Archive for Celebration

A Remedy for the Common Cold in YOUR Marriage?

A study reported in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology suggested an interesting way to prevent the common cold. It’s all natural…no medications, no formulas. Even more, you can experience this in your life. There’s a good chance you already have. It’s very simple. It was explored in this study involving 47 women, blood samples, and questionnaires about relationships. What is this “cure for the common cold”? Falling in love. That’s right. When the women in this study “fell in love,” they experienced a boost in their immune system, especially the immune system involved in antiviral defenses. Of course, this does not guarantee improved immunity for the lifetime of a marriage. This study only showed improved immunity for those “falling” in love, those in the honeymoon stage, not those who experience long-term love. The research team plans to look at the health implications of long-term love relationships in future studies. But I wonder…. I have “fallen in love” over and over again during my 27-year marriage. It seems that new experiences and special moments bring out the feelings of “new love” all over again. A special night at a romantic restaurant…a weekend getaway for “just the two of us”…a romantic trip to a new location…a walk through the park hand in hand…it all sparks those feelings of new love, of falling in love. So, I wonder…could those experiences boost our immunity to defend against the common cold? I don’t know for sure. I guess I’ll have to wait for the research. But, in the meantime, I’m going to plan a few more romantic getaways…just in case. After all, those romantic getaways are a whole lot more fun than the common cold. (For other benefits of love read The Superpower You Can Give Your Spouse.)

How Emotions Build or Destroy Trust in Your Family

We all want to have a home environment that allows us to trust one another. You know, a home in which spouses trust one another, siblings trust one another, children trust their parents, and parents trust their children. A home environment in which we can trust what someone says. We know they will not lie. They will follow through on what they have promised. We know they have the best interest of the family in mind. 

A trusting environment in our homes requires more than trustworthy individuals. It also requires our capacity to trust others. Interestingly, that’s not as simple as it sounds. For example, emotions impact our capacity to trust others. A recent study suggested that negative emotions like anger or frustration reduce our willingness to trust other people even when these negative emotions were elicited by events that did not even involve the person we struggle to trust. For instance, annoyance created by sitting in a traffic jam may reduce our capacity to trust other people in our lives.

That study aroused my curiosity, so I looked at another group of five studies. These studies revealed that:

  • Happy emotions increase our trust more than sadness or anger.
  • Only “experienced emotions” increased or decreased our trust of others. Thinking about an emotion did not impact our trust. But, dwelling on an incident that arouses happiness, sadness, or anger did. And, once again, happiness increased trust while sadness or anger decreased trust.
  • Gratitude also increased our capacity to trust others while pride, guilt, and anger reduced our capacity to trust others. And, those emotions that involve others (like anger and gratitude) had a greater impact on our levels of trust than emotions that were more personal (like pride or guilt).
  • If the cause of the negative or positive emotion is made known, it does not impact our capacity to trust the person we are currently with. For instance, if I am talking to a coworker after having experienced the annoyance of sitting in a traffic jam, I may have a reduced capacity to trust him. However, if one of us points out how annoyed I am about sitting in the traffic, the impact on my capacity to trust the other person disappears. I can now trust based solely on the current interaction.
  • Finally, the more familiar we are with a person, the less our emotions will impact our capacity to trust them. We are more likely to base our trust on past experiences with the person we know rather than any momentary emotion we might experience.

What does this have to do with families? We can apply several principles from these findings to increase levels of trust in our family.

  1. Focus on building relationships with each family member. When we have a relationship (when we are familiar with a person) our capacity to trust them is less affected by immediate emotions and based more on our long-term experience with them. Build a history of trustworthiness with your family. Follow through on your promises. Tell the truth. Act in accordance with the best interest of your family. The more our families know us, the less their immediate emotions will impact their capacity to trust us.
  2. Fill your home with positive emotions like gratitude, joy, and curiosity. Make it a practice to show gratitude daily. Become curious about each family members interests and likes. Encourage their interests and hobbies. Play. After all, positive emotions increase our capacity to trust. 
  3. When your spouse, child, or parent is upset, tired or angry, postpone any discussion and simply remain available to them. Set aside your own agenda and respond to their emotion. Offer support and encouragement. Doing so will allow them to work through the negative emotions they are feeling and preserve the trust you have in one another.
  4. When you or another family member experience a negative emotion, make it explicit. Label the emotion and identify the trigger of that emotion. By doing so you keep it from interfering with the trust in your immediate relationship and interaction.
  5. Finally, enjoy the trust you have nurtured and built in your family with the help of emotions!

The Superpower You Can Give Your Spouse

I love love…and I love reading experiments about the power of love to influence our lives. If love is powerful, then the love of a spouse is a superpower. For instance, researchers at Brigham Young University subjected 40 couples to intentionally challenging tasks on the computer while measuring their pupil diameter (a rapid and direct measure of the body’s physiological level of stress). In one group, an individual from the couple worked alone on the task. In a second group, the person’s spouse sat near them and held their hand while they worked on the task. Both groups were initially stressed BUT the group that held hands with a loving spouse calmed down much more quickly. As a result, they were able to work on the task with reduced stress levels. Just having a loving spouse nearby holding their hand reduced their stress. That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.

In her book Hold Me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson refers to several studies that show the power of love.

  • A study by Mario Mikulincer of Bar-Ilan University in Israel monitored the heart rates of couples as they responded to scenarios of couples in conflict. Those who felt close to their partners (who knew the superpower of a spouse’s love) reported feeling less angry and attributed less malicious intent to the partner. They expressed more problem-solving initiative and made greater effort to reconnect. In other words, a partner’s love decreased feelings of anger and increased the perception of positive intent, even during arguments. That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.
  • In addition, the power of love led to a greater curiosity and willingness to try new things. That willingness to explore and have adventures with the one we love increases intimacy and personal growth. That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.
  • Jim Coyne, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania concluded from the research that the love people share with their spouse is a good a predictor of survival at four years after congestive heart failure. In fact, it’s as good of a predictor of survival as the severity of the symptoms and impairment caused by the congestive heart failure. In other words, the power of a loving spouse is at least as powerful, if not more powerful, as congestive heart failure. That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.
  • One of my favorite studies in this area shows the power love has over pain. At the University of Virginia women received MRI brain scans while under the threat of possibly receiving a small electric shock on their feet. You can imagine the stress of this threat. When a loving partner held the women’s hands, they registered less stress on the MRI. When they did receive a small shock, they experienced less pain! The happier (the more loving) the relationship, the more pronounced the effect. In other words, the power of love is stronger than shock, stress, and pain! That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.

Maybe Huey Lewis was on to something when he sang, “that’s the power of love.” Or, maybe he needed to change the lyrics to “that’s the superpower of a loving spouse.” Then again, that just doesn’t rhyme. Nonetheless, the love of a spouse is a superpower…and I’m going to share that superpower with my spouse. How about you?

Parents, Are You a Buzz-Killer or a Responsive Encourager

As parents, we want our children to learn and grow. After all, who wants to spoon-feed a child for twenty years?  No, we want them to learn and grow, to become independent and self-sufficient, responsible and mature. And do you know how children learn? They learn by exploring…and they explore everything. From the time they start putting things in their mouths they are exploring and learning about themselves, the people around them, and their environment. Unfortunately, we sometimes hinder their exploring, and their learning as a result, without even knowing it. Let me give you an example taken from an experiment completed at the University of Washington. One hundred fifty toddlers (15-months-old) sat on their parent’s lap while an experimenter sat across from them demonstrating how to use various toys. This experimenter was a “responsive encourager.” The “responsive encourager” showed the toddler the toys’ movable parts and how the toys made sounds. They rattled and buzzed and moved the toys around in response to the toddler’s excitement. The toddlers were intrigued. They leaned forward and pointed. They wanted to explore (aka—explore) the toy. But alas, a second experimenter, the “buzz-killer,” entered the room and sat nearby. The “buzz-killer” complained about the toys. The “buzz-killer” grumbled, complained, and angrily called the toys aggravating and annoying. (You can watch a variation of this experiment on video here. Notice how the child’s whole affect changes!)

The toddlers were then given the opportunity to play with the toys. One group of toddlers were allowed to play with the toys while the “buzz-killer ” sat nearby and watched them or read a magazine with a neutral facial expression. These children hesitated to play with the toys. They appeased the “buzz-killer” by limiting their exploration of the toy. They hesitated to explore the moving parts and the noises. They hesitated to engage in behaviors that would let them learn about the new toy and their environment.

A second group of toddlers had the chance to play with the toys while the buzz-killer left the room or turned her back so she couldn’t see what the children were doing. This group “eagerly grabbed the toys” and began to play with them. They imitated what the first experimenter, the “responsive encourager,” had shown them. They explored the moving parts. They explored the noises. They manipulated the toy and learned about it. They learned how it worked and they made it work. They explored and learned just as the “responsive encourager” had hoped.

Sometimes we complain about our children’s exploration. We become the “buzz-killer.” They make too much noise; we grumble. Their behaviors are aggravating and annoying; we scowl. They ask too many questions; we sigh. They get into too much stuff; we huff and puff. But when we grumble and complain, act annoyed and yell, we become the “buzz-killer” who hinders their exploration…and their learning. We hold them back from learning about their world, themselves, and the people around them. We become the “buzz-killer” in the room hindering our children’s growth.

Yes. There are times we need to set limits. There are times we will ask our children to explore more quietly, at a different time, or in a different room because we are tired or don’t feel well or just need some peace and quiet. However, we want our general response to be that of the “responsive encourager.” We want to encourage exploration, even participate and stimulate greater exploration. Because when our children explore, they learn and grow. So which are you? A “buzz-killer” who hinders learning and growth or a “responsive encourager” who promotes learning and growth?

Generosity Can Save Your Marriage!!

Every now and again, I bring home flowers for my wife. (Now that I think about it, maybe I should do that today.) We put them in a vase with water and enjoy them…until they wilt. We also have flowers in a flower garden in our back yard. Guess which flowers last longer. You know it; the flowers in our backyard. They are planted in rich, nurturing soil that generously provides the nutrients they need to grow and blossom time and again.

Our marriages also need a rich, nurturing soil to generously provide the nutrients necessary for our marriages to grow and blossom time and again. Each spouse is part of the rich soil in which your marriage is planted. And, from our richness we need to generously provide at least seven nourishing qualities in extravagant abundance to our spouse and our marriage.

  • Generously give your time…lots of it. I’ve quoted it before and I’ll quote it again, “Love is spelled T.I.M.E.” We give our time to those people and things that are important to us. So, make sure your “Daily Planner” reflects the priority of your spouse and your marriage. Give them the time reflective of their value. (Practice a marital sabbath to give time to your spouse.)
  • Generously give your caring attention and presence. Spending time with your spouse is important. However, it takes more than merely being a body in their vicinity. Lavish them with your caring attention. Let your active daily involvement in your spouse’s life, your presence in their life, speak of your concern, love, and affection.
  • Generously give your ears. Remember the saying, “You have two ears and one mouth so you can listen twice as much as you talk.” Give your spouse your ears in abundance. Listen deeply. Listen intently. Listen to understand. Listen. Listen. Listen. (Listening deeply in this way will prove a powerful way to improve your marriage.)
  • Generously give your affection. It’s been said “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth” (Virginia Satir). Don’t keep your marriage on a survival mode. Be generous. Give your marriage what it needs for growth, lots and lots of affection in words and actions every day. (For more on the power of generous hugs and affection read And a Hug to Grow On.)
  • Generously give simple acts of kindness and service. Kindness and service are powerful. They proclaim our love. They melt hearts and restore relationships. They nurture an environment of encouragement. They stimulate greater intimacy. Give kindness and service to your spouse with extravagant generosity. (Try these 31 Acts of Kindness to Strengthen Your Marriage.)
  • Generously give forgiveness. We all make mistakes. We all need forgiveness from time to time. Forgiveness is necessary for a marriage to survive and flourish. Give your spouse forgiveness as often as needed. And, if you’re asking for forgiveness bear the fruit of repentance with great abundance.
  • Generously give prayer for your spouse’s well-being. Notice I say pray for your spouse’s “well-being.” Don’t ask that they change to become the person you want them to become. Accept them and pray for their well-being. Pray for their happiness. Pray for them to feel loved. ….(Read Improve Your Marriage with One Simple, Daily Activity for more on the power of prayer in your marriage.)

Yes, generosity can save your marriage. Throw caution to the wind and start lavishing these seven gifts of grace on your spouse today. And watch your marriage blossom and grow.

The SuperPower You Want in Your Marriage

All marriages experience stress—the stress of finances, raising children, getting everything done, household crises, simple arguments, the list goes on.   Sometimes couples respond with a pattern in which one partner demands, nags, or criticizes while the other partner shuts down, withdraws, or avoids (commonly called the demand/withdraw pattern). Of course, this negative pattern proves detrimental to a marriage…UNLESS you have this superpower. No, it is not the ability to fly or become invisible, shoot webs from your wrists to silence your partner, or run at the speed of light to escape. No, this superpower is much simpler than any of these…and more powerful in your marriage. Researchers at the University of Georgia revealed this superpower in a study involving 468 couples. They asked the couples about the quality of their marriage, their communication, their level of financial stress, and their use of this superpower. They discovered that this superpower “can counteract or buffer the negative effects” of negative communication styles like the demand/withdraw pattern described above. And, this superpower was “the most consistent and significant predictor or marital satisfaction” for both males and females. It increases marital satisfaction and commitment. It decreases the “proneness for divorce.” Sounds like a great superpower to have in your marriage, doesn’t it? Well, it’s easy to acquire and use. It may not come naturally, but you can train yourself in the use of this superpower. What is it? The power of gratitude. That’s it. Gratitude!

“Spousal expression of gratitude was the most consistent and significant predictor of marital quality for both” male and female. It increased marital satisfaction and commitment. So, start practicing this simple superpower in your marriage today…right now. Really, go show your spouse some gratitude. I’m sure they’ve done something in the last twenty-four hours for which you can thank them. A simple “Thank you” is all it takes. Now, keep your eyes open for other opportunities to thank your spouse and thank them every chance you get. This superpower will do wonders for your marriage.

Are You Planning a Wedding…Or a Marriage?

The average cost of a wedding in the United States today is $33,931. That is a lot of money. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with spending money on a beautiful wedding; but, it does raise an important question: are we investing in a beautiful wedding or are we investing in a long-term committed relationship? In 2014, two people collected data from 3,000 people in the US that helps to answer that question…and the statistics did not give a great answer to that question.  They found that the length of a marriage decreased as the price of the wedding increased! To state that the other way around: the greater the cost of the wedding the shorter the marriage lasted. Perhaps this is due to the increased debt of higher priced weddings, but really debt related divorce is more about how couples handle the stress together rather than the stress itself. These results are more likely related to whether the couple and their families prioritize the marriage or the status of the big wedding more. Either way, these results should make us think twice about our wedding preparations, to lead us to focus more on relational strength than on just the wedding ceremony itself.

On the other hand, this same study suggests that the higher the number of guests in attendance, the less likely the divorce. In other words, a relatively inexpensive wedding (one that fits the budget) that is highly attended, is a predictor of a longer marriage. I believe that this “attendance factor” provides a couple of advantages. One, it reveals the number of people invested in helping this couple succeed in marriage. Second, it allows the couple the opportunity to make a public commitment to one another and to their marriage before loving witnesses. This public commitment invites those witnesses to support and nurture their marriage.

As you prepare for marriage ask yourself: are you planning a wedding or a marriage?  Planning for your marriage involves much more than simply planning a beautiful wedding. Planning for a marriage means investing less in the ceremony and more in ways to build your relationship skills and relational strength. It means investing in your ability to resolve conflict, work as a team, develop a marital purpose, sacrifice, and serve. Planning for a marriage means inviting other long-term married couples into your life as mentors and supports. It requires humbling yourself as a couple to learn from other successful couples. Don’t worry…you’ll still have a wonderful wedding day and a fantastic honeymoon…but you can also have a long and happy marriage.

…And A Hug to Grow On

Virginia Satir is quoted as saying,

“We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” You may read that and think, “That’s a lot of hugging. Who came up with those numbers, anyway?”

I don’t know who figured out the numbers; but research does reveal that hugs improve our physical and emotional health. For instance, 404 volunteers from the Pittsburgh area participated in a study exploring social support, hugging, and physical illness. The volunteers were asked every evening for 14 days about their social relationships and whether they had received a hug that day. Then, the volunteers were given nasal drops containing a virus that produced symptoms like the common cold (yes, they volunteered for this!). Volunteers who had received more hugs showed a decreased risk for actually “catching the cold.” In addition, of those who did “catch the cold,” those who had been hugged more often had less severe symptoms. And, the more hugs a person received, the more social support they felt. Hugs increased a sense of social support and decreased the risk of physically “catching a cold.”

Another study, involving 59 women in long-term relationships, shows that hugging can help reduce blood pressure too. In this study, the women were initially separated from their partner for 30 minutes. Then, their partner joined them for 10 minutes. During their 10 minutes together, they were encouraged to hold hands, watch a romantic video, and hug each other for at least 20 seconds. After 10-minutes together, the partner left, and the woman had to give an unprepared, spontaneous speech about an event that made her feel stressed. Blood pressure and oxytocin were measured throughout the procedure. The women also completed a questionnaire that included how frequently they hugged their partners. When all was said and done, more frequent hugging was related to higher oxytocin levels (Read 3…2…1…Oxytocin Release for more) and lower baseline blood pressure. In other words, more frequent hugging can help reduce high blood pressure and, as a result, the risk of heart disease.

Hugs can do even more too…but I don’t have the time or space to share it now. I just got an urge to hug my wife. She’s only had 4 today and I don’t want to quit hugging her at mere survival. I’m shooting for enough hugging to really us grow. What about you? Will you give the one you love 12 hugs a day for growth? 

What a 10-year-old Gains Eating with Family!!

Everyone has heard about the benefits of eating together as a family (Read some of the benefits in The Lost Art of Family Meals).  However, a question remained about whether the results associated with eating together as a family reflect a healthy family or truly flow from the activity of eating together. Now, a study from the University of Montreal has attempted to settle that question. They followed children who were part of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development from 5-months of age. At 6-years, their parents reported whether they had family meals together. Then, at 10-years-old, their parents, teachers, and even the children themselves provided information on the children’s lifestyle and well-being. The researchers accounted for factors like temperament and cognitive abilities of the child, parent’s education and psychological characteristics, and family functioning. In other words, they were able to factor out any pre-existing conditions that might influence the child’s well-being and focus solely on eating family meals together. What did they discover?

  • Children who enjoyed a positive family meal environment at 6-years of age had higher levels of general fitness and lower levels of soft-drink consumption at age 10 years…regardless of cognitive abilities, parental education, and family functioning.
  • Children who enjoyed a positive family meal environment at 6-years of age also had less physical aggressive, less oppositional behavior, and less delinquent behavior at 10-years of age…regardless of cognitive abilities, parental education, and family functioning.

Positive family meals, in and of themselves, contributed to children’s well-being at 10-years-old. They ate healthier, exhibited less aggression, and less negative behavior. Really, that is not surprising, is it? After all, children engage in social interactions with their parents and siblings during family meals. They learn how to discuss day-to-day concerns and even disagree over various topics in a civil and polite manner. They gain communication skills as they practice expressing themselves. They learn to associate eating well with positive experiences and so have eating well reinforced.  They experience the joy of acceptance at the family table and enjoy the growing bond with family that increases their sense of security (Learn how that security translates to better relationships in Hot Sauce vs. the Power of Relationship).  So, if you want to optimize your children’s communication skills, social skills, and overall maturity, make time to enjoy family meals.

“Being There” for Family… When?

What does it mean to “be there” for your spouse and children? We often consider “being there” as giving comfort during tough times or caring for others in difficult situations. We think of “being there” as supporting others when they need help. Those are good times to “be there” for our spouse and children; but they are not the only times we need to “be there.” We also need to “be there” during the good times to share the pleasant news, the times of joy, and the times happiness. In fact, sharing good news and good times with those we love builds stronger relationships. It helps the both person “being there,” the person we are “being there” for, and the relationship. Let me name just a few of the many ways “being there” in good times can help a relationship.

  • Sharing good news or good experiences with a spouse, parent, or child who is engaged in the conversation enhances the meaning and weightiness we attach to those joyous times. These moments of sharing become foundational to our memory. We remember positive experiences more vividly when we share them with someone who engages in conversation with us about them. So, if you want your spouse and children to have lots of good memories filled with meaning in their lives, engage them in conversation about those events. “Be there” for them in celebrating the good news.
  • On the flip side, the person hearing about their loved one’s good news or happy experience feel happier. You’ve likely had that experience. Someone told you about their positive experience and you were genuinely happy for them. You rejoiced with them and felt happier yourself. So, listen intently to your family member’s good news and rejoice with them. Share genuine happiness for their good fortune. You’ll be happier for it. Along these same lines, share your own good news and positive experiences with your family members. Don’t hold back and keep it secret. Let them rejoice with you. They’ll be happier for it…and you’ll be happier that they are happier. Everybody’s happy…sounds like a good family night of sharing.
  • Sharing good news and happy experiences with one another also builds stronger, more intimate relationships. Sharing our good experiences is linked to relationship bonding and safety. When a person telling about their good experience knows the listener is receptive and engaged, they feel more secure in the relationship. To go even further, sharing good news with a receptive family member makes us more grateful for one another, enhances our sense of fondness for one another, and increases our dedication to one another. Sound good? It sure sounds good to me.

Don’t just “be there” for your family during the hard times. “Be there” for the good times as well. Celebrate the joyous occasions. Rejoice together. “Be there” in good times and in bad.

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