A Secret for Happy Family Relationships

We all want to experience satisfying relationships in our home. We dream of a marriage filled with romance and intimacy. We strive to have parent-child relationships that remain close through childhood, adolescence, young adulthood and even into our “grandparenting” years. The question is: how can we make this happen? Northwestern University recently published a study that reveals a secret that might help us build happy family relationships. The study asked individuals involved in romantic relationships how much their partners were trying to improve characteristics such as patience, understanding, or being a good listener…you know, relationship-oriented skills. Three months later, the same couples were asked to rate their partner’s level of improvement and their own feelings about the relationship. The answers revealed that people who believe their partner incapable of change tended to discount their efforts to improve. In addition, they became more dissatisfied with their relationship. To state the flip side of this, believing the best about our partner will help us appreciate his or her efforts to improve their relationship skills. Moreover, when we believe the best, we will grow more satisfied with our overall relationship. In fact, the author of the study (Daniel Molden) suggests that “a secret to building a happy relationship is to embrace the idea that your partner can change, give him or her credit for making these types of efforts, and resist blaming him or her…” Although this study was conducted specifically with romantic couples, I believe the results may apply to family relationships in general.
So, the secret to building happy family relationships is to believe the best about your family members. Reminds me of a line from the famous love poem Paul wrote to the Corinthians. You remember the line–“love believes all things.”
     ·         Love believes that family members can change. There is no “but” or exceptions noted in the phrase “love believes all things.” Love believes in the other person. Love believes that our family members will grow and learn. They will make improvements, sometimes small and sometimes big. Over time, even the small improvements will add up to a “big change.” Love does not limit the possibilities of change or criticize small changes as “not being enough.” On the contrary, love opens up the potential for positive change and appreciates every miniscule step of positive growth.

·         Love believes family members have the best of intentions, even when they fall short. Sometimes a family member may do or say something that, at first blush, seems hurtful or neglectful. We may actually experience hurt in response to their actions or words. However, love believes that our family member did not act maliciously or with negative intent, even when it hurt. Perhaps they did not realize how much their actions would actually hurt. Perhaps they spoke more harshly than intended because they were tired, hungry, or irritated with some situation outside the home. Perhaps they did mean to arouse a negative feeling because they felt their relationship with you was threatened and, in a knee-jerk reaction, said something hurtful. But it was a misguided reaction, done in fear, with the true intent of pulling you back into a secure and intimate relationship. Underneath all the words and deeds is a yearning for mutual love, a seed of love waiting to be acknowledged and reciprocated. Love believes that underneath the hurtful remarks of family there is still a desire for intimacy, a longing for closeness that is seeking expression and can only find that satisfaction through intimate relationship. When we acknowledge that underlying intention, the underlying longing for closeness, we can experience a growing intimacy and satisfaction with our relationship.

·         Love believes that family members are putting forth a sincere effort to grow individually and in relationship. Love gives credit to family members for the effort they put forth. Love acknowledges and accepts even the most miniscule level of change as evidence of effort and growth. Even when a family member “tries” to change and fails, love praises that effort, appreciates that effort, and applauds that effort. Love leaves no stone unturned in the quest to recognize the other person’s effort to grow.

·         Love believes that our family deserves our best effort and our best character. When we love our family, we believe that they deserve the best of our time, not the leftovers. In love, we want to give them the best of our energy, not the dregs that remain after we exert our best energy on friends, hobbies, or work. Love also compels us to grow so we can offer our family the very best of our character. Love believes motivates us to become a person who elicits pride and admiration from our family.
Yes, love believes all things. To paraphrase the author of the Northwestern University study, “a secret to building a happy relationship is to embrace the idea that your family members can change, give them credit for making these types of efforts, and resist blaming them for falling short.” When we replace fearful hesitation with intentional effort, skepticism with faith, doubt with trust, and unbelief with belief, family relationships grow more intimate and satisfying. Paul believed it when he told the Corinthians…I believe it as I read the Northwestern University Study…love always believes it!

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