Do you want a stronger marriage? Do
you want greater happiness for yourself and your marriage? Well, one of the
best ways to get a stronger, healthier, happier marriage is to give up. It’s
true. The best way to lift up your marriage is to give up. I don’t mean giving
up on the marriage or giving up on happiness. I mean give up your own personal
desires and making your spouse’s desires your priority…give up the need to push
your own opinion and listen to understand your spouse’s opinion. Give up your
need to have it “your way” and do it your spouse’s way. Yes, sacrifice, or giving up, will lift up
your marriage. Scott Stanley, a marriage researcher who has completed several
studies regarding sacrifice in marriage, defined sacrifice as an action
in which a person freely chooses to give
up something for their spouse without resentment (italics & bold added).
This type of action, this
“giving up,” can be as simple as watching the TV show your spouse
wants to watch rather than demanding the family watch “my TV show.”
Or, it might be as simple as giving up the last piece of pie so your spouse can
Sometimes sacrifice can be life
altering, like giving up a job to move to a new town where your spouse will
begin a new and better job…or giving up time and energy to care for a spouse
going through medical treatment for a major illness.
Overall, sacrifice often involves giving up personal control and self-gratification in favor of a commitment to our spouse’s well-being, intimacy, and growth…giving up our agenda for the betterment of our marriage. The moment of “giving up” to “lift up” your marriage can be difficult. However, the dividends for that moment of struggle are amazing—long-term happiness, growing security, and deeper intimacy. So, give it up…give it up to lift up your marriage! (For more read The Lost Art of Sacrifice in Family.)
Everyone has heard about the benefits of eating together as a family (Read some of the benefits in The Lost Art of Family Meals). However, a question remained about whether the results associated with eating together as a family reflect a healthy family or truly flow from the activity of eating together. Now, a study from the University of Montreal has attempted to settle that question. They followed children who were part of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development from 5-months of age. At 6-years, their parents reported whether they had family meals together. Then, at 10-years-old, their parents, teachers, and even the children themselves provided information on the children’s lifestyle and well-being. The researchers accounted for factors like temperament and cognitive abilities of the child, parent’s education and psychological characteristics, and family functioning. In other words, they were able to factor out any pre-existing conditions that might influence the child’s well-being and focus solely on eating family meals together. What did they discover?
Children who enjoyed a positive
family meal environment at 6-years of age had higher levels of general fitness
and lower levels of soft-drink consumption at age 10 years…regardless of
cognitive abilities, parental education, and family functioning.
Children who enjoyed a positive
family meal environment at 6-years of age also had less physical aggressive,
less oppositional behavior, and less delinquent behavior at 10-years of age…regardless
of cognitive abilities, parental education, and family functioning.
Positive family meals, in and of themselves, contributed to children’s well-being at 10-years-old. They ate healthier, exhibited less aggression, and less negative behavior. Really, that is not surprising, is it? After all, children engage in social interactions with their parents and siblings during family meals. They learn how to discuss day-to-day concerns and even disagree over various topics in a civil and polite manner. They gain communication skills as they practice expressing themselves. They learn to associate eating well with positive experiences and so have eating well reinforced. They experience the joy of acceptance at the family table and enjoy the growing bond with family that increases their sense of security (Learn how that security translates to better relationships in Hot Sauce vs. the Power of Relationship). So, if you want to optimize your children’s communication skills, social skills, and overall maturity, make time to enjoy family meals.
Parents often ask, “My teen comes home and goes straight to his bedroom, closes the door and isolates. Isn’t that bad?” Well…it depends. Researchers from the University of California and Wilmington College published a study showing not all solitude is the same. Some solitude was problematic. It was a red flag revealing a deeper issue. Other solitude was good, even helpful. It provided a refreshing, restorative time of self-reflection leading to personal growth and greater self-acceptance.
How can you tell the difference? By recognizing the reason your teen is choosing solitude. The motivation for choosing solitude differentiates problematic solitude from healthy solitude. If a teen chooses solitude in response to social anxiety, lack of friends, or rejection, they are at a greater risk of depression. They tend to have a lower level of autonomy and fewer positive relationships.
If solitude is imposed on a teen as punishment, they often feel like they are “missing out” on activities and opportunities. This can lead to feeling left out and lonely. It can contribute to depression and anger.
If a teen chooses solitude to help themselves “calm down” or for “peace and quiet,” it can prove helpful. In this case, solitude provides restorative time for self-reflection. These teens learn the skill of being alone and learn how solitude can enhance creativity and personal renewal.
Still, how can a parent know the difference? One way to determine if your teen is using solitude in a healthy or an unhealthy way is to ask them why they spend time alone. Allow them to explain what they are doing and why. This might be the start of a simple discussion about emotional self-care. You might also ask yourself some questions about your teen, questions you can begin to answer based on your own observations.
Does your teen have friends or are
they a loner? If they have no friends, their isolation may raise some concerns.
Why do they not have friends? Is it due to being bullied? Anxious? Fearful? Sad?
This observation may lead to a discussion with your teen about their mood,
their perspective on friendships, loneliness, and relationships in general.
Does your teen exhibit social
anxiety? It’s ok to be shy and introverted. As an introvert they will likely
still have a few good friends. However, if a person has social anxiety that
interferes with them going places or interacting with others it may be good to
seek outside help.
Does your teen seem energized after
spending time alone? Many teens just need time alone to “re-create” their inner
sense of peace after spending all day interacting in a somewhat chaotic and
over-stimulating school setting. They need to unwind and enjoy a moment of
“peace and quiet.” They need a time of personal restoration. If so,
they will often feel energized after a period of solitude.
How does your teen seem overall? Do
they sleep well? Do they enjoy times with friends? Do they become tearful
often? The answer to these questions can provide a great deal of information
about the health of their solitude.
Does your teen talk negatively about
themselves? Do they put themselves down? Are they excessively self-critical? If
so, their isolation may raise some concerns.
These observations may help you decide if your
teen’s desire to be alone is a problem or simply a healthy part of their
development. If your answers raise concerns seek out some counsel from friends
who have older children, a pastor, or a therapist.
A responsive spouse—one who not
only listens and understands but also responds with sympathy and compassion.
Who doesn’t want that kind of spouse? I know I do. And really, who doesn’t want
to be that kind of spouse? After all, I love my wife. She deserves a
Responsiveness validates our spouses. It lets them know we care for them. It reduces anxiety and arousal. It increases a sense of security in the relationship. It comforts. Overall, responsiveness is a powerful way to improve your marriage. And, a 2016 study involving 698 married and cohabitating couples suggests responsiveness does something more. It improves sleep quality. Not surprising, right? We sleep better when we feel safe. We sleep better when we feel less anxious. We sleep better when we know someone cares for us and validates us.
There you have it…another benefit
of a responsive spouse: improved sleep quality. Good sleep quality contributes
to a better rested person. A better rested person is happier, healthier, and
more able to respond to their spouse. Not only…. Oh wait. I hear my wife
calling. Sorry. I have to go. After all, a wife responded to is a happy wife
who sleeps well…and loves her responsive husband.
Did you see the Alexa commercial? I usually don’t say anything about commercials that bother me…but did you see that Alexa commercial? A girl comes home from a soccer game and is apparently upset about her game. Her mother “pauses” Alexa (who was reading an audio book to her when her daughter came home) and follows her daughter as though she plans to talk with her about the game. All well and good. In the next scene we see the mother in bed when she is suddenly awoken by “a noise.” Once again, she speaks to Alexa, “What time is it?” “4:40 a.m.,” whispers Alexa. The mother looks out the bedroom window to see her daughter in the backyard “practicing” her soccer. What does she do when she sees her daughter playing soccer in the backyard at 4:40 a.m.? “Alexa, turn on the backyard light.” That’s it? She turns on the lights before giving a proud nod to her daughter’s early morning practice.
Somehow that commercial really bothers me. What is the message communicated by that commercial? That Alexa, the mother’s only companion and confidante in the commercial, will helps us parent our children? I don’t think so. Alexa has no input…it only offers an obedient response to whatever “parental wisdom” we offer. Not a great parenting partner. No emotional investment. No experiential knowledge. Yeah, not a great parenting partner.
Maybe the message is one proclaiming that persistence and hard work help us achieve our goals…with the help of Alexa of course. But we never see the success…so I don’t think that’s the message. Really, I think I’m bothered more by the missing messages. For instance, where is the message about “a time and a place for everything”…a time to practice and a time to sleep? What about the message of learning to lose a game with grace and dignity? The message that our self-worth is not based on our performance…especially our performance in a single game? What does this commercial teach us about the importance of sleep for our physical and mental well-being…and even for improving performance, especially for teens? Of course, the commercial is not trying to teach us anything. It only wants to sell us a product. But it does send a message…and I’m not sure I like the message. Do you? At any rate, I better quit my rambling. “Alexa, turn off my computer.”
What does it mean to “be
there” for your spouse and children? We often consider “being there” as giving
comfort during tough times or caring for others in difficult situations. We
think of “being there” as supporting others when they need help. Those
are good times to “be there” for our spouse and children; but they
are not the only times we need to “be there.” We also need to
“be there” during the good times to share the pleasant news, the
times of joy, and the times happiness. In fact, sharing good news and good
times with those we love builds stronger relationships. It helps the both person
“being there,” the person we are “being there” for, and the relationship. Let
me name just a few of the many ways “being there” in good times can help a relationship.
Sharing good news or good experiences with a spouse, parent, or child who is engaged in the
conversation enhances the meaning and weightiness we attach to those joyous
times. These moments of sharing become foundational to our memory. We remember
positive experiences more vividly when we share them with someone who engages
in conversation with us about them. So, if you want your spouse and children to
have lots of good memories filled with meaning in their lives, engage them in conversation
about those events. “Be there” for them in celebrating the good news.
On the flip side, the person hearing about their loved one’s good
news or happy experience feel happier. You’ve likely had that experience.
Someone told you about their positive experience and you were genuinely happy
for them. You rejoiced with them and felt happier yourself. So, listen intently
to your family member’s good news and rejoice with them. Share genuine
happiness for their good fortune. You’ll be happier for it. Along these same
lines, share your own good news and positive experiences with your family
members. Don’t hold back and keep it secret. Let them rejoice with you. They’ll
be happier for it…and you’ll be happier that they are happier. Everybody’s
happy…sounds like a good family night of sharing.
Sharing good news and happy
experiences with one another also builds
stronger, more intimate relationships. Sharing our good experiences is
linked to relationship bonding and safety. When a person telling about their
good experience knows the listener is receptive and engaged, they feel more
secure in the relationship. To go even further, sharing good news with a
receptive family member makes us more grateful for one another, enhances our
sense of fondness for one another, and increases our dedication to one another.
Sound good? It sure sounds good to me.
Don’t just “be there” for your family during the
hard times. “Be there” for the good times as well. Celebrate the joyous occasions.
Rejoice together. “Be there” in good times and in bad.
Life seems stressed these days,
doesn’t it? Turn on the news…stress. Try to manage your schedule…stress.
Weather…stress. Work demands, school demands, extracurricular demands, church
demands, demands, demands, demands…stress. All that stress is bound to impact
our marriages and our families. It robs us of mental clarity and patience. As a
result, we have a greater chance of conflict with our spouses and our children.
But there is good news. I have discovered a way to reduce stress and improve mental clarity. Not only that, but this activity will increase a sense of closeness and intimacy, especially in your marriage. It’s true. A study showed this activity reduced stress and improved mental clarity after only one time. And, the reduction of stress accrued over the 9 times couples did it during the 3 week study. In other words, stress continued dropping with each time the couple engaged in this activity. What activity did all this? Massage. Yes, massage. In this study, 38 couples took a massage class each week for 3 weeks. Each class focused on massaging one part of the body (back, arms and shoulders, legs). Then, they practiced giving each other a massage three times a week (Yes, they had homework). Both the giver and the receiver of the massage experienced a reduction in stress and an improvement in mental clarity…BOTH the giver and the receiver! I like a massage…and I like the sound of reduced stress and improved mental clarity.
Although not part of the study, I
believe this likely improved intimacy as well. Taking the time to massage one
another means more time focused on one another—quality time focused on the one
we love. Giving a massage means increasing our awareness of the one we are
massaging (our partner). Massage reduces
stress and that means greater patience. Greater patience means less conflict. In
addition, touch releases oxytocin and oxytocin increases a sense of connection.
Massage involves a lot of touch. Your spouse will appreciate your massage and
appreciation build deeper connection. So, why not take the time this weekend to
give one another a massage. In this world of stress, we all need a little haven
of relaxation and intimacy. Enjoy!
One of the most challenging (if not THE most challenging) job in the world is the job of parenting. Parenting brings new challenges every day. It demands different strategies for different situations and different children. It thrusts us into an awareness of our need for personal growth and pushes us to our limit. Is it any wonder we make a mistake here or there? I know I’ve made my share of mistakes (Read Oops…Parenting Surprises & Lessons Learned for more mistakes I made). Here are 5 mistakes parents often make without even realizing it. By becoming aware of these mistakes, we can avoid falling mindlessly into the miry muck of parenting they create.
the mistake of constantly pointing out what “not to do.” I often felt myself falling into this pit. “Don’t
yell.” Stop running.” “Don’t do that.” “Don’t
hit.” “Don’t turn the TV on.” “Stop fighting.” On and
on. It’s so easy to tell our children what they are doing wrong. Sometimes they
seem to give us so much opportunity to do so. However, it will prove much more
effective when we tell them what we want them “to do” instead. “Hold my
hand.” “Walk.” “Gentle.” “Tell me what’s
wrong.” “Get out a board game.” “Read a book.” Sure,
there are times we need to tell them “not to do” something, but
always follow it up with what they “can do” instead. Many times,
however, we can just tell them what they “can do.”
we expect more from our children than they know or are developmentally ready
Our children are not born experts; we need to teach them…everything.
Teach them how to whisper in the library. Teach them how to load the
dishwasher. Teach them how to clean a room “up to standard.” Don’t
assume they know; teach them. Teaching them involves more than just telling
them what to do. Pull up your sleeves and do it with them a few times. Teaching
is a hands-on activity that builds
connection and intimacy.
we model the wrong behavior.
I know I modeled the wrong behavior at times. If you don’t believe me, read
(blogs about parenting failures). We might react in anger to traffic and says
something we wish our children had never heard…because now they repeat it
all…the…time. Instead of modeling the “wrong” behavior, model as much
positive behavior as you can. Let them see you apologize for your wrongs. Let
them hear you speak the truth. Let them witness your affection for your spouse.
Let them hear you encourage and thank other people. Model the behaviors and
words you want them to follow.
exhaustion or frustration, we discipline our children when they are simply
being annoying. You know what I mean. Sometimes a
four-year-old acts like a four-year-old (go figure) and we get annoyed. They
ask questions constantly, a normal behavior that helps them learn; but we get
annoyed and tell them to sit in silence. They play chase through the house
while we are trying to get some work done so we send them to their rooms. They
spill a drink accidentally and we yell at them.
We have disciplined for normal, age-appropriate behaviors that were simply
annoying at the time. These behaviors are not misbehaviors requiring
discipline. If anything, these behaviors may simply require redirection or
simple instruction. Let kids be kids…and teach them to be aware of others.
We tend to
be all talk and no action. Parenting
is not merely a verbal task. You cannot sit in your chair and yell, “Turn
the radio down,” “Get your hand out of the cookie jar,” or
“Clean up this mess” and expect it to happen. Parenting is a hands-on job. We need to talk less and
act more. Nag less and take action. Get out of the chair. Walk over to your
child. Put a hand on their shoulder and look them in the eye before giving them
a request or directive. When they follow through, give them a high-five or a
simple “thank you.” If they ignore the request, follow through with an
appropriate consequence. It doesn’t have to be a crushing consequence. Just a
simple consequence. Can’t clean the room, lose the opportunity to go out (or
watch TV) until it is clean. Won’t turn the radio down, lose the radio for a
day. Won’t get your hand out of the cookie jar, no dessert today. You get the
idea. Less talk, more action.
Don’t get caught in the miry muck of parenting
by engaging in these mindless parenting mistakes. Stand on firm ground with mindful
action that will promote your childrens’ growth.