Archive for Celebration

2 Challenges Every Marriage Faces…& What to Do About Them

Every marriage faces challenges. I only want to discuss two of those challenges in this blog.  Both challenges naturally arise as a couple moves along their marital journey.

The first challenge involves busy-ness. Each person in the couple becomes busier at work, in the home, and in the community. Each one takes on more responsibilities and gets involved in more activities. Work promotions increase work demands. A bigger house requires more time in upkeep and maintenance. Children demand more time due to childcare needs and increased activities. Involvement in community groups often means more participation in meetings, planning, and activities. Even church involvement can result in more responsibilities and busy-ness. This busy-ness can begin to interfere with couple time. It can start to pull each person in a different direction, straining the intimacy of the couple.

The second challenge occurs as each person becomes more comfortable with their spouse. They may begin to take less notice of their spouse’s contributions to their home and their marriage. What used to come across as important contributions becomes mere expectations that go unnoticed unless they’re not complete. In addition, each person often fails to spend as much time trying to “impress” their spouse once they have been married for a while. They might wear sweats more often than attractive outfits. Socks get left on the floor and dirty dishes are scattered throughout the living areas. The house gets slightly more unkempt as the schedules get busier. Niceties and politeness begin to slip while expectations and demands begin to rise. In other words, we begin to take one another for granted.

A third challenge that exacerbates the first two challenges involves our growing “affection” for our cell phones. On average, adults spend about 4 hours a day on their phone. This is 4 hours taken away from dedicated time with our spouse.

These challenges, though, present opportunities for strengthening your marriage if responded to wisely and intentionally. Here are 3 ways to respond to these challenges and strengthen your marriage.

  • Intentionally set aside time together as a couple. John Gottman suggests the “magic 5 hours” to create time together with your spouse (you can learn about the “magic 5 hours” here). I want to emphasize three daily times to create space for togetherness with your spouse. One, give your spouse a hug and a kiss each morning. Then spend a few minutes talking about your plans for the day.  Two, give your spouse a hug and a kiss each night before bed. Tell them you love them. Spend a few minutes talking about your days. Three, set aside 20 minutes each day for uninterrupted conversation with your spouse. Use this conversation to talk about things that will nurture the intimacy in your marriage, not daily plans but dreams and things you admire about one another.
  • Intentionally look for aspects of your spouse that you admire and adore. Then intentionally take the time to tell them what you admire about them. Intentionally seek out opportunities to thank your spouse and compliment your spouse. Make it a habit to do this every day, multiple times a day.
  • Intentionally set aside your phone at times to spend quality time with your spouse. Create “tech-free” zones and “tech-free” times in which you focus on your spouse and your relationship. (Learn more in Smartphones, Priorities, & Terrible Outcomes Even for Parents, My Cell Phone Is Ripping Me Off, and Take Charge of Your Smartphone Before It Takes Charge of You.)

These challenges naturally arise in any marriage. Don’t let them sap your marriage of love and intimacy. Use them to intentionally nurture love and intimacy with your spouse. You’ll both be glad you did.

The Lesson of Generations–Family Camp, 2022

“In Our Home We Will Laugh and Love.” It’s true. That’s what we all want…a home filled with love and laughter. The lessons learned at this year’s Family Camp will empower every family that attended to fill their home with more laughter and love. Several lessons stood out for me, but I’ll only share a few. Each one comes to us through various components of humor found in the Bible.

  • Things strike us as funny when they suddenly present an unusual and surprising contrast. With that in mind, the contrast between the apostles’ character before they knew Christ and their character after they came to know Christ is sacred humor. For instance, James and John, the “Sons of Thunder” who suggested raining down fire upon unsuspecting souls, became the apostles known for self-sacrifice and love. I have to smile when I think about how drastically they changed after they knew, really knew, Jesus. The change found in knowing Christ leads people to greater love, more passionate service, and deeper self-sacrifice. Aren’t those beautiful traits for any happy family?
  • Irony is also an important component of humor…and what could prove more ironic than recognizing who Jesus uses to accomplish His amazing work. He doesn’t only use the powerful, the rich, or the influential by worldly standards. In fact, more often than not, He specializes in using the humble, the seemingly weak, the outcasts—like me! Each one in our family is important and has a crucial role to fill in the family and the world around them, from the youngest to the oldest.
  • Sometimes God even seems to enjoy some “dark humor,” just look at the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. The lesson for our family is not in the dark humor itself though. The lesson is that God can empower each of us to do His work…and He never leaves us alone in that work. As a family, we can celebrate that we are His hands, His feet, and His mouth in loving and watching over one another.

That is only three of the many lessons we learned at Family Camp this year. One other lesson stood out for me, one not related to anything spoken. I’ve been around long enough now that those who were children when my wife and I first took our children to Family Camp are now playing games with their own children at Family Camp. People who once attended as children are now leading us in various activities at camp. It is wonderful. Families have grown and continue to enjoy their time with one another and other families. Family Camp is filled with generations of families that built “homes in which we laugh and love.”

We have experienced several difficult years between a pandemic, political strife, and ongoing conflicts. But through it all, families remain. Children grow up and have their own children. Parents come to enjoy their grandchildren. Each generation lovingly offers their gifts to the other generations—children offer the gift of new life and energy for growth, young adults the gift of hope and zeal, parents the gift of guidance and support, and grandparents the gift of wisdom and encouragement to name a few.  Generations of families that build “homes in which we laugh and love” continue to love and grow, no matter the circumstances in the world. This is perhaps the greatest lesson I take from Family Camp this year, a lesson that communicates God’s providence and love.

Thank you Terri and Jim for organizing a wonderful week, Tim Hartman for the funny and insightful messages, Liz and Andy for the music time, Nadine for fabulous meals…and all those who helped make such a memorable weekend for so many families.

A Gratitude Practice…Are You Up to the Challenge?

I’ve been reading and thinking about gratitude lately. The more I learn, the more amazed I become. Gratitude has a powerful impact on the health and happiness of our families. So, I thought I’d share a little about what gratitude is…and what it is not. Then offer a gratitude challenge for your family…if you’re up for it.

Gratitude is not simply a feeling. It is an action, an intentional action taken to acknowledge a gift received and express thanks to the giver.

Gratitude is not a one-time event or a destination. It is a practice. We do not “arrive at” a life of gratitude; we “practice” a lifestyle of gratitude.

Gratitude is not simply “counting our blessings.” in fact, if we focus merely on the individual blessings of our lives, we risk promoting entitlement and arrogance rather than a humble life of gratitude. No, gratitude is a humble practice that broadens our perspective, enhancing our awareness of the vast beauty and kindness around us.

Gratitude, rather than a focus on what “I have received,” builds connection. It opens our eyes to the “giver” and the generosity of their gift. It heightens our perception and appreciation of the value inherent in the people and circumstances around us.

Gratitude is not giving begrudgingly or from obligation, which merely laces it with feelings of opposition and offense. It is not something we politely offer in passing, without thought, disingenuously and inauthentically. True gratitude is a practice in thoughtful action, authentic expression. In fact, an authentic expression of gratitude has the power to lift a person’s mood and strengthen their resolve.

As with any good practice, it takes time to cultivate gratitude. It takes time and practice to refine our gratitude skills. It takes active participation in the practice of gratitude to develop the mindset and poise that nurtures the habit and natural flow of gratitude.

I invite you to begin practicing gratitude with your family by keeping a “Family Gratitude Journal” for the next 2 weeks (make it a month for a real challenge).  Once a day, maybe at dinner time or bedtime, look over the last 24 hours and write down:

  1. Three things for which each family member is grateful. Don’t write the same thing every day. Write something different each day.
  2. One to two nice things each family member did or said to someone else—this may be a person within the family or outside the family.
  3. One way in which each family member can acknowledge their gratitude over the next 24 hours. That might include a simple “thank you,” an act of paying it forward, or choosing some personal change that reflects your gratitude. Be creative and allow for the possibility of your life, not just your words, to speak of your gratitude.

You might keep this journal in a traditional paper notebook or choose some other creative way to record your gratitude. For instance, you could make construction paper leaves for each spoken thanks and form a tree on a wall in the family room. Or you might make a paper chain in which you write a record of gratefulness on each link. You get the idea…be as creative as you like. Then, after the challenge, let us know how this challenge changed your family. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Husbands, Reduce Your Wife’s Stress for a Better Life

Let’s face it, guys. Most of us want our wives to feel less stressed. And, chances are, we’d do almost anything to help alleviate our wives’ stress. It makes for a calmer home. After all, “happy wife, happy life,” right?

You can imagine, then, how pleased I was to discover this simple, enjoyable way to reduce my wife’s stress. Researchers from Ruhr University, Bochum, Germany confirmed the efficacy of this stress reducing activity in a study involving 76 people in romantic relationships. All the participants engaged in a stress-inducing test by keeping one hand in a bath of ice water for 3-minutes while maintaining “eye contact with a camera.”   Half the couples were instructed to embrace one another before the ice water hand soaking. The other half did not embrace one another.

Lo and behold, women who embraced their romantic partner prior to the “stress-inducing experience” had a lower biological stress response than those couples who did not embrace. They had a lower cortisol stress response. Ironically, this did not happen for the men, only for women.

I thought perhaps this was a fluke. So I looked around a little more and found another study that involved women anticipating a “small electric shock.” (I know, who volunteers to receive a “small electric shock”?) Anyway, this study found similar results. When a women held the hand of her husband, she perceived less stress while anticipating the shock than one who held the hand of a stranger. And the happier the marriage, the more stress relief the women felt while holding their husband’s hands. The more love, the happier the marriage, the less stress…a good reason to build a strong, loving marriage. There you have it—less of a biological stress response and less perceived stress. If you want a wife with less stress, a happier wife contributing to a happier family life, give her a hug. Even better give her multiple hugs a day. Hold her hand. Show her physical affection often. It’s simple. It’s enjoyable. And it will lead to a more stress-free wife. What a wonderful expression of love and a wonderful gift to give your wife.

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.

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?

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?

“Refurbish” the Empty Nest

It happens. Parents invest time and energy into their children’s lives for years. They set aside their own comfort, and even postpone some personal goals, to invest in their children’s goals and dreams. Then it happens. Our children fly the coop. They grow up, spread their wings, and fly off to live their own lives…just like we raised them to do. Still, their leaving is bittersweet. The “empty nest” can be…well, empty. Some parents experience a heavy sadness or a loss of purpose when their children leave home. Research reveals that the empty nest can even lead to depression or anxiety for some parents. (See Empty Nest Syndrome for more information.) That’s the bad news…but I have some good news, too.

A series of three studies revealed a wonderful way to beat the empty nest. It’s really pretty simple too. Get involved in a class or an activity group. Not just any class or activity group though. Get involved in a class focused on crafting, singing, or creative writing. In this study, each of these three types of classes increased participants’ self-confidence, enhanced their willingness to take on new challenges, and gave them a greater sense of control over their own lives. Even more, the classes “broadened their network of friends” and gave them a greater sense of belonging. And the more a person felt like they were part of the group, the “more their health and well-being improved.”

There’s more. If you want to create new relationships and a sense of belonging quickly, start with the singing class or group. Those in a singing group connected to others in the group most quickly, followed by those in the creative writing group and, lastly, those in the craft group. Still, they all lead to a greater sense of belonging and new relationships.

So, if you’re feeling lonely, sad, or just a little empty sitting at home after your children have flown the coop, join a singing, writing, or crafting class. You’ll have a great time, meet new friends, and fill the nest with new and interesting activities and friends.

This Vacation Will Improve Your Family’s Mental Health (& You Don’t Even Have to Leave Home)

A team of researchers at the University of Bath published a study in May of 2022 that revealed a way to improve mental health and well-being in just one week. It’s not a cure-all, but it can make a difference. The study included 154 participants between the ages of 18- and 72-years-old. Researchers randomly assigned them to one of two groups. One group was asked to stop using all social media for one week. The other group continued “scrolling through” social media as usual. I don’t know about you, but “scrolling as usual” for me often occurs mindlessly. I go to Facebook or Instagram to check something simple and find myself scrolling for more time than I want. In fact, the average time spent on social media in the United States is about 2 hours and 6 minutes (See Average Time Spent Daily on Social Media (Latest 2022 Data) – BroadbandSearch for more statistics on social media use.)  That means that taking time off social media frees up an average of 2 hours every day. Imagine what you can do with 2 extra hours a day.  But that was not the objective of this study. Check out the results this study discovered.

Questionnaires completed before and after the week of the study showed that those who had taken a time off of social media showed a “significant improvement in well-being, depression, and anxiety.”  In addition, those who took a week off social media self-reported improved mood and less anxiety. Read that again. Those who took a week off of social media exhibited an overall improvement in well-being and a decrease in depression and anxiety.

Social media usage has increased dramatically over the last decade. In fact, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that we spend more time using social media than we do socializing, eating and drinking, or doing housework. (See Time Spent Daily on Social Media (Latest 2022 Data) – BroadbandSearch for more.) Not using social media for a week opens up time for you and your family to engage in many other things that might bring you greater joy and health. For instance, you might enjoy activities ranging from visiting the zoo or aviary to going to an amusement park to taking a raft down the river to having a picnic to enjoying a free concert to spending time with your family to… the list goes on.

So here is a challenge. Sit down with your family (maybe over dinner or a trip to the ice cream parlor) and discuss the findings of this study. As a family, pick a week to take a “social media vacation.” You might combine it with your family vacation; or you might choose a different week. Whichever you choose, be sure everyone agrees to take a week off social media. Plan some activities—fun activities, family activities, individual activities—to do during that week. Put the week and the activities on the schedule. Then do it…and enjoy it. After it’s all said and done, reconvene (another trip to the ice cream parlor perhaps) and discuss your experience. Who knows? You might end up deciding to take a one-week-social-media-vacation twice a year or once a quarter.

Inoculate Your Family Against the Epidemic of Loneliness

Loneliness has become an epidemic. One report suggests that 36% of all Americans felt “serious loneliness.” Worse, 61% of young adults feel “serious loneliness” (See Loneliness in America). That is bad news for a person’s physical and emotional health. Loneliness is worse for a person than obesity. Chronic loneliness is as bad for your health s smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It increases the risk of high blood pressure. It contributes to depression. (For more on the health risks of loneliness, see The Facts on Loneliness.) Fortunately, though, you can inoculate your family against chronic loneliness in at least 3 ways.

First, involve your family in social activities. Social activities provide opportunities to develop relationships and nurture social supports. Get involved with groups that give each family member a sense that people care for them. You might find supportive relationships and groups through involvement in community sports, clubs, a reading group or a “coffee klatch.” Church groups and youth groups provide another excellent avenue for developing relationships with caring people along with the opportunity to participate in meaningful activities that can reduce loneliness.

Second, teach your family to nurture relationships. Teaching the skills needed to nurture relationships begins in the home. You begin to teach the skill of nurturing relationships by practicing it within the family. Ask one another for assistance. Share emotions with one another. Allow yourself the vulnerability to ask for help and comfort. Take the risk of asking one another to do things together. Extend these skills toward trusted others outside the family. Develop family friends. Enjoy multi-family activities. Build your village.

Third, follow the advice of a recent Penn State study. Engage in meaningful and challenging activities, “flow” activities. These activities require skill and concentration. They are challenging and demand our full attention, but they are not impossible. When a “flow” activity come to an end, we are often surprised by how much time has passed. A recent Penn State study revealed that engaging in meaningful, enjoyable activities that require concentration and skill (AKA— “flow” activities) reduced loneliness. In fact, these “flow” activities were even more important to reducing loneliness than high levels of social support. You can help your children discover their flow activities through questions, trying various activities and interests “on for size,” observing, and listening. Some may find their “flow” in music. Others in writing, athletics, storytelling, cooking, or other skilled activities. One hint when seeking a “flow” activity though, watching television lacks the challenge and skill needed to create a “flow” experience, as does scrolling through social media. So just knock them off the list of potential “flow” experiences to help reduce loneliness and go right to the more challenging, skill-oriented experiences noted above.

Don’t let the epidemic of loneliness infect and grow in your family. Inoculate your children and your family against loneliness with a village, a model, and “flow” to protect them against chronic loneliness.

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