We all desire to have a sense of belonging, the feeling we have when we find unconditional acceptance in relationship to others. A sense of belonging is a crucial aspect in healthy relationships. It leads to greater happiness in family relationships. Children flourish when they grow up with a sense of belonging in their families. It is also foundational for healthy romantic relationships. Marriages thrive when both spouses have a sense of belonging in their relationship. But, a Contender has arisen to rival our sense of belonging, especially within the family. This Contender challenges our efforts to build a sense of belonging among our family members. Amazingly, we have welcomed the Contender into our living rooms and our bedrooms. We have invited the Contender to our meals and our activities. In each area, the Contender seeks to spoil the sense of belonging between husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister. And, the Contender will defeat our sense of belonging unless we battle wisely. Let me introduce the Contender: YOUR cellphone. Research completed by Kent’s School of Psychology explored how “phubbing” (snubbing someone by ignoring them to respond to your cell phone) impacts relationships. They found that “phubbing” a person threatened their sense of belonging. They greater the “phubbing,” the greater the threat to one’s sense of belonging. (Read “Phubbing” Can Threaten Our Basic Human Needs, Research Shows for more.)
In other words, when you reach for your phone during time with your spouse, you threaten your spouse’s sense of belonging. Do this often enough and your spouse begins to question how much your value them or if you even accept them at all. Romance will dwindle. Marital happiness will drift. Pick up your phone while engaging with your children and their sense of belonging gets called into question. “Am I more important than that call or text?” Your children may even begin to resent your relationship to your phone just as you might grow to resent their relationship to their phone.
I must admit…the Contender is strong. It exerts a mighty pull. It can hold great power over you. But, there is good news. Every one of your family members (including you) have a secret weapon to defeat the power of the Contender. It’s true. In fact, you have two secret weapons that the Contender cannot defeat. The secret weapon is YOUR thumb! You can silence your cell phone. You can put it on “do not disturb.” You can even turn it off with the power of your thumb! When you do, the Contender’s power dwindles to off (literally and figuratively). It cannot disturb your interactions. It cannot intrude upon our conversations. It will do nothing but sit silently…preferably in another room and out of sight. Even more, you are free to look your spouse in the eye and talk. You are free to engage your children with no distraction. You are free to celebrate your relationships and build a stronger sense of belonging!
Many things can start a couple to arguing. Some issues of argument seem significant like money, sex, who does what chore, or how often to go out. Others seem insignificant in the long run like how to hang the toilet paper, what color car to buy, or what side of the bed to sleep on. There are a multitude of “argument starters,” issues that lead to arguments. However, if you really want to, you can narrow the “argument starters” down to a few key issues.
- Insecure emotional connection. When we do not feel emotionally connected to our spouse, we seek ways to reconnect. Unfortunately, we may seek less effective methods of reconnecting. In our fear of losing our attachment to our spouse, we may even go to extremes to reconnect. Sometimes we turn to arguing and fighting to regain a sense of connection. It results in a negative connection but a connection nonetheless. It is in response to fear of emotionally drifting away from our spouse that we sometimes get “snarky,” snap back, and make harsh comments. Like a toddler crying out and reaching for her mother, we will strive to reconnect by acting out of our fear of rejection.
- Conditional acceptance. Some marriage experts have called acceptance the “mother of all issues.” We long to feel totally and unconditionally accepted. When we feel our acceptance is based on performance or behavior, we can easily feel abandoned and rejected when our performance does not meet the standard of our partner’s expectation.
- Feeling disregarded. Sometimes we feel disregarded, unheard. We believe our spouse “never” listens to us. We feel unimportant in their eyes because they have disregarded our desires or ignored our requests. In anger, we demand to be heard and attended to.
I’m sure there are other issues that lead to arguments, but these three issues underlie many arguments. Arguments about money often come down to feelings of insecurity, emotional distance, and feeling unheard. Our heated disagreements over physical intimacy reflect feeling emotionally disconnected. Argument about dishes in the sink stem from feeling “my wishes always get disregarded.” The list goes on…feeling emotionally disconnected, conditionally accepted, and disregarded fuels many of our arguments. That’s good news because knowing what fuels the arguments and fights gives us insight into how to avoid the arguments and fights. Knowing the “argument starters” shines a light on the “argument enders.”
- Connect emotionally. Spend time together. Talk about more than the business of running a household. Talk about your interests, dreams, fears, and joys. Share opinions about current events. Pray together. Learn together. Walk hand in hand. Snuggle up and cuddle to watch TV, the sunset, or the birds in the yard. Seek ways to “touch your spouse” emotionally each day. Take time to connect. (You might even try practicing a Marital Sabbath each week.)
- Accept your spouse unconditionally. Acceptance satisfies a deep-seated emotional need in each of us. It promotes a sense of security, confidence, and courage. Put away comparisons, back-handed compliments, and guilt-inducing statements. Practice accepting your spouse and expressing that acceptance in your words and actions. Treat them with the dignity inherent in them as a person. Love them for their differences as those unique traits make your relationship stronger and more beautiful (Read Honoring Variety for more).
- Attend to your spouse. Listen to your spouse and respond to their attempts to interact and connect. Let their desires influence you. Keep your spouse in the forefront of your mind and communicate how important they are to you as often as you can. (Here is a simple formula to help you keep your spouse in the forefront of your mind.)
Don’t let this short list of ideas limit you. I’m sure you can find more ways to connect emotionally, practice acceptance, and attend to your spouse. The important aspect is to practice connecting, accepting, and attending on a daily basis. As you do, arguments will decrease in intensity and frequency. You will feel more intimacy and joy in your marriage.
Researchers from Penn State University followed 687 families for three years. Each family consisted of a mother, a father, and an adolescent child. The three year period spanned the adolescent’s 6th, 7th, and 8th grade years…the dreaded middle school years. (Read more here.) The study examined whether family relationships impact friendship during middle school. Of course, the short answer is “yes,” “you betcha,” “without a doubt.” But, the study did expose a couple of very interesting nuances to that “yes.”
First, a mother’s rejection, a father’s rejection, and the overall family climate not only predicted changes in the quality of the adolescent’s friendships but their sense of loneliness as well.
Second, feeling rejected by one’s father in 6th grade predicted social anxiety in 7th grade and social anxiety in 7th grade predicted loneliness in 8th grade. This was significant for rejection by one’s father but not so much in regards to one’s mother. It seems (in agreement with other research) that rejection by one’s father impacts how confidently a person moves into the world outside the home.
So, if you want your children to have the ability to develop and maintain high quality, positive friendships in middle school, nurture and strengthen your relationship with them. Their ability to form positive relationships outside the home begins at home…with you. Dads, this seems to be especially true for your relationship with your teen. Here are a few key ways to strengthen your relationship with your children.
- Spend time together…lots of time together. Enjoy uninterrupted time with your children. Put aside the distractions (cell phones, papers, TV) and get to know your children. Learn what they like and who they like. Talk about classes, interests, strengths, and fears. Learn about their struggles in the community and which peers present them with the biggest challenges and why. Enjoy fun stuff and endure boring stuff…together. You’ll be surprised by how much you learn. And, you’ll be amazed at how cool your children really are.
- Listen more than you lecture. The more you lecture, the less they’ll talk. The less they talk the less you will know them. On the other hand, the more you listen, the more they’ll talk…and the more you’ll get to know them. Listen intently. Listen patiently. When they say something that arouses your urge to lecture, Don’t Do It! Instead, show empathy for their feelings around the topic. And, get curious about their thinking about the topic. Ask them questions out of a genuine curiosity to know them better. As you do, they will continue to talk…and you will get to know them better. They will continue to talk…think…and learn. They’ll learn about the topic and you’ll learn more about them as they review their approach to the topic out loud. All you have to do is listen and….
- Problem-solving together. Our children will approach us with concerns and struggles when they know we will listen and empathize. As they recognize our efforts to understand their concern and their point of view, they will open up to discuss and problem solve with us. We will have created an environment of mutual respect that allows for cooperative problem solving. In the process, we will also deepen our relationship with our teen.
Practice these three actions and you can help prevent pervasive loneliness in your middle schooler. You will also increase your middle schooler’s confidence in making friends and the quality of their friendships.
Serve up a big bowl of happiness for your spouse and children today. Here are the ingredients.
- Start with a big scoop of acceptance. Every member of the family needs to feel acceptance. They need to know they are accepted “no matter what.” They need to know that acceptance is not conditioned on behavior, performance, or beliefs. It is unconditional. This allows them to explore, grow, and mature. Lack of acceptance, on the other hand, increases stress hormones, decreases coping skills, and even hinders immune functioning. It can contribute to physical or emotional illness. Lack of acceptance hinders change. Acceptance will open the doors for change. Acceptance promotes healthy relationships and healthy emotional development. So make this first scoop of acceptance extra big. Give a double dose to everyone in the family.
- Add a delicious topping of tolerance. Tolerance does not mean “letting anything go.” No, tolerance simply means to accept our differences, to even enjoy each person’s unique contribution to the family and world. Tolerance accepts each person’s uniqueness by encouraging each one to “come into his/her own.” Tolerance knows that our differences add beauty to our relationship and strength to our opportunities. In appreciating each family member’s unique gifts, we can become the “Michelangelo” to each one’s dreams. Be gracious with the topping of tolerance…really gracious…pour it on.
- Then sprinkle on some hope. Hope looks to the future. Hope believes fun and intimate joys wait for us “just around the river bend.” Hope anticipates adventure and excitement, laughter and joy, even though there will be times of sorrow and stresses as well. So put on lots of sprinkles. Pour on the sprinkles through your actions and your words.
- After you’ve done all this get out a real bowl and fill it with ice cream (I prefer chocolate chip cookie dough). I mean fill it up. Then pour on some caramel, chocolate, and even a little marshmallow and whip cream. Throw on some sprinkles…the colorful ones, they’re the best. Get a spoon for everyone and enjoy the treat. Tell a few family stories while you eat. Dream about your next outing. Laugh. Have a good time. Serve up the happiness!
There you have it, a big bowl of happiness. Enjoy!
Happiness is life served up with a scoop of acceptance, a topping of tolerance and sprinkles of hope, although chocolate sprinkles also work. –Robert Brault
As the year comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on the importance of family in the world today. So many of the issues we struggle with as a nation could be lessened, if not eliminated, by healthy families, families based on the values of honor, grace, & celebration. Families that practice and teach these values become the cornerstone of healthy communities. They improve their communities and the overall world by living out the values of honor, grace, and celebration learned in the microcosmic community of their family. Consider just a few lessons learned in a family of honor, grace, and celebration that will then be extended to the community and world around them.
- Honor causes us to humbly see one another as diamonds rather than coal, someone to be cherished and admired rather than used for my comforts and my ends.
- Honor teaches us to communicate love and respect to one another—young and old, male and female. It teaches us to respect one another in our uniqueness.
- Honor compels us to esteem one another in spite of differences we might have. It teaches us to respect even when we disagree.
- Grace enables us offer one another unconditional acceptance.
- Grace teaches us to live sensible and righteous lives—lives that serve rather than abuse, lives that sacrifice for others rather than take from others.
- Grace empowers us to practice extravagant generosity in our availability, attention, and meeting of one another’s needs.
- Grace leads us to forgive those who offend us and to seek reconciliation when possible, releasing us from the burden of vengeance.
- Grace frees us from the crushing weight of anger and bitterness as we seek It frees us from the shackles of guilt as we receive forgiveness.
- Honor and grace combine to create a sense of security, a sanctuary of acceptance.
- Honor and grace build a safe haven in which disagreements can be discussed, options explored, and solutions discovered.
- Honor and grace drive us to connect with one another on a deep emotional level.
- Honor and grace liberate us from the entanglements of narcissism and self-centeredness.
- Honor and grace make celebration possible. In honor, we celebrate our diversity. In grace, we even celebrate with those who disagree with us.
- Celebration allows us to play and laugh together, revealing ourselves more full and without pretense.
- Celebration refreshes our perspective of others, allowing us to see one another with fresh eyes of understanding and joy.
- Celebration enhances intimacy, allowing us to know one another more deeply.
- Celebration restores our trust in humanity as we celebrate those successes and achievements that value all we honor.
Healthy families not only practice honor, grace, and celebration they teach these values to future generations. In so doing, they build people of honor, grace, and celebration who then build communities of honor, grace, and celebration. People who live in families of honor, grace, and celebration go into the world and create positive change (Read Hot Sauces Vs. the Power of Relationship for an example of this positive impact). In this coming year, recommit to making your family a celebrating community of honor and grace. You need it. Your family needs it. Our world needs it!
Have you ever wondered how to motivate your children? They could have better grades but they just don’t hand in their homework or study? They could accomplish so much more but they just seem to “lack motivation”? Researchers at the University of Michigan recently published a study that might just help. In a series of three studies, they explored how positive relationships impact motivation. They discovered that even a brief reminder of a “supportive other” increases motivation for personal growth, even in the face of challenges. The participants who reported actually having supportive relationships showed a greater willingness to accept challenges that promoted personal growth. They also reported feeling more self-confidence (Read For a better ‘I,’ there needs to be a supportive ‘we’ for more on the study). In terms of parenting, having a supportive relationship with your children will help increase our children’s motivation. I’m not suggesting that a supportive relationship will end all motivational woes. It will not result in your children suddenly becoming perfectly motivated to complete every chore and homework assignment given. However, a positive supportive, relationship with your children will increase their motivation. A positive, supportive relationship with your children will increase the chances of them doing the chores more readily and even completing their homework. The question is: How do we develop and communicate a positive, supportive relationship with our children? I’m glad you (well…I) asked.
- Remain available. Our children know we are available when we engage them regularly. We communicate our availability by remaining open to interactions with them, putting aside our own agenda and responding to their direct, indirect, or even awkward attempts to engage us. Let your actions express your belief that being available to your children is more important than the game, your book, the paperwork, or whatever other distraction might pull you away from your children in the moment.
- Accept your children. Our children feel supported when they know we accept them whether they succeed or fail, experience joys or fears. They know we accept them when we acknowledge rather than criticize their efforts. They know we accept them when we acknowledge and allow for differences in taste and preferences. And, knowing they find acceptance in us they feel supported by us.
- Listen. Our children feel supported when they feel heard. This requires us to listen beyond mere words. We must listen with our ears to hear the words, our mind to understand their intent, and our hearts to understand their emotions. Then, our actions need to communicate our willingness to let their ideas and beliefs influence us. When we listen in this manner, our children know they have found acceptance and a supportive parent.
- Encourage. We communicate support through sincere encouragement. Sincere encouragement does not offer false praise. Our children abhor false praise. Nor does sincere encouragement manipulate. It is not offered to push our children in a particular direction or toward some action. Instead, we encourage our children by recognizing their inner dream and promoting it. We encourage them by acknowledging their effort and resulting progress.
- Offer honest, gentle correction. Children recognize honest, gentle correction as supportive. They benefit from a supportive parent who lovingly “nudges” them to grow, mature, and become a person of honor. Honest, gentle correction avoids screaming, name-calling, and belittling comments. Instead, it offers clear limits, consistent consequences, and loving correction. Gentle correction teaches from a foundation of love, communicating a value in our children.
These five actions can help our children feel supported. This will translate into a healthier sense of self-confidence and greater motivation to engage in behaviors that promote their own positive growth.
Did you know intelligence (IQ) only predicts about 20% of a person’s success? It’s true. Brains alone do not equal success. On the other hand, 80% of what predicts a person’s success involves social and emotional intelligence (More in Why Emotional Intelligence is More Important than IQ). To prepare our children for success in relationships and life, we need to strengthen their emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence includes five components (Daniel Goleman’s 5 Components of Emotional Intelligence).
- Self-awareness: the ability to recognize and label the emotions we experience in our lives.
- Self-regulation: the ability to cope with feelings in a manner consistent with and relevant to the situation.
- Internal motivation: the ability to utilize the energy of an emotion to achieve a positive end like communicating a priority or solving a problem.
- Empathy: the ability to recognize emotions in others by remaining aware of their verbal and nonverbal cues.
- Social skills: the ability to adjust our behavior in response to another person’s emotions. This allows us to more effectively connect with others, resolve conflicts that arise within our relationships, and negotiate compromises and agreements.
Reviewing the five aspects of emotional intelligence, you can understand how important emotional intelligence is for success in life. Emotional intelligence not only contributes to success in life, it also promotes health. Studies suggest that 80% of health problems are stress related. Emotional intelligence helps us manage stress and so reduce stress related illnesses. Emotional intelligence reduces bullying as well (Why Emotional Intelligence is More Important than IQ). With all these benefit, we surely want to teach our children emotional intelligence. Here are five simple exercises to get you started.
- Develop a vocabulary for emotions. Dan Siegel (co-author of Parenting from the Inside) refers to this as “name it to name it.” Labeling an emotion helps “quell” its effect. The emotion becomes more manageable when we can label it. As a result, we can exercise more thoughtful control over it and our behavioral response to it (Why Labeling Emotions Matters ). In fact, the broader and more articulate a person’s emotional vocabulary, the less reactive and more responsive they can become (When Labeling an Emotion Quiets It) .
- Listen and accept emotions. All emotions are acceptable, a gift from our Creator to help us communicate priorities and protect those important to us. Of course, not all behavioral responses are acceptable. So let a person express their emotion. Help them label the emotion. Encourage them to define their feelings. Coach them in expressing even difficult emotions. Listen. Accept. Understand. (For more read Teaching Your Child to Handle Emotions)
- Identify the priorities underlying the emotions. Emotions clarify our priorities and reveal them to others. Take time to identify the priorities that have led to your child’s strong emotions. Knowing the priority behind an emotion allows you to address the true need. Teaching your child to identify and address underlying emotion leads to a more successful and self-controlled child.
- Problem-solve. After you have listened closely and understand the emotion, work with your child to problem-solve. Let the problem-solving focus on how to address the priority underlying the emotion. (For more on these two steps read When Your Children Get Angry.)
- Teach perspective taking. A great way to teach your children how to take another person’s perspective is by reading fiction together. Fiction lets us see into the minds of characters, feel their emotions, and understand their motivations. Doing so teaches perspective taking. So, read to your children. Read with your children. Talk about what your children read. It will improve their ability to take another person’s perspective and increase their emotional intelligence. (Read Teaching Your Child Perspective Taking for more ideas.)
These five simple activities can set your child on the path to emotional intelligence…and all its related benefits!
Parents love to see their preschooler exploring the world around them. We encourage our children to engage in exploration and play. Rightly so…such exploration helps them discover their interests and strengths during elementary school, their passion and identity during their teen years, and their vocation and independence in young adulthood. Exploring is crucial to healthy developmental in each age group. And, if you really think about it, it requires a great deal of courage for our children to explore the world and “become their own person.” Unfortunately, many parents unwittingly embezzle their children’s innate courage, robbing them of the grit and determination needed to develop healthy independence. Don’t embezzle your children’s innate courage, invest in it and nurture it with these four tips.
- Accept your children’s unique style of exploration. I have two daughters. One jumps into new activities and experiences. The other wades in slowly, first one toe and then another before her whole foot slips in. Then she slowly (sometimes painfully slowly) wades further in until she is fully immersed. (She takes after me, by the way.) Eventually, both daughters become fully immersed in an adventure, but they required different kinds of support and encouragement. One needed encouragement to “think before she leaps.” The other needed a hand, support, and even a gentle nudge at times. As young adults, they still have different styles and ways of approaching new experiences; but both of them have become independent and capable of courageous exploration. Accepting each child’s unique style of exploration and nurturing it in a complementary manner allows your child to explore courageously.
- Observe before removing obstacles. Our children will encounter obstacles, problems, and frustrations along the way. It is inevitable. Do not jump in to help too quickly. Step back for a moment and observe. Watch them to see how they respond to the obstacle. Give them the opportunity to solve the problem on their own. Watch a preschooler with a toy and you will see them try several actions with it before settling for the one that seems most appropriate. Let your elementary age children and your teens do the same with challenges that arise. Let them struggle with various attempts to solve the problem before you offer a suggestion. You might be pleasantly surprised at the creative solution they discover. (More on “stepping back” in Do Your Rob Your Teen of Victory?)
- Teach problem-solving. Of course, our children will not have the ability and knowledge to solve every problem that arises. So, when they come to you for help or you see them reach an impasse, teach them problem-solving. Teach problem solving rather than simply solving the problem for them. Ask questions about what they have done and why it did not work. Ask questions to prompt other ways of looking the problem and thus give rise to a potential solution. Help them look at the obstacle from various perspectives and points of view. Come up with three or four possible solutions and let them choose which one they will try first. Learning the process of problem-solving gives children the confidence they need to courageously explore the world around them.
- Acknowledge effort and reframe failures as learning. Children become more willing to explore when they know that effort produces success and failure is simply a step toward success. So, acknowledge and praise children’s effort. When they do make a mistake or fail, return to step three and teach problem-solving. Effort and problem-solving opens up a world of possibility and emboldens exploration. (Read Growing Your Child’s Mind for Success for more.)
These four tips can help increase our children’s courage to explore…and that can help us avoid the “failure to launch” syndrome as they mature. It will also give you the pleasure of watching your child explore the world with confidence and, in so doing, grow more independent and mature.
I’m not very political. In fact, I tend to avoid most political debates. That being said, who can miss the tumultuous political struggle going on right now? Our nation is in an uproar. Division seems to be at an all-time high. Our nation’s struggle intrudes into our daily life on the news, in the streets, and on our social media. Many of the voices are loud, angry, defensive, accusatory, and even offensive. Somehow we have to find a way to create change, a way to build the kind of nation we all desire. So, I’m going to dip my toe in the pond…and hopefully not stick my foot in my mouth. I have a suggestion, a modest proposal with revolutionary consequences. Under this proposal, every man, woman, and child can become actively engaged, on a daily basis, in creating the nation we all desire. We can all become agents of change, creating an environment in which our communities and our nation can thrive. My modest proposal: Elevate Family and Marriage! Every day do something to strengthen your family and your marriage…and encourage those around you to do the same. Empower one another to build healthy families.
I can hear the skeptics now. “What? That’s it? Where are the revolutionary consequences? How can elevating the family create a thriving nation? We need healthcare. We need a better economy. We need equal rights. We need more than just a happy home.” I told you it was a modest proposal. But, hear me out. Elevating the family does have revolutionary consequences.
- Elevating the family and marriage will result in greater health. Happily married men and women live longer, healthier lives. They recover more quickly from illnesses and surgeries. They spend less time in hospitals than those who are unmarried or unhappily married. Married people exhibit the lowest rates of mental illness (California Healthy Marriage Coalition). Do you hear it? A consequence of greater health that will decrease health care costs. I know this won’t end the healthcare crisis, but it’s a start. Yet we spend more money on our wedding and honeymoon than we do on learning what it takes to have a healthy marriage. We need to elevate the family.
- Elevating the family and marriage will result in healthier children, too. Children who live in healthy families are more likely to do well in school and graduate from high school and college. Children from divorced families receive mental health treatment about twice as often as those in healthy families. “The rate of virginity among teenagers at all ages is highly correlated with the presence or absence of married parents.” They are less likely to parent a child as a teen. Living with biological parents reduces the risk of child abuse, too. Children who live in an intact family also exhibit the lowest rate of drug use. They commit significantly fewer crimes. Once again, this won’t alleviate the problems, but it’s a tremendous start. But we invest more money in response to problems than we do in elevating the family that will help prevent the problem in the first place (California Healthy Marriage Coalition).
- Elevating family and marriage reduces the number of people living in poverty. Economists estimate that individuals within a married couple each have a net worth about twice as great as never-married individuals and divorced individuals. “When it comes to building wealth or avoiding poverty, a stable marriage may be your most important asset” (The Case for Marriage).
- Healthy families raise girls who become stronger women. Girls who grow up in a healthy, intact family achieve better in school, are less likely to experience teen pregnancy, and experience positive marriages themselves. A father who is present and active in the home broadens a daughter’s perceived career options, aka-helps create an environment in which women will “break the glass ceiling” (The Top 6 Reasons for Men to Help Around the House).
- Strong families that promote healthy attachments produce more tolerant people. In fact, one study found that simply priming someone with the name of a person with whom they had a strong attachment led to more tolerant and generous behavior toward a long-standing enemy (Hot Sauce vs. the Power of Relationship).
I think you get the idea. Elevating healthy families and marriages can lead to greater health, more financial stability and less poverty, greater tolerance and acceptance of others, less teen pregnancy, less drug abuse, less abortion, stronger women…. It may not fix all the problems tomorrow. But, it is a great start. Any investment in family is ultimately an investment in our community and our nation. Elevate the family and marriage. It truly is a modest proposal with revolutionary consequences. An amazing aspect of this proposal: you can become engaged in the change right where you stand; and, you can become involved today! So, write your congressman. March in the protests. Vote your values. But, in the process don’t forget to LOVE your spouse. NURTURE your children. ENJOY your extended family. SUPPORT your neighbors’ family and marriage. ENCOURAGE those thinking of marriage to take a premarital class. Read a book to strengthen your own marriage and parenting skills. ELEVATE FAMILY!
Healthy marriages provide an opportunity for us to return to the Garden of Eden and stand like Adam and Eve: naked and unafraid. I don’t mean just physically naked. I mean completely open and exposed to our partner—emotional, spiritually, and mentally naked before our partner and still unafraid. That is a vulnerable position; but, in a completely healthy marriage, we can stand before one another in this vulnerable open state and remain completely unafraid. This type of open relationship begins with a very important ingredient: RADICAL ACCEPTANCE. Radical acceptance stands in direct opposition to conditional acceptance. Radical acceptance communicates a complete willingness to love our spouse no matter what. Imagine with me what can happen if we add just a small condition to our willingness to accept our spouse.
- This one condition raises doubt in our spouse’s mind. They will no longer feel completely safe to tell all and show all. A little bit of fear will enter the relationship—the fear that “I might do something to make my spouse love me less or even reject me.”
- Your spouse will no longer feel completely secure in their relationship to you. Feelings of insecurity will arise.
- Rather than risk rejection, your spouse will hide perceived faults and mistakes from you. After all, they don’t want to risk falling short of the conditions for acceptance. It becomes safer to keep faults and shortcomings secret.
- That secret grows into a wall of secrecy. The only way your spouse can keep you from discovering their faults is to create a wall of secrecy to hide behind. You will no longer get to see your spouse completely. You will see and experience only those parts they feel safe exposing.
- Your spouse will guard their heart. They will keep certain parts of themselves guarded, protected from possible rejection. There will be no full disclosure.
- You will sense this change. Trust will decrease. Your spouse’s trust will decrease for fear of rejection. Your trust will decrease due to suspicions of some secrets.
The only way to remedy this downward spiral is RADICAL ACCEPTANCE. Radical acceptance accepts our spouse warts and all. Radical acceptance continues to love in spite of mistakes. Radical acceptance loves in the face of shortcomings. And, radical acceptance opens the door for change. You and your spouse can invest more energy in growing and becoming better people when you no longer have to invest energy in building a wall of secrecy and guarding your heart. You and your spouse will also desire to spend more energy in pleasing one another when you know you will receive radical acceptance…even when you make a mistake. How can you practice radical acceptance?
- See your spouse through the eyes of God. Realize they are God’s workmanship, designed for His purpose. Any non-acceptance of your spouse is a non-acceptance of God and His work of art. Focus on your spouse’s God-given strengths and abilities.
- Keep open lines of communication. Speak the truth in love. When must deal with difficult issues (and you will), do so in love. Speak only about one concern at a time rather than generalizing and throwing in the kitchen sink. This will be easier to do when you resolve differences quickly and keep no record of wrongs. Share the concern without accusation and offer a way to resolve it as well.
- Focus on what you admire about your spouse. Admire and bless. Show gratitude and speak words of encouragement…every day!
Radical acceptance is a gift of grace we give our spouses and our spouses give to us. Radical acceptance is also a gift that keeps on giving. It gives a tremendous return of security, trust, and intimacy…the chance to stand before our spouse completely naked and completely unafraid!