You’ve heard songs lament, “You’ve lost that loving feeling….” You’ve probably even heard people you know declare, “I love you; I just don’t feel the love anymore.” That’s great news. Now those “loving feelings” won’t interfere with you revealing your true level of love. After all, true love is a verb, not an emotion. Feelings wax and wane. Emotions come and go. But true love includes more than emotion. True love is a verb that involves decisions and actions. True love engages in loving acts toward the one you love even when the feelings of love weaken or seem nonexistent. Think of those loving actions you engaged in when you first met and began to pursue a relationship.
The effort you made to spend time engaged in conversation and getting to know one another.
The time spent sharing interests and opinions over a cup of coffee or a meal.
Think about how often you “picked up a little something” you thought “the one you loved” might like and gave it to them when you met. It might have been anything from flowers to a pack of gum to a picture of something you thought they’d enjoy.
Recall how often you complimented them on their appearance, their cooking, an achievement, or something they did for another.
Remember the times you admired their character as you saw it in action.
Think about the simple acts of physical affection like holding hands, sitting snuggled up in one another’s arms, or walking arm in arm.
Consider how often you offered to do something nice for them. You might have offered to get them a drink while you were in the kitchen, pick up milk on your way to their apartment, or carry a bag for them while they opened the door.
The acts of love go on. There are many more. Not so surprisingly, engaging in these acts of love reignites those dormant feelings of love. I fear we often put the cart before the horse when thinking about love. We think loving feelings drive loving actions. While that might be true at times, real growth, real movement toward a stronger marriage, occurs when the horse of loving action drives the cart of loving feelings to a new and better place in our relationship. Of course, the one steering the cart and directing the horse, the coachman, is you and your decision to go in the direction of love. So, if you’re singing the blues (“I’ve lost that loving feeling”), cheer up. Rejoice in the great opportunity presenting itself to you. Jump in the driver’s seat and take the challenge of driving the horse…eh, I mean, your loving actions. Engage in loving actions, the same type of actions you engaged in when you first “fell in love.” Celebrate the opportunity to reveal your true love in action and the cart of “loving feelings” will follow into an even more beautiful love than ever before.
Loving parents establish loving limits for their children. It’s true. We need to do it. We set limits for their safety and the safety of others. We develop limits to teach them polite behaviors and mature attitudes that will allow them to find success outside the home. We put limits in place to guide our children toward becoming the best versions of themselves. But, you know what our children do with those limits. They bump up against them. They push the limits. They try to sneak around the limits and undermine the limits. Sometimes they bump so hard against the limits we get angry and frustrated. Don’t get too frustrated though because children bumping up against limits is a great thing, especially when we respond in love. Children bumping up against limits provides great opportunities and benefits. Let me explain.
When children bump up against limits they learn how to manage their frustrations. Life will not give them everything they want. They will encounter roadblocks and limits outside the family. Best to learn how to manage the frustration around limits in the loving womb of family rather than the harsh desert of the world. Let them bump…and help them learn how to manage the frustration of bumping a limit in a healthy, mature manner.
When children bump up against limits they learn about our true values. They learn long-term character is more important than immediate gratification or temporary wishes. They learn which values we truly find important and will “stick to our guns” for and which we will “give in” on. They learn which values we truly hold dear and which values we are willing to forfeit to avoid the hassle. They learn which values they really need to internalize and which they leave behind as they leave home.
When children bump up against our limits we have an opportunity to show our them love by explaining the reasons for the limit. They learn we believe in their ability to understand the reason behind the limit. They learn we respect them enough to explain those reasons to them in a calm manner. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we argue with them about the reasons. We simply inform them of the reasons. Then we show our love by standing firm and not budging while they bump up against a good limit.
When children bump up against a limit we have an opportunity to show them our love by listening to their outpouring of emotion. We can hear their explanation and simply be with them in their frustration. They will learn we love them enough to understand their frustrations and remain present in their anger. They learn we love them enough to hear them and understand their concerns…which brings me to the next bullet…
When children bump up against a limit we learn about our children. As they explain their frustration and “everything wrong with the limit,” we gain insight into our children. We may even find their complaint makes sense. We may even discover a need to modify the limit to better support their safety and growth. We will encounter times when our children’s insight and wisdom will influence us to change the limit…and that shows the depth of our love as well.
When children bump up against limits we have established for their safety and healthy development we can become frustrated. But remember, children bumping up against the limits presents wonderful opportunities to teach and love. Let them bump and find a loving, gracious limit that holds them secure. Let them bump and learn. Let them bump and hold them close.
We all love to receive a gift. Even more, we love to give gifts to those we love. Who doesn’t like to see our child’s face glow when they receive a gift from us? Or watch our spouse’s eyes glitter when they receive a special gift? Here is a gift you will love to give. Not only will you spouse and children love to receive this gift but you will experience all kinds of benefits…like more conversations, greater joy, and growing intimacy. What is this gift? The gift of attention!
You can give the gift of attention by listening intently. Listen to their words and listen to their tone of voice. Observe carefully. Observe their body language and their facial expressions. Observe what excites them and what brings them down. Listen intently and observe carefully so you can understand them deeply.
Then, and only then, begin to speak. But don’t move to fast. Use your first words to confirm your understanding. State what you’ve observation. Repeat what you’ve heard. Listen again as they either confirm your understanding or clarify your understanding.
Now, once you understand and your partner knows you understand, you can respond. This sounds like it will take a long time and sometimes it does…but not always. Take this example:
“It’s a beautiful sunny day,” your wife says looking out the window at the flowers in the back yard.
“Yes. It is a sunny day. I like how it shines on the flowers in our backyard,” you reply.
This simple interaction includes the observation that your wife is looking out the window when you talk about the flowers she is looking toward. She knows you listened as you repeat her words back to her–“sunny day.” A simple interaction that gives the gift of attention. With a gift this simple, you can give it away to your spouse and children multiple times a day. It’s almost like Christmas. Merry Attention. Happy Listening.
Remember the old Burger King commercials? I used to sing their moto, “Have It Your Way…,” such a catchy tune.
Unfortunately, some people think they’re married to Burger King. They want to always “have it their way” in marriage, treating their spouse like Burger King. They want their “Burger King spouse” to accept their way and agree with it, or at least act as though they do. They always believe their way “is right” and will argue their point in an effort to make their “Burger King spouse” toes the line and complies with their way. They do this by insisting on “their way” with vigor and passion, often overwhelming their spouse with their energy. They persist in this persuasion until their “Burger King spouse” accepts their conclusion as the right conclusion. What they don’t admit to themselves is “their Burger King spouse” often does this just to end the conflict and not have to talk about it anymore. As soon as the “Burger King spouse” gives in, a wedge (not a pickle wedge or a lettuce wedge but a solid, distancing wedge) is forced between them. That wedge will grow and fester, hindering intimacy and even leading to more conflict in the future.
“Having it your way” doesn’t work in marriage because none of us are married to Burger King. (Well, accept maybe Mrs. Burger King.) Our spouse has their own opinions, perspectives, and ideas. Maybe you “hold the lettuce” and she piles it on…or you “hold the pickles” while he asks for extra pickles. More significantly, maybe she wants a minivan and you want an SUV…or you want to spend some money on a few weekend vacations each year, but he wants to skip the weekend getaways and save all the money for retirement. I won’t list possible differences you and your spouse may hold. I’m sure you can think of a few on your own. The point is, when we insist on always being right, when we demand to “have it our way,” we push our spouse away. In the words of a more marriage friendly moto, “You can be right…or you can be in relationship.” “Being in relationship” requires that we accept our spouse’s point of view as valid, just like our point of view. It means we don’t demand to “have it our way,” but honor our differences by listening and compromising instead. It means having the grace to “have it their way” now and again instead of “our way.” In short, you’re not married to Burger King so don’t expect to “have it your way” all the time. Learn to listen, compromise, and turn toward one another in discovering a third alternative that can satisfy each of you. After all, isn’t it more important to have a satisfying marriage than to “have it your way.”
Family can be an amazing, joyous celebration…sometimes. At other times family can produce a struggle. After all, family is made up of imperfect people. Still, God can use your family for amazing things. That’s one of the lessons from Family Camp at Camp Christian this year. Rich Aubrey taught us several things about family. For instance, he showed us how restores through family and blesses through family. He explained how God loves and blesses families, not just traditional nuclear families, but all families. If your family has experienced hardships or losses, don’t worry. God can reshape tragedy within families to create blessings when we turn toward one another and join with one another in facing the challenges of life. Those family blessings continue to grow when we learn to express our power in humble service and accept one another’s influence, to submit to one another in the reverence for Christ. This is all great advice for our families, advice that will strengthen our families. Thank you Rich and Sherri for sharing with us.
Great teaching is only part of the experience of Family Camp though. The children play. The adults talk. Whole families join together for activities and meals. Everyone shares. I especially enjoy seeing families in all stages and walks of life coming together to encourage and support one another. It’s a beautiful sight to see the expressions of love between family members and between families…to watch a father fishing with his son, a father teaching his daughter music, a couple walking hand in hand with their children gathered around them, parents offering loving correction and teaching …. These are beautiful sights. Perhaps the most touching moments come when families gather together to worship, to sing and learn about God’s plan for family. Even more amazing is when families actually practice what they learn–giving of themselves to their spouse and children; serving one another by getting a drink, clearing the dishes, or serving the food; or lifting up another family’s need to help them through a hard time. All in all, it gives me great hope.
If you have not experienced family at its best, I invite you to Family Camp next year. Terri and Jim Jones organize a wonderful weekend with plenty of free time for family fun and great teachers for encouraging words to strengthen families. They get better every year…so can’t wait to see you there next year!
The party was long and I was getting tired; but, I didn’t want to rudely get up and leave. My wife was across the room enjoying a conversation with another guest. When I looked her way, she caught my eye. She made a very subtle motion with her head and changed the expression on her face ever so slightly for a brief second. Then she returned to her conversation. I knew exactly what she had said. I walked over to the table where I could get a drink and carried it over to her. I handed her the drink and said, “Thirsty?” She nodded and took the drink. “Getting kind of late. I’m tired. Are you ready to leave?” A look of relief spread across her face. “Yes,” she replied, “I’m tired too.” We quickly said our good-byes and headed home. She thanked me for “hearing” her request from across the room and added, “I thought I saw the same in your face.”
I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience in your marriage. The experience of working as a team, of remaining attuned and attentive to one another in a way no one else is. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s time to learn this crucial skill for a happy marriage. It’s a skill developed and practiced every day in a healthy marriage. Here are some tips to help you get started…or to get even better at it than you already are.
Get curious about your spouse. Follow their lead. Learn what they like and don’t like. Learn about their dreams and their fears. Never stop learning. Your spouse will offer new things to learn every day. Get curious and enjoy learning about your spouse. (Develop a “Love Map” with these questions.)
Be open & transparent in speaking about what impacts you and how. Talk about your opinions and your feelings. It’s ok to differ in opinion so allow your spouse to know your thoughts.
Learn to listen intently—not just for words but for inflection, tone, and cadence as well. Not just with ears but with eyes & touch as well. Listen intently. (Learn the The Gracious Art of Listening.)
Turn toward your spouse to work together. Problem solve together. Make compromises. Look for win/win solutions. Function as a team. (RSVP for Intimacy can help you do so.)
Develop an identity as a couple. Consider what you like to do together? How do you fit into world as couple? How do you balance couple time with individual time & identity? How can you create overlap? To help you do this, take time to develop a couple’s mission statement. (Include these 6 Traits for an Intimate Marriage in your mission statement.)
Want to have a better relationship, a happier marriage? Begin to practice by communicating a sense of “us” by practicing these tips. Go ahead and get started. You’ll have fun and grow a more intimate relationship along the way!
How do you think of your children? I mean, really, underneath all the hubbub and philosophical questions and answers, how do you feel about your children? Sure, we can talk about whether they are born with a propensity for good or evil; or, we could discuss how much they know and whether they manipulate or simply try to get their needs met in the best way they know how. We could even go so far as to make determinations about their ability to know right from wrong, the age of accountability, their moral character…and on and on. Researchers have explored these areas. But, really, I don’t want to know any of that. I want to know how YOU feel about your children; how YOU think about your children. Most parents cherish their children. They look at their children with great pride when they do well. When their children hurt, they feel that pain just as acutely. They want the absolute best for their children. At times they look at their children with awe realizing “that little person is my responsibility.” They are so smart, so talented, so…beautiful. Regardless of all the philosophical debates and disagreements, parents love their children! Since we love our children, shouldn’t we show them respect as well?
We show our children respect by giving them our full attention and listening intently rather than “multi-tasking” with our work, our TV show, our book, or our household chores. I’m not saying we can never talk while doing something else, but to give our children our full attention when they want to tell us something shows great respect. We expect them to give us full attention…and what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. (Learn more in The Gracious Art of Listening)
We show our children respect by speaking to them respectfully. Calling our children names or speaking impolitely does not show respect…or love. Making comments that hurt their feelings or degrade their efforts does not show respect. Speaking politely, saying “please” and “thank you,” shows respect. Apologizing when we are wrong shows respect. Speaking words that encourage and gently correct show respect.
We respect our children when we value their interests. When we nurture and support their interests we respect our children and their interests. In fact, Grow Your Children’s Dream with these tips.
We respect our children when we accept and listen to our children’s feelings. Remember, our children feel differently than we do. They may get upset about things that seem trivial to us but respecting our children means we accept those feelings and respond to them with love. When we respect our children’s feelings, they will learn to respect other people’s feelings as well.
We show our children respect by respecting their space and their time. Of course, we still remain responsible and so monitor their phones, assure they keep their space clean, and help them learn to manage their time. We also knock before entering. We do not sneak around behind their back but keep them informed as to expectations. We respect their age-appropriate privacy. (Read Raising Respectful Children: A Self-Examination for more.)
We respect our children by respecting their opinion, even when it differs from our opinion. We encourage them to think and explore.
Ah, the cuddle. Whether it be a hug, a snuggle, hand-holding, or a “smooch,” we love ’em all. And why not? Cuddling does wonderful things for us and our relationship. Let me just name a few:
Cuddling releases a “bonding” hormone (oxytocin). When we cuddle, we bond with the one to whom we cuddle. In other words, we feel closer to one another. So, snuggle up and bond. Enjoy the intimacy. You might even find yourself talking a little more.
Cuddling increases happiness. Who can stay grumpy when snuggled up with the one you love?
Cuddling reduces stress and anxiety. There’s just something about snuggling into the arms of our love and feeling the stress melt away.
Cuddling also lowers blood pressure. Increased happiness, reduced stress, and lowered blood pressure all add up to increased heart health too!
Cuddling releases oxytocin which helps block pain signals. As a result, cuddling reduces pain.
Cuddling also helps us fight colds and other infections. When we feel good our body doesn’t want illness to interfere. So, it fights infections even more.
Cuddling helps us sleep too.
Is it any wonder we like to cuddle? It soothes us and lifts our mood. It melts away the strain and stress of the day. It relieves the pain. All the while it bonds us to the one with whom we snuggle. So, grab your spouse and “cuddle up a little closer.” You know you want to. Sing along with Andy Burrows with full sincerity, “I’d rather have cuddle than a video; I’d rather have cuddle than anything I know. I’d rather have a cuddle than ketchup, chips, or peas. A computer can be lovely, but a cuddle’s what I need!”
Parenting is hard work. I’m probably preaching to the choir with that statement. If you’re a parent you know parenting demands time and energy and money…and often more than we ever knew we had. But, did you know parenting begins in your mind? How we think about our children and our role as parents plays a tremendous impact on how we parent. It can make parenting more difficult or it can make parenting more enjoyable. For instance, do you think of parenting as being a shepherd or guard? Consider the differences.
A guard mentality thinks of children as prone to bad behavior. They expect children to misbehave and act disrespectfully. Shepherds, on the other hand, believe children desire the security of knowing they are accepted and safe within a caring relationship. They see misbehavior as communication of some need or fear, perhaps a feeling of insecurity within the relationship.
A guard focuses on maintaining the rules. They fear grave consequences if those rules are broken. As a result, the guard maintains a position of authority over their children. A shepherd focuses on meeting the needs of their children. Although they maintain a position of authority, that authority is based on relationship.
Guards discipline from a foundation of punishment, often with a harsh tone of voice. Shepherds discipline from a foundation of relationship and concern. Their voice is familiar and welcome in times of enjoyment and times of discipline.
Guards maintain order through fear of punishment. Shepherds maintain order through loving structure which provides security and safety.
Guards focus on making sure everyone knows the rules. They know the rules inside out and expect everyone to know them as well. Shepherds focus on knowing the people under their care. They know their interests, vulnerabilities, strengths, and weaknesses.
Guards expect compliance. When compliance does not happen, they have the philosophy that “they made their beds let them lie in them.” “They get what they deserve.” Shepherds sacrifice for those in their care. They show a grace that teaches better behavior and restores relationship. They focus on the emotional connections that strengthen and sense of belonging that nurtures growth.
Guards push those under their supervision to complete, unthinking compliance. They demand obedience. Shepherds walk ahead to lead those for whom they care into “paths of righteousness.” Shepherds lead by example.
You can imagine the impact these thinking styles can have on how you interact with and discipline your children. Which style of thinking best describes your parenting?
I remember the story of a boy watching a butterfly slowly free himself from its cocoon. The boy felt pity as he watched the butterfly struggle to get out the cramped wrappings of transformation. He feared the butterfly was not making progress quickly enough. He feared the butterfly might hurt himself in the struggle. So, to be helpful, the boy got some scissors, cut the cocoon open, and freed the butterfly. Unfortunately, the butterfly did not fly away in gratitude. He fell to the ground with small, shriveled wings. The butterfly’s wings never opened up and he never flew. He was confined to crawling on the ground for the rest of his short life. The butterfly needed the struggle to develop his wings for flight and prepare his body for life outside the cocoon. I don’t know if the story is true or even realistic (I did find a rendition of it at Struggle is Good! I Want to Fly!), but it does make an important point. Sometimes we need to struggle and take risks to grow.
Did you know that recent research suggests that one contributor to the increase in children suffering with anxiety is overprotective parenting? In a sense, we have become so protective of our children…so careful to prevent their risk, their frustration, their potential harm…that we have prevented them from the very experience they need to grow confident and independent. I learned many important lessons as a child in somewhat risky situations, lessons that helped me build confidence, know my limits, and exercise healthy caution.
I learned the limits of speed riding my bicycle.
I learned the dangers of playing with fire from a paper towel…and making smores.
I learned important lessons about height while climbing trees and small “cliffs” near my house (btw-these “cliffs” look small when I see them as an adult).
I learned the need for caution when jumping over things while jumping over fallen trees.
I learned the potential for hurting someone and being hurt by playing “pick-up games” of football.
I learned to use caution cutting grass by cutting grass and experiencing some “flying debris.”
We learn our capabilities and the limits of those capabilities when we take small risks during our play as children. Our children need the opportunity to play and engage in some independent activities, even ones that carry risk, so they can grow and learn about their capabilities and limits. Of course, we will provide appropriate levels of protection so those risks are age appropriate and not overly dangerous. Even so, they will get bruises, cuts, and scratches along the way. They may experience frustrations and even cry about some of those frustrations. And, they will learn. They will grow. They will become independent. So…how can you begin to allow your child, your butterfly, to emerge from their cocoon and become more independent over the next week?