Archive for May 25, 2024

Give a Shout Out for Marriage

Marriage gets a bad rap at times. For instance, reality TV and sitcoms offer a very strange and twisted idea of romantic relationships. Many give marriage gets a bad rap. But marriage is great, even fantastic. I realize that some people fear marriage because they have witnessed marriages that have ended in divorce. However, the divorce rate has gone down. And, when both people in a marriage invest some energy, time, and attention to their marriage, marriage is great. In fact, nothing predicts happiness in America like a good marriage. Neither education, work, money, or sex predict happiness as well as a good marriage. Studies suggest that a good marriage are a “whopping” 545% more likely to be very happy than those who are unmarried or in a poor marriage. That’s a lot of happiness.

In addition, those who are happily married have about 10 times more assets at the age of 50 than their unmarried peers. And it’s more than money. Married people report a greater sense of meaning in life and significantly less loneliness. Might I humbly add, regular date nights with a spouse are also associated with even greater happiness, greater frequency of sex, and greater sexual satisfaction. In fact, happily married couples report the greatest sexual satisfaction.

All in all, a happy marriage improves our lives. That being said, marry wisely and invest in your marriage because an unhappy marriage robs us of everything a happy marriage provides. What do you need to invest in your marriage to keep it thriving and happy so you and your spouse can reap the benefits?

  • Invest time. Spend time with our spouse every day. Talk about your day. Talk about your dreams. Sit together and read. Walk quietly holding hands. Do household chores together. Spend time with your spouse.
  • Invest your attention. Give your spouse your attention. You don’t have to give them attention 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but give them attention every day. When your spouse approaches you, respond with your attention. I don’t mean fake attention or half-hearted attention. Invest your whole attention in your spouse when you interact.
  • Invest admiration. Admire your spouse every day. Compliment their appearance, their cleaning, their cooking, their work…. Acknowledge their kindness, their inner and outer beauty, their character. Don’t let a day go by without admiring your spouse.
  • Invest your service. Be an active member of the household. Assist with chores. Participate in family activities. Do something nice for your spouse once in a while, something unexpected and kind.  As a matter of fact, do something kind for your spouse often. For instance, you might serve breakfast in bed, give a back rub, bring home a gift, send a note of love, give a random hug.

As you can see from this short list, investment isn’t a burden. It’s a joy that results in greater intimacy and a happier marriage. And a happier marriage will change your life. It will improve everything from your physical health to your finances to your emotional health to your sexual satisfaction. Go ahead and invest. See if you don’t reap these amazing benefits. Then, like me, you’ll give a shout out for marriage.

The Long-Term Impact of Junk Food on the Teen Brain

Family life is busy these days. Families run from activity to activity stopping to grab something quick and easy to eat on the way. Unfortunately, those “quick and easy” meals are often high in fat and sugar. A University of Southern California study found that a high-fat, sugary diet during teen years may contribute to lower levels of acetylcholine in the brain. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter essential for memory, learning, and attention. This study suggests that a diet high in fat and sugar lowers acetylcholine which then interfered with memory…and not just for a short time but for a lifetime! It contributed to a lower level of acetylcholine that did not reverse by merely reimplementing a healthy diet. As a result, memory did not improve with the shift to a healthy diet. The damage was done and, in this study, was only reversed with the use of medication. The authors of the study noted that “more research is needed to know how memory problems from a junk food diet during adolescence can be reversed.”

I don’t want to sound alarmist. But I do want to encourage families to think differently about their teens, their diet, and time. After all, families can avoid this whole mess by taking the time to promote a healthy diet in the home. That time invested in promoted a healthy diet for our teens is well worth the effort though. They will reap a lifetime of benefits from a healthy diet. In addition, our teens need a healthy diet to thrive physically and mentally for today and as they mature.

What can you do to make sure they eat a healthy diet? First and foremost, eat at least one family meal a day as many days a week as possible. Family meal preparation tends to result in our children eating healthier foods and a healthier balance of foods. Eating as a family not only promotes healthy eating habits, but it also promotes positive family relationships. This one suggestion may prove the most effective means of improving your adolescent’s healthy eating habits.

Second, keep healthy snacks in your home. Encourage your children and teens to eat fruits and nuts for snacks. Try hummus or veggies when hunger strikes. Greek yogurt, guacamole and tortilla chips, trail mix…. You get the idea. Keep healthy snacks on hand and ready. These healthy snacks can even provide tasty nutrition while you’re on the run.

Our adolescents (and our children) need a healthy diet to lay the foundation for the healthiest development possible. A healthy diet may demand some time and effort to put in place, but your adolescents will reap the benefits for a lifetime. They will experience healthier brain development and functioning. They will learn healthy eating habits that will support them physically and mentally for a lifetime. And you’ll enjoy watching them mature.

2%, 3%, or 10%?

If I were to ask you which of these three factors—demographics (age, gender, socioeconomic status), financial difficulty, or marital satisfaction—would have the greatest impact on a person’s mental health score, what would you say? Obviously, all three have an impact, but which would have the greatest impact? A study published on February 14, 2024, in PLOS ONE offers some insight. It noted that one of these three factors accounted for 2% of the variation in the mental health score of participants, while a second accounted for 3%, and the third accounted for a full 10%. Guess which factor accounted for 10%.

Financial difficulties? Many people attribute marital problems and mental health issues to financial issues. And, in fact, financial difficulties did impact a person’s mental health according to this study. However, only 3% of the variance in mental health scores among the 6,846 participants was attributed to financial difficulties.

Demographics? Variations in demographics only attributed 2% of the variance. That leaves only one more option….

If you answered marital satisfaction, you were correct. Marital satisfaction accounted for 10% of the variance in the participants’ mental health scores. A healthy, secure, happy marriage promotes mental health. An unhealthy, conflictual, insecure marriage damages mental health. In other words, if you want to nurture positive mental health in you and your spouse, start by nurturing your marriage. Building a healthy marriage leads to greater mental health. How can you build a marriage that will promote greater mental health?

  • Become a student of your spouse. Recognizing that everyone changes and grows means that knowing your spouse is a lifelong activity. Your spouse will grow. They will learn new things. Old interests may fade or become more defined. New interests will arise. So, take the time to know your spouse, even if you’ve been married for years. As you invest in knowing your spouse, you will gain the knowledge necessary to serve them in more meaningful ways, express your love for them in a more effective manner, and celebrate or mourn with them in the changing times.
  • Be responsive to your spouse. When your spouse communicates with you, respond. Notice I said “communicates” rather than “talks.” Your spouse may communicate through facial expressions, gestures, or touch as well as speech. Be open to hearing them all. Respond in love. Respond with your full attention more often than not. Respond with kindness, playfulness, caring, concern…. Respond with love.
  • Express your love for your spouse. Make it a habit to express gratitude and admiration to your spouse every day. If you have been a good student of your spouse, this will prove easy. Thank them for all they do for you, your children, your home. Admire their character, their beauty, their taste…. In fact, take a moment now to think of two things for which you could thank your spouse and two things you admire about your spouse. Then tell them. Right now, tell them. If you can’t talk to them at this moment, send them a text. You’ll both be glad you did. Then make this practice a daily habit.
  • Dream together. Sit down with your spouse on a regular basis to share a cup of coffee (or tea or pop) and dream. Where would you like to visit? What would you like to do? Both as individuals and as a couple. Consider what you can do to help your spouse achieve their individual dreams and begin planning to enjoy your dreams as a couple.

Investing in these four practices will nurture a marriage that will promote positive mental health in you and your spouse. It will also increase the joy and intimacy in your marriage. Sounds like a great deal, doesn’t it?

To Find Love, Find Purpose

“Looking for love in all the wrong places” seems an all-too-common practice today. I meet with many single people (teens, young adults, divorced adults, widow/widowers) who struggle to meet someone with whom they can develop a long-term, loving relationship. They often lack one key ingredient for a successful search: a sense of purpose. At least that is what a study by Isabella D’Ottone suggests. She created nine dating profiles and had 119 people rate those profiles on various measures of attractiveness. Four of those dating profiles revealed an orientation toward a sense of purpose—a prosocial orientation, a relationship orientation, a financial orientation, or a creative orientation. The other five did not reveal a sense of purpose.

Interestingly, those profiles that showed a sense of purpose were ranked higher on various scales of attractiveness. Did you get that? A sense of purpose is attractive.  As an added noted, raters ranked profiles even higher in attractiveness if they shared the same orientation or sense of purpose. For instance, those who had a social orientation as a sense of purpose rated those with a social orientation as even more attractive. It seems those with similar orientations are attracted to one another. There was one exception to the purposes proving attractive. I should note one caveat in the attractiveness of purpose. A financial orientation as a sense of purpose did not rate as high in attractiveness as the other areas (unless the person doing the rating also had a financial orientation).

So, if you’re looking for love, or know someone who is (like your teenage or young adult child), developing a sense of purpose will increase attractiveness. Apparently, a sense of purpose is “hot,” very attractive. And it attracts people with a similar sense of purpose and interests, contributing to a healthier, longer-lasting relationship. How can we help our family members develop a sense of purpose?

  • Provide opportunities to explore the world and self. Traveling, spending time in nature, and experiencing different cultures all provide opportunities for people to learn about themselves and their interests.
  • Engage in volunteer work. Meeting other people in meaningful service may reveal places in which our interests, strengths, and the needs of the world intersect. It opens the door to finding our purpose.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Rather than asking “Did you have fun today?” ask “What did you enjoy the most about our trip?” Instead of “You really like soccer, don’t you?” ask “What is it that you enjoy about soccer?” Open-ended questions like these allow for greater discussion. They allow our children (of all ages) to explore their feelings and beliefs about various experiences, situations, and opportunities. 
  • Accept opportunities to try something new AND fail. It’s alright to not excel at everything. It’s good to recognize the learning curve inherent in almost everything. Accept failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. Take time to talk about the experience and what it teaches about interests, skills, values, practice, and persistence.
  • Find positive role models of purpose. Of course, you are the first role model for your children. Let them witness you living a life of purpose. Introduce them to other people who live lives of purpose—coaches, teachers, ministers, community workers, builders, etc. You can also encourage them to read about historic figures who live lives of purpose or point out celebrities (athletes, musicians) who live lives of purpose beyond their celebrity fame. 

When you help your teen or young adult discover their purpose, you also help them grow in attractiveness. You increase the chance of them finding a romantic partner who has similar interest. You establish a healthier foundation for a life-long relationship filled with intimacy and joy.

5 Practices to Keep Your Marriage Thriving

It’s an older study now (2012) but insightful all the same. It offers five practices that can strengthen your marriage. If you want to build a strong, healthy marriage, make sure you keep these 5 practices in the forefront of your relationship.

  • Have fun together. Make sure you spend time playing together. Laugh together. Tell a joke or two. Laugh at silly cat videos together. Go on some adventures together, whether they be to a local amusement park, a concert, or a beach. Whatever way you choose (and I hope you choose several), have fun! Enjoy one another’s company.
  • Share household chores. Don’t expect your spouse to do all the work around the house. Make sure you participate in the tasks that keep the home running smoothly as well. You might even have some chores that you and your spouse do together. (Men, just so you know, some say that seeing you do household chores will be an aphrodisiac of some sort for your wife…go figure.)
  • Keep your social media accounts transparent. You can have separate accounts if you want, but make sure your spouse has full access to any account you have. Let your spouse know your passwords. Let them see your activity if and when they want to see it. This will prove beneficial to you in terms of accountability and in terms of trust within your relationship.
  • Share your feelings with your spouse. When we share our emotions with our spouses, we open ourselves up to be known by them, we reveal ourselves to them on a deeper level. We allow our spouse to learn about us—our priorities, values, goals, and passions.
  • Assure your spouse that you are committed to our relationship. By practicing the four actions above, you assure your spouse that you are committed to them and your marriage. You can also assure them of your commitment by talking about the future together. What would you like to do as a couple in the next five years? When your children “leave the nest”? Dream together and plan together. Then, have fun making those dreams come true.

These five practices will strengthen your marriage and keep it healthy for a lifetime. If I might, I would like to add one more practice. This one was not mentioned in the study cited above, but other studies have shown how this practice strengthens marriage. Pray for your spouse. Prayer has been shown to strengthen marriages in several ways. Take time each day to say a simple prayer for your spouse’s well-being. 

That’s six practices to strengthen your marriage. Start engaging in these practices today and enjoy a thriving marriage with your spouse for a lifetime.

Nurture Your Child’s “Why”

An old proverb tells us that “curiosity killed the cat.” Fortunately, our children are not cats because they ca ask “why” incessantly. But in actuality, curiosity helps children learn and grow, even survive. It contributes to more positive emotions and less anxiety. It leads to higher achievement as well as stronger, healthier relationships (see Six Surprising Benefits of Curiosity for more). With that in mind, I’d like to nurture my children’s curiosity but I’m curious as to how.  Scott Shigeoka has a suggestion. He suggests teaching our children (and ourselves) to DIVE.

Detach from the assumptions, biases, and certainties you might cling to. Challenge your assumptions with alternative explanations and possibilities. For instance, if your friend shows up late, detach from the assumption that they don’t care or don’t respect your time. Consider the possibility of traffic, a minor emergency, or a previous appoint going longer than expected. Then, when you see them, ask. In other words, don’t jump to conclusions or assume the worst. Don’t become rigid in your assumptions and thoughts. Challenge yourself to think the best of others. Examine your beliefs and thoughts to assure their accuracy and truth. Be curious.

Intend to practice curiosity. Be intentional in your practice of curiosity. Be deliberate. This will involve nurturing a mindset that purposefully practices curiosity.  Think about questions you might ask another person. Visualize how you might interact in a loving, curious manner. If you have a disagreement or conflict, intentionally begin to explore areas of agreement that might exist and how you might express curiosity about the other person’s point of view.

Value other people. We tend to become more curious about those things and people we value. It’s hard to show curiosity about those things we just don’t care about. So intentionally recognize the inherent dignity in people, including yourself. Acknowledge their inherent value. Recognize that people are complex being with families, joys, struggles, personalities, beliefs, likes, and dislikes…just like you. When you recognize another’s complexity and acknowledge their dignity and value, you can more easily choose to understand rather than judge and love rather than ignore.

Embrace your life, especially the hard times. Embracing the hard times reminds us to get curious about those things that arouse our fears, like changes and transitions that happen around us and in us throughout our lives. Too many times we shut down and dig in when changes occur. This can lead to defensiveness, fighting, or shutting down, all of which hinder our relationships. Embrace the change by getting curious about what it means, what possibilities it carries, what you can learn about yourself and others.

The best way to teach your children to DIVE into curiosity is to practice it yourself. DIVE in and begin to get curious. You will discover great benefits for you and your children, like greater connection, deeper intimacy, less anxiety, and more joy. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Go ahead. Get curious and find out if these results really happen.

What Mom Wants from Her Husband

I enjoy a good James Bond movie…or a Mission Impossible adventure. The heroes spark my imagination. They are strong, ingenious problem-solver, attractive to women. They live adventurous lives I only dream about. Surely the mother of my children (my wife) would like me, the father of her children, to have all those “great” qualities. We’d live an adventure-filled life of intrigue and passion. Who wouldn’t want that?

Well, according to a survey of 291 mothers, your wife, the mother of your children, would NOT want that! In fact, that is the type of person a mother wants least as their husband. Know what this survey suggests women want most in a husband and father to their children? A friend–somebody who shows a genuine interest in them and their children, somebody who exhibits kindness toward them and their children. Sounds kind of crazy but think about it.

This kind of husband will notice when his wife seems stressed or needs rest. And he’ll step in to help provide that needed comfort and rest. That’s what friends do. A husband who takes the role of “friend” seriously will take the time to listen, understand, and empathize with his wife rather than jumping in to “fix it.” He will also initiate conversations to learn about his wife’s day with all its joys and sorrows. Overall, he will take responsibility to nurture his relationship with his family (including his wife). That’s what friends do… all this and more.

John Gottman goes so far as to suggest friendship is the core of every healthy marriage. The friendship on which every healthy marriage stands is developed and nurtured through small, daily actions like:

  • Asking open-ended questions to learn about your wife and her life.
  • Developing the habit of responding to your wife with genuine interest and listening intently to her in conversation rather than giving half-hearted attention or faking attention.
  • Communicating appreciation, adoration, and gratitude for her every day.

…After all, that’s what friends do.

Your wife, the mother of your children, doesn’t need a sexy, strong, adventurous husband (although I’m sure you’re all those things). She needs a friend who cares enough and loves her enough to walk by her side and actively participate in family life with her. Will you invest the time and energy to develop that friendship with her? If you do, you’ll reap the amazing rewards of a joyful, healthy marriage.