60% of the women said their partner was more affectionate toward them
- 58% of the women said their partner was more romantic
- 56% of the women felt that others, including their partner, flirted with them more
Overall, this study seems to suggest that a daily beauty ritual charges their internal and external environment in a way that increases the likelihood of romance and intimacy. I have to admit, I have reservations (and questions) about this study and its validity; but, it does make a good point. You can deepen intimacy and heighten romance in your marriage by intentionally taking care of yourself and “looking your best” for your spouse. Taking care of your self—dabbing on some make-up, enjoying a small treat, putting on nice clothes, exercise—enhances feelings of confidence and competence. It makes us feel better about ourselves and we express that confidence in our actions and our interactions. Even more, when we take care of ourselves for our partner—putting on clothes to look nice for them, looking our best with them in mind—we also express how much we value them and their attention. Let’s face it…that is romantic! We find it romantic when our spouse thinks about our desires and our ideas. So, if you want to deepen intimacy with your spouse, take care of yourself. If you want to heighten the romance, take care of yourself with the tastes of your spouse in mind. And, most important, enjoy the romance.