A responsive spouse—one who not
only listens and understands but also responds with sympathy and compassion.
Who doesn’t want that kind of spouse? I know I do. And really, who doesn’t want
to be that kind of spouse? After all, I love my wife. She deserves a
Responsiveness validates our spouses. It lets them know we care for them. It reduces anxiety and arousal. It increases a sense of security in the relationship. It comforts. Overall, responsiveness is a powerful way to improve your marriage. And, a 2016 study involving 698 married and cohabitating couples suggests responsiveness does something more. It improves sleep quality. Not surprising, right? We sleep better when we feel safe. We sleep better when we feel less anxious. We sleep better when we know someone cares for us and validates us.
There you have it…another benefit
of a responsive spouse: improved sleep quality. Good sleep quality contributes
to a better rested person. A better rested person is happier, healthier, and
more able to respond to their spouse. Not only…. Oh wait. I hear my wife
calling. Sorry. I have to go. After all, a wife responded to is a happy wife
who sleeps well…and loves her responsive husband.
What does it mean to “be
there” for your spouse and children? We often consider “being there” as giving
comfort during tough times or caring for others in difficult situations. We
think of “being there” as supporting others when they need help. Those
are good times to “be there” for our spouse and children; but they
are not the only times we need to “be there.” We also need to
“be there” during the good times to share the pleasant news, the
times of joy, and the times happiness. In fact, sharing good news and good
times with those we love builds stronger relationships. It helps the both person
“being there,” the person we are “being there” for, and the relationship. Let
me name just a few of the many ways “being there” in good times can help a relationship.
Sharing good news or good experiences with a spouse, parent, or child who is engaged in the
conversation enhances the meaning and weightiness we attach to those joyous
times. These moments of sharing become foundational to our memory. We remember
positive experiences more vividly when we share them with someone who engages
in conversation with us about them. So, if you want your spouse and children to
have lots of good memories filled with meaning in their lives, engage them in conversation
about those events. “Be there” for them in celebrating the good news.
On the flip side, the person hearing about their loved one’s good
news or happy experience feel happier. You’ve likely had that experience.
Someone told you about their positive experience and you were genuinely happy
for them. You rejoiced with them and felt happier yourself. So, listen intently
to your family member’s good news and rejoice with them. Share genuine
happiness for their good fortune. You’ll be happier for it. Along these same
lines, share your own good news and positive experiences with your family
members. Don’t hold back and keep it secret. Let them rejoice with you. They’ll
be happier for it…and you’ll be happier that they are happier. Everybody’s
happy…sounds like a good family night of sharing.
Sharing good news and happy
experiences with one another also builds
stronger, more intimate relationships. Sharing our good experiences is
linked to relationship bonding and safety. When a person telling about their
good experience knows the listener is receptive and engaged, they feel more
secure in the relationship. To go even further, sharing good news with a
receptive family member makes us more grateful for one another, enhances our
sense of fondness for one another, and increases our dedication to one another.
Sound good? It sure sounds good to me.
Don’t just “be there” for your family during the
hard times. “Be there” for the good times as well. Celebrate the joyous occasions.
Rejoice together. “Be there” in good times and in bad.
Life seems stressed these days,
doesn’t it? Turn on the news…stress. Try to manage your schedule…stress.
Weather…stress. Work demands, school demands, extracurricular demands, church
demands, demands, demands, demands…stress. All that stress is bound to impact
our marriages and our families. It robs us of mental clarity and patience. As a
result, we have a greater chance of conflict with our spouses and our children.
But there is good news. I have discovered a way to reduce stress and improve mental clarity. Not only that, but this activity will increase a sense of closeness and intimacy, especially in your marriage. It’s true. A study showed this activity reduced stress and improved mental clarity after only one time. And, the reduction of stress accrued over the 9 times couples did it during the 3 week study. In other words, stress continued dropping with each time the couple engaged in this activity. What activity did all this? Massage. Yes, massage. In this study, 38 couples took a massage class each week for 3 weeks. Each class focused on massaging one part of the body (back, arms and shoulders, legs). Then, they practiced giving each other a massage three times a week (Yes, they had homework). Both the giver and the receiver of the massage experienced a reduction in stress and an improvement in mental clarity…BOTH the giver and the receiver! I like a massage…and I like the sound of reduced stress and improved mental clarity.
Although not part of the study, I
believe this likely improved intimacy as well. Taking the time to massage one
another means more time focused on one another—quality time focused on the one
we love. Giving a massage means increasing our awareness of the one we are
massaging (our partner). Massage reduces
stress and that means greater patience. Greater patience means less conflict. In
addition, touch releases oxytocin and oxytocin increases a sense of connection.
Massage involves a lot of touch. Your spouse will appreciate your massage and
appreciation build deeper connection. So, why not take the time this weekend to
give one another a massage. In this world of stress, we all need a little haven
of relaxation and intimacy. Enjoy!
An ancient saying, included in many marriage ceremonies, states that “Love is not arrogant and does not boast.” In a roundabout way, research now supports the truth of this statement. I say “roundabout” because the truth of the statement comes by way of awe. We experience awe when we experience something that expands our view or understanding of the world. For instance, we may feel awe in response to the vastness of nature, the beauty of a truly compassionate act, or the all-encompassing beauty of a majestic piece of music. Each of these experiences expands our view of the world around us and makes us feel…well, smaller. Feeling a sense of awe plays a role in our health, happiness, and social connection. It increases our humility. In fact, individuals who report experiencing awe more often in their daily lives were rated as more humble than those who did not report experiencing awe in their daily lives by friends and family. Those who experienced awe also acknowledged their strengths and weaknesses in a more balanced way and recognized the impact of outside forces (including other people) on their personal achievements. This sounds like the very definition of humility, doesn’t it? The sense of humility, in turn, increases a person’s desire to engage with and feel connected to others. Of course, a humble person also tends to have deeper, more secure relationships than an arrogant person. A humble person is more likely to take the other person’s best interest into consideration and is more easily trusted as a result. And…trust leads to better relationships.
And there you have it…awe leads to greater humility lead to better, more secure relationships. So, if you want a better family life, experience awe together. To get you started, here are 4 ways you can experience awe with your family. (Read more in Using the Power of Awe for Your Family.)
Go for a hike in the woods. Climb to the top of a mountain and look over the
valley below. Look up at the stars on a clear night. Stand on the ocean shore
and ponder the vastness of the sea. Go snorkeling and enjoy the colors. Watch
the sunrise or sunset. Nature often elicits awe. Enjoy it as a family.
Try something new and exciting. Novelty contributes to awe. Visit someplace you have never
been before. Try something new. Go to a symphony or musical. Visit the art
museum. Go to an area of the country or state that you have never visited
before. Novelty opens the door to awe.
We experience awe when we experience a sense of smallness and we often
experience that sense of smallness when we learn something that amazes us. Get curious
and learn. Learn about the complexity of the human body, how a bird flies, the
character of God, or the wisdom of ancient sayings. Each of these can expand
our sense of the world and put our own lives in a different perspective, a
perspective of humility.
Stand in awe of God. Worship as a family. Pray as a family. Experience the awe
of answered prayer. Gather with other people and sing as a family. Many people experience
awe in the religious setting of worship.
When you do experience awe, you will
experience greater humility. When you experience greater humility, you will
experience greater intimacy in your family. The ancient wisdom is true again,
“Love is not arrogant and does not boast”…and that is awe-inspiring!
If you have an infant in the house
and want them to develop strong language skills with a larger vocabulary, then
you want to learn a new language. I don’t mean French or Spanish, Chinese or
Japanese, or even Swahili. I mean you need to learn “parentese.”
That’s not “baby talk.” I’m talking about “parentese,” the
language in which a parent talks slowly and clearly with exaggerated vowels and
inflections. Parentese still uses real words as opposed to the nonsense
syllables of “baby talk.” Parentese involves fully grammatical sentences spoken
with an exaggerated tone of voice that sounds happy. Ironically, in this world
of division, parentese crosses all boundaries. It is used in all languages and benefits
children from all cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. All children who are
spoken to in this language are engaged by it. They listen more intently. They
even respond more often. At least that’s what researchers at the University of
Washington discovered. Specifically, they found that infants of parents coached
in parentese when their children were six- and ten-months-old babbled 43% over
two days, whereas infants of parents not coached in parentese babbled only 30%.
In other words, those who used parentese got more engagement with and responses
from their infants. And, at 14-months-old, the children of parents who used
parentese produced significantly more words than children of parents who did
not use parentese. That’s the result at 14-months. The impact of learning “parentese”
continues even into elementary school and beyond. Other studies have shown early
language skills predict a child’s learning to read and success in school.
So, if you have an infant at home…or if you have a family friend who has an infant, why not learn the language of infants, parentese? (If you need a little tutoring lesson on parentese, check out this short video.) When you do, you will help them learn the flow of conversation and the art of engagement. You enhance their production of speech. You contribute to their future reading and success in school. Who knows, learning and practicing parentese might just start a whole learning revolution.
They recruited college students for
a simple 12-minute experiment. Each of the participants took surveys measuring
anxiety, stress, empathy, and happiness levels. Then they were divided into
four groups and each group was given an assignment to complete while walking
around for 12 minutes.
One group was to walk around and
focus on the appearance of the people they saw.
A second group thought about
ways in which they might have a better life than the other people they saw.
The third group looked at the people
they encountered and wondered about any hopes, aspirations, or feelings
they might have in common with them.
Finally, a fourth group looked at
people and thought (with conviction), “I wish for this person to be
Afterward, they all completed
surveys measuring anxiety, stress, empathy and happiness levels again.
Comparing the before and after
surveys revealed some interesting results.
First, looking at people and
thinking about how my life is better than their life simply made people less
empathetic and caring.
However, thinking “I wish for
this person to be happy” led to higher levels of empathy and happiness as
well as lower levels of anxiety! It also improved their sense of caring and
connectedness. Let me repeat that because it sounds too good to be true. Simply
walking around for 12 minutes and thinking “I wish for this person to be
happy” when you look at someone led to increased happiness and empathy,
decreased anxiety, and a greater sense of care and connectedness. Simple!
Why not start doing this in your family? Make it
a daily practice to think about each family member and how you “wish for
them to be happy.” Expand this “well-wishing” beyond the family
by making it a family project to think “I wish for this person to be happy”
for each person you see while grocery shopping or taking a walk or going to
soccer practice or any other family activity. Then, on the way home, talk about
the experience. You might just find yourself living in a happier, more
empathetic, caring, and connected family with less anxiety. By the way, “I
wish for you to be happy”…so give this experiment a try.
Nobody wants to fill their marriage with
fear and insecurity. Fear and insecurity will kill a marriage…and nobody wants
to live through a dying marriage. However, I have seen far too many marriages
filled with fear because of the subtle actions of one partner. At first glance,
these actions seem harmless. But, with a second look, you can see the damage
they cause, the fear they build, and the insecurity they create. Let me explain
three of these accidental-fear-building actions so you can erase them from your
life and marriage.
and anger. Of course, we all have moments of
impatience. However, when impatience becomes the modus operandi in your
marriage, fear is the result. The spouse and family of a chronically impatient
person feel the need to “walk on egg shells” to avoid the “next
blow up.” They fear the impatient person’s anger and never know what will
set it off…a spilled drink, a laugh at the “wrong” moment, a
difference of opinion. The whole family lives in fear when they live with an
and pride. Arrogant spouses constantly satisfy
their own desires. They think of themselves first and, although they likely
will not admit it, their spouses second. The spouses of arrogant people take
second place to anything the arrogant spouse deems important…and arrogant
spouses only believe only those things that revolve around them are important.
As a result, their spouses live with the insecurity of knowing their arrogant
spouse will not “watch out for them.” The arrogant spouse will not
keep them in mind…or serve them…or make small sacrifices for them. They live
with the insecurity of knowing their needs are unimportant to their spouse…and
that creates fear and insecurity in the marriage.
grudge. Minor slights, unintentional wrongdoings,
and interpersonal injuries occur in all relationships. Marriage is no
different. However, when one spouse holds a grudge, the other spouse begins to
fear for their relationship. When one spouse harbors resentment over a slight
they have suffered, the relationship is at risk. The one holding the grudge and
harboring the resentment begins to fear another slight. Their mind becomes
clouded by that fear and they may begin to misinterpret behaviors in a negative
light. Now the other partner experiences the fear and insecurity of being
misunderstood. A downward cycle of fear, resentment, insecurity, and bitterness
has begun. If not addressed through apology and forgiveness, this cycle only
ends in one way, a dying marriage.
These three actions unintentionally build fear and insecurity into a marriage. If you find yourself engaging in any of these three actions, stop and breath. Consider what is more important…your marriage or your impatience? Your marital health or your pride? Your long-term happiness in marriage or the resentment you harbor?
We’ve all heard about the dangers of second-hand smoke. But, have you thought about the dangers of second-hand alcohol abuse? A recent article in BMC Medicine reported three ways in which people suffer consequences of alcohol abuse “second-hand.”
Children born to mothers who drank excessively during pregnancy may suffer from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. In Germany, where this study was conducted, 41 children of every 10,000 births have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and another 177 fell on the spectrum for fetal alcohol syndrome without meeting full criteria. Data from the CDC suggests that the statistic in the U.S. appear lower, ranging from 2-15 children of every 10,000 births depending on the area of the United States. That is 2-15 children too many.
Individuals involved in automobile accidents in which the other driver was driving under the influence of alcohol. The authors of the study noted that in Germany, alcohol contributes to 45% of traffic fatalities. In the U.S. alcohol was involved in 26.4% of fatal crashes.
People who experience violence secondary to another person whose aggressive behavior was fueled by alcohol. According to an NIH Alcohol Alert 42 percent of violent crimes reported to the police involved alcohol.
All in all, alcohol seems to have a
huge second-hand effect. These three areas do not even include the emotional
strain and physical pain experienced by children and families, the financial
strain placed on families by one person’s drinking, or the amount of money lost
by employers due to poor work following overdrinking.
All this to say, if you find people complain
about your drinking, your drinking hurts more than just you. It can result in
traffic fatalities, illnesses, and aggression. Excessive drinking can harm your
children and your spouse emotionally as well as physically. It may impact your
children’s future dating life and even their marriages. It will impact the
happiness of your spouse and your children. With all the damage that comes with
excessive drinking, why not give it up? Why not show your family just how much
you love them by giving up the drinking?
It was old, no doubt. Some looked at it and saw holes and frayed sleeves, my wife included. She saw a rag, something to use while cleaning or, better yet, something to simply throw away. But I saw so much more. I saw comfort. I saw years of companionship (we’d been together since college). I saw an old friend. Yes, it was “just a shirt,” but we had been through a lot together. My wife saw an old, raggedy t-shirt that need thrown out and replaced. I saw a faithful companion to be respected and even cherished. Perhaps I saw too much (you be the judge). I don’t know. No matter. The fact remains, you’ve likely had a similar experience in your marriage—you saw one thing and your spouse saw another. Who’s right and who’s wrong? I don’t know. It’s a matter of opinion. You could get into a drag-down, all-out fight about it; but that only leads to frustration and distance in the relationship. Or, you can preserve the relationship by listening to your spouse and understanding their point of view.
Listen intently to understand the basis of their perspective. Strive to understand the validity of their belief. Dig deep to see the meaning it all holds for them. Their perspective may differ from your perspective because it rests on a foundation of different experiences and slightly different values. It may hold a meaning for your spouse that you had not considered…nor would you ever consider. It is no less true, but obviously different. When you listen, understand, and appreciate your spouse’s point of view, you validate them even as you “agree to disagree.” You draw closer together as a couple. You come to know your spouse better and gain greater intimacy with your spouse. All because you took time to realize that sometimes a “shirt is more than a shirt.”
Of course, I used a somewhat silly example (although I have had to defend a shirt or two during my marriage, have you?). However, the same holds true when it comes to more significant opinions like politics or childrearing practices, the perfect place for vacation or the perfect place to live. In such cases, the stakes are much higher than the stakes inherent in a disagreement over my comfortable and faithful shirt, but the response is similar. You need to listen intently and understand deeply in order to move toward an appreciation of your spouse’s point of view. Only when you understand so well that you can repeat their rationale back to them and they reply by saying, “Yes! Now you understand!” can you begin to find a compromise, a mutual agreement in which both spouses can find satisfaction.
By the way, I gave up my shirt…over time. My wife allowed me a “grieving period” and bought me a new shirt very similar to the old one. I could wear both, one around the house and the other in public until I was ready to let go of my “faithful friend…oh, the sorrow.” But she listened. She understood. I listened. I understood. We grew together…and I got a new shirt out of the deal!
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,