Archive for Celebration

“A Real & Detectable Benefit” Easy to Get!

I love to eat. So, I wish I had been a participant in this study. (Read about it in Not
Enjoying Your Dinner Out?). The researchers of this study invited participants to go out for dinner…in a restaurant…with their friends or family!  I definitely would have volunteered for this one. I would have gone to a nice restaurant with my wife. Alas, there was a catch. The people involved in the study were randomly assigned to one of two groups. In one group, participants kept their phones on the table. In the other group, participants put their phones away. The researchers found that those who kept their phones on the table felt more distracted and experienced less enjoyment with their dinner companions than those who put their cell phones away. (I hope I was assigned to the “cell-phones-away group.” Wait, what am I saying? I can make a decision to do whatever I want because I’m not in the study.  I’ll definitely put my phone away and enjoy dinner with my wife without phone distraction. No “phubbing” here! Read Don’t Phub Up Your Marriage to learn more.)

In a second study, 100 participants received a survey on their smartphones (ironically) five times a day for one week. The surveys asked about their mood and what they had been doing over the last 15 minutes. Guess who reported the greatest feelings of enjoyment. You guessed it. In-person social interactions produced more enjoyment and feelings of happiness. Guess what times produced the greatest feelings of enjoyments. That’s right, times in which the participant engaged in more face-to-face interactions and less phone use led to greater enjoyment. (Perhaps because My Cell Phone is Ripping Me Off and yours is ripping you off too!)

Want to enjoy time with your spouse? Want to make family time more enjoyable and fun? Try putting the phone away and enjoying face-to-face, in-person interactions with your family. As this study’s senior author noted, “there is a real and detectable benefit from putting your phone away when you’re spending time with friends and family.” Take advantage of that benefit. Put your phone away.

The Music In Your Heart?

Every couple longs for intimacy. They want to share an intimate dance to the music of love in their hearts. But what are the major keys of that musical intimacy? Stop, listen closely, and you’ll hear that music in our heart. Oh who am I kidding?  Just turn on the radio and listen. You’ll hear the major (and minor) keys to which we dance the dance of intimacy.

  • Intimacy begins with knowledge. We have to “become an expert on the subject I like most…Getting to know you, getting to know all about you. Getting to like you and getting to hope you like me.”
  • Intimate knowledge builds trust and trust requires honesty. Every couple fears “honesty is hardly ever heard but mostly what I need from you.” They know that trust is built upon “Truth and honesty—that is what we need to hold on to the good stuff we believe in…we could pull it back together with truth and honesty. Open up your hands, show me your heart.”
  • Intimacy thrives when partners become mutually responsive to one another’s needs, when each one knows their partner will “see you through; I’ll cover you with a love so deep and warm and true. I’ll be there Honey. I’ll be your shelter.”
  • Intimacy grows when we care for one another, when we know “our friendship will never die. You’re gonna see it’s our destiny. You’ve got a friend in me.” Intimacy grows when each person knows their partner will let them “lean on me when you’re not strong. I’ll be your friend. I’ll help you carry on.” Intimacy requires knowing that one’s partner cares enough to become a “bridge over troubled waters, I will ease your mind.”
  • Intimacy involves interdependence, a state in which each person knows “I want you to want me. I need you to need me. I’d love you to love me.” As a couple they proclaim “there’s nowhere in the world that I would rather be than with you, my love. And there’s nothing in the world that I would rather see than you smile, my love. For united we stand.”
  • Intimacy deepens when “me” changes to “we.” Intimate partner proclaim “I’ll be there for you when the rain starts to pour. I’ll be there for you like I’ve been there before. I’ll be there for you ’cause you’re there for me too!
  • Intimacy requires commitment. Intimacy only grows in the soils of commitment. Each partner has to know the other will “fight hell to hold you, no river too deep or mountain high. I’ll fight hell to hold you by my side…till time stands still and worlds collide I’ll fight hell to hold you by my side.” Intimacy grows when we know “you’re never gonna be alone! From this moment on, if you ever feel like letting go, I won’t let you fall, you’re never gonna be alone!

Some of the music of our hearts goes way back…before our time even.  Perhaps you hear some different music, but it all tells you the same thing. Intimacy is experienced when we know one another, trust one another, care for one another, respond to one another, and want to be wanted by one another. Intimacy means we have become a team, a “we,” committed to that team “til death do us part.”

Boost Your Children’s Communication Skills

Our children need to develop the ability to communicate well if they want to succeed in this world. Think about it. If you want to effectively resolve a disagreement, you have to explain yourself well. If you want others to understand you, you have to express yourself well. If you want to woo your love, you must declare your love in a way the other person will “hear” and appreciate. If you want to get the promotion at work, you have to make your desire and your ability known. Communication and language are essential to our growth, our maturity, and our success.  A recent study from MIT explored how children develop these language and communication skills (Back-and-forth exchanges boost children’s brain response to language). They discovered the number of “conversational turns” between child and parent predicted differences in language skills and even brain physiology. The more back-and-forth exchanges between parent and child, the greater the child’s language comprehension and expressive abilities. In addition, when children who experienced more back-and-forth exchanges with parents listened to stories, they exhibited a more activity in the area of the brain involved in processing and producing language (Broca’s area).  In other words, they were more “tuned in” to hearing, producing, and processing language. So, if you want your children to learn to communicate more effectively, don’t rely on Dora, language games, or other TV shows.  Engage them. Interact with them. Converse with them about topics of their interest. Play fun language games like Telephone, Mutual Storytelling, or Salad Bowl.

The two most important aspects of any activity geared toward helping your child grow is to 1) make it age appropriate and 2) keep it interactive. So have fun. Interact. And watch your children improve their communication and interactive skills.

Keep That Spark Alive with a Marital Sabbath Rest

The Journal of Consumer Research published a series of studies drawing participants from Italy and the United States. They discovered that U.S. citizens associated busyness with status. We tend to view people as important when they skip leisure and work all the time, even complaining they “have no life” because of work or desperately “need a vacation” but are too busy to take one (Lack of leisure: Is busyness the new status symbol?). Unfortunately, this mindset is deadly to a healthy marriage and family. In fact, according to a Baylor University study in 2016 the best predictor of happiness within families was spending time together engaged in familiar leisure activities (Pleasant family leisure at home may satisfy families more than fun together elsewhere, study finds). As overwork and busyness have become status symbols, we have become enslaved to the slave driver of our cultural frenzy. But familiar leisure time at home promotes family happiness, not constant running and busyness. This presents a “bit of conundrum,” doesn’t it? Ah, but I have a solution, an ancient solution that we often overlook when considering our marriages. A healthy marriage needs rest, not just any rest but a Marital Sabbath Rest.  A Marital Sabbath Rest will help us experience the rhythm of God in our marriages, a rhythm that invites us to look forward to reigniting our love together, savoring our connection in the moment, and remembering who we are as couples. A Marital Sabbath Rest will restore God’s freedom from the slave drivers that compel us to overwork so we can experience the gift of freedom to worship and rest.  A Marital Sabbath will refocus our perspective on our delight for our spouses. It will allow us the time to “re-create” and revitalize the unity God has given us in marriage. Status will not give a lifetime of joy; a happy marriage will.  We need a Marital Sabbath Rest to restore that knowledge. To incorporate a Martial Sabbath Rest into your marriage:

  1. Set time aside for you and your spouse. Develop a simply ritual to separate your Marital Sabbath Rest from the rest of the week. The ritual can be as simple as lighting a candle or eating a meal together. Just establish the activity as one that signals the change from “regular time” to “Marital Sabbath Rest time.”
  2. Acknowledge, adore, and admire. Begin your Marital Sabbath Rest by acknowledging your spouse. Recognize and thank your spouse for their investment in your marriage and your home. Tell them one or two things you admire about them. Let them know a couple of things you adore about them. This can also serve as part of the ritual separating the Marital Sabbath Rest from the rest of the week.
  3. Enjoy a meal together. During your meal, enjoy conversation. Save conversation you know will lead to heated disagreement for another time and enjoy friendly, fun-filled conversation with one another. Speak to one another as friends and lovers. Recall times of celebrations. Discuss dreams and anticipate future fun. Share your meals.
  4. Play. Stop working to accomplish something and simply enjoy your time together. Don’t worry about time; savor the “eternal moment” of play and love. Forget about productivity and just enjoy God’s gift of your spouse and your marriage.
  5. Rest. Take a walk. Sit on the porch. Listen to some music. Relax. Go to bed a little early and enjoy your spouse. This is a time to relish in your relationship and savor the intimacy that culminates from a day of enjoying one another.

I know enjoying a Marital Sabbath Rest takes a little preparation and effort. However, the dividends are amazing—a greater peace, a growing sense of security, an increasing joy, and a deepening intimacy.

Beach Balls, Chopsticks, & Ping Pong Balls…Oh My!!

What do beach balls, chopsticks, and ping pong balls have in common? They teach us an important lesson about marriage. What? Really? Yes indeed. It’s true. They teach us to bring laughter into our marriages. When spouses laugh together they report feeling more supported and cared for by one another (Couples Who Do This Together are Happier). They also report greater relationship satisfaction and connection. (The Effect of Reminiscing about Laughter on Relationship Satisfaction)  In addition, a review of 230 baseball players revealed genuine smiles could lead to a longer life! (Grinning for a Longer Life)  Wouldn’t that be a wonderful gift to give your spouse—a longer life for both of you? Smiling and laughter can even reduce stress (Smile It’s Good for Your Heart & LOL-On Safari for the Elusive Smile), making it easier to recover from moments of conflict.

So, whether you do a beach ball ballet,

the Tissue Box Bop,

or wisely use chopsticks like the Chinese, bring a little laughter into your marriage. You won’t regret it!

PS-If you missed our couple’s retreat P.L.A.Y. Rx you missed learning more about the joys of play, laughter, adventure, yearning, and rest for your marriage. But, here are some pictures of the times we shared.  Hope to see you next year.

Savor the Odor…er, I Mean…AROMA

Did you know smell is one of our strongest memory inducers? It’s true. Think about it. Have you ever had a scent tickle your olfactory and find yourself transported back to high school in an instant? Or caught the whiff of a passing aroma that reminded you of your spouse…or a grandparent? (Not that your spouse smell like your grandparent…I mean, it’s ok if they do…but…oh, it’s just an example….You know what I mean.) Do you remember the smell of your grandparent’s home? (Whew, good save?) Scents hold our memories securely in their aura. They do more than trigger memories. Scents can also lower stress. A recent study from the University of British Columbia found the scent of our “romantic partner” helps lower stress. They randomly assigned women involved in opposite sex relationships to one of three groups. The women in one group wore a T-shirt previously worn by a stranger. Those in the second group wore a T-shirt previously unworn and those in the third group wore a T-shirt previously worn by their husbands.  None of the women knew which group they were in. All the women then went through a stressful mock interview and completed a stressful mental math task. Results?

  • Those who wore a shirt exuding a stranger’s scent were the most stressed and had the highest levels of cortisol (stress hormone).
  • Those who wore the shirt releasing their husband’s scent had the lowest stress level and lowest cortisol levels.
  • If the women recognized their husband’s scent on the shirt, their cortisol levels were even lower, suggesting that the stress-reducing benefits of their husband’s scent was strongest when they recognized his “aromatic essence.”

With this in mind, you can use the power of smell to enhance your marriage. For instance, the scent of your spouse can trigger positive memories when you wear your spouse’s favorite perfume or after shave on a date.

If your spouse is away on a trip, take a whiff of his/her shirt. It may ease the longings and reduce the stress of missing them. (Just hope you don’t find the same disheartening result as Ty Burrell in the Gain commercial.)

When you have a particularly stressful event, take a moment to recall your spouse…and their aroma.  You might just experience a reduction in stress.

Oh the power of a scent!  Enjoy the aromatic aura of your spouse…and enjoy less stress.

Serving Up Family Happiness

Serve up a big bowl of happiness for your spouse and children today. Here are the ingredients.

  1. Start with a big scoop of acceptance. Every member of the family needs to feel acceptance. They need to know they are accepted “no matter what.” They need to know that acceptance is not conditioned on behavior, performance, or beliefs. It is unconditional. This allows them to explore, grow, and mature. Lack of acceptance, on the other hand, increases stress hormones, decreases coping skills, and even hinders immune functioning. It can contribute to physical or emotional illness. Lack of acceptance hinders change. Acceptance will open the doors for change. Acceptance promotes healthy relationships and healthy emotional development. So make this first scoop of acceptance extra big. Give a double dose to everyone in the family.
  2. Add a delicious topping of tolerance. Tolerance does not mean “letting anything go.” No, tolerance simply means to accept our differences, to even enjoy each person’s unique contribution to the family and world. Tolerance accepts each person’s uniqueness by encouraging each one to “come into his/her own.” Tolerance knows that our differences add beauty to our relationship and strength to our opportunities. In appreciating each family member’s unique gifts, we can become the “Michelangelo” to each one’s dreams. Be gracious with the topping of tolerance…really gracious…pour it on.
  3. Then sprinkle on some hope. Hope looks to the future. Hope believes fun and intimate joys wait for us “just around the river bend.” Hope anticipates adventure and excitement, laughter and joy, even though there will be times of sorrow and stresses as well. So put on lots of sprinkles. Pour on the sprinkles through your actions and your words.
  4. After you’ve done all this get out a real bowl and fill it with ice cream (I prefer chocolate chip cookie dough). I mean fill it up. Then pour on some caramel, chocolate, and even a little marshmallow and whip cream. Throw on some sprinkles…the colorful ones, they’re the best. Get a spoon for everyone and enjoy the treat. Tell a few family stories while you eat. Dream about your next outing. Laugh. Have a good time. Serve up the happiness!

There you have it, a big bowl of happiness. Enjoy!

Happiness is life served up with a scoop of acceptance, a topping of tolerance and sprinkles of hope, although chocolate sprinkles also work.  –Robert Brault

P.L.A.Y. Rx

A virus has infected our marriages. Perhaps you have suffered with this virus. It capitalizes on the weakened immunity created by our busy lifestyles and our limited rest. Work, raising children, maintaining a home, and constant community involvement takes a toll on our physical and emotional health. This virus of busy-ness attacks our relationships, including our marriages, while we are in a weakened state. It creates a distance and disconnection between our spouses and us. Our home life begins to deteriorate as each spouse runs in a separate direction. Smiles disappear. Joy drifts from our interactions. The virus leaves us longing for a remedy for “we-don’t-even-know-what” because we have no energy or time to think. At the Camp Christian Couples’ Retreat (coming up on February 9-11, 2018) we will offer a prescription to treat this virus…P.L.A.Y. That’s right. PLAY offers an oasis in the desert of busyness, an effective treatment for the virus that has attacked our marriages and our homes. PLAY will bring the smiles back to our faces and the joy back into our interactions. PLAY will restore energy and revitalize intimacy.  And why not? After all, we are made in the image of a God who loves PLAY, Laughter, Adventure, and Yearning.  It’s the perfect Rest. Join us at the Couples’ Retreat February 9-11, 2018, as we partake of this prescription together and PLAY. Hope to see you there!

(If you haven’t registered yet, go on-line at Camp Christian and sign up today. Only room for 10 couples.)

Marry Your Homework?

I read an interesting quote about marriage the other day. Adrienne Gold said “You marry your homework.”  That’s interesting. Some of you are leery already because you hated homework in elementary school and high school. Who wants to “marry your homework”? But don’t pass off this four word quote so quickly. As adults, we know homework had a purpose. Well, most of the time it had a purpose. It was supposed to have a purpose anyway. It was supposed to help us learn and improve our skills in a particular subject. I even had a few teachers who made homework fun, like the teacher who told us to make a bug collection for homework or the one who told us to watch our favorite TV show and write a new ending for it. Thinking about purpose and fun, marriage is the best kind of homework. We learn a lot through marriage. We learn to better communicate. We learn it’s rewarding when both spouses pay attention to one another. We discover areas for personal growth too…and even have a partner to help us in those areas growth. Marriage helps us learn our true potential and marriage helps us move toward that potential. It can be challenging, no doubt. But it can also be fun. I mean working on your marriage involves things like going on dates (the more adventurous the better), having conversations, sharing physical affection (one of these days I’ll get the courage to write about the benefits of a healthy sexual relationship…you’ll be surprised!), and sharing our lives with one another. Working on a marriage means playing, laughing, and doing new things together. That’s the kind of homework I always enjoyed. It’s challenging but fun. It promotes growth and actually serves a purpose. And, to top it all off, it’s rewarding. In fact, marriage may be the most rewarding homework I’ve encountered. So, get in there and do some homework. Love your marriage.

The Family: A Training Ground for Change

I was sitting among a group of friends when the discussion turned to “those people.” Everyone in the group knew I was not only a part of the friend group having the discussion but a member of “those people” being discussed as well. Suddenly, one of my friends looked at me and said, “Well, we don’t mean you. You’re different.” It was too late. I already felt the twinge of being cast out. I’ve had a similar experience several times. It has happened in response to where I grew up. It has happened because of a particular group of people I have chosen to belong to. It has even happened, on occasion, because of my gender. It really doesn’t matter why “it” happened; the fact remains that some comments separate and judge others as inferior, even when those making the comments add a sheepish “we’re not talking about you.”  The comments still lead to division. They still make someone feel like an outcast. Researchers call such comments “micro-aggressions.” Micro-aggressions accumulate to create greater division and prejudice, even causing declines in physical health.

Fortunately, I have also encountered groups who engaged in conversations and comments that elevated people, conversations that brought people together and made each person feel important. These groups validated our shared humanity as well as our individual worth. Researchers refer to comments made in these more positive discussions as “micro-affirmations.” A study published in 2017 made me think about how our families can become catalysts and training grounds for micro-affirmations rather than micro-aggressions. In this study, 503 teens (11- to 16-years-old) were divided into two groups. One group was given a questionnaire to help them recall specific examples of their own past acts of kindness. A second group was given a questionnaire asking questions about neutral topics like the weather or a favorite tree. Both groups read an “anti-relational aggression message” as well. One month later, the researchers explored the frequency of hurtful behaviors in which members of both groups had engaged. The results? First, the “anti-relational aggression message” did not produce any behavioral change. Second, and more important for our purposes, those who recalled previous acts of kindness engaged in less aggression and more kindness over the last month than the group who had recalled neutral information. The authors of the study believe that recalling acts of kindness triggered mini self-affirmations and “primed the pump” for more acts of kindness. They believed acts of kindness served as “micro-affirmations” for both the giver and the recipient of kindness by bringing people together in a shared moment of humanity and worth.

How does this relate to our families? I believe our families provide the training ground for micro-affirmations, for kindnesses that validate, unite, and elevate worth. And, I hope you will join me in implementing a “training protocol” that will not only promote growth in kindness and the giving of micro-affirmations but will strengthen your family at the same time!  It only takes three steps!

  1. Model kindness. Make micro-affirmations (statements that elevate worth, validate positive identity, and bring people together) to your spouse, your children, your parents, your friends, and even strangers you meet throughout your day. It’s really not hard. It can be as simple as thanking your teen when they do a chore, appreciating the meal your spouse prepared, or admiring the shirt your wife is wearing. It might involve holding the door open for a stranger, getting the car so your family doesn’t have to walk through the rain, or offering to get a family member a drink when you go to the kitchen during a commercial. Each time you engage in a simple act of kindness, you produce a micro-affirmation that informs the other person of their value in your eyes. You bring unity between yourself and the person to whom you show kindness, a unity based on your shared humanity and love.
  2. Celebrate acts of kindness your family members engage in. You can do this with a simple acknowledgment and statement of gratitude…”thank you for your kindness” goes a long way! You can acknowledge when people offer forgiveness or show consideration. You can acknowledge the kindness of generosity and service, awareness of others and responding with respect. Yes, many of these things are expected behaviors. But, when we acknowledge expected and desired behaviors we increase the chances of those behaviors continuing and even increasing. Make it a family habit to acknowledge and appreciate kindnesses shown.
  3. Provide simple opportunities to show kindness. The possibilities for showing kindness are unlimited. If you can’t think of any ways to show kindness, read The Mighty Power of Kindness for Families and 31 Acts of Kindness to Strengthen Your Marriage and A Family Night to Share Kindness. Make an intentional effort to show kindness every day.

As you can see, this really is not a difficult protocol to implement in your family. It simply involves developing a family environment of kindness and affirmation. Your family will benefit from this environment filled with “micro-affirmations.”  Your spouse will love this environment. Your children will thrive in this environment. And, the community in which you live will benefit as practicing kindness at home will lead to practicing kindness outside the home. In fact, if enough of us make kindness and micro-affirmations a vital aspect of our family environment, we might just start a wave of change that impacts our whole world.  Wouldn’t that be refreshing?!

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