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The Power of Speaking with Vulnerable Honesty

Every married couple will experience disagreements and conflict. However, how we say what we say can calm a conflict or escalate it, arouse defensiveness or cooperation. It can push away or draw near, disempower or empower. Consider these statements and possible alternatives.

“I hate staying in every night. We never do anything together.” That feels like an attack. It will more easily push the other person to defensiveness or shutting down. On the other hand, imagine how different a response you might receive if you start from a place of vulnerable honesty, making a less harsh statement while communicating your deeper desire for connection.

  • “I miss spending time with you. Would you like to go to dinner and a movie tonight?”

“Do some work around the house, would you? I’m not your servant.” Once again, the harshness will likely arouse defensiveness from the other person. And the attacking statements do not address the deeper desire and need. Once again, a statement from a place of vulnerable honesty might get a better response.

  • “I’m feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs done. I really need your help. Could you clean the…?”

I think you get the idea but let me share one more just to make sure. “What’s your problem. You haven’t touch me in months.” Unfortunately, a statement like this pushes the other person further away. Try starting from a place of vulnerable honesty and clearly state your desire and need.

  • “I miss hugging and snuggling with you. Let’s snuggle up on the couch and watch a movie or read books while snuggling tonight.”

Notice the differences? The first statements were harsh, accusatory, and attacking. The alternatives speak from a place of vulnerable honesty by clearly expressing a true need or desire. Then, they offered a simple solution, empowering both people to take action to meet the need. As a result, the alternative statements will more likely motivate a positive response and lead to a better end. But it all beings with speaking from a place of vulnerable honesty.

To Keep Your Marriage Stronger, Longer

Do you want to have a life-long, happy marriage? I do….and I have good news. According to research, this one daily behavior will contribute to a long, happy marriage. The findings came from analyzing data from 732 couples between the ages of 64- and 74-years-old. What is the behavior that contributes to a joyous marriage well into late adulthood? Well, the research involved having couples increase the frequency of intimacy in their marriage. Those that increased the frequency of their intimacy reported increased marital quality.  Not that surprising, right?  Couples that enjoy intimacy report greater positivity about their marriage. Physical contact protects the quality of a marriage.

Another study noted that a particular type of intimacy promotes well-being in marriages: kissing. Just like the old song: “K-I-S-S-I-N-G.” Kissing decreases a person’s level of cortisol (a stress hormone) while increasing oxytocin (a hormone that encourages bonding). Kissing also relaxes people and builds a deeper connection between those kissing. Decreased stress. Increased bonding. Greater connection. Each can add to a person’s sense of well-being. And, of course, previous blogs talk about the importance of hugging.

Spending quality time intimately conversing with your spouse will also increase the well-being of your marriage. Sit down and have a conversation with your spouse. Discuss your hopes and dreams as well as all the things you admire and adore about your spouse. “Look into their eyes” and tell them the depth of your love.

Let me ask again. Do you want a life-long, happy marriage? Then enjoy intimacy with your spouse. Kiss. Hug. Hold hands. Enjoy meaningful conversation with one another. Go with the flow and “see where it goes.” Not just once, but practice, practice, practice. Not only will you promote better marital quality, but you’ll have fun as well.

All Work & No Play…

You’ve heard it said that “all work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” I always wondered who “Jack” was…now I know he is all of us. But “all work and no play” does more than make “Jack a dull boy.” It also makes “Jack” an unhappy boy. In fact, a study involving participants from three different countries found that working hard for achievement had no impact on happiness. On the other hand, study participants who focused on creating the freedom to do things they enjoyed experienced a 13% increase in well-being. They experienced better sleep quality and life satisfaction as well. And those who focused on relaxing so they could engage in the hobby of their choice reported an 8% improvement in well-being. They also experienced a 10% decrease in stress and anxiety.

In other words, when “Jack” balanced his life and allowed himself the freedom to “play,” he experienced greater well-being and happiness. Balancing our lives to include opportunities to relax and pursue personal interests results in greater happiness, relaxation, and life satisfaction.

Why, then, has achievement become so important in our society? Why do we believe that achieving at school, competition, or work is the secret to happiness? We have seen time and again that this “achievement strategy” without the balance of relaxation, fun, and relationship actually leads to greater stress, isolation, and sorrow. Yet we continue to pursue achievement. Why? I believe there are at least 2 reasons (and I hate to admit to them).

  • Fear. We fear the future. We fear “not having enough.” We fear being unimportant and forgotten. In response to our fear, we strive to achieve. We believe that achievement will guarantee our security now and into the future. Unfortunately, we believed a lie. Achievement, at best, only brings achievement. We may have success but no time to enjoy the success, money but no one with whom to share the pleasures. We already said that “all work and no play make Jack a dull boy,” but “Jack” also finds “it’s lonely at the top.” The very actions we take in response to our fear lead us to a place in which we have lost the two most important components for relieving fear—contentment and relationships.
  • Pride. We take pride in our achievement. We come to believe that the company, the team, the church can’t get along without us. We are important, needed…absolutely needed. Without our efforts and wisdom, everything would fall apart. It’s not true. It’s only our pride whispering a lie into our hearts. I learned this lesson early in my career from an excellent supervisor. I worked with families who were in need. I became enmeshed with meeting their needs and trying to solve their problems. One day my supervisor asked me, “How long did they survive without you? How long did they survive before you came along?” The fact is, they survived a lifetime before me; and, as my years of work progressed, I learned that they survived after me. I could only serve, not heal. I could help, not save. And really, being available in a healthy way to help was, and is, enough.

Fear and pride interfere with our well-being and life satisfaction. They drive us into the compulsion to achieve. They steal us from our families. Our spouses and our children suffer as a result. However, balancing achievement with the freedom to relax and pursue those things we enjoy will increase our well-being and our life satisfaction. It will increase our ability to be present for our work… and probably achieve more as a result. Even more important, it will increase our ability to be present for our family and that will increase our spouse’s sense of worth and our children’s sense of security. It will allow us to be involved more with our families. That, by the way, is the best goal worth achieving.

An Amazing,Daily 7-Minute Investment

Did you know that a simple, 7-minute investment made on a daily basis can change your relationship with your child? It can also change your child’s life forever. This simple investment involves giving your undivided attention to your child for at least 7-minutes a day. Wait…before you quit reading, consider what it feels like to receive someone’s full attention. It informs us of our value. It communicates how much the person loves us. It leaves us with a sense of joy and contentment. Don’t you want your children to experience your love as well as the sense of value, joy, and contentment that results from your undivided attention? For all the benefit your child gains, this investment is really simple. It involves only 3 steps and about 7-minutes.

First, set aside a consistent time in which you can engage your children every day. You might schedule this time first thing in the morning, at bedtime, or while eating a meal or snack together. You pick the time that works best for you and your child. During this time, focus on them. Put away any distractions. Turn off all cellphones, TVs, and gaming equipment.  Listen and follow your children’s lead in the conversation. You can ask a question to get things started, but your most important task is to listen intently with the goal of learning about your children, their day, and their lives.

Second, focus on the positive. You can make it a time of gratitude. You can talk about positive things that have happened or about dreams of the future. You might explore ways in which your children have overcome various obstacles or managed stressors they encountered. Admire their ingenuity and resilience. But save discipline, “suggestions,” or lessons for another time. If you do have to offer some criticism in the moment (and I emphasize, only if it absolutely must be addressed immediately) sandwich it between some positive, loving statements. The important aspect of this time together is to celebrate your children, their strengths, and their interests. You want them to experience how much you delight in them and value them.

Third, voice your admiration of your children’s efforts in doing the things they enjoy as well as their efforts in managing the obstacles and hardships of life. Point out how their effort has led to improvements in talents and strengths and, in turn, led to even greater satisfaction and contentment. Express your pride in their persistence. Make it all conversational with the direction and topic determined by your children and their interests at the time. The goal is to let them know you recognize their efforts and that those efforts reap positive results, even if they experience temporary setbacks.

Three steps, 7-minutes…that’s it. But they will change your relationship with your children today and far into the future. They will also change your children’s lives for years to come. The icing on the cake? You will enjoy a wonderful time growing closer to your child.

Chores…Really?

A collective groan arises at the mere mention of the word…chores. Why do we, as parents, encourage (or even pull out our hair the umpteenth time we remind) our children to engage in chores? Of course, we want them to learn the skills necessary for running a household and increasing their sense of competency and independence at the same time. We also want them to learn the responsibility of being an active part of a home. We also want to give them the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the home, increasing their sense of worth and value.

But there is another reason children and parents benefit from chores. A survey of 2,000 people in the Americas revealed that children who participated in chores also had a stronger relationship with their parents as adults. Specifically, one in four said chores helped them bond with their parents. Sixty percent of people found comfort in completing household tasks the way they learned from their parents.

In other words, parents encourage children to complete chores with the future in mind—a future in which their adult children have a more positive relationship with them and one in which their adult children find comfort in household routines. But I don’t believe that simply making children do work for us around the house will have this positive future effect. No. There are at least two caveats to these important goals.

  1. Do chores with your children. Make the completion of household tasks a family matter. Set the table together. Take out the garbage together. Clean the house together. Do yardwork together. You may have some tasks you do alone. Your children may also have some tasks they do alone (like making their bed or keeping their room clean). However, doing tasks with your children gives you the opportunity to teach them how to do the task. Even better, it provides the opportunity for you to converse with your child. In the conversation you can learn about them, and they can learn about you. In addition, you and your children will have the pleasure of looking at a task completed together after sharing time doing the task. In other words, doing household tasks together nurtures a relationship that will last a lifetime.
  2. Make sure the household tasks your child completes are meaningful. Children, especially as they move into their teen years, need to know the work they do has purpose and meaning. They don’t want to do a meaningless job (like folding underwear or ironing sheets) simply to do a job. They want a job with purpose and meaning. Give them meaningful tasks that serve a purpose in your home and explain the significance of the task while you do it together.

As you complete meaningful household chores with your children, you’ll develop a positive relationship that will last a lifetime. That, I believe, may be the most important household task for any family to complete.

Don’t Forget the Secret Sauce

Many ingredients nurture a strong and healthy marriage: communication, time together, sharing emotions…the list goes on. But, the secret sauce of relationships, the ingredient that flows over it and adds extra flavor to the whole, is gratitude. Feeling appreciated by your spouse and appreciating your spouse forms a crucial ingredient to a healthy marriage. This truth became evident in a study that looked at the effectiveness of online relationship interventions. The primary finding revealed that online relationship interventions proved effective in building healthier marriages. Interestingly, the study also revealed that the couples reported improvement in partner gratitude after the interventions, even though the interventions did not specifically address the issue of gratitude. It reinforced what many already know: in healthy marriages both spouses express gratitude to one another and both spouses feel appreciated by one another.

With that in mind, if you want to nurture a strong and healthy marriage, practice gratitude. Make an intentional effort to watch for opportunities to express gratitude to your spouse and for your spouse. You can express your gratitude for things they do, things they say, or for aspects of their character you enjoy (“Thank you for being so fun loving and laughing with me”). In fact, make it a point to express gratitude to your spouse and for your spouse every day.

Express your gratitude sincerely, voluntarily, not under compulsion. Gratitude expressed because “I have to” becomes insincere and ineffective. It becomes meaningless. So don’t slip into taking your spouse for granted. They do not “have to” do anything for you. Everything they do is an expression of love, a commitment to your life together. Recognize that and let your gratitude flow from a heart of thanksgiving.

Finally, be aware of your spouse’s expressions of gratitude for you and the things you do. That gratitude may come to you verbally or through actions, so keep your eyes and ears open. Don’t get caught up in a feeling of entitlement and miss your spouse’s expression of gratitude. Be open to hearing their gratitude. Accept their expressions of gratitude.

Expressing gratitude and receiving gratitude is like the secret sauce flowing over your marriage with added flavor and joy. Like all sauces, gratitude is best if you pour it on because the more the better.

The Choice

I love my wife. She is the most amazing woman I know. Still, sometimes she drives me crazy. She does things that…well…just don’t make sense. Take the dishwasher for example. Watching her load the dishwasher almost hurts. I have to do it for the sake of getting it to full capacity. She has no sense of keeping the covers neat while we sleep either. She pulls them, pushes them over the edge, wrinkles them.

Right now, many of you are probably thinking, “I feel sorry for your wife.” Don’t worry. I drive her crazy sometimes too. (…even though I, like Mary Poppins, am “practically perfect in every way.” My wife just sighed and laughed as I typed that self-description. I “may” be exaggerating.) The dishwasher thing… she just laughs, shakes her head, and watches me load it. She thinks I’m crazy for how I cocoon in the covers. But here’s the point, the reason I bring it up. My wife and I share a deep love for one other and that love shapes how we respond to any “issues” that arise. 

In fact, when such “issues” arise (or even more significant concerns), married couples are faced with a choice. They can start to rant and rave. They can resort to criticism, contempt, and blame. Or they can let the viral warrior of kindness arise in our hearts.

I’ve heard many couples resort to criticism, contempt, and blame. I’m sure you have too.

  • “What’s wrong with you? You can’t do it that way.”
  • “You’re ridiculous. Get out of my way.”
  • “You can’t even wash clothes right. I have to do it to make sure it’s done right!”
  • “It’s your fault we can’t have friends over. You can’t even put your socks away.”
  • “I don’t know why I put up with you and your incompetence. You’re just like your….”
  • “What are you, stupid? Think about what you just said.”

The list of such comments can go on. You’ve heard them, I’m sure. However, in the moment of that critical, contemptuous, or blaming comment, love has been cast out the window. The armor of contempt with its weapons of criticism, disgust, hurt, and defensiveness, has been donned. Put on this armor and cast love out the window often enough and your marriage dies. A lack of kindness delivers death blow after death blow, slowing killing it. Sometimes it’s not even the words that we use but the tone with which we say them. Even seemingly neutral words given with a tone of sarcasm, condescension, or resentment communicate criticism and contempt. 

Love, on the other hand, gives voice to kindness in such situations. When your spouse does something that “drives you crazy,” love puts on the armor of kind words and kind actions. Kindness accepts different ways in which our spouses do things and view things. In fact, the viral warrior of kindness goes a step further and recognizes that our spouses’ way of doing things and viewing things is actually credible, possibly even better than our way!

The viral warrior of kindness also celebrates a job well-done rather than criticizing that it’s “not done to my standards.” Kindness recognizes that there may be multiple ways to complete a job, one as good as the next. The very fact that your spouse participates in “getting the work done” is an expression of love worthy of recognition by the viral warrior of kindness.  

As a result, the viral warrior of kindness compliments and expresses gratitude for everything our spouses do to make our home place of joy and peace.  In fact, kindness makes a point of seeking daily opportunities to express appreciation and admiration for their spouse and for what their spouse has done.

The next time you find yourself at odds with your spouse on how to load a dishwasher, fold a towel, squeeze the toothpaste, clean the bathroom, make a bed, or any other area of possible animosity, realize you have a choice: respond with kindness or not. Let me rephrase that: respond with love or not? After all, love is kind. Love employs the viral warrior of kindness.

The Power to Change the World

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Kindness has the power to change the world and, just as important, kindness begins in your family. Sharing kindness with our spouse and children spurs them to spread kindness to those outside the home as well. It might just induce a ripple effect of kindness spreading through the community. Perhaps you don’t believe kindness can have this type of power. I too thought it sounded too good to be true. How could kindness, let alone kindness displayed simply within the family, have the power to save the whole world? But then I began to explore the possibility. Take a moment and consider some of what I discovered.

Family relationships are built upon small daily interactions. These interactions can be marked by kindness or not. Kind interactions communicate love and delight, adoration and appreciation for one another. This translates into relationships founded on trust, security, and safety—what researchers label as a secure attachment. In other words, daily acts of kindness help to build a secure and that secure attachment impacts how people navigate the world. In fact, researchers have found that prompting people to recall memories of healthy family relationships based on daily acts of kindness (a secure attachment), led them to treat others with greater kindness. Specifically,

  • They expressed fewer negative stereotypes about other people and voiced fewer negative emotions about other people. They also expressed less support for aggressive actions toward others.        
  • They reported less intense negative reactions to people outside “our group.”
  • Recalling memories of secure attachments eliminated the “effects of threat” to a person’s self-esteem posed by those with different views and increased the person’s willingness to interact with those outside “their group.”
  • It also lessened their negative response to people who posed a threat to their cultural worldview.
  • Recalling memories of healthy family relationships built on kindness (a secure attachment) led to an increased use of “self-transcendence values” like understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protecting and enhancing the welfare of others.
  • It also provided a foundation for compassion and caregiving behaviors.
  • And, it contributed to reporting a greater willingness to engage in, and then actually engaging in, more selfless and prosocial behaviors.

These studies suggest that the small daily acts of kindness that contribute to a secure attachment can change the world. What are those small daily acts of kindness?

  • Showing delight in your family member. Greeting them with a smile reveals how glad you are to see them.
  • Expressing healthy affection for your spouse and children through loving words and affectionate touch.
  • Offering comfort during even minor times of stress and rejoicing together during times of celebration.
  • Encouraging your spouse and children to pursue their interests and explorations of the world. This may involve supporting them in their pursuit as well.
  • Listening deeply.
  • Believing the best about your spouse’s intents and motivations as well as your children’s intents and motivations.

These simple daily practices of kindness can change the world, starting with your marriage and your family. Kindness is powerful.

A Sacred Challenge for Your Family

Fred Rogers said, “I believe that appreciation is a holy thing—that when we look for what’s best in a person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does all the time. So in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something sacred.”

I agree. I also believe that the best place to start this holy activity is within our families. When we practice the holy activity of appreciation within the family, we nurture a healthier family. We will also raise a generation of people who appreciate others and engage in the holy art of appreciation. A generation armed with the sacred tool of appreciation will nurture peace in our communities, scattering hatred of self and others. After all, a child who knows they are appreciated learns to appreciate themselves and others, to love themselves and others, to have confidence in themselves and others. In this way, the “holy thing” of appreciation within the family can start a movement that might change the world. You may think my vision grandiose. But, even if I’m wrong and it doesn’t change the world, it will most definitely change your family.

With this in mind, let me present a challenge for you and your family.

  • Write down the name of each family member on a piece of paper.
  • Every day for the next month, look for and identify one thing you can appreciate about each family member. This may include something you admire about their character or some action you can thank them for.
  • Express that appreciation to them verbally as it occurs.
  • Then, at the end of each day, write that appreciation next to their name.
  • At the end of the month, sit down as a family and review your appreciation list over a favorite family meal or dessert. Enjoy the appreciation and watch your children’s faces and your spouse’s face glow with joy to know how much they are appreciated.

Dad Vs. Mom in Their Child’s Success

A study using a sample of almost 5,000 mother-father households found that parents play a unique role in their children’s academic success. Specifically, this study confirmed that interactive activities between a father and their three-year-old contributes to that child’s improved academic performance when they are five-years-old. And when a father is actively engaged with his five-year-old child, that child tends to have higher academic scores at seven-years-old. In other words, a father who engages his child in interactive activities promotes their academic success.

The same study suggested that a mother’s involvement with their child tends to promote improved emotional and social behaviors rather than academic achievement.

In general, children benefit from having both a mother and a father actively engaged in their lives. I just find it interesting that a mother’s involvement is more predictive of emotional and social behaviors while a father’s involvement is more predictive of academic success. So, if you want an emotionally healthy child who has good social skills and does well in school, engage with your child in a variety of activities on a regular basis.

Become actively involved in your child’s life and promote their future success.

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