The Beatles Knew It!!

“Say you don’t need no diamond ring and I’ll be satisfied. Tell me that you want the kind of thing that money just can’t buy. I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love…. Can’t buy me love…” The Beatles sang those words in 1964.  Over 50 years later science is telling us why those words ring true. Jason Carroll, a Brigham Young University professor of marriage and family studies, and his team of researchers surveyed 1,310 married individuals to gather data on the relationship between materialism, perception of marriage importance, and marital satisfaction (read review of study here). They confirmed the Beatles’ words, “Money can’t buy me love.” Specifically, the more highly a person valued money, the less they seemed to value relationships including marriage. Materialism was “possession-oriented” rather than “relationship-oriented” when pursuing happiness. In other words, the more a person held to the priorities associated with materialism the less they held to the priority of marriage. Materialism crowded out marital priorities, creating a shortage of time for communication, conflict resolution, and intimacy—the stuff of happy marriages. Materialistic people sought happiness in possessions rather than people; they invested time and energy into getting things rather than investing time and energy into nurturing a healthy marriage.

If you find materialism creeping into your marriage, “buy it out” with these tips:

  • Do an honest self-appraisal. Confirm your own priorities. Sometimes people are not aware of how the pursuit of money has unbalanced their lives. They really “believe” marriage is of greater importance than money. But, their investment of time and energy reveals a different story. It reveals they have slipped into a pattern of materialistic pursuits. Take a hard look at how you spend your time, the activities in which you invest, and the focus of your energy. Do you spend more time pursuing material gain or family closeness? Your actions reveal your lived values. Make sure your lived values are the values you truly hold.
  • Reinvest in what is really important. Family and relationships bring greater happiness than material gain. Things break, rust, fall apart, and quit working. Relationships in which we properly invest will grow, support, and strengthen both us as individuals and couples. Invest in your family. (Read The Meaning of Our Lives for more.)
  • Prioritize generosity as a family. Studies reveal that generosity is linked with increased happiness. Generosity teaches us to let go of our pursuit of materialistic gain and focus on how we can invest in people. Practice generosity toward others in your family. Practice generosity as a family toward those outside the family. Teach Your Children to Live Happy will provide several ideas for practicing generosity as a family. By practicing generosity you shift the focus from “things” to people, from possessions to relationships…and find yourself and your family happier.

Holding Tightly With an Open Hand

My youngest daughter had a wonderful opportunity to sing at DCINY under the direction of Eric Whitacre in Carnegie Hall. She was ecstatic. It demanded a great deal of work and courage on her part. She had to fill out the application, try out, rehearse independently, and then rehearse with the choir. She also made arrangements with her teachers to make up missed classwork, arrange travel to New York, arrange a stay in a hostel, and manage her time while there. She did an amazing job. I’m very proud of all she did, including her work to grow as a vocalist and as a person who cares for and loves people from all walks of life.

My oldest daughter is preparing to move across the country to begin her next stage in life. She has worked hard to get an opportunity to study music’s impact on identity for oppressed populations.  She too is thrilled with the opportunity. She has worked hard to get to this point. She has already begun to make the arrangements necessary for a successful move. It’s exciting to consider who she might meet, where she might go, and what she might learn.  I’m very proud of all she has done, including her work to grow as a pianist/musician and as a compassionate advocate and scholar.

I love watching my daughters grow and experience life. I anticipate other wonderful experiences in both their lives. It is all very exciting. At the same time it’s a bit…well…sad. Don’t get me wrong. I am thrilled to watch my daughters grow and encounter new experiences. But, their growth also means they become more and more independent. They do not need me as much anymore. They are learning to manage their own lives without my help. They are learning to do it “all alone.” Go figure. Years of working to get our children to this point and now it’s here. Now, it’s time to let go. Well, maybe I’m not really going to just let go. I’m going to hold on tightly, but with an open hand as I watch my daughters take flight. I’m going to hold on tightly with an open hand so I can watch them “soar to new heights.” I’m going to hold on tightly with an open hand while trusting the relationship we have nurtured to keep us emotionally close, no matter how physically far they travel from home and how independent they become. I’m holding on tightly with an open hand so we can learn from one another, so we can share in the new experiences of life as each of us grow older. I’m holding tight with an open hand as we learn to relate together as adults who serve and encourage one another, support and strengthen one another. It’s an adventure, a frontier we have not yet fully experienced as a family. But it holds great opportunities for all. So we walk this adventure together, holding on tightly to one another with an open hand.

One Key Factor Promotes Lasting Relationships

One key factor promotes lasting relationships. What? At first I was surprised then curious…so I read on. They key factor promoting lasting relationships was confirmed by a team of researchers from the University of British Columbia. They had analyzed the data on “thousands of couples” involved in two large British surveys and the Gallup World Poll.  After accounting the couples’ ages, gender, income, and health conditions, they “found” one key factor promoted lasting happiness marriages and relationships. One key factor! Specifically, happiest couples all said their significant other was their closest friend. In other words, having a deep friendship with your spouse increased happiness and life satisfaction (Read Science says lasting relationships rely on a key factor for more).

Other researchers have confirmed this finding. In particular, Dr. Gottman noted that the “determining factor in whether wives and husbands feel satisfied with sex, romance, and passion in their marriage is, by 70%, the quality of the couple’s friendship!” That’s right, friendship in marriage even improves sex life! (Read Improve Your Sex Life…BEFORE You Hit the Sheets) Gottman even identifies the building blocks of friendship in marriage: building love maps, sharing fondness and admiration, and turning toward one another to work as a team. So, if you want your spouse as a best friend and if you want happiness in a lasting marriage…

  1. Enhance your love maps. A love map contains all the relevant information about our partner’s lives, from birthdays and anniversaries to greatest fears and dreams. It represents what we know about our spouse’s physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual life. Of course, love maps needs constant updating as the experiences and feelings that make up our maps change as we go through life. So take time to talk with your spouse every day. Find out about their day, their challenges, their joys, their sorrows. Learn about them. If you’re stuck on how to do this, try the “20 question game” in this short article on love maps.
  2. Sharing fondness and admiration builds friendship as well. Sharing fondness and admiration is a habit of mind in which a person identifies and verbalizes appreciation for their spouse on a daily basis. This may be as simple as saying “thank you” for what your spouse did during the day or as intimate as noting character traits that you admire in your spouse. You can make fondness and admiration a part of your marriage with a simple math equation (Don’t worry, it’s not new math!).
  3. Turning toward your spouse rather than away involves responding positively to their requests for attention, affirmation, affection, or connection. Of course friendship grows when spouses respond to one another’s bids for connection on a regular basis rather than turning away. Gottman actually found that couples who turned toward one another 86% of the time remained married after a six year period whereas couples who divorced in that time period only turned toward one another 33% of the time. Responding to our spouse’s builds friendship. Turning away because of preoccupation, lack of concern, or just putting our energy elsewhere destroys friendship (Read RSVP for Intimacy in Your Family for more info on turning toward).

The one key factor in a happy, lasting marriage is friendship. If you want a happy, lasting marriage, keep nurturing the friendship you have with your spouse. Build that friendship by enhancing your love maps, sharing fondness and admiration, and turning toward one another every day…starting today!

If Looks Could Heal…

I stole the title for this blog from the title of a research study exploring the impact of a non-residential father’s involvement in his children’s lives (If looks could heal: Child health and paternal investment). This study explored the relationship between non-resident fathers, their children, and their children’s health. It found, among other things, that “a typical visiting father” who invested one extra day of time per month in his children’s lives “enhanced their health by just over 10% of a standard deviation.” Although this study dealt only with fathers and children who did not live together, I believe it points to an important principle of father-child relationships. A father’s investment in his children promotes their overall health and development in a positive way.  In fact, a father’s investment in his children’s lives promotes healthy children, healthy families, and healthy communities. This particular study suggests a father’s investment impacts physical health. Other studies have shown that a father’s involvement impacts other areas as well. For instance, a father’s involvement in his children’s lives will impact their:

  • Academic Life. School-age children with involved fathers become better academic achievers. They are more likely to have better quantitative skills, better verbal skills, and higher grade point averages.
  • Emotional Life. Father involvement is positively correlated with children experiencing more overall life satisfaction and less emotional stress or mental illness.
  • Social and Emotional Life. Children who have involved fathers are more likely to score high on self-acceptance as well as exhibiting greater personal and social adjustment as young adults.
  • Future Employment. Children who have involved fathers have a greater chance of becoming more successful in work as adults.
  • Social Life. Father involvement is positively correlated with children’s overall social competence and ability to relate to others.
  • Social and Community Involvement. Children with involved fathers are less likely exhibit conduct problems. They are less likely to engage in negative behaviors such as substance abuse or delinquent behaviors that might result in jail time.

A father’s presence in the family and investment in his children’s lives pays dividends for their children’s whole life. A father’s involvement benefits his children, his family, and his community. Get involved today!

(For more specific statistics related to these findings see the following sites: The Importance of Father Involvement, an interesting infograph from the University of Texas; 10 Facts About Father Engagement, from the Fatherhood Project; and The Effects of Father Involvement: A Summary of the Research Evidence, from the Father Involvement Initiative-Ontario Network.)

Rewire Your Brain & Stop Yelling

I love children. I find raising children one of the most amazing and rewarding tasks of life.  But, I have to be honest.  Raising children can be extremely frustrating as well. It can take you right to the edge of sanity. Raising children can make parents want to pull their hair out. Many a parent finds themselves yelling at their children in frustration and then feeling bad about yelling. If you’re like me, you probably realize that yelling isn’t even very effective in the long run. It “scrambles” our children’s brains. They can’t think in the face of yelling. It traumatizes our young children when taken to the extreme. Some studies even suggest it might increase the likelihood of aggression. Most parents don’t want to yell but struggle to stop. How do we stop? It seems like the brain is wired to yell in frustration. If you’re in this boat, I have some good news: 4 steps to help rewire your brain to stop yelling…or at least limit the times you do yell.

  1. Reduce unnecessary We tend to yell more than we think. We often create an environment of yelling in our homes. We yell “Time to eat,” “Dinner’s ready,” “Turn the music down,” “Close the door,” “I’m coming,” and all sorts of other simple comments. We really don’t need to yell these phrases. A much more respectable and polite method of communicating the same message involves approaching the other person and calmly let them know “Dinner’s ready” or “Don’t forget to shut the door please.” Become aware of all the unnecessary times you yell in the home and begin to change those times. Replace those times of yelling with connection: approach the other person, maybe touch them on the arm, and simply talk.
  2. Tame your internal voice. Parents often have an inner voice screaming demands at them throughout the day. It may not be loud, but a harsh demanding internal voice will increase internal stress and chaos. To stop yelling in the home, we need to tame our internal voice. Take five minutes a day to sit down, breath, and meditate or pray to help create an inner calm. That inner calm will quiet your internal demanding voice. The calmer you can keep your internal voice, the fewer times you will use your external voice to yell.
  3. Increase connection. Take time to connect with your child every day. The more connected you are to your children, the more often they will listen. You can also use moments of frustration to connect with your children. In fact, these are powerful moments of parent-child connection. So, when you feel like yelling, connect physically by gently direct your child out of the traffic area (if needed), get down on their level, look them in the eye, and gently touch their shoulder or arm. Then connect emotionally by labeling their emotion. Finally, after connecting physically and emotionally, restate your directive or limit.
  4. Slow life down in general. Sometimes life gets so rushed and serious. When it does, yelling increases. So make time to laugh with your children every day. Take time to connect rather than rushing about. Put in the effort to patiently bless your children with your time and delight rather than blurting out angry words in frustration. Your children will love you for slowing down…and you will yell less.

There you have it: four tips to rewire your brain and tame your yelling. Give it a try over the next month and enjoy the results.

Dona Nobis Pacem: Grant Us Peace

My wife, my daughter, and I went to a choral concert presented by the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh entitled PEACE.  We heard several composers’ choral renditions of Dona Nobis Pacem: Grant Us Peace. We also heard various testimonies and readings from three people who have invested their lives in various avenues of promoting peace within our communities. The whole experience was beautiful, inspiring, and peaceful. Then we left the concert setting and returned to the world of confusion, animosity, and conflict.

Peace seems so distant in our immediate environment of division, antagonism, and hostility. Everywhere we turn dissonant, hateful chatter rises up and floods over the banks of polite boundaries and congenial discourse. Fear and anxiety, resentment and hostility are infecting the lives of our children. Peace seems, at times, a distant dream. But, as we listened attentively to the various renditions of Dona Nobis Pacem and contemplated the readings offered, I realized peace is not so distant after all. Peace is very near. It begins with a God of peace who “is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist….” Peace is our original design. Peace destroyed was restored through the sacrifice of One Man who “is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Paul—Ephesians 2:15). The One who sacrificed for our peace has “proclaimed peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near” (Paul—Ephesians 2:17). Since we have been given peace it is very near to us. We need only open it, pursue it, and promote it (Romans 14:19; Hebrews 12:14).

In all reality, pursuing and promoting peace are integral aspects of our daily life. We can pursue peace by sharing polite words with those you meet. We promote peace by listening, really listening, to understand those who speak. We pursue peace by opening doors for others, literally and figuratively. We promote peace in patiently merging into the various streams of life with others and generously allowing others to merge into those same streams of life. We encourage peace by offering words that build up instead of words that tear down, words that bless instead of words that curse.  We promote peace when we lift one another up, even those who disagree with you, rather than shaming and ridiculing. We nurture peace when we forgive those who have offended and apologize to those you offend.

Truly, peace is closer than we think…but it takes the investment of our words and actions. Begin the peace investment in your home as you treat your spouse, your children, and your parents with honor and dignity, decency and grace. As we do, our families will become the catalyst for peace in our communities. Yes, peace is closer than we think. “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Dona Nobis Pacem: Grant Us Peace.

Argument Starters & Enders

Many things can start a couple to arguing. Some issues of argument seem significant like money, sex, who does what chore, or how often to go out. Others seem insignificant in the long run like how to hang the toilet paper, what color car to buy, or what side of the bed to sleep on. There are a multitude of “argument starters,” issues that lead to arguments. However, if you really want to, you can narrow the “argument starters” down to a few key issues.

  1. Insecure emotional connection. When we do not feel emotionally connected to our spouse, we seek ways to reconnect. Unfortunately, we may seek less effective methods of reconnecting. In our fear of losing our attachment to our spouse, we may even go to extremes to reconnect. Sometimes we turn to arguing and fighting to regain a sense of connection. It results in a negative connection but a connection nonetheless. It is in response to fear of emotionally drifting away from our spouse that we sometimes get “snarky,” snap back, and make harsh comments. Like a toddler crying out and reaching for her mother, we will strive to reconnect by acting out of our fear of rejection.
  2. Conditional acceptance. Some marriage experts have called acceptance the “mother of all issues.” We long to feel totally and unconditionally accepted. When we feel our acceptance is based on performance or behavior, we can easily feel abandoned and rejected when our performance does not meet the standard of our partner’s expectation.
  3. Feeling disregarded. Sometimes we feel disregarded, unheard. We believe our spouse “never” listens to us. We feel unimportant in their eyes because they have disregarded our desires or ignored our requests. In anger, we demand to be heard and attended to.

I’m sure there are other issues that lead to arguments, but these three issues underlie many arguments. Arguments about money often come down to feelings of insecurity, emotional distance, and feeling unheard. Our heated disagreements over physical intimacy reflect feeling emotionally disconnected. Argument about dishes in the sink stem from feeling “my wishes always get disregarded.” The list goes on…feeling emotionally disconnected, conditionally accepted, and disregarded fuels many of our arguments. That’s good news because knowing what fuels the arguments and fights gives us insight into how to avoid the arguments and fights. Knowing the “argument starters” shines a light on the “argument enders.”

  1. Connect emotionally. Spend time together. Talk about more than the business of running a household. Talk about your interests, dreams, fears, and joys. Share opinions about current events. Pray together. Learn together. Walk hand in hand. Snuggle up and cuddle to watch TV, the sunset, or the birds in the yard. Seek ways to “touch your spouse” emotionally each day. Take time to connect. (You might even try practicing a Marital Sabbath each week.)
  2. Accept your spouse unconditionally. Acceptance satisfies a deep-seated emotional need in each of us. It promotes a sense of security, confidence, and courage. Put away comparisons, back-handed compliments, and guilt-inducing statements. Practice accepting your spouse and expressing that acceptance in your words and actions. Treat them with the dignity inherent in them as a person. Love them for their differences as those unique traits make your relationship stronger and more beautiful (Read Honoring Variety for more).
  3. Attend to your spouse. Listen to your spouse and respond to their attempts to interact and connect. Let their desires influence you. Keep your spouse in the forefront of your mind and communicate how important they are to you as often as you can. (Here is a simple formula to help you keep your spouse in the forefront of your mind.)

Don’t let this short list of ideas limit you. I’m sure you can find more ways to connect emotionally, practice acceptance, and attend to your spouse. The important aspect is to practice connecting, accepting, and attending on a daily basis. As you do, arguments will decrease in intensity and frequency. You will feel more intimacy and joy in your marriage.

An Easy Way to Get In Sync

I have a confession. Sometimes I feel out-of-sync with my wife. Sometimes for no identifiable reason we feel disconnected, distant from one another. Have you ever felt disconnected or out-of-sync in your marriage? If you have, I have great news! A study completed by researchers from the University of Colorado and the University of Haifa found a way to get more in sync. This simple activity synchronizes breathing, heart rate, and even brain waves when a couple engages in it. The researchers confirmed what I consider an additional bonus for this activity as well. When a woman felt pain and an empathetic spouse engaged in this simple activity, the synchronicity increased and the pain decreased! In other words, this activity activated “pain-killing reward mechanisms in the brain.” Nice bonus, right?

 

What is this powerful activity you ask? Holding hands! If you feel out-of-sync with your loved one, hold hands. If you feel disconnected, hold hands. Your heart, your breath, and even your brain waves will sync up. You’ll feel more in-sync and connected. As an added bonus, if you’re experiencing any pain, it will likely decrease as well. So reach out your hand and touch your spouse. Grab your spouse’s hand and hold it. Get in sync today. (P.S.—I think I’ll practice now!)

You Can Help Prevent Teen Suicide with These Simple Actions

I have bad news. Teen suicide rates are on the rise. In fact, suicide rates for teen girls hit a 40-year high in 2017 (Suicide Rate for Teen Girls Hits 40 Year High). Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens 12- to 19-years-old in 2006 (CDC: Mortality Among Teens Age 12-19 Years Old) and the second leading cause of death for those 10- to 24-years-old in 2015 (National Vital Statistics Report-see page 10 for figure). Many times depression or other mood disorders can be involved (Teen Suicide Statistics).  Overall, this is devastating information. Our young people are crying out in need of something.  But what do they need? A study presented at the 2017 American Public Health Association conference gives us a hint and tells us how we might stem the rising tide of teen suicide. They presented three conclusions from a 2012 US national Study of Parental Behaviors and Suicidal Feelings Among Adolescents that can cut suicide risk by up to 7 times (These Parenting Behaviours Cut Suicide Risk 7 Times).

  1. Tell your children and teens you are proud of them. Adolescents were five times more likely to have suicidal thoughts, seven times more likely to have a suicidal plan, and seven times more likely to attempt suicide when their parents rarely or never expressed pride in them. Adolescents need to know we take pride in their actions and their efforts. They need to know we take pride in them!
  2. Tell your children they have done a good job. This simple action was associated with a similar level of suicidal risk noted above. When we acknowledge a job well done we communicate our teen’s value. We inform them that we notice their and appreciate their work. We express the importance of their place and work in our home and world. We acknowledge their power to do things and the importance of that power in our lives.
  3. Help your children with their homework. Once again, helping with homework was associated with a similar level of suicidal risk noted in bullet #1. Helping our children and teens with homework communicates love. It lets them know we are interested in their world and committed to their growth. It gives us the opportunity to learn and grow with them, sharing in tasks together. It expresses how much we love them…enough to help them in the work of their daily world.

Once again, these three simple actions significantly reduce the risk of suicide in teens. Unfortunately, many teens do not receive these simple blessings from their parents. Make sure your teen does.

I would add two other important actions we can take to protect our teens from suicide.

  1. Get to know your teen. Learn about their world of friends and activities. Observe their moods and behaviors. If you see some change in their mood, if they appear depressed or isolated, seek help. Many teens who commit suicide have some type of mood disorder or change in peer relationships (Teen Suicide Statistics). Know you teen well enough to recognize the signs…and get help if they need it.
  2. Limit the use of electronic devices and encourage face-to-face interactions. In recent studies, Jean Twenge and colleagues identified that teens who spend five or more hours per day on devices are 71% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide. (The Risk of Teen Depression and Suicide is Linked to Smartphone Use) At the same time, getting rid of all devices did not help. Instead, the option resulting in the best mental health limited time on devices while encouraging face-to-face interactions.  (Read Just So You Know: Screen Time & Teen Happiness for more on this.)

Overall, these five actions are not hard. They do take time. They mean investing in the lives of our youth.  And that’s a great investment…after all they are amazing people with exciting futures who will build the tomorrow in which you and I grow!

A Contract with My Preschooler?

Want to increase your preschooler’s attention span, ability to plan, and self-confidence? Here is an idea borrowed from “Tools of the Mind”.  Let me describe what the teacher does in a preschool where this idea is utilized. The teacher helps children plan their play before they begin their play. They actually discuss what the children want to do and let them “write down” the order of activities they want to engage in. The “written” order of activities may not have actual written words. It may consist of pictures or what appears like scribbles.  Nonetheless, it represents the child’s plan, a symbolic contract.

Children then begin engaging in their activity. As you have likely experienced, they often lose focus part way through the activity and begin to drift to another activity. At that point, the teacher brings the children’s “written contract” out and asks them if they finished what they had planned to do.  Often, the children look at the paper and remember their “plan.”  “Oh yeah. I have to finish….”  A simple reminder and they return to the initial activity and continue with “the plan.”  After the activity, the teacher goes over the “plan” with the children again. They acknowledge the children’s accomplishment. This allows the children to enjoy the accomplishment of completing what they began.  Adding to the benefit, children gain an increased attention span, a better ability to plan ahead, and a greater sense of self-confidence. Who wouldn’t want that for their child?

Reading about this tool got me thinking. Could we do this with our children at home? Sure, it takes a little more time but preschoolers spend a lot of time planning their activities already. And, it really isn’t that hard. We simply begin to talking with our children about the play activities they want to engage in. We allow them to “write down” the activities and “make a plan.” Then, as we engage in play and our children begin to drift from the plan, we ask them about the plan. We even let them look at the “written plan” and ask if they still want to continue with the plan or change it. Many times they simply remember the plan and return to the activity they had initially written down. And in the process they learn to plan ahead, focus, and build self-confidence. How great is that?

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