Tag Archive for family intimacy

A New & Improve Family Groove

Have you noticed how easy it is to criticize? How fault-finding and blame seems so natural? Praise and approval, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to come so natural. Just watch the news to confirm this. When was the last time the headline story talked of kindness, sharing, or a job well done? These stories are relegated to the final “30-second-feel-good-story” at best, but never the lead the story.

Unfortunately, this attitude creeps into our families as well. We easily find fault with the way a job is done. We criticize our children and spouse for any number of things. We blame one another when a job is left undone or something goes wrong. We struggle to say a “thank you,” “great job,” or “I was wrong, sorry.” Instead, we say things, “Why should I thank her for doing what she’s supposed to do anyway?”  “Yeah, he helped with the laundry, but he did it wrong. It didn’t help. I had to work harder.” “I wouldn’t have gotten so upset and call him a name if he had done his chores in the first place.” There are more statements. I’m sure you’ve at least heard them.

All this negativity—the fault-finding, blaming, and the criticism—creates a negative cycle of pain, disconnection, and self-doubt. It lays a family groove that perpetuates harsh words, anger, and self-protection that leads to greater isolation. But there is a way to jump out of this negative groove and find a new and improved family groove, a groove that will lead to greater contentment, intimacy, and joy. Here’s the way to do it:

  1. Every day, thank each person in your family for something they have done that day for the family. They may have cooked a meal, washed clothes, gone to work to pay bills, helped clean a room, or simple spoken kind words to a sibling. You may think, “Why should I thank them for doing what they’re supposed to do?” Because you are a polite person promoting kindness in your home. And, you are highlighting the behavior you want to see, encouraging more of it. (Read Why Thank Your Spouse For Doing Chores to learn the power of a simple “thank you.”)
  2. Find an opportunity to do something kind for each family member every day. It could be as simple as passing them a dish at the dinner table or offering to fill their drink when you fill your own. You could complete a chore another person usually does—like loading the dishwasher, emptying the kitty litter, taking out the garbage, running the sweeper. These acts of kindness express love. They move your whole family into a new and improved groove of positivity. (Learn the Mighty Power of Kindness in this short blog.)
  3. Share a positive story from your day. Tell your family about something good that happened to you during the day. If you are on the listening end of the story, listen and share the joy of that happy event. Sharing good stories has a ripple effect that will jump you into a new groove of sharing more joyous moments with one another.

There you have it. Three simple ways to find your family a new groove. It doesn’t sound that hard, does it? In fact, it isn’t really that hard; but you’ll be amazed at the power these simple acts exert on your home and family life. Your connection with each family member will increase. Stress will decrease. Joy and contentment will grow. You and your family will experience greater joy coming home to share the good times. Give it a shot. For the next 14 days, practice the 3 steps above…and enjoy your new and improved family groove!

How Emotions Build or Destroy Trust in Your Family

We all want to have a home environment that allows us to trust one another. You know, a home in which spouses trust one another, siblings trust one another, children trust their parents, and parents trust their children. A home environment in which we can trust what someone says. We know they will not lie. They will follow through on what they have promised. We know they have the best interest of the family in mind. 

A trusting environment in our homes requires more than trustworthy individuals. It also requires our capacity to trust others. Interestingly, that’s not as simple as it sounds. For example, emotions impact our capacity to trust others. A recent study suggested that negative emotions like anger or frustration reduce our willingness to trust other people even when these negative emotions were elicited by events that did not even involve the person we struggle to trust. For instance, annoyance created by sitting in a traffic jam may reduce our capacity to trust other people in our lives.

That study aroused my curiosity, so I looked at another group of five studies. These studies revealed that:

  • Happy emotions increase our trust more than sadness or anger.
  • Only “experienced emotions” increased or decreased our trust of others. Thinking about an emotion did not impact our trust. But, dwelling on an incident that arouses happiness, sadness, or anger did. And, once again, happiness increased trust while sadness or anger decreased trust.
  • Gratitude also increased our capacity to trust others while pride, guilt, and anger reduced our capacity to trust others. And, those emotions that involve others (like anger and gratitude) had a greater impact on our levels of trust than emotions that were more personal (like pride or guilt).
  • If the cause of the negative or positive emotion is made known, it does not impact our capacity to trust the person we are currently with. For instance, if I am talking to a coworker after having experienced the annoyance of sitting in a traffic jam, I may have a reduced capacity to trust him. However, if one of us points out how annoyed I am about sitting in the traffic, the impact on my capacity to trust the other person disappears. I can now trust based solely on the current interaction.
  • Finally, the more familiar we are with a person, the less our emotions will impact our capacity to trust them. We are more likely to base our trust on past experiences with the person we know rather than any momentary emotion we might experience.

What does this have to do with families? We can apply several principles from these findings to increase levels of trust in our family.

  1. Focus on building relationships with each family member. When we have a relationship (when we are familiar with a person) our capacity to trust them is less affected by immediate emotions and based more on our long-term experience with them. Build a history of trustworthiness with your family. Follow through on your promises. Tell the truth. Act in accordance with the best interest of your family. The more our families know us, the less their immediate emotions will impact their capacity to trust us.
  2. Fill your home with positive emotions like gratitude, joy, and curiosity. Make it a practice to show gratitude daily. Become curious about each family members interests and likes. Encourage their interests and hobbies. Play. After all, positive emotions increase our capacity to trust. 
  3. When your spouse, child, or parent is upset, tired or angry, postpone any discussion and simply remain available to them. Set aside your own agenda and respond to their emotion. Offer support and encouragement. Doing so will allow them to work through the negative emotions they are feeling and preserve the trust you have in one another.
  4. When you or another family member experience a negative emotion, make it explicit. Label the emotion and identify the trigger of that emotion. By doing so you keep it from interfering with the trust in your immediate relationship and interaction.
  5. Finally, enjoy the trust you have nurtured and built in your family with the help of emotions!

Welcome to My House … aka “Bicker Central”

Do you live in a home called “Bicker Central”? Does everything escalate into arguments, angry comments, and hurtful jabs? Do you walk away from interactions fuming with frustration? Worse, has any relationship in your family escalated to the point that you feel tension just coming into the same room as the other person? “Bicker Central” is a hard home in which to live…but all too easy to move into. Moving into “Bicker Central” generally begins with simple hurts, criticisms left unresolved. These criticisms come in the form of words and actions—a parent redoing a child’s chore because they didn’t do it well enough, a left-handed compliment, a disagreement on priorities, feeling as though your loved one invests more time and energy in other priorities and leaves you feeling neglected or abandoned, etc. The underlying hurt of unresolved criticisms erupt into burning lava flows of anger, resentment, bitterness, withdrawal, ignoring, and possibly even name-calling and threats. Each person involved begins to see the relationship through filters that justify continued resentment.  Innocent remarks are received as though they are negative comments, adding fuel to the fire of anger. Effort and positive actions are overlooked while mistakes and actions that innocently “miss the mark” are used to justify continued bitterness. A negative cycle of disrespect, anger, guilt, and bitterness drive the relationship further into the pits of hurt and despair. “Bicker Central” is a painful place to live.

Knowing the foundation of “Bicker Central”—the resentments of unresolved hurts—gives you the opportunity to rebuild your relationship. You can change it from “Bicker Central” to “House of Peace” with a few key actions.

  • Consider how your own actions impact the other person. How does your resentment and your angry responses influence the other person? How does your “look” and your tone of voice influence the other person? How do your actions, gestures, words, and tone of voice perpetuate and escalate the problem? Answer honestly and begin to make changes that can have a better outcome, the outcome you desire. As the saying goes, “Be the change you want to see.”
  • Consider what hurts underlie the foundation of “Bicker Central.” How were you hurt in the constructing of “Bicker Central”? How was the other person hurt? If you have hurt the other person, apologize. If you have been hurt, practice forgiveness. The important question is NOT “who started it,” but “what can I do to help change the relationship for the better?”
  • Practice empathy. Imagine how the other person feels in this situation. What have they lost as a result of living in “Bicker Central”? Allow yourself to have compassion for the suffering the other person has endured because of their conflict with you. Yes, you have suffered as well. However, someone has to initiate the change…and you can do it by nurturing compassion and empathy for the other guy.
  • Practice kindness. Intentionally seek out opportunities to show kindness to the other person. Determine to speak and think kindly about them. Perhaps you can begin this step with a 30-day kindness challenge as suggested by Shaunti Feldhahn.
  • Practice gratitude. Once again, this demands intentionality. Find at least one thing every day for which you can thank the other person.  Then do it. Verbally thank them for something they have done.

These are not simple actions. They take effort and intentionality. However, they will change the environment of your home from “Bicker Central” to a “House of Peace.” Will you begin today?

…And A Hug to Grow On

Virginia Satir is quoted as saying,

“We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” You may read that and think, “That’s a lot of hugging. Who came up with those numbers, anyway?”

I don’t know who figured out the numbers; but research does reveal that hugs improve our physical and emotional health. For instance, 404 volunteers from the Pittsburgh area participated in a study exploring social support, hugging, and physical illness. The volunteers were asked every evening for 14 days about their social relationships and whether they had received a hug that day. Then, the volunteers were given nasal drops containing a virus that produced symptoms like the common cold (yes, they volunteered for this!). Volunteers who had received more hugs showed a decreased risk for actually “catching the cold.” In addition, of those who did “catch the cold,” those who had been hugged more often had less severe symptoms. And, the more hugs a person received, the more social support they felt. Hugs increased a sense of social support and decreased the risk of physically “catching a cold.”

Another study, involving 59 women in long-term relationships, shows that hugging can help reduce blood pressure too. In this study, the women were initially separated from their partner for 30 minutes. Then, their partner joined them for 10 minutes. During their 10 minutes together, they were encouraged to hold hands, watch a romantic video, and hug each other for at least 20 seconds. After 10-minutes together, the partner left, and the woman had to give an unprepared, spontaneous speech about an event that made her feel stressed. Blood pressure and oxytocin were measured throughout the procedure. The women also completed a questionnaire that included how frequently they hugged their partners. When all was said and done, more frequent hugging was related to higher oxytocin levels (Read 3…2…1…Oxytocin Release for more) and lower baseline blood pressure. In other words, more frequent hugging can help reduce high blood pressure and, as a result, the risk of heart disease.

Hugs can do even more too…but I don’t have the time or space to share it now. I just got an urge to hug my wife. She’s only had 4 today and I don’t want to quit hugging her at mere survival. I’m shooting for enough hugging to really us grow. What about you? Will you give the one you love 12 hugs a day for growth? 

This May Change How You “Do Vacation”

Summer is approaching and many families have started planning their summer activities. Maybe you plan on taking a summer vacation with your family this year. I hope you so. But before you plan your summer vacation, I want to tell you about a study that may change how you “do vacation” this year. This study deals with communication skills. In particular, it explored 6th graders’ ability to read nonverbal communications and emotional cues in others. The researchers divided a group of 6th graders into two groups. One group attended a 5-day, overnight nature camp with no TV, computers, or mobile phones. They had no digital screens for a full five days. Instead, they engaged in group outdoor activities (hiking, archery, learning survival skills) that promoted face-to-face interactions. The other group continued using screen time as usual. At the end of five days, the 6th graders who attended the 5-day nature camp without screens had improved their ability to understand nonverbal communications and to recognize emotions in others. The group that continued using social media stayed the same. It seems that practice leads to improvement…but so what? Who cares if our children learn to better read nonverbal communications and emotional cues in others? Because these skills translate into healthier relationships, better employment, and greater success in life…and we all want that for our children.  

What does this have to do with vacation? You can enhance your children’s social skills and increase their opportunities for healthier relationships, better employment, and greater life success by simply making your vacation free of TV’s, computers, and cellphones. Maybe you think it too much to eliminate them completely. Then you might consider at least cutting down screen time to a mere half-hour per day during vacation. I know it sounds crazy but contemplate the benefit of your children’s increased ability to understand nonverbal communications and emotional cues. Even more, think about the fun you’ll have interacting with one another, playing games, and sharing conversation. Imagine the things you will learn about one another, the experiences you will share, and the intimacy you will gain. It will be amazing…and the long-term benefit for your children’s communication immeasurable!

Apologize? But I Didn’t Do Anything!!

My wife was mad…at me. She was made at me and I didn’t even realize she was mad. I said something to comfort her and she took offense. I really didn’t want to hurt her; I wanted to comfort her. But she heard what I said differently than I had intended. She was hurt. She was angry. When she told me she was mad, my first impulse was to explain. I wanted to clarify the misunderstanding and defend my actions. Unfortunately, that only made the situation worse because then she thought I was not listening. As you can imagine, the more I tried to explain and clarify my actions the worse the situation grew.

Middle age man doubtful and very serious.

Suddenly I realized…it doesn’t really matter if I’m right or wrong. It doesn’t matter whether I intended to hurt her or not. She was hurt by what I said. I needed to apologize for hurting her. With that realization, I started over. “I’m sorry….” No excuses, no explanations, no defense. Just a simple apology. Then I listened to understand how she had interpreted my statement as an offense. As I listened, I understood. With that understanding, I apologized more fully. Amends completed, we hugged one another; and she enjoyed the comfort I had originally intended to give.

I learned something important from this incident…well, I learned a couple of things from this encounter.

  • Sometimes my wife (or my children for that matter) do not hear what I say in the way I intend. They misunderstand. In their misunderstanding they are offended or hurt. I honor my family when I pay attention to how they might understand what I say and when I say things in as clear and loving a way as possible.
  • When I say something that hurts a family member, I need to apologize for hurting their feelings, even if it was unintentional. That honors my family. It shows them how much I value them.
  • My relationship is more important than being justified. I would rather connect with my family than prove myself right and make them angry. I would rather celebrate our connection as a family than celebrate my victory in the argument. Go for the connection and celebrate family.
  • Sometimes I have selfish reasons for apologizing. I might apologize to end the conflict. Or I might apologize with a “but” attached—an excuse, a defense, a casting of blame. Such an apology lacks sincerity. It is selfish. It refuses to accept responsibility. It denies the need to change. A sincere apology, however, simply expresses regret and a desire to make sure it doesn’t happen again. No excuses. No defense. No casting of blame. Just a simple, sincere apology with a plan to make it different in the future. (Read The Hardest Word for more.)

When we make a sincere apology, we remove the stain of our mistake. We come clean. We pull down the barriers that divide us and we grow closer to one another. We enjoy a greater intimacy.

Join Your Family in Song

My daughter was just learning to walk when we started singing “Go Down Moses” while dancing around the living room. My other daughter stood up to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” as we solemnly buried a bird that had committed kamikaze against our front window. The toddler we babysat looked at me with anticipation and followed the directions of our impromptu lyrics calling her to step onto a small step and “jump” before laughing and asking to do it again.

When our children seem upset and begin to cry, we sing them a song to help them calm. When they can’t sleep, we sing them a lullaby. When they need to clean up their rooms, we might follow Barney’s cue and sing “Clean up, clean up….” We teach our children the alphabet through song. The list goes on. Music works wonders for a parent…and it continues working right through the teen years.

Children start remembering melodies as early as 5-months-old. At 11-months-old they are more receptive to a person singing a familiar song, even if that person is a stranger. Infants and children feel soothed by music and even begin to use music to calm themselves at a very young age. Who hasn’t heard their very young child, upset about having to take a nap, lying in their crib singing a song rather than crying? Even teens calm themselves through song.

Music brings us together. Whether we sing like a songbird or croak out a tune, it communicates that we are paying attention to the one we sing to and the ones we sing with. It signals that we are all part of the same group, we belong. Music draws us together and bonds us. It allows us to share emotions and even synchronizes us physically.

Why not use music in your family? Sing a song together. Listen to music together. Enjoy music together. Your family will love it. You will experience greater joy and intimacy with your family. Give it a try: “Sing. Sing a song. Make it simple to last the whole night long….” 

Perfect Last-Minute Christmas Gifts

Are you looking for the perfect last-minute Christmas gift? If you are, forget the new shirt or the latest gadget. Research suggests that experiential gifts are more “socially connecting.” They  strengthen relationship more than material gifts. Experiential gifts allow us to experience more intense emotions like adventure, relaxation, or excitement than do material gifts like clothing or the latest coffee maker. Even more, when the experiential gift allows you to engage in the activity with the recipient, you will draw closer together through the emotion of that activity. So, if you want to buy a gift that can enhance intimacy with your spouse or strengthen your bond with your child, try an experiential gift. You will definitely get more memories for your money, more “bang for your buck.” If you’re not sure what to get, here are a few ideas:

  • Tickets to an amusement park
  • Dinner dates. You might try a book of homemade coupons for “one a month.”
  • A weekend getaway.
  • Tickets to a concert, musical, or dance.
  • A membership to the museum or the zoo.
  • A date night jar filled within expensive dates and an opportunity to add to the jar.
  • A promise to attend family game night once a month for a year. (Of course, you have to keep that promise.)
  • A carrot, some coal, and a hat so you can run outside this afternoon and make a snow man together.
  • A picnic box with plans for family picnics. 
  • Family dinners.
  • Walking maps for family walks.

You get the idea. Give a gift that will allow you to have an enjoyable experience with your family. You’ll love. They’ll love it. Your relationship will love it!

Don’t Let Them Take Over

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!

Book Review: 365 Days of Family Fun

I am always on the lookout for new “family fun ideas.” You can imagine, then, why I am so pleasantly surprised to discover 365 Days of Family Fun by Charlotte Hopkins. This gem of a book suggests a fun family activity for every day of the year…and tells you exactly how to make it happen. The first activity (January 1) involves the whole family in making an “Adventure Box” to fill up with memorabilia of the year’s fun (ticket stubs, menus, pictures, etc.). Then, as part of the final family fun day on December 31 you open the box and enjoy recalling the stories of fun you had throughout the year…and you’ll have more fun doing it! It’s true. From picnics to snowmen to puzzles to recipes you will have fun.  Along the way you will learn fun facts, celebrate interesting days, and read great stories. You might just write a few of your own. All in all, this is a wonderful resource for any family seeking to celebrate and have fun together. Check it out on Amazon and start having some family fun today. 

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