Tag Archive for intimacy

…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? 

Give It Up to Lift Up Your Marriage

Do you want a stronger marriage? Do you want greater happiness for yourself and your marriage? Well, one of the best ways to get a stronger, healthier, happier marriage is to give up. It’s true. The best way to lift up your marriage is to give up. I don’t mean giving up on the marriage or giving up on happiness. I mean give up your own personal desires and making your spouse’s desires your priority…give up the need to push your own opinion and listen to understand your spouse’s opinion. Give up your need to have it “your way” and do it your spouse’s way.  Yes, sacrifice, or giving up, will lift up your marriage. Scott Stanley, a marriage researcher who has completed several studies regarding sacrifice in marriage, defined sacrifice as an action in which a person freely chooses to give up something for their spouse without resentment (italics & bold added).

This type of action, this “giving up,” can be as simple as watching the TV show your spouse wants to watch rather than demanding the family watch “my TV show.” Or, it might be as simple as giving up the last piece of pie so your spouse can have it.

Sometimes sacrifice can be life altering, like giving up a job to move to a new town where your spouse will begin a new and better job…or giving up time and energy to care for a spouse going through medical treatment for a major illness.

Overall, sacrifice often involves giving up personal control and self-gratification in favor of a commitment to our spouse’s well-being, intimacy, and growth…giving up our agenda for the betterment of our marriage. The moment of “giving up” to “lift up” your marriage can be difficult. However, the dividends for that moment of struggle are amazing—long-term happiness, growing security, and deeper intimacy. So, give it up…give it up to lift up your marriage! (For more read The Lost Art of Sacrifice in Family.)

My Teen Isolates…Is That Bad?

Parents often ask, “My teen comes home and goes straight to his bedroom, closes the door and isolates. Isn’t that bad?” Well…it depends. Researchers from the University of California and Wilmington College published a study showing not all solitude is the same. Some solitude was problematic. It was a red flag revealing a deeper issue. Other solitude was good, even helpful. It provided a refreshing, restorative time of self-reflection leading to personal growth and greater self-acceptance.

How can you tell the difference? By recognizing the reason your teen is choosing solitude. The motivation for choosing solitude differentiates problematic solitude from healthy solitude. If a teen chooses solitude in response to social anxiety, lack of friends, or rejection, they are at a greater risk of depression. They tend to have a lower level of autonomy and fewer positive relationships.

If solitude is imposed on a teen as punishment, they often feel like they are “missing out” on activities and opportunities. This can lead to feeling left out and lonely. It can contribute to depression and anger.

If a teen chooses solitude to help themselves “calm down” or for “peace and quiet,” it can prove helpful. In this case, solitude provides restorative time for self-reflection. These teens learn the skill of being alone and learn how solitude can enhance creativity and personal renewal.

Still, how can a parent know the difference? One way to determine if your teen is using solitude in a healthy or an unhealthy way is to ask them why they spend time alone. Allow them to explain what they are doing and why. This might be the start of a simple discussion about emotional self-care. You might also ask yourself some questions about your teen, questions you can begin to answer based on your own observations.

  • Does your teen have friends or are they a loner? If they have no friends, their isolation may raise some concerns. Why do they not have friends? Is it due to being bullied? Anxious? Fearful? Sad? This observation may lead to a discussion with your teen about their mood, their perspective on friendships, loneliness, and relationships in general.
  • Does your teen exhibit social anxiety? It’s ok to be shy and introverted. As an introvert they will likely still have a few good friends. However, if a person has social anxiety that interferes with them going places or interacting with others it may be good to seek outside help.
  • Does your teen seem energized after spending time alone? Many teens just need time alone to “re-create” their inner sense of peace after spending all day interacting in a somewhat chaotic and over-stimulating school setting. They need to unwind and enjoy a moment of “peace and quiet.” They need a time of personal restoration. If so, they will often feel energized after a period of solitude. 
  • How does your teen seem overall? Do they sleep well? Do they enjoy times with friends? Do they become tearful often? The answer to these questions can provide a great deal of information about the health of their solitude.
  • Does your teen talk negatively about themselves? Do they put themselves down? Are they excessively self-critical? If so, their isolation may raise some concerns.

These observations may help you decide if your teen’s desire to be alone is a problem or simply a healthy part of their development. If your answers raise concerns seek out some counsel from friends who have older children, a pastor, or a therapist.

Another Benefit of a Responsive Spouse

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 “responsive spouse.”

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.

Good for Both Giver & Receiver

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!

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.

A Powerful Way to Improve Your Marriage

A study of 91 couples revealed a surprise about marriage. Understanding your partner was NOT enough to make your marriage stronger and healthier. Just understanding what your partner is thinking and feeling does not lead to a better marriage. Better marriages result when a person not only understand but cares enough to do something with that understanding. Having compassion and a motivation to respond to their partner based on understanding was necessary to have a better marriage. In other words, responsiveness proved more important than mere understanding in strengthening marriages. How do we become responsive?

  • Listen….not just to the words but to the emotions and intentions behind the words. Listen to understand the needs. Listen with a heart of compassion and an eye (or should I say “ear) toward empathy.
  • Respond to their emotion. Acknowledge what they feel.
  • Act upon the need of the moment.

When we are responsive to our partners, they will feel validated and cared for. They recognize their importance in our lives. They feel safe and stable in our relationship. As a result, our marriage improves. So, don’t stop with understanding. Engage in a compassionate response as well. (For more on responsiveness and building intimacy in your marriage read The Music In Your Heart.)

Book Review: The Path of Intimacy

If you’re looking for a guidance along the path to greater intimacy in your marriage, Scott Means of Heaven Made Marriage has written you a gift. In his book, The Path of Intimacy, Scott guides the reader away from the path of separation and onto the path of intimacy with wisdom and foresight. Isn’t that what we all want in our marriages, to be intimate with one another, fully known and completely loved? To stand before one another completely naked—emotionally, mentally, and spiritually open—yet completely unafraid and completely secure in the love we share with one another? If that’s what you’re looking for (and we all are), this book will serve as your guide on the path of intimacy. Now if you have ever gotten lost, you know how important it is to follow the right signs and not get distracted by the alternatives. With that in mind, The Path of Intimacy exposes the lies that threaten to distract us from the path of intimacy. The Path of Intimacy teaches us to discern the on-ramps that lead to the path of separation from the trail markers that keep us on the path of intimacy. And, The Path of Intimacy prepares us to recognize the markers informing us that we are still on the right path, the path of intimacy. With the insights shared in The Path of Intimacy, Scott Means has offered us the tools we need to remain watchful and intentional in growing a “grace-full,” intimate marriage.  (Available on Amazon)

You Mean THINKING Can Ruin My Marriage?

Well, not all thinking can ruin your marriage but….

Middle age man doubtful and very serious.

You know poor communication or contemptuous communication can destroy your marriage. You’ve probably heard that a lack of connection with your spouse or turning away from your spouse’s attempts to connect can ruin your marriage as well. Perhaps you’ve read about the negative impact of contempt on marriage…or the destructive power of lying on your marriage. But, do you realize a thinking style based on the fear of rejection can destroy your marriage? (Read The Thinking Style that Damages Relationship for an overview of the study showing how fear of rejection impacts relationships.) It’s true! When a person enters a marriage fearing rejection, the marriage is at risk. Fear of rejection causes a person to think about their partner abandoning them. Fear of rejection also leads to the fearful person constantly seeking reassurance and asking about the security of their relationship. They may even try to force their partner to remain in the relationship through verbally eliciting guilt. Or, on the other hand, the person with a fear of rejection may comply with everything their partner says or does…which only serves to weaken the relationship (Shut Up & Put Up to Ruin Your Marriage explains more). Unfortunately, these behaviors, engaged in out of a fear of rejection, only serve to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. They push the partner away and may ultimately lead to destroying their marriage.

Don’t worry though. I have three ideas to help you overcome the fear of rejection and so change your behaviors, strengthen your marriage, and nurture a sense of security in your marriage!

  • Many times, fear of rejection flows from an insecure parent-child attachment. So, if you’re a parent, you can help your children avoid a fear of rejection by developing a secure, loving relationship with them. By doing so you help protect their future marriage from the fear of rejection. If, however, you are an adult with a fear of rejection, learn to nurture yourself. Think about the relationship you had with your parent. What was missing? What led you to feel insecure? What caused disconnection between you and your parent? Then, parent yourself. Provide yourself with those things you missed from your parent. Nurture yourself with encouragement and love. When you make a mistake, show yourself compassion and then consider how you can avoid that same mistake in the future. Trust yourself to grow and learn from mistakes. Give yourself a hug. Acknowledge your successes each day. Compliment your own effort. These actions will contribute to the next suggestion for overcoming the “fear of rejection.”
  • Develop your identity and a secure sense of self. You can do this by acknowledge and capitalizing on your strengths while acknowledging and working to improve in areas of weakness. Participate in your own growth. Develop hobbies that support your interests. Try new things. In this way you will develop a greater sense of independence and competence…and that will not only reduce your “fear of rejection” but strengthen your ability to grow in intimate relationship as well!
  • Befriend people who will honor you. Develop relationships with people who show compassion and understanding, kindness and encouragement. Make sure your partner is a person who will engage in mutual respect, a person who will value you for you and who enjoys seeing you grow as an individual as well as in relationship to them. That may sound like a tall order, but a partner like that is well worth the wait!

Fear of rejection can ruin a marriage, but you don’t have to let it. Nurture yourself. Develop a strong sense of identity. Befriend people who be mutually supportive in relationship with you. When you do, you may feel the “fear of rejection” slipping away…and good riddance!

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