Go Ahead, Sweat the Small Stuff

I know we’re told to not sweat the small stuff. And sometimes that is absolutely correct. But, when it comes to marriage, better start sweating the small stuff. In fact, sweating the small stuff might just save your marriage. For instance, imagine your wife asked you to wash the dishes and you forget. No big deal if it happens once in a while. It’s small stuff. Still, when your wife gets up the next morning to a sink full of dirty dishes, she will feel ignored, invalidated, and unimportant. You didn’t mean any of that. It was a simple mistake. What if this “forgetting” becomes an habitual pattern? She may begin to feel like you forget those small, inconsequential requests “all the time.”  Not on purpose, mind you. You just have other things on your mind—important things like work, the game, an outing with the guys, rest. (Wait a minute… “important things”? Things more important than your wife?)  

Each time you forget to do the small stuff, you drop another pebble into your wife’s emotional shoes—a pebble of feeling ignored, unimportant, and invalidated. Every night she takes those small, inconsequential moments turned irritating pebbles and throws them in the corner with the others. Each night, the pile grows higher and higher. Pebbles of resentment turn into mountains of bitterness all made up of the small stuff like unfulfilled promises & forgotten request. Soon, your wife is being crushed by an avalanche of despair and hurt set off by just one more small request and promise unfulfilled. As she lay under the rubble of habitual small stuff ignored, she knows her marriage is dead…and she weeps. Don’t get me wrong. The same process can occur when a wife lets the “small stuff” go.

Either way, the small stuff can make or break your marriage. Small stuff, like showing appreciation, responding to requests, following through on little promises, showing gratitude, hugs, remaining polite, expressing adoration….. All small stuff when taken one by one. But compounding over time, they will make or break your marriage.

My advice? Go ahead, sweat the small stuff. It can save your marriage.

After-School Exhaustion: What Does It Mean?

Another school year has arrived. As we start the new year, I am reminded of parents and students telling me about their after-school struggles. One struggle in particular comes to mind—the struggle of after-school exhaustion. A student comes home from school and suddenly feels exhausted, physically and emotionally drained. There are chores to do and homework to complete, but they don’t want to do anything but sleep.

Before you think this is a sign that your child is lazy, consider the results of studies published in Current Biology on August 1, 2022. These studies “used magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to monitor brain chemistry over the course of a workday.” The findings suggest that thinking hard (aka—doing challenging cognitive tasks) over several hours produces fatigue through a buildup of glutamate in the brain. Rest and sleep are essential to eliminate this excess. In other words, the mental exercise of attending school and focusing on academic work all day may actually bring a child to a state of mental fatigue. And mental fatigue is a signal that we need stop working and rest. If we ignore that signal, we will likely shift toward investing little effort and accepting short-term rewards for that effort. In a practical sense, that means doing shoddy work (whether on chores or homework) just to say it’s finished.

What can you and your child do to overcome this mental exhaustion? Here are 2 simple suggestions.

  • Allow your child some down-time to rest after school. Don’t become harsh or critical because you assume your child is lazy and telling them so. Accept that they may have worked hard all day and need a break. A 20-minute power nap can do wonders.
  • Establish a positive bedtime routine to encourage a good night’s sleep. A good night’s sleep is important to our mental and physical health. It may not prevent after-school exhaustion, but it will help promote more success in with school and overall health.

2 Questions for More Satisfying Sexual Intimacy

Do you want to enjoy a more satisfying sex life in your marriage? Don’t answer that question…it’s a silly question. Every married couple wants a satisfying sex life. So, let me just get to the point. Here are 2 simple questions that, if asked sincerely and openly, will enhance the pleasures of sexual intimacy in your marriage.

First, ask yourself, “If I were my spouse, what would I __(Fill in the Blank)   ?”  Okay you caught me. The first question is really several questions rolled into one prompt: If I were my spouse, what would I want to see? What would I want to hear? What would I want to feel? These questions encourage empathy and perspective taking. They encourage us to consider our spouse’s likes and dislikes. What would lead to greater enjoyment for them?

This group of questions will also help reduce our self-centered desires for personal satisfaction. They strike at our self-centeredness and place our focus on our spouse and our marriage. After all, to paraphrase Paul’s writing to Philippians, we are called to “not only watch out for our own personal interests, but also for the interests of our spouse.”  Ironically, when we concern ourselves with our spouse’s pleasure and satisfaction, we will find our pleasure and satisfaction grow as well.

Second, if you don’t know the answer to the first question, and even if you think you do, ask your spouse. Make sure you know what they want. Don’t assume they want what you want or what you think they “probably want.” In other words, communicate. Talk about what you and your spouse like in regards to sexual intimacy. Discuss ways you can bring greater sexual satisfaction to both of you.

An important aspect of this conversation is to make sure both partners feel comfortable enough to voice any activities with which they are not comfortable or that interfere with their satisfaction and joy of intimacy. So, listen. Accept your spouse’s answers. Allow their answers to influence your actions.  

Two simple questions. One to ask yourself and one to ask your spouse. Two questions to nurture a greater sexual satisfaction to your marriage. Enjoy.

6 Ways to Teach Your Children Respect

It seems as though disrespect is rampant in our world today. We see it every day. But I believe that if we intentionally open our eyes and look, we also find respect alive and well in our world. And we want to keep respect alive and well… growing more prominent in our world. To make that happen, we teach our children to show respect. We encourage them to add their own respectful actions and words into our world.

Fortunately, teaching our children respect is not the world’s duty. The world displays too much disrespect to make it a good teacher. No, teaching respect to our children is our duty; and the lessons begins at home through the creation of a respectful home environment. How do we build an environment of respect in our homes? Here are 6 ways to get you started.

  1. Speak politely. Say “thank you” and “please.” Use a polite tone of voice, even when you want to request that another person change their behavior or when you want to voice a complaint about some inappropriate behavior. An environment of respect is filled with expressions gratitude and appreciation, compliments and encouragements. Building a home environment of respect involves speaking politely.
  2. Listen respectfully. Listening is an act of great respect…and it involves more than just responding. So don’t interrupt. Listen carefully. Allow family members to complete their thoughts before responding. Listen attentively to understand and make sure you understand before you respond.
  3. Make requests respectfully. It’s easy to shout across the room to make a request or demand some change of behavior. But that does not show respect. And it’s ineffective. To sit at the table and yell across the room demanding our children quit arguing is disrespectful. So is yelling from our seat in front of the TV for our spouse to get us a drink. It is much more respectful to get up and approach our family member, asking them for what we want in a calm voice.
  4. Allow autonomy whenever possible. Let your children dress themselves, even if they like wearing pants that don’t match their shirt. Allow your spouse to have an opinion different than yours …and appreciate their opinion enough to learn about it and allow it to influence you. Approach the differences with love, knowing that differences of opinion and taste do not represent a personal affront. They represent our unique perspectives and personalities. Allowing differences and autonomy reveals respect for our individual differences of opinions and tastes. It helps establish an environment of respect.  
  5. When you see a family member acting disrespectfully, correct their behavior… respectfully.   Begin by identifying the underlying contributors to their disrespectful behavior. Were they emotionally hurt? Did they feel treated unfairly? Were they acting impulsively? Were they asserting their will? Have they started a habit of disrespect? Knowing the underlying contributors to their behavior allows you to respond in a more respectful and effective way. Take a moment to teach them how to meet the need that undergirded the disrespect. Teach them the impact of disrespect on their relationships and importance of respect for healthy relationships. Do it respectfully.
  6. Most importantly, realize that our children will “catch respect” more readily than they will be “taught respect.” Set the example of respect. Let them see you treating them and others with respect. Let the respectful environment begin with you.

I’m sure you can think of more ways to teach your children to act respectfully. Write your tips in the comment section below. We can all benefit from one another’s knowledge.

The Internet: Is It a Risk or an Opportunity for Your Child? YES!!

Let’s face it. The cyberworld, with all its knowledge, gaming, social media, and videos has taken up residence in our homes…and it’s here to stay.

Some families respond to the cyberworld with fear…and rightly so. It is filled with risk.

Other families respond to the cyberworld with joy and anticipation…and rightly so. It is filled with opportunities.

In fact, the cyberworld has both risks and opportunities, just like every other facet of life that our children encounter. I love the graphic on page 8 of this presentation. It shows the risk and opportunity of both the cyberworld and the non-cyberworld. YouTube presents risks and opportunities in a similar fashion as movies, twitter as the social gathering at a park, amazon as a bookstore, and so forth. Perhaps two of the biggest differences between the spaces being compared in this graphic are how familiar we, as parents, are with each one and how easily we can shelter our children from the risks while affording them the opportunities. Nonetheless, they both carry risks and opportunities.

What can a parent do to limit the risks of the cyberworld while affording their children the chance to enjoy the opportunities? The first thing to do is to educate yourself about the cyberworld as best you can.

  • Talk with your children about various social media sites, games, or video cites. I don’t mean educate them. Let them educate you. I talked with young man last week who talked about several groups focused on improving society through their Facebook or YouTube accounts.  
  • Engage the cyberworld with your child. Play some games with them. Watch videos together. Share videos with one another. As you learn about social media, interact with our children via social media.
  • Learn firsthand about the cyberworld and its “draw.” As you do, share with your children what you learn and how you have established personal boundaries to maintain the cyberworld as a tool in our life rather than letting it become your “master.”

As with so many aspects of parenting, the best way to teach our children is to begin by being a good role model. Let them see you manage the cyberworld in a healthy manner. Let them see how you limit the risk and emphasize the opportunities. It’s only a beginning, but a great beginning it is!

The First 3 Minutes: Predicting & Reflecting

Three minutes. That’s all it took. Three minutes…and the researchers could predict who would be divorced within six years. It was a study completed by John Gottman and Sybil Carrere to see if the way a discussion of marital conflict began would predict divorce. The study involved observing couples engage in 15-minute conversations about an area of marital disagreement. Want to know the secret of the first 3 minutes?

Three minutes. That’s all it took. Three minutes…and the researchers could predict who would be divorced within six years. It was a study completed by John Gottman and Sybil Carrere to see if the way a discussion of marital conflict began would predict divorce. The study involved observing couples engage in 15-minute conversations about an area of marital disagreement. Want to know the secret of the first 3 minutes?

If the first 3 minutes of a conversation about a marital conflict started with criticism and involved more negative affect (disgust, contempt, anger, defensiveness) than positive affect (interest, validation, humor, affection), divorce was more likely within the next 6 years. For husbands, the atmosphere of the first 3 minutes of the discussion tended to amplify over the remaining 12 minutes of the conversation. Those who grew more negative more quickly over the remaining 12 minutes were most likely to be divorces. For wives, the rest of the conversation remained similar to the first 3 minutes. Either way, the more negative the first 3 minutes of a conversation, the more likely the couple would divorce within 6 years.

Let me say this in a more personal way. I don’t want you to miss its importance. If you initiate a conversation about a marital conflict with a harsh statement or criticism about your partner or their character, they are more likely to respond with defensiveness. From there, your conversation will likely remain negative at best, and, at worst, grow more negative. That growing negativity predict the greater possibility of your divorce within the next 6 years. And no married couple wants to go through a divorce.

On the other hand, the first 3 minutes of the conversation about a marital conflict also reflects the past. It predicts the future AND it reflects the past. Let me explain. Marital partners invite one another to connect and interact hundreds of times a day (see RSVP for Intimacy in Your Family). When each person responds to those invitations with interest and genuine responsiveness, an environment of trust and security grows. In that environment, one person is less likely to begin a conversation about some marital conflict with a harsh statement or criticism. And, if they do, their partner is better able to remain non-defensive and open to hear the concern. They show a greater willingness to accept their spouse’s influence and change. As a result, the relationship grows. Love and intimacy are nurtured. 

So, 3 minutes… 3 short minutes that reflect a history of marital interactions and predict the future of the marriage. What will your 3 minutes reflect…and predict?

Parenting: A Christ-Like Vocation

I read an interesting quote about parenting that made me to stop and ponder.

“There is no other thing you do in life only that the person you do it for can leave you. When they leave, that is success; when they do something because they want to do it and not because you want them to do it, then you have done your job. You succeed when you make yourself irrelevant, when you lose yourself.” (Keith Gessen in Raising Raffi)

It’s true. Raising a child is one of the most rewarding opportunities a person can ever experience. It is also a challenge. It’s bittersweet; and it’s beautiful. Becoming a parent compels us to become a better person. In fact, becoming a parent may well prove one of the most influential ways of shaping us in godly, Christ-like character.

If you’ve gone to Sunday School, I’m sure you heard that a “person who seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will be saved.” Parents invest their time and energy into their children. Rather than invest solely in their own interests and pleasures, they invest in their children’s growth and enjoyment. In a sense, parents quit seeking to save their own life and start investing in their children’s lives. They focus on their children’s lives and, in so doing, find their own joy and happiness in watching their children become mature and responsible adults.

Parents serve their children with no expectation of being served in return. Sure, children contribute to the household in age determined ways. But parents encourage them to contribute to the household so they can mature and grow into responsible adults, not so they can serve their parents. In fact, most chores would likely go faster and more efficiently if a parent did them on their own rather than allow their 8-year-old to help. But we encourage the 8-year-old to help because we are in service to their development and maturation.  Parents serve their children by providing for their physical, emotional, and mental needs. It’s as if we came into parenthood to serve, not to be served.

Serving and investing in our children’s lives results in sacrifice. Not only do parents sacrifice time and energy, but they sacrifice a new set of clothes to get their children school clothes. They sacrifice the last piece of chicken so their child can have it. They sacrifice willingly and lovingly, out of a desire for their children’s best interest above their own. And they sacrifice without complaint. Many don’t even recognize their parents’ sacrifices for us until we are older and have a more mature perspective. But parents continue to sacrifice anyway.

Then, perhaps the greatest sacrifice of all, we let them go. They leave. They no longer need us. We have “made ourselves irrelevant.” As harsh as this sounds, isn’t it what Christ did when, “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant”?  He emptied Himself, made Himself of no reputation, became “irrelevant” according to worldly standards. Yet, it was through that giving up of Himself that He brought us into His loving family as children of God. Perhaps it’s because parents give themselves up for their children that their children become mature and are then able to truly return a deeper, truer love to their parent.  

Investing in another more than myself. Serving another’s needs more than my own needs. Sacrificing for the good of another. Sounds like a parent. Sounds like growing in godly character. Sounds like love. If you will pardon my paraphrase: parents “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard their children as more important than themselves; [they] do not merely look out for their own personal interests, but also for the interests of their children” (adapted from Paul, Philippians 2:3-4).

Offended by Family: Forgiveness or Revenge?

If you have a family (and unless you were hatched from some alien species, you do), then you have encountered the need and the opportunity to forgive. Forgiveness is hard. You may have even thought, “Why should I forgive him? He never changes. He never apologizes. Why should I forgive him?” Let me offer an answer by way of a study published in 2022.

In this study, 546 participants wrote about a time in which they had been wronged by another person. Then, they wrote a letter to the person who wronged them. Some were instructed to write a letter forgiving the person and others to get revenge. The letters were not sent, only written.

After writing about the scenario of hurt and a letter of forgiveness or revenge, the participants rated themselves on traits such as warmth & morality—traits measuring their personal sense of humanity. The results revealed some important reasons to forgive.

Those who had written letters of forgiveness rated themselves with a higher level of perceived humanity than those who wrote letters of revenge. In other words, forgiving contributed to a person feeling more human. It made them feel better about themselves as human beings. Those who wrote letters of forgiveness also reported less “inclination toward self-harm” than those who wrote letters of revenge.  

In another experiment, college students either imagined one of two scenarios: a coworker insulting their presentation or a coworker having a positive interaction with them. Those who imagined being insulted experienced a decrease in their feelings of “self-humanity.” They felt “dehumanized.” However, if they imagined forgiving their coworker, their level of self-humanity returned to normal.  If they imagined taking revenge, their perceived level of humanity remained low; they continued to feel dehumanized. Forgiveness led to an increased recognition of one’s own humanity. Interesting, isn’t it? Forgiveness seems to make us feel more human, more humane. So, why should you forgive that family member who hurt you? For one thing, doing so will make you feel more human. It will make you feel better about yourself as a person. That’s great…but it’s only the beginning. Forgiving also presents an opportunity for the other person to grow. It opens the door to restoring the relationship. It reveals the character of God. So, even though it can prove difficult to do at times, forgive. A healthy sense of self and a healthy marriage (with a more satisfying sex life, by the way) awaits you when you do.

How Does Your Family Feel About Emotions?

I’m a behavioral health therapist. You know, a “how-do-you-feel-about-that” kind of guy. But truth be told, I’m not one who exhibits deep displays of emotion. I feel them, but I don’t express them loudly.

I’m also the father of two daughters. If you happen to have daughters, you know how emotive they can be during their growing years. At times I was simply overwhelmed by their display of excitement, hurt, joy, or sadness. So, I had a couple of choices. How would I respond to their emotions? How would I model treating emotions in my family?

I could teach my daughters that emotions are too much to manage. They aren’t safe to express. I could encourage them through my actions and words to push their emotions down, muffle them, deny them, keep them bottled up. “Stop crying. You have nothing to cry about.” In other words, I could encourage them to repress their emotions. But simply repressing emotions has a way of transforming into hiding emotions under overworking, drinking too much, obsessive scrolling, simply disappearing from the lives of others, or…any number of other negative behaviors. That’s no good.

Or I could teach them that emotional expression is simply “bad.”  In my own sense of being overwhelmed, I could yell at them for being “too loud,” “too much trouble,” or “out-of-control.” I could aggressively shut them down with critical name-calling or threats of harsh punishment. But then they’ll just internalize those harsh criticisms about themselves and others. They’ll follow the example of holding emotions in until they bubble over in aggressive words and actions of their own. No. that is not what I want my daughters to learn.

Or, perhaps the best choice, I could teach my children that emotions are welcome. They present us with information we need to take care of ourselves, even the sad and angry emotions. So, I could make sure that emotions are welcome in our home. I could accept them, all of them. I could listen to them deeply to understand their message…and so teach my children to listen deeply as well. I could hold their emotions in a welcoming, accepting environment. In the process, my daughters will learn that they are loved and accepted, even when sad or angry or overwhelmingly excited. That acceptance and love, combined with their parents’ attentive ear, builds the internal resources they need to manage those emotions independently. That sounds like a great place to start.

The choice is made…a “no-brainer” really. I’m going to allow emotions, welcoming and accepting each one. And, in the holding of their emotions in a welcoming, accepting environment, my children will learn to express their emotions in a safe way. No. I won’t be perfect. Nobody is. But making this choice provides the best goal, an ideal that’s worth striving for. Will you make the same choice for your children and your family?

Another Way to Beat Depression in Your Family

Depression is a growing problem in our country, especially among our teens and young adults. However, an interesting study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests a way to limit depression in your family. This study involved 72 males between 18- and 25-years-old who scored in the moderate to severe range of depression based on Beck’s Depression Inventory Scale. These young men were randomly assigned to one of two groups for twelve weeks. One group talked with a researcher about neutral topics like movies or hobbies. The other group received education and support to help them eat a Mediterranean Diet. Those who ate the Mediterranean Diet showed a significant decrease in depressive symptoms. Amazingly, 100% of them showed significant improvement in depressive symptoms and 36% dropped from moderate/severe depression to low/minimal depression on the Becks Depression Inventory Scale.

Why would a healthy diet like the Mediterranean Diet have such a profound effect on well-being and mood? Because it provides a person with the nutrients they need to act as the precursors and building blocks for the neurotransmitters that promote positive mental health.

For me, this information presents another way for us to limit depression in our families. Eat a healthy diet filled with the nutrients necessary to build the neurotransmitters we need for our physical health and our mental health. This study focused specifically on the Mediterranean diet, but I believe any healthy, well-balanced diet will help promote positive mental health. In fact, other studies have shown that eating vegetables improved mood (Read What? That Can Increase Happiness? and Diet, Fitness, & Sleep…Oh My for more.)  Proteins may also help manage anxiety over the long term. (See The Connection Between Protein and Your Mental Health – Mental Health Connecticut (mhconn.org))

Isn’t that great news? You can promote well-being and positive mental health in your family by encouraging a healthy diet. It’s a win-wind. Why not start today?

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