Archive for Grace

A Roadmap to Rebuild Trust With Your Teen

Let’s face it. Teens do some crazy things at times. I did some stupid things as a teen. You probably did too. And, our teens probably will as well. They may do one thing we never thought in a million years they would do; and, in so doing, break our trust. It may be simple, like staying out past their curfew. Or, it may be more serious, like getting caught with drugs or sending a revealing picture to the “new love of their life” (or convincing their “new love” to send the picture). Whatever it is, big or small, it shatters the trust we once had for our sweet, innocent child. We discipline and work to assure the behavior won’t happen again. But how do we rebuild the trust we once had? How do we begin to trust our teen again?

  • Be open with your teen. Explain your feelings to your teen. Let them know their behavior hurt you. You may have sounded angry, but underneath the anger was hurt and disappointment. Explain your desire to trust them again and your continued love for them. Let them know you recognize their potential and believe in their ability to reach that potential. Recall times in which your teen has acted in ways that built trust and increased your pride in them. Let them know you still remember those positive behaviors as well.
  • Develop a balanced view of your teen. Recall the positive things your teen has done and said that give you a sense of joy and pride in order to balance any feelings of disappointment and hurt you may have experienced. Remember, you have also done wonderful things and things of which you are not proud. Allow your teen the same freedom.
  • Deal with your feelings. You have talked to your teen, now deal with your own emotions. They are your feelings and your responsibility. Don’t let your emotions interfere with your changing relationship with your teen. Resolve them. 
  • Clarify boundaries and expectations…but be careful as you do. Do not set up unrealistic expectations in a knee-jerk reaction to the behavior that broke your trust. Be reasonable. Discuss limits and boundaries with another adult to get a more objective viewpoint. Discuss them with your teen as well. Work to reach an agreement on what constitutes reasonable expectations for your home and family.
  • Develop a clear roadmap for regaining trust and watch your teen’s journey on that road to redemption. When your teen meets an expectation or follows a rule, make a point to notice it and allow it to enhance your trust in them. Realize no teen is perfect, so allow for some  minor setbacks. A rule of thumb is to allow your teen 1 setback for 5-6 trust building actions you observe. Keep your eyes open for those trust building actions. Don’t let them slip by unnoticed.  
  • Take a risk. Parents have the tendency to hold their teen closer and micromanage their every activity after trust has been broken. Unfortunately, this only increases frustration. It leads to greater conflict and a further deterioration of trust. Rather than micromanage, allow your teen to engage in a “trial run.” Explain the “trial run” to your teen. “I am trusting you with this job or activity. When all goes well and they return, you will have nurtured trust. If you revert to the behavior that originally broke our trust, you will have further damaged our trust.”
  • Finally, talk about other stuff. Don’t continue repeating the conversation about your fears and their behavior. Find some areas of interest to talk about. If they enjoy music, talk about music. If they enjoy fishing, talk about fishing. Find areas in which you can enjoy conversation with your teen. Doing so will build relationship and trust.

These 7 actions are not simple. But they will help rebuild trust with your teen and deepen your relationship with them.

Before You Apologize, Consider This

Apologizing is humbling, even difficult. It becomes even more difficult if you’ve ever experienced a time in which apologizing backfired and just made things worse. Or, if you have childhood memories of being forced to apologize for something you didn’t even do. Maybe that’s part of the issue. No one ever taught us how to apologize. In marriage, you will have plenty of opportunities to practice apologizing. It will go much more smoothly if you take a moment to learn how to apologize well. With that in mind, the first step in making an effective apology is to answer two question.

The first question: What motives underlie my desire to apologize? Why am I apologizing? Many times, we have poor motives for apologizing.

Husband coming home late to an angry wife who is holding a rolling pin
  • For instance, apologizing just to get back in good graces or to put the event behind us are bad motives for an apology. Your spouse will see through the apology to the motive and become even more upset.
  • Sometimes we apologize because we fear our spouse will dislike us or remain angry at us. We don’t like other people (especially our spouse) having negative emotions toward us. So, we apologize in an  attempt to free ourselves from being disliked, to free ourselves from the burden of another person’s negative emotions. It won’t work. It will only increase those negative emotions. You need a different motive.
  • Sometimes we apologize because we want our spouse to “forget it about it” and “get on with our happy marriage.” We apologize to get our spouse to “move on.” You’ve heard it, “Why are you still upset about this. I apologized.” Once again, won’t work.
  • Sometimes we are tempted to disguise our defense or justification for our action in an apology. These apologies start with an “I’m sorry” followed by a “but” that transforms the apology into a defense, justification, or blame. “I’m sorry, but you shouldn’t have….” “I’m sorry, but I was tired.” “I’m sorry, but you have to understand….” These apologies really aren’t apologies at all. Notice that each of the four motives mentioned so far focus on “me” and “my” relief. They will not work.
  • A motive for true apology is the recognition that I did something hurtful to my spouse. I did or said something wrong. I was thoughtless, rude, uncaring, hurtful. I love my spouse and I do not want to hurt them. As a result, I want to apologize for hurting them. I want to take ownership for my hurtful actions or words and apologize. I want to tell my spouse how I plan to avoid those hurtful words and deeds in the future. I apologize to sincerely express my sorrow for hurting the one I love and to explain my plan to avoid doing it again.

The second question: to whom am I going to apologize? Think about your spouse and their personality.

  • Some personalities welcome an apology. They are glad to hear the apology but become upset recalling the hurt for which you are apologizing. If you have experienced this in your marriage, know that your spouse needs a comprehensive apology. They also need you to stick with them so the two of you can process the original hurt. This will allow them to hear your true remorse and your plan to avoid hurting them in a similar way in the future. Don’t get caught up in their emotions. Stay calm. Stick with your apology. Listen, empathize, and restate your plan to change.  
  • Some personalities get uncomfortable with the vulnerability and emotion aroused by an apology. They often accept your apology with a quick “It’s alright” or “Don’t worry about it.”  Unfortunately, they may still hold some resentment even as they avoid talking about it. So, take a moment to let them know you are willing to talk more about it and answer any of their questions and fears any time they like. Then be willing to do so.

What are your motives for apologizing? What is the personality of the person to whom you are apologizing? Answering these two questions before you begin will make your apology more sincere and effective.

“If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say”…& Other Nuggets of Wisdom

Do you remember any sayings and proverbs you learned in childhood? They may have come from Aesop’s Fables or a children’s story like Pinocchio or Proverbs in the Bible. Maybe you heard them from teachers, your parents, scout leaders, coaches, or any number of other adults. They were proverbs that encouraged certain behaviors…behaviors that promoted personal character and corporate civility. Several such sayings came to my mind the other day as I listened to the daily rhetoric of the news. I felt a twinge of sadness and realized how desperately we need the wisdom of these proverbs in our world today. With that in mind, maybe we need to start by reviving them in our families. We begin by teaching them to our children and modeling them in our lives.  In case you need a reminder, here are just a few of my favorites.

  • “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” Ironically, this saying seems to have two meanings. One, if you live in a glass house (are vulnerable) don’t throw stones at the guy who lives in a brick house. In other words, “don’t dish it out if you can’t take it” (which is another saying). On the other hand, we all live in glass houses, don’t we?  We all have our own vulnerabilities. Before we start casting stones at another person’s faults, we need to take a good look at our own. Or, in the words of another saying, “Take the log out of your own eye before you worry about the splinter in the other guy’s eye.” We desperately need to consider all three sayings in our world today.
  • “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  Other than hearing it from my mother, I heard it first from Thumper on Bambi. (By the way, Thumper also has a nice quote about “families that play together.” See them both in this short clip.) Wouldn’t it be nice to hear a little more of “saying nothing” today?
  • Another truth heard in a Disney movie came from the Blue Fairy. She told Pinocchio that “A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as clear as the nose on your face.” You’ve heard the flip side of this proverb in the more popular “honesty is the best policy.” A little more truth and a few shorter noses on the faces of our local Pinocchio’s faces would definitely improve our lives around here.
  • Of course, we can’t forget “Actions speak louder than words” or “He who does a thing well does not need to boast.”  Aesop’s fable of The Boasting Traveler drives this point home. Tell it to your family over dinner or watch it in ChirpyStory. It’s a great reminder to not boast.
  • “There are two sides to every story and the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.” I’d always heard “there are two sides to every story” to encourage me to listen to other people’s ideas.  But experience has taught me the rest of the saying, that “the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.”  Our extremist world would definitely benefit from learning to listen to both sides of a story and then seeking the whole truth.

There are many more proverbs we need to put into practice. We need to teach our children these proverbs and sayings. We need to practice them in our own lives in the presence of our children. As we do, our families will benefit from the wisdom of the ages. Perhaps our children will carry these proverbs into their adulthood and our whole society will benefit from the wisdom of the ages. Let’s start practicing them today. Maybe you have other favorites you think our families would benefit from practicing. Share them below so we can all learn from the wisdom of the ages.

A Breath of Fresh Ears

I’m always on the lookout for ways to improve communication skills in marriage. Communication skills involve the sharing of ideas. They include the ability to verbalize ideas effectively and to listen more attentively. Learning both these skills will help any relationship, including our marriages, grow stronger. So, when I came across this little communication gem, I had to share it with you. It is a simple, powerful tool to help both the speaker and the listener communicate more effectively. I call it “a breath of fresh ears” (yes, “ears” not “air”).

Many times, communication breaks down because we respond too quickly. We impatiently finish the other person’s sentence, interrupting them in mid-sentence or talking over them before they have finished talking. On the other hand, you’ve probably had times when your spouse left you little to no room to even respond. They go on and on as though in a filibuster for the floor. Conversation becomes almost like a competition to “get a word in edgewise.” In this process, ideas are lost and misunderstandings arise. You and your spouse begin to feel “talked over,” ignored, or unheard. Emotions flare. But, “a breath of fresh ears” can change all this.

What is “a breath of fresh ears”? Before you respond to your spouse, take a breath. That’s it. Pause long enough to take a breath. When you do, several things might happen. First, you’ll realize how difficult it is to slow down long enough to take a breath before responding. We live in a frenzied world that has grown uncomfortable with a slower pace that allows for miniscule moments of silence. So, we jump in with what we believe our spouse is saying or respond to get our idea “on the floor.” We are saturated with the self-absorbed mindset of our world and so interrupt our spouse to make sure our “oh-so-important-point” is heard. Taking a “breath of fresh ears” means slowing down. Take a breath. Then speak…which brings me to the second thing you might learn.

Second, you’ll experience times when your spouse starts talking again. You thought they were done but, in the momentary pause of your breath, they decided to tell you more. Humble yourself by putting your agenda aside for a moment and listen some more. As a reward, you will learn more about your spouse. You will find they had more to say and in that moment of silence created by your small breath, were able to formulate a greater understanding of what they really wanted to communicate. Their communication may even become more clear.

Third, you’ll find that the “breath of fresh ears” really does give you fresh ears. In that momentary pause you will find the time to reflect and reconsider your response. You will answer more in tune with your partner. You will answer with greater compassion and wisdom. You will answer in a way that “gives grace to the moment.” And all of that will strengthen rather than hinder your relationship.

Three benefits from “a breath of fresh ears…” oh, and a fourth benefit. “A breath of fresh ears” will create a more relaxed and enjoyable conversation with your spouse. The conversational competition will end as interruptions decrease and everyone is allowed to finish their own thoughts. You and your souse will relax. And, perhaps most important, you will learn more about yourself and your partner. Try it out. Give your conversation “a breath of fresh ears” and enjoy the growing intimacy you will experience.

Welcome to My House … aka “Bicker Central”

Do you live in a home called “Bicker Central”? Does everything escalate into arguments, angry comments, and hurtful jabs? Do you walk away from interactions fuming with frustration? Worse, has any relationship in your family escalated to the point that you feel tension just coming into the same room as the other person? “Bicker Central” is a hard home in which to live…but all too easy to move into. Moving into “Bicker Central” generally begins with simple hurts, criticisms left unresolved. These criticisms come in the form of words and actions—a parent redoing a child’s chore because they didn’t do it well enough, a left-handed compliment, a disagreement on priorities, feeling as though your loved one invests more time and energy in other priorities and leaves you feeling neglected or abandoned, etc. The underlying hurt of unresolved criticisms erupt into burning lava flows of anger, resentment, bitterness, withdrawal, ignoring, and possibly even name-calling and threats. Each person involved begins to see the relationship through filters that justify continued resentment.  Innocent remarks are received as though they are negative comments, adding fuel to the fire of anger. Effort and positive actions are overlooked while mistakes and actions that innocently “miss the mark” are used to justify continued bitterness. A negative cycle of disrespect, anger, guilt, and bitterness drive the relationship further into the pits of hurt and despair. “Bicker Central” is a painful place to live.

Knowing the foundation of “Bicker Central”—the resentments of unresolved hurts—gives you the opportunity to rebuild your relationship. You can change it from “Bicker Central” to “House of Peace” with a few key actions.

  • Consider how your own actions impact the other person. How does your resentment and your angry responses influence the other person? How does your “look” and your tone of voice influence the other person? How do your actions, gestures, words, and tone of voice perpetuate and escalate the problem? Answer honestly and begin to make changes that can have a better outcome, the outcome you desire. As the saying goes, “Be the change you want to see.”
  • Consider what hurts underlie the foundation of “Bicker Central.” How were you hurt in the constructing of “Bicker Central”? How was the other person hurt? If you have hurt the other person, apologize. If you have been hurt, practice forgiveness. The important question is NOT “who started it,” but “what can I do to help change the relationship for the better?”
  • Practice empathy. Imagine how the other person feels in this situation. What have they lost as a result of living in “Bicker Central”? Allow yourself to have compassion for the suffering the other person has endured because of their conflict with you. Yes, you have suffered as well. However, someone has to initiate the change…and you can do it by nurturing compassion and empathy for the other guy.
  • Practice kindness. Intentionally seek out opportunities to show kindness to the other person. Determine to speak and think kindly about them. Perhaps you can begin this step with a 30-day kindness challenge as suggested by Shaunti Feldhahn.
  • Practice gratitude. Once again, this demands intentionality. Find at least one thing every day for which you can thank the other person.  Then do it. Verbally thank them for something they have done.

These are not simple actions. They take effort and intentionality. However, they will change the environment of your home from “Bicker Central” to a “House of Peace.” Will you begin today?

Give It Up to Lift Up Your Marriage

Do you want a stronger marriage? Do you want greater happiness for yourself and your marriage? Well, one of the best ways to get a stronger, healthier, happier marriage is to give up. It’s true. The best way to lift up your marriage is to give up. I don’t mean giving up on the marriage or giving up on happiness. I mean give up your own personal desires and making your spouse’s desires your priority…give up the need to push your own opinion and listen to understand your spouse’s opinion. Give up your need to have it “your way” and do it your spouse’s way.  Yes, sacrifice, or giving up, will lift up your marriage. Scott Stanley, a marriage researcher who has completed several studies regarding sacrifice in marriage, defined sacrifice as an action in which a person freely chooses to give up something for their spouse without resentment (italics & bold added).

This type of action, this “giving up,” can be as simple as watching the TV show your spouse wants to watch rather than demanding the family watch “my TV show.” Or, it might be as simple as giving up the last piece of pie so your spouse can have it.

Sometimes sacrifice can be life altering, like giving up a job to move to a new town where your spouse will begin a new and better job…or giving up time and energy to care for a spouse going through medical treatment for a major illness.

Overall, sacrifice often involves giving up personal control and self-gratification in favor of a commitment to our spouse’s well-being, intimacy, and growth…giving up our agenda for the betterment of our marriage. The moment of “giving up” to “lift up” your marriage can be difficult. However, the dividends for that moment of struggle are amazing—long-term happiness, growing security, and deeper intimacy. So, give it up…give it up to lift up your marriage! (For more read The Lost Art of Sacrifice in Family.)

Another Benefit of a Responsive Spouse

A responsive spouse—one who not only listens and understands but also responds with sympathy and compassion. Who doesn’t want that kind of spouse? I know I do. And really, who doesn’t want to be that kind of spouse? After all, I love my wife. She deserves a “responsive spouse.”

Responsiveness validates our spouses. It lets them know we care for them. It reduces anxiety and arousal. It increases a sense of security in the relationship. It comforts. Overall, responsiveness is a powerful way to improve your marriage. And, a 2016 study involving 698 married and cohabitating couples suggests responsiveness does something more. It improves sleep quality. Not surprising, right? We sleep better when we feel safe. We sleep better when we feel less anxious. We sleep better when we know someone cares for us and validates us.

There you have it…another benefit of a responsive spouse: improved sleep quality. Good sleep quality contributes to a better rested person. A better rested person is happier, healthier, and more able to respond to their spouse. Not only…. Oh wait. I hear my wife calling. Sorry. I have to go. After all, a wife responded to is a happy wife who sleeps well…and loves her responsive husband.

4 Tips for Communicating with Your Teen

I remember the advice given to me as my children approached their teen years. “Whatever you do, maintain open communications with your teen.” Sure, I thought. Great idea. But, how do you do that? After some research and trial by fire (both my “children” are now in their early twenties) I have a few suggestions, ideas that can help keep those lines of communication open with your teen. I must admit, these ideas were often in opposition to my first impulse, but, when I was able to implement them, they really helped keep those lines of communication open.

  1. When your children or teens come to you with a desire to talk about something, give them your full attention. Put down the paper. Turn off the TV. Don’t check your messages or respond to a text. Don’t google. Just give your them your attention. Look at them and listen. Watch their expressions. Listen to the tone of the voice. Hear what they are saying and understand the emotions behind the words.
  2. Stay calm. They will say things that make you want to jump out of your skin. Don’t do it. At some point they will say something that triggers your core fears. They may even say things that hurt, feel like an attack, or arouse your anger. But, if you want them to continue talking about it and then listen to your response, stay calm. Remember, sometimes our teens just need to think out loud. Let them do it in your earshot. When you overreact, they will shut down. If you stay calm, they are more likely to continue talking, thinking, processing, and even listening.
  3. Listen. When you want to give a suggestion, listen instead. When you want to criticize, listen a little more. When you think you understand, listen to make sure you really do.  Don’t “spray” them with questions. Instead, use your questions wisely and sparingly to gain a greater understanding of what they are saying, what it means to them, and how they think about it. Listen and repeat back to them what you think they are saying until they know you understand. Then you can offer advice. But, even in offering advice, keep your words to a minimum and then…listen.
  4. Show grace. Grace is the willingness to put aside our own agenda to become a present witness to the agenda of our children and teens. Put aside your own fears in order to create a safe haven in which your teen can express themselves without judgment. Put aside your own ego and create a secure sanctuary where your teens can voice their fears and anxieties to someone they know will strive to understand them. Doing so will build a home environment in which they feel comfortable talking to us…and they will talk with us in that environment.

To summarize these 4 tips, I want to share a quote from Kenneth Ginsburg, co-founder of the Center for Parent and Teen Communication at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, “The parents who know the most and who have the most influence over their child’s academics and behaviors aren’t the ones who ask lots of questions. They are often the ones who are the least reactive and who express warm, unconditional love and support.” Put these tips into action today. They are not easy, but you’ll be glad you did.

Are You Accidentally Filling Your Marriage with Fear?

Nobody wants to fill their marriage with fear and insecurity. Fear and insecurity will kill a marriage…and nobody wants to live through a dying marriage. However, I have seen far too many marriages filled with fear because of the subtle actions of one partner. At first glance, these actions seem harmless. But, with a second look, you can see the damage they cause, the fear they build, and the insecurity they create. Let me explain three of these accidental-fear-building actions so you can erase them from your life and marriage.

  • Impatience and anger. Of course, we all have moments of impatience. However, when impatience becomes the modus operandi in your marriage, fear is the result. The spouse and family of a chronically impatient person feel the need to “walk on egg shells” to avoid the “next blow up.” They fear the impatient person’s anger and never know what will set it off…a spilled drink, a laugh at the “wrong” moment, a difference of opinion. The whole family lives in fear when they live with an impatient person.
  • Arrogance and pride. Arrogant spouses constantly satisfy their own desires. They think of themselves first and, although they likely will not admit it, their spouses second. The spouses of arrogant people take second place to anything the arrogant spouse deems important…and arrogant spouses only believe only those things that revolve around them are important. As a result, their spouses live with the insecurity of knowing their arrogant spouse will not “watch out for them.” The arrogant spouse will not keep them in mind…or serve them…or make small sacrifices for them. They live with the insecurity of knowing their needs are unimportant to their spouse…and that creates fear and insecurity in the marriage.
  • Holding a grudge. Minor slights, unintentional wrongdoings, and interpersonal injuries occur in all relationships. Marriage is no different. However, when one spouse holds a grudge, the other spouse begins to fear for their relationship. When one spouse harbors resentment over a slight they have suffered, the relationship is at risk. The one holding the grudge and harboring the resentment begins to fear another slight. Their mind becomes clouded by that fear and they may begin to misinterpret behaviors in a negative light. Now the other partner experiences the fear and insecurity of being misunderstood. A downward cycle of fear, resentment, insecurity, and bitterness has begun. If not addressed through apology and forgiveness, this cycle only ends in one way, a dying marriage.  

These three actions unintentionally build fear and insecurity into a marriage. If you find yourself engaging in any of these three actions, stop and breath.  Consider what is more important…your marriage or your impatience? Your marital health or your pride? Your long-term happiness in marriage or the resentment you harbor?

Second-Hand What??

We’ve all heard about the dangers of second-hand smoke. But, have you thought about the dangers of second-hand alcohol abuse? A recent article in BMC Medicine reported three ways in which people suffer consequences of alcohol abuse “second-hand.”

  1. Children born to mothers who drank excessively during pregnancy may suffer from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. In Germany, where this study was conducted, 41 children of every 10,000 births have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and another 177 fell on the spectrum for fetal alcohol syndrome without meeting full criteria. Data from the CDC suggests that the statistic in the U.S. appear lower, ranging from 2-15 children of every 10,000 births depending on the area of the United States. That is 2-15 children too many.
  2. Individuals involved in automobile accidents in which the other driver was driving under the influence of alcohol. The authors of the study noted that in Germany, alcohol contributes to 45% of traffic fatalities.  In the U.S. alcohol was involved in 26.4% of fatal crashes.
  3. People who experience violence secondary to another person whose aggressive behavior was fueled by alcohol. According to an NIH Alcohol Alert 42 percent of violent crimes reported to the police involved alcohol.

All in all, alcohol seems to have a huge second-hand effect. These three areas do not even include the emotional strain and physical pain experienced by children and families, the financial strain placed on families by one person’s drinking, or the amount of money lost by employers due to poor work following overdrinking. All this to say, if you find people complain about your drinking, your drinking hurts more than just you. It can result in traffic fatalities, illnesses, and aggression. Excessive drinking can harm your children and your spouse emotionally as well as physically. It may impact your children’s future dating life and even their marriages. It will impact the happiness of your spouse and your children. With all the damage that comes with excessive drinking, why not give it up? Why not show your family just how much you love them by giving up the drinking?

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