People value honesty. Love rejoices in the truth. Married couples expect honesty. Yet how many times do we “fudge the truth” to avoid the conflict? Or, “tell a little white lie” to keep the peace? Think of the question, “Does this dress make me look fat?” Hmmmm…. We fear our partner will misread our intent and become angry in response to our honest reply. We avoid telling our honest opinion for fear it will damage our relationship. But, is it true that we “can’t handle the truth”? Well, a recent study suggests our fears may be unfounded. People may handle the truth better than we think. Specifically, this study revealed three findings about honesty in relationship.
Honesty leads to more social
connection than simply paying attention to what we say.
Honesty leads to more enjoyment than
simply paying attention to our manner of communication.
Honesty leads to a greater sense of
meaning than simply paying attention our manner of communication.
These results were not only true
immediately after the interaction but remained true at a two-week follow-up. In
other words, “You can’t handle the truth” is not true.
The truth is: honesty leads to
greater social connection, more enjoyment, and a greater sense of meaning. If
you’re like me, you want all three of those results (greater connection, more
enjoyment, greater sense of meaning) in your marriage. So, be honest. Tell the truth in love and grow a stronger,
In searching for potential causes of this rapid increase in depression and suicidal rates among teens, researchers realized that cell phone ownership increased dramatically over the same time period. In 2012, about half of Americans owned a cell phone. By 2015, only 3 years later, 92% of teens and young adults owned one. This does not mean that cell phones cause depression, but an association between does exist between the two. Interestingly, this same research does not reveal a link between homework load, academic pressure, or financial problems and the rapid rise in depression and suicidal rates among teens even though it looked for such links (The Risk of Teen Depression and Suicide is Linked to Smartphone Use, Study Says). On the other hand, the study did reveal that:
13-18-year-olds who spend 3 or more hours a day on electronic devices are 35% more likely to exhibit a risk factor for suicide than those who spend only an hour or less on electronic devices,
13-18-year-olds who spend 5 hours or more a day on electronic devices are 71% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide than those who spend only an hour on electronic devices.
Fortunately, recognizing the link
between electronic devices and depression and suicide offers us a way to contain
the epidemic of depression and suicide rates among teens…not a complete cure,
but a way to reduce the spread of an epidemic robbing us of our teens. With that in mind, I offer four suggestions.
Limit screen time to 2 hours per day or less. Our teens have not developed the skills to manage the addictive nature of electronic devices. (Perhaps many of us as adults have not developed those skills yet either.) Limiting screen-time to 2 hours per day keeps a teen in the area NOT associated with an increase in depressive symptoms or suicidal behaviors. This may involve teaching our teens to limit time spent on social media, turn off alerts, not spend down-time watching videos, limit video game time, and check social media less often. (For more, consider The Burden of a Smartphone.)
Model limited use of electronic devices. We can’t expect our teens to use their devices less when they see us, their parents, wrapped up in our phones and devices. I thought I would never use electronic devices for 3 hours in a day. Surely, I was in the “safe zone.” Then Apple put “Screen Time” in the phone settings and my time usage started popping up. I discovered that I can easily average 3-4 hours per day on my smartphone! Clearly, I have to learn how to limit my time on the phone in order to model a healthy use of electronic devices to the children in my life. Do you?
Encourage non-screen activities like sports, outdoor play and exercise, face-to-face interactions, church, non-screen hobbies, and family games. Teach your teens to have fun without screens. Let them learn by experience that face-to-face interactions are more enjoyable than social media, “real-life games” are more enjoyable than “virtual games,” and hands-on hobbies more enjoyable than screen-time games.
Take a vacation from electronic devices. A study from UCLA noted that after only 5 days of a “device-free outdoor camp,” children performed better on tests for empathy than did a control group. Another study showed that a month without Facebook led to greater happiness. Take a vacation. Do it as a family and invest time previously spent on devices engaging in “real-time” interaction with one another and “real-life” experiences. (For more ideas, check out Don’t Let Them Take Over.)
We all have work to do in balancing
our lives in a world where electronic devices impinge more and more on our
daily lives. But the work we do to limit electronic devices in our lives and
the lives our family members,’ could save a life…maybe even the life of your teen!
My wife was mad…at me. She was made
at me and I didn’t even realize she was mad. I said something to comfort her
and she took offense. I really didn’t want to hurt her; I wanted to comfort
her. But she heard what I said differently than I had intended. She was hurt. She
was angry. When she told me she was mad, my first impulse was to explain. I
wanted to clarify the misunderstanding and defend my actions. Unfortunately,
that only made the situation worse because then she thought I was not listening.
As you can imagine, the more I tried to explain and clarify my actions the worse
the situation grew.
Suddenly I realized…it doesn’t
really matter if I’m right or wrong. It doesn’t matter whether I intended to
hurt her or not. She was hurt by what I said. I needed to apologize for hurting
her. With that realization, I started over. “I’m sorry….” No excuses,
no explanations, no defense. Just a simple apology. Then I listened to
understand how she had interpreted my statement as an offense. As I listened, I
understood. With that understanding, I apologized more fully. Amends completed,
we hugged one another; and she enjoyed the comfort I had originally intended to
I learned something important from
this incident…well, I learned a couple of things from this encounter.
Sometimes my wife (or my children for that matter) do not hear what I say in the way I intend. They misunderstand. In their misunderstanding they are offended or hurt. I honor my family when I pay attention to how they might understand what I say and when I say things in as clear and loving a way as possible.
When I say something that hurts a family member, I need to apologize for hurting their feelings, even if it was unintentional. That honors my family. It shows them how much I value them.
My relationship is more important than being justified. I would rather connect with my family than prove myself right and make them angry. I would rather celebrate our connection as a family than celebrate my victory in the argument. Go for the connection and celebrate family.
Sometimes I have selfish reasons for apologizing. I might apologize to end the conflict. Or I might apologize with a “but” attached—an excuse, a defense, a casting of blame. Such an apology lacks sincerity. It is selfish. It refuses to accept responsibility. It denies the need to change. A sincere apology, however, simply expresses regret and a desire to make sure it doesn’t happen again. No excuses. No defense. No casting of blame. Just a simple, sincere apology with a plan to make it different in the future. (Read The Hardest Word for more.)
When we make a sincere apology, we
remove the stain of our mistake. We come clean. We pull down the barriers that
divide us and we grow closer to one another. We enjoy a greater intimacy.
A study of 91 couples revealed a surprise about marriage. Understanding your partner was NOT enough to make your marriage stronger and healthier. Just understanding what your partner is thinking and feeling does not lead to a better marriage. Better marriages result when a person not only understand but cares enough to do something with that understanding. Having compassion and a motivation to respond to their partner based on understanding was necessary to have a better marriage. In other words, responsiveness proved more important than mere understanding in strengthening marriages. How do we become responsive?
Listen….not just to the words but to
the emotions and intentions behind the words. Listen to understand the needs.
Listen with a heart of compassion and an eye (or should I say “ear) toward
Respond to their emotion.
Acknowledge what they feel.
Act upon the need of the moment.
When we are responsive to our partners, they will feel validated and cared for. They recognize their importance in our lives. They feel safe and stable in our relationship. As a result, our marriage improves. So, don’t stop with understanding. Engage in a compassionate response as well. (For more on responsiveness and building intimacy in your marriage read The Music In Your Heart.)
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.
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
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
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
I remember it well. Days of rolling easy
as a parent would suddenly come crashing down as our children took a sudden, sharp
turn into Crazy Land (I hope they’re not reading this). To make matters worse,
we could rarely identify any reason for the sudden shift in behavior…but shift
it did! Our kind, caring, well-behaved children suddenly became emotional
quagmires of tears, irritability, and demands. Minor acts of defiance often
followed. Entitlement and selfish expectations increased. The change was mysterious, a painstaking step
off a cliff into an abyss of emotional turmoil. Even though they would push us
away at these times, we knew they needed us to pull them closer. Although they
would push against the limits, we knew they needed us to reinforce the limits
with kind firmness. In other words, they needed us to give them a S.E.A.T.
Set the limits. Restate the limits with kind firmness. Remain polite, but don’t cave. Don’t give in. Children need limits, especially when they seem to be melting down. Give them the gift of security by restating and maintaining firm limits in a manner that reveals your own self-control and confidence as a parent (even if you don’t feel it at the moment). They need the strength of your confidence and self-control, the power of your composure during the chaos of limit setting to help them learn how to manage their own emotions as they mature.
Empathize with your children. You can empathize with your children’s frustration over the limit (“You’re really upset that I told you to turn off your game and set the table. It’s hard to stop playing sometimes but I’d like you to help get the table ready for dinner.”). You can empathize with your children by acknowledging their tears, their frustration, and even their anger. Empathizing is not allowing behaviors. It is simply accepting and understanding the pain they feel. Empathizing with your children allows you to connect with them. Even if they don’t acknowledge the connection, know you have connected through empathy…and that connection increases your credibility in their eyes.
Accept their emotions. They may get angry. They may break down in tears. They may simply shut down. No matter what, accept their emotion. Emotions in and of themselves are a sign of our shared humanity. They help reveal our priorities. You can set limits with the emotions such as “You can be angry with me, but we don’t hit” or “It’s alright to be upset with me, but you can’t call people names.” Even as you set the limit, accept the emotion and remain present. Let your presence communicate that you are stronger than their emotion. Your children will learn this important lesson: even in the face of scary emotions that make them feel out of control, you are in control. You are a safe haven. You are more powerful than their worst emotions and you will keep them safe.
Team up. As you children begin to calm down, reconnect. Hug them. Make sure they know you still love them. Talk about what happened and how they might avoid a similar problem in the future. This may include changes the parent can make, changes the children can make, and changes in communication. In other words, problem solve together.
As you go through this process with
your children you will have given them a S.E.A.T.
and the confidence they need to manage their emotions and behaviors better in
is a dragon in your house. He rests right between you and your spouse. Don’t
worry. It’s not a bad thing. He’s perfectly safe and can even protect your marriage.
This dragon has rested between spouses since the beginning of time. Couples used
to honor their dragon. They believed love could not live unless their dragon protected
it. It was a badge of honor for a married couple to tame the dragon and keep
him healthy in the home they built together. Scripture even tells us God owns this
pet dragon. It was not until the 19th century that this dragon fell
out of vogue. People began to fear it. They began to believe this dragon represented
danger to the subdued, secretive emotional life of the family. What if the
dragon wasn’t so tame? What if it suddenly went wild, triggered by some threat?
After all, there had been incidents in which the docile dragon suddenly went
wild, dangerously thrashing about in an uncontrolled fit of anger. Still, these
incidents only occurred when something or someone threatened the dragon’s owners
or if the owners did not protect the dragon’s sense of safety and security. If
the couple cares for the dragon’s home, assuring his sense of security, he remains
perfectly safe to have in the house.
dragon’s name is Jealousy. Jealousy exists when we have a special relationship
with someone. He reveals the priority we place on commitment, honesty, and
security within our most intimate relationship. In that sense, jealousy remains
a sleeping dragon until we experience some threat to our relationship. Something
that arouses doubt in our partner’s commitment or honesty or threatens our sense
of security in the relationship can make the dragon go wild. At that point,
jealousy can feel uncontrollable and inescapable. It can even be tyrannical. “Wrath
is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy” made
insecure (Proverbs 27:4). Here’s the thing. Jealousy resides in all our homes. The
question becomes: how do we tame jealousy in marriage? Jealousy remains tame when living in an environment
in which he feels safe and secure. So, create an environment of security by doing
Learn about your own insecurities. Each
of us has our own insecurities that we can cast onto the relationship from time
to time. If we view ourselves as unlovable, too fat, not smart enough, not good
enough or some other negative epitaph, we are setting the stage for jealousy to
go wild. Begin to work on yourself. Unload your own baggage. Learn to see yourself through the eyes of God.
Learn to accept yourself as having many good, lovable traits. Accept that there
are areas of growth for all of us and then begin to grow.
Build an environment of trust. Follow
through on promises. Develop a mindset that seeks to honor your spouse. Focus on
and admire those qualities that endear you to your spouse. Verbalize your
admiration and gratitude often.
Celebrate your love. Create
a daily ritual in which you sit down with your spouse to share your daily joys,
successes, sorrows, and shortcomings. Create
a weekly ritual in which you share a date with your spouse. You can go out or can
stay in for this date. Either way, dedicate the time of the date to your spouse—no
cell-phone, no interruptions…just you and your spouse.
These three practices will help you tame the dragon together…and enjoy your love.
I recently saw a friend’s post in which he suggested giving up Facebook for Lent. He was frustrated with the constant bickering, criticism, accusation, and harshness on Facebook. I don’t blame him. What we focus on becomes what we see. Focus on things that frustrate, anger, and divide… and you will see more things that frustrate, anger, and divide. And Facebook seems to have a real knack at bringing the negative into greater focus and seduce us into dwelling in the downward cycle of negativity. So, maybe my friend has a good idea. Give up Facebook. In fact, at least one study found that heavy Facebook users reported greater life satisfaction and positive emotions after only a week-long “vacation” from Facebook.
I wonder, though, if we might find
an even better solution. Rather than give up Facebook, maybe we can begin #redeemingFacebook for a better end.
Why not redeem Facebook to focus on kindness, goodness, and peace? That would
change the focus of Facebook invite us to create an upward spiral in which to
dwell. How would we redeem Facebook? Let me suggest a few ways.
We could begin #redeemingFacebook for
kindness. Rather than posting items that showcase actions and words that
frustrate or anger us, post items that showcase kindness and compassion. See someone do a kind deed…post it. Have an
especially attentive waitress…post it. Engage in a “random act of
kindness”…post your experience. Post items that tell of people sharing,
helping, loving, and encouraging.
We could start #redeemingFacebook for the
acknowledgement of good in the world. For instance, post stories that focus
on the “helpers” in times of crisis rather than the perpetrators.
Post stories acknowledging the efforts of those striving to serve others in
kindness. Post pictures of beautiful
places. Post descriptions of beautiful actions. Post a positive statement about
your community or school. Post items praising efforts at improving difficult
Begin #redeemingFacebook for the
pursuit of peace. Rather than making posts about controversial, divisive
topics, create posts that showcase people coming together in service. Acknowledge
those who reach across lines that divide us and intentionally come together in
serving one another.
Start #redeemingFacebook for civil,
respectful discussions about things over which disagree. We will always
find plenty to disagree about. However, we could begin #redeemingFacebook by keeping our posts civil. No name-calling. No
accusations. No demeaning one group. Instead, make posts that communicate a desire to understand
a different opinion. Use posts to find and acknowledge the good in one another,
even those with whom you disagree. Work hard to discover the positive intent in
those who think differently than you.
Robin S. Sharma is credited with saying: “What you focus on grows, what you think about expands, and what you dwell upon determines your destiny.” What do we want to determine our destiny and the destiny of our children: divisiveness, anger, and hate or kindness, goodness, and peace? Imagine if the most common posts on Facebook were about kindness, peace, and goodness and the negative posts were the exception, drowned out among all the positive posts of kindness, goodness, and peace. I don’t know if it can happen, but we can begin by #redeemingFacebook. I’m going to do my part. Let’s start a #redeemingFacebook campaign. Will you join me in #redeemingFacebook?
Two people bump into one another on
a narrow street while going in opposite directions. After some interaction, one
bows down and moves aside to let the other go on his way. Which one does a
toddler like best: the one who bows and steps aside or the one who got his way?
In another instance, two people bump
into one another on a narrow street while going in opposite directions. After
some interaction, one pushes the other one down and goes on his way. Which one
does the toddler like best: the one who uses violence to get his way or the one
who was pushed?
In a final scenario, a person is
trying to accomplish a goal. One person steps in to help him achieve his goal.
A different person steps in to impede him from reaching his goal. Which one
does the toddler like best: the one who helps or the one who impedes?
Researchers have used puppets to explore all three of these scenarios with toddlers. In the first scenario the toddlers liked the one who got his way rather than the one who bowed and moved aside. However, in the second scenario they did not like the one who got his way through violence and force (read Toddlers prefer winners, but avoid those who win by force for more). In the final scenario, they liked the one who helped the other achieve his goal (Check out Can Babies Tell Right From Wrong on YouTube for more).
Isn’t that interesting? Even
toddlers show a preference for certain types of people. Specifically, they like
those who win in conflict due to social status without the use of force or violence. And, they like those who help
others. They do not like those who are mean or violent. Seems obvious, but
think about what this means for parents and families? I think it encourages us
to do at least three things for the benefit of our children.
Model kindness in your own life. Be kind to one another within the family and be kind to
those outside the family. Not only will this model good values, it will nurture
your children’s admiration of, and respect for, you as a parent as well. This,
in turn, will increase their willingness to listen, live by family values, and
cooperate when family disagreements arise.
Accept respect and kindness from others. Let your children see you graciously accept positions of
status or prestige while remaining humble. Knowing that you hold a position of
some respect can nurture your children’s sense of security…but this is only
true if you accept that respect graciously. And, we all hold a position of
prestige and respect as a parent. Accept that honor and respect from your
children with grace and humility.
Do not respond violently toward others. This not only includes physical violence but verbal and
relational violence as well. We can become violent in our words, our tone of
voice, or our volume just as much as we can through physical stature and
actions. We can also show violence in our attitude toward others, by demeaning another person’s character or
undermining another person’s authority in a given situation. Each of these
represents violence. Seeing this violence in their parents can reduce children’s
respect for, and trust in, them.
Children do not like to be around people who can become mean and violent.
It’s scary, frightening. Do not become violent toward your spouse (in how you
disagree, talk about them, or talk to them), toward your children (in your
discipline, in your words to them, or your descriptions of them), or toward anyone
outside the family. Instead, show kindness.
Model kindness. Graciously and humbly accept respect and kindness from others. Do not be mean; do not respond to others with violence of any kind. As you engage in these three practices, you will nurture your relationship with your children and encourage them to grow in kindness and grace. Who could ask for more?
Well, not all thinking can ruin your marriage but….
You know poor communication or contemptuous communication can destroy your marriage. You’ve probably heard that a lack of connection with your spouse or turning away from your spouse’s attempts to connect can ruin your marriage as well. Perhaps you’ve read about the negative impact of contempt on marriage…or the destructive power of lying on your marriage. But, do you realize a thinking style based on the fear of rejection can destroy your marriage? (Read The Thinking Style that Damages Relationship for an overview of the study showing how fear of rejection impacts relationships.) It’s true! When a person enters a marriage fearing rejection, the marriage is at risk. Fear of rejection causes a person to think about their partner abandoning them. Fear of rejection also leads to the fearful person constantly seeking reassurance and asking about the security of their relationship. They may even try to force their partner to remain in the relationship through verbally eliciting guilt. Or, on the other hand, the person with a fear of rejection may comply with everything their partner says or does…which only serves to weaken the relationship (Shut Up & Put Up to Ruin Your Marriage explains more). Unfortunately, these behaviors, engaged in out of a fear of rejection, only serve to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. They push the partner away and may ultimately lead to destroying their marriage.
Don’t worry though. I have three
ideas to help you overcome the fear of rejection and so change your behaviors,
strengthen your marriage, and nurture a sense of security in your marriage!
Many times, fear of rejection flows
from an insecure parent-child attachment. So, if you’re a parent, you can help
your children avoid a fear of rejection by developing a secure, loving relationship with them. By doing so you help protect
their future marriage from the fear of rejection. If, however, you are an adult
with a fear of rejection, learn to nurture
yourself. Think about the relationship you had with your parent. What was
missing? What led you to feel insecure? What caused disconnection between you
and your parent? Then, parent yourself. Provide yourself with those things you
missed from your parent. Nurture yourself with encouragement and love. When you
make a mistake, show yourself compassion and then consider how you can avoid
that same mistake in the future. Trust yourself to grow and learn from
mistakes. Give yourself a hug. Acknowledge your successes each day. Compliment
your own effort. These actions will contribute to the next suggestion for overcoming
the “fear of rejection.”
Develop your identity
and a secure sense of self. You can do this by acknowledge and capitalizing on your
strengths while acknowledging and working to improve in areas of weakness. Participate
in your own growth. Develop hobbies that support your interests. Try new
things. In this way you will develop a greater sense of independence and
competence…and that will not only reduce your “fear of rejection” but
strengthen your ability to grow in intimate relationship as well!
Befriend people who will honor you. Develop relationships with people who show compassion and
understanding, kindness and encouragement. Make sure your partner is a person
who will engage in mutual respect, a person who will value you for you and who enjoys
seeing you grow as an individual as well as in relationship to them. That may
sound like a tall order, but a partner like that is well worth the wait!
Fear of rejection can ruin a
marriage, but you don’t have to let it. Nurture yourself. Develop a strong
sense of identity. Befriend people who be mutually supportive in relationship
with you. When you do, you may feel the “fear of rejection” slipping
away…and good riddance!