Archive for Grace

Your Popsicle-Toed, Cover-Stealing Spouse & Sleep

I love my wife… but when we go to bed, she has the coldest feet, real “popsicle toes.” She steals the covers too… and makes snoring sounds from time to time.  Of course, to be fair, she accuses me of “twitching” and moving too much all through the night. (I try to deny it, but my brother told me the same thing in high school. And, come to think of it, my grandmother told me she could hear me “kicking around” in my sleep as well. And my college roommate…well, I guess it’s hard to deny the truth with so many witnesses. Anyway….) So, when my wife went on an overnight trip with her sister, I envisioned a blissful night of sleep—no cold feet, no stolen covers, no alarming sounds. But it didn’t work out that way; it never does. In fact, it seems I sleep worse when my wife is not home to share the bed with me, not better…always worse. Talking with my wife, she has the same experience. What’s the deal? Well, I finally found an explanation.

A study analyzing the data of 1,007 working age adults confirms my experience…and more. This study found that people who share a bed with their spouse reported less severe insomnia, less fatigue, and more time asleep than those who report never sharing a bed with their spouse.  In addition, they fell asleep faster and had less risk of sleep apnea. In other words, people sleep better sharing a bed with their spouse than they do alone.

But wait, there’s more. Sleeping with one’s spouse was also associated with lower depression, less anxiety, and less stress as well as greater satisfaction with life and relationships.

As I read the study review, I thought, “Maybe it’s just sleeping with a family member.” As if they read my mind, the researchers compared sleeping with a spouse to sleeping with a child.  Those who slept with their children most nights reported greater insomnia, exhibited a greater risk of sleep apnea, and had less control over their sleep (that last one is a “no kidding” one, right? Who has any control over their sleep with a child in the house, let alone in the bed?).

And, sleeping alone (the blissful moment of rest I had awaited) was actually associated with higher depression scores, lower social support and lower life and relationship satisfaction. Apparently, sleeping without my spouse in the bed is not what I had it cracked up to be.

Overall, this study suggests that sleeping with your spouse—cold toes, twitching, cover stealing, and all—results in greater emotional health and greater life satisfaction. All kidding aside, this fits with my life experience. There is comfort and peace in sleeping next to the one you love and to whom you’ve committed to sharing life.  It helps us connect and puts our “life rhythms in sync.” In the long run, I’m grateful for those popsicle toes and cover-stealing roll-overs. They let me know that the one I love is lying next to me and sharing life with me.  I’ll sleep better knowing she’s next to me, even as I pull the covers back over me in the night.

Will You Commit to Gratitude

It’s Thanksgiving. We’re nearing the end of “30 days of gratitude.” Most of us will enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving turkey as we sit around our tables and declare what has made us thankful this year. It’s easy to be gratitude for a day or a month, but what about the rest of the year. After all, we will experience difficult days in which we just don’t feel grateful. We will have days in which we struggle to even muster words of gratitude, let alone feel it. The world will press in and stress will overwhelm. The moments in which we don’t feel gratitude may even grow exponentially at times.

Fortunately, gratitude is not just a feeling. Gratitude is a choice, a hard choice but a choice, nonetheless. And this year I am choosing to make gratitude a practice. This year, I am going to choose to exercise my muscles of gratitude even when the feelings of gratitude are not present. 

I will choose gratitude when tempted to complain. Complaining focuses on what we don’t like and brings greater frustration. In choosing gratitude I will recognize what I don’t like while still giving thanks for the inherent blessings of the situation as well. Rather than complain in traffic, I will focus on the blessing of having a car…the employment to afford a car…the manufacturers who made the car…the air conditioning and heater that keep me comfortable in the car…the opportunity to visit with the passenger in the car…. I will choose gratitude and gain greater peace.  Rather than complain about the burnt toast, I will give thanks for the wealth to purchase bread…and the toaster to toast it…and the electricity that powers the toaster.

I will choose gratitude rather than pessimistically think the worst of mankind. I will recognize the complexity of people, their mix of positive and negative qualities. I will give thanks for the unbelievable strengths of people while recognizing their blind spots. I will give thanks for acts of exquisite beauty and grace while recognizing the ugliness of a fallen world. Through gratitude I will invest in the value of the people around me and perhaps nurture their better self.

I will choose gratitude to combat discontentment and counter envy. I will allow gratitude to open my eyes to the abundance I have received and the abundance around me. With gratitude for the abundance I enjoy, I will rejoice and be thankful for the gifts another receives. In a spirit of gratitude, I will find contentment in my life. 

I will choose gratitude in an effort to rise above the worries and momentary anxieties of this life. I will express gratitude for the support, love, and resources available to accomplish whatever task is arousing worry and anxiety.

I will choose gratitude even in the face of anger. Doing so will keep me aware of the many gifts the one who has aroused my anger has given in the past. In giving thanks for the blessing received from them in the past, I will not let their current “mistakes” take on apocalyptic proportions. 

I will choose gratitude to protect my relationships from the tyranny of callousness, ingratitude, and entitlement that leads to resentment and bitterness.

I will choose gratitude to elevate life and encourage love.

It may prove the more difficult road to travel. It may require practice. But I will choose gratitude because it will bring the greatest joy, the greatest growth, and the greatest opportunity for healthy relationships.

I will choose gratitude. Will you?

Strengthen Your Family in 3 Words or Less

Want to build a stronger family? Of course you do. We all do. We want a stronger, more intimate family. A healthy family. A connected family. Sometimes it sounds like hard work to “build” a strong, healthy family. But you can do it in three words or less…as long as you use those words often. Let me share some examples.

  • You see your spouse washing dishes. Now is your chance. Build a stronger relationship with these 3 little words: “Can I help?” Then follow through when she says “yes.”
  • Your parent is washing the car or raking leaves. “Can I help?” are the perfect 3 words to strengthen your connection with your parent.
  • Your child is frustrated with their homework. Now is not the time to lecture about waiting until the last minute. Instead, strengthen your bond with these 3 simple words: “Can I help?”
  • Your spouse asks for help cooking dinner or putting the summer porch furniture away. They ask for your help. I know. You’re busy. You have your chores too. But they’ve asked for your help; and you want to build intimacy, strengthen your connection. So, three simple words will help: “I’d love to.”

You can strengthen your relationship in less than three words too. Take these examples.

  • You ask someone in your family to pass the salt at dinnertime and they do. Reply with a simple “Thank you.” Two words, that’s all. But those two simple words strengthen the bond in your relationship.
  • You just finished putting away the clean dishes. You do it almost every day so it’s no big deal. But your spouse thanks you. You could minimize their gratitude; but then you would miss the opportunity to build the relationship. Instead, you say “My pleasure” –two words that deepen your spouse’s appreciation even further.
  • You said something mean in the midst of an argument. It just slipped out. You know it was wrong and you don’t really mean it. Nonetheless, it hurt the other person and erected a barrier between you and them. “I’m sorry” begins to repair the breach. “I’m sorry” accepts responsibility and opens the door to restore the intimacy lost.

These are only 2-3 word phrases. But, when shared generously, graciously, and authentically in our family, they will strengthen your family, increase the intimacy in your relationships, and bring greater health to your family relationships. What other simple 2-3 word phrases can you think of that will strengthen your family?

It’s NOT All About You…or Me

My wife asked me a question, a simple question. “Where’s the cinnamon?” But there was an edge of irritation in her voice that sent “my mind a wandering.” Why does she sound irritated? Does she think I stole it? Why would I steal cinnamon? She is probably accusing me of putting things in the wrong place or not even putting them away at all. What’s the big deal with cinnamon anyway? Why does she always think the worst of me? On my mind ran, escalating my fears and defensiveness. You can imagine my response was less than ideal.  

Have you ever had a similar experience? Your spouse asks a simple question and sounds slightly agitated. The agitation strikes a fear within you. You jump to a conclusion and assume the agitation is pointed toward you. You personalize it and think it’s all about you. It’s a common response, but not the best response.

When we take our spouse’s agitation personally, it almost always makes the interaction go south. When we personalize their agitation, we tend to respond with defensiveness. They hear our defensiveness and feel misunderstood. And so begins a downward spiral of communication that began when we personalized our spouse’s mood and thought it was all about us.

But I have a secret for you…and for me. It’s not all about you…or me. Most of the time it’s about something totally unrelated to you…or me.

What can we do instead of personalizing and getting defensive? How can we nurture a better response and interaction? Good question. Here are some suggestions (given in no particular order).

  • First, take a deep breath. Let the breath out slowly as you start talking to yourself. Begin with statements of curiosity: “Hmmm. I wonder what’s going on here.” Then offer yourself soothing internal thoughts in a calm tone using calm words. Remind yourself of the love you and your spouse share.
  • Second, believe the best about your spouse. Practicing a calming internal dialogue, leaves space for alternative meanings to your spouse’s behaviors and words. It allows room for a compassionate interpretation of what your spouse said or did. Look for those compassionate, loving interpretations and let your mind dwell on them.
  • Third, acknowledge your spouse’s feelings in a calm, non-defensive way. Simply reflect back the emotion you perceived in what they said. This opens the door for clarification and communication. It provides space for your spouse to clarify what’s going on for them and for the two of you to come together in a common understanding.

These 3 simple steps can help save an interaction from the downward spiral of personalizing, defensiveness, and feeling misunderstood. They will help you create a calm interaction of clarification and support instead. That will go a long way toward building a more intimate, loving relationship. And it all begins with realizing that “it’s not all about you.”

Available to Family Today, Healthy Tomorrow

An important aspect of feeling secure in a family is wrapped up in the answer to this question: “Are you available to me?” Most of the time, this question is not explicitly spoken, and the answer is given without saying a word. Instead, the answer is seen in our actions. A study published in the November 2021 edition of the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity involved 1,054 healthy adults and showed the critical importance of how we answer this question. Specifically, the study explored whether giving social support played an important role in health. The researchers utilized measures of interleukin-6 (IL-6, which is a marker of systemic inflammation in the body and associated with increased risk of diseases like cardiovascular disease and cancer) to assess the relationship between giving social support and personal health.

At the start of this two-year study, participants completed a questionnaire measuring their social integration and how much they believed they could rely on family and friends when needed. Two years later, participants returned to the lab for blood tests measuring for IL-6. Careful reviews and assessments of the questionnaires and the completed blood work revealed that being available to give support was associated with lower levels of IL-6. In fact, the researchers only found this association in those who believed they could give support in their relationships. Did you catch that? It wasn’t the receiving of support that proved beneficial to health. Health was associated with being available to provide social support to family and friends, not just receive social support. It seems that our health is bound up in our willingness to be available to give social support to family and friends. This was especially true for women.

Back to our question: “Are you available to me?” According to this study, an individual’s answer to this question effects their health. When I am available to support my family and friends today, I experience greater health tomorrow. Now imagine if each family member made themselves available to support other family members. Each person’s relationships would become more rewarding and stress-relieving. The healing power of mutually supportive relationships would enhance the whole family’s health and well-being. In other words, being available to your family today means having a healthier family tomorrow. So put your family on the schedule. Set the example for your family by making yourself available to support them. Here are some great ways to make sure you are available to your family.

  • Schedule family meals several times a week. You can meet as a whole family or with individual members of your family.
  • Schedule a family fun night.
  • When you have an errand to run, invite a family member along. When your family member has an errand to run, ask to go along.
  • Do chores together and enjoy other mundane opportunities for quality time together.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Have a date. Whether it be a family outing date, a date with your spouse, or a parent-child outing, enjoy time together.
  • When a family member celebrates, celebrate with them. When they look down, ask them what’s going on. When they need comfort, comfort them. Take time from your schedule to be available to the profoundly important things in your life—like your family.
  • When a family member asks you for help, make the time to help them. Sure, there may be times you cannot help. But you can often set aside some less important activities (watching a TV show, reading a book, playing a game on your phone, etc.) for a short time in order to be available to help your family. Do your best to remain available to support and help your family.

You, Your Family, & the World’s Analysis of Worth

It is easy to get caught up in the world’s analysis. The world bases its analytic scrutiny of personal worth and value on comparisons. And it teaches us and our children to do the same. Unfortunately, this never works out well. On one hand, we may compare ourselves with those who have more than we do—more wealth, more opportunity, more personal strengths in particular area, more resources. As a result, we feel bad, not good enough, inadequate, and unworthy.

On the other hand, we might compare ourselves to those who made different choices than we did and then beat ourselves up with the stones of “if only I had….” Of course, we might compare ourselves with those who “have it worse than us.” As so many say, “there are always those who have it worse than us.” But that comparison runs the risk of making us arrogant and even entitled.

The analysis of comparison just isn’t the best way to go. But what is the alternative? Gratitude. Specifically, self-gratitude. How can you practice self-gratitude?

Start by viewing yourself with eyes of kindness, understanding, and support. Instead of beating yourself up for choices you wish you hadn’t made, give thanks for what you have learned and how you have grown. Recognize any good that came to you through the choice you made…and give thanks.

Continue to view yourself through eyes of kindness and humble understanding and identify your strengths and abilities. Recognize your talents, your skills, your abilities… and give thanks.

Think about your resilience and your dedication. The times you have overcome obstacles and carried on in spite of difficulties. Reflect on your determination, your spark…and give thanks.

Take time to acknowledge your kindness to others, your acts of compassion toward others… and give thanks.

Take one more moment to consider areas of your life in which you experience contentment. Maybe you want a new car, but you are content, for the moment, with the car you have. Perhaps you want to become a more skilled musician but, for the moment, you are content to practice and enjoy what you know. Contentment does not hinder progress and improvement. It merely sets the stage for enjoying your current ability or status; and that enjoyment opens the door for even better improvement and growth. Consider those areas of contentment in our life…and give thanks.

Set aside comparisons and take up the practice of gratitude instead:

  • Gratitude for areas of personal growth.
  • Gratitude for strengths, character, and abilities
  • Gratitude for areas of contentment.

And teach your family to do the same.

“Two Wrongs Don’t….”

“Two wrongs don’t….” I’m sure you can finish that statement. I hear parents say it to their children all the time. Ok. Just in case, I’ll finish it. “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” You knew that, right? In fact, two wrongs usually just make it worse. Two wrongs add insult to injury. On the other hand, I often hear adults make statements that add wrong to wrong, insult to injury, in their marriages. For instance,

  • I’ll respect my husband when he starts respecting me.
  • I’m not cleaning again until he starts doing his part.
  • They ignore me to play on their phone, so I just play on my phone and ignore them.
  • I’ll listen to her when she starts listening to me.
  • I’ll do more around the house when she quits nagging.

Did you catch the irony? We tell our children that “two wrongs don’t make a right,” but then we add wrong to wrong to prove a point to our spouses. Let me just say it, “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” even in marriage.  Refusing to respect your spouse until you feel respected only makes things worse. Any time we add wrong to wrong we multiply the pain and add another brick to the wall separating us from our spouse.

Can I suggest a better response? It’s not the natural response or even an easy response. But it’s a response that opens the door to reconciliation and greater intimacy. I’m suggesting that you respond with grace. Give your spouse the good you don’t believe they deserve. Return a blessing for an insult, a positive for a negative, good for bad. Respond in grace.

  • When you feel disrespected, respond with respect.
  • When you feel your spouse is not doing their part in keeping the home clean, talk to them for sure…but keep on cleaning, without complaining, in the meantime.
  • If you feel ignored when your spouse plays on their phone, put your phone down and sit next to them. Put your arm around them.
  • If you feel as though your spouse is not listening to you, intentionally make the effort to listen to them, understand them, and respond to the things they say.
  • When you feel your spouse is constantly nagging, kindly, without complaint, take care of the things they are nagging you about.
  • If you’re feeling like your spouse never shows you physical affection, give them a morning and evening kiss and a hug throughout the day.
  • Respond with grace.

Why respond with grace? First and foremost, because doing so is an expression of love and you love your spouse. At least you did at one point. And responding with grace may spark that love anew.  Secondly, it opens the door to reconciliation and growing intimacy. Third, because “two wrongs don’t make a right,” but grace in response to a wrong creates the opportunity for change.

Don’t believe it? Give it a try and see if grace doesn’t change your marriage over the next month. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Mighty Little Deeds of… Kindness?

Kindness is powerful. Even more powerful because it appears so meek, wrapped in the common, unassuming actions that even a child can perform. A polite response. A genuine show of gratitude. An offer to help.

The simplicity of the act tempts us to disregard its power. After all, anyone could do it. Hold a door open for someone. Pass the vegetables. Pour a glass of tea for someone.

Still, however unassuming and inconsequential an act of kindness might appear, it remains a powerful force. Simple acts of kindness reveal the giver’s humility and willingness to give of their time and energy graciously and humbly in service to another. Who doesn’t like a humble person who graciously offers an act of kindness like taking out the trash or helping to carry the groceries?

Kindness also communicates the inherent value of the recipient. It acknowledges the recipient as worthy of the time and energy sacrificed to offer them a kindness. Sharing a cup of water or a meal. Letting the other guy have the parking space.

Kindness unveils the beauty of both the giver and the receiver. The giver in their benevolence and generosity. The receiver in their kind response of gratitude and appreciation. A simple “thank you” or a smile with a friendly wink of the eye.

Yes, kindness is powerful. Kind acts lift the spirits of both the giver and the receiver. These mighty little deeds promote connection between people. They inspire us to act in kindness to the next person we meet. They restore our faith in humankind.

These mighty little deeds of kindness can build a stronger marriage, a safer community, a healthier world. In recognizing the power of those mighty little deeds of kindness, I have to ask you a question. What mighty little deeds of kindness will you give your family today?

After-School Exhaustion: What Does It Mean?

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

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

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

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

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?

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