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
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.)
A responsive spouse—one who not
only listens and understands but also responds with sympathy and compassion.
Who doesn’t want that kind of spouse? I know I do. And really, who doesn’t want
to be that kind of spouse? After all, I love my wife. She deserves a
Responsiveness validates our spouses. It lets them know we care for them. It reduces anxiety and arousal. It increases a sense of security in the relationship. It comforts. Overall, responsiveness is a powerful way to improve your marriage. And, a 2016 study involving 698 married and cohabitating couples suggests responsiveness does something more. It improves sleep quality. Not surprising, right? We sleep better when we feel safe. We sleep better when we feel less anxious. We sleep better when we know someone cares for us and validates us.
There you have it…another benefit
of a responsive spouse: improved sleep quality. Good sleep quality contributes
to a better rested person. A better rested person is happier, healthier, and
more able to respond to their spouse. Not only…. Oh wait. I hear my wife
calling. Sorry. I have to go. After all, a wife responded to is a happy wife
who sleeps well…and loves her responsive husband.
Nobody wants to fill their marriage with
fear and insecurity. Fear and insecurity will kill a marriage…and nobody wants
to live through a dying marriage. However, I have seen far too many marriages
filled with fear because of the subtle actions of one partner. At first glance,
these actions seem harmless. But, with a second look, you can see the damage
they cause, the fear they build, and the insecurity they create. Let me explain
three of these accidental-fear-building actions so you can erase them from your
life and marriage.
and anger. Of course, we all have moments of
impatience. However, when impatience becomes the modus operandi in your
marriage, fear is the result. The spouse and family of a chronically impatient
person feel the need to “walk on egg shells” to avoid the “next
blow up.” They fear the impatient person’s anger and never know what will
set it off…a spilled drink, a laugh at the “wrong” moment, a
difference of opinion. The whole family lives in fear when they live with an
and pride. Arrogant spouses constantly satisfy
their own desires. They think of themselves first and, although they likely
will not admit it, their spouses second. The spouses of arrogant people take
second place to anything the arrogant spouse deems important…and arrogant
spouses only believe only those things that revolve around them are important.
As a result, their spouses live with the insecurity of knowing their arrogant
spouse will not “watch out for them.” The arrogant spouse will not
keep them in mind…or serve them…or make small sacrifices for them. They live
with the insecurity of knowing their needs are unimportant to their spouse…and
that creates fear and insecurity in the marriage.
grudge. Minor slights, unintentional wrongdoings,
and interpersonal injuries occur in all relationships. Marriage is no
different. However, when one spouse holds a grudge, the other spouse begins to
fear for their relationship. When one spouse harbors resentment over a slight
they have suffered, the relationship is at risk. The one holding the grudge and
harboring the resentment begins to fear another slight. Their mind becomes
clouded by that fear and they may begin to misinterpret behaviors in a negative
light. Now the other partner experiences the fear and insecurity of being
misunderstood. A downward cycle of fear, resentment, insecurity, and bitterness
has begun. If not addressed through apology and forgiveness, this cycle only
ends in one way, a dying marriage.
These three actions unintentionally build fear and insecurity into a marriage. If you find yourself engaging in any of these three actions, stop and breath. Consider what is more important…your marriage or your impatience? Your marital health or your pride? Your long-term happiness in marriage or the resentment you harbor?
is a dragon in your house. He rests right between you and your spouse. Don’t
worry. It’s not a bad thing. He’s perfectly safe and can even protect your marriage.
This dragon has rested between spouses since the beginning of time. Couples used
to honor their dragon. They believed love could not live unless their dragon protected
it. It was a badge of honor for a married couple to tame the dragon and keep
him healthy in the home they built together. Scripture even tells us God owns this
pet dragon. It was not until the 19th century that this dragon fell
out of vogue. People began to fear it. They began to believe this dragon represented
danger to the subdued, secretive emotional life of the family. What if the
dragon wasn’t so tame? What if it suddenly went wild, triggered by some threat?
After all, there had been incidents in which the docile dragon suddenly went
wild, dangerously thrashing about in an uncontrolled fit of anger. Still, these
incidents only occurred when something or someone threatened the dragon’s owners
or if the owners did not protect the dragon’s sense of safety and security. If
the couple cares for the dragon’s home, assuring his sense of security, he remains
perfectly safe to have in the house.
dragon’s name is Jealousy. Jealousy exists when we have a special relationship
with someone. He reveals the priority we place on commitment, honesty, and
security within our most intimate relationship. In that sense, jealousy remains
a sleeping dragon until we experience some threat to our relationship. Something
that arouses doubt in our partner’s commitment or honesty or threatens our sense
of security in the relationship can make the dragon go wild. At that point,
jealousy can feel uncontrollable and inescapable. It can even be tyrannical. “Wrath
is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy” made
insecure (Proverbs 27:4). Here’s the thing. Jealousy resides in all our homes. The
question becomes: how do we tame jealousy in marriage? Jealousy remains tame when living in an environment
in which he feels safe and secure. So, create an environment of security by doing
Learn about your own insecurities. Each
of us has our own insecurities that we can cast onto the relationship from time
to time. If we view ourselves as unlovable, too fat, not smart enough, not good
enough or some other negative epitaph, we are setting the stage for jealousy to
go wild. Begin to work on yourself. Unload your own baggage. Learn to see yourself through the eyes of God.
Learn to accept yourself as having many good, lovable traits. Accept that there
are areas of growth for all of us and then begin to grow.
Build an environment of trust. Follow
through on promises. Develop a mindset that seeks to honor your spouse. Focus on
and admire those qualities that endear you to your spouse. Verbalize your
admiration and gratitude often.
Celebrate your love. Create
a daily ritual in which you sit down with your spouse to share your daily joys,
successes, sorrows, and shortcomings. Create
a weekly ritual in which you share a date with your spouse. You can go out or can
stay in for this date. Either way, dedicate the time of the date to your spouse—no
cell-phone, no interruptions…just you and your spouse.
These three practices will help you tame the dragon together…and enjoy your love.
Well, not all thinking can ruin your marriage but….
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!
I don’t know about you but I hate to see my children upset, struggling, or in pain. Still, sometimes they misbehave and suffer as a result of that misbehavior. They make foolish choices and struggle with the consequences. As hard as it is to watch, it’s in their best interest to let them suffer. I have, however, discovered a way to limit those moments of suffering and thus our own struggle with watching them suffer. Limit them, I say, NOT eliminate them. It’s a way to teach them disciplined behavior and how to make wise daily actions before trouble begins. It’s not 100% successful, but it certainly made a huge difference in our home and in any home in which I’ve see it implemented. I’m talking about establishing daily routines.
Routines will help your children and your family discipline before you even need to. Many of the benefits of routines stem from the predictability they add to family life. When children know what to expect, positive things happen. One great benefit of routines is watching your children learn disciplined behavior before suffering the consequences of poor choices! Let me share a few other benefits your children will experience when you establish healthy routines.
Children become more cooperative and less oppositional with routines in place. Power struggles decrease as routines become the norm. Morning routines replace nagging. Bed time routines replace fighting. Children learn to follow the routine because “that’s what’s next” and what’s next is a healthy, wise lifestyle choice.
Children gain a sense of mastery and independence with routines in place. As children learn the routine, they require less prompting. They learn to do more on their own. For instance, a dinner routine which includes setting the table, clearing the dishes, and loading the dishwasher becomes a family activity in which everyone participates and learns how to complete each step independently if needed. A morning routine contributes to competent self-care and an independent ability to prepare for the day, which will be a great benefit to the whole family in middle school, high school, and college.
Children gain a sense of security from healthy routines. Routines add predictability to the day. When transitions and changes occur, those routines add stability. Predictability and stability equal safety and security for children. Children who feel safe and secure in the family listen better and misbehave less often. For instance, children who know their parent will read with them before they go to sleep experience a sense of safety in the relationship that allows them to open up and talk about the important events of their life and day.
Children gain a stronger identity through routines. Routines help define who we are as a family and as individuals. We are ‘readers’ who read together every night. We are ‘independent people’ who don’t need our mom to get us up for school every day. We are family, supporting one another as we talk during family meals. We are ‘campers’ who go camping one a month. We are ‘people of faith’ who practice our daily and weekly prayers and services. You get the idea: routines build identity.
Children bond with family through routines. Family dinners, bedtime routines, routines of taking leave, routines of reunion, and holiday routines all provide the opportunity to bond with family and express love and affection for one another. They provide the time to share experiences, talk about the day, and practice values together.
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!
We hear a lot about the environment these days. Just do a google search on “environmental concerns” and around 12,900,000 links come up in a mere .87 seconds. We worry about the polar bears’ habitat, the impact of wasting water and not recycling, and the consequences of global climate change on nature’s backdrop. These are all worthy causes and concerns that deserve our attention. But, in our zeal to address the natural environment, we often neglect an environment just as important and even closer to home, an environment very dear to my heart. If you are a parent or grandparent, it’s probably dear to your heart as well. I’m talking about the home environment in which our children live and grow. This environment will have a long reaching impact on our children and everything they do. In other words, it will have a long-term impact on our social, political, and environmental world as our children grow up. As a result, the environment in which our children learn and grow needs our full attention. Even better, we create this environment by our efforts and through our interactions. Let me share three things we can do to create the best environment for our children’s growth and maturity.
Children need a safe environment in which to learn and grow. To keep an environment safe for our children means to keep it clear of anything which poses a significant threat to them at their particular developmental level. This may involve putting up safety gates and installing “baby-proofing” locks on cupboards to keep our toddlers safe. As our children become “middle schoolers,” establishing a safe environment may involve charging cell phones overnight in the kitchen rather than the bedroom. A safe environment also includes plenty of healthy food and sufficient rest. You get the idea. Think ahead and create a safe environment for your children. Creating a safe environment for children also relieves parents of stress. With less stress over their children’s safety, parents can relax and observe their children. They can learn more about their children and grow closer to them each day.
Children need an environment that is cognitively challenging. This will include age appropriate toys and play objects with which children can interact and problem-solve. Things as simple as building blocks, dress up clothes, and balls provide appropriate stimulation. Even objects in nature like trees to climb, bugs to watch, hills to roll down, and water to play in provide opportunities to problem-solve, negotiate, and create. TV’s and video games, on the other hand, rob our children of the opportunities to problem-solve and create. So, the best environment for our children will limit screen-time and provide plenty of “passive toys” (Read Two Observations on Parenting for more.)
Children need an emotionally nurturing environment in which to learn and grow. A key ingredient of an emotionally nurturing environment is an attentive parent. The attentive parent possesses keen observation skills. They use this skill to learn of their children’s strengths and weaknesses, to identify their children’s abilities and areas of growth. Their keen eye will identify ways to modify the environment to encourage positive behavior and stimulate growth, provide success and introduce challenges. The emotionally nurturing parent rejoices when their child rejoices and feels sorrow when their child feels sorrow. Yet, because the parents are not overwhelmed by their children’s emotions, they can help their child temper and manage those feelings in a positive way. Read The Wings on Which Your Children Soar to learn more about providing emotional nurturance for your children.
The environment our children encounter in the world can be harsh and cruel. Create a home environment filled with honor, grace, and celebration…an environment of love. Believe me—it will have a global impact. If you want proof of the potential global impact, check out this fascinating study involving hot sauce and attachment: Hot Sauce Vs. the Power of Relationship.
Meaning and routine…those are two words we don’t often think of together. Instead, we think of routine as dull, the “same old thing,” and “stuck in a rut.” Who finds meaning in that? Research, on the other hand, suggests that we gain a greater sense of meaning in our lives when we practice routines. Yes, routines…like starting the day with a simple prayer or daily exercise, walking the same route to work each day or reading a chapter before bed, Friday night pizza or a cup of coffee each morning…routines! Rather than making life dull and predictable, research tells us that such routines actually make life more meaningful! (Read Everyday Routines Make Life Feel More Meaningful and A New Psychological Insight Makes Me Feel Much Less Boring for more). “How can that be?” you ask.
Daily routines help us develop a sense of coherence, a sense of self that remains the same over time and place. Routines help us define “who I am” and “what I do.” We become a person who enjoys coffee or a person who enjoys taking a walk. We come to know ourselves as a person who enjoys quiet times of prayer. Whatever routine we develop becomes part of our identity, our sense of self that remains the same across time and place. Of course, this means we need to use caution in developing our routines. We will do best to develop routines that contribute to a positive sense of self. After all, who wants to be the person known as a grumbler because they start every day with complaint? A positive daily routine, on the other hand, can help us develop a stable and positive identity.
Daily routines also build a sense of predictability into life. Having a sense of predictability, having an idea of “what comes next,” provides a sense of safety, especially for children. This sense of safety provides an anchor that frees us to take healthy risks in other areas of our lives…which leads to the next point.
Daily routines free us to pursue significant goals in our lives. Over time, the routines become a natural part of our day. We don’t have to waste mental energy remembering to do them or even how to do them. Instead, we can focus our energies on goals we consider significant and important to living out our values.
Of course, having the energy and thought to pursue more significant goals also gives our life a greater sense of purpose. We can thank daily routines for making this possible.
Daily routines for families also provide regular times to develop family relationships, which translates into greater family identity and family intimacy.
In other words, routines have a ripple effect. Positive routines help build a positive identity and a sense of predictability which allows us to pursue significant goals and build a greater sense of purpose. Family routines help build family identity and family intimacy. So, if you really want to help your family and your children build a greater sense of meaning in life, build family routines! Here are a few your children and your family might enjoy.
A daily family meal.
Taking time each night to read with your children.
The “good-bye kiss.”
The “I’m home kiss.”
Fishing on the weekend.
Friday pizza night.
You get the idea. The kinds of healthy routines you can develop are limited only by your imagination. Whatever you choose, get on out there and establish some family routines. Your family will benefit from gaining a sense of identity and personal meaning. Your children will benefit from a greater sense of identity and personal meaning. You will benefit from enjoying it all!