Give Your Spouse This Daily Romantic Booster Shot

Thanksgiving has passed. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop expressing gratitude for things your spouse does and says. In fact, I like to think of Thanksgiving as the beginning of another year to express gratitude to my spouse. I know. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of life and lose sight of the little things our spouses do for our families every day. Many of us may get so busy we don’t even recognize the little things for which we could be grateful. Or we simply take them for granted in the midst of our daily rush. However, the authors of a study published in 2010 found expressing gratitude helps to “solidify a relationship.” Expressing gratitude increases relationship satisfaction and connection for both spouses, both the one who gives thanks and the one who received thanks. Couples still noted a boost in their relationship satisfaction and connection the day after an expression of gratitude. In other words, expressing gratitude functioned as a “booster shot to the relationship.”

Other studies have also shown that a daily “gratitude booster shot” of gratitude helps couples maintain a high level of relationship satisfaction over time (Lack of Gratitude Will Sink Your Marital Ship), vaccinates against impulsiveness and increases patience (7 Ways Gratitude Benefits Your Family According to Research), and even helps promote physical health (A Free Supplement for Your Family’s Health). Doesn’t that sound like a great booster shot to give your spouse and your marriage. And…it does not hurt. There are no negative side effects. Just a happier, healthier marriage.

So, give your spouse a booster shot, a romantic booster shot filled with daily doses of gratitude.

It’s Not All Bad…It’s a Wonderful Opportunity

So, you or your child have been diagnosed with ADHD. For many, this diagnosis carries a negative connotation. But did you know that people with ADHD often have skills that other people wish they had? Let me share a few.

  • Children with ADHD can often focus on a task they enjoy or find interesting for hours. They exhibit a “hyper-focus” in areas of interest and enjoyment. This level of focus leads to improved performance and efficiency. I have a friend who has amazing talent on the piano and as a magician because of this skill of “hyper-focus” on areas of interest. Of course, helping find your child’s interest allows them to enjoy this skill. As they experience improvement in their skill level, it will boost their confidence as well.
  • Children with ADHD have a high level of energy. As a result, they can often excel at sports or other physical activities, especially when combined with the focus described above. Another friend from my twenties noted that martial arts helped him manage his ADHD. His interest allowed him to focus in this area. His practice expended energy and helped him have periods of calm. And he quickly became exceptionally good.
  • Children with ADHD are often highly creative. They may approach tasks from a different perspective and solve problems in unique ways. As a result, consulting a person with ADHD can boost problem-solving options. One of my friends with ADHD is an excellent comedian and playwright. He can present important information for personal growth with a humorous flair and energy that really “sticks with” the audience.
  • Children with ADHD are often spontaneous and courageous. They enjoy unplanned moments, and those moments create wonderful memories. They can teach us to enjoy the moment as well.

You can help your child make the most of these skills by involving them in activities that capitalize on the skills they possess. That may mean involving them in sports, creative activities like music, dance, or drama, or research-oriented clubs that encourage creative problem-solving.

Overall, raising a child with ADHD can demand a great deal of energy. However, when we recognize the skills they have, and capitalize on those skills, we can enjoy watching them grow more confident and talented in life. After all, people with ADHD have a great deal to offer the world, a tremendous amount of emotional, intellectual, and physical resources we desperately need. As parents, we can help prepare them to share their emotional, intellectual, and physical skills with the family, the community and even the world.

The World Changing Power on the Tip of Your Tongue

You have a world-changing power on the tip of your tongue and your family is the perfect training ground for learning how to use it. As an added benefit, as you practice this power on the tip of your tongue within your family, your whole family will feel the joy it provides and your whole family life will improve. What is this family-improving, world-changing power on the tip of your tongue? This simple phrase of “thank you!” “Thank you” has power beyond imagination. Just consider its power to change people and relationships.

  • Saying “thank you” acknowledges an act of kindness or service. The simple act of acknowledging kindness increases the probability that the person will engage in more acts of kindness and service in the future. Don’t you think we could use more kindness in our families? Our communities? Our world? “Thank you” can help make that happen.
  • A simple “thank you” expresses value in the other person and in their investment of time and effort to show kindness. To restate an overused cliché in a more positive bent, “a person who is valued treats other people as valuable.” Won’t that make your family (and our world) a better place?
  • Giving a “thank you” extends the moment of positive connection. It represents a priceless deposit into the person’s emotional bank account, the family bank of honor. This deposit deepens intimacy and strengthens relationships.
  • The delight of a kindness or service remains incomplete until gratitude is expressed, a “thank you” returned. The “thank you” completes the loop. Not returning a “thank you” for a kindness is like “leaving a person hanging” on a high-five. Everyone feels awkward. The moment is tarnished. The action feels disgraced. Don’t tarnish the moment and disgrace the kindness by refusing a “thank you.” Complete the cycle. Return a “thank you” and complete the moment of delight.
  • Offering a “thank you” creates a ripple effect that reach an additional three degrees of people. In other words, saying “thank you” increases gratitude in your family and the world exponentially. (Read Spread the Happy Contagion of Kindness and Pay It Forward…The Surprising “Rest of the Story” For Your Family for more.)

Yes, a simple “thank you” has the power to change the world. And, by practicing “thank you” in your family, your family will grow stronger and more intimate. The simple practice of saying “thank you” carries a great power that resides on the tip of your tongue. Use it generously.

Do Not Steal Your Child’s Passion

Unbelievable. Well, sort of….  I guess it really does make sense when you think about it. Let me explain and you decide what you think.

The researchers chose only preschool age children who showed an interest in drawing to participate in this study. Then, they divided the preschool children into three groups. One group was told they would get a reward, a certificate with a gold seal and a ribbon, after participating in a drawing activity.

The second group received the same reward, but it came as a surprise. They were never told about the reward and knew nothing about it until they received it after the activity was completed. During the activity, they simply enjoyed the drawing activity with no expectation of reward.

The third group participated in the drawing activity but did not receive a reward and no reward was ever talked about. They simply enjoyed the drawing activity with no expectation of reward and no reward to enjoy after the activity.

The most important part of the observation occurred after the drawing activity (which was only six minutes long by the way). After the activity, the research team observed the children through one-way mirrors for several days. They wanted to see how much the children drew on their own. What did the researchers find?

The children who were told they would receive a reward for the drawing activity drew less (50% less!) after the activity than they had drawn prior to the activity. The other two groups drew the same amount before and after the activity. The expectation of reward changed the child’s behavior…but not in a way one might think. In fact, the expectation of an external reward robbed the children of their internal motivation and resulted in less drawing. After experiencing the expectation of reward for drawing, the children seemed more interested in drawing for the expected reward, not just the intrinsic joy and interest they once had for drawing. They associated drawing with an expectation of reward rather than satisfaction and joy. They lost the intrinsic reward associated with drawing. Unbelievable…but other studies support these results.  For instance, based on the results of 128 studies, researchers concluded that “intangible rewards tend to have a substantially negative effect on intrinsic motivation.”

Does this mean we should never reward our children? Not exactly. Rewards have their place. Rewards are helpful when a child has to do something they have never enjoyed. Rewards may also prove beneficial when they come as an unexpected surprise. So, go ahead and use rewards, but…and these are significant but’s…

  • Do not tie an expectation of reward to something your child already enjoys. Pay attention to what your child enjoys and simply let them enjoy it. Remember, most children enjoy helping (Children Help Without Nagging? How Can It Be?).  Let them help for the intrinsic joy it provides.
  • Do not create an expectation of reward for learning or school. You may undermine any intrinsic motivation your child has to do well, learn, and achieve in school. Instead, enjoy some spontaneous, unexpected celebrations for completing a project or, better yet, for the effort your child invested in their schoolwork.
  • Helping others for no reward is often intrinsically rewarding. Look for opportunities in which your child (and/or you) can engage in helping others. For instance, if your child enjoys math or English, they could tutor another child. (Learn more in Give It Away for Family Fun.)

Nurture your child’s intrinsic motivation. Don’t steal their passions and interests by indiscriminately building an expectation of reward for activities they already enjoy. Wisely choose what areas an external reward may prove helpful. But  simply encourage activities in which your children already enjoy and have intrinsic motivation.

The Grace of a Parent Who Disciplines

We often think a show of grace means giving someone a special favor or showing them kindness even when they don’t deserve it. This is true, but grace goes even further. Grace sacrifices. Grace gives of itself, even gives up the self, to pave the way for another person to become healthier and more mature. As any parent discovers, becoming a parent is a practice in the grace of giving up their selves for their children, sometimes in subtle & often in difficult ways. For instance, discipline is an act of grace. No one likes to see their child uncomfortable. But in grace a parent gives up their own comfort and allows their child to sit in the discomfort of their poor choice. In a way, parents give up their own comfort to sit in discomfort like their child for the sake of their child’s long-term growth.

Sometimes a parent has to actively set a limit or enforce a rule. In anger, their child may look at them with hatred. They may even say, “I hate you.” When this happens, a parent gives up their desire to be understood and loved so their child can grow more mature. They have shown grace in an effort to help their child become a more mature person.

Other similarly gracious moments arise every day, moments of giving “hard grace” by giving up the desire to be liked 100% of the time, understood and appreciated for difficult decisions, and free to observe our children’s joy at all times. These “little moments” of grace occur daily in limits like:

  • “Save your snack for after dinner so you don’t ruin your appetite.”
  • “Leave your phone in the kitchen to charge overnight. That way it will get a full charge and you can get a good night’s sleep.”
  • “Please use polite, respectful language…even when you’re angry.”
  • “Finish your homework, then you can meet your friends.”
  • “Be kind to that kid at school, even if everyone else is mean to him/her. If you were in his/her place, wouldn’t you want a friend?”

The list goes on. Grace, giving ourselves up for our children’s maturity, may be one of the most difficult aspects of parenting. But the long-term dividends are amazing—an adult child who is kind, loving, compassionate…and full of grace themselves.

An Amazing Moment of Creating Power

There are moments that hold great power in your marriage and family. One moment in particular holds amazing power for your family. This moment occurs multiple times throughout your day. It happens when you are preparing your breakfast and your spouse or your child walks into the kitchen. It arises when your child bursts through the door upon returning home from school. It occurs when your spouse returns home from work or grocery shopping or working in the yard and walks into the room where you sit. Have you identified this powerful moment yet? It is a moment of greeting, of reuniting.

The moment of greeting is a powerful moment. A simple greeting starts the process of interaction. When we greet our spouse or children, we have opened the door to creating an experience together. We have created the opportunity for connection. This opportunity for connection grows as we continue the interaction and shapes the whole environment of our home.

Consider this study, published in January 2007 , that looked at emails in two organizations. One organization was struggling with conflict, low morale, and turnover. Their emails were short and simply offered information. They did not even include a simple greeting of “Hi” plus the person’s name. The email sent the implicit message of business is top priority and people are secondary.

The other company had a “very positive culture.” Their emails included greetings, a “widespread use” of “Hello” plus the person’s name. It seemed to communicate that people mattered and staff was valued.

We want to build a family environment that communicates value to each family member. We want our family to know they matter; that we value them. Communicating this important message begins with a greeting.

“Hi, how are you doing?”
“Hey, how’s the yard work going?”
“Look at you. What has you so excited?” “Hello. How was work?”

You pick the question and the greeting. Whatever greeting you choose, that greeting opens the door for connection. And as you both follow the question with a conversation, you create relationship by getting to know one another better.

Would you like to build a deeper connection with your spouse? Maintain a connection with your teen? Enjoy connection with your family? It all begins with that amazing moment of creative power—the moment of greeting.

Help Children Learn with These 2 Surprising Twists

You can encourage your children to learn their schoolwork (and anything else really) with these two surprising twists.

  1. Give them a break. Neurobiologists have found that taking a break while learning and studying helps us retain the information for a longer period of time. Sure, cramming may get a person through the test (there is a time and place for that) but taking breaks while studying over time helps us retain the information longer. Why? Because reigniting the neural pathways that the novel information travels along after allowing them to lie dormant for a brief time seems to better “train” them for retention. This means encouraging your child to break up their study time with some breaks. What might they do during these breaks? See the next bullet for a wonderful research supported “break activity.”
  2. Go for a swim or engage in some other familiar form of exercise. University of Delaware researchers taught 6- to 12-year-olds new words before engaging them in swimming, cross-fit training exercises, or completing coloring sheets. The children who swam were 13% more accurate in follow-up tests. And no wonder, “motor movement helps us encode (put into our memory) new words” by increasing Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a protein important for learning in the brain. The cross-fit training exercises did not help as much as swimming because the exercises were new to the children and so demanded more mental energy to complete properly. With that in mind, if you want your children to learn and remember what they are learning, let them engage in a familiar exercise, one that has become more automatic, after they study for a short time.

I’m going to suggest my daughters follow these two ideas in their own studies. They’re in college now, but I believe these two ideas will help them learn their material better too. What am I saying? I’m going to do this myself! I like to learn. And we can all learn more effectively when we take some breaks and do a little exercise. I think I’ll take a break now and go for a little walk. Enjoy.

Happy Marriages Practice These 5 Habits

Marriage can either give you a glimpse of heaven or a taste of hell. Let me repeat that…. A healthy marriage truly gives each person a glimpse of heaven on earth. But an unhappy marriage, a marriage dying on the rocks, is one of the most painful things I have ever seen, a true taste of hell. Nobody wants a taste of hell to linger in their life. We want a glimpse of heaven instead. So, how do we develop a healthy marriage? What are the essentials of a healthy, happy marriage? Let me share five….

  1. A healthy marriage develops a daily habit of sharing gratitude and appreciation for one another. They acknowledge what they adore and admire in their spouse as often as possible. This daily habit of looking for things to admire, appreciate, adore, and show gratitude for one another builds friendship…and friendship is crucial to any healthy, happy marriage. In fact, some would say a strong friendship with your spouse is foundational to a healthy marriage and I agree.
  2. People in a healthy marriage enjoy spending time together. They play together. They enjoy activities together. They like to talk to one another. They are best friends and they love spending time together. In fact, research suggests that engaging in “novel activities” together strengthens marriage (Get Self-Expansion Without the Chubbiness). So, enjoy date nights with your spouse. Plan some date nights around new (or novel) activities. Have fun together.
  3. People in happy marriages think as a team. They turn toward one another to celebrate and grieve. When one spouse has a problem, the other spouse supports them, comforts them, and problem-solves with them. When one spouse does well, the other spouse rejoices…and they can’t wait to rejoice together. When all is said and done, whether in good times or bad, people in a healthy marriage know they can count on one another 100 percent of the time.
  4. People in a healthy marriage know how to manage stress and conflict. Each individual has learned how to soothe their own negative emotions. They can calm their stress. Each one also remains aware of their partner’s emotions; and they use that awareness to build their relationship. They don’t “push buttons.”  They don’t want their spouse, their best friend, to hurt so they comfort and nurture them. They take time to listen and accept. They become curious to learn their partner’s thoughts and feelings rather than dogmatically assert their own. They compromise and even agree to disagree. (Gottman notes that up to 69% of marital disagreements are unsolvable, which actually presents a wonderful opportunity to love someone who thinks differently than us.)
  5. People in a healthy marriage share a mission, a value. They have a shared meaning. Couples may find that shared meaning in religious service, family, environmental action, justice, or something other value bigger than the self. The mission that creates a shared meaning for a couple may change over time and with various “seasons of life.”  However, whatever the shared meaning is, it represents a mission rooted in some higher value. What is the shared meaning of your marriage? Raising a family, participating in religious service together, standing for justice, caring for nature?

Marriage can bring a glimpse of heaven. Practicing these five habits in your marriage will set it on the path to see that glimpse of heaven. Even better, you can live in that glimpse of heaven…and isn’t that better than hell.

Parents: A United Front or A Strong Foundation?

I often hear people say that parents need to present a united front when disciplining their children. I agree…in a way, sort of. True, it is detrimental for children to see their parents constantly argue about the rules or methods of discipline. It interferes with effective discipline when children see one parent consistently step in to correct the other parent during discipline. In fact, the child who sees that will learn to use one parent against the other. Worse, they will feel less secure and, as a result, have less energy to invest in growing and maturing. So yes, parents need to be on the same page when it comes to discipline.

On the other hand, parents are people, and no two people are exactly the same, not even parents. They have different personalities and different experiences that may lead to differences in what they consider an appropriate limit or an effective style of discipline.  Besides, the term “united front” makes me think of allies uniting on the front line to wage battle against a common enemy. But our child is not the enemy, they are family. Rather than a united front, I think parents need a strong foundation from which to parent effectively.

Developing a strong parental foundation takes some work that begins even before any discipline is needed. Here are three ways to begin building a strong parental foundation that will help you effectively discipline your children as a team.

First, before any disciplinary issues arise, sit down with your child’s other parent to discuss discipline (3 Simple Steps to Discipline Children). Here are just a few questions to consider:

  • What behaviors do you want to encourage? How will you encourage those behaviors?
  • What behaviors will you absolutely not tolerate? How will you consequence those behaviors?
  • How will you teach and model the behaviors you want your children to do more often? 
  • You may discover you and your child’s other parent have some differences of opinion. That’s OK. Now is the time to talk about those differences. That discussion will include talking about how your childhood experiences shape your ideas about discipline. What experiences did you have as an adult and as a child that influenced your ideas about discipline?

Overall, this discussion begins to develop a foundation for how you will discipline together. Develop an agreed upon approach to your discipline style as a couple. This may require some compromise along the way. (Learn more in Compromise: My Way or the Highway.)

Second, address issues that arise during discipline…but not in the moment. No matter how much you prepare ahead of time, you will experiment moments in which you disagree with your spouse about a boundary or a method used to discipline. In the immediate moment, do your best to support your spouse and their intent to raise a healthy mature person. Because you have taken time to agree on basic parenting goals and discipline style (the first step above), you can support your spouse and their intent in this moment.

Then, talk to your spouse in private about your concern. Begin the private discussion by acknowledging your spouse as a good parent who loves your children and wants the best for them. Ask them to help you understand their thoughts and feelings around the situation. As they do, you may find you have greater agreement than you initially thought. Finally, discuss your concerns. Then you can work together to develop a plan for future incidents, a plan you are both comfortable with.

Third, at all times (except in cases of abuse) support your child’s other parent. One way to do this involves promoting mutual respect within the family. Moments to do so arise throughout the day as well as during times of discipline. For instance, “Please turn the TV down while your father is resting” encourages your children to consider how their actions impact others.

Don’t be surprised though if your child says, “Please turn the TV down while I’m studying.” After all, we are seeking mutual respect and teaching our child to politely speak up for their needs.

These ideas are not exhaustive. They merely help you begin a process of building a strong foundation…a process that will continue throughout your time of raising children. And, most important, these ideas will help you and your spouse enjoy parenting your child together.

How an Argument Can Lead to Longer Life & Deeper Intimacy

It’s true. Stress is a killer. Research has found that chronic stress increases depression and anxiety, impacting our mental health. It also impacts physical health, contributing to heart disease, higher cholesterol, a weaker immune system, and gastrointestinal issues.

You know what creates a lot of stress for many people (including me)? Arguments. An Oregon State University study published in 2021 examined the impact of arguments and avoided arguments on a person’s negative emotions. Utilizing data obtained through an in-depth survey of over 2,000 people, they found that on the day of an argument or avoided argument, people who felt their argumentative encounter resolved reported about half as much negative emotion as those who felt the encounter unresolved. Even more, on the day after the argument, those who felt the incident was resolved felt no prolonged negative emotion related to the disagreement.

In other words, resolve the argument and the stress goes away. Resolve the argument before the sun goes down and have no stress related to it the next day.

I don’t know about you, but I have arguments with my spouse now and again. I can also experience disagreements with my daughters. Left unresolved, I ruminate. Stress continues to push cortisol (stress hormones) through my veins. I don’t sleep well. I’m restless. And the next day I’m tired, still feeling the stress of yesterday’s disagreement, and even feeling a little grumpy.

Better to avoid all that and do the work of resolving the argument and any residual anger that accompanies it. This doesn’t mean you have to reach an agreement. It means you have to resolve your anger. How? Start by taking a break and during that break…

  1. Take a deep breath. Let the breath out slowly as you look around the room. Intentionally recognize where you are, what you see, what you hear, what positive memories you have in this place.
  2. Think of the good times you have had with the family member with whom you are having an argument. They are much more than this point of disagreement or moment of anger. Remember what you admire and appreciate about them. Recall times of joy and celebration together.
  3. Agree to meet together to understand one another better after everyone has calmed down. Notice, you are not going to meet to resolve the disagreement, although this is often a byproduct of meeting. Instead, you are going to meet to understand one another better. But first you want all the parties to become calm. When we are upset, we often don’t think rationally. Our fight or flight system gets activated and we only think of survival. Wait until you are calm and your rational, loving brain is back on board. Then you can discuss the disagreement. And, with a calm, clear mind, you can approach the discussion with the intent of understanding your family member’s perspective. The goal is not to prove your point or make them understand you, but for you to intentionally seek to understand their perspective.
  4. Share affection. A hug, a kiss, an “I respect you” or an “I love you” will go a long way in resolving anger among loved ones. Even if you still feel a little agitated…or even a lot agitated…give your family member a genuine hug. After all, deep down you love them in spite of any disagreement. As you share affection, feel the anger dissipate.

These 4 steps take effort. But the effort pays great dividends. Stress is reduced. Anger is resolved. You’ll likely find that the disagreement is even resolved or becomes less significant. Your physical health is nurtured. But best of all, intimacy with your family member deepens. Like I said, it takes effort, but the reward is fabulous.

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