Archive for Honor

Defeating M.I.J. (Media Induced Jealousy)

In our world, people like to display what they have and what they have done. We see it on TV as people enjoy home makeovers or live out exciting “reality shows” for everyone to see. We observe it on social media as we look at the pictures of our friend’s amazing adventures and fun times. While enjoying vacation with my family, I have often watched people posing and primping to get “just the right” selfie to display their location and activity while still looking pristine. Unfortunately, as we peruse our social media accounts, we see these beautiful pictures of amazing places filled with beautiful, happy people and feel a tinge of jealousy begin to rise. Maybe we even feel some depression. We see pictures of our friends having fun times with one another and wonder, “Why wasn’t I invited?” Or, we see the exciting activities of those we know (and maybe even people we don’t know) and become jealous, wishing we could have that kind of life too. And that jealousy begins to crush our joy. It can even begin to cause problems within our families. Can this jealousy be defeated? Most definitely…and here are 3 tips to help you get started.

  • First, realize that all the pics on social media and the reality shows on TV are not truly reality. “Reality” TV shows are staged, contrived.  They do not represent real life. In addition, our “pics” on social media focus solely on the joyous, happy times in our life. They give only a snapshot of one small portion of our lives, not our whole life. The pics on social media don’t show us covered with sweat after cleaning out our flooded basement or going through the humdrum activities of taking out the garbage, washing dishes, and doing homework. In fact, a large portion of our lives is spent doing average, normal activities of daily life–washing clothes, cleaning house, taking out the garbage, cleaning kitty litter, mowing our lawn. These activities don’t usually make it on to social media posts. Which leads me to the next tip.
  • Every day, spend time with your family talking about “the best part of your day.” Talk about what you enjoyed during the day. Make it a habit to notice the beauty of the people and the world around you…and acknowledge that beauty in discussions with your family. Family meals are an excellent opportunity to share “the best part of the day.” Doing so will help you and your family reflect on and enjoy the positive experiences you encounter on a daily basis.
  • Share gratitude daily. I know I say this often on this website, but expressing gratitude remains so important to healthy family life. We need to take the time to recognize the blessings for which we can be grateful. Recognize and appreciate things as common as breathing, the sunshine, and the ability to smell. Make it a habit to notice what your family members and friends do for which you can thank them. Don’t just notice those things, take the time to thank them as well.

These three simple activities help us to focus on the good in our lives rather than what we perceive as missing. They help us reflect on the blessings and gifts that fill our lives rather than our sense of what we might lack. When we recognize the abundance of joys, blessings, and beauty in our lives, other people’s happiness will not detract from ours. Take time to celebrate what you have as a family…and celebrate.

Caring for the Gift of Your Marriage

Your spouse and your marriage represent two of the most precious gifts you can ever receive. I know this is true for me. They are wonderful gifts. When we take care of these two gifts, they bring us a lifetime of joy. But, if we neglect or abuse these gifts, they result in a lifetime of pain. So how do we take care of these precious gifts? Many things come to mind, but here are a dozen things you can do every day to take care of these two gifts.

  1. Tell your spouse what you need. Your spouse is not a mind reader. Don’t expect them to read your mind and then get angry because they can’t do it. Politely, lovingly tell them what you need.
  2. Take your spouse’s sensitivities and vulnerabilities seriously. This means you becoming a student of your spouse. Learn about your spouse’s sensitivities. They often stem from life experiences. Do not make light of those sensitivities. Do not use them against your spouse. Instead, acknowledge them. Respect them. Treat your spouse with care, keeping their vulnerabilities and sensitivities in mind.
  3. Make it a habit to express adoration and admiration to your spouse every day. Say “I love you” every day. Look for opportunities to not only recognize traits you love about your spouse but to tell them what you love about them every day. Share physical affection—a hug, a kiss on the cheek, holding hands, a touch on the arm—with your spouse daily. Appreciate your spouse every day.
  4. Recognize and express gratitude to your spouse every day. Once again, look for opportunities to thank your spouse for the daily, multiple things they do for you, your family, and your home.
  5. Take responsibility for any mistakes you make. We all make mistakes. We say hurtful things. We forget to complete tasks. Take responsibility. Admit your mistake. Then “bear the fruit” of repentance. Your spouse will love you for it.
  6. Treat your spouse with respect and dignity in your words and actions. Speak with kindness. Engage in polite deeds toward your spouse. Serve your spouse.  
  7. Support and encourage your spouse’s dreams. Once again, this means becoming a student of your spouse to learn about their dreams and how you can support those dreams.
  8. Share emotions with your spouse. Weep with your spouse when they weep. Rejoice with your spouse when they rejoice. Take time to share in their emotions. And, have the courage to express your deep emotions to your spouse so they can share in your emotions as well. 
  9. Set boundaries to protect your marriage. Remain faithful. Do not let people, work, children, or even volunteering come between you and your spouse.
  10. Pursue peace. Strive to create a peaceful, relaxed home for your family.
  11. Encourage your spouse and build them up. Compliment your spouse. Acknowledge their strengths as well as those things they do in the home and community.
  12. Turn toward your spouse when problems arise. Turn toward your spouse for times of joy. Turn toward your spouse simply to connect in everyday life. Turn toward your partner and work as a team to navigate the complexities of life.  

Yes, marriage is a gift. Your spouse is a gift. Treat both with care and love. When you do, you will experience a lifetime of joy.

Do Expectations Help or Hinder Your Marriage?

I heard an interesting quote the other day: “Expectation is premeditated resentment.” Consider the truth of that statement for a moment. When our spouses do not meet our expectations, we become angry. That anger, if left unresolved, combines with continued unmet expectations to grow into resentment. That resentment will destroy our marriages.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that we have no expectations in marriage. After all, not all expectations are unreasonable or negative. At the very least we all generally hold the expectation that our spouse will remain faithful and committed to us. But even positive expectations, when not handled wisely, can lead to resentment. So how do we make sure our expectations are not “premeditated resentments”? Here are 3 steps.

  • Make sure your expectations are reasonable. Sometimes we enter marriage with unreasonable expectations learned from past dating relationships, our family of origin, or even movies we enjoyed as children. A few examples of unreasonable expectations include:
    • “My spouse will make me happy all the time.”
    • “Marriage means I can have sex anytime I want it.”
    • “My spouse thinks about money the same way I do.”
    • “My spouse will always do the activities I like.”
    • Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married by Gary Chapman can help you explore some potentially unrealistic expectations. Even if you are married, you can find this book a great discussion starter.
  • Make your expectations known to your spouse. Talk about your expectations with one another. This can help assure they are reasonable as well as making sure you & your spouse understand one another’s expectations. Use the information in Expectations, Skills, and a Happy Marriage to start the conversation of expectations in your marriage.
  • Negotiate and compromise to reach an agreement regarding expectations. You and your spouse will agree on many expectations.  Sometimes, however, you and your spouse may disagree about an expectation. When this disagreement becomes known, talk about it. Ask: What makes this expectation important to you or your spouse? What does my spouse not agree with? Negotiate and compromise. Remember, part of an effective compromise is keeping in mind your desire to add joy to your spouse’s life. Come to an agreement you can both live with.

When you follow these three steps, expectations are not “premeditated resentment.” Instead, expectations are an opportunity to grow more intimate with your spouse by knowing him or her more deeply. They become an opportunity to express the depth of your love for your spouse by meeting their expectations.

The Pause of Gratitude

An article in Anthropology & Aging (2020) explored the impact of gratitude on the “quiet hope” and contentment of seniors. The people interviewed for the article engaged in a “pause of gratitude.” This “pause of gratitude” went much deeper than mere thankfulness. It focused on the interconnections of life, the social networks and the supports we all cherish.  It kept the social meaning and identity of each person in the forefront of our mind, enhancing their identity, their security, and their hope. As I read this article, I realized how important the “pause of gratitude” is for the whole family, not just seniors. In fact, we can all practice the pause of gratitude in our lives now and even begin teaching it to our children at any time. When we do, our lives will take on new meaning and hope. How can we help each of our family members develop a “pause of gratitude”?  Through many small daily acts of recognition and expression.

When the author of this article interviewed people, he noticed they would often stop in the midst of their narrative and take a very brief pause before expressing gratitude for some experience or some person in their life. This represents one aspect of developing the “pause of gratitude.” Practically, it involves the regular use of phrases like:

  • I am grateful for….
  • I’m glad that this person….
  • It’s good to….
  • It’s so nice to….
  • Thank you for….
  • I remember when this person…. That was nice.

These phrases are spoken on a regular basis when we remember people in our lives or the experiences we have enjoyed. These phrases can also be spoken at the time of an enjoyable experience as well. A wonderful way to practice this aspect of the “pause of gratitude” involves taking a pause with your family before bed or at the dinner table. During that pause, recall people and experiences from the day for which you are grateful. As you or a family member recall the people or experiences you find grateful, simply acknowledge your gratitude.

Another way to nurture the “pause of gratitude” involves the way we phrase statements about our actions, which in polite Japanese language is different than our western statements.  An example in the article explains that rather than saying “I volunteered,” a person would state “I was allowed to volunteer.” Notice, the statement “I volunteered” focuses on the individual. “I was allowed to volunteer” puts us in relationship with those who allowed us to volunteer. It allows us to express gratitude for the opportunity to volunteer by attuning us to the role of others in our actions. How might our sense of gratitude change if we began to say things like:

  • I was allowed the opportunity to learn from you (my teacher).
  • I am grateful you allowed me to eat lunch with you.
  • I was given the opportunity to worship with my church family.
  • Thank you for giving me the chance to talk with you.

Finally, the author noted one practice we might enjoy as a family. It involves focusing on three specific questions in relation to a significant person in our lives: 1) what have I received from this person, 2) what have I returned to this person, and 3) what trouble have I caused this person. As you can imagine, this brings to light the debt of gratitude we owe so many in our lives—for favors, support, or kindness. This activity might form the basis of a letter of honor we could give to someone as a family. (See Forgotten Family Arts: The Thank You Note.)

Ironically, practicing the “pause of gratitude” reflects on the past but grounds us in the present with a feeling of thanks. But it does not stop there. It casts hope into the future that we will experience such positive events and people again in coming days. Don’t you think you and your family would benefit from such a hope?

Compromise: My Way or The Highway?

If you’re married, you have probably had this experience. You know…the one that occurs when you want one thing and your spouse wants another. You disagree on the best course of action, but you need to reach an agreement. And reaching an agreement will require compromise. And so, the discussion (or should I say debate?) begins. You and your spouse state your cases. You persuade. You list off the benefits of your side.

Underlying the whole discussion, however, is a small, nagging fear that if I stand firm, you might consider me selfish and become resentful. But, if I give in to meet your needs or comply with your ideas, you might take advantage of my kindness… and I will grow to resent. Plus, the whole issue of fairness flows like a riptide under these fears, threatening to pull us into frustration and anger. All in all, our effort at compromising becomes a lesson in political antagonism. But (and this is a big but) it does not have to be this way.

The whole tone of compromise can change when we shift our paradigm and stop thinking in terms of my needs and desires versus your needs and desires. The tone of compromise changes when we shift to recognize that the true struggle begins within each me and within you. It is not the struggle of “me versus thee” but the struggle within myself  to honor two needs I harbor in my heart that are of equal importance:

  • One, to satisfy my personal need or desire and
  • Two, to make my spouse happy.  After all, we all want our spouses to experience happiness in their relationship to us. Our love for our spouse pushes us to grow, to think beyond our own desires and consider another person’s desires.

By recognizing this internal struggle, we become better prepared to listen, to understand, and to discover a mutually satisfying solution. In other words, compromise is an opportunity to stand up for ourselves and our spouse rather than give in or persuade.

Gottman developed an exercise to aid couples in this process–the two ovals exercise. First, draw an oval on a piece of paper. Write what you must have in order to be true to your identity within this oval. What you write will vary depending on the topic at hand. However, one value you can always write in this first oval is the desire to bring your spouse happiness.

Next, draw a second oval around the first one. In this outer oval, write things related to the topic of discussion that you are flexible about. With these two ovals complete, you can approach the conversation with a deeper sharing of priorities, a clearer understanding of issues related to each one’s identity and security, and an explicit expression and recognition of each one’s desire to make the other happy. Compromise becomes an opportunity to know one another better and to seek a way to make one another happy. Instead of “my way or the highway” undergirding the talk of compromise, “how can we make one another happy while we meet our individual needs” becomes the foundation of the discussion. Now that is a compromise we can invest in!

Effective Parents Do This

Effective parents do this all the time. Although this skill undergirds almost everything else an effective parent does, we rarely talk about it. When do effective parents do this? Before they discipline, before they step in to help, before they assign a chore, before answering a question (like “Where do babies come from?”), and before granting a privilege represent just  few of the time a parent will do this.  What is “this” that effective parents do this often? They observe their children deeply and sensitively.

Sensitive observation involves listening as well as watching. It begins at birth (if not in utero) and continues for a lifetime. Sensitive observation carries many benefits. Observation helps them build a stronger relationship with their child. It also gives a parent wisdom and power as they discipline and teach their child. How does it do this?

  • Sensitive observation teaches a parent about their child. They learn to recognize the signals of boredom, tiredness, and hunger. With this knowledge a parent can intervene in the wisest manner possible when inappropriate behavior arises. They can respond differently when inappropriate behavior is a response to hunger or tiredness than when it is a ploy for power or a testing of limits.
  • Sensitive observation also helps a parent differentiate between a child’s needs or problem behaviors and their own parental fears and projections. It helps a parent recognize their own escalating fears as opposed to the objective difficulty of a situation. A parent who engages in sensitive observation of their children does not have to take on their children’s failures or mistakes. They can allow their children to learn from those moments instead. They do not feel the need to rescue their children for poor time management or simple neglect. Instead, they can allow their children to experience the consequences and grow. On the other hand, a parent who engages in sensitive observation does not have to gloat in their children’s success. They can allow their children to enjoy their own success and the effort they invested to achieve that success.
  • Sensitive observation allows a parent to trust their child’s developing cognitive and motor skills. It allows a parent to recognize their child’s competence and ability. This will also provide a parent with wisdom regarding when and what household activities to invite a child to participate in. It will allow a parent to step back and allow their children to take appropriate risks within the scope of their children’s abilities.
  • Sensitive observation allows a parent to accept and acknowledge their child’s emotions…all of them. With sensitive observation a parent can exhibit empathy while remaining confident in their own ability to hear, support and problem-solve with their child rather than shame, guilt, or distract. They will be able to accept their children’s emotions and hold them safely while helping their children learn to express and manage them effectively.

Sensitive observation is a powerful parenting tool we all need to use. So put on the glasses, open the ears, and observe your children. You might even discover how amazing your children actually are.

Don’t Catch Depression From This Pandemic

Depression has increased dramatically during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic studies suggested 11% of the population reported enough symptoms to meet the criteria for a diagnosis of depression. In December of 2020, during the pandemic, 42% reported enough symptoms of depression to reach a diagnosis (COVID’s Mental Health Toll). In fact, the World Health Organization noted depression as the leading cause of disability in 2020. This increase in diagnosable symptoms is shocking, but not surprising. In fact, a study published in August of 2020 and drawing information from a database of over 100,000 participants revealed social connection as the strongest protective factor against depression. So, it comes as no surprise that after a year of needing social distancing and “shelter-in-place” protocols that depression has increased. The question is: how can we connect socially while maintaining a level of physical safety? After all, our emotional lives depend on social connection, the frequency of confiding in one another, and the opportunity to visit with family and friends. How can we help our families connect socially? Here are just two ideas.

  • Consider each family member’s interests and look for groups related to those interests. This may include sports, music, scouting, science, or other clubs. Find out how various groups are encouraging involvement during this time. They may meet over zoom. Maybe they have small groups meeting while necessary precautions. You may also participate in your faith community. Once again, they may meet over zoom or in small groups with necessary precautions.
  • Call a friend and talk…or zoom. Although not as personal as face-to-face contact, talking on the phone or zooming is the next best thing to face-to-face contact. So, connect via phone or zoom rather than text. You may also meet a friend at the park for a walk or sit in an outdoor setting to talk. You might even meet a friend or two at a restaurant that has outdoor seating or is maintaining necessary safety precautions. You can also enjoy a picnic or simply watching your children with a friend in the back yard.

These represent only two ideas for maintaining social connection during this time. Doing so takes some effort but will bring a greater sense of peace and happiness to you and your family.

What are your ideas for maintaining social connection during the pandemic? What have you and your family done?

Learn the Stats…Your Family Stats

I have friends who love football, soccer, baseball, basketball…really any sport. They watch all the games. They know the players’ names, backgrounds, and achievements. They can recite various players’ position, height, and weight. They can rattle off statistics about a favored player’s style of play and perhaps even tell you the names of the player’s wife and children. They have an amazing grasp on the knowledge of the sport and the players they love.

Some of these men, though, have trouble telling me the name of even one of their children’s friends, even though they live with their child. They have difficulty recalling their anniversary date or their spouse’s birthday, even though they see their spouse every day. They have no mental model of their family members’ lives or world. In the words of John Gottman, they lack a love map of their partner and children.

This raises questions in my mind…questions about priority and honor. We make time to learn about those things we love. We spend time being with and learning about the things we value. We talk about the things we love. We develop a complete and exhaustive “love map” of those things we enjoy and love. So, let me pose a couple of questions to consider:

  • Based on your knowledge base, what receives a higher priority: the sport you love or your spouse and children? Which do you know the most about?
  • Do you know more stats about your favorite athlete or your spouse? Your children?
  • Are you more familiar with the world of sports or the world of your spouse (life story, friends, hobbies, dreams, favorite clothing style, struggles)?
  • Are you more familiar with the world of sports or the world of your children (favorite school subjects, friends, frenemies, dreams, struggles, hobbies)?
  • Do you invest more time and effort to learn about your favorite sport or your spouse? Your favorite athlete or your children?

The point is, we need to become intimately familiar with the world our family members navigate on a daily basis. We need to develop a “love map” of our spouse and our children. It will show that you “buy in” to your marriage and your family. It will reveal how much you value your spouse and your children. It will strengthen your marital relationship by giving you a deeper understanding and appreciation of your spouse. It will nurture a healthier relationship with your children as well (which will also make discipline easier). So, get to know the family stats—the dreams, the life story, the thoughts, the fears, the joys, the list goes on…. You will have fun learning the information and you will nurture a stronger family at the same time.

Gratitude, Family, & the Gift of Self-Worth

Family offers the soil in which we nurture one another’s sense of value and worth. That sounds kind of sentimental, doesn’t it? It’s also an obvious statement barely worth repeating. Nonetheless, it is true. But do you know what one major soil nutrient will contribute to your spouse’s and your children’s sense of value and worth? Well…there is more than one but this one has the power to enhance a person’s sense of worth and value more than you might imagine. In fact, it is essential in the nurturance of each family member’s mental and emotional health.  It’s time we stop overlooking it and make sure the soil of our families is rich in this nutrient. It won’t be difficult because this nutrient is easily added to your home and family. It is simple, can be added daily, and has amazing power. What is it? Gratitude. All you need to do is express gratitude and thanks. Sounds too easy to be true, doesn’t it?  However, a series of four studies shows it is true. Gratitude does nurture value and worth in your family members. Let me briefly share what these four studies revealed about the impact of gratitude.

  1. People who received thanks showed more willingness to continue helping the person who gave them thanks.  In fact, the expression of gratitude “more than doubled the likelihood that helpers would provide assistance again.”
  2. People who received thanks showed a greater willingness to help a third party after receiving thanks. They were more willing to help a person other than the one who thanked them.
  3. People who received thanks, worked longer to help the one who thanked them. They increased their productivity by more than 50%  and spent 15% more time helping.
  4. Moreover, analysis of these findings reveals that when a person receives thanks, they feel more socially valued. This increase in feeling socially valued led to their greater willingness to continue helping and to persist longer in their helping activities.

Gratitude is powerful. It enhances our family members sense of personal value…and their willingness to help others. So, if you want your family members to help more within the family, help those outside the family, and do it more often, thank them for their contributions to the home. Share gratitude. Vocalize your gratitude for all they do. They will know you value them and their help. As a result, they will help more people, more often, and with greater effort.

Your Family & the Tough Conversation

Families face tough conversations in today’s world. Whether focused on politics, your teen’s level of freedom, sexuality, or which swimsuit your children can wear, these conversations can quickly become emotionally tumultuous. Hurtful words may “slip out” and relationships can be damaged. Knowing your family’s conversational style provide a first step in making these conversations more productive.

Research on conversation styles in families has identified four categories of conversation styles in families. The styles fall along two dimensions: conversational orientation and conformity. Conversational orientation represents how much and how spontaneously families talk about multiple topics. Conformity refers to how much family members feel expected to conform to the views of one or two family members. With that in mind, let’s briefly explore each style.

  1. A laissez-faire conversation style is low in both conversational orientation and conformity. They place little value on conformity and communication. They tend to have limited conversation and share few topics. Family members can differ in opinions and each person is encouraged to make their own decisions with little input from family. As you can imagine, families using this style of conversation often lack intimate, emotional  connection. They tend to be disengaged from one another. Because of the lack of support given in decision-making, children often grow to question their ability to make decisions.
  2. A protective conversation style is high in conformity but low in conversational orientation.  Communication emphasizes obedience to parental authority and conformity. Parents see little reason for explaining the reason behind decisions and simply expect the family to conform. As a result, differences of opinion are not generally discussed. Unfortunately, positive conflict resolution and communication skills are not practiced either. So, when disagreements do naturally occur, the only way to resolve them is to conform to the authority’s decision. Once again, you can see how this limits family intimacy as well as the healthy development of self-knowledge and communication skills.
  3. A pluralistic conversational style is high in conversational orientation and low in conformity. These families have open, unrestrained conversation on a wide range of topics. Parents accept children’s opinions and decisions providing they are well supported by reason and explanation.  Conflict is addressed using positive conflict-resolution strategies and generally resolved. Family conversation is valued as is independent and autonomous thinking. This style does promote competence in communication, confidence in decision-making, and conflict resolution. However, since it is low in conformity, the family tends to be permissive, which can result in more behavioral problems. Ironically, permissiveness also tends to contribute to lower self esteem in children.
  4. Finally, a consensual conversational style is high in conversational orientation and conformity. This creates a tension between the pressure to agree and so maintain the existing hierarchy on the one hand, and open communication and exploration of ideas on the other. These families strive to balance independence and conformity, expression and understanding. Parents encourage children to voice their opinions and ideas but invest energy and time in explaining their own values, beliefs, and decisions to their children. Discussions are acceptable and encouraged but volatile conflict is generally thought of negatively. As a result, the family does model and teach problem-solving and conflict resolution skills. They also develop more intimacy and connectedness.  

The question to ask yourself as you move toward having the tough conversations is: which type of conversational style describes your family? How will that conversational style impact your approach to the topic? How does your style influence your goal? Is your current style the one you want to continue using or would you like to approach this topic differently?  Do you utilize the same style in relationship to your children as you do in relationship to your spouse? Will this conversational style change as your child matures? How?

Knowledge of your family’s conversational style and the answer to these questions will begin to help you successfully engage in the tough conversations with your family.

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