Don’t Let Your Marriage Buckle Under “Social Distancing”

The corona virus pandemic has led to a call for “social distancing.”  But, don’t let the current pandemic or the call for “social distancing” exacerbate any marital issues that might already exist in your home. In fact, if you already experience “social” or “emotional distance” in your marriage, you’re probably struggling even more to navigate these stressful times. Fortunately, there is no better time than now to correct any emotional distance in your marriage and start to practice emotional connection. Here are six great ways to start building emotional connection in your marriage.

  • Talk with one another. Take time every day to sit down over a cup of coffee and have a conversation. Talk about your experiences of the current crisis, fears of anxieties you might be experiencing. Talk about how you will work together to navigate the current crisis. Enjoy simple small talk as well. Talk like you did when you were dating. Joke a little. Read a book together and talk about it. Talk about your plans for the coming years. Talk your hopes and dreams for the future. Each of these will move you toward a deeper emotional connection with your spouse. (This might be a great time to take A 30-Day Marriage Challenge.)
  • Listen to your spouse. While you converse with your spouse, intentionally and sincerely listen. Listen to hear the intent of their message, the meaning beneath the words.  Listen to understand their perspective and emotions. Ask questions to clarify what they mean. In so doing, you will learn more about your spouse and their emotions. (Learn more about The Art of Listening here.)
  • As you listen and talk, look at your spouse. I don’t mean glance at their face now and again. Really look at them. Notice their eye color and the twinkle in their eye. Notice the shape and features of their face. Pay attention to their facial expressions and their gestures. Look deeply into their eyes to notice the emotions they feel as they talk. There is power in seeing and being seen by one another.
  • Tell your spouse “I love you.” Tell them with words and actions. Whisper it in their ear. Let them see it in your eyes when you look at them. Say it by remembering what they like and don’t like. Show it in your actions by doing a chore they dislike. Love them by expressing gratitude and remaining polite.
  • Give one another a good night hug and kiss (as long as neither is sick, of course).  Don’t just give a quick hug. Dwell in the hug. Make it an “oxytocin hug.”  Give a generous kiss goodnight, not just a simple peck on the cheek.
  • Recall your story. Talk about the time you first met, your favorite dates, and your vacations. Remember the struggles you have overcome together—whether they be as simple as putting up a tent in the rain or dealing with the death of a loved one. The “story of us” is a great emotional connection. (And your children will love it, too.)

These six practices will help you build emotional connection. No matter what is going on in the world around you, keep practicing them and enjoy a growing emotional connection in your marriage.

PS–may we can begin talking about “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing.” Then we can focus on maintaining “social connection” while keeping a safe “physical distance.”

7 Things You Can Do to Raise a Healthy Adult

Life is filled with risk factors and protective factors.  Children, in particular, are susceptible to these risk factors and protective factors. In fact, you may have heard talk about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and how they impact our children even into adulthood. Specifically, ACEs include abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual), neglect (physical or emotional), and household dysfunction (mental illness, domestic violence, incarcerated relative, substance abuse, or abuse). The more ACEs a child experiences, the greater the risk that child will suffer from depression or poor mental health. In addition, the more ACEs a child experiences, the more likely they will struggle in developing social emotional supports as an adult. In other words, these childhood traumas impact an adult’s level of life satisfaction and functioning. That’s bad news.

BUT…there is good news. Children can experience protective factors as well. These Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs) also have an impact on our adult lives. Recent research identified 7 Positive Childhood Experiences and their impact on adult life by surveying over 6,000 men and women over the age of 18. (Read another review here.) The seven PCEs included:

  1. Having the opportunity to talk with family members about their feelings.
  2. Feeling that their family stood by them during difficult times.
  3. Enjoying participation in community traditions and activities.
  4. Feeling a sense of belonging in high school.
  5. Feeling supported by friends.
  6. Having at least two non-parent adults who take a genuine interest in them.
  7. Feeling safe and protected by an adult in their home.

An adult who had experienced 6 or 7 of these as a child had a 72% lower chance of reporting depression or other mental health concerns than someone who experienced 0 to 2 of these PCEs.   If they experienced 3 to 5 PCEs, they had a 50% lower chance of depression or other mental health concerns. In addition, those experiencing 6 or 7 PCEs reported “always” 3.53 times more often when asked about receiving social and emotional support as an adult than those who received only 0 to 2 PCEs. The most amazing discovery: the positive impact of PCE’s remained true even after accounting for Adverse Childhood Experiences.  

What’s the takeaway? Children are more likely to have better mental health, less depression, and healthier relationships in adulthood if they experience these 7 positive childhood experiences. You can build these positive experiences right into the fabric of your family.

  1. Accept the expression of feelings.  Weep with your children when they weep. Rejoice when they rejoice. Share their anger and celebrate their joys.
  2. Difficult times will arise, anything from their first broken heart to the loss of a pet to the loss of a friend from death. Stand by them. Comfort them. Let them feel your presence.
  3. Participate in community traditions. This may include community fireworks, scouting, sports, or weekly worship. Get involved.
  4. Remain involved in your child’s education. Visit the school. Volunteer to help with whatever club they join. Talk to their teachers. Do what you can to help them feel a sense of belonging in their school.
  5. Encourage your children to invite friends to your house. Have snacks available. Allow your child to take a friend on an outing. Get to know the parents of your children’s friends. Ask about your children’s friends.
  6. Get to know the adults in your child’s life and encourage their relationship with those you trust. They may connect with a coach, a family friend, an aunt or uncle, a minister. Encourage these positive connections. After all, it takes a village to raise a child.
  7. Help your child feel safe and protected in the home. The first step in this process is developing a secure, loving relationship with their other parent. Work on your marriage. Keep it strong.

Build these 7 positive childhood experiences into the fabric of your family. You’ll love the results. And your children will reap the benefits for their entire life!

I’m a Daydream Believer. Are You?

It can happen anywhere. My mind wanders and I find myself in another world, a fantasy world. At times, my daydreaming got me into a little bit of trouble. Teachers often didn’t appreciate it. But now, thanks to a group of researchers, I’ve discovered how being a daydream believer can benefit my marriage. Perhaps it can help you and your marriage, too. Have you ever had times in which you and your spouse had to be apart? It may be as simple as having to spend the day at work. Or it might be more involved or lengthy, like a business trip, deployment, or living in different time zones due to work for a period of time. Could daydreaming help you maintain your connection?

In a study completed in 2015, 126 people were divided into three groups. One group was asked to daydream about a “another person  that you have a close, positive, relationship with like a friend, family member, or significant other.” A second group was to enjoy a daydream “just about yourself. It shouldn’t involve thinking about or interacting with anyone else.” And a third group was given a simple working-memory task (a control group). After being assigned to one of the three groups, each person took a quiz designed to elicit feelings of loneliness. Then, each group did their assigned daydreaming or working memory task. Following this, each person took several measures of feelings, desire to connect with others, and willingness to help another  person.

What were the results?

  • Social daydreamers (those who daydreamed about a loved one or friend) and non-social daydreamers (those who had a daydream that only included themselves) exhibited an increase in positive feelings. BUT, only social daydreamers exhibited an increase in positive social feelings. In other words, only social dreamers exhibited an increase in feelings of connection, love, and belonging!
  • Social daydreamers also exhibited a greater willingness than non-social daydreamers to help another person. In other words, their increase in positive social feelings went beyond mere feelings and led them to take different actions than non-social daydreamers. They “put their feelings where their actions were” and responded to requests for help.
  • Social daydreamers also expressed less desire to interact with others (strangers) in a future task. Their “need” for connection and belonging was satisfied through daydreaming about their significant other.

What does all this mean for you? Well, if you’re missing your spouse you don’t need to look for some connection at the bar or on-line chats or pornography. You don’t have to sit in your room feeling blue either. Instead, you might spend a little time daydreaming about past interactions and possible future interactions with your spouse. A little daydreaming and you’ll likely feel greater connection, love, and belonging. That’s why I’m a daydream believer.

PS—By the way, you don’t have to limit yourself to a daydream if you’re missing your spouse. You might also give your spouse a call.

Nurture Your Child’s Success in School

I hate to say it, but report cards are not a very good measure of school success. We want our children to learn so much more in school than how to regurgitate enough information to get an “A” on their report card. We want them to develop a joy for learning. We want them to learn how to think independently and to ask insightful questions. We want them to develop a sense of competence. We want them to learn the social skills necessary to become successful in the workforce. And, we want them to develop an intrinsic motivation to learn and grow. Those traits would reveal a child’s success in school. An “A” on the report card just doesn’t reflect all these skills. In fact, pushing for good grades can even undermine this deeper success. Pushing for good grades can devalue the process of learning the skills of life and replace it with a crazed obsession to achieve the end product of an “A” without really learning anything. This anxious effort for an end product can crush the intrinsic motivators inherent in our children, motivators like curiosity, and a desire for competence. It can limit our children’s sense of mastery and leave them feeling anxious, unsuccessful, and less competent to meet the challenges of the world after high school.

If that’s the case, what can a parent do? If grades alone don’t reflect success in school, what does? How can I nurture school success if I don’t push for good grades? Good question. Let me offer a few suggestions.

  • Determine your priorities. What do you really want your child to learn in school and life? What are your educational priorities? Do you really want them to simply recall the dates of Lincoln’s assassination or to develop a compassion for people as well? Which is more important for your child to know: the formulas of calculus or the social skills that will bring them success in the world of work? What Do You Really Want for Your Children? Once you know your priorities, you can encourage the types of learning that reflect your priorities.
  • Celebrate effort. Don’t get me wrong. Grades still have their place. However, if we focus on the end goal of the grade, our children miss out on the real precursor of successful learning—effort. Effort is what contributes to good grades. So, acknowledge & celebrate effort. (Learn more here.)
  • Enjoy the content. Do your best to make learning fun. Don’t focus on the dates or the dry facts alone. Pack the dates and dry facts with stories of the funny, the inspirational, the humane. I love the stories that show the inspiration of heroic acts amid tragedy or the acts of love in situations filled with hate. For math, I like to celebrate Pi day with various pies. Or, talk about the Fibonacci numbers and enjoy Fibonacci in music. For history, discover the Righteous Among the Nations (you can read some of these stories here) and the funny stories as well as the successes of various presidents (For one example, consider William Howard Taft). Make learning fun. Teach your child to enjoy the content. Your creativity is the only limit to how you do this. 
  • Model learning. Children learn much more from the example of their parents’ lives than they learn from their parents’ words and directives. So, what are YOU learning? You can learn something for work or something unrelated to work. Learn a language. Take a class in photography. Take instrumental lessons. Whatever you might enjoy, use it to model learning. And as you learn, talk to your children about the excitement, the struggles, and the joys of learning new things.

Nurture your child’s school success. Learn something new yourself. And, most important, have fun.

Resting on a Stable Stool of Love

Passion and intimacy are important aspects of a healthy marriage. One theorist even developed a “Triarchic Theory of Love” that included passion, intimacy, and commitment. Like a 3-legged stool, this theory held that the seat of love rested on three components: Commitment, Intimacy, & Passion. Missing one or two of these components meant an unstable love. No one wants to sit on a 2-legged stool or, worse, a 1-legged stool. We need a stable love with all three components on which to rest.  Of course, passion and intimacy can wane, but commitment contributes to their waxing strong again. In fact, committing to these six activities can help keep passion and intimacy alive and growing.

  • Keep on dating. Dating is the opportunity to give one another the kind of attention you shared in the early days of your relationship. It is an opportunity to give your undivided attention to your spouse for an extended period of time. With that in mind, you can have a “date” at home as well as in the community. Take time every week to put the kids to bed or get a babysitter and spend one-on-one quality time in which you give one another your undivided attention. Remember, you can Make Date Night Spectacular with just a few simple actions.
  • While we’re on the idea of full, undivided attention, unplug. When you go on a date, unplug. Schedule daily tech-free periods of time with one another, times in which you can be together with no interruptions from technology. Two excellent times to create “a couple’s tech-free time” include mealtimes and the last 15-30 minutes before going to bed.
  • Practice eye contact. I know it sounds gushy, but stare at one another with those high school googly eyes of love. When you talk, look one another in the eye. Notice the beauty of your spouse’s eyes. Let them know how much you admire their beauty. It may be somewhat uncomfortable at first but allow yourself to enjoy the connection of eye-to-eye contact.
  • Hide a love note…or five…or ten….  Write a few simple love notes to your spouse and hide them in their clothes, their lunch box, their car, under their pillow…whatever creative place you can imagine. The note doesn’t have to be extravagant. They can be as simple as “I love you,” “You’re beautiful,” or “Thanks for being mine.”
  • Put on some music and dance. You can dance in the kitchen, the living room, the dining room, the bedroom…wherever you want. Even if you don’t like dancing in public, a little private dancing can sure ignite your passion and intimacy as a couple.
  • Give a massage; receive a massage. Sharing massages is a great way to relax and share romance. You don’t need any special training. Just pay attention to your spouse and give them a massage. If you want some hints, consider these simple instructions from wikiHow.

Don’t let your spouse sit on an unstable 2-legged stool. Commit to keeping keep the stool of love stable so you can both rest comfortably and securely on your passionate, intimate, committed love.

Daddy, Can I Date?

I remember the day it happened. My 6th grade daughter asked me if she could date a particular young man. My first thought was, “Is she crazy? My little girl…another man? No way!” Maybe I was overreacting. So, rather than give her my initial thoughts, I became curious. “What does it mean to date someone?” I asked.

“I don’t know?” she answered. “I guess we’d see each other at school and talk.”

Still curious, I pushed a little further. “Would you kiss him?”
“Eww. Daaad. Yuck.”

“I guess that’s a ‘no’?” She shook her head. “Well, are you going to hold hands?”
“No. That’s gross.”

Satisfied that her idea of dating was very different than my initial fears, I said, “Sure. You can date him.”

Dating seems like such a normal part of the teen years. Many consider it an important learning experience for teens, helping them develop their self-identity and social skills. It increases their awareness of others. It helps them learn about their emotions and the emotions of others.  But, is it necessary? What if your teen just doesn’t date? Will they still learn these things? According to research from the University of Georgia, the answer is “Yes.”

The researchers conducting this study analyzed data that followed students from the 6th grade through 12th grade. Every spring, students completed surveys that included information on dating, social and emotional factors, relationships with peers and family, symptoms of depression, and suicidal thoughts. Their teachers also completed questionnaires rating each student’s social skills, leadership skills, and levels of depression.

The results are interesting. First, the self-reports of students did not differ between dating and non-dating students. However, the teachers rated the non-dating students significantly higher in social skills and leadership skills than their dating peers.

In addition, scores on the depression scale were significantly lower for the non-dating students (according to the teachers). The non-dating students also reported being sad or depressed at a significantly lower rate than the dating students. It seems that non-dating teens avoid a great deal of drama and so experience a lower incidence of depression. Overall, it turns out that both dating and non-dating are normal, healthy behaviors for teens. Both dating and non-dating teens learn social skills and grow emotionally. Both grow in their self-identity. No worries. Dating or not, our children can mature into healthy, happy adults.

Learn to Complain Well

Complaining can easily become a habit that traps us in a cycle of finding even more reasons to complain. That cycle is bad for our mood, our health, and even our brain… UNLESS we learn to complain well!

Complaining well has a different purpose and outcome than simply complaining. Simply complaining traps us in the self-perpetuating cycle of negativity that feeds negative expectations and attracts even more negative experiences. How can we complain well and break out of this cycle of complaining? Here are 3 tips to help you do just that.

First, determine what you can and cannot control. Rather than complain and worry about what lies outside your control, focus on what you can control. You cannot control what other people do or say. You can control your response to other people. You cannot control the weather. You can control how you dress for the weather. Notice, those areas we can control tend to evolve around ourselves, not others. Focus on those areas you can control and take action to make a change.

Second, practice gratitude and appreciation. Learn to view your desire to complain as a signal, a light on the dashboard of your “car of life,” that warns you of the need to “fill up” your tank with gratitude and appreciation. When the signal arises (when you feel like complaining) fill up the tank by thinking about those things you appreciate and those for which you can be grateful. Then start sharing your gratitude and appreciation.

Third, voice your complaint with a goal toward resolution. This 4-step plan can help you do this.

  1. Assess why the situation arouses your desire to complain. What value or expectation is being infringed upon? Is it a reasonable expectation?
  2. Determine what you would like instead. What action would better align with your values or expectations? Is it possible and within your control? Is it reasonable?
  3. Give a solution with an appropriate boundary. If it is possible, how can the solution be achieved? Can you enact the solution alone or do you require assistance? If the solution is not accepted, how will you respond? Are you willing and able to respond in this way?
  4. Calmly verbalize this to whoever else is involved. If there is no one else involved in the situation, simply determine what action you can and will take to remedy the aspects of the situation over which you have influence.

At first glance, this may seem more difficult than simply venting and complaining. In fact, complaining is easy. It just doesn’t do anything but make us feel worse. And, habits take intentional effort to change. Changing the habit of complaining is no different. However, changing the habit of complaining will add to your happiness and your health. Perhaps more important, it will enhance your family’s happiness and health. It will improve your relationship with your spouse. And you know that’s nothing to complain about!

To Live the Dream of Emotional Closeness

It’s like a dream, isn’t it? A family in which your spouse and your children come to you to talk about their joys and their sorrows, their accomplishments and their failures, their courageous moments and their greatest fears. But this doesn’t come easy; it doesn’t happen in our sleep. It takes work. It begins with our own willingness to risk the vulnerability of talking to our spouse and children in the same open way we hope they talk to us. That, in itself, represents a significant challenge for me. As we learn to take that risk ourselves, there are other things we can do to promote the emotional safety in our family that will encourage open communication and emotional closeness.

  • First, welcome the expression of emotion. When your child comes to you crying, accept their sorrow. When your spouse comes to you in anger about a coworker, accept their anger. Don’t try to minimize their emotion. Don’t tell them to “calm down.” Simply welcome their emotion. Accept it. Acknowledge it.
  • Second, join them in their emotion. “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” in your family. If you spouse is angry about the way a coworker was treated, be angry in the moment with them. When your child is brokenhearted after breaking up with their boyfriend of 2 months, be brokenhearted with them. They are likely overwhelmed by those emotions. They need you to share that emotion with them, to share the burden of the emotion and so make it more manageable.
  • Third, hold their emotion. This involves empathizing and “sitting” with them in the emotion, whether it be joy or pain, happiness or sadness. Join them and hold their pain with them. Let them know that you are strong enough to sit with them and their emotions. Their emotions do not overwhelm you. Instead, you can feel those emotions with them, share the pain, and so share the burden of that emotion as you manage it together.

There is a scene in the movie Shadowlands (watch it here) in which CS Lewis sits with a young boy in front of the wardrobe of the boy’s recently deceased mother and CS Lewis’s wife.  Together they talk about their doubts and their overwhelming sorrow. CS Lewis welcomes the young boy’s sorrow and doubt. He joins the young boy in his pain. He shares the burden of that emotion. Then, CS Lewis starts to cry. The young boy also starts to cry. They sit together hugging one another as they cry and grieve their loss together. They hold this emotion together. They share the pain.

It is in sharing emotion that we overcome. And, it is in sharing emotion that we grow more intimate with one another. It is in the vulnerability of sharing emotion that we draw nearer to the dream of a home in which emotional safety allows us to stand before one another to reveal our deepest selves and know we have found unconditional love and acceptance.

A Couch Potato Teen? The Good News, Bad News, & Even Better News

What’s wrong with a couch potato? Researchers in the United Kingdom have answered that question. Well…they didn’t ask that question literally, but they answered it nonetheless. They followed 4,000 children using “wearable devices called accelerometers.” These devices record body movements, sort of like a Fitbit. They analyzed the data collected through these devices when the children were 12, 14, and 16 years old. Ironically, their daily sedentary time increased from 7 hours and 10 minutes to 8 hours and 40 minutes over the span of those years. The knowledge they gained about adolescent activity levels comes with good news and bad news.

First, the bad news. This increase in sedentary time was associated with an increased risk of depression. A decrease in activity level contributed to the risk of depression. Specifically, every hour of increased sedentary time during adolescence was associated with an 8-11% increase in a risk of depression at 18-years-old.

Now the good news. The risk of depression decreased by 10% with every hour of physical activity added to a teen’s day. In other words, adding an hour of physical activity to a teen’s day cut the risk of depression by 10%! Adding two hours of physical activity cut the risk of depression by 20%!

But wait. There’s even better news. Physical activity does not have to involve the gym, sports, or a major workout. These are good, but not the only options. Physical activity in this study simply meant moving around. Even light activity like walking to a friend’s house, running errands, standing while talking to friends (rather than “sitting on the phone”), doing chores around the house, or helping set the table helped to accrue physical activity…and decrease depression! That is great news because there are so many options to help your teen gain more physical activity. Really, anything other than the sedentary sitting or lying down while play video games or watching TV is going to help accrue time of physical activity. So, encourage your teen to walk to a friend’s house, ride their bike to the store, play a game of pick up basketball with friends, do some chores…anything to get them on their feet and moving.

For an added bonus, engage in some physical activities with them—walk the dog together, ride your bikes to a movie, do yardwork together, engage them in cleaning the house with you. Not only will the physical activity help decrease their risk of depression, but the time spent with you will contribute to their long-term health and happiness as well.

Top 5 Ways to Know Your Partner Feels Unappreciated

Number 5: You notice your partner leaving things they usually do undone. Yes, this is a little passive aggressive. But it sends a message loud and clear. “I’m tired of being unappreciated for all I do around here…so I’m just not doing it anymore.”

Number 4: Your spouse withdraws into a quiet shell. Sometimes a person will become quiet and sullen when they feel unappreciated. They look angry or unhappy in their quietness around you but perk up around others. If you see that, maybe you’re seeing a spouse that feels unappreciated.

Number 3: Your spouse begins to sound like a martyr. When your partner begins to act and talk like they are the martyr or say things about feeling taken advantage of, you may be living with a spouse that feels unappreciated.

Number 2: Your partner begins to complain. “Do I have to do everything around here?”  “Can’t you help out a little? I’m tired of doing everything.” “Why do you just sit around while I do all the work?” If you are hearing statements like this, your spouse likely feels unappreciated. (And, you may show your appreciation by helping “around here.”)

Number 1: Your spouse tells you directly. They may say it kindly. “I’m feeling a little underappreciated, honey?” Or they may say it in anger. “You don’t appreciate anything I do around here.” Either way, the easiest way to know your spouse feels unappreciated is when they tell you so.

More importantly, what can you do about this? The answer is simple. Begin appreciating your spouse. Look for opportunities to thank your spouse for things they do for you, your family, and your home. When you see something they have done, thank them. Don’t just smile or acknowledge what they’ve done in your head. Verbally tell them, “Thank you.”

Don’t stop there. Don’t just respond to things they do. Respond to who they are. Voice your admiration and adoration for them. Acknowledge their beauty, their hard work, their kindness, their wisdom. Whatever you admire and adore in your partner, let them know. (Here are 6 great things you can say to show appreciation to your spouse.)

Finally, get involved. Help around the house. Serve your family. Ask how you can help…then do it. Nothing makes a person feel more appreciated than a partner who is actively involved in working together.

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