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The Attitude Needed for Communication in Marriage

Communication is crucial to a healthy marriage. Everyone knows that, right? We teach couples to communicate—to listen well and take turns explaining their point of view when a conflict arises. All well and good…until you have a real disagreement and give in to the temptation of making your goal to convince your spouse of the superiority of your point of view. With that goal in mind, you practice repeating what your spouse says so they know you “understand” their point of view (at least well enough to blow it out of the water). You “wait” (however impatiently) for your turn to talk. You maintain eye contact and stay calm (most likely with an air of condescension). You word your point of view in a way that your spouse will understand (or are they just stupid?). But something is missing. You never reach resolution. You both grow more frustrated and even angry. Why is it not working? Because you started with the wrong goal and, as a result, you are missing at least three important ingredients.

  1. Humility. Effective communication is undergirded by humble listening. Good listeners humble themselves by setting aside their own agendas and listening to their spouse with the sole purpose of understanding their point of view. They do not have to prove the superiority of their own opinion. They do not listen for flaws in their spouse’s reasoning or ammunition to bolster their own argument. They listen to understand. They listen until they can appreciate their spouse’s perspective based on their knowledge and perception. In humility they acknowledge the sense of their spouse’s perspective. Humility is an essential ingredient for effective communication in marriage.
  2. Respect. Effective communication is premised upon mutual respect. Both spouses respectfully believe the other has a valid viewpoint. They trust their spouse’s intelligence and ability to develop and grow. They respect their spouse’s knowledge and intelligence. They model that respect by listening intently, speaking politely, and disagreeing with love.
  3. Curiosity. Effective communication assumes curiosity. To learn demands curiosity. To learn about your spouse’s perspectives and ideas starts with being curious. Remember, communication is an opportunity to “grow” something new—a new relationship, a new level of intimacy, a new knowledge. “Growing” something new assumes a curiosity about what will grow from this interaction, a curiosity that nurtures the growth of something new. Effective communication means each spouse is more invested in learning about their spouse than in making themselves known. They are more curious to know their spouse than they are demanding to be known.

If you want a really healthy marriage, add these three ingredients into your life and communication. Get curious about your spouse and humbly listen to learn more about them…and do it respectfully. When you do, you’ll discover a greater goal of communication as well. The goal is not to pass on information or convince someone of “my” ideas. The goal is to connect and grow together.

Parenting: Power or Love?

Parenting has become a confusing adventure these days. The advice we find on-line or in the parenting section of the bookstore only adds to the confusion. In developmental psychology classes we learn that parenting styles fall along two continuums. One continuum represents rules or control. The other continuum represents relationship, warmth, and acceptance. You can review the excellent “Parenting Style Infographic” in this excellent article and learn everything you want to know about the four parenting styles represented along these two continuums. It’s great information.

I often see parents falling into one of the three less effective parenting style in this model because they believe they need to exert power and control to “shape their children” into mature adults. (Unfortunately, these children often don’t know how to act mature without their parent’s control.) Some parents exert power to build their children “according to the blueprints” provided them by parents, churches, or peers. (These children often rebel to exert their own independence.) Still other parents respond to their own fear by adding more control, exerting more power in an effort to keep their children safe. (These children often take extra risks to escape the powerful control their parents exert.)  In all this, they miss the most important aspect of being a parent, nurturing the love and relationship their children crave and need. So, when I ran across these few quotes on power and love, I had to share them with you. Read them over slowly and take time to consider what they might mean for our styles of parenting.

  • “The opposite of Love is not hate, but power.” –C.S. Lewis
  • “They fear love because it creates a world they can’t control.” –George Orwell
  • “When love rules power disappears. When power rules love disappears.” –Paulo Coelho
  • “Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.” –Carl Jung
  • “Love is the opposite of power. That’s why we fear it so much.” –Gregory David Roberts
  • “When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.” –Jimi Hendrix
  • “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” –1 Peter 4:8
  • “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” –1 Corinthians 13:4-7

I know we often want to exert power in our effort to shape children into “responsible adults” or “make them listen” or teach them how to “get by in the world.” But power leads to rebellion. And really, isn’t love where the true power to transform resides? Doesn’t love actually nurture the growth we desire in our children? Some would go as far as to say that “All bad behavior is really a request for love, attention, or validation” (Kimberly Giles). I agree.

Let me summarize by saying that the job of a parent is the job of a miracle-worker. It is a miracle to take a newborn baby and nurture them until they become a mature, independent, responsible adult…a miracle. As Marianne Williamson said, “The way of the miracle-worker is to see all human behavior as one of two things: either love, or a call for love.”

Love in a Dog-Eat-Dog World

“It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there.” The competition is brutal. In fact, you might have to step on a few people to make your way to the top. But everyone can’t be top of the hill, right?

Did you ever hear that message? I have. Do you ever act on this message, behave as though it is the gospel truth? When we do, people often get hurt. When it becomes a theme in our marriages and families, our loved ones get hurt. A “dog-eat-dog” mindset just doesn’t work in family.

Surely you and I don’t hold these beliefs and let them interfere with our families though, right? Or do we? Consider these few examples.

  • We thrust our way into a conversation, maybe even talking over the other person because
    “my” ideas need to be heard. We may even feel as if they need to be believed above others. On Facebook we debate, look down on, and even belittle those who believe differently than “me” because “my” idea is obviously the right idea. 
  • We see the last parking spot available, or the one closest to the door. Realizing only one person can have that parking space, we rush to beat the other guy to the space.
  • Only one person can have the lead part in the play, so we spend countless hours working to crush the other guy in try outs. We even talk badly about the “competitions” performance in an attempt to sway others to view “my” performance as best.
  • I need to get to my appointment on time even though I’m running late, so I cut off the other guy at the intersection even though he’s likely running behind as well.
  • There is a line at the checkout counter, so I rush to get there first.

Yes, we all have taken on some of that “dog-eat-dog mentality” and so compete to be first in line, first to be noticed, first to be picked, first and foremost in everything. We invest our energy and our time to be the top dog, the best, the first. Unfortunately, we do this even within our families in subtle less direct ways.

  • There is only one piece of pizza left and I’m hungry. Maybe someone else is to…no matter because “the early bird gets the worm.”
  • One of us has to clean the kitty litter. If I just hold out long enough, my spouse will do it. (I guess this is more of a “cat-eats-cat” type example…oh well.)
  • My favorite TV show is on at the same time as your TV show…as long as I get the remote first, I can watch mine on the better TV.

You get the idea. Even in family we allow a “dog-eat-dog mindset” to impact our relationships and how we interact with one another.  

When we do, we have less energy to invest in others. We become so busy investing in ourselves that we neglect to learn about other spouse or our children.  We devote so much time and energy in achieving our own desired ends that we have no energy left to build relationships. We expend so much energy competing that we have no energy or time left to share a kindness with our spouse, our child, our parent, our friend, our neighbor.

But love is kind. Love does not compete in order to come out on top. Love does not take up the banner of a “dog-eat-dog world.” Love is kind enough to invest time and energy in getting to know the other guy. Love is kind enough to give the last piece of pizza to another hungry family member…or shares it with another. Love kindly listens to understand and even seek common ground with the person who disagrees with us. Love shows a radical kindness that helps the competition do their best, even if the one who loves in this way “loses” in the process.

Love is kind. So, I have to ask…Would your family say you are kind?

Two Questions Every Couple Silently Asks

Every couple asks at least two questions of one another. The way in which we answer these two questions will either create a happy, lifetime marriage or a doomed marriage. Here’s the trick though. We ask these questions without ever saying the words. They are silently implied through our actions, interactions, and other questions.

The first question is: “Can I trust you?”

  • When I ask you to do something, can I trust you to work on it?
  • When your friends try to influence you to do something, can I trust you to accept my influence above the influence of your friends?
  • Can I trust you to keep me as a priority above your friends?
  • When you’re upset with me, can I trust you to still love me?
  • I know you love your family, but can I trust you to make me the first priority in your life?
  • When we are apart, can I trust you to remain faithful? 

The second question is very similar: “Are you there for me?”

  • When I am sad or troubled, are you there for me?
  • When I need help around the house, are you there for me?
  • When I need someone to listen, are you there for me?
  • When I want to just have fun with someone I love, are you there for me?
  • When I need to talk, are you there for me?
  • Are you there for me emotionally? Physically? Mentally?

The next time you find yourself in an argument with your spouse because the dishwasher was not unloaded, you need to answer your spouse’s unspoken question: “Are you there for me? Will you do your part to help keep our home.”

When you find yourself in a marital a battle over how much time you spend with your friends, you need to answer your spouse’s unspoken question: “Can I trust you? Or do I need to worry about you leaving me for your friends when I need you most?”

When time watching television, playing video games, or exercising becomes a source of conflict, answer the question: “Are you there for me? Or will the attention you give something else take you away from me?”

If you spouse seems to get upset and argue with you every time you talk about a coworker, you might want to answer the unspoken question: “Can I trust you? Do you talk about me with the same enthusiasm and adoration?” The list goes on, but you get the idea. “Can I trust you? Are you there for me?” Make sure the answer is clear.

Improve Your Family’s Brain Health

I must be getting older because I’m drawn to a study when it says it there’s “growing evidence” that people can do things to “slow down cognitive aging.” That’s why I looked at this study. The authors looked at the data of 2,171 participants with an average age of 63 years and made an interesting observation about keeping the brain young and promoting brain health. Specifically, they were exploring the impact of having “supportive social interactions that included listening, good advice, love and affection, sufficient contact with people they’re close with, and emotional support” on brain health. They discovered that the greater the availability of one of these “supportive social supports” was associated with cognitive resilience. Cognitive resilience is a measure of the brain’s ability to function better than one would expect for a person’s chronological age. So, which social support helped keep the brain healthy and young? Having someone you can count on to listen when you need to talk. In other words, have a listen ear available is the one social support that helps keep the brain young and healthy. In fact, as early as a person’s 40’s and 50’s the lack of an available listener contributed to a cognitive age 4-years older than those with “high listener availability,” (AKA, an available listening ear).

Why do I bring this up in a blog about family functioning? Cuz family is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to listening. If you want your spouse and your parents to have better brain health-a younger, healthier brain in spite of aging-remain available to listen to them. The simple act of being available to listen can help your spouse and your parent have a healthier brain. Isn’t that a great way to honor your parent and spouse, a wonderful gift to share with them? Listening not only promotes their brain health, but it reveals your love and affection for them as well. As an added benefit, your children will model your behavior. As you listen to your spouse and your parents, they will learn to listen to their future spouse and their parent (YOU!). And, but listening to you, they will promote your brain health. Sounds like a “win-win” to me. The whole family benefits.

To help you give your spouse and parents the full benefit of your listening ear, check out the tips in The Gracious Art of Listening and The Art of Listening Is More Than Responding. Then, after you’ve read the tips, lean in a little, open your ears, open your heart, and listen to promote your family’s brain health.

Give Your Spouse This Daily Romantic Booster Shot

Thanksgiving has passed. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop expressing gratitude for things your spouse does and says. In fact, I like to think of Thanksgiving as the beginning of another year to express gratitude to my spouse. I know. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of life and lose sight of the little things our spouses do for our families every day. Many of us may get so busy we don’t even recognize the little things for which we could be grateful. Or we simply take them for granted in the midst of our daily rush. However, the authors of a study published in 2010 found expressing gratitude helps to “solidify a relationship.” Expressing gratitude increases relationship satisfaction and connection for both spouses, both the one who gives thanks and the one who received thanks. Couples still noted a boost in their relationship satisfaction and connection the day after an expression of gratitude. In other words, expressing gratitude functioned as a “booster shot to the relationship.”

Other studies have also shown that a daily “gratitude booster shot” of gratitude helps couples maintain a high level of relationship satisfaction over time (Lack of Gratitude Will Sink Your Marital Ship), vaccinates against impulsiveness and increases patience (7 Ways Gratitude Benefits Your Family According to Research), and even helps promote physical health (A Free Supplement for Your Family’s Health). Doesn’t that sound like a great booster shot to give your spouse and your marriage. And…it does not hurt. There are no negative side effects. Just a happier, healthier marriage.

So, give your spouse a booster shot, a romantic booster shot filled with daily doses of gratitude.

It’s Not All Bad…It’s a Wonderful Opportunity

So, you or your child have been diagnosed with ADHD. For many, this diagnosis carries a negative connotation. But did you know that people with ADHD often have skills that other people wish they had? Let me share a few.

  • Children with ADHD can often focus on a task they enjoy or find interesting for hours. They exhibit a “hyper-focus” in areas of interest and enjoyment. This level of focus leads to improved performance and efficiency. I have a friend who has amazing talent on the piano and as a magician because of this skill of “hyper-focus” on areas of interest. Of course, helping find your child’s interest allows them to enjoy this skill. As they experience improvement in their skill level, it will boost their confidence as well.
  • Children with ADHD have a high level of energy. As a result, they can often excel at sports or other physical activities, especially when combined with the focus described above. Another friend from my twenties noted that martial arts helped him manage his ADHD. His interest allowed him to focus in this area. His practice expended energy and helped him have periods of calm. And he quickly became exceptionally good.
  • Children with ADHD are often highly creative. They may approach tasks from a different perspective and solve problems in unique ways. As a result, consulting a person with ADHD can boost problem-solving options. One of my friends with ADHD is an excellent comedian and playwright. He can present important information for personal growth with a humorous flair and energy that really “sticks with” the audience.
  • Children with ADHD are often spontaneous and courageous. They enjoy unplanned moments, and those moments create wonderful memories. They can teach us to enjoy the moment as well.

You can help your child make the most of these skills by involving them in activities that capitalize on the skills they possess. That may mean involving them in sports, creative activities like music, dance, or drama, or research-oriented clubs that encourage creative problem-solving.

Overall, raising a child with ADHD can demand a great deal of energy. However, when we recognize the skills they have, and capitalize on those skills, we can enjoy watching them grow more confident and talented in life. After all, people with ADHD have a great deal to offer the world, a tremendous amount of emotional, intellectual, and physical resources we desperately need. As parents, we can help prepare them to share their emotional, intellectual, and physical skills with the family, the community and even the world.

The World Changing Power on the Tip of Your Tongue

You have a world-changing power on the tip of your tongue and your family is the perfect training ground for learning how to use it. As an added benefit, as you practice this power on the tip of your tongue within your family, your whole family will feel the joy it provides and your whole family life will improve. What is this family-improving, world-changing power on the tip of your tongue? This simple phrase of “thank you!” “Thank you” has power beyond imagination. Just consider its power to change people and relationships.

  • Saying “thank you” acknowledges an act of kindness or service. The simple act of acknowledging kindness increases the probability that the person will engage in more acts of kindness and service in the future. Don’t you think we could use more kindness in our families? Our communities? Our world? “Thank you” can help make that happen.
  • A simple “thank you” expresses value in the other person and in their investment of time and effort to show kindness. To restate an overused cliché in a more positive bent, “a person who is valued treats other people as valuable.” Won’t that make your family (and our world) a better place?
  • Giving a “thank you” extends the moment of positive connection. It represents a priceless deposit into the person’s emotional bank account, the family bank of honor. This deposit deepens intimacy and strengthens relationships.
  • The delight of a kindness or service remains incomplete until gratitude is expressed, a “thank you” returned. The “thank you” completes the loop. Not returning a “thank you” for a kindness is like “leaving a person hanging” on a high-five. Everyone feels awkward. The moment is tarnished. The action feels disgraced. Don’t tarnish the moment and disgrace the kindness by refusing a “thank you.” Complete the cycle. Return a “thank you” and complete the moment of delight.
  • Offering a “thank you” creates a ripple effect that reach an additional three degrees of people. In other words, saying “thank you” increases gratitude in your family and the world exponentially. (Read Spread the Happy Contagion of Kindness and Pay It Forward…The Surprising “Rest of the Story” For Your Family for more.)

Yes, a simple “thank you” has the power to change the world. And, by practicing “thank you” in your family, your family will grow stronger and more intimate. The simple practice of saying “thank you” carries a great power that resides on the tip of your tongue. Use it generously.

Happy Marriages Practice These 5 Habits

Marriage can either give you a glimpse of heaven or a taste of hell. Let me repeat that…. A healthy marriage truly gives each person a glimpse of heaven on earth. But an unhappy marriage, a marriage dying on the rocks, is one of the most painful things I have ever seen, a true taste of hell. Nobody wants a taste of hell to linger in their life. We want a glimpse of heaven instead. So, how do we develop a healthy marriage? What are the essentials of a healthy, happy marriage? Let me share five….

  1. A healthy marriage develops a daily habit of sharing gratitude and appreciation for one another. They acknowledge what they adore and admire in their spouse as often as possible. This daily habit of looking for things to admire, appreciate, adore, and show gratitude for one another builds friendship…and friendship is crucial to any healthy, happy marriage. In fact, some would say a strong friendship with your spouse is foundational to a healthy marriage and I agree.
  2. People in a healthy marriage enjoy spending time together. They play together. They enjoy activities together. They like to talk to one another. They are best friends and they love spending time together. In fact, research suggests that engaging in “novel activities” together strengthens marriage (Get Self-Expansion Without the Chubbiness). So, enjoy date nights with your spouse. Plan some date nights around new (or novel) activities. Have fun together.
  3. People in happy marriages think as a team. They turn toward one another to celebrate and grieve. When one spouse has a problem, the other spouse supports them, comforts them, and problem-solves with them. When one spouse does well, the other spouse rejoices…and they can’t wait to rejoice together. When all is said and done, whether in good times or bad, people in a healthy marriage know they can count on one another 100 percent of the time.
  4. People in a healthy marriage know how to manage stress and conflict. Each individual has learned how to soothe their own negative emotions. They can calm their stress. Each one also remains aware of their partner’s emotions; and they use that awareness to build their relationship. They don’t “push buttons.”  They don’t want their spouse, their best friend, to hurt so they comfort and nurture them. They take time to listen and accept. They become curious to learn their partner’s thoughts and feelings rather than dogmatically assert their own. They compromise and even agree to disagree. (Gottman notes that up to 69% of marital disagreements are unsolvable, which actually presents a wonderful opportunity to love someone who thinks differently than us.)
  5. People in a healthy marriage share a mission, a value. They have a shared meaning. Couples may find that shared meaning in religious service, family, environmental action, justice, or something other value bigger than the self. The mission that creates a shared meaning for a couple may change over time and with various “seasons of life.”  However, whatever the shared meaning is, it represents a mission rooted in some higher value. What is the shared meaning of your marriage? Raising a family, participating in religious service together, standing for justice, caring for nature?

Marriage can bring a glimpse of heaven. Practicing these five habits in your marriage will set it on the path to see that glimpse of heaven. Even better, you can live in that glimpse of heaven…and isn’t that better than hell.

How an Argument Can Lead to Longer Life & Deeper Intimacy

It’s true. Stress is a killer. Research has found that chronic stress increases depression and anxiety, impacting our mental health. It also impacts physical health, contributing to heart disease, higher cholesterol, a weaker immune system, and gastrointestinal issues.

You know what creates a lot of stress for many people (including me)? Arguments. An Oregon State University study published in 2021 examined the impact of arguments and avoided arguments on a person’s negative emotions. Utilizing data obtained through an in-depth survey of over 2,000 people, they found that on the day of an argument or avoided argument, people who felt their argumentative encounter resolved reported about half as much negative emotion as those who felt the encounter unresolved. Even more, on the day after the argument, those who felt the incident was resolved felt no prolonged negative emotion related to the disagreement.

In other words, resolve the argument and the stress goes away. Resolve the argument before the sun goes down and have no stress related to it the next day.

I don’t know about you, but I have arguments with my spouse now and again. I can also experience disagreements with my daughters. Left unresolved, I ruminate. Stress continues to push cortisol (stress hormones) through my veins. I don’t sleep well. I’m restless. And the next day I’m tired, still feeling the stress of yesterday’s disagreement, and even feeling a little grumpy.

Better to avoid all that and do the work of resolving the argument and any residual anger that accompanies it. This doesn’t mean you have to reach an agreement. It means you have to resolve your anger. How? Start by taking a break and during that break…

  1. Take a deep breath. Let the breath out slowly as you look around the room. Intentionally recognize where you are, what you see, what you hear, what positive memories you have in this place.
  2. Think of the good times you have had with the family member with whom you are having an argument. They are much more than this point of disagreement or moment of anger. Remember what you admire and appreciate about them. Recall times of joy and celebration together.
  3. Agree to meet together to understand one another better after everyone has calmed down. Notice, you are not going to meet to resolve the disagreement, although this is often a byproduct of meeting. Instead, you are going to meet to understand one another better. But first you want all the parties to become calm. When we are upset, we often don’t think rationally. Our fight or flight system gets activated and we only think of survival. Wait until you are calm and your rational, loving brain is back on board. Then you can discuss the disagreement. And, with a calm, clear mind, you can approach the discussion with the intent of understanding your family member’s perspective. The goal is not to prove your point or make them understand you, but for you to intentionally seek to understand their perspective.
  4. Share affection. A hug, a kiss, an “I respect you” or an “I love you” will go a long way in resolving anger among loved ones. Even if you still feel a little agitated…or even a lot agitated…give your family member a genuine hug. After all, deep down you love them in spite of any disagreement. As you share affection, feel the anger dissipate.

These 4 steps take effort. But the effort pays great dividends. Stress is reduced. Anger is resolved. You’ll likely find that the disagreement is even resolved or becomes less significant. Your physical health is nurtured. But best of all, intimacy with your family member deepens. Like I said, it takes effort, but the reward is fabulous.

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