Tag Archive for relationships

“If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say”…& Other Nuggets of Wisdom

Do you remember any sayings and proverbs you learned in childhood? They may have come from Aesop’s Fables or a children’s story like Pinocchio or Proverbs in the Bible. Maybe you heard them from teachers, your parents, scout leaders, coaches, or any number of other adults. They were proverbs that encouraged certain behaviors…behaviors that promoted personal character and corporate civility. Several such sayings came to my mind the other day as I listened to the daily rhetoric of the news. I felt a twinge of sadness and realized how desperately we need the wisdom of these proverbs in our world today. With that in mind, maybe we need to start by reviving them in our families. We begin by teaching them to our children and modeling them in our lives.  In case you need a reminder, here are just a few of my favorites.

  • “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” Ironically, this saying seems to have two meanings. One, if you live in a glass house (are vulnerable) don’t throw stones at the guy who lives in a brick house. In other words, “don’t dish it out if you can’t take it” (which is another saying). On the other hand, we all live in glass houses, don’t we?  We all have our own vulnerabilities. Before we start casting stones at another person’s faults, we need to take a good look at our own. Or, in the words of another saying, “Take the log out of your own eye before you worry about the splinter in the other guy’s eye.” We desperately need to consider all three sayings in our world today.
  • “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  Other than hearing it from my mother, I heard it first from Thumper on Bambi. (By the way, Thumper also has a nice quote about “families that play together.” See them both in this short clip.) Wouldn’t it be nice to hear a little more of “saying nothing” today?
  • Another truth heard in a Disney movie came from the Blue Fairy. She told Pinocchio that “A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as clear as the nose on your face.” You’ve heard the flip side of this proverb in the more popular “honesty is the best policy.” A little more truth and a few shorter noses on the faces of our local Pinocchio’s faces would definitely improve our lives around here.
  • Of course, we can’t forget “Actions speak louder than words” or “He who does a thing well does not need to boast.”  Aesop’s fable of The Boasting Traveler drives this point home. Tell it to your family over dinner or watch it in ChirpyStory. It’s a great reminder to not boast.
  • “There are two sides to every story and the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.” I’d always heard “there are two sides to every story” to encourage me to listen to other people’s ideas.  But experience has taught me the rest of the saying, that “the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.”  Our extremist world would definitely benefit from learning to listen to both sides of a story and then seeking the whole truth.

There are many more proverbs we need to put into practice. We need to teach our children these proverbs and sayings. We need to practice them in our own lives in the presence of our children. As we do, our families will benefit from the wisdom of the ages. Perhaps our children will carry these proverbs into their adulthood and our whole society will benefit from the wisdom of the ages. Let’s start practicing them today. Maybe you have other favorites you think our families would benefit from practicing. Share them below so we can all learn from the wisdom of the ages.

“Being There” for Family… When?

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.

It Begins In Your Mind

Parenting is hard work. I’m probably preaching to the choir with that statement. If you’re a parent you know parenting demands time and energy and money…and often more than we ever knew we had. But, did you know parenting begins in your mind? How we think about our children and our role as parents plays a tremendous impact on how we parent. It can make parenting more difficult or it can make parenting more enjoyable. For instance, do you think of parenting as being a shepherd or guard? Consider the differences.

  • A guard mentality thinks of children as prone to bad behavior. They expect children to misbehave and act disrespectfully. Shepherds, on the other hand, believe children desire the security of knowing they are accepted and safe within a caring relationship. They see misbehavior as communication of some need or fear, perhaps a feeling of insecurity within the relationship.
  • A guard focuses on maintaining the rules. They fear grave consequences if those rules are broken. As a result, the guard maintains a position of authority over their children. A shepherd focuses on meeting the needs of their children. Although they maintain a position of authority, that authority is based on relationship.
  • Guards discipline from a foundation of punishment, often with a harsh tone of voice. Shepherds discipline from a foundation of relationship and concern. Their voice is familiar and welcome in times of enjoyment and times of discipline.
  • Guards maintain order through fear of punishment. Shepherds maintain order through loving structure which provides security and safety.
  • Guards focus on making sure everyone knows the rules. They know the rules inside out and expect everyone to know them as well. Shepherds focus on knowing the people under their care. They know their interests, vulnerabilities, strengths, and weaknesses.
  • Guards expect compliance. When compliance does not happen, they have the philosophy that “they made their beds let them lie in them.” “They get what they deserve.” Shepherds sacrifice for those in their care. They show a grace that teaches better behavior and restores relationship. They focus on the emotional connections that strengthen and sense of belonging that nurtures growth.
  • Guards push those under their supervision to complete, unthinking compliance. They demand obedience. Shepherds walk ahead to lead those for whom they care into “paths of righteousness.” Shepherds lead by example.

You can imagine the impact these thinking styles can have on how you interact with and discipline your children. Which style of thinking best describes your parenting?

6 Traits for an Intimate Marriage

We were made for, and we long for, intimate connection. In fact, our attachment with other human beings is crucial, even necessary, for a healthy life. Marriage is one place we hope to find such an enduring connection. Unfortunately, many people find themselves feeling disconnected and isolated in marriage. This disconnected marriage brings pain and misery to everyone involved.  A connected marriage brings joy.  To get this connected marriage requires a few traits that are often overlooked when we speak about happy marriages. Let me explain a few.

  1. To have an intimate marriage we need to be trustworthy. Our spouse needs to know we will keep our commitments and follow through on our promises. Our spouse will see our trustworthiness in our actions toward them and our actions toward others. If we want an intimate and enduring marriage, we need to become trustworthy people, people worthy of receiving honor and trust. (Read 6 Pillars of Trust to learn how to develop trust.)
  2. To have an intimate marriage we must learn to trust. I realize that trusting another person leaves us vulnerable, especially if we have experienced hurt at the hands of those we loved in the past. But, without trust in a relationship both parties feel the need to protect themselves. They struggle to be completely open with one another. A wedge of secrecy and self-protection comes between them and drives them apart. We can avoid this wedge of secrecy and self-protection by becoming trustworthy people and people who trust one another.
  3. An intimate relationship is built on the gift of empathy. We need to realize our spouse has a valid perspective and opinion even if they disagree with us. Empathy goes a step beyond that realization and demands we strive to understand our spouse’s perspective, to see the world through their eyes. We must work to understand their world so well we can understand the basis of their perspective even if we disagree with it. (Quit Taking Your Spouse’s Perspective may sound like a contradiction, but it really explains how to do this most effectively!)
  4. A person nurtures intimacy when they remain attentive and available to their spouse. Spouses can make up to 100 bids for connection during any 10 minutes spent together (link). You can attend to these bids for connection or turn away from them, accept them or reject them. Of course, if you reject them you will experience disconnection, isolation, and anger. When we accept and respond to them we enjoy a growing sense of connection, love, and intimacy. (Learn how to respond to those bids for connection in RSVP for Intimacy)
  5. Spouses who enjoy intimate marriages remain teachable. A teachable person loves their spouse enough to learn about them and from them. They can admit their own mistakes and apologize. A teachable person continues to learn about their spouse. They remain a student of their spouse’s interests, strengths, vulnerabilities, fears, and a myriad other things. Remaining teachable and learning about your spouse provides the necessary tools for building intimacy with your spouse.
  6. Those who enjoy an intimate marriage exhibit humility. They are humble and learn from mistakes. They change in response to their spouse’s legitimate concerns. Humble people support one another. Humble people allow their spouse to influence them. Humble people enjoy intimacy in their marriages. (For a challenge in humility, become A Leader in Submission in your marriage.)

Build Intimacy Before, During, & After Your Marital Conflict

All couples experience disagreements, even arguments and conflict. But, did you know you can build a more intimate relationship with your spouse before, during, and after the disagreements and conflicts?  Let me count the ways (well, at least five for before, five for during, and five for after).

BEFORE:

  1. Make daily deposits of honor and grace into your Family Bank of Honor by sharing polite words, expressions of affection, and loving touch. (Read The Tongue in the Family Bank of Honor for verbal daily deposits.)
  2. Become a student of spouse. Learn about their likes, interests, vulnerabilities, and fears.
  3. Express gratitude to your spouse every day.
  4. Tell your spouse about the traits you admire in them. Let them know what they do and say that you admire and appreciate.
  5. Show kindness to your spouse every day.

DURING:

  1. Take a breath and remember all the traits you love and adore about your spouse.
  2. Remain calm. Take a breath and maintain the use of polite words.
  3. Listen to understand. Then listen some more to make sure you understand.
  4. Do not threaten, blame, criticize, or show contempt. Instead, be brutally honest with yourself. Humbly take responsibility for any way your actions and words contribute to the argument.
  5. Seek a solution, a third alternative that can show love and the priority of your relationship. (Assume Love explains the third alternative.)

AFTER:

  1. Reaffirm your love for your spouse. Let them know how much you love them.
  2. Apologize. Chances are you did something during the disagreement that requires an apology. So, apologize.
  3. Give your spouse a big hug and a sincere kiss.
  4. Review your contribution to the argument and change your behavior accordingly.
  5. Bear the fruit of a sincere apology. (More in Stop Apologizing & Bear Fruit)

I’m sure there are many more ways to build intimacy before, during, and after an argument, but these 15 ideas will give you a start. What ideas would you add to the list? Let us know in the comment section below.

The Beatles Knew It!!

“Say you don’t need no diamond ring and I’ll be satisfied. Tell me that you want the kind of thing that money just can’t buy. I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love…. Can’t buy me love…” The Beatles sang those words in 1964.  Over 50 years later science is telling us why those words ring true. Jason Carroll, a Brigham Young University professor of marriage and family studies, and his team of researchers surveyed 1,310 married individuals to gather data on the relationship between materialism, perception of marriage importance, and marital satisfaction (read review of study here). They confirmed the Beatles’ words, “Money can’t buy me love.” Specifically, the more highly a person valued money, the less they seemed to value relationships including marriage. Materialism was “possession-oriented” rather than “relationship-oriented” when pursuing happiness. In other words, the more a person held to the priorities associated with materialism the less they held to the priority of marriage. Materialism crowded out marital priorities, creating a shortage of time for communication, conflict resolution, and intimacy—the stuff of happy marriages. Materialistic people sought happiness in possessions rather than people; they invested time and energy into getting things rather than investing time and energy into nurturing a healthy marriage.

If you find materialism creeping into your marriage, “buy it out” with these tips:

  • Do an honest self-appraisal. Confirm your own priorities. Sometimes people are not aware of how the pursuit of money has unbalanced their lives. They really “believe” marriage is of greater importance than money. But, their investment of time and energy reveals a different story. It reveals they have slipped into a pattern of materialistic pursuits. Take a hard look at how you spend your time, the activities in which you invest, and the focus of your energy. Do you spend more time pursuing material gain or family closeness? Your actions reveal your lived values. Make sure your lived values are the values you truly hold.
  • Reinvest in what is really important. Family and relationships bring greater happiness than material gain. Things break, rust, fall apart, and quit working. Relationships in which we properly invest will grow, support, and strengthen both us as individuals and couples. Invest in your family. (Read The Meaning of Our Lives for more.)
  • Prioritize generosity as a family. Studies reveal that generosity is linked with increased happiness. Generosity teaches us to let go of our pursuit of materialistic gain and focus on how we can invest in people. Practice generosity toward others in your family. Practice generosity as a family toward those outside the family. Teach Your Children to Live Happy will provide several ideas for practicing generosity as a family. By practicing generosity you shift the focus from “things” to people, from possessions to relationships…and find yourself and your family happier.

Dona Nobis Pacem: Grant Us Peace

My wife, my daughter, and I went to a choral concert presented by the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh entitled PEACE.  We heard several composers’ choral renditions of Dona Nobis Pacem: Grant Us Peace. We also heard various testimonies and readings from three people who have invested their lives in various avenues of promoting peace within our communities. The whole experience was beautiful, inspiring, and peaceful. Then we left the concert setting and returned to the world of confusion, animosity, and conflict.

Peace seems so distant in our immediate environment of division, antagonism, and hostility. Everywhere we turn dissonant, hateful chatter rises up and floods over the banks of polite boundaries and congenial discourse. Fear and anxiety, resentment and hostility are infecting the lives of our children. Peace seems, at times, a distant dream. But, as we listened attentively to the various renditions of Dona Nobis Pacem and contemplated the readings offered, I realized peace is not so distant after all. Peace is very near. It begins with a God of peace who “is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist….” Peace is our original design. Peace destroyed was restored through the sacrifice of One Man who “is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Paul—Ephesians 2:15). The One who sacrificed for our peace has “proclaimed peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near” (Paul—Ephesians 2:17). Since we have been given peace it is very near to us. We need only open it, pursue it, and promote it (Romans 14:19; Hebrews 12:14).

In all reality, pursuing and promoting peace are integral aspects of our daily life. We can pursue peace by sharing polite words with those you meet. We promote peace by listening, really listening, to understand those who speak. We pursue peace by opening doors for others, literally and figuratively. We promote peace in patiently merging into the various streams of life with others and generously allowing others to merge into those same streams of life. We encourage peace by offering words that build up instead of words that tear down, words that bless instead of words that curse.  We promote peace when we lift one another up, even those who disagree with you, rather than shaming and ridiculing. We nurture peace when we forgive those who have offended and apologize to those you offend.

Truly, peace is closer than we think…but it takes the investment of our words and actions. Begin the peace investment in your home as you treat your spouse, your children, and your parents with honor and dignity, decency and grace. As we do, our families will become the catalyst for peace in our communities. Yes, peace is closer than we think. “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Dona Nobis Pacem: Grant Us Peace.

Boost Your Children’s Communication Skills

Our children need to develop the ability to communicate well if they want to succeed in this world. Think about it. If you want to effectively resolve a disagreement, you have to explain yourself well. If you want others to understand you, you have to express yourself well. If you want to woo your love, you must declare your love in a way the other person will “hear” and appreciate. If you want to get the promotion at work, you have to make your desire and your ability known. Communication and language are essential to our growth, our maturity, and our success.  A recent study from MIT explored how children develop these language and communication skills (Back-and-forth exchanges boost children’s brain response to language). They discovered the number of “conversational turns” between child and parent predicted differences in language skills and even brain physiology. The more back-and-forth exchanges between parent and child, the greater the child’s language comprehension and expressive abilities. In addition, when children who experienced more back-and-forth exchanges with parents listened to stories, they exhibited a more activity in the area of the brain involved in processing and producing language (Broca’s area).  In other words, they were more “tuned in” to hearing, producing, and processing language. So, if you want your children to learn to communicate more effectively, don’t rely on Dora, language games, or other TV shows.  Engage them. Interact with them. Converse with them about topics of their interest. Play fun language games like Telephone, Mutual Storytelling, or Salad Bowl.

The two most important aspects of any activity geared toward helping your child grow is to 1) make it age appropriate and 2) keep it interactive. So have fun. Interact. And watch your children improve their communication and interactive skills.

The Family: A Training Ground for Change

I was sitting among a group of friends when the discussion turned to “those people.” Everyone in the group knew I was not only a part of the friend group having the discussion but a member of “those people” being discussed as well. Suddenly, one of my friends looked at me and said, “Well, we don’t mean you. You’re different.” It was too late. I already felt the twinge of being cast out. I’ve had a similar experience several times. It has happened in response to where I grew up. It has happened because of a particular group of people I have chosen to belong to. It has even happened, on occasion, because of my gender. It really doesn’t matter why “it” happened; the fact remains that some comments separate and judge others as inferior, even when those making the comments add a sheepish “we’re not talking about you.”  The comments still lead to division. They still make someone feel like an outcast. Researchers call such comments “micro-aggressions.” Micro-aggressions accumulate to create greater division and prejudice, even causing declines in physical health.

Fortunately, I have also encountered groups who engaged in conversations and comments that elevated people, conversations that brought people together and made each person feel important. These groups validated our shared humanity as well as our individual worth. Researchers refer to comments made in these more positive discussions as “micro-affirmations.” A study published in 2017 made me think about how our families can become catalysts and training grounds for micro-affirmations rather than micro-aggressions. In this study, 503 teens (11- to 16-years-old) were divided into two groups. One group was given a questionnaire to help them recall specific examples of their own past acts of kindness. A second group was given a questionnaire asking questions about neutral topics like the weather or a favorite tree. Both groups read an “anti-relational aggression message” as well. One month later, the researchers explored the frequency of hurtful behaviors in which members of both groups had engaged. The results? First, the “anti-relational aggression message” did not produce any behavioral change. Second, and more important for our purposes, those who recalled previous acts of kindness engaged in less aggression and more kindness over the last month than the group who had recalled neutral information. The authors of the study believe that recalling acts of kindness triggered mini self-affirmations and “primed the pump” for more acts of kindness. They believed acts of kindness served as “micro-affirmations” for both the giver and the recipient of kindness by bringing people together in a shared moment of humanity and worth.

How does this relate to our families? I believe our families provide the training ground for micro-affirmations, for kindnesses that validate, unite, and elevate worth. And, I hope you will join me in implementing a “training protocol” that will not only promote growth in kindness and the giving of micro-affirmations but will strengthen your family at the same time!  It only takes three steps!

  1. Model kindness. Make micro-affirmations (statements that elevate worth, validate positive identity, and bring people together) to your spouse, your children, your parents, your friends, and even strangers you meet throughout your day. It’s really not hard. It can be as simple as thanking your teen when they do a chore, appreciating the meal your spouse prepared, or admiring the shirt your wife is wearing. It might involve holding the door open for a stranger, getting the car so your family doesn’t have to walk through the rain, or offering to get a family member a drink when you go to the kitchen during a commercial. Each time you engage in a simple act of kindness, you produce a micro-affirmation that informs the other person of their value in your eyes. You bring unity between yourself and the person to whom you show kindness, a unity based on your shared humanity and love.
  2. Celebrate acts of kindness your family members engage in. You can do this with a simple acknowledgment and statement of gratitude…”thank you for your kindness” goes a long way! You can acknowledge when people offer forgiveness or show consideration. You can acknowledge the kindness of generosity and service, awareness of others and responding with respect. Yes, many of these things are expected behaviors. But, when we acknowledge expected and desired behaviors we increase the chances of those behaviors continuing and even increasing. Make it a family habit to acknowledge and appreciate kindnesses shown.
  3. Provide simple opportunities to show kindness. The possibilities for showing kindness are unlimited. If you can’t think of any ways to show kindness, read The Mighty Power of Kindness for Families and 31 Acts of Kindness to Strengthen Your Marriage and A Family Night to Share Kindness. Make an intentional effort to show kindness every day.

As you can see, this really is not a difficult protocol to implement in your family. It simply involves developing a family environment of kindness and affirmation. Your family will benefit from this environment filled with “micro-affirmations.”  Your spouse will love this environment. Your children will thrive in this environment. And, the community in which you live will benefit as practicing kindness at home will lead to practicing kindness outside the home. In fact, if enough of us make kindness and micro-affirmations a vital aspect of our family environment, we might just start a wave of change that impacts our whole world.  Wouldn’t that be refreshing?!

Your Spouse & Challenges

I live in Pittsburgh, PA. So, any time I see or hear about a study conducted by one of the universities in the area it catches my eye, especially when it deals with family. Recently, a study by Carnegie Mellon University caught my eye.  This study focused on the impact of spousal support and opportunities. The researchers recruited 163 couples and gave one member of each couple a choice. They could either solve a simple puzzle or compete for a prize by giving a speech. Each person then returned to their partner and discussed whether to do the puzzle or compete for a prize. Participants with encouraging partners were more likely to decide to give a speech and compete for the prize. Those with discouraging partners, or partners expressing a lack of confidence, were more likely to choose the simple puzzle. Not real surprising, is it? But, here’s the part I found really interesting. Six months later the partners who had accepted the more challenging speech competition reported more personal growth, greater happiness, more psychological well-being, and better relationship satisfaction than those who chose the simple puzzle! The encouraging, supportive spouse helped their partner embrace an opportunity to “go for it” and grow. They supported their partners’ growth and in doing so supported their partners’ happiness. That, in turn, likely led to a more satisfying marriage as well!

Do you want to see your partner grow and learn? Do you want them to know greater joy? Do you want a more satisfying marital relationship? Encourage your spouse. Learn about your  spouse’s dreams and encourage them to “seize the moment” when opportunities that arise to pursue those dreams. When challenges arise, express confidence in their ability to meet the challenge and support them in growing through the challenge. Express joy in seeing them move toward their dreams. Celebrate every step of the way. Then, thank Carnegie Mellon University, located in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, for revealing how encouraging our spouse makes life better! (Sorry for the commercial….I guess I’m a proud “yinzer.”)

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