Archive for Honor

Let Them Take a Risk

Teens love the thrill of taking risks. They seek experiences that will stimulate their senses, emotions, and thinking. This desire stems from brain changes that produce changes in the reward system of the brain. We often look at this “novelty seeking behavior” (AKA, risk taking) as a problem that puts our teens in danger. However, this behavior also holds many positive possibilities and opportunities. For instance, taking risks help our teens learn new things. It prepares them to leave home and begin life on their own. It helps them gain confidence. Ironically, it also helps them develop the motivation necessary to “take on” other challenging and beneficial tasks in life. So, if you want to have a motivated teen who is moving toward responsible independence, let them take a risk to grow on.

  • Don’t make “no” your go to answer. Constant “no’s” may either push your teen into rebellion or it may discourage them and rob them of motivation. Before you say “no,” get curious. Ask a few questions. Find out more about their ideas and what they want to accomplish. As you explore their ideas and desires, you might find they’ve already considered several risk factors. You can help them think through other potentially dangerous aspects of their ideas. In addition, you stimulate them to think about creative opportunities to move toward their goals through various adventures. Still, there will be some risk. (When you have to say “no,” consider this.) Even starting to drive carries risk. We, as parents, need to trust our teens to moderate their risk on their own and…
  • Provide them with “training wheels” when necessary. Children and teens learn to trust their abilities, their bodies, and their knowledge along with the limits of each by engaging in activities and behaviors that present a challenge and, as a result, present some risk. As they engage in these activities, there may be times when you can provide “training wheels.”  For instance, “Cinderella laws” around driving function as “training wheels” to help prevent accidents for young drivers. Providing the necessary safety equipment—i.e.-bike helmets, pads for sports, a safety class—for their activities also provides safety education and “training wheels.” Teach them to use “toys,” tools, and equipment safely. You might even know another adult who can function as mentor for them in that activity. Provide some supervision without taking over. Doing so will help them build balance in that activity and minimize the risk.
  • Let them make mistakes. Mistakes and “failures” are opportunities to gain experience, learn, and grow. But, if we step in and “protect” them from the consequences of their mistakes, we rob them of the opportunity to gain experience. So, let them fail while providing a “soft place” of empathy and care on which they can land when the inevitable failures occur. A place of empathy and curiosity (rather than judgment and shame) will allow them to reflect upon the mistake and what they can learn from it.
  • Trust them to learn and grow. Children and teens learn from their mistakes. Get to know your children and teens. Learn about their strengths and interests. Learn about their potential areas of weakness. Observe how their strengths have matured and how they have utilized their strengths to compensate for various weaknesses. Recognize how some weaknesses have actually become strengths through repetition and practice. Doing so will help you trust your teen to learn and grow.

Teens love to take a risk and it’s a good thing they do. Taking reasonable risks help them to grow and become independent adults with interests and passions. Encourage those risks and watch them blossom.

I Love Valentine’s Day

It’s Valentine’s Day but…not everyone is happy about that. In fact, I’ve heard some countries actually ban Valentine’s Day. But wouldn’t it be nice to add a little more love into our families and our communities? After all, “love cures people—both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it” (Dr. Karl Menninger). Our families and communities are definitely in need of healing.

Valentine’s Day is a day to remind ourselves that love is a great gift to give our spouse, our children, our parents…and our friends and neighbors. As Victor Hugo said, “the greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.” And the knowledge that somebody loves us allows us to know our true selves and our true beauty. “It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being” (John Joseph Powell). In other words, the gift of love allows us to become the best version of ourselves…even if we start off a bit like a beast. That is “the great lesson of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ that a thing must be loved before it is lovable” (G. K. Chesterton). Love your family.

Some fear love. Maybe they’ve been hurt, or they fear losing their sense of freedom by putting on the “old ball and chain.” But “if we commit ourselves to one person for life, this is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather, it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession but participation” (Madeleine L’Engle). Likewise, “love is a vessel that contains both security and adventure, and commitment offers one of the great luxuries of life: time. Marriage is not the end of romance, it is the beginning” (Esther Perel). Security, adventure, freedom, and true knowledge of self and other…they’re all wrapped up in love. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me. Something to celebrate and share on Valentine’s Day.

“Oh, [and] how a quiet love can drown out every fear” (Jessica Katoff). “…Perfect love casts out fear” (Peter, the apostle of Christ). Why? Because fear involves punishment. Fear involves betrayal. Fear involves hurt. But love casts all that out. Love heals. Love cherishes. Love builds up. Love provides a safe haven and secure port. Love lets us rest “naked and unafraid” in the arms of another. That’s a great Valentine’s Day gift.

But don’t get me wrong. Love does demand something of the one who love. It demands action. Love is a verb, not a noun. “Love doesn’t sit there like a stone; it has to be made, like bread; remade all of the time, made new” (Ursula K. Leguin). We have to invest in love with a curiosity to know the other person, a desire to serve the other person, and a willingness to sacrifice for their benefit. Will you invest in love? When you do, you’ll know why I love to celebrate Valentine’s Day every day.

A Radical Valentine’s Day Gift for Your Spouse

We use the word “love” so often and in so many contexts that it has lost its meaning. After all, I love cheesecake, I love sunny days, AND I love my wife. Hopefully, my love for cheesecake (which satisfies my sweet tooth) and sunny days (which makes me feel physically warm and relaxed) is different than the love I have for my wife. If I’m going to have a healthy marriage, my love for my wife has to transcend the self-focused love of satisfying my sweet tooth with cheesecake and my enjoyment of physical warmth on a sunny day. My love for my wife, our love for our spouses, needs to transcend our self-centered desires. A healthy, lifelong marriage calls for a radical love. In fact, this kind of love may be the perfect radical Valentine’s Day gift for your spouse.  Let me explain the gift of radical love and some of its benefits for you and your spouse.

  • The radical love of a healthy, lifelong marriage involves giving of the self. Radical love requires us to give up our sense of entitlement and selfishness in order to give ourselves to our spouse. Radical love compels us to give our spouse our time and our energy rather than leaving them the leftovers of each. Radical love leads us to give them our attention and our listening ear. It means we give up our “I” to enjoy the “we” of marriage. Radical love invites us to give our life to our spouse…for the purpose of enjoying a lifetime together. Yes, radical love demands we give ourselves to our spouse. 
  • The radical love of a healthy, lifelong marriage also involves serving our spouses. We love our spouse and love to serve our spouse when we commit to a radical love. Who does what around the house is not an argument because we both love each other enough that we want to serve the other by doing the tasks necessary to maintain a healthy home. Radical love looks for opportunities to serve in simple ways and major ways. Radical love serves by doing the menial things like taking out the garbage or cleaning the car. It also serves by doing the noble things like supporting our spouse’s dreams. Radical love serves…and loves to serve. So ask your spouse, “How can I serve your today?”
  • The radical love of a healthy, lifelong marriage also rejoices to sacrifice for our spouses. All marriages require sacrifice. Those in the healthiest marriages, however, take joy in the opportunity to make a sacrifice for their spouse. The sacrifices of radical love may be simple or complex but, either way, the sacrifice is made willingly and lovingly. For instance, radical love sacrifices “my” desire to be heard long enough to listen to my spouse’s point of view. Radical love sacrifices “my” agenda to support my spouse’s agenda. Radical love sacrifices to express the depth of our love for our spouse.

Radical love is the perfect gift to give your spouse this Valentine’s Day. This gift of radical love would strengthen your marriage and draw you into a more intimate relationship with your spouse. Even more, your children would grow more secure and even happy as they witness this radical love. They would likely learn to practice radical love with you and one another as you model it. Soon, your whole family will be practicing radical love, even with those outside your family. It might even change a community…and it all starts with committing to radical love in your marriage.

Give Your Spouse a Break

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

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

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

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

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

The Superpower of a Pronoun

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

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

Preventing Intimacy Drift in Your Marriage

We all desire intimacy, especially with our spouses. Growing the type of intimacy we desire begins when we plant and nurture the seed of self-disclosure. In fact, without self-disclosure we will never move from acquaintance to the deeper intimacy of marriage.  Unfortunately, long-term relationships, like marriage, can experience a decrease in self-disclosure as each spouse drifts away from the other. But I have good news. We can prevent our marriages from drifting apart by nurturing the seed of self-disclosure, creating an environment that will allow it to grow and bring greater marital intimacy. Here are four ways you can nurture the seed of self-disclosure in your marriage.

  • Create daily, routine opportunities to meet and talk with your spouse. Set aside 22 minutes after work, before work, or in the evening to talk with your spouse about your day. Make this a time of conversation an opportunity to dream together, admire one another, and express gratitude to one another. You may also set aside a routine time to meet with your spouse for the purpose of resolving differences, planning, or solving marital struggles. Make this time different than the 22 minutes set aside to share your lives. For these problem-solving meetings, develop a routine way to inform one another of the need to meet. This could be as simple as asking, “Can we talk tonight?” or more symbolic like lighting a certain candle.  Just choose something that will signal the need to come together for a loving opportunity to resolve a disagreement or plan ahead. In doing so, you will nurture the seed of self-disclosure and grow greater intimacy.
  • Laugh with your spouse. Have fun together. Studies indicate that people who laugh together are more likely to disclose personal information to one another. In other words, laughing together sets the stage for more self-disclosure and more self-disclosure leads to greater intimacy…and it all begins with laughing.
  • Share hopes and fears, but also simple preferences. We enhance intimacy by disclosing simple things about ourselves as well as by sharing the more vulnerable disclosures of deep conversations. Disclosing simple things like music preferences, food preferences, thoughts about a book you’re reading, or various news stories can lay the groundwork for disclosing deeper hopes and fears. Don’t be fooled into thinking you already know your spouse’s simple preferences. People change; so, keep sharing your simple preferences as well as your deeper hopes, fears, and opinions. In doing so, you nurture the seed of self-disclosure to grow deeper intimacy.
  • Listen to understand your spouse rather than to simply hear. Hearing your spouse’s words enough to repeat is merely parroting them. All of us want more than that from our spouse. We want our words, our intent, and our motives to be understood. When we feel understood, we feel valued by the one who invested their time and energy to know us better. We know we are in a safe place, a place where we can plant another seed of self-disclosure and grow the fruit of greater intimacy.

Don’t let intimacy drift rob you of your marriage. Nurture the seed of self-disclosure with these four actions and enjoy the fruits of greater intimacy in your marriage.

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.

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