You’ve heard songs lament, “You’ve lost that loving feeling….” You’ve probably even heard people you know declare, “I love you; I just don’t feel the love anymore.” That’s great news. Now those “loving feelings” won’t interfere with you revealing your true level of love. After all, true love is a verb, not an emotion. Feelings wax and wane. Emotions come and go. But true love includes more than emotion. True love is a verb that involves decisions and actions. True love engages in loving acts toward the one you love even when the feelings of love weaken or seem nonexistent. Think of those loving actions you engaged in when you first met and began to pursue a relationship.
The effort you made to spend time engaged in conversation and getting to know one another.
The time spent sharing interests and opinions over a cup of coffee or a meal.
Think about how often you “picked up a little something” you thought “the one you loved” might like and gave it to them when you met. It might have been anything from flowers to a pack of gum to a picture of something you thought they’d enjoy.
Recall how often you complimented them on their appearance, their cooking, an achievement, or something they did for another.
Remember the times you admired their character as you saw it in action.
Think about the simple acts of physical affection like holding hands, sitting snuggled up in one another’s arms, or walking arm in arm.
Consider how often you offered to do something nice for them. You might have offered to get them a drink while you were in the kitchen, pick up milk on your way to their apartment, or carry a bag for them while they opened the door.
The acts of love go on. There are many more. Not so surprisingly, engaging in these acts of love reignites those dormant feelings of love. I fear we often put the cart before the horse when thinking about love. We think loving feelings drive loving actions. While that might be true at times, real growth, real movement toward a stronger marriage, occurs when the horse of loving action drives the cart of loving feelings to a new and better place in our relationship. Of course, the one steering the cart and directing the horse, the coachman, is you and your decision to go in the direction of love. So, if you’re singing the blues (“I’ve lost that loving feeling”), cheer up. Rejoice in the great opportunity presenting itself to you. Jump in the driver’s seat and take the challenge of driving the horse…eh, I mean, your loving actions. Engage in loving actions, the same type of actions you engaged in when you first “fell in love.” Celebrate the opportunity to reveal your true love in action and the cart of “loving feelings” will follow into an even more beautiful love than ever before.
Remember the old Burger King commercials? I used to sing their moto, “Have It Your Way…,” such a catchy tune.
Unfortunately, some people think they’re married to Burger King. They want to always “have it their way” in marriage, treating their spouse like Burger King. They want their “Burger King spouse” to accept their way and agree with it, or at least act as though they do. They always believe their way “is right” and will argue their point in an effort to make their “Burger King spouse” toes the line and complies with their way. They do this by insisting on “their way” with vigor and passion, often overwhelming their spouse with their energy. They persist in this persuasion until their “Burger King spouse” accepts their conclusion as the right conclusion. What they don’t admit to themselves is “their Burger King spouse” often does this just to end the conflict and not have to talk about it anymore. As soon as the “Burger King spouse” gives in, a wedge (not a pickle wedge or a lettuce wedge but a solid, distancing wedge) is forced between them. That wedge will grow and fester, hindering intimacy and even leading to more conflict in the future.
“Having it your way” doesn’t work in marriage because none of us are married to Burger King. (Well, accept maybe Mrs. Burger King.) Our spouse has their own opinions, perspectives, and ideas. Maybe you “hold the lettuce” and she piles it on…or you “hold the pickles” while he asks for extra pickles. More significantly, maybe she wants a minivan and you want an SUV…or you want to spend some money on a few weekend vacations each year, but he wants to skip the weekend getaways and save all the money for retirement. I won’t list possible differences you and your spouse may hold. I’m sure you can think of a few on your own. The point is, when we insist on always being right, when we demand to “have it our way,” we push our spouse away. In the words of a more marriage friendly moto, “You can be right…or you can be in relationship.” “Being in relationship” requires that we accept our spouse’s point of view as valid, just like our point of view. It means we don’t demand to “have it our way,” but honor our differences by listening and compromising instead. It means having the grace to “have it their way” now and again instead of “our way.” In short, you’re not married to Burger King so don’t expect to “have it your way” all the time. Learn to listen, compromise, and turn toward one another in discovering a third alternative that can satisfy each of you. After all, isn’t it more important to have a satisfying marriage than to “have it your way.”
The party was long and I was getting tired; but, I didn’t want to rudely get up and leave. My wife was across the room enjoying a conversation with another guest. When I looked her way, she caught my eye. She made a very subtle motion with her head and changed the expression on her face ever so slightly for a brief second. Then she returned to her conversation. I knew exactly what she had said. I walked over to the table where I could get a drink and carried it over to her. I handed her the drink and said, “Thirsty?” She nodded and took the drink. “Getting kind of late. I’m tired. Are you ready to leave?” A look of relief spread across her face. “Yes,” she replied, “I’m tired too.” We quickly said our good-byes and headed home. She thanked me for “hearing” her request from across the room and added, “I thought I saw the same in your face.”
I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience in your marriage. The experience of working as a team, of remaining attuned and attentive to one another in a way no one else is. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s time to learn this crucial skill for a happy marriage. It’s a skill developed and practiced every day in a healthy marriage. Here are some tips to help you get started…or to get even better at it than you already are.
Get curious about your spouse. Follow their lead. Learn what they like and don’t like. Learn about their dreams and their fears. Never stop learning. Your spouse will offer new things to learn every day. Get curious and enjoy learning about your spouse. (Develop a “Love Map” with these questions.)
Be open & transparent in speaking about what impacts you and how. Talk about your opinions and your feelings. It’s ok to differ in opinion so allow your spouse to know your thoughts.
Learn to listen intently—not just for words but for inflection, tone, and cadence as well. Not just with ears but with eyes & touch as well. Listen intently. (Learn the The Gracious Art of Listening.)
Turn toward your spouse to work together. Problem solve together. Make compromises. Look for win/win solutions. Function as a team. (RSVP for Intimacy can help you do so.)
Develop an identity as a couple. Consider what you like to do together? How do you fit into world as couple? How do you balance couple time with individual time & identity? How can you create overlap? To help you do this, take time to develop a couple’s mission statement. (Include these 6 Traits for an Intimate Marriage in your mission statement.)
Want to have a better relationship, a happier marriage? Begin to practice by communicating a sense of “us” by practicing these tips. Go ahead and get started. You’ll have fun and grow a more intimate relationship along the way!
How do you think of your children? I mean, really, underneath all the hubbub and philosophical questions and answers, how do you feel about your children? Sure, we can talk about whether they are born with a propensity for good or evil; or, we could discuss how much they know and whether they manipulate or simply try to get their needs met in the best way they know how. We could even go so far as to make determinations about their ability to know right from wrong, the age of accountability, their moral character…and on and on. Researchers have explored these areas. But, really, I don’t want to know any of that. I want to know how YOU feel about your children; how YOU think about your children. Most parents cherish their children. They look at their children with great pride when they do well. When their children hurt, they feel that pain just as acutely. They want the absolute best for their children. At times they look at their children with awe realizing “that little person is my responsibility.” They are so smart, so talented, so…beautiful. Regardless of all the philosophical debates and disagreements, parents love their children! Since we love our children, shouldn’t we show them respect as well?
We show our children respect by giving them our full attention and listening intently rather than “multi-tasking” with our work, our TV show, our book, or our household chores. I’m not saying we can never talk while doing something else, but to give our children our full attention when they want to tell us something shows great respect. We expect them to give us full attention…and what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. (Learn more in The Gracious Art of Listening)
We show our children respect by speaking to them respectfully. Calling our children names or speaking impolitely does not show respect…or love. Making comments that hurt their feelings or degrade their efforts does not show respect. Speaking politely, saying “please” and “thank you,” shows respect. Apologizing when we are wrong shows respect. Speaking words that encourage and gently correct show respect.
We respect our children when we value their interests. When we nurture and support their interests we respect our children and their interests. In fact, Grow Your Children’s Dream with these tips.
We respect our children when we accept and listen to our children’s feelings. Remember, our children feel differently than we do. They may get upset about things that seem trivial to us but respecting our children means we accept those feelings and respond to them with love. When we respect our children’s feelings, they will learn to respect other people’s feelings as well.
We show our children respect by respecting their space and their time. Of course, we still remain responsible and so monitor their phones, assure they keep their space clean, and help them learn to manage their time. We also knock before entering. We do not sneak around behind their back but keep them informed as to expectations. We respect their age-appropriate privacy. (Read Raising Respectful Children: A Self-Examination for more.)
We respect our children by respecting their opinion, even when it differs from our opinion. We encourage them to think and explore.
Ah, the cuddle. Whether it be a hug, a snuggle, hand-holding, or a “smooch,” we love ’em all. And why not? Cuddling does wonderful things for us and our relationship. Let me just name a few:
Cuddling releases a “bonding” hormone (oxytocin). When we cuddle, we bond with the one to whom we cuddle. In other words, we feel closer to one another. So, snuggle up and bond. Enjoy the intimacy. You might even find yourself talking a little more.
Cuddling increases happiness. Who can stay grumpy when snuggled up with the one you love?
Cuddling reduces stress and anxiety. There’s just something about snuggling into the arms of our love and feeling the stress melt away.
Cuddling also lowers blood pressure. Increased happiness, reduced stress, and lowered blood pressure all add up to increased heart health too!
Cuddling releases oxytocin which helps block pain signals. As a result, cuddling reduces pain.
Cuddling also helps us fight colds and other infections. When we feel good our body doesn’t want illness to interfere. So, it fights infections even more.
Cuddling helps us sleep too.
Is it any wonder we like to cuddle? It soothes us and lifts our mood. It melts away the strain and stress of the day. It relieves the pain. All the while it bonds us to the one with whom we snuggle. So, grab your spouse and “cuddle up a little closer.” You know you want to. Sing along with Andy Burrows with full sincerity, “I’d rather have cuddle than a video; I’d rather have cuddle than anything I know. I’d rather have a cuddle than ketchup, chips, or peas. A computer can be lovely, but a cuddle’s what I need!”
Let’s face it. Smartphones (and similar devices) have become integral to our lives. They are like a member of the family. Maybe even more like our right hand than our “right hand man” ever was. We not only call friends and families with our phones, we keep our schedules, monitor our health, watch our favorite programs, expand our knowledge, keep updated on the news, check our homework, play our games, and more with our cell phones. They have become an integral part of our lives. However, they have brought a potential problem as well. We have developed an attachment, a longing even, to the pings, chimes, & vibrations with which our phone calls out to us. Many of our teens and college age people have come to base their self-worth and perceived popularity by the number of “likes” and heart emoji’s given in response to their posts. In this way, the cell phone, our smartphones, have become dangerous. They have taken our moods and our time captive. How many of us have had that moment of disappointment when we don’t “get enough” likes for some post? We have traded in our face-to-face contact, rich with body language and voice inflection, for emoji’s that represent various emotions and comments. How many of us have felt that sudden surge of frustration and anger because my alert is going off again? The constant availability of the texting, snapchat, Instagram world begins to weigh on us, robbing us of the time needed for our bodies and minds to relax and “re-create” our inner peace. All of this combines to shape our moods and our self-concept. In fact, a study from San Francisco State University has shown that college “students who used their phones the most reported high levels of feeling isolated, lonely, depressed, and anxious” (Digital Addiction Increases Loneliness, Anxiety, and Depression).
We need a plan to keep this new member of our family from completely taking over our family and isolating each member of the family. We need a creative plan, one we can stick to. With that in mind, I have gathered a few ideas.
Turn off as many “push notifications” as you can. We really don’t need “push notification” for the sales at the local stores. I really don’t need a “push notification” for the weather (I can look out the window and get similar info). Take an honest look at your “push notification” and turn off the ones you do not need.
Designate a social media time each day. Turn off the “push notifications” for all social media and get in the habit of responding to your social media accounts once or twice a day. Schedule time for it. For instance, schedule 30-45 minutes at eight a.m. and 30-45 minutes at 9:30 p.m. Limit your social media use to those scheduled times. The rest of the day you can focus on face-to-face, voice-to-voice contact. You can enjoy the moment and even take some picture to send during your scheduled social media time.
When you are out with friends or family, put the phones away…out of sight and out of earshot. Focus on the moment to moment interaction. One interesting variation on this involved the college students in the study noted above. When they went out for dinks, everyone put their cell phones in the center of the table. The first one to touch their phone paid for drinks. There’s motivation to put your attention in the current face-to-face interactions rather than the phone.
Recognize how the pings, sounds, and buzzes create a desire in us and call us to respond. Turn them off. Silence the phone, especially during social times.
Take a phone holiday. Announce on social media that you are taking a vacation from all social media. Put the phone away except for actual calls and spend a week seeking out face-to-face interactions. Studies have shown that taking a “holiday” from Facebook increases happiness. (Yep, Science Confirms that Quitting Facebook Makes People Happier.)
Make dinner time and family time a no cellphone time. Enjoy time with your family with no cell-phone interruptions.
When you are out for a walk or riding the bus, spend time without your headphones on and time not looking at your cell-phone. Instead, look around. Notice the colors. See the scenery. Observe people. You might even try starting up a simple conversation depending on the setting. Notice your world and interact with it.
The smartphone is here to stay. It can serve an excellent purpose and help in many ways…when we learn to manage it well. Let’s take the time to learn how to manage it and teach our families to do the same. We will all be the better for it!
My friend sent me a…well, rather surprising news article from CNN (I spared you this article to avoid pictures of the golfers). How do I describe it? Let me just ask…Did you know the “Wandering Bares” just had a nude golf event in Australia? Well, not completely nude…they did wear shoes to protect their feet and hats to protect their hairline from the sun. If that’s not enough, the 11th Annual “World Naked Bike Ride” was held on June 23 this year (2018). That’s right, 11th annual! I discovered “naturists” promote nude volleyball, tennis, and trail running as well. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to participate in any sport nude…especially in public. There is only one place I want to stand “naked and unafraid.” That is in the presence of my spouse. Only in marriage can we truly stand before one another “naked and unafraid.” Even that proves difficult enough! Maybe I better explain that a little more.
“Naked and unafraid” with our spouse involves an intimacy much deeper than simple physical nudity. Standing before our spouse “naked and unafraid” is not simply standing physically nude but being present with our spouse in complete emotional vulnerability, mental transparency, and spiritual acceptance. The freedom to stand before each other emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically “naked yet unafraid” flows from mutual acceptance, warts and all. It demands a shared commitment to live our lives as one. How do we develop the sense of acceptance, commitment, and intimacy that will allow us to stand with our spouse emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically “naked and unafraid”? Here are some tips.
Commit to your marriage and your spouse. Assure your spouse that you “only have eyes for” them. Stick with them in the good times and the bad. Share the joys and the sorrows. Also, look to the future you will share together. Do you have infants? Talk about your shared future as parents of teens. Do you have teens? Talk about your future together in the “empty nest.” Do you have young adult children? Talk about how you will grandparent together. Do you have a dream vacation? Plan to take it in the next five years. You get the idea. Look to the future and plan your future together.
Share your dreams with one another. Even more, support one another’s dreams. Learn about those things that interest your spouse and grow with them in those areas of interest. This also adds to the idea of committing to your spouse “for the long run.”
Show your spouse unconditional acceptance. Take time to admire the traits you love in your spouse. When you have disagreements, reaffirm your love. When you discuss those little irritations, let your spouse know how much you love them anyway.
Share your ideas with one another. Talk with your spouse about a book you’re reading. Discuss the politics of the day with your spouse. Share an inspiring verse or a lesson learned. Become mentally transparent before your spouse.
Share your fears and your joys with your spouse. Become emotionally vulnerable. Talk to your spouse about the movie that “brought tears to your eyes” (yes guys, I’m even talking about us) and the act of kindness from the random stranger that “touched you.” Express your frustration over the injustices you witness or read about in the news. Don’t forget to share stories of joy and inspiration as well—the gift that made you “so happy,” or the love that changed you. In other words, become emotionally vulnerable before your spouse. After all, you know they offer you unconditional acceptance (see #3).
When we do these things, we will find ourselves standing before our spouses emotionally vulnerable, mentally transparent, spiritually united…and unafraid. We will find ourselves “naked and unafraid.” I long for that intimacy with my spouse. Don’t you? BUT, you still won’t find me playing golf (or any other sport for that matter) in the nude…and we’re all glad about that!
“Oh lord it’s hard to be humble when your perfect in every way…” or so said Mac Davis in 1980. Maybe it’s even harder today. We live in a world that encourages self-promotion. Teens base their self-worth on the number of “likes” they receive for their most recent selfie…and so work to look “perfect in every way” before posting the “spontaneous” selfie. But, when it comes to creating long-term marital bliss humility is hot! A study published in 2015 explored the role of humility in relationships (Humility and Relationship Outcomes in Couples). They compared how a person perceived their partner’s humility to their relationship satisfaction and forgiveness. They also explored whether commitment played a role. They discovered that as one’s perception of their partner’s humility increased so did forgiveness and satisfaction in the relationship. In other words, a partner’s humility contributes to their partners sense of relational commitment, satisfaction, and willingness to forgive.
This begs the question…what exactly is humility and how do we increase it in our relationship? First, humility involves having an accurate view of ourselves. It means we recognize our strengths and our weaknesses. Second, humility involves having an “other-oriented” perspective rather than a selfish perspective. A humble person does not boast or act prideful. They also show a willingness to sacrifice self-gratification to meet their partner’s needs. They make self-promotion secondary to partner-promotion.
The question remains: how do we develop humility in our marriages? Based on the definition above, here are several ideas to get you started.
Acknowledge your own strengths AND weaknesses. We all have them…so admit it. If you don’t know what they are, ask your spouse and maybe a few other people who love you and know you well. Put on a tough skin and listen carefully. Don’t think so highly of your strengths that you ignore your weaknesses; don’t obsess over your weaknesses so much you neglect your strengths. Acknowledge both.
Put your spouse first. In communication your first goal is to understand your spouse because what they have to say is important. In living a healthy life your first goal is to assure your spouse has what they need to live healthy (opportunities for healthy food, rest, exercise). In entertainment your first goal is for your spouse, not yourself. In all areas, put your spouse and their needs first. You can still take care of yourself. After all, your spouse needs a healthy partner. So by all means, take care of yourself because your spouse is of utmost importance and they need a healthy partner.
Accept your spouse’s influence in your life. Let their needs and vulnerabilities, fears and joys influence your decisions, your words, and your actions. Allow their requests to influence your behavior and daily chores. Allowing your spouse to influence your words and deeds is an amazing expression of humble love.
Admit your mistakes and ask for forgiveness when necessary. We all make mistakes. A humble person acknowledges their mistakes and seeks forgiveness. They apologize for their wrong doings, even when those wrong doings are unintentional.
Offer forgiveness. A humble person is gracious in offering forgiveness. They do not demand undue retribution. They recognize that all of us (including me) have “fallen short” and made mistakes. As a result, they do not hold a grudge. They accept the other person’s apology and seek to restore the relationship.
One last thing to remember. Beauty fades over time. Skin sags, body shapes change. But, humility grow and flourishes over time. Outward beauty is hot for the moment, but humility…now that’s hot for a lifetime!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “Words are powerful.” I’m not the first to say it. Many have said it before and many will say it again. Why? Because it’s true…words are powerful. Words shape our world. They shape our families. They shape our children and our children’s thought patterns. If we constantly call our children “lazy” or “selfish,” we will see them as such. On the other hand, if we call our children “funny” or “caring,” we will see them as “funny” and “caring.” In other words, the way we see our children is shaped by the words we use to describe them.
The words we use to describe our children also impact how they begin to see themselves. When we speak of our children as “lazy,” they begin to see themselves as “lazy.” When we speak of them as “caring”, they begin to see themselves as “caring.” As you can see, the way we talk to and about our children has a huge impact. That means we need to listen carefully to our words. We need to listen to hear what kind of message our words communicate to and about our children. Hear are some words to listen for…and change.
Name calling. Everyone knows name calling has a negative impact on children. But name calling can also be made in subtle statements. “Don’t be stupid” is a subtle way to call someone “stupid.” “Don’t you every think” is paramount to calling someone “stupid” or “careless.” “Do you ever do anything but sit around?” is really calling someone “lazy.” “Your room is a pigsty” sounds a lot like calling your child a “pig.” Not only are such statements disrespectful, they don’t create a desire to change. Instead, they can lead to resentment, self-deprecation, and hopelessness. Why not simply say what you mean in clear, respectful language? Instead of saying “Don’t be stupid” ask them what they are trying to accomplish and how their actions will accomplish it. Rather than accuse them of “always sitting around,” help them think about activities they can do. Don’t just label the “room a pigsty,” tell them to clean it up, give reasons you want them to have a clean room, and explain the consequence of not cleaning their room. You are more likely to get the results you want. You will also teach your children respect and communication at the same time. (Read The Power of Words for more the impact of words.)
“You’re such a smart girl (boy).” Global labels like smart, clever, or good hinder your children’s progress. They often lead to children becoming less persistent and even doubting themselves (Build Your Child’s Success Mindset). Instead, ask your children what they did to achieve that grade or how it felt to accomplish that task. Focusing on effort and the results of effort leads to children who are more persistent and adventurous.
“Because I said so.” Let’s face it…it’s just more respectful to offer a reason for a limit, request, or rule rather than simply expect blind obedience. We don’t want our children to respond with blind obedience to all demands and requests they receive. We want them to think for themselves. Learning the “why” behind rules will help them internalize healthy rules and learn to think for themselves. So, rather than simply say “because I said so,” offer an explanation that your children will understand. (Read Because I Said So to learn an excellent alternative to the statement “Because I said so.”)
“Calm down” or “quit crying before I give you something to cry about.” Both statements minimize and dismiss children’s emotions. It teaches them to deny their emotions. And, no one ever responds to “quit trying” with “You’re right. I really have nothing to cry about so I’ll just stop right now, smile, and be happy.” You can help your children learn to manage emotions by teaching them to label emotions rather than dismiss emotions. When children learn to “name it” they can “tame it” when it comes to emotions. Talking helps them calm down.
Listen to yourself over the next week. Do you say any of the four statements described above? If so, work at replacing them with better alternatives. You’ll be surprised at the difference it will make for your children and your relationship with your children!
Did you know that children from a lower socioeconomic status often have lower academic achievement than peers from families with higher income? According to several studies, children who live in families with a lower socioeconomic status start school with a disadvantage, they don’t have access to the same resources. As a result, they have lower academic achievement UNLESS… Yes, there is a BUT to this statement. There is one trait that levels the playing field. If children have this one trait, they perform equally well regardless of socioeconomic status! This trait even gives an advantage. Most important, parents can nurture it! What is this all-powerful trait for academic achievement? Curiosity. That’s right. (Learn more about the benefit of curiosity in Parenting the Curious Explorer.)children exhibit curiosity they achieve well regardless of socioeconomic level and even ability to sustain attention (What Science Says is One Trait Kids Most Need to Succeed in School). Fortunately, parents can nurture curiosity. If your curious about how to nurture curiosity, try these 6 tips.
Ask questions. When your children show an interest in something, even a fleeting interest, ask them questions about that interest. Become a student of your children’s interests. Let them teach you about the object or topic of their interest.
Let them ask questions. I know…sometimes it gets old listening to our children incessantly ask questions. But, let them ask. Feed their inquisitive nature. Encourage their exploration. If you don’t know the answer, help them look it up. You’ll learn a lot. They’ll learn a lot. You’ll deepen your relationship with them. And, you’ll nurture a curiosity that will contribute to future achievement.
Make up alternative endings. Enjoy a good book or movie with your children. Then write a new ending. Maybe write two. What happened to Cinderella when she and the prince run off together? What did Moana do after she restored Te Fiti’s heart, what other adventures did she experience? Use your imagination and have fun.
Allow your children to experience new things. Better yet, encourage your children to experience new things. You don’t have to push them into things. You can do it with them. Take them to free concerts of all types of music. Accompany them to the park, the zoo, the river, the ocean, the conservatory. Visit the aviary and make up stories about the strange birds you find.
Travel. Traveling is a great way to experience new things and nurture curiosity. You don’t have to travel far. Look around your state and see what would be of interest to visit. There are historic sites, nature sites, and interesting factories. For instance, our family had the opportunity to visit the Crayola factory, the Bluebell Ice cream plant, the Andy Warhol Museum, Gettysburg, and Lincoln’s home among others. Traveling also allows your children to experience different cultures. It all nurtures curiosity. What can you visit near your home or near family?
Pay attention. When you pay attention to your children and focus on the things that catch their attention, you increase their attention span (Nurture Your Child’s Attention Span) and their curiosity.
I’m curious…what are some other ways you nurture your children’s curiosity? Share them in the comment section below.