Archive for Grace

I Need You To Give Me…!

All of us have things we want to our spouse to give us. For instance, who doesn’t want to receive respect, validation, and approval from their spouse? Unfortunately, we often desire these things to fill an emptiness within us. So, we turn to our spouse and demand respect, validation, and approval. Unfortunately, demanding our spouse give us these things backfires. They will not always give it to us. Sometimes they will lack the inner resources to give us validation. Other times they will be preoccupied or exhausted. Or they may be craving the same thing from us. As a result, instead of experiencing the peace and joy of validation or approval we find ourselves caught up in the drama of two broken people demanding their partner save them from their own emptiness and perceived unworthiness. One incomplete or broken person seeking another incomplete or broken person to fix them and fill them up…it just will not work. Both people have shoved the responsibility for their individual emotional health and personal happiness onto another person who is struggling to find their own. Rather than being filled with peace and contentment, they become entangled in resentment, jealousy, and hurt.

There is a solution, however, and it begins with you as an individual. A joyous, intimate marriage consists of two people who have  matured enough to have their own personal sense of completion, wholeness, and worthiness. Both partners have learned an important lesson: “The thing you are looking to receive from others is the very thing you need to cultivate within yourself” (Rabbi Eli Deutsch). In other words, if you are looking for someone else to “complete you,” marriage is the wrong place to go (regardless of Jerry Maguire’s touching confession that “you complete me.”). If you desire validation, acceptance, and approval, begin by work on yourself and learning to care enough about yourself to give yourself the validation, approval, and acceptance you need. As you do, you will have more to give in relationship, more to offer your spouse in terms of intimacy. Ironically, you will also receive more validation and acceptance in return.

So, what is it that you want to receive from others? What do you demand your spouse give you? Slow down and give it to yourself. Use words of acceptance, validation, and approval when you talk to yourself. Fill yourself up and learn to give yourself the very thing you need.

“Nice Guys Finish Last”… Really?

The research is in, straight from the University of California-Berkeley Haas School of Business. Nice guys do not finish last.  Being disagreeable and selfish does not help you get ahead. The research confirming this actually involves two studies. (Read Being a Selfish Jerk Doesn’t Get You Ahead for a review.) The first study involved 457 participants to assess the relationship between power and disagreeableness. Disagreeableness involved quarrelsome, cold, callous, and selfish behavior as well as the use of deception and manipulation to reach goals. This study found no relationship between power and disagreeableness. Selfish, deceitful, aggressive people were no more likely to reach positions of power than those who are generous, trustworthy, and nice. Disagreeableness (quarrelsome, selfish, deception, manipulation) did not result in gaining power. Nor did it contribute to gaining power more quickly. 

The second study looked at four ways people can attain power. By looking at various manners of gaining power, the researchers were able to confirm that a disagreeable person’s lack of positive social interactions cancelled out the advantage any aggressive behavior might have offered. In addition, agreeable people in power achieved better outcomes than disagreeable people in power.

In summary, both disagreeable and agreeable people can attain positions of power, but agreeable people produce better results. The agreeable person motivates others to achieve their best, elicit greater work, and establishes an environment in which people work together more effectively. As a result, the agreeable person achieves greater results.

Why do I write this for a family website? Because our family environment helps shape the adults of tomorrow. Our family environment will either contribute to our children’s behavior, either agreeable behavior or disagreeable behavior. We can begin now to create an environment that will help them experience greater relationships and success as an adult. Here are 6 practices you can implement in your home that will help teach your children agreeableness.

What are some ways you teach your children to be agreeable?

Spread the Happy Contagion…of Kindness

Couldn’t the world use a little more kindness these days? I know I’m in favor of increasing the kindness around here—in my home and my community. And, I have a plan to do it, starting with my family. I’m going to show kindness to as many people as I can every day. I’m going to engage in simple things—things like holding the door open for someone, saying “thank you,” helping to carry groceries, offering  assistance whenever I can, smiling—you get the idea, simple acts of kindness.

You may be asking, “What good will one person showing kindness do?” First, it will do wonders in our families. Even more, as we practice kindness in our families, it will spread beyond our families to our communities because kindness is contagious. A recent review of 88 studies involving 25,354 participants over the last decade revealed that being nice to others is highly contagious.  Note those last two words…”highly contagious.” This review pointed out a couple of important facts about the contagion of kindness.

  • Helping others increases our happiness more than helping ourselves does. Interesting, isn’t it?  Start practicing kindness toward others. It’s for your own good.
  • Seeing other people benefit from kindness motivates us to share kindness more than receiving kindness ourselves. So, let your children see you being kind to their other parent. Let your spouse see you being kind to your children. Let your family see you being kind to those in the community. It will motivate them to engage in acts of kindness as well.
  • People don’t just imitate acts of kindness they see others perform. They modify, improvise, and adjust those acts of kindness. They create their own acts of kindness. Seeing kindness inspires them to engage in kindnesses beyond what they saw.

Yes. I am going to do it. I am going to increase my kindness within my family and my community. My spouse and children will witness this kindness and be inspired to engage in their own acts of kindness. I will witness their acts of kindness and be inspired to engage in even more kindness. The upward cycle will begin. Even our neighbors will witness our kindness and catch it. The contagion will grow and perhaps, in time, we will have a community of people engaging in kindness. Wouldn’t that be a change? A miracle? A relief! Will  you join me?

“Stop Trying to Fix Me!”

“Stop trying to fix me!” Has your partner or child ever said that to you? Have you ever said it yourself? “Stop trying to fix me!” When people in our lives experience struggles or problems, they generally do not want us to fix it for them. They want connection…and connection involves empathy. Unfortunately, empathy does not always come naturally. The desire to “fix it” and “make them feel better” is often what comes naturally to us. We hate to see our loved ones hurt. We want to “make them feel better,” to “fix the problem.” So, rather than show empathy, we unknowingly say things that minimize and invalidate their feelings, things like…

  • “It could be worse….” During their painful situation, your loved one will find it hard to imagine anything worse. Besides, they do not want to think about something worse. They want someone to listen. They want someone to accept their feelings. They want you to hear their pain and validate their emotions.
  • “This could turn out well if you just….” No one really wants to take the moment of pain or sorrow to learn. There will be opportunities to learn after they navigate the current pain. Instead, your family member desires you to “be with them” in the moment, to “sit with them” in their struggle and support them through the pain.
  • “When one door closes, another door opens.” Many people have described the pain of this statement to me. It invalidates their current pain and implies that a person can only have one positive experience in their life at a time, one open door at a time. Instead, your family member simply needs to mourn the door that closed before moving to another door.
  • “It’s not that bad. I remember when….” This statement comes across as a “one-up” statement. It comes across as though you are minimizing the current pain by saying, “You want to know pain. I have felt pain. Your pain is nothing compared to mine.”

Statements like those above (and there are many others) are generally made with good intentions. They represent an effort to “make the other person feel better” and ease their pain. Unfortunately, they have the opposite effect. They make the other person feel unheard, devalued, and even more upset. Why? Because at the root of our emotions, we want connection and empathy, not “fixed.” We want to know we are understood and that our emotions are accepted. After we understand our emotions and know another person has accepted our emotions, we can work at resolving those emotions and finding a solution. 

So, instead of “trying to fix” your spouse, your children, or your parent, use these four skills to empathize.

  • Listen without judging. Hear more than just the words. Listen for the emotions underlying the words. Knowing that another person hears us deeply and has the strength to witness our struggle, gives us more strength to manage the struggle effectively. (Remember, the art of listening is more than responding.)
  • Identify and label emotions. Labeling an emotion puts a buffer between our emotion and our actions. It helps us avoid impulsive reactions and empowers us to respond appropriately instead. (Check out these 6 tips to make your children’s emotions your friend.)
  • Sit with them in the emotion. Walk a mile in their shoes. Allow yourself to experience their emotion to some degree. Maybe you have not had the exact experience yourself, but you have endured the human experience. You have experienced the joys, triumphs, pains, and struggles of humanity. Be vulnerable and sit with your family member in their emotion.
  • Summarize and validate their perspective and emotions. This will facilitate organizing their emotions as well as the opportunity to develop a potential response to the emotions.

When we “stop trying to fix” our family we are free to listen deeply and lovingly “be with them” in their struggle, to empathize and validate. By doing so, we open a door to future solutions. Perhaps more importantly, we open the door for deeper intimacy and love.

What Your Family Needs Now…

What the world, and your family needs now is NOT love, sweet love. No. your family needs a specific type of response from you, especially during these uncertain times. Sure, this response falls under the category of “loving action,” but many (including me) have missed the mark at times. A study published in the Journal of Communication revealed how we can hit the mark, and even the bull’s eye, more often. In this study, the authors recruited 478 married adults who had recently experienced an argument with their spouse. They offered these adults one of six types of supportive while talking to them about their disagreement. These six responses types ranged from low to moderate to high in “person-centeredness.”

Low “person-centered” responses were critical and challenged the person’s feelings… statements like, “Nobody is worth getting so upset about. Stop being so depressed.” Or “I don’t know why you’re so upset. You do the same thing.” 

High “person-centered” responses recognized the person’s feelings and may have even invited them to discuss or explore those feelings… statements like, “Disagreeing with someone you care about is hard. It makes sense you’re upset.” 

Which response elicited the best results? Well, not the low “person-centered” responses. These responses created resistance and anger in the person. They did not help the person manage their emotions or resolve their marital disagreement. In fact, they often led to the person feeling criticized and experiencing more negative emotions.

The high “person-centered” responses led to greater emotional management. The person felt validated and free to discuss their thoughts and feelings. This contributed to a move to resolution. In other words, high “person-centered” responses proved more effective in helping a person resolve marital conflict.

In our families, arguments and disagreements will arise. How you respond to those disagreements can lead to feelings of resistance and anger or to feelings of validation and acceptance. Your response can contribute to escalating disagreement or quicker resolution. The more “person-centered” your response, the more acceptance and validation your family member will feel…and the more quickly you will reach resolution. What would high “person-centered” responses look like?

  • High “person-centered” responses involve listening intently to understand even before speaking.
  • High “person-centered” responses express acceptance. They seek to recognize and validate the emotions and feelings of the other person, your spouse.
  • High “person-centered” responses recognize, respect, and accept your spouse’s experience, even if it seems different than your own.
  • High “person-centered” responses express sympathy, care, and concern for your spouse…even if you do disagree. It communicates that your relationship is more important than your disagreement.

Next time you find yourself in an argument with a family member, do an experiment. Focus on giving high “person-centered” responses. Listen to understand. Communicate acceptance and respect. Validate their emotions and their experience. Express care and concern. See if the resolution comes more quickly, if the intimacy feels more secure, and if you and your family member are more content with the process. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

When Jealousy Threatens Your Marriage

Joe arrived in therapy because he feared his wife would “cheat on him.” That fear was ruining his marriage. He admitted that he had no reason to think his wife would cheat on him. She had always been faithful, and she promised to remain faithful. Still, Joe feared the worst. After some exploration, Joe recalled a woman he had been engaged to prior to his wife. His engagement to this woman had ended when she had an “affair” with a man she met at work. Now Joe feared his wife would meet someone at her work as well. His unresolved past emotional injury had crept into his present relationship…and he knew it. Awareness is the first step in resolving this type of emotional injury and relegating it to its proper place—the past.

Another step involved Joe verbalizing his fear to his wife. Doing so accomplished the important objectives of communicating his fear and eliciting his wife’s support.

  • Communicating his fear and the underlying experience that contributed to that fear brought it into the light. Fears always grow stronger in the darkness of secrecy. Bringing the fear into the light weakens its power. It will also allow Joe to begin addressing his sense of self.
  • Communicating his fear also allowed his wife to know him better. It gave her the opportunity to understand him and his struggle better. That growing knowledge also provides the opportunity for greater intimacy with one another.
  • Now that his wife understands Joe’s struggle, she can offer support to help alleviate his fear. Rather than expressing anger and frustration at his unfounded fear, she can express empathy and affirm her faithfulness.
  • With the impact of this past experience on their present marriage “on the table,” Joe and his wife can problem-solve. They can develop a plan to increase the security ad intimacy of their marriage.

All in all, openly discussing Joe’s jealousy, the past that contributed to that jealousy, and how to manage it as a couple brought Joe and his wife closer together. They learned more about one another on a deeper level and so grew in more intimate. They could work together to build a marriage in which they both felt safe and secure. They could grow stronger as a couple.

You can, too, when you reveal the secret, elicit support, and work together like Joe and his wife.

A Little “Self-Nudge” Goes a Long Way

Have you heard of the “Quarantine 15”? Maybe you have even gained it. I know I’ve gained a good part of it. Overall, the pandemic has changed our routines, our activities, and our eating habits. It has impacted our moods, our emotions, and our relationships. We are home more, out less, and stressed more. One response to all this stress and inactivity could be choosing what is most comfortable, enjoyable, and attractive in the short run instead of choosing what’s best for us in the long run. The result? Weight gain. Binging our favorite TV shows while neglecting other important duties. Strained family relationships.

There is a way to help avoid this though. Self-nudging. Yes, self-nudging is a behavioral science term (Using self-nudging to make better choices). It describes a way of designing and structuring our environments to make it easier for us to make healthier choices. Although science refers to it as “self-nudging,” I believe we can also practice it within the loving support of our marriages and our families. When we do, it will strengthen our marriages and our families as well. Here are some ways to practice “self-nudging” in your family to promote healthier living and healthier families.

  • Use reminders and prompts. Reminders and prompts can encourage you to make healthier choices on a personal level and on a family level. For instance, putting reminders of your spouse’s birthday, your anniversary, and your children’s birthdays in your phone can prevent those important dates from “slipping your mind.” Leaving notes for your spouse or children to find that remind them of your love for them is another way to use reminders to strengthen your family. A picture in your suitcase can encourage faithfulness while on one of the many business trips you might have to make. The list goes on. Reminders and prompts can help build an environment that nudges you toward intimacy with your family.
  • Practice putting decisions into a different frame that reveals priorities. We often think of choices in light of what we want and find pleasurable in the moment. However, the choice between sitting down to play a video game or talking to my wife about childcare becomes more difficult in this frame. Perhaps, when it comes to our family, we need to frame our choices in terms of how to express love and build relationship. I want to play video games and relax. But talking to my wife about childcare expresses my love and concern for her. It allows us time together to build relationship. Or, I want to sit down and rest but taking my child to their friend’s house expresses love and allows us to have uninterrupted time to talk and build relationship. The choice becomes a little easier when we remember that higher priority of love and relationship.
  • Make the healthy things more accessible than the unhealthy. This self-nudging technique is obvious when it comes to food. For instance, keep more fruit and healthy snacks in your house than sweets and “not-so-healthy” snacks. But what about family? Not subscribing to channels that provide temptations or putting the computer in a common area of the house make unhealthy viewing less accessible. Charging children’s phones in a common area overnight rather than in their bedroom removes the temptation to stay up all night texting friends or surfing the net. Creating an environment in which your family knows you are accessible and available limits their need to turn to other people for their connection, sense of value, and desire for guidance. Keeping yourself available nudges the family toward health.
  • Build positive relationships. Support one another. Be accountability to one another. Use encouraging words to nudge one another toward health. Gentle guidance nudges families toward health. Clear, consistent rules and boundaries enforced with loving discipline will make healthy choices easier to make. Open communication and acceptance will encourage healthy choices.

These four points offers only “the tip of the iceberg” in describing what you can do in each area to “nudge” you and your family toward healthier choices. Get your family together and talk about each area. Let the whole family come up with ideas for “self-nudging” your family toward health. Write them down…and enjoy a healthy, growing family.

Speaking the Truth in Love

Building a healthy family requires some tough conversations—tough conversations with our spouse, tough conversations with our children, and even tough conversations with our parents. These conversations often put us in a moral bind between the desire to be honest and the desire to be kind. Of course, we can approach these tough conversations in a variety of ways. Emma Levine, a University of Chicago psychologist, describes five ways to approach these tough conversations.

  1. We could just fail to address the issue. This approach is low on honesty and, in the long run, kindness. We avoid the discomfort of bringing up unpleasant material. But our family member does not learn valuable information. And, we miss the opportunity to nurture a more intimate relationship through the conversation.
  2. We might tell a “little white lie,” a false kindness to protect our family member’s feelings. Once again, we avoid the unpleasant confrontation, but our family member misses out on learning important information. Intimacy is hindered. And, if the “white lie” is discovered, our family member may even become resentful.
  3. We could simply speak with brutal honesty. In this scenario, we speak the truth but do not take our family member’s feelings into consideration.  Our family member will likely feel criticized or attacked  and, as a result, reject the message. Once again, family members do not gain important information. Intimacy is hindered. Relationships are harmed.
  4. The fourth approach involves telling your family member something true and positive but irrelevant to the “real” issue. For instance, your son asks about his performance during the baseball game and you reply by saying, “It was a beautiful sunny day to watch your game” rather than offering a direct, but loving critique of his performance. Unfortunately, your family member will likely view this as no different than telling an outright lie. They will become frustrated. Intimacy will be hindered. Relationships harmed.

Why do we use these ineffective approaches? Dr. Levine believes we choose one of these ineffective approaches because we focus mainly on our own feelings during the anticipated interaction and we focus on short-term comfort rather than long-term kindness. All this aside, Dr. Levine does describe one more approach… and this one proves most effective. It shifts the focus to the long-term growth and increased intimacy we might gain rather than the short-term comfort. .

  • Articulate a sincere interest in your family member’s long-term benefit before describing your concern in a gentle, straight-forward manner. Remember, the conversation will end like it begins so approach the interaction gently, with a “gentle start up.” Even if you fumble over some words, your family member will sense your attempt. They will experience the warmth of emotion expressed and recognize your genuine concern. As a result, they will be more able to hear the concern…even if it is unpleasant in the moment. In other words, speak the truth in love. When we do, family members gain important information. Everyone grows. Intimacy is enhanced.

To speak the truth in love is an ancient wisdom that helps us grow more mature, more intimate, and more secure.

A Card Game to Change the “Same Old Fights”

I love this quote: “What makes conflict so painful is that we are desperate to be heard but too upset to listen, desperate to be understood but too upset to be understanding, desperate to be validated but too upset to validate. What can help you get what you need is [a] willingness to stoke even a small ember of empathy for your partner’s experience.” (Dr. Alexandra Solomon)

An incredibly wise statement. Arguments are not resolved without listening, understanding, and validating. Unfortunately, the heat of a conflict sends us into a fight or flight mode, making it extremely difficult to listen, understand, and validate. So, what can you do? Here is a neat little “card game” that can help you become less “desperate” and more able to listen, understand, and validate. It demands some prep time, but the results can be wonderful.

Preparation:

  • Think of the tone of voice that escalates your conflicts. Then, write down the tone of voice that will help prevent an escalation. This may include calm (vs. agitated), gentle (vs. harsh), soft (vs. loud), sincere (vs. sarcastic), and any others you think of. Make one note card for each positive tone of voice.
  • Think of the words and phrases that escalate your arguments. Now, write down words and catchphrases to help calm an escalation. These might include repair statements John Gottman talks about. They can also include phrases that affirm your love for one another, phrases like “Even when I’m upset, I still love you” or “We can disagree and still love one another.”
  • After you have made these cards, put them around your house—on the fridge, on the mirror in the bathroom, on your dresser drawer…where ever you will see them throughout the day and where ever they will be readily available to you in the “heat of the moment.”

Playing the Game:

  • Now that the cards are spread throughout your house, make a point of reading them as you go about your day. Say them out loud when open the fridge, look in the mirror, or any time you see a card.
  • If (when is probably more accurate) you find yourself in an argument with your spouse, recite one of the cards. If you struggle to remember what any of them say, walk as you talk and read the cards along the way. Walking and looking for the right card as you talk may change your argument in and of itself…may even make you laugh a little.
  • Also, as you read the new statements and follow the new tone of voice directions, you will be changing your style of argument for good.

You may even find yourself better able to listen, understand, and validate. Better yet, doing all this will turn the argument into an opportunity to learn about one another and grow more intimate. Now that’s the way to win a great card game!

Conflict With Your Spouse? Try the Elmo Approach.

Remember Elmo from Sesame Street? Elmo talks in third person most of the time. The Sesame Street Workshop Frequently Asked Questions tells us Elmo talks in third person because of his preschool age. In fact, many preschoolers do speak in third person. Elmo simply says he “was born that way.” Whatever his reason for talking in third person, he may be on to something that could benefit you, your marriage, and your family.

Teresa Frisbie, a professional mediator and director of Loyola University Chicago School of Law’s Dispute Resolution Program, helps clarify what Elmo can teach us. She notes we often react to stressors, disagreements, or perceived threats with a fight, flight, or freeze response. John Gottman also states that marital arguments trigger this fight, flight, or freeze response. During this response, we become defensive and self-protective. We are less able to listen well or understand another person’s perspective. As you can imagine, that is not good for resolving the argument with your spouse. In fact, it only makes the conflict worse. But what can we do? Which leads us back to Teresa Frisbie.

Teresa Frisbie suggests we try what I call the Elmo Approach. She suggests we begin to use a third person perspective, just like Elmo does. Simply shifting our perspective from the first-person (I, me, mine) to third person (Elmo says…) helps us gain distance from the perceived stresses and perceived threat so we can remain calm and gain some clarity. The third person perspective helps us maintain a healthy optimism as well, which helps resolve disagreements. The Elmo Approach can also help us listen better and appreciate multiple perspectives. It will help us resolve the disagreement more easily.

You may be thinking, “Elmo can talk in third person, but I’ll look crazy talking in third-person during an argument.” Well…. Here’s the beauty of this? You don’t have to say it out loud. You can simply begin referring to yourself in third person in your mind. Beginning to use the third person in your thoughts can produce the same results. So, give the Elmo Approach a try. If you find yourself stressed or overwhelmed, start referring to yourself in third person (by using your name or referring to yourself as he, she, him, or her) as you contemplate your response. Whether you find yourself giggling like Elmo or not, you will find it easier to maintain some distance from the stressor and resolve the conflict more easily.

Read more about this in How to Get Some Emotional Distance in an Argument from The Greater Good Science Center.

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