Archive for Celebration

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.

Good for Both Giver & Receiver

Life seems stressed these days, doesn’t it? Turn on the news…stress. Try to manage your schedule…stress. Weather…stress. Work demands, school demands, extracurricular demands, church demands, demands, demands, demands…stress. All that stress is bound to impact our marriages and our families. It robs us of mental clarity and patience. As a result, we have a greater chance of conflict with our spouses and our children.

But there is good news. I have discovered a way to reduce stress and improve mental clarity. Not only that, but this activity will increase a sense of closeness and intimacy, especially in your marriage. It’s true. A study showed this activity reduced stress and improved mental clarity after only one time. And, the reduction of stress accrued over the 9 times couples did it during the 3 week study. In other words, stress continued dropping with each time the couple engaged in this activity. What activity did all this? Massage. Yes, massage. In this study, 38 couples took a massage class each week for 3 weeks. Each class focused on massaging one part of the body (back, arms and shoulders, legs). Then, they practiced giving each other a massage three times a week (Yes, they had homework). Both the giver and the receiver of the massage experienced a reduction in stress and an improvement in mental clarity…BOTH the giver and the receiver! I like a massage…and I like the sound of reduced stress and improved mental clarity.

Although not part of the study, I believe this likely improved intimacy as well. Taking the time to massage one another means more time focused on one another—quality time focused on the one we love. Giving a massage means increasing our awareness of the one we are massaging (our partner).  Massage reduces stress and that means greater patience. Greater patience means less conflict. In addition, touch releases oxytocin and oxytocin increases a sense of connection. Massage involves a lot of touch. Your spouse will appreciate your massage and appreciation build deeper connection. So, why not take the time this weekend to give one another a massage. In this world of stress, we all need a little haven of relaxation and intimacy.  Enjoy!

Ancient Wisdom For Your Best Family Life

An ancient saying, included in many marriage ceremonies, states that “Love is not arrogant and does not boast.” In a roundabout way, research now supports the truth of this statement. I say “roundabout” because the truth of the statement comes by way of awe. We experience awe when we experience something that expands our view or understanding of the world. For instance, we may feel awe in response to the vastness of nature, the beauty of a truly compassionate act, or the all-encompassing beauty of a majestic piece of music.  Each of these experiences expands our view of the world around us and makes us feel…well, smaller. Feeling a sense of awe plays a role in our health, happiness, and social connection. It increases our humility.  In fact, individuals who report experiencing awe more often in their daily lives were rated as more humble than those who did not report experiencing awe in their daily lives by friends and family. Those who experienced awe also acknowledged their strengths and weaknesses in a more balanced way and recognized the impact of outside forces (including other people) on their personal achievements. This sounds like the very definition of humility, doesn’t it? The sense of humility, in turn, increases a person’s desire to engage with and feel connected to others.  Of course, a humble person also tends to have deeper, more secure relationships than an arrogant person. A humble person is more likely to take the other person’s best interest into consideration and is more easily trusted as a result. And…trust leads to better relationships.

And there you have it…awe leads to greater humility lead to better, more secure relationships. So, if you want a better family life, experience awe together. To get you started, here are 4 ways you can experience awe with your family. (Read more in Using the Power of Awe for Your Family.)

  • Experience nature. Go for a hike in the woods. Climb to the top of a mountain and look over the valley below. Look up at the stars on a clear night. Stand on the ocean shore and ponder the vastness of the sea. Go snorkeling and enjoy the colors. Watch the sunrise or sunset. Nature often elicits awe. Enjoy it as a family.
  • Try something new and exciting. Novelty contributes to awe. Visit someplace you have never been before. Try something new. Go to a symphony or musical. Visit the art museum. Go to an area of the country or state that you have never visited before. Novelty opens the door to awe.
  • Get curious. We experience awe when we experience a sense of smallness and we often experience that sense of smallness when we learn something that amazes us. Get curious and learn. Learn about the complexity of the human body, how a bird flies, the character of God, or the wisdom of ancient sayings. Each of these can expand our sense of the world and put our own lives in a different perspective, a perspective of humility.
  • Practice spirituality. Stand in awe of God. Worship as a family. Pray as a family. Experience the awe of answered prayer. Gather with other people and sing as a family. Many people experience awe in the religious setting of worship.

When you do experience awe, you will experience greater humility. When you experience greater humility, you will experience greater intimacy in your family. The ancient wisdom is true again, “Love is not arrogant and does not boast”…and that is awe-inspiring!

Men, This Decision Will Change Your Brain for Good!

Researchers have discovered several activities that help reduce the risk of Dementia. Things like education, regular intellectual stimulation, financial security, gardening, knitting, and a mother’s diet during pregnancy have all been shown to reduce the risk of dementia. However, one decision helped men specifically. This one decision helped men live longer and reduced their risk for dementia. Lawrence Whalley, professor of mental health in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences at the University of Aberdeen, puts it this way, “a boy is never told what he needs to do if he wants to live a longer life. But what he should do is marry an intelligent woman.” Yes, you heard it right. Men who marry intelligent women live longer, happier lives. And, they are at lower risk for developing dementia. In fact, some men with “intelligent wives” showed physical signs of dementia in brain scans but did not experience any symptoms of the disease. Despite what the scans revealed about the structure of their brains, they were “fully functional and ‘highly intelligent.'”

So, if your wife engages you in conversations that challenge your thinking, if she encourages adventures that present new opportunities for learning, or if she accompanies you on stimulating activities, take a moment to reflect on the precious gift you have been given. She is a gift that contributes to your long and happy life. She is a gift helping you remain mentally healthy. Why not do something today to show her how much you appreciate her presence in your life?

PS—I told my wife about this research. She just smiled and said, “No surprise there.”  I have to say, if marrying an intelligent woman helps a man live long, healthy, and wise…I have a lot of years left! I am truly blessed. How about you?

This May Change How You “Do Vacation”

Summer is approaching and many families have started planning their summer activities. Maybe you plan on taking a summer vacation with your family this year. I hope you so. But before you plan your summer vacation, I want to tell you about a study that may change how you “do vacation” this year. This study deals with communication skills. In particular, it explored 6th graders’ ability to read nonverbal communications and emotional cues in others. The researchers divided a group of 6th graders into two groups. One group attended a 5-day, overnight nature camp with no TV, computers, or mobile phones. They had no digital screens for a full five days. Instead, they engaged in group outdoor activities (hiking, archery, learning survival skills) that promoted face-to-face interactions. The other group continued using screen time as usual. At the end of five days, the 6th graders who attended the 5-day nature camp without screens had improved their ability to understand nonverbal communications and to recognize emotions in others. The group that continued using social media stayed the same. It seems that practice leads to improvement…but so what? Who cares if our children learn to better read nonverbal communications and emotional cues in others? Because these skills translate into healthier relationships, better employment, and greater success in life…and we all want that for our children.  

What does this have to do with vacation? You can enhance your children’s social skills and increase their opportunities for healthier relationships, better employment, and greater life success by simply making your vacation free of TV’s, computers, and cellphones. Maybe you think it too much to eliminate them completely. Then you might consider at least cutting down screen time to a mere half-hour per day during vacation. I know it sounds crazy but contemplate the benefit of your children’s increased ability to understand nonverbal communications and emotional cues. Even more, think about the fun you’ll have interacting with one another, playing games, and sharing conversation. Imagine the things you will learn about one another, the experiences you will share, and the intimacy you will gain. It will be amazing…and the long-term benefit for your children’s communication immeasurable!

Join Your Family in Song

My daughter was just learning to walk when we started singing “Go Down Moses” while dancing around the living room. My other daughter stood up to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” as we solemnly buried a bird that had committed kamikaze against our front window. The toddler we babysat looked at me with anticipation and followed the directions of our impromptu lyrics calling her to step onto a small step and “jump” before laughing and asking to do it again.

When our children seem upset and begin to cry, we sing them a song to help them calm. When they can’t sleep, we sing them a lullaby. When they need to clean up their rooms, we might follow Barney’s cue and sing “Clean up, clean up….” We teach our children the alphabet through song. The list goes on. Music works wonders for a parent…and it continues working right through the teen years.

Children start remembering melodies as early as 5-months-old. At 11-months-old they are more receptive to a person singing a familiar song, even if that person is a stranger. Infants and children feel soothed by music and even begin to use music to calm themselves at a very young age. Who hasn’t heard their very young child, upset about having to take a nap, lying in their crib singing a song rather than crying? Even teens calm themselves through song.

Music brings us together. Whether we sing like a songbird or croak out a tune, it communicates that we are paying attention to the one we sing to and the ones we sing with. It signals that we are all part of the same group, we belong. Music draws us together and bonds us. It allows us to share emotions and even synchronizes us physically.

Why not use music in your family? Sing a song together. Listen to music together. Enjoy music together. Your family will love it. You will experience greater joy and intimacy with your family. Give it a try: “Sing. Sing a song. Make it simple to last the whole night long….” 

Why Do I Have To Do Everything?!

Have you ever asked this question? You’ve made the bed, washed the clothes, and cooked dinner. Now, resentment builds as you wash the dishes and clean the kitchen. In frustration you ask yourself, “Why do I have to do everything around here?” Or, maybe you’ve cut the grass, trimmed the hedges, washed the car, and grilled supper. Now you’re being asked to run to the store. You wanted to sit down and rest. Frustration wells up and you think, “Why do I have to do everything around here?” Perhaps this question has been verbalized during a conflict over who does what around the house…”Why do I have to do everything around here?” or “I do everything around here!” I know I’ve said those very words.  One day, however, I had an epiphany. A light went off in my head as a new insight flashed through my mind. It’s my fault.  My frustration and fear about “having to do everything” was my fault. By complaining about “everything I do,” I rob everyone in my family. I rob them of opportunities to serve and then I became resentful that they allowed me to rob them! As this insight became clear in my mind, I began to smile at how silly my complaining seemed. Then, I decided to make a change. That change led to happier relationships in my family. Let me share what I learned.

  • I do not live with mind readers. No one in my family knows when I feel overwhelmed or when I want help unless I ask. I have a responsibility to ask for help when I want it. I hate asking for help. I like to feel independent. But it’s crazy to resent people for not helping me when I haven’t even told them I need help. Actually, I often tell them I don’t need help even when I want it. You’ve probably had a similar conversation. “Do you need help with the kitchen?” “No, I’m alright.” “OK, I’m going to do some stuff downstairs (translate ‘watch TV’).” In frustration I reply, “That’s fine. I don’t mind” with a more cynical tone than I had intended. “You sure you don’t want any help?” “I’m sure,” comes the short reply and a roll of my eyes. Now I’m cleaning the kitchen feeling like a slave and my spouse is downstairs watching TV trying to figure out what they did to get “yelled at.”  Avoid the whole scenario. Ask for help.
  • I’m not called to play the house martyr. Sure, I can make sacrifices for the good of my family. I can put aside my own selfish needs and serve my family, but I do not have to become a resentful martyr. Instead, I can honestly state my needs. (I know, radical idea, right?) My family needs me to become honest about my needs. If I need their help, if I feel overwhelmed and require assistance, if I just want a break and would like their help…I need to come clean, be honest, and tell them.
  • It’s alright to accept help and it’s alright to expect help. Everyone in the family has a contribution to make to the household. By not stating my need and accepting help, I rob my family of the opportunity to make a significant contribution to the household. I don’t want to rob them of the opportunity to express their love for family through service. I don’t want to rob them of the pleasure of some other activity because of my frustration (see first bullet above). I want to accept their help and have the joy of working together as a family to maintain our household.
  • I need to be honest with myself. To be completely honest with you and myself, I have to acknowledge that I’m not the only one “doing everything around here.” Other family members are doing various jobs around the house as well. My spouse and children make huge contributions to the household.  I need to develop the habit of noticing what they do and thanking them for doing it. I need to develop the habit of gratitude. I need to be grateful for what other family members do.

Four realization and four actions…each one made me smile. And, my smile gets bigger and bigger as I practice each of the four actions—asking for help, being honest, accepting help, and being grateful for help. Give them a try and you’ll be smiling too. 

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