Archive for Honor

Speaking the Truth in Love

Building a healthy family requires some tough conversations—tough conversations with our spouse, tough conversations with our children, and even tough conversations with our parents. These conversations often put us in a moral bind between the desire to be honest and the desire to be kind. Of course, we can approach these tough conversations in a variety of ways. Emma Levine, a University of Chicago psychologist, describes five ways to approach these tough conversations.

  1. We could just fail to address the issue. This approach is low on honesty and, in the long run, kindness. We avoid the discomfort of bringing up unpleasant material. But our family member does not learn valuable information. And, we miss the opportunity to nurture a more intimate relationship through the conversation.
  2. We might tell a “little white lie,” a false kindness to protect our family member’s feelings. Once again, we avoid the unpleasant confrontation, but our family member misses out on learning important information. Intimacy is hindered. And, if the “white lie” is discovered, our family member may even become resentful.
  3. We could simply speak with brutal honesty. In this scenario, we speak the truth but do not take our family member’s feelings into consideration.  Our family member will likely feel criticized or attacked  and, as a result, reject the message. Once again, family members do not gain important information. Intimacy is hindered. Relationships are harmed.
  4. The fourth approach involves telling your family member something true and positive but irrelevant to the “real” issue. For instance, your son asks about his performance during the baseball game and you reply by saying, “It was a beautiful sunny day to watch your game” rather than offering a direct, but loving critique of his performance. Unfortunately, your family member will likely view this as no different than telling an outright lie. They will become frustrated. Intimacy will be hindered. Relationships harmed.

Why do we use these ineffective approaches? Dr. Levine believes we choose one of these ineffective approaches because we focus mainly on our own feelings during the anticipated interaction and we focus on short-term comfort rather than long-term kindness. All this aside, Dr. Levine does describe one more approach… and this one proves most effective. It shifts the focus to the long-term growth and increased intimacy we might gain rather than the short-term comfort. .

  • Articulate a sincere interest in your family member’s long-term benefit before describing your concern in a gentle, straight-forward manner. Remember, the conversation will end like it begins so approach the interaction gently, with a “gentle start up.” Even if you fumble over some words, your family member will sense your attempt. They will experience the warmth of emotion expressed and recognize your genuine concern. As a result, they will be more able to hear the concern…even if it is unpleasant in the moment. In other words, speak the truth in love. When we do, family members gain important information. Everyone grows. Intimacy is enhanced.

To speak the truth in love is an ancient wisdom that helps us grow more mature, more intimate, and more secure.

A Card Game to Change the “Same Old Fights”

I love this quote: “What makes conflict so painful is that we are desperate to be heard but too upset to listen, desperate to be understood but too upset to be understanding, desperate to be validated but too upset to validate. What can help you get what you need is [a] willingness to stoke even a small ember of empathy for your partner’s experience.” (Dr. Alexandra Solomon)

An incredibly wise statement. Arguments are not resolved without listening, understanding, and validating. Unfortunately, the heat of a conflict sends us into a fight or flight mode, making it extremely difficult to listen, understand, and validate. So, what can you do? Here is a neat little “card game” that can help you become less “desperate” and more able to listen, understand, and validate. It demands some prep time, but the results can be wonderful.

Preparation:

  • Think of the tone of voice that escalates your conflicts. Then, write down the tone of voice that will help prevent an escalation. This may include calm (vs. agitated), gentle (vs. harsh), soft (vs. loud), sincere (vs. sarcastic), and any others you think of. Make one note card for each positive tone of voice.
  • Think of the words and phrases that escalate your arguments. Now, write down words and catchphrases to help calm an escalation. These might include repair statements John Gottman talks about. They can also include phrases that affirm your love for one another, phrases like “Even when I’m upset, I still love you” or “We can disagree and still love one another.”
  • After you have made these cards, put them around your house—on the fridge, on the mirror in the bathroom, on your dresser drawer…where ever you will see them throughout the day and where ever they will be readily available to you in the “heat of the moment.”

Playing the Game:

  • Now that the cards are spread throughout your house, make a point of reading them as you go about your day. Say them out loud when open the fridge, look in the mirror, or any time you see a card.
  • If (when is probably more accurate) you find yourself in an argument with your spouse, recite one of the cards. If you struggle to remember what any of them say, walk as you talk and read the cards along the way. Walking and looking for the right card as you talk may change your argument in and of itself…may even make you laugh a little.
  • Also, as you read the new statements and follow the new tone of voice directions, you will be changing your style of argument for good.

You may even find yourself better able to listen, understand, and validate. Better yet, doing all this will turn the argument into an opportunity to learn about one another and grow more intimate. Now that’s the way to win a great card game!

Six Reasons to Hug Your Family

A hug is defined as the “holding or squeezing of someone tightly in one’s arms.”  But, in reality, a hug is much more than simply holding or squeezing another person. A hug is powerful. A hug can change a life. In fact, here are 6 reasons to hug your spouse, children, and parents on a regular basis.

  • Research out of Carnegie Mellon University suggests that receiving a hug on the day of a conflict contributed to feeling less negative emotion the day of the conflict and the day after the conflict. The hug also prevented the conflict from reducing positive emotion on the day of the conflict. In other words, a hug helps people feel better even after a conflict.
  • In another study involving 404 participants, hugs were found to buffer the stress caused by daily stressors and resulted in less severe symptoms when infected with a virus for the common cold. Want your loved ones to be less stressed and have fewer symptoms of illness? Give them a hug.
  • Hugs may boost heart health also. A study published in 2003 found that people who held hands with their loved one for ten minutes and then hugged them for 20 seconds (compared to those who simply rested for 10 minutes and 20 seconds) had lower blood pressure & less increase in heart rate during a public speaking assignment. In other words, physical affection, including a hug, reduces our reactivity to stresses and promotes better heart health.
  • A good 20-second hug releases oxytocin…and oxytocin counteracts stress, helps us relax, increases our level of trust, and increases our empathy and feelings of intimacy. You could say hugs release oxytocin and make us feel good.
  • Hugs also communicate affection and love to the other person. A hug communicates “You belong.” Who doesn’t like to know they belong? Everyone enjoys knowing they are loved. Communicate your love…give a hug.
  • Last, but not least, hugs feel good. You can feel the comfort and the relaxing of the muscles even as you feel the other person’s arms engulf you in a hug.

Hugs benefit our physical health, our emotional health, and our mental health. They communicate love and help people know they belong. Give your loved ones a hug today. Better yet, give them several hugs today.

Conflict With Your Spouse? Try the Elmo Approach.

Remember Elmo from Sesame Street? Elmo talks in third person most of the time. The Sesame Street Workshop Frequently Asked Questions tells us Elmo talks in third person because of his preschool age. In fact, many preschoolers do speak in third person. Elmo simply says he “was born that way.” Whatever his reason for talking in third person, he may be on to something that could benefit you, your marriage, and your family.

Teresa Frisbie, a professional mediator and director of Loyola University Chicago School of Law’s Dispute Resolution Program, helps clarify what Elmo can teach us. She notes we often react to stressors, disagreements, or perceived threats with a fight, flight, or freeze response. John Gottman also states that marital arguments trigger this fight, flight, or freeze response. During this response, we become defensive and self-protective. We are less able to listen well or understand another person’s perspective. As you can imagine, that is not good for resolving the argument with your spouse. In fact, it only makes the conflict worse. But what can we do? Which leads us back to Teresa Frisbie.

Teresa Frisbie suggests we try what I call the Elmo Approach. She suggests we begin to use a third person perspective, just like Elmo does. Simply shifting our perspective from the first-person (I, me, mine) to third person (Elmo says…) helps us gain distance from the perceived stresses and perceived threat so we can remain calm and gain some clarity. The third person perspective helps us maintain a healthy optimism as well, which helps resolve disagreements. The Elmo Approach can also help us listen better and appreciate multiple perspectives. It will help us resolve the disagreement more easily.

You may be thinking, “Elmo can talk in third person, but I’ll look crazy talking in third-person during an argument.” Well…. Here’s the beauty of this? You don’t have to say it out loud. You can simply begin referring to yourself in third person in your mind. Beginning to use the third person in your thoughts can produce the same results. So, give the Elmo Approach a try. If you find yourself stressed or overwhelmed, start referring to yourself in third person (by using your name or referring to yourself as he, she, him, or her) as you contemplate your response. Whether you find yourself giggling like Elmo or not, you will find it easier to maintain some distance from the stressor and resolve the conflict more easily.

Read more about this in How to Get Some Emotional Distance in an Argument from The Greater Good Science Center.

“Yeah, but…,” “Yes, and…”, “Your Marriage”

I like to do an exercise with families and couples struggling to communicate effectively. The exercise involves three parts and is taken from an improvisation exercise. In the first part of the exercise, the couple attempts to have a conversation by replying to everything their partner says with some form of “No.” Variations on “no” can include, “That’s wrong,” “Never,” “How stupid,” “How can you do that to me?” or a simple roll of the eyes. As you can imagine, this conversation is very short in the office, but they can go on for days in the home. A “no” response blocks connection. It tends to either end the conversation or lead to an angry response that escalates into a cycle of blaming and defending.  As you can imagine, done consistently this type of response will kill a relationship.

The second part of the exercise changes the response from “no” to “Yeah, but….”  You can imagine the simple conversations that follow. “It’s sunny outside.” “Yeah, but it’s hot.” “Yeah, but we can swim.” “Yeah, but the water is probably cold.” “Yeah, but….” Is it getting irritating yet?  Yeah, but it can go on in some relationships forever. In life outside my office, “yeah, but” responses may not even include those words. They may sound more like “You did it (yeah)…(but) finally” or “That’s not a bad job (yeah with the implied ‘but it could be better’)” or “That is good work (yeah)…(but) for you.” The “yeah, but…” conversation blocks connection as well. It quickly becomes frustrating and may even escalate to arguing. It will also kill a relationship.

The final part of the exercise changes the initial response one more time. This time, all responses start with “Yes, and….” “It’s sunny today.” “Yes, and it’s hot.” Yes, and we can swim.” “Yes, and the water is probably cold.” “Yes, and that will feel good!” Not near as frustrating. The “Yes, and” conversation accepts the other person’s statement and adds to it. It builds connection through acceptance. It builds cooperation. It opens the door for a deeper and more intimate conversation.

As you finish reading this description, take a moment to reflect. Step away from the “Yeah, but that will never work in my marriage” and the “Yeah, but you don’t know my spouse.”  Pause and consider the “Yes, and I’ll give it a try” or “Yes, and I’ll find out if it works in my marriage.” You might be pleasantly surprised.

The Anger is Real…Don’t Let It Ruin Your Family

Anger…. There is a lot to be angry about today. I don’t need to list it all for you. You know what arouses the anger of so many people today. Just watch the news and you will see angry people. Scroll through social media and you will find angry people. Have a conversation and you might experience angry people. You might even be angry yourself. I know I am. An article recently published in the American Journal of Health Promotion discusses how news media has become “increasingly negative and polarizing” between 1979 and 2010. (Just imagine how much greater the media polarization has become since 2010.) The article focuses on the impact this has had on public health and offers a solution that calls, in part, for a commitment from those reporting the news to report at least one positive story for every three negative stories and a commitment from viewers to support those news venues that do offer those positive stories. But that is not really what I want to address. My focus is family…and anger is toxic in the family.

The polarization and anger witnessed in our society has crept into many homes. Ironically, it isn’t even that people are angry with their family. They are just angry and that anger bleeds into their home. And, as I said earlier, anger is toxic for families. Anger traps families in their pain. It undermines fun by intruding with constant debate and clarification. It erects walls of guardedness that diminish intimacy as well as opportunities to develop intimacy. It blinds us to the things we admire about our family members as well as their perspectives and simple endearing qualities. We end up arguing and debating, agitated, when all we really want is intimacy and connection with our family members.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a place for anger and a beneficial way to express anger. But when it sneaks into the family, it becomes an undercurrent of toxic emotion, it is not beneficial. It is toxic. So, what can we do? Here are some tips to help us rise above the anger and build love and connection in our families.

  • Ask yourself a few key questions. Do you love your family? Is it more important that you “convince them” of your point of view or that you show them you love them? How do you want them to remember you? How do you want your family to think of you, as an agitated person or a loving person? A person of self-control or a person prone to angry outbursts? Do you want to be remembered as a person who remained calm and shared love or a person who got lost in emotion and snapped out at even the little things?
  • Ask other family members questions…AND listen. In these times we really want to understand one another. Take the time to ask question but take more time to listen. Ask them what it is like for them during these times? How are they managing the stress of the day? Ask what you can do to help them. If they want to discuss issues of the day, ask how you might discuss these issues without it becoming an argument and arousing anger. Let them know you love them no matter what.
  • Give no advice. Simply practice awareness. Too often we give unsolicited advice (I know I do). Giving unsolicited advice sends an implicit message that they aren’t good enough or smart enough to figure things out on their own. Instead of being helpful, our unsolicited advice become rocks thrown at a person’s head. They don’t build relationship. They promote defensiveness. They even hurt. So, rather than give unsolicited advice, practice awareness. Become aware of your family members’ emotions, intent, and perspective. Learn about their priorities and their fears. Become aware of how they express themselves, what irritates them, and what soothes them.
  • Play. Play relieves stress. Play pulls people together. Play builds intimacy. Play washes away the troubles of the day…at least for the moment. Play helps us gain perspective. Engage your family in play.
  • Create “issue free” and “positive news only” zones.  You and your family will benefit from creating times or spaces in which the “issues” of the day are not discussed. In these times you can talk about other things like things you have enjoyed during the day, future family activities, or positive news you have heard. You can talk about a story you are reading, a song you enjoy, or things for which you are grateful.  The possibilities are endless. Just enjoy a time of conversation that can bring joy and connection into your family.

Yes, anger is real. Anger can be legitimate. It can motivate us to create change in positive ways. However, anger can also take over the family. It can be toxic. It can destroy your family. Don’t let anger pull your family apart. Practice these tips and enjoy a loving family.

A “Glass-Half-Full” Kind of Marriage

Are you a “glass-half-full” or a “glass-half-empty” kind of person? According to research, your answer could impact the future life and cognitive health of your spouse! A study (A happy partner leads to a healthier future) published in the Journal of Personality (2019) reported this link after following 4,500 heterosexual couples from the Health and Retirement Study for eight years. Specifically, the research suggests a link between being married to an optimistic person and preventing the onset of cognitive decline. It appears that being married to an optimistic person helps prevent the risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and cognitive decline.

How can this be? An optimistic person tends to focus on aspects they can change and control rather than dwell on those things they cannot change or control. As a result, they tend to eat healthier, exercise, and take better care of their body. After all, they believe these are things they can manage and even change. This lifestyle encourages their spouse to do the same.

An optimistic person also tends to see problems as temporary and specific. Combining this with their tendency to look for what they can manage and change, optimistic people become better problem-solvers.  When stressors arise, optimistic people view them as specific to situation, time, or person. They look for ways within their control to manage or change those “temporary” stressors. As a result, they manage stressors better and exhibit fewer of the emotional and physical consequences of stress. Once again, their spouses benefit from this problem-solving as well. They also learn to become more optimistic problem-solvers themselves in the process.

You might be thinking, “Well great because I’m not optimistic and neither is my spouse.”  Fortunately, you can learn to become more optimistic. As you can see above, optimistic people think differently. They view problems as temporary and changeable. They look for ways in which they can influence the stressors and problems they encounter. 

You can learn to do both things by paying attention to how you think. Change the “I can’t do anything about this” into “What can I influence in this situation?” Change the “This is never going to get better” or “This always happens to me” into “This is not good right now” and “This does happen sometimes.” Then ask yourself again, “Where do I have influence? What do I control in this situation?” (Read more on Nurturing Your Muscles of Optimism.) In other words, learn to respond to problems and stressors by considering:

  • What part of this situation do I have influence over? What can I do to help create change?
  • Is this stressor or problem specific to a time? a person? a situation?
  • How often does this really happen? Think of all the times it has happened differently.

Using these questions, you can begin to change your thinking to become a more optimistic person…and, in turn, contribute to your spouse’s happy and fulfilling life.

LEAP Before You LOOK

Did you read the title as it is written or as you usually hear it spoken? Read it again: LEAP Before You LOOK! Granted, it is generally better to look before you leap, to count the cost. But there is at least one time when it is better to LEAP before you LOOK, at least that’s the suggestion of a study conducted by University of California Santa Barbara. In this study, 1,500 participants completed two surveys. The first survey was a measure of the participants’ attitudes about socially desirable behaviors like kindness, forgiveness, and self-accountability. For this survey, the participants were divided into the three groups.  The first group had to answer true/false questions in under 11 seconds. The second group was instructed to wait 11 seconds before answering. The third group simply answered the questions at their own pace. Those who answered in under 11 seconds scored higher in social desirability. They described themselves as more kind and helpful. The longer a person “thought” before answering, however, the more selfish their answers became. Interesting…but why?

To gain a better understanding of why this might be true, the participants took a second survey assessing their core beliefs about humanity. This survey revealed that a person who believed people’s “true self” was generally good AND people who believed people’s true self was generally bad BOTH showed more social desirability under the 11 second time constraint. In other words, their core belief about people did not impact their tendency to be kind and helpful. Still, thinking about being kind and helpful did impact the participants’ actions. The more the participants thought about being kind, the less they responded with kindness and the more selfish their answers became.

In other words, our first impulse tends to lean toward kindness. The researchers suggest that “kindness is a deeper learned habit that comes from a lifetime of associating kind behaviors with beneficial outcomes.” Could be…or maybe we are wired for kindness. I don’t know. That’s an idea to explore and clarify in future studies. (Read Toddlers Prefer What Kind of People? & Geometry, Infants, & Compassion.) At any rate, our first instinct seems to be toward kindness. But we think. We contemplate how needy the recipient of our kindness “really is.” We worry about an audience. We wonder if we are the right person to help. We count the cost of helping and being kind…the financial cost, the time cost, the emotional cost, the reputational cost. Then, after all the thinking is done, the opportunity for kindness has passed. We have talked ourselves out of kindness. In other words, we looked and never leaped.

So, when it comes to kindness, LEAP before you LOOK. We can teach our children this principle of kindness by doing the following.

  • Share kindness with your family. Offer family members a compliment as often as you can. Make them some coffee or tea. Pour them a glass of pop. Do a chore. Sharing kindness requires action. Don’t just think about it. Do it. As you practice and model kindness within the family, your whole family will learn to extend kindness beyond the family unit as well.
  • Read stories of kindness. You might find these in children’s books (Here are 17 Kid’s Books that Teach Kindness from Woman’s World.) or you might find them in various news publications (like Good News Network). Discuss these stories of kindness and how your family might respond in similar situations.
  • When the opportunities arise to show kindness outside the home, LEAP before you LOOK. Don’t just talk about it. Don’t just think about it. Do it. Encourage your children to share kindness. Let them see you sharing kindness. It may be as simple as holding the door for a stranger or as honorable as returning money to a person who dropped it. Whatever the opportunity, show kindness.

As we practice these three steps in our homes, our children will come to know that when it comes to kindness, LEAP before you LOOK.

The Message Behind the Words

Children and teens are still learning. Parents know this, but we still get angry when they make bad choices. We know children make mistakes. They push the limits. They compound already stressful situations by becoming distracted, breaking down into tears, or even having a tantrum. And we, as parents, respond. The real question is: what is the most effective response? How can teach our children appropriate behavior and responsibility for their actions while still communicating we love and value them? I’m glad you asked.

An effective response begins with the words we use. Our words carry two messages. One message is the objective meaning of the words…the least powerful message of the two. The other message, the more powerful message, is the implied meaning behind the words. Effective parents learn to use power of words by using words that imply an affirmative message rather than a negative message.  Consider these examples.

Implied Negative MessageImplied Affirmative Message
“When are you going to finish cleaning up your mess?” This communicates the negative implication that any effort your child makes is not enough. It’s never going to satisfy you.  “Good start. Looks good so far.” This acknowledges their effort, appreciates what they have done, and leaves room for more work to be done.
“Don’t forget” implies your child needs a reminder because forgetting is their norm.“Remember” expresses faith in their ability to remember and trust in their desire to remember.
“I have no idea what you’re babbling about” communicates that your child is not worth listening to. They are just a “babbler.”“Whoa. Slow down. I’m interested in what you have to say but I can’t keep up.” This implies you value what your child has to say and teaches them to speak in a manner you can understand.
“What are you doing? See those streaks? Are you blind? Do it right.” This statement communicates that your child is incompetent and cannot live up to your standards. There is no room for individuality and growth.“You’re really getting the hang of cleaning the tables now. Let me show you how to avoid leaving streaks on the table.” This communicates a trust in their ability to learn, an appreciation of their growing ability, and an awareness of them as part of ‘your team.’
“Why? Because I said so.” This statement offers a challenge. It presents a power play. Power plays and challenges always invite debate and rebellion.“I love you too much to let you do that. I’m afraid you’ll get hurt because….” This statement expresses concern and a belief in your child’s ability to understand the reason behind the rules.
“You are so careless. Watch what you are doing!” Name calling (“careless”) and global characterizations generally express negativity. How can a careless person watch what they’re doing? They’re careless.“Oops. We better clean that up. You’ll know to be more careful next time.” This statement acknowledges a mistake was made and normalizes that mistake. It also communicates a trust in them to learn from those mistakes.
“Quit crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” Minimizes or dismisses feelings. Makes children feel shame for their feelings. Limits their ability to learn to manage their feelings.“That has made you really sad.” Accepts and acknowledges feelings, which allows children to learn to better manage their feelings as well.
“Relax. What are you so angry about?” Once again, this dismisses their feelings with all the related negative results.“I appreciate your passion. It really shows how important this is to you.” Not only does this accept your children’s feelings, it communicates that feelings have an underlying value, a purpose. It encourages children to look for the deeper priority under the emotion.

What words do you remember hearing as a child? Those words that carried a negative message may have left scars you still experience today while words that carried an affirmative message continue to boost you and propel your forward. We want our words to propel our children forward with confidence and respect for authority. With that in mind, we must ask ourselves:

  • What words do I use with my children that carry a negative message?
  • How can I reword those phrases to send a more affirmative and effective message to my children?

Spread an Emotional Contagion that Builds Relationship

Emotional contagion describes when one person’s emotions and related behaviors trigger similar emotions in another person. Our emotions can trigger other people’s emotions and vice versa because People mimic the facial expressions and body language of other people during social interactions and “catch” their emotions. You have probably experienced the impact of emotional contagion in your family. Someone (mom, dad, teen) comes home in a bad mood and suddenly everyone’s mood takes a turn for the worse. On the other hand, the same person comes home with a smile on their face and a bounce in their step and everyone feels better.

A smile on their face…that reminds me. Ka-shing Woo and Bobbie Chan conducted a study (2019) focusing on the impact of different types of smiles and nodding on warmth and friendliness between people. They found that a fake smile did NOT pass along good feelings. However, a genuine smile did pass along good feelings. They also found that slow, vertical head nodding communicates supportiveness and indicates the listener is paying attention. When the study participants combined a genuine smile with a slow, vertical head nod, they found a “potent emotional contagion” expressing warmth and friendliness that also served as a catalyst for reciprocal feelings of warmth and friendliness. In other words, genuine smiling and attentive nodding spreads warmth and friendliness, it draws people together in positive emotions, it builds intimacy…it is an emotional contagion of warmth and friendliness.

Interesting, isn’t it? A genuine smile combined with a nod of interest conveys a warmth and friendliness that is “catchy.”  Now that is a contagion I would like to spread through my family. That is a contagion I would like to see spread through my family to the community as well. So, let’s start spreading that contagion today. Pass along a genuine smile and a nod of interest every chance you get.

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