Book Review: The Path of Intimacy

If you’re looking for a guidance along the path to greater intimacy in your marriage, Scott Means of Heaven Made Marriage has written you a gift. In his book, The Path of Intimacy, Scott guides the reader away from the path of separation and onto the path of intimacy with wisdom and foresight. Isn’t that what we all want in our marriages, to be intimate with one another, fully known and completely loved? To stand before one another completely naked—emotionally, mentally, and spiritually open—yet completely unafraid and completely secure in the love we share with one another? If that’s what you’re looking for (and we all are), this book will serve as your guide on the path of intimacy. Now if you have ever gotten lost, you know how important it is to follow the right signs and not get distracted by the alternatives. With that in mind, The Path of Intimacy exposes the lies that threaten to distract us from the path of intimacy. The Path of Intimacy teaches us to discern the on-ramps that lead to the path of separation from the trail markers that keep us on the path of intimacy. And, The Path of Intimacy prepares us to recognize the markers informing us that we are still on the right path, the path of intimacy. With the insights shared in The Path of Intimacy, Scott Means has offered us the tools we need to remain watchful and intentional in growing a “grace-full,” intimate marriage.  (Available on Amazon)

You Mean THINKING Can Ruin My Marriage?

Well, not all thinking can ruin your marriage but….

Middle age man doubtful and very serious.

You know poor communication or contemptuous communication can destroy your marriage. You’ve probably heard that a lack of connection with your spouse or turning away from your spouse’s attempts to connect can ruin your marriage as well. Perhaps you’ve read about the negative impact of contempt on marriage…or the destructive power of lying on your marriage. But, do you realize a thinking style based on the fear of rejection can destroy your marriage? (Read The Thinking Style that Damages Relationship for an overview of the study showing how fear of rejection impacts relationships.) It’s true! When a person enters a marriage fearing rejection, the marriage is at risk. Fear of rejection causes a person to think about their partner abandoning them. Fear of rejection also leads to the fearful person constantly seeking reassurance and asking about the security of their relationship. They may even try to force their partner to remain in the relationship through verbally eliciting guilt. Or, on the other hand, the person with a fear of rejection may comply with everything their partner says or does…which only serves to weaken the relationship (Shut Up & Put Up to Ruin Your Marriage explains more). Unfortunately, these behaviors, engaged in out of a fear of rejection, only serve to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. They push the partner away and may ultimately lead to destroying their marriage.

Don’t worry though. I have three ideas to help you overcome the fear of rejection and so change your behaviors, strengthen your marriage, and nurture a sense of security in your marriage!

  • Many times, fear of rejection flows from an insecure parent-child attachment. So, if you’re a parent, you can help your children avoid a fear of rejection by developing a secure, loving relationship with them. By doing so you help protect their future marriage from the fear of rejection. If, however, you are an adult with a fear of rejection, learn to nurture yourself. Think about the relationship you had with your parent. What was missing? What led you to feel insecure? What caused disconnection between you and your parent? Then, parent yourself. Provide yourself with those things you missed from your parent. Nurture yourself with encouragement and love. When you make a mistake, show yourself compassion and then consider how you can avoid that same mistake in the future. Trust yourself to grow and learn from mistakes. Give yourself a hug. Acknowledge your successes each day. Compliment your own effort. These actions will contribute to the next suggestion for overcoming the “fear of rejection.”
  • Develop your identity and a secure sense of self. You can do this by acknowledge and capitalizing on your strengths while acknowledging and working to improve in areas of weakness. Participate in your own growth. Develop hobbies that support your interests. Try new things. In this way you will develop a greater sense of independence and competence…and that will not only reduce your “fear of rejection” but strengthen your ability to grow in intimate relationship as well!
  • Befriend people who will honor you. Develop relationships with people who show compassion and understanding, kindness and encouragement. Make sure your partner is a person who will engage in mutual respect, a person who will value you for you and who enjoys seeing you grow as an individual as well as in relationship to them. That may sound like a tall order, but a partner like that is well worth the wait!

Fear of rejection can ruin a marriage, but you don’t have to let it. Nurture yourself. Develop a strong sense of identity. Befriend people who be mutually supportive in relationship with you. When you do, you may feel the “fear of rejection” slipping away…and good riddance!

Expectations, Skills, & a Happy Marriage

What are your expectations in marriage? If your expectations are unrealistic, you’re probably going to be disappointed. The “lived happily ever after” expectation just doesn’t really work out that well. We all have our down times. Nor does the “you complete me” mentality make for a happy marriage. In the long run, we need to become complete as individuals before we can find true happiness with a marriage partner. (Read “You Complete Me” Kills a Marriage for more.)

On the other hand, having low expectations will also lead to a less satisfying marriage. After all, if a person has low expectations for their marriage, how hard will they work to make their marriage better? A long-term satisfying marriage requires investment. Healthy expectations for your marriage will lead to a greater investment in your marriage. Think of it in terms of money. If I thought hard work would profit me five dollars, I’d only work hard enough for five dollars. However, if believe hard work would lead to a thousand dollars, I’d put in a little more time and effort. Low expectations lead to less investment which leads to a less satisfying marriage.  So, what are healthy expectations for a marriage? Here are a few. After you read them over, consider what you would want to add to the list.  

  • Long-term commitment.
  • Verbal affection.
  • Physical closeness.
  • Honor and respect for one another.
  • Consideration for one another.
  • Quality time together.
  • Acceptance.
  • Honest sharing.
  • Open communication.

A happy marriage takes more than healthy expectations though. A happy, satisfying marriage requires the skills to build those expectations, to create an environment in which those expectations might become reality. In other words, a happy marriage requires the relationship skills and problem-solving skills needed to make healthy expectations a reality. (Positive Expectations in the Early Years of Marriage: Should Couples Expect the Best or Brace for the Worst?) Perhaps some of the most important skills needed to create a happy marriage include the skills of listening, resolving conflict, compromising, negotiating, and honoring one another. Take the time to improve in those skills every year…your marriage will thank you for it!

Connecting with Your Teen

One of the most important (and at times challenging) aspects of parenting a teen involves maintaining a strong connection with them. They have activities and friends that suck up their time. They work to solidify their identity by developing their own lives. But research continues to show teens want a relationship with their parents. They still desire input and guidance from their parents. That desire is strongest when they have the positive connection with their parent that they desire. So, how can you keep a strong connection with your teen? Here are 6 ideas.

  • Eat with your teen. I’ve always heard it said that “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Well, it’s true for teens as well. If you want a strong connection with your teen, eat with them. Have meals together as often as you can (A Special Ingredient for Happy Families). Keep snacks in the house so you can offer to share a snack while you talk. Sharing food seems to open the heart. So, enjoy a meal, share a snack, and converse with your teen.
  • Have fun with your teen. You don’t have to have serious conversations and interactions every time. In fact, enjoy as many fun interactions as possible with your teen. Go out just for fun. Enjoy a game. Go to a movie. Go for a bike ride. Let your teen pick an activity to enjoy with you. That might mean engaging in an activity you don’t currently enjoy; but, go ahead and give it a try. It will deepen the connection between you and your teen. (For more read Turn Up the Tunes and A Solid Hint from Icelandic Teens)
  • Pick your battles. Some battles just aren’t worth the struggle and the potential disconnection they create. Hair always grows back. Clothes styles change (within modest reason). Makeup washes off. Save your energy for those issues that represent danger to your teen’s health or reputation…issues that genuinely impact your teen’s well-being.
  • Talk with your teen. Along with choosing your battles, take time to talk with your teen. Talk about topics they find interesting. Use those opportunities to learn how they think. Ask them about their day. Talk about their favorite past-times. Don’t be afraid to talk about the serious issues like drugs or sex. Our teens want to learn about our views on such topics. So keep them talking with you (Are You Teaching Your Teen Not to Talk with You?) They need the opportunity to debate and think through their values in discussion with someone more knowledgeable and mature. Give them that chance with you. Stay calm during the discussion and, while talking, be sure to take a lot of time to listen…which brings us to the next point of connection.
  • Listen to your teen. Hear your teen out. Listen intently to understand. When they have a different opinion than you, listen for the valid points in their opinion. After all, they don’t have to agree with us on everything. If they get in trouble at school, hear their explanation before taking sides.  When you listen intently to your teen, you maintain a stronger connection and increase the chance they will listen more intently to you. (Learn the Gracious Art of Listening.)
  • Recognize and acknowledge positive aspects in your teen. Teens crave acceptance and respect. Let them experience your acceptance and respect by acknowledging their effort. Thank them for helping around the house. Celebrate milestones. Acknowledge their interests and unique talents. Doing so communicates acceptance of their efforts and respect for their interests. 

Teens want to connect with their parents. When you practice these 6 tips, they will more likely connect with you. They’ll be glad to have a parent who connects with them. And you’ll be thrilled to have a teen who connects with you!

Dads, Daughters, & Loneliness

Did you know girls tend to report a decrease in loneliness between first and fifth grade? It’s true. They report less loneliness as they develop more peer relationships and become more comfortable with their social skills during the elementary school years. There is an important caveat to this trend toward less loneliness though; a subtle factor every father needs to know. Girls don’t all move toward less loneliness at the same rate or to the same degree. Guess what makes the difference in their move away from loneliness? Fathers! That’s right. Daughters who report close relationships with their fathers also report a greater decrease in loneliness over a shorter time period. In other words, a close father-daughter relationship helps your daughter overcome loneliness. Mother-daughter relationships didn’t impact loneliness…only father-daughter relationships! This was revealed in a study of 695 families in which mothers and fathers rated their relationship to their children in grades 1,3, 4, and 5. Children rated their levels of loneliness in grades 1, 3, and 5. The results affirmed the importance of father-daughter relationships in decreasing a daughter’s sense of loneliness. The message: Fathers, you are important to your daughter’s development.

And, if you’re like me, you hate to see your daughters looking lonely or complaining of loneliness. Now you know YOU can make a difference. Spend time with your daughters. Pay attention to your daughters’ crazy emotions. Talk with your daughters. By doing so you will help your daughter feel less lonely! Now that is an important role and a joyous task!

Let Them Take A Risk

I hadn’t noticed until someone mentioned it. We were at a playground and there were no teeter-totters. My kids would not learn the thrill of teetering at the high end of the teeter-totter before plummeting back to the ground at a speed slightly quicker than imagined.  There were also no merry-go-rounds, the ones you can get spinning so fast that the centrifugal force threatens to pull you right off the ride. I used to love the feeling of having to hold on for dear life and surviving before bursting into hysterical laughter! No, none of that in this playground. Instead, we stood on a large, soft rubber mat surrounded by mulch. The rides included enclosed stairs and “castle peaks, short slides, and balancing beams two inches off the ground. Don’t get me wrong. This was an amazing playground and my children loved it. Their favorite ride, though, was the spinning tire swing. My children loved to get on that swing beg me to spin them so fast their hair would fly straight back. Some parents wouldn’t allowed their children to ride at the fast spin, directed them to the slides and the castles. But my girls loved the thrill of holding on as the force of spinning pulled them outward. I just liked watching their hair fly back as they spun.

This memory came to mind as I read a review of the literature on play and anxiety published in Evolutionary Psychology. This review suggested that “risky play,” like the playground rides described above, help to prevent long-term anxiety. The article notes that we have become a society in which anxiety is epidemic and the overprotection of children may contribute to that increase in anxiety. Risky play, play in which we go right to the edge of safety, may help prevent anxiety. It helps us become more aware of our environment and our personal limitations. The more we know about our surroundings and the more comfortable we become with exploring new things, the less anxiety will hold us back. The more we know about our personal limitations, the more we practice healthy caution rather than anxious avoidance. But risky play does more than increase our awareness. It also represents a form of “exposure therapy,” an opportunity to face our anxiety in a healthy, appropriate manner and overcome the fears that threaten to imprison us. For instance, climbing trees teaches us to interpret the feelings associated with greater heights as information rather than simple anxiety that holds us back  and “keeps us on the ground.” We can make wise decisions based on our experienced-based knowledge of the environment (strong vs. weak branches) and our own ability. This comfort with heights translates from trees to bridges to rooftops to airplanes. We learn to think wisely about our actions and related fears rather than succumbing to irrational anxieties. 

So, what kind of risky play can help your children avoid anxiety? Here are six categories identified in the literature review.

  1. Exploring heights by doing things like climbing trees, jumping, balancing or swinging.
  2. Exploring speed as we speed along on our bikes, skates, sliding, etc.
  3. Learning about dangerous tools by using knives, ropes, or tractors for various activities.
  4. Rough-and-tumble play, like wrestling, play fighting, or sword fighting with sticks, helps us learn to negotiate physical interactions with others.
  5. Exploring “dangerous elements” like deep water, icy water, fire, or rock climbing.
  6. “Getting lost” and exploring our communities and world.

Of course, we don’t want our children to go crazy. We still need to teach our children the difference between risky behavior and hazardous behavior. However, when the opportunity arises, let your children engage in some risky play. Let them poke the fire. Let them climb the tree. Encourage them to do some rock climbing, wood chopping, vegetable cutting, and swimming in the deep end. Let them explore. You may be preventing the rise of anxiety and opening the door for them to live a more joyous life.

Teach Your Family the “Hidden” Message of Christmas

Most of us know the Christmas story. Baby Jesus was born of the virgin Mary and placed in a manger because there was no room in the inn. That’s the story; but, hidden in plain sight for all who look more closely, is a deeper message for Christmas…a message not just about “baby Jesus” but about Immanuel.  Immanuel is my favorite Christmas word. It means “God with us.”  I love the truth of Immanuel. Jesus “emptied Himself,” became a man, and dwelt among us. He literally became “God with us” to bring peace between God and man as well as peace among men who truly hear His message.


The message of Immanuel has gotten lost today. We live in a divided world.  Divisions grow stronger as interest groups rally for their personal wants and needs, erecting walls between “us” and any who might disagree with “us.”  Conflict increases as we sequester with like-minded people behind walls of demands for “my” space, “my” needs, and “my” desires.  At the same time, we hide in fear from the travesty of disagreements that might call “my” belief into question. Fear, conflict, and division give rise to battles about “mine” and “theirs” and between “me” and “them.”  In the midst of the growing division, isolation, and conflict God speaks the message of Immanuel, “God with us.” “God with us” breaks down the barriers and puts an end to isolation. He walks with us, talks with us, eats with us, laughs with us, cries with us…He is “God with us.” He breaks through the fears and speaks the message of peace through Immanuel, “God with us.” “God with us” bring “peace among men with whom He is pleased.”  Yes, our barrier-filled world needs to hear the message of Immanuel.

The message of Immanuel, “God with us,” was first spoken through a Baby. Who doesn’t love a baby? Who doesn’t feel a sense of joy and peace in the presence of a baby? Who doesn’t want to come alongside a baby and connect with a baby? Yes, Immanuel spoke His first message of “God with us” as a Baby, a Baby born into an occupied country to poor parents. “God with us,” a baby born to a woman who experienced the pain of being cast out because she appeared to have engaged in activities outside the accepted behaviors of her culture. “God with us,” a Baby worshipped by poor people like shepherds and wealthy people like the “magi from the east.” “God with us,” a Baby who had to flee with His family to escape political persecution and death. “God with us.” Yes, Christmas celebrates “God with us,” all of us. Like us, “God with us” experienced the joys of family and friends. He experienced the pain of persecution and disenfranchisement. He knew the struggles of poverty and the riches of faith. He touched the lives of people in every circle. He is Immanuel, “God with us,” walking with all people…in every walk of life. As our families learn the message of Immanuel, as we come to understand the message of “God with us,” perhaps we will learn to walk with those Immanuel chose to walk with–the outcasts and the accepted ones, the poor and the rich, the joyous and the sorrowful, those in our homes and those outside our homes–for we are representatives of Immanuel. Will you join me in living the message of Immanuel this year?

Perfect Last-Minute Christmas Gifts

Are you looking for the perfect last-minute Christmas gift? If you are, forget the new shirt or the latest gadget. Research suggests that experiential gifts are more “socially connecting.” They  strengthen relationship more than material gifts. Experiential gifts allow us to experience more intense emotions like adventure, relaxation, or excitement than do material gifts like clothing or the latest coffee maker. Even more, when the experiential gift allows you to engage in the activity with the recipient, you will draw closer together through the emotion of that activity. So, if you want to buy a gift that can enhance intimacy with your spouse or strengthen your bond with your child, try an experiential gift. You will definitely get more memories for your money, more “bang for your buck.” If you’re not sure what to get, here are a few ideas:

  • Tickets to an amusement park
  • Dinner dates. You might try a book of homemade coupons for “one a month.”
  • A weekend getaway.
  • Tickets to a concert, musical, or dance.
  • A membership to the museum or the zoo.
  • A date night jar filled within expensive dates and an opportunity to add to the jar.
  • A promise to attend family game night once a month for a year. (Of course, you have to keep that promise.)
  • A carrot, some coal, and a hat so you can run outside this afternoon and make a snow man together.
  • A picnic box with plans for family picnics. 
  • Family dinners.
  • Walking maps for family walks.

You get the idea. Give a gift that will allow you to have an enjoyable experience with your family. You’ll love. They’ll love it. Your relationship will love it!

Your Toddler’s Impression Management & You

I love children’s research…and how it applies to our families. For instance, a recent set of four studies out of Emory University involved 144 children 14- to 24-months-old and a remote-controlled robot.  In the first experiment, an adult showed the toddler how to use the remote to operate the robot. Then the adult either watched the toddler or turned away to read a magazine. The toddler showed more inhibition playing with the remote when the adult watched them. No real surprise, I guess. Let’s move on to the second experiment.

In the second experiment, one adult had two remotes. When using the first remote, the adult smiled and said,”Wow! Isn’t that great?” But, when using the second remote, the adult said, “Uh-oh! Oops, oh no!” The adult then left the remotes and stepped away. He either watched the toddler or turned away to read the magazine. The toddler pressed the buttons on the remote that seemed to elicit apositive response from the adult when the adult watched him. However, when the adult looked at the magazine, the toddler pushed more buttons on the remote that was associated with the negative response! Hmmmm. Starting to get a little more interesting.

The third experiment was similar to the second. However, the adult simply gave the neutral response of “Oh, wow” to both remotes. Now the toddler did not choose one remote over the other depending on whether the adult watched. This “control experiment” reveals that the adult’s initial response has an impact on the toddler’s later response to the remotes.

Finally, the fourth experiment used two adults sitting next to one another sharing one remote. One adult smiled and gave the positive response “Yay! The toy moved” when pressing the buttons of the remote. The second adult frowned and said, “Yuck! The toy moved” when pressing the same remote. Now, both adults stepped away to watch the toddler or read a magazine. The toddler played with the remote significantly more often when the adult who gave the positive response was watching.

Think about what the toddlers did in these experiments.

  1. The toddlers modified their behavior to please the one watching them…but only when the one watching had given a positive response to the toy.
  2. The toddlers explored the remote that elicited a negative response when the adult was not looking but used the remote that elicited a positive response when the adult was looking.
  3. The toddlers didn’t change their behavior for the adult who simply gave a neutral or negative response to the remote.

Did you catch the underlying message? Toddlers care about their image, how others perceive them. They modified their behavior in response to the adult watching them and that adult’s enacted values. They wanted that adult to think the best of them. They were concerned with impression management. Let’s apply that impression management to your parenting.

  1. Children want to please their parents, the adult who interacts with them the most. So, if you want to influence your children, engage them. Interact with them. Let them witness what you like, the values that energize you and the people that bring you joy. They will seek similar behaviors.
  2. Children engage in those activities that please their parents, especially when their parents are watching them. Keep an eye on your children. Give them freedom, but build your presence into their lives so they “take you with them” wherever they go.  
  3. On the other hand, children may explore those things they know their parents dislike. The more adamantly a parent expresses dislike in something, the more curious children become. However, a parental neutral response does not elicit the same curiosity (see experiment number three above). So, energetically identify those values and activities you like but use a more neutral, less energetic tone in addressing those values and activities with which you disagree. (Taking Verbal Snapshots can help.)

Our toddlers are invested in impression management. They want you to think highly of them. Use that to help instill positive values and behaviors in your children. 

A Gift to Improve Your Marriage

Are you looking for the perfect gift for your spouse? I have an idea, a gift your spouse will love. The great thing about this gift? You can give it to your spouse over and over all year round without breaking the bank AND without your spouse getting tired of getting the “same old thing” again. They’ll love it every time. You can even “wrap it” up in four different parts so it will look like you gave more!  Even more impressive, research has shown this gift will improve your marriage. A study involving 114 newlywed couples revealed that this gift led to the experience of more positive emotions in the marriage and a higher level of relationship satisfaction. Really, it sounds too good to be true, but I’ve seen it in action. It’s true! So, forget the wrapping paper. Don’t worry about the packaging. Just give your spouse this gift in four parts. What is this miracle gift you can give your spouse? Emotional support! And the four parts of emotional support you can give your spouse to make it look like even more? Listen and show empathy. Express trust in your spouse. Let your actions reveal your willingness to care for your spouse. Communicate acceptance of your spouse even when they’re at their worst (part 4). Yes, your spouse will love the gift of emotional support…and your marriage will, too.

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