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“Forgivingly Fitness” & Your Children’s Grades

You might be asking, “What is ‘Forgivingly Fitness’?” Good question. Robert Enright, a forgiveness researcher refers to the benefits of building our “forgivingly fitness,” our openness and ability to forgive those who hurt us. Of course, we want our children to learn how to forgive. After all, forgiveness builds resilience and helps us not fall prey to resentment. Forgiveness restores a more positive outlook on our life. But did you know it can also improve academic performance? According to one study (discussed by Robert Enright in this Like a Sponge podcast) participating in a 12-week forgiveness class was associated with a full letter improvement in their grades. A control group of students who did not participate in the forgiveness class did not experience any academic improvement (see this study also).

Why would learning about forgiveness improve academic performance? I like Dr. Enright’s answer to that question: “If you are a 13-year-old in middle school and you have a throbbing knee that day, you’re going to miss the lesson because your knee is getting in the way of concentration. What if you have a broken heart…? You’re going to miss the lesson too. But, what if we can bind up the heart? Now, you have more time, focus, and energy to focus on your lessons.” In other words, unforgiveness leads to resentment. Holding a grudge takes up space in our minds. Resentment and holding a grudge interfere with our ability to concentrate and learn. Teaching our children to forgive, on the other hand, allows them to let go of the resentment and not hold the grudge. It frees them up to expend energy on more important aspects of life…like learning.

How can you teach your child to forgive? First, model forgiveness in your own life. Many “small opportunities” arise for the practice forgiveness. Take advantage of those opportunities. Practice forgiveness and talk about your work to forgive with your children and family. Something as simple as, “Someone ran through a stop sign and cut me off on the way home today. It really made me angry. It’s dangerous and not fair that they cut me off (Acknowledging the Wrong Done). I don’t know why they did it. Maybe they were daydreaming, had an emergency, or they are new to the area and kind of lost. We all have those times. (Acknowledging Our Mutual Humanity with the One Who Offended Us.) So I just took a breath and let it go. No need to hold on to that. (Altruistic Choice to Forgive.) Hopefully he’s safe. (Wishing Compassion for the Offender.)” (Steps of the forgiveness process noted in italics.)

Second you can talk about forgiveness while watching movies or tv shows in which one person offends another.  Let the discussion loosely follow the steps alluded to above. If you’re not sure about questions to ask or how to discuss forgiveness for a character, consider some of the questions in “Enright’s Forgiveness Process Model.” The conversation doesn’t have to go from beginning to end. It doesn’t need to lead to a complete understanding of forgiveness. It’s simply an opportunity to discuss some of the questions about forgiveness, what it involves, and the benefits it might have for that character.

Becoming “forgivingly fit” will help you and your child navigate life in a healthier way. You will experience more joy and contentment. Most important, your child may even experience greater academic success.

4 Surprising Things Happily Married Couples Do

Happy marriages don’t just happen. They develop between spouses who consistently engage in certain actions. In other words, happy marriages are cultivated by couples who actively nurture their marriage. With that in mind, here are 4 surprising ways happily married couples nurture their marriage.

  1. Happily married couples disagree and argue. They know that disagreements offer them an opportunity to learn more about one another. Disagreements and arguments open the door to the intimacy of knowing one another more deeply. So rather than defend, blame, and criticize, they respect, listen, and validate. In doing so, they learn that even their points of disagreement are times to cherish as they nurture a happier marriage.
  2. Happily married couples spend time alone. Sure, happily married couples spend a lot of time as a couple, but each spouse also spends time alone. We all need some “alone” time. Happily married couples enjoy that alone time. Each spouse has a confidence in their relationship that allows them to spend alone time to take care of themselves without fear of it damaging their relationship. As a result, they can purse hobbies and personal growth. They can come back from time alone refreshed and ready to pour themselves into their marriage in new and loving ways.
  3. Happily married couples accept one another’s influence. My friends once asked me to go out with them after work. I told them I had to “check with my wife.” You know what they said: “You’re whipped man.” And that is the most complimentary insult I’ve ever received. It means I allow my wife to influence me. It means my wife and her happiness are more important to me than a night out. It means my wife knows she has priority in my life. It means I accept her influence in my life. Do you accept the influence of your spouse?
  4. Happily married couples give it up for one another. In other words, spouses in a happy marriage sacrifice for one another. Every marriage demands some sacrifice. We sacrifice our unbridled freedom to commit to our spouse. We sacrifice time doing what we want in order to do things our spouse wants to do. We sacrifice the remote to watch a show our spouse wants to watch. We sacrifice the last piece of pie. We sacrifice…. You get the idea. From small sacrifices to grand sacrifices, happily married couples are willing to give it up for their spouse. No, they aren’t just willing, they are happy to give it up for their spouse to lift up their marriage. After all, they love their spouse.

Happily married couples do more than just these 4 things (like serve, honor, encourage, admire, etc.), but these are 4 rather surprising things happily married couples do. Do you?

Will You Take the 30-Day Clandestine Marriage Challenge?

You can support your spouse and your marriage in at least two ways. One, you can offer support in a very visible way. This way often involves receiving some acknowledgment or fanfare in return. Generally, the more fanfare the giver requires, the less appreciated the support.  Still, recognizing and acknowledging your spouse’s support will definitely strengthen your marriage.

But I want to focus on a second way to support your spouse—the invisible, clandestine way. Clandestine support often flies under the radar. It is done without your spouse asking for it. They may not even know you did it, even when they recognize it has been done. And clandestine support will often alleviate stress for your spouse. To me, the most beautiful aspect of clandestine support is the pleasant surprise I see on my spouse’s face when she recognizes what was done.

How can you offer clandestine support?

  • Do a chore that your spouse normally does. And do it without being asked.
  • Prepare your spouse’s favorite food.
  • Bring home a treat your spouse enjoys—flowers, candy, pie (that one’s in case my spouse reads this post).
  • Plan a night out for no special reason…and make it a surprise.

I’m sure you can think of more ideas. The point is to do it without being asked and with no expectation of any fanfare or recognition in return.  Then, enjoy your spouse’s delight and surprise when they recognize what has been done.

In fact, I want to challenge you to participate in a Clandestine Marriage Challenge. Complete as many clandestine acts of service for your spouse as you can over the next 30 days. While you do, pay attention to any changes you notice in your spouse, your marriage, and your children. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The Best Response to Your Child’s Ingratitude

I’ve heard many parents express frustration over their child’s lack of gratitude. Maybe you have done it yourself. It seems even grateful children go through times in which they become ungrateful, demanding, and even presumption. They stop expressing thanks and expect to receive anything they want from their parents. Or, they expect their parent to do anything they want for them…as if we, their parents, were put on this earth to serve their every whim. They express frustration or anger because they don’t get something they want, even though we just spent an afternoon doing nice things for them. Or maybe they bemoan that the other kids “have it better” because their “parents understand.” You’ve probably encountered a time like this. Most of us have experienced our children doing at least one of these things. I know I have. When it happens, we ask ourselves: “What’s the best way to respond so my children will become more grateful as they mature?”

That’s the question Andrea Hussong (from the University of North Carolina) and colleagues sought to answer in 3 -year study involving over 100 parents and children. They considered 6 parental responses to ingratitude: self-blame, letting it go as a “phase” the child will outgrow, becoming frustrated or distressed, punishing, giving in, or teaching/instructing.

They discovered several details about gratitude between parent and child, but I want to focus on what responses parents and children in the study thought fostered gratitude. Parents believed their children showed more gratitude after 3 years when they responded to ingratitude with negative consequences, for instance, putting a toy left out where someone might trip over it into time out or taking away an opportunity for dessert because the child expressed ingratitude for supper.

Children, on the other hand, reported increased gratitude when their parents “got upset or frustrated by their ingratitude.” In other words, when parents express their authentic emotions about their children’s ingratitude, their children listen… and learn.

So, if you get frustrated by your child’s ingratitude and the expectations that accompany that ingratitude, let them know.  Stay calm, take a breath, look them in the eye, and tell them: “I get upset when you don’t appreciate the food I give you and my effort in preparing it.” “It’s very frustrating that I spent all evening playing a game you wanted to play and now you demand to stay up late.” “I really get angry when you leave your toys where someone could trip over them when you know how to put them away when you’re done playing.”

Then, if the ingratitude continues, a negative consequence may also help. “No dessert” due to ingratitude over dinner. An “earlier bedtime” in response to demanding behavior in the evening. A toy “put in time out” for the day because a child did not put it away when asked to. The important thing is to make sure the consequence is associated with the area of ingratitude.

And just as important, when your child expresses gratitude, show a little gratitude in return. Your gratitude will reinforce the behavior you desire, the behavior of showing gratitude. Children learn from their parent’s example. Your gratitude will set a good example. It will “rub off on them.” In fact, your children will rarely become more grateful than you. The more gratitude you show, the more gratitude they will show.

Don’t Let Your Family Go Hungry…For Touch

Virginia Satir said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”  She realized something very important for our families. Our children, our parents, and our spouses need our healthy touch. Without healthy touch, our family will get “touch hungry” and that’s worse than “hangry.” For instance, one study involving 509 adults found “touch hunger” increased loneliness, depression, and stress while decreasing happiness, relationship satisfaction, and relational security. Another study found “touch hunger” reduced satisfaction and closeness in romantic relationships.

“Touch hunger” doesn’t just impact our mood and relationships either. It can have an actual physical impact as well. For instance, one study found that 10 minutes of holding hands followed by a 20 second hug with a partner, contributed to lower blood pressure and heart rate during a stressful experience. Other studies have shown “touch hunger” contributes to an increased sense of physical pain and disturbed sleep. Finally, this study and this study suggest that hugging increased immune health in general and, more specifically, those who were hugged more were less likely to show symptoms of a virus (the common cold) than those who were not hugged. And, when they did show symptoms, the symptoms were less severe.

I don’t want my family to go hungry for touch, do you?  I don’t want them to experience “touch hunger.” I want them to enjoy the healthy touch that contributes to less stress, greater happiness, and more secure relationships. I want them to receive enough healthy touch that they sleep well, experience less physical pain, and maintain a healthy immune system. I’m sure you do as well.  Make time today to hug your family. Better yet, hug them several times. After all, they deserve more than survival and maintenance. They deserve growth.

Want a Marriage with Great Sex?

Want a marriage with great sex? Dumb question…every married person does, right? And, truth be told, several factors contribute to a satisfying sexual relationship in marriage. But a study published in January, 2021, reveals two of the important factors for a satisfying sexual relationship in marriage. This study utilized data collected from 7,114 heterosexual couples across the United States. Both husbands and wives completed various surveys to determine how forgiving they were toward their spouse, the quality of their conflict resolution, and their level of sexual satisfaction. Not surprisingly, the higher the quality of conflict resolution, the greater the level of reported sexual satisfaction for both the husbands and wives. It seems that “make up sex” really is good when conflict is resolved well.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, was only related to greater sexual satisfaction for husbands, not wives. In other words, husbands with a greater willingness to forgive (a “higher level of forgiveness”) reported greater sexual satisfaction. To those of you who are husbands, pride interferes with forgiveness. Take the humble road and forgive your wife when the time arises…and it will. After all, humility is hot in a marriage.

Here’s the takeaway. If you want to have greater sexual satisfaction in your marriage, learn to resolve your marital conflicts well; and husbands, learn to forgive. If you struggle with resolving conflicting in your marriage, here are some helps to get you started:

And if you’re not sure about the whole forgiveness thing, start here:

Leisure, Productivity, & Happiness for Your Family

Leisure…free time spent on enjoyment and relaxation in an unhurried manner. How many of us would like more leisure time? I know I do. But our answer this question may change how much we enjoy leisure time: “When is the best time to enjoy leisure activities?” Many will answer by saying,” After my work is done.” That answer points to a common belief many people in our society hold. Productivity, we believe, is the ultimate goal; time is a resource we need to maximize for productivity and leisure is secondary. (Enjoy Dr. Selin Malkoc’s Tedx Talk for more.) This belief interferes with our enjoyment of personal leisure, family leisure, and even family fun. “So what?” you might ask. Well…

A series of studies completed by researchers at Ohio State University looked at how this belief about productivity and time impacts not only our ability to enjoy leisure but our mental health as well. In one study, 199 students completed a brief questionnaire assessing their beliefs about leisure time as well as measures of how much they enjoyed various leisure activities. Additional questionnaires assessed their levels of happiness, depression, anxiety, and stress. Those who believed productivity as more important than leisure and leisure a wasteful use of time, experienced less enjoyment during leisure activities. They also reported lower levels of happiness and higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. That’s not a great combination for us as individuals or for our families.

In another study, college students came to an office believing they were simply answering surveys for a study.  In the midst of the surveys, they were given a break to watch a short, funny cat video. The actual focus of the study was based on the participants’ response to this short break, a short period of leisure in the midst of work. Those who reported on the surveys that they viewed leisure as secondary to productivity enjoyed the videos less. They were not productive or useful, so they were less enjoyable…even funny, cute cat videos!

Why do I tell you this in a blog about families? Because our families and every person in our families need leisure time.  Individually, leisure time helps us manage stress and supports a positive self-concept. Leisure time reduces anxiety and depression while increasing positive emotions.

In marriage, engaging in leisure time that both you and your spouse enjoy will create greater intimacy. In will lead to a greater knowledge of your spouse, a better friendship, and greater satisfaction with your relationship.

Leisure time allows children to learn and grow. It gives children time to play and interact, learning new skills as varied as negotiating with peers to how far they can safely “push” their physical limits of balance and speed. In fact, we will often see our children rise a “head taller than themselves” during some leisure activities.

Family leisure time provides the opportunity to talk and learn about one another. It creates an environment that nurtures intimacy and support. It helps us grow closer and so creates a safe haven in which to rest.

With all that in mind, don’t you want to spend a little more leisure time with your family? Here are 3 things to keep in mind so your family can enjoy the benefits of leisure time.

  • Put leisure time into your family schedule. One caveat though…don’t make a rigid leisure time schedule. Setting a firm start and end time for leisure often robs it of its fun. It makes it feel like another chore we have to fit in before the next thing on the schedule. In fact, one study showed that a scheduled leisure activity was significantly less enjoyable than an unscheduled or “roughly scheduled” one.  So, “roughly schedule” your leisure activity to start “around” and end “around” or “when we’re done.” Enjoy the free flow of your leisure activity.
  • Do not schedule another activity immediately after your leisure time. Doing so can make your leisure time feel rushed. It can interfere with your ability to truly “be in the moment” of an enjoyable leisure time…which brings us to the next bullet.
  • “Be in the moment” during your leisure time. Don’t think about the next event. And don’t give the leisure time some ulterior motive like “moving us toward the next event,” improving some skill, or “tiring the kids out.” These may all represent secondary benefits. But don’t let those interfere with the pure fun of being in the moment enjoying a fun interaction and time with your family.

Parents, Don’t Sabotage Your Children’s Ears

Parents want their children to listen. We want them to listen so we can teach them and keep them safe. But sometimes we sabotage our efforts at getting children to listen.

We sabotage our efforts at getting children to listen by lecturing. Children stop listening when parents go on and on. Instead of listening and learning, they shut their parents out and focus on how their parent could do things differently (AKA— “is crazy). Instead of lecturing, keep it clear and concise, to the point. In fact, you can often boil down what you want to say to one, two, or three words. For example: “Nice words, please.” “Brush your teeth.” “Please help me.”

We sabotage our efforts at getting children to listen by giving commands without any education. Children like to “exercise their free will.” (Don’t we all. But when adults do this, we call it “standing up for ourselves.” When children do it, we call it rebellion.) Many times, a little education goes a long way in getting children to listen and learn. So tell your children the reason behind the directive. For instance, “Milk spoils when it’s left out, so we better put it away.” “Glasses break easily.” “Unflushed toilets start to smell.” Statements like these offer the reasons behind our directives and communicate a trust that our children will do the right thing when they have all the information.

We also sabotage our efforts at getting children to listen by neglecting to be polite. We constantly tell our children to say “thank you” and “please” but neglect to give them the same courtesy. Remember, our children learn from our actions. They are more likely to listen when we remain polite. Our children also deserve our respect. When we treat our children with respect, they know they are valued. They are more likely to listen to a parent who has expressed respect and value toward them. So don’t forget the “thank-you’s” and “pleases” when speaking with your children.  “Can you help clear the table please?” “Thank you for watching your sister.”

We sabotage our efforts to get our children to listen by cajoling and persuading rather than giving choices. Cajoling and persuading gives your power to your children. Your children become the ones in control when a parent resorts to cajoling, demanding, and persuading. Many times, parents will then threaten punishment in an effort to re-exert control. Unfortunately, threatening punishment results in a power struggle. Your child digs in their heels and accepts “the challenge.” They “call their parent’s bluff” to see who is really in control. You might avoid this whole power struggle by offering a simple choice. Rather than cajole, persuade, and threaten, calmly offer a choice. This choice may involve a consequence, or it may not. If it does involve a consequence, use a natural consequence—a consequence directly related to the behavior. “Please put on your coat to go out or we can stay in.” “Put your toys away please or they will go into time out for a day.” If the choice involves a natural consequence, state it calmly AND make sure you are willing to allow the natural consequence to occur. If you save your child from the consequences of their actions, you rob them of the opportunity to learn.

These four suggestions may not work every time (nothing does). But they will work much of the time. And you will no longer find yourself sabotaging your efforts at getting your children to listen.

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.

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