I love being married. I find more joy and happiness, adventure and excitement, joy and contentment, even fun and ecstasy with my wife than I could have ever imagined. But, let’s face it. Marriage is not all fun and games. It’s not always easy. I also experience irritations and frustrations in my marriage that impact me more deeply than any I experience in other relationships. I’m sure my wife can say the same. (Still, I did plead perfection when telling her about this blog. She simply snickered and shook her head in response. Go figure.) Anyway, the Florida State University’s Family Institute suggests a way to increase the positive side of marriage and decrease the negative, increase the joy and excitement while limiting the frustrations and anger. And, it’s based on over 20 years of research! (Full disclosure—I only reviewed some of the studies from the last 10 years.) Based on their research, staff at the Florida State University’s Family Institute suggests an activity that any of us can engage in on a daily basis to improve our marriages. It’s simple, yet powerful; easy to do yet profound in its impact. Want to know what activity they suggest? Praying for your spouse. That’s right. Praying! Coming before God (your Higher Power) to ask that your spouse be blessed and protected. Making intercession with God for your spouse; asking Him to help your spouse achieve his or her goals. One caveat—none of these prayers in these studies asked for their partners to become the person they wanted them to be. No, they offered sincere, unselfish prayers focused on their partner’s well-being. Overall, research suggests that saying prayers for one’s partner has many positive effects. Let me share just a few from the last 10 years of research (Read more here).
- Praying for one’s spouse has a softening effect on conflict (Butler et al, 1998). In other words, conflict becomes less harsh for those who have a praying spouse.
- Praying for one’s spouse predicts relationship satisfaction beyond what positive or negative behaviors in the relationship can predict (Lambert et al, 2008).
- Praying for one’s spouse over a 4-week period leads to greater gratitude toward one’s spouse than did thinking positive thoughts about one’s spouse or engaging in daily activities together (Lambert et al, 2009).
- Praying for one’s spouse increases the willingness of the one praying to forgive and did so more than simply speaking positively about one’s partner (Lambert et al, 2010).
- Praying for one’s spouse predicts greater commitment to the marriage (Fincham et al, 2010).
- Praying for one’s spouse while praying with your spouse leads to a greater sense of trust and unity in the relationship (Lambert et al, 2012).
Increased relationship satisfaction, more gratitude, more willingness to forgive, greater commitment, greater trust and less harsh conflict…all through the simple act of sincerely and unselfishly praying for your spouse. I’m getting started now. How about you?
My family likes to tease me…sometimes. It’s all in love and we all have fun…. Nonetheless, they like to mess with me. Don’t feel bad; I do give them reason. For instance, they tease me when I announce “I’m going to bed” but remain seated in the family room talking and watching TV. After a few minutes, at the next commercial, I say it again, even explaining why I need to go to bed. “I’m tired. I’m going to bed” “or “It’s been a long day. I better hit the hay” or “Getting late. Bedtime.” Still, no movement. They begin to snicker, even make comments like “Tired Dad?” “Going to bed are you?” “Dad, you look tired. You better go to bed.” They laugh; I smile. I might even start to cast some jovial blame back on my family by saying, “Now you’re holding me back. I’m trying to go to bed and you’re keeping me up by talking to me.” It’s all done in jest, just a silly game in which we have some family fun. But, I often hear married couples caught in a vicious cycle that sounds very similar to my bedtime “routine.” They have talked about their struggles. They know what bothers their spouse. They have expressed emotions of sorrow and hurt. They can explain the history of their vulnerabilities and sensitivities. But, nothing seems to change because they do nothing but talk about it. No one has taken the step to get “off their proverbial…eh…couch” and do something different. Making a marriage strong and healthy takes more than talking and hearing the words spoken; it takes action. Moving a struggling marriage from an unhealthy position to a strong and healthy one requires doing something different. Here are four actions you can take to build a strong, healthy marriage:
- Let your spouse’s needs and requests influence your actions. If they ask for a drink, get it for them. If they are upset, comfort them. When your spouse asks you to help around the house, help. Do a chore. Wash the dishes. Run the vacuum. If your spouse is worried, support them. If they need to talk about a difficult situation, listen. Give a back rub. You get the idea. Serve one another. (Read Start a Revolution for Valentine’s Day to learn more about accepting influence.)
- Engage in daily actions that show honor and build trust with your spouse. Trust in marriage is built on small every day actions. Compliment your spouse. Tell them what you adore about them. Offer words of encouragement, admiration, and love. Express how much you enjoy your spouse’s company. (Read Building Trust in Family Relationships for more.)
- Court your spouse. Do what you did when “love was young.” Remember how you worked to “woo” your spouse while dating? Do it again. Write love notes. Dress up for them. Talk with courtesy and kindness. Do little things you know they will enjoy. Sit together. Hold hands. Make small talk. Learn about them, their day, their fears, their dreams. In words and actions express how much you delight in your spouse.
- Grow as an individual by engaging in activities that make you more mature and honorable. Keep your promises. Be truthful. Apologize and forgive. Remain faithful. (Read more in Build 6 Pillars of Trust.)
By practicing these four actions you can build a stronger, healthier marriage.
Healthy marriages provide an opportunity for us to return to the Garden of Eden and stand like Adam and Eve: naked and unafraid. I don’t mean just physically naked. I mean completely open and exposed to our partner—emotional, spiritually, and mentally naked before our partner and still unafraid. That is a vulnerable position; but, in a completely healthy marriage, we can stand before one another in this vulnerable open state and remain completely unafraid. This type of open relationship begins with a very important ingredient: RADICAL ACCEPTANCE. Radical acceptance stands in direct opposition to conditional acceptance. Radical acceptance communicates a complete willingness to love our spouse no matter what. Imagine with me what can happen if we add just a small condition to our willingness to accept our spouse.
- This one condition raises doubt in our spouse’s mind. They will no longer feel completely safe to tell all and show all. A little bit of fear will enter the relationship—the fear that “I might do something to make my spouse love me less or even reject me.”
- Your spouse will no longer feel completely secure in their relationship to you. Feelings of insecurity will arise.
- Rather than risk rejection, your spouse will hide perceived faults and mistakes from you. After all, they don’t want to risk falling short of the conditions for acceptance. It becomes safer to keep faults and shortcomings secret.
- That secret grows into a wall of secrecy. The only way your spouse can keep you from discovering their faults is to create a wall of secrecy to hide behind. You will no longer get to see your spouse completely. You will see and experience only those parts they feel safe exposing.
- Your spouse will guard their heart. They will keep certain parts of themselves guarded, protected from possible rejection. There will be no full disclosure.
- You will sense this change. Trust will decrease. Your spouse’s trust will decrease for fear of rejection. Your trust will decrease due to suspicions of some secrets.
The only way to remedy this downward spiral is RADICAL ACCEPTANCE. Radical acceptance accepts our spouse warts and all. Radical acceptance continues to love in spite of mistakes. Radical acceptance loves in the face of shortcomings. And, radical acceptance opens the door for change. You and your spouse can invest more energy in growing and becoming better people when you no longer have to invest energy in building a wall of secrecy and guarding your heart. You and your spouse will also desire to spend more energy in pleasing one another when you know you will receive radical acceptance…even when you make a mistake. How can you practice radical acceptance?
- See your spouse through the eyes of God. Realize they are God’s workmanship, designed for His purpose. Any non-acceptance of your spouse is a non-acceptance of God and His work of art. Focus on your spouse’s God-given strengths and abilities.
- Keep open lines of communication. Speak the truth in love. When must deal with difficult issues (and you will), do so in love. Speak only about one concern at a time rather than generalizing and throwing in the kitchen sink. This will be easier to do when you resolve differences quickly and keep no record of wrongs. Share the concern without accusation and offer a way to resolve it as well.
- Focus on what you admire about your spouse. Admire and bless. Show gratitude and speak words of encouragement…every day!
Radical acceptance is a gift of grace we give our spouses and our spouses give to us. Radical acceptance is also a gift that keeps on giving. It gives a tremendous return of security, trust, and intimacy…the chance to stand before our spouse completely naked and completely unafraid!
Play offers innumerable benefits to your marriage. Let me name a few.
So, take time to play this week. Go out with your spouse and enjoy some fun. Joke around. Play some games. Laugh. Laugh some more. And enjoy the play as it strengthens your marriage!
Remember what the Blue Fairy told Pinocchio? She said, “A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your face.” A research team from University College London recently observed that a lie also results in a declining response in our brains (Read more in How Lying Takes Our Brain Down a ‘Slippery Slope’). Specifically, they discovered the amygdala, a brain area associated with emotional response, reacted strongly when a person first lied for personal gain. However, with each subsequent lie, the amygdala response declined and the magnitude of the lie increased. In other words, one lie set the person on a slippery slope. With each lie, the person lying experienced smaller and smaller negative emotional reactions in response to the lie. This seemed to allow the person to tell more lies and lies of greater significance. That is one slippery slope I want to keep my family off. Unlike Pinocchio, I want to keep noses short and brains active in my family by promoting honesty…and here’s how to do it.
- Model honesty. Whether you are speaking to your spouse, your child, or a friend, speak the truth in love. Our children follow our example more easily than they follow our teaching. So, model honesty.
- Avoid setting your children up. Don’t ask questions that invite your children to lie, especially if you already know the answer. For instance, if you know your child did not take out the garbage, don’t ask “Did you take the garbage out?” If you already know they broke the dish, don’t ask “Did you break the dish?” Don’t invite the lie. Simply state the truth in love.
- Reward honesty; discipline the lie. When your children tell the truth, acknowledge their honesty. Let them know how much you value their honesty and respect the courage it takes to state the truth. You may still have to discipline misbehavior. However, even while disciplining misbehavior, you can still acknowledge your children’s honesty. On the other hand, dishonesty may result in further discipline. After all, honesty betrays trust and damages relationship…which brings us to the last tip.
- Teach the value of honesty. You can do this in a number of ways. Talk about a character in a story or movie and discuss how their honesty or lack of honesty affected them. You can talk to them about their own experiences or their friends’ experience of honesty or dishonesty as well. You may also discuss the role models of honesty such as Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, or other people you know from history or current times.
These four tips can promote honesty in your home…as well as shorter noses and more active brains. So remember, a lie is as plain as the nose on your face. Practice honesty.
I’m really not surprised by the findings of this study when I think about it…but it took four studies to bring this information to light. Unfortunately, it seems to be some of the common knowledge that has been lost over the last several generations. Research out of the University of Chicago—Booth School of Business explored the impact of sharing food on feelings of closeness, trust, cooperation, and negotiation. The findings from these four studies suggest at least three things. (Read the study here)
- Eating similar foods with another person increases a sense of closeness and trust between them.
- Eating similar food leads to greater cooperation, a greater willingness to compromise, and faster resolution of differences.
- When a person gives information (in the form of a testimonial or advertisement), the information they give is trusted more when the speaker eats similar food as the listener.
These studies were done in terms of business and the authors made several applications to business. But what does it mean for families? First, I think it reminds us that the family meal is a wonderful time to build closeness and trust. As we sit down with our families to a meal in which we all eat “similar foods,” we can discuss ideas and happenings. We build trust. We cooperate and compromise in resolving minor differences.
Second, when you need to have a serious family discussion, put out some snacks to eat while you talk. Everyone does not have to eat the exact same food, but similar foods like “sweet” food, “salty” food, pizza (even with various toppings), noodles…you get the idea. By supplying similar food for everyone to eat, you create an environment geared toward:
- Increased closeness and trust
- Greater cooperation
- Greater likelihood of listening to one another’s points of view
- A greater willingness to compromise and reach a resolution more quickly.
This may all sound silly, but think about a scenario with me. Your 17-year-old daughter has been consistently coming in after curfew. So, you set out some crackers and cheese before asking her to sit down to talk with you. You pour her a glass of her favorite pop and share crackers and cheese while talking about her growing up and becoming more independent, the continued need for curfew, what she wants, and what you want. Imagine that conversation as compared to one in which you sit down with her at a bare table to talk about curfews.
- Which will promote defensiveness and which will encourage cooperation?
- Which will contribute to arguing and which might encourage listening?
- Which will likely lead to escalating emotions and which will promote remaining calm?
- Which promotes asserting my needs and which encourages respecting one another?
The answer seems plain to me. Eating together can help us resolve our differences and reach an agreement more easily. It may not produce a miracle, but it can sure help reach a respectful understanding and connection. Give it a try and see what happens.
Defensiveness can kill a marriage. Think about it. One spouse, feeling attacked by the other, begins to defend himself and his actions. He builds a wall of defense between him and his spouse rather than around him and his spouse. He thinks of protecting himself, not his marriage. By establishing a wall of protection between him and his wife, he sends an implicit message that he will not accept her influence. The wall between them grows taller and thicker with each defensive experience. The couple grows more divided. Trust is breached. Overtime, this stance of defensiveness will build a wall strong enough to kill a marriage.
We want to tear down the wall of defensiveness between spouses and build a wall of protection around their marriage. Both spouses generally play a role in creating defensiveness; and both spouses need to play a role in ending that defensiveness. Here are 5 ways to decrease defensiveness in your marriage and assure a wall of protection is built around you and your spouse rather than between you and your spouse.
- Cherish your spouse. Do something to let your spouse know you cherish her every day. Thank her for what she does to maintain your home. Acknowledge her wisdom and care in parenting and caring for you. Recognize and voice your respect for the work she accomplishes on the job, in your home, and in the community. Let your daily words and actions reflect how much you cherish your spouse.
- Build trust with your spouse. The kisses when you part and the hugs when you reunite build trust. Completing the chores you said you would to complete and keeping the promises (large and small) you made build trust. Spending time laughing, playing, working, and just being with your spouse and children every day builds trust. Trust is built on the little things done throughout the day every day.
- Each spouse can decrease defensiveness by taking responsibility for his or her actions. Listen for the kernel of truth in what you perceive as an accusation. It may be small, but accept even the smallest role you played in creating the situation. Acknowledge your part. Take responsibility. Apologize.
- Accept your spouse’s influence by committing to change your part in the situation. As you do, your spouse will feel heard and understood. Feeling heard increases the desire for intimacy…and isn’t that what you really want in your marriage?
- Complain instead of criticize. (Read For a Healthy Marriage Complain, Don’t Criticize). A criticism accuses, blames, and defames. A complaint focuses on the behavior you want to change. Focus on the behavior, not the person, when you bring up a concern.
Practice these five actions and you will build a wall of protection around your marriage rather than a wall of defense.
One of my Facebook friends posted this pic. I love the proverb written on it: “If a man expects a woman to be an angel in his life, he must first create heaven for her…angels don’t live in hell.” I don’t know about you, but I want to live with an angel. So, I have to ask myself: how can I create heaven for my wife? How can I make my wife feel like an angel? Upon what is heaven built?
- Heaven is built on honor—treating one another as special, precious, sacred. To create heaven for your wife, treat her with honor. Honor her above all others like a diamond above coal. Constantly think about the character and beauty you adore in your wife. Don’t stop with merely thinking about your admiration of her character and beauty. Let your words and actions communicate love and admiration to your wife. Let your eyes sparkle with delight and adoration when she walks into the room. Speak of her with high praise when you describe her to others.
- Heaven is built on unfailing trust. To create heaven for your wife, live a life of integrity and faithfulness that will build trust. Let your actions and your speech enhance her sense of security and acceptance. Keep your promises. Be available. Remember: the small, positive moments build trust; so, enjoy playful interactions, simple adventures, joyful moments and moments of sorrow, friendly conversations, and laughter. Work to “keep in tune” with your wife’s emotions. Comfort her when she needs comforted. Rejoice with her when she rejoices. Rest with her when she needs rest. Join with her in life.
- Heaven is built on servanthood. To create heaven for your wife, become a servant in your marriage. Serve your wife by listening to her and accepting her influence. Serve her by cooking dinner, washing clothes, or running the vacuum. Serve her by asking what she would like you to do to help her. Become the leader of servanthood in your home.
- Heaven is built on sacrifice. Jesus willingly became the Sacrifice for our sin, a sacrifice that brought peace between man and God. Sacrifice opens the doors to heaven. To create heaven in your home, become a leader in sacrifice. Make small sacrifices like giving up the TV remote, giving away the last cookie, giving up your seat for your wife, giving up “the game” to take a walk…you get the idea. You may also make bigger sacrifices like giving up your music to listen to her music in the car, giving up time on your project to do what she desires, giving up the adventure movie to watch a “chick flick” followed by the emotional discussion of the movie…. You know what would prove a heavenly sacrifice in your home. And, you know that your sacrifice will produce greater security and open the doors for heaven in your home.
“Expect your wife to be an angel in your life”? Start creating heaven in your home. Build your home and marriage on honor, integrity and trust, servanthood, and sacrifice. Believe me, you will live with an angel…and you will get a taste of heaven on earth!
In my work with teens I have noticed many parents want to be their teen’s best friend, their “BFF.” But, our teens do not want parents as their best friend. They want us to guide, mentor, and discipline. They need us to remain strong parents they can rely on to maintain the structures and teach the values that keep them safe. Of course, this all flows from relationship, but not a peer to peer, friend to friend relationship. It flows from a healthy parent-child relationship. With that in mind, let me share five things that undermine a healthy parent-child relationship, and, in undermining that relationship, interfere with effective parenting.
- Dressing like your teen. Our teens do not want us to dress like them. They are differentiating from us, learning to be their own person. Dressing differently than us is a safe way in which to separate some. In fact, many teens become embarrassed by a parent who dresses like a teen.
- Socializing with your teen on social media like “one of the gang.” No need to constantly “like,” “retweet,” or “comment” on every post, tweet, or picture. Sure, parents need to monitor. We might even comment or “like” something, but don’t overdo it. Do so minimally. Let your teen have their individual space; and, make the time and effort to create a space for you and your teen to relate outside the world of social media. You can create space with your teen any place that provides the opportunity to look one another in the eye and talk instead of texting or messaging. Some great places to interact and talk with your teen include the car (when transporting all over town), a coffee shop, the front porch, walking the dog, playing a game…you get the idea. Make your main avenue for socializing with your teen some face to face contact.
- Siding with your teen’s boyfriend, girlfriend, or peer. In fact, do not even involve yourself in the drama of teen life. You can talk with your teen about relationships. Share ideas and ways to handle various relationships and stressors. In private conversations with your teen you might even point out areas in which you agree with their peers. But, look for areas of agreement with your teen. Your teen needs an advocate, an ally in the harsh world of teen drama. They also need someone who will help strengthen them with insight and wisdom for dealing with the drama. Offer your insight gained through years of experience. Encourage them to think about alternative perspectives. And, by all means, stay out of the minor teen drama. Let your teen learn to manage their social interactions on their own. Let them learn how to handle their own life drama independently.
- Telling your teen’s secrets. Your teen needs to know they can trust you and rely on you to keep their confidence. Don’t tell your good friend about the relationship struggle your teen opened up about. Don’t publish the “lovely talk with my wonderful teen” on Facebook after they tell you about an “interest in a certain boy” or tweet about “those teens who…” after they tell you about a rude comment made by a peer. Just keep it between you and your teen. When teens know they can trust you to keep the “little things,” they are more likely to come to you with the “big stuff.”
- Giving in on discipline. Teens need (and even want) parents who remain consistent and predictable in consequences. Loving and appropriate consequences help teens develop healthy boundaries and then internalize healthy limits. Give them this gift by thoughtfully and loving setting age-appropriate limits and consequences. Then stick with them. (See Four Benefits of Negotiating With Your Child)
The five actions described above will undermine your parent-child relationship and your influence on your child. Consider them carefully. Then, lovingly step back from any desire to become your child’s BFF and remain their loving, involved parent instead.
Michael Kraus (a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California in 2008) discovered a surprising way to gauge the potential success of your favorite NBA team. He tested many possibilities. Higher paid players did not predict success. Neither did preseason expectations or early season performance. The greatest predictor of a successful season for a NBA team was the number of times the players reached out and touched one another during the first games of the season. The higher the number of touches, the greater the chance of success. Touch somehow communicated trust and enhanced cooperation among the players. As a result, the team was free to focus on the game, free to pass the ball rather than take “an ill-advised shot,” free to work together. So, if you want to predict a winner in the NBA, count the number of times players slap one another on the back, chest bump, high five, fist bump, head slap, hug, huddle, or somehow engage in touch on the court.
Don’t we want an environment of trust and cooperation in our family? Don’t we desire a family environment that frees each family member to seek input rather than make “ill-advised” decisions? Maybe we can take a hint from the NBA play book and add some healthy touch into our family life. Give a fist bump, a high five, a hug, a loving slap on the back, or some other kind of creative healthy touch. That touch will build affection and trust. It will enhance cooperation. It may even predict a successful family season this year!