Archive for November 28, 2010

Relationship Training for Trouble Areas

Family relationships demand an investment of time. You practice the daily routine to strengthen the core muscles of relationship. The exercises noted in “the strength workout” focus on more specific skills and muscles necessary to strengthen relationships–becoming a student of the other person’s non-verbal communications and love language as well as learning to collect moments of emotional connection. Still, trouble areas arise. Areas where you want to develop more definition and long-term character to your relationship physique. Here are a couple of exercises that can help tone those trouble spots and enhance overall relationship strength. You may resist these exercises at first; but, they can truly benefit your family relationships.

The first exercise involves turning criticisms into compliments. It involves three steps.

1) To begin, identify something a family member did today that you found irritating…something you wanted to criticize. Perhaps you wanted to sit down to talk and your wife just had to clean the room instead…or you were trying to get dinner together and your husband was in the way talking about his day. Maybe your child was excitedly talking about something that happened in school while you were having a conversation on the phone with a client. Whatever the case, recall the behavior you found irritating, the behavior you wanted to criticize.

 2) Before you criticize that behavior, step back and look for any aspect of that behavior that you can appreciate. In the examples above, you may love that your wife keeps such a neat home or that your husband really does want to tell you about his day. You can rejoice that your child wants to share their excitement with you, a parent. Take time to personally appreciate that positive aspect of the situation. Enjoy what that means to you and your family.

 3) Finally, use that appreciation to offer that person a compliment. Go to that family member and tell them about the part you appreciate. Praise them for what they did.   Let them know how much it means to you that they exhibit that behavior you appreciate.  

 The second exercise sounds more simple, but can still prove challenging at times. It involves only one motion. That’s right, one single motion…smiling. Let your family see you smile. Smile when you greet family members. Let them see the twinkle of delight in your eyes when they walk into the room. Smiling when family members approach communicates acceptance, approval, and love. Sometimes you may not feel like smiling. You may feel irritated or tired. Practice smiling anyway. Let a smiling face full of delight and love be the first image that comes to mind when your family thinks of you.

The final exercise to build definition and address trouble areas involves lifting logs. This exercise also involves three steps.

1) When you find yourself in an argument with a family member, step back and lift the logs from your own eye instead of attempting to “win” the argument. Before you try to explain, justify, or defend your actions, take a private, honest look at your own motives, goals, and manner of expression. Consider your contribution to the argument. Think about any ways in which you instigate or perpetuate the conflict. Examine any underlying feelings such as fear or insecurity. (Intense anger within a family often hides a fear that the relationship is threatened or a strong desire for security and connection within the relationship.)

2) As you discover your underlying emotions, realize that your family members probably feel the same way. Consider how you can help meet that need in their life, even as you work to resolve a disagreement. (After all, you do love them.)

3) Then, return to the family member, logs removed, and calmly discuss the disagreement. As you can see, this exercise involves a great deal of practice, commitment, and discipline. However, the benefits in relationship development are tremendous.

 These three exercises can help you tone those trouble spots, develop more definition, and produce more long-term character in your relationship physique. 

Intentional Gratitude

Gratitude comes easy when life is good, love is easy, and family relationships running smooth. But, when life becomes rushed, love stressed, and family members disappointing, gratitude becomes more difficult. During such times, we must intentionally become attentive of our family and make a purposeful effort to show them gratitude. Why make the effort? Let me share three of the many reasons gratitude is worth the effort, even when times are difficult.


Gratitude protects us from temptation. One author suggests that a lack of gratitude laid the foundation for Adam and Eve to sin in the Garden of Eden. Could it be that a lack of gratitude for the abundant blessings available in the Garden allowed Satan to tempt Adam and Eve with the one tree they were told to avoid? Perhaps an expression of gratitude for the extravagant abundance available in the Garden would have staved off the temptation to eat the “forbidden” fruit.


I find this principle true in marriages as well. When a couple stops expressing gratitude for one another, they lay the foundation for a potential affair. The one who does not express appreciation for their spouse may find themselves tempted to partake of the “forbidden fruit” that deceptively appears “greener” than the fruit in their own house. And, the one that feels unappreciated may find themselves drawn to someone outside the marriage who expresses gratitude and appreciation for them. Gratitude protects us from temptation.


Gratitude reduces stress and gives us courage. A lack of gratitude leaves us dissatisfied with our past. It leads to grumbling and complaining. Perhaps Israel wandered the wilderness for forty years partly in response to a lack of gratitude. After all, they had experienced God’s protection during the plagues in Egypt, His deliverance from Egypt, and His miraculous power as they crossed the Red Sea. They survived on God’s provision of food and water as well. In spite of these opportunities to give thanks, they grumbled and complained. They focused on what they did not have rather than focusing on God’s miraculous provision. In their midst of grumbling, they sent a reconnaissance mission into the Promise Land. Most of the spies returned fearful of the Promise Land. Their lack of gratitude for God’s miraculous provision led to self-induced fear, mistrust, and a future with no vision. As a result, they spent 40 years wandering the wilderness.


It comes as no surprise that when a person grumbles, they feel more stress. Grumbling focuses on dissatisfaction and worry. Complainers feed off others who complain. Grumbling escalates and the focus on the worst case scenario grows stronger, fear increases, courage falls away. Gratitude, on the other hand, sets our focus on those things that have gone well and those blessings we have received. It lends itself to a peaceful acceptance of what we have today. It grants us courage, based on the gracious joys of yesterday, to accomplish our vision of tomorrow. As an unknown author stated, “gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”


Gratitude keeps love alive and growing. Without gratitude, love fades. When we feel stressed, irritated, or rushed, we often project those feelings onto those around us. These are the times when we do not feel like expressing gratitude. Instead, we take people and things for granted. Our interactions become more harsh, hurried, or even rude. I have met many children, teens, and young adults who misbehave in an effort to elicit some expression of emotion from others. If they can not elicit the joy of gratitude and appreciation, they will accept the connection of irritated anger and frustration. As this continues, love fades and attention-seeking misbehavior grows. Lest you think this only relates to children, consider what happens in your marriage if you feel that your spouse does not appreciate you. Love fades and attention seeking behavior grows.


Gratitude, on the other hand, expresses that you value the other person enough to attend to and appreciate them. In fact, gratitude becomes a gift of appreciation. It sparks the embers of affection and fans the flame of love. It pleases the heart and endears us to one another. Gratitude creates the foundation of joy today that becomes a vision tomorrow. Gratitude keeps love alive and growing.


So, how can we remain grateful when we are frustrated, stressed, disappointed, or feeling rushed? Here are a few ways to intentionally make gratitude a part of your family life:

  1. Volunteer as a family to help those less fortunate.
  2. Take time to recall and list as many qualities as you can think of that you have appreciated about each family member in the past.
  3. Make a daily list of three things you appreciate about each family member.
  4. Make a weekly list of 3-5 things each family member has done to help strengthen family relationships.
  5. Make a point of sharing one item from your list with each family member each day.


Relationship Strength Exercises

Last week we reviewed a daily routine to strengthen core relationship muscles. However, to build more muscle, we need to engage in strength training related to the specific skills and abilities necessary to strengthen our overall relationship. Although these exercises are demanding, the improvement you will experience in relational skills and overall intimacy is well worth the effort. Relationship strength training is often done in an “on and off pattern” with several weeks of specific focus followed by exercises to build definition in “trouble areas.” Here are a few ideas for strength training in relationships. You may spend periods of time doing each of these exercises, strengthening the specific skills and muscles related to each area. Rotate through each exercise sometime during the year.

  • The first muscle to train is your ability to read each family member’s non-verbal communication patterns. Some people find this particular exercise more difficult and demanding than others. This exercise involves becoming a student of each family member’s unique non-verbal communication patterns for 8 weeks. During this 8-week period, study each family member’s facial expressions, gestures, and voice tone. Notice the faces they make and when they make them. What makes them laugh? What lights up their face? What gestures do they make when happy? Sad? Or, angry? How does their tone of voice change when they are excited? Happy? Angry? Or, bored? Really study these non-verbal communication patterns intently. Improving your ability to read each family member’s non-verbal communication patterns will strengthen your ability to understand each person. It will also strengthen the muscles and skills needed to communicate with them more effectively. And, it will strengthen you overall family intimacy.
  • For another 8 weeks become a student of each family member’s love language. Our love language is our “primary way of expressing and interpreting love.” Dr. Gary Chapman describes five love languages–receiving gifts, acts of service, words of affirmation, physical touch, and quality time. You can learn your love language by taking a short assessment at /. Even if everyone in the family takes the assessment, study each family member to discover how they express their love language. Notice how they show love to others. Ask them what makes them feel loved by others. Most importantly, throughout this 8-week period, practice expressing your love for each family member in their love language. Gaining the strength to speak one another’s love language will strengthen the muscles necessary to honor one another and enhance intimacy.
  • For a final 8-week period, practice collecting “emotional moments.” Collecting emotional moments will also strengthen intimacy muscles. Emotional moment collecting involves looking for opportunities to connect with members of your family. Make a goal to collect three emotional moments each day. At the end of the day, think about how you did and keep a journal of each moment you collected. As you write them in your journal, ask yourself:
    • How did you know the other person was ready for an emotional connection? Did you know this through their gestures, words, facial expression, or some other way?
    • How did you connect with that person?
    • How did they respond to your interaction?
    • What impact did this have on the other person? On you? on your relationship? On your feelings about yourself?

 There it is–three strength training regimens for your relationship training program. Don’t over train, complete each 8-week training program once a year. As you complete each training program, you will see your communication skills improve, your intimacy increase, and your overall relationship strength grow.

The Daily Routine

Relationship muscles, like all muscles, require training. The “Relationship Training Program” offers exercises that will build strength and endurance for the true relationship athlete. As with all training programs, a habit of daily exercises promote continued growth and health. One well-known relationship trainer, Dr. John Gottman, recommends a daily 32-minute routine that research has shown to strengthen relationships. Let me review his 32-minute regimen before adding one additional exercise that will increase it to 35 minutes a day.

  1. Before leaving your family for a day of work, school, or play, learn at least one thing that each person has planned for their day. Are they going anywhere? Who will they see? What activities do they have planned? Are they excited, apprehensive, or neutral about these plans? Are any plans special? This exercise will take about 2-3 minutes, depending on how much information you seek.
  2. Have a 20-minute conversation upon reuniting at the end of the workday. Sit down and discuss what happened during the day. Talk like friends, share what happened during your time apart. If there are disagreements, save them for another time. If there are demands or requests, put them on the back burner until after this 20-minute exercise.
  3. Find some way to communicate affection and appreciate to each family member every day. Look for something that you can admire or appreciate about each person. When you recognize it, tell them. Compliment their cooking, clothes, hair, or overall appearance. Tell them about some character trait that you appreciate in them. Spend 5 minutes throughout the day expressing admiration, affection, and appreciation for family members.
  4. Share physical touch with family members. Give a hug and kiss good-bye when you part, a hug and kiss hello when you reunite. Even if you are angry, give a hug and kiss good-night before bed. Gottman says to “think of that kiss as a way to let go of any minor irritations that have built up over the day. In other words, lace your kiss with forgiveness and tenderness for your partner.” Hold hands as you sit or walk together. Put your arm around your children’s shoulder as you stand in line. Spend 5 minutes sharing touch –playful, affectionate, or tender–throughout the day.
  5. So far we have 32 minutes invested in daily exercises to strengthen our relationships. Let me add one more 3 minute exercise to round our total up to 35 minutes a day. Each day write down 2-3 things that each member of your family has done to contribute to your personal life or your family stability. In addition, write down 2 things that each member of your family said or did that represents their best strengths and qualities.

That’s it, a daily 35-minute routine to strengthen your family relationships. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? In fact, the hard part is developing the habit of keeping the routine. To help you maintain the daily routine, I suggest a weekly reward. After successfully completing this daily routine for one week, have a small celebration, a weekly date of sorts. You might rent a movie and make popcorn. Or, you can play a game like “Apples to Apples,” “Charades,” or some other family favorite. You might prefer to go out for dessert. Whatever you choose, enjoy your time together, make small talk, plan vacations, dream about the future. You can even share some of the things you enjoyed about the exercise routine. Whatever you do, have fun. If you take about two hours, you will find the total time for this exercise routine is 5 hours and 21 minutes a week. Research suggests that this 5 hours can bring greater intimacy and joy into your relationships.