Archive for Grace

Even If Your Spouse Doesn’t Know…

A study published in 2017 asked 175 newlywed couples to keep a two-week diary recording when they acted compassionately toward their spouse—when they voluntarily cared for their spouse, when they focused on understanding and genuine acceptance of their spouse’s needs and wishes, and when they warmly expressed a willingness to put their spouse’s goals ahead of their own.

After talking with the couples, researchers found that the spouse receiving the compassionate acts only benefited from those acts when they noticed them, when they recognized them. That’s not too surprising. We lose the benefit of getting something if we don’t recognize that we have received it.

However, the person performing the compassionate act benefited whether their spouse noticed the compassionate act or not. Did you catch that? The person performing the compassionate act experienced benefits even when their spouse did not realize they had been a recipient of kindness. When we show tenderness toward our spouses, we benefit whether our spouse notices the tenderness or not. When we change our plans to accommodate our spouses, we benefit even if our spouses don’t know we did it.

These findings remind me of a verse that describes love: “Love does not seek its own.” Love seeks the good of the one loved. Ironically, when we seek the good of our spouse, the one we love, we benefit even if they don’t know what we did. So, show your spouse compassion today, even if they never recognize it:

  • Do a chore around the house without being asked. Put away the clean clothes. Unload the dishwasher. Take out the garbage. Make the bed. Maybe your spouse will notice, maybe they won’t. But you’ll receive the benefit of knowing you served your spouse in love.
  • Sacrifice your desire to watch something so you can watch what your spouse wants to watch. Leave the last piece of pie or candy for your spouse. Prepare a meal they like, even if you don’t. Skip a night out with friends to enjoy a night in with your spouse. Maybe your spouse will notice the sacrifice, maybe they won’t. But you will enjoy the benefit of a happier spouse and the joy of knowing you have expressed your love through quiet sacrifice.
  • Give your spouse a backrub, even though you’re tired. Offer to get the groceries or prepare the meal while they rest once in a while. Maybe your spouse will acknowledge the service, maybe they won’t. But you will enjoy the knowledge that you just acted in love toward your spouse.
  • Express your love in words and actions every day, even if your spouse does not notice…even if they don’t reciprocate as often. You will enjoy the benefit of living out your love in word and deed, of knowing your spouse knows you love them.

“Love does not seek its own;” it seeks the good of the one loved. Show your spouse your love through your acts of tenderness and compassion, even if they don’t realize you’re doing it. You’ll be glad you did since acting compassionately is its own reward.

“Forgivingly Fitness” & Your Children’s Grades

You might be asking, “What is ‘Forgivingly Fitness’?” Good question. Robert Enright, a forgiveness researcher refers to the benefits of building our “forgivingly fitness,” our openness and ability to forgive those who hurt us. Of course, we want our children to learn how to forgive. After all, forgiveness builds resilience and helps us not fall prey to resentment. Forgiveness restores a more positive outlook on our life. But did you know it can also improve academic performance? According to one study (discussed by Robert Enright in this Like a Sponge podcast) participating in a 12-week forgiveness class was associated with a full letter improvement in their grades. A control group of students who did not participate in the forgiveness class did not experience any academic improvement (see this study also).

Why would learning about forgiveness improve academic performance? I like Dr. Enright’s answer to that question: “If you are a 13-year-old in middle school and you have a throbbing knee that day, you’re going to miss the lesson because your knee is getting in the way of concentration. What if you have a broken heart…? You’re going to miss the lesson too. But, what if we can bind up the heart? Now, you have more time, focus, and energy to focus on your lessons.” In other words, unforgiveness leads to resentment. Holding a grudge takes up space in our minds. Resentment and holding a grudge interfere with our ability to concentrate and learn. Teaching our children to forgive, on the other hand, allows them to let go of the resentment and not hold the grudge. It frees them up to expend energy on more important aspects of life…like learning.

How can you teach your child to forgive? First, model forgiveness in your own life. Many “small opportunities” arise for the practice forgiveness. Take advantage of those opportunities. Practice forgiveness and talk about your work to forgive with your children and family. Something as simple as, “Someone ran through a stop sign and cut me off on the way home today. It really made me angry. It’s dangerous and not fair that they cut me off (Acknowledging the Wrong Done). I don’t know why they did it. Maybe they were daydreaming, had an emergency, or they are new to the area and kind of lost. We all have those times. (Acknowledging Our Mutual Humanity with the One Who Offended Us.) So I just took a breath and let it go. No need to hold on to that. (Altruistic Choice to Forgive.) Hopefully he’s safe. (Wishing Compassion for the Offender.)” (Steps of the forgiveness process noted in italics.)

Second you can talk about forgiveness while watching movies or tv shows in which one person offends another.  Let the discussion loosely follow the steps alluded to above. If you’re not sure about questions to ask or how to discuss forgiveness for a character, consider some of the questions in “Enright’s Forgiveness Process Model.” The conversation doesn’t have to go from beginning to end. It doesn’t need to lead to a complete understanding of forgiveness. It’s simply an opportunity to discuss some of the questions about forgiveness, what it involves, and the benefits it might have for that character.

Becoming “forgivingly fit” will help you and your child navigate life in a healthier way. You will experience more joy and contentment. Most important, your child may even experience greater academic success.

4 Surprising Things Happily Married Couples Do

Happy marriages don’t just happen. They develop between spouses who consistently engage in certain actions. In other words, happy marriages are cultivated by couples who actively nurture their marriage. With that in mind, here are 4 surprising ways happily married couples nurture their marriage.

  1. Happily married couples disagree and argue. They know that disagreements offer them an opportunity to learn more about one another. Disagreements and arguments open the door to the intimacy of knowing one another more deeply. So rather than defend, blame, and criticize, they respect, listen, and validate. In doing so, they learn that even their points of disagreement are times to cherish as they nurture a happier marriage.
  2. Happily married couples spend time alone. Sure, happily married couples spend a lot of time as a couple, but each spouse also spends time alone. We all need some “alone” time. Happily married couples enjoy that alone time. Each spouse has a confidence in their relationship that allows them to spend alone time to take care of themselves without fear of it damaging their relationship. As a result, they can purse hobbies and personal growth. They can come back from time alone refreshed and ready to pour themselves into their marriage in new and loving ways.
  3. Happily married couples accept one another’s influence. My friends once asked me to go out with them after work. I told them I had to “check with my wife.” You know what they said: “You’re whipped man.” And that is the most complimentary insult I’ve ever received. It means I allow my wife to influence me. It means my wife and her happiness are more important to me than a night out. It means my wife knows she has priority in my life. It means I accept her influence in my life. Do you accept the influence of your spouse?
  4. Happily married couples give it up for one another. In other words, spouses in a happy marriage sacrifice for one another. Every marriage demands some sacrifice. We sacrifice our unbridled freedom to commit to our spouse. We sacrifice time doing what we want in order to do things our spouse wants to do. We sacrifice the remote to watch a show our spouse wants to watch. We sacrifice the last piece of pie. We sacrifice…. You get the idea. From small sacrifices to grand sacrifices, happily married couples are willing to give it up for their spouse. No, they aren’t just willing, they are happy to give it up for their spouse to lift up their marriage. After all, they love their spouse.

Happily married couples do more than just these 4 things (like serve, honor, encourage, admire, etc.), but these are 4 rather surprising things happily married couples do. Do you?

In Family, Is It Better to Give or Receive?

If you are a student of ancient Biblical sayings, you probably think you know the answer to this question already. In fact, you will quote the words of Jesus in response to the question: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Researchers from Ohio State University put that to the test in a study involving 1,054 healthy adults between 34 and 84-years-old. Each participant completed three measures: one of their social integrations, one of their perceptions of how much they could rely on others, and one of their perceptions of how available they were to support family and friends. Two years later they returned for follow-up blood tests that measured markers of systemic inflammation in the body. These markers are associated with increased risk for health issues like cardiovascular disease and cancer.

What did they discover? Lower inflammation markers [and, as a result, the risk for related diseases] was associated with increased availability to give social support to family and friends. In other words, the researchers found the healing power of relationships increase when a person gives support to family and friends rather than simply receiving support.

Don’t mistake, receiving support is also good. It, too, is associated with greater health. But the greatest health benefit comes when we offer support as well. So, it’s true. When it comes to giving and receiving support in your marriage and family it really “is more blessed to give than to receive,” even in terms of our physical health. With that in mind, how can you give support to your spouse and family? The ways are endless but let me offer three principles.

  1. Being available to give support to your family takes time. You have to give of your time to your spouse and your family to remain available to offer support. Get out your calendar and prioritize time with your family.
  2. Giving support to your family means setting aside your personal agenda at times. The need for support often arises at “inconvenient times.” You might have to sacrifice watching your favorite game or TV show to spend time supporting your family. You might have to change your schedule, postpone an activity. But, in the long run, what really is more important to you, your family or a sitcom? Your spouse or a video game? Your children or reading the news? Postpone your agenda and make yourself available to support your family.
  3. To truly support your spouse and children, you have to know them well. Each person receives support in slightly different ways. One person may feel supported with encouraging words while another desires hands-on assistance. Moreover, each person may need support in a different area of their life depending on their developmental needs and current needs. Take time to know your family so you can support them in the ways that are most meaningful to them. If you can’t figure out how a family member wants support or in what area they might like support, ask them.

These three principles will open up a “world of opportunity” to support your family. As you do, you will experience the joy and health of giving support to your family. You will gain firsthand knowledge that “it’s more blessed to give than to receive.”

6 Tips to Make Your Marriage a Taste of Heaven on Earth

Marriage can provide us with a taste of heaven on earth…or leave us living in hell on earth. Unfortunately, we don’t generally receive training in how to make our marriages a happy, fulfilling experience. I know you can’t learn everything you need to know about a wonderful marriage in a blog but let me give some tips to offer a good start. Here are 6 tips for making your marriage a taste of heaven on earth.

  1. Practice radical generosity. Radical generosity means giving your whole life to your spouse. Give your best energy to your spouse. Give service to your spouse…with joy. Give affection to your spouse on a daily basis. Give your spouse compliments. Give your strength and effort in keeping a home. Give your time by doing an extra chore. Give your time by engaging your spouse in conversation and togetherness. Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt, even when they hurt you. Give all of this and more with radical generosity.
  2. Be the first. Of course, be the first to apologize when you make a mistake. Be the first to apologize when an argument arises or when you have a disagreement, even when it isn’t your fault. Be the first to volunteer to do a chore around the house. Be the first to offer your services to your spouse. Be the first to offer genuine forgiveness. Be the first to sacrifice for the good of your spouse and your marriage. Be the first.
  3. Don’t complain, adore instead. We often find it easier to complain and nag than to adore and compliment. Make an intentional effort to look for the positive in your spouse and your marriage and then acknowledge those positives verbally. In fact, set a goal to say nine positive things to and about your spouse for every one negative. That’s a 9-positive to 1-negative rule. Verbally appreciate or adore your spouse multiple times every day. Focus on the joy and the beauty your spouse adds to your life and verbalize your appreciation of it on a daily basis. Doing so will change your marriage.
  4. Have fun. Make it a point to laugh with your spouse. Find activities you can engage in together just for fun. You might enjoy bike riding, reading a book together, sampling restaurants, hiking, going for walks, listening to music, going to plays…. The list is endless. Make it a habit to enjoy at least one fun conversation daily and at least one fun activity weekly. Have fun together. Laugh. Celebrate your love.
  5. Listen deeply. Listen with respect to hear their wisdom. Listen to understand their intent. Listen to understand their emotions. Listen to understand their desires. Listen so you can understand their view of the world. Listen so you can respond lovingly to what you hear. Yes, listen deeply—for by listening deeply you come to know your spouse better; and in knowing your spouse better you come to love them more.
  6. Accept completely. When we live with someone we begin to see their flaws (just as they see our flaws). But you can’t change your spouse. Don’t even try. Accept them in all their uniqueness instead. Take time to remember all those aspects you love about your spouse. Focus on the aspects you admire and adore about (return to #3 on this list). When their “little traits and idiosyncrasies” begin to irritate, remember how those same “traits and idiosyncrasies” made you love them when your first met. Accept them completely.

Once again, this list is far from exhaustive. What have you done to help create a marriage that gives you a little taste of heaven on earth? What would you add to this list to help others have a heavenly marriage?

What A “Pittsburgher” Learned About Family in Cleveland

My wife and I enjoyed a trip to Cleveland. We had a great time and met some wonderful people. (Yes, I am from Pittsburgh AND I found Cleveland fun & enjoyable…go figure.) After breakfast one morning we strolled through the Arcade 5 and saw this sign outside the Johnnysville Woods store. It lists “The 5 Commandments for Being Happy.” I thought I’d share it with you and how the same “commandments” can help our families.

  1. Free your heart from hatred. Hatred destroys. It takes root in the heart and fills a person with resentment, bitterness, and mistrust. Hatred destroys relationships, even within the family. The antidote to hatred is apology and forgiveness. Both apology and forgiveness are crucial to a healthy, happy family life because families are made up of people who make mistakes—who say the wrong thing, forget the important thing, offend unknowingly, and blame wrongly. Each will demand apology and forgiveness to restore the relationship. Humble yourself to apology. Become vulnerable enough to forgive. Often.
  2. Free your mind from worry. Worry can kill a family too. Worry flows out of fear, usually irrational fears and fears about things over which we have no control. Excessive worry creates unnecessary limits. It hinders our exploration and our growth. It hinders our risk taking, our willingness to “put ourselves out there,” and our ability to nurture our relationships. Don’t let worry and fear drive your family life. We can begin to let go of worry by nurturing gratitude and trust toward our spouse, our children, and our parents.
  3. Give more. Give more love. Give more gratitude. Give more service. Give more consideration. Give more encouragement. Give more benefit of the doubt. Give more…and give more generously. Give so much that your family will remember you as a generous person who enjoyed giving to others. When you do, your family will grow healthier and happier.
  4. Expect less. While you give more, expect less. In fact, “consider one another as more important than yourself. Don’t look out only for your own interests but for the interests of others.” Rather than expect your spouse and children to serve you, serve them…generously. Look more to what you can give than to what you want to receive. After all, “it’s better to give than to receive.” (For more on expectations in marriage, read Do Expectations Help or Hinder Your Marriage.)
  5. Love simply. Yes. Love simply…but realize that loving is not always easy. Even when it is hard to do, love simply. When a family member says something that hurts your feelings, love anyway. When your spouse forgets to finish the “honey-do-list,” love anyway. When your child does not listen, love anyway. When your parent doesn’t understand, love anyway. Simply love.

These “5 Commandments for Being Happy” will not only bring greater happiness to you as an individual, they will also fill your family with happiness. Practice them for a month and see if you don’t agree.

Want a Marriage with Great Sex?

Want a marriage with great sex? Dumb question…every married person does, right? And, truth be told, several factors contribute to a satisfying sexual relationship in marriage. But a study published in January, 2021, reveals two of the important factors for a satisfying sexual relationship in marriage. This study utilized data collected from 7,114 heterosexual couples across the United States. Both husbands and wives completed various surveys to determine how forgiving they were toward their spouse, the quality of their conflict resolution, and their level of sexual satisfaction. Not surprisingly, the higher the quality of conflict resolution, the greater the level of reported sexual satisfaction for both the husbands and wives. It seems that “make up sex” really is good when conflict is resolved well.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, was only related to greater sexual satisfaction for husbands, not wives. In other words, husbands with a greater willingness to forgive (a “higher level of forgiveness”) reported greater sexual satisfaction. To those of you who are husbands, pride interferes with forgiveness. Take the humble road and forgive your wife when the time arises…and it will. After all, humility is hot in a marriage.

Here’s the takeaway. If you want to have greater sexual satisfaction in your marriage, learn to resolve your marital conflicts well; and husbands, learn to forgive. If you struggle with resolving conflicting in your marriage, here are some helps to get you started:

And if you’re not sure about the whole forgiveness thing, start here:

The Highest Form of Kindness

We live in a society starved for time. We are swamped and over-scheduled, running from activity to activity. We don’t have the time or the patience to wait for anything. Instead, we want immediate gratification. Running behind for practice, grab some take out. Feeling a headache coming on, take some fast-acting aspirin. Too worked up to fall asleep, take a sleeping aid. One study even found that 96% of its participants were so impatient they knowingly consumed hot food or beverages that burned their mouths.

Driven by time, we have become impatient with ourselves and others. We have no time to offer a simple act of kindness. Rather than show kindness, we become irritated with one another for “wasting our time,” not responding “quickly enough,” or not “catching on” to this “obvious fact.” In other words, we become impatient. Because of our harried schedule, we have lost the patience to show kindness to others by allowing them the time they need to grow and mature. Instead, we force them to hurry their growth. We become impatient at the “fast food” because the service is so slow and “I’m in a hurry.” As a result, we respond with irritated curtness.

This happens in our families as well. We rush through the day without showing kindness to our family. “I’d like to help with the laundry, but I’m too busy.” “I’d love to listen to your long story but I’m on a schedule.” “Another game tonight. When will I get my work done?” “Hurry up, we’re going to be late!” Any of that sound familiar?

What does all this have to do with the highest form of kindness? The highest form of kindness is the gift of patience. Yet we struggle to give this lovely gift of patience because “time is of the essence,” driving us at a pace that squeezes out any possibility of kindness.

Giving the gift of patience is a kindness that takes time. In fact, patience is the highest form of kindness. Think of it. Giving the gift of patience requires that we invest our time in sharing a simple act of kindness to another. We patiently sacrifice our time (never to get it back) so we can do something kind for another person. After all, kindness takes time and giving away time takes patience. Whether it be helping our spouse fold laundry or sitting down to patiently help our children with their homework, the gift of patience is the highest form of kindness. Giving this gift of patience will increase your willingness to forgive, which will improve your marriage and family.

Show little kindness by giving the highest form of kindness to your family—patience.

Give Your Spouse a Break

Did you ever notice how we often give our friends a break when they do something that irritates us? They show up late for our coffee date…”probably caught in traffic” or “had trouble getting the kids off to school.” They didn’t bring us the recipe we had asked for… “oh well, I’ll get it next time” or “they can email it to me.” They look at you with what might be anger…”better ask what’s going on, maybe their upset about something.”  In each situation, we offer understanding. We give the benefit of the doubt. We cut them some slack.

But, when our spouse does the exact same things, we jump to a conclusion, automatically assuming the worst, and launch into an attack. They show up late for dinner…”they have no consideration for me and my time!” They forget to complete a task we had asked them to do…”they never listen to me, and I end up doing all the work around here.” They have a look that might be angry…”They better not be angry at me. They have no reason to be angry with me.”

Why is that? Why do we give our friends, and even strangers, the benefit of the doubt but assume the worst about our spouse? Perhaps we need to take the time to give our spouse the benefit of the doubt…and here are five steps to help.

  1. Remember their past actions. Chances are that your spouse thinks of you often. They do things for you because they love you. They most likely respond to your requests the majority of the time. Take time to remember their positive actions from the past. Recall those times you experienced their love for you in their words and actions. Recall positive times together. Recall things they have done just for you, things they did because they know you liked to do it.
  2. Consider alternative explanations for the behavior you currently find irritating. The first explanation may be one that causes irritation. Take time to consider if there are other explanations, possible extenuating circumstances, or even good reasons for their current behavior or the current situation.
  3. Talk to them about the behavior but start the conversation gently. Use a polite tone and avoid blame, like you would with your friends. Remember, your conversation will end like it begins. So, use an “I-statement” to objectively describe the behavior you observe. “I notice that….” “I get a little upset when people….” Don’t evaluate or judge, simply describe. Then say what you would hope for or want more of. Don’t expect them to read your mind. Simply state what you desire in a clear, polite, concise manner.
  4. Appreciate your spouse verbally. Even when you express your misgivings, take time to state things you appreciate about your spouse as well.
  5. When you’re on the receiving end of this discussion, remember to take responsibility. Getting defensive when your spouse talks about something bothering them will increase the chances of them assuming the worst. When we take responsibility for our actions, our spouses can give us the benefit of the doubt knowing we are motivated to improving our marriage. (Learn more in Don’t Let Defensiveness Ruin Your Marriage, Take the Antidote.)

In a healthy marriage, both spouses assume the best about the other. They give one another the benefit of the doubt. They cut one another some slack. It’s a grace we share with one another. It’s a way to honor one another. And it lays the groundwork to celebrate with one another…so give your spouse a break.

The Superpower of a Pronoun

When it comes to resolving marital conflicts, pronouns have superpower. At least that’s what a 2009 study published in Psychology and Aging found. In this study, 154 couples engaged in three 15-minute conversations: one conversation focused on the events they experienced during the day, one focused on a topic of marital conflict, and one focused on a pleasant topic. The main focus of the study was the 15-minute conversation using a topic of marital conflict and what personal pronouns the couple used most often during that conversation. The researchers categorized pronouns into pronouns of togetherness (like “we,” “our,” and “us”) and pronouns of separateness (like “I”, “me,” and “your”).  The results? Pronouns emphasizing “togetherness” had a superpower in the conflict conversation. Specifically, couples who used pronouns like “we” “our”, and “us” showed less stress and behaved more positively toward one another than those using “separateness” pronouns. And those using “separateness” pronouns reported being less happy in their marriages.

Of course, thinking in terms of “togetherness” is not the norm in our individualistic society, a society which focuses on “me” and “mine.”  So, it may take a little work to set your mind on the “we” of your marriage rather than the “I” of yourself.  (You can learn how in The Blessing of the Royal We.) As you learn to think in terms of “togetherness, using especially in the midst of conflict, you will experience less stress in your marriage and a better marital relationship.  As a co-author of this study said,” Individuality is a deeply ingrained value in American society, but, at least in the realm of marriage, being part of a ‘we’ is well worth giving up a bit of ‘me.’”

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