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The Family: A Training Ground for Change

I was sitting among a group of friends when the discussion turned to “those people.” Everyone in the group knew I was not only a part of the friend group having the discussion but a member of “those people” being discussed as well. Suddenly, one of my friends looked at me and said, “Well, we don’t mean you. You’re different.” It was too late. I already felt the twinge of being cast out. I’ve had a similar experience several times. It has happened in response to where I grew up. It has happened because of a particular group of people I have chosen to belong to. It has even happened, on occasion, because of my gender. It really doesn’t matter why “it” happened; the fact remains that some comments separate and judge others as inferior, even when those making the comments add a sheepish “we’re not talking about you.”  The comments still lead to division. They still make someone feel like an outcast. Researchers call such comments “micro-aggressions.” Micro-aggressions accumulate to create greater division and prejudice, even causing declines in physical health.

Fortunately, I have also encountered groups who engaged in conversations and comments that elevated people, conversations that brought people together and made each person feel important. These groups validated our shared humanity as well as our individual worth. Researchers refer to comments made in these more positive discussions as “micro-affirmations.” A study published in 2017 made me think about how our families can become catalysts and training grounds for micro-affirmations rather than micro-aggressions. In this study, 503 teens (11- to 16-years-old) were divided into two groups. One group was given a questionnaire to help them recall specific examples of their own past acts of kindness. A second group was given a questionnaire asking questions about neutral topics like the weather or a favorite tree. Both groups read an “anti-relational aggression message” as well. One month later, the researchers explored the frequency of hurtful behaviors in which members of both groups had engaged. The results? First, the “anti-relational aggression message” did not produce any behavioral change. Second, and more important for our purposes, those who recalled previous acts of kindness engaged in less aggression and more kindness over the last month than the group who had recalled neutral information. The authors of the study believe that recalling acts of kindness triggered mini self-affirmations and “primed the pump” for more acts of kindness. They believed acts of kindness served as “micro-affirmations” for both the giver and the recipient of kindness by bringing people together in a shared moment of humanity and worth.

How does this relate to our families? I believe our families provide the training ground for micro-affirmations, for kindnesses that validate, unite, and elevate worth. And, I hope you will join me in implementing a “training protocol” that will not only promote growth in kindness and the giving of micro-affirmations but will strengthen your family at the same time!  It only takes three steps!

  1. Model kindness. Make micro-affirmations (statements that elevate worth, validate positive identity, and bring people together) to your spouse, your children, your parents, your friends, and even strangers you meet throughout your day. It’s really not hard. It can be as simple as thanking your teen when they do a chore, appreciating the meal your spouse prepared, or admiring the shirt your wife is wearing. It might involve holding the door open for a stranger, getting the car so your family doesn’t have to walk through the rain, or offering to get a family member a drink when you go to the kitchen during a commercial. Each time you engage in a simple act of kindness, you produce a micro-affirmation that informs the other person of their value in your eyes. You bring unity between yourself and the person to whom you show kindness, a unity based on your shared humanity and love.
  2. Celebrate acts of kindness your family members engage in. You can do this with a simple acknowledgment and statement of gratitude…”thank you for your kindness” goes a long way! You can acknowledge when people offer forgiveness or show consideration. You can acknowledge the kindness of generosity and service, awareness of others and responding with respect. Yes, many of these things are expected behaviors. But, when we acknowledge expected and desired behaviors we increase the chances of those behaviors continuing and even increasing. Make it a family habit to acknowledge and appreciate kindnesses shown.
  3. Provide simple opportunities to show kindness. The possibilities for showing kindness are unlimited. If you can’t think of any ways to show kindness, read The Mighty Power of Kindness for Families and 31 Acts of Kindness to Strengthen Your Marriage and A Family Night to Share Kindness. Make an intentional effort to show kindness every day.

As you can see, this really is not a difficult protocol to implement in your family. It simply involves developing a family environment of kindness and affirmation. Your family will benefit from this environment filled with “micro-affirmations.”  Your spouse will love this environment. Your children will thrive in this environment. And, the community in which you live will benefit as practicing kindness at home will lead to practicing kindness outside the home. In fact, if enough of us make kindness and micro-affirmations a vital aspect of our family environment, we might just start a wave of change that impacts our whole world.  Wouldn’t that be refreshing?!

Why Thank Your Spouse for Doing Chores?

I’ve heard it a thousand times (well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I have heard it a lot!): “Why should I thank her for doing what she’s supposed to do?” Or, “I’m not going to thank him for doing what a man’s supposed to do!” Or, “Why should I thank him for taking out the garbage when I cook the meals, clean the house, and do the dishes!” The short answer is because it’s polite and it will encourage them to do more.  But, that answer is incomplete and short-sighted. Let me explain what I feel is a more compelling answer.

We all want to feel appreciated, especially by our family. Thanking our spouse for doing some routine, expected chores gives them the gift of feeling appreciated. Appreciation is a gift of love you give your spouse. But wait…that’s not all. There are even BETTER REASONS to appreciate your spouse!

A series of studies from the University of Massachusetts (click here to read the studies) explored the impact of appreciation in romantic relationships. They looked at two types of behaviors, each involving an expenditure of time, effort, and resources to meet the needs of a one’s partner or home. One type of behavior involved “partner favors,” behaviors engaged in directly for your spouse. The second type of behavior involved “family chores,” the mundane, tedious tasks not done directly for your spouse but still needing done. “Family chores” included activities like cleaning the bathroom, paying the bills, or taking out the garbage. In a series of studies and questionnaires, the researchers asked couples how often the engaged in specific “partner favors” and “family chores,” how appreciated they felt, and how satisfied they were in their marriage. The couples’ answers revealed some surprising results.

  1. When a person felt appreciated for doing the mundane, tedious “family chores,” the chore became more of a “want to do” activity rather than a “should do” activity. People crave appreciation so much that even mundane tasks become more desirable when we know our spouse will appreciate them. Chores become a positive investment in the relationship, not just another tedious job. As a result, the appreciated person is more likely to keep doing chores…and to do them happily!
  2. Appreciation for “family chores” led to greater relationship satisfaction. When “family chores” were appreciated, couples described their relationship as more satisfying and intimate.

Put these two points together and you find that appreciating our spouse sets a positive cycle in motion. The doer feels appreciated and the chore takes on new meaning. It becomes a positive investment in the relationship. Rather than another tedious task, it is an expression of love sown into the relationship. The doer then desires to do more chores, to sow more love into the relationship of appreciation. The appreciator delights in a helpful spouse. They enjoy a spouse who participates in maintaining the household and becomes even more appreciative as a result. When both spouses become doers and appreciators, you create a cyclone of appreciation pulling your marriage toward greater levels of mutual appreciation and joyous service.

So, why thank your spouse for doing chores? To create a cyclone of appreciation, an environment of joyous service and mutual gratitude! Sounds like a pretty sweet spot, doesn’t it? Get the cyclone of appreciation started today by simply voicing your appreciation for the chores your spouse has done.

8 Lessons to Teach Our Sons

Our sons desperately need us to teach them important life lessons. Here are 8 lessons I believe important.

  • Prioritize character over accomplishment. The character you develop through sports involvement—the ability to win honorably, lose gracefully, work with others, and respect authority—goes much further in life than the potential scholarship or the winning goal. Character is eternal.
  • Giving is greater than taking. Don’t take another person’s reputation from them, give them honor. Don’t take a person’s dignity, give them compassion. Don’t take a girl’s innocence away, give them respect.
  • Think ahead before you make a mess. Someone has to clean the bathroom and pick up the spit balls. Even more difficulty, someone has to comfort the brokenhearted “ex-girlfriend” and restore the esteem of those victimized by a bully. Rather than be the cause of these difficulties, think ahead and help avoid them.
  • Powerful men are men who humbly serve. Service reveals how much you truly love someone. So, start practicing now by expressing love for your family through service in your home. Load the dishwasher, scoop the kitty litter, clean the bathroom, wash clothes, mow the lawn, and rake the leaves.
  • Pursue wisdom. Remember, “a wise man is strong, and a man of knowledge increases power” (Proverbs 24:5). And, “wisdom strengthens a wise man more than ten rulers in a city” (Ecclesiastes 7:19). Wisdom is possessed only by men of strength.
  • Become a leader in kindness, humility, generosity, and grace. People are sure to follow a leader who displays these attributes on a consistent basis. Men become true heroes in the proportion they learn and practice these traits.
  • Prepare to become an honorable husband…and choose your spouse wisely. Each person deserves respect, including you. Choose a spouse who respects you and wants to work with you for a lifetime of joy. A happy marriage will give you a taste of heaven on earth; an unhappy marriage filled with conflict will give you a taste of…well, you know. Choose your spouse wisely.
  • Laugh…hard and often. It makes everyone feel better, gives you some good exercise, and fills a home with joy.

What other lessons do you think our sons need to learn?

4 Gifts Our Sons Desperately Need

I don’t want to come across as extreme or sound too alarmist, but look at these statistics.

These are alarming and devastating statistics. Something is missing I our son’s lives. I believe our sons desperately need to receive at least four gifts to change these disturbing statistics. And, they receive these gifts from us, the adults in their lives!

  1. Strong families. Strong families begin with strong marriages, marriages that reflect mutual love, sacrifice, and service. Strong families also include actively involved fathers. Active fathers teach their sons how to treat others, how to manage their emotions, how to engage the world with honor, and how to live with dignity as a male.
  2. A sense of purpose bigger than themselves. Our sons need an honorable vision of their place in, and contribution to, the world. Parents help nurture this sense of purpose by sparking interests, nurturing dreams, and supporting thoughtful responses to injustices that arise. This can be as simple as encouraging our sons to befriend the “odd kid” at school or volunteering with our son to feed the hungry, visit the lonely, or care for the needy. Our sons’ lives and visions must go beyond the sports arena, the garage band, or valedictorian status. We need to help them develop a vision of how they can respond to the needs of those around them. Another way to build a sense of purpose involves helping our sons experience awe, to stand amazed at the vastness of the bigger world that surrounds them. We must help our sons realize they are an important part of a much larger and vaster purpose, which leads me to the last two gifts.
  3. A deep sense of connection. Connection with other people, family in particular, is protective, nurturing, and sustaining. Connection protects against addiction(Click here for more information). It mitigates pain. It boosts immunity. It nurtures positive values. It enhances a positive self-concept. It encourages more intimacy and continuing connection. Connection with God brings a greater sense of purpose and awe. Connection with nature brings a sense of awe contributing to less self-centeredness and more patience (Read Using the Power of Awe for more info).  You get the idea. Our sons need a deep sense of connection to their families, their God, nature, and the world of others around them.
  4. The freedom and support to express a full range of emotions. Our sons need a life filled with laughter, love, and joy. They also need to know it’s alright to experience deep sorrows, fears, and frustrations in life. Boys benefit from learning to accept the joys and the sorrows, the laughter and the tears. They grow stronger as they experience and learn to express happiness and emotional pain, ecstatic joy and moments of anger in beneficial ways. They learn this skill in strong families that freely accept emotion, connect through that emotion, and teach respectful expression of that emotion.

Our sons have a deep, even desperate, need for these four gifts. Our world has a desperate need for our sons to receive these gifts so they can grow into strong men. You, the fathers and mothers of our sons, have the joy and responsibility of giving these gifts to your sons.

NOT Just Any Old Bride & Groom

newly married couple chasing each other in fieldLast Saturday I had the privilege of witnessing the marriage of two wonderful people. I have known the bride a long time. In fact, when I first met her she was a toddler. I can still see her beautiful smile (she has always had a beautiful smile) as she ran (as only a toddler can) down the center aisle of our church before wrapping her arms around me with a big hug and kiss. Now she is an adult, a beautiful young woman. Last Saturday I watched her walk down the same center aisle at the same church with an even more beautiful smile and a much more graceful gait. Her eyes, glistening with tears of joy, focused intently on the young man at the front of the church, the man she was marrying. As I watched her exchange vows, I was struck by her beauty, a lovely young lady giving her heart to the man she loves. And I realized I was not merely witnessing the marriage of a young lady, but the marriage of a precious child of our heavenly Father…a heavenly Father who has cared for her and protected her in so many ways. Exchanging her vows, she stands before her groom as a reflection of her loving Father. She bears His heavenly image: strong yet willing to become vulnerable in giving her heart to the one she loves; compassionate and gracious, willing to share her life and resources with another; honest, willing to speak the truth in love if and when conflicts arise. Yes, she is a child of our King, the temple of His Holy Spirit, a sacred vessel of God deserving of great respect and worthy to receive the deep love of another.

I have only met the groom a few times; but, based on those meetings, I know he will treat her with that respect, caring for her as a precious and sensitive daughter of our Eternal King. I have seen glimpses of the strong leader inherent in this young man. He, too, bears the image of His Heavenly Father. I see that image reflected in his willingness to lead his marriage through humble service and his respectful pursuit of intimacy. I pray he will protect his bride and his marriage from the trap of busyness that causes couples to drift from one another. I ask God to give him the wisdom to protect his bride from the world’s lies that prey on the lonely and disconnected. I pray that, as a leader in his marriage, he will take the initiative to pursue peace and actively seek out opportunities to cleanse her with words of kindness and gratitude on a daily basis. I pray knowing he will do these things. I’ve seen it in his actions and words already. He is a man of God…a child of our Eternal Father.

So, as I watch the bride and groom seal their marriage with a kiss, I smile and give thanks to our Father for the wonderful work he has done in the lives of these newlyweds. I rejoice to see His image reflected in the bride, the groom, and their union. I look forward with great anticipation to bear witness to the new and equally amazing work He will do in their lives as a couple. Love you. Congratulations…and may the celebration never end!

Last Weekend “Was Very Good”

My family and I attended a beautiful wedding at Camp Christian last weekend. The wedding ceremony took place in the chapel. Then, everyone walked a short distance to the Millhouse newly married couple chasing each other in fieldfor the reception. It was a beautiful day. The bride and groom, along with their families, have participated in numerous programs at Camp Christian over the years; so had several of those who came to witness the wedding.  As a result, many of those attending, including the bride and groom, had a lifetime of memories and personal dedications made in this sacred place; which, I suppose, added to my contemplation that day. After Eric and Emily exchanged their vows, the minister spoke of God’s words after He had created Adam and Eve, man and woman. Throughout the creation story (Genesis 1-2), God looked at His creation and “saw that it was good.” That is, it was good until He created man. When God created Adam, He said “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). So, God created a woman. The Scripture tells us “God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female” (Genesis 1:20) and then God saw all He had made and “it was VERY GOOD” (Genesis 1:31). God did not say “it was very good” until He had created both man and woman and brought them together. Witnessing Eric and Emily as they committed to living a life together, I began to understand why God waited until He had created both man and woman to say “it is very good.”

 

  • “It was very good” to see family and friends gather together to celebrate and support this young couple in living out a lifetime of loving commitment. A wedding represents more than a man and woman making a commitment. It represents a community coming together to nurture and support a couple’s love…and that “is very good.”
  • As this young couple gazed at one another with obvious adoration, “it was very good.” Love changes us. It nurtures our growth and helps us recognize our worth. When two people adore one another with such an obvious love, “it is very good.”
  • When Eric and Emily committed to “have and to hold from this day forth, for better or for worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish…,” “it was very good.” Such a commitment proclaims a faithfulness and love that advances the kingdom of God. That “is very good.”
  • Speaking of the kingdom of God…when this young man and woman wake up to serve one another in little ways throughout the day, they become ambassadors for Christ and this “is very good.”
  • Each time they speak a word of encouragement to one another they act as God’s mouthpiece. And, that “is very good.”
  • Every time they lovingly sacrifice their own desires to meet one another’s needs, they will shine like lights in the darkness. That “is very good.”
  • When they speak of one another with loving affection (which they often do), they speak the very words Christ speaks of His Bride; and, that “is very good.”
  • When, because of their love, they accept one another’s influence, they have born witness to the humility of Christ. (Need I say it?) That “is very good.”
  • When other people see their in love a reflection of Christ’s love for His Bride (the Church), “it is very good.”

 

When Eric and Emily chose to “leave” their mother and father in order to “cleave” to and “become one flesh” with each other, they reenacted that sacred moment when God created a man and woman in His image. They set themselves apart as witnesses of His love and creativity. And, that “is very good.”

When Eric and Emily chose to forsake all others and cling to the one they have chosen, they advanced the kingdom of God through their faithfulness, love, sacrifice, and service. And, that “is very good.”

Yes, Eric and Emily, we truly enjoyed your wedding and the message you proclaimed through your marriage…a message of hope, commitment, and love. And, “It Is Very Good.”

Put Your Children First…Really?

Children are so important. I know it is an overused statement, but children are our future…and our present. Our children are change agents…in fact they changed our lives simply by entering into our world. They shaped our sleep patterns, eating habits, and priorities. We changed our schedule, our speech, our interests, and our activities in response to our children. We made sacrifices for our children. We wore that old ragged coat for another year in order to give our children a new and warmer coat. We choked down vegetables to Exhausted Mommodel healthy eating in hopes our children would follow suit. We make most sacrifices quietly. We do not lecture our children on the sacrifices we made…and it is better that way. Yes, children are important but (and this is a big but)…. if we put our relationship with our children above all other relationships or make our children aware of every sacrifice we make for them, we do our children a great disservice.

 

Putting our children above all other relationships places an expectation on our children that they are unable to fulfill. Children cannot become the relationship that brings us solace, intimacy, or status. We need other relationships to provide those needs…important relationships like our marriage.

 

By making our relationship with our children the most important relationship, we are implicitly asking them to fulfill our need for intimacy and friendship. This responsibility, however subtle it is, places a burden on them that they are not emotionally prepared to handle. They do not need us to be their friend; nor should we rely on them for our friendship. Instead, they need us to guide, teach, discipline, and protect them. Seek intimacy in your marriage. Invest in your marriage to satisfy your need for deeper intimacy. Nurture adult friendships to satisfy your need for quality friendships.

 

If our children take precedent over all other relationships, our children begin to feel as though our reputation and status rests on their shoulders. This places a heavy weight on them, an undue pressure to achieve and perform. When we make our children the focus of our life and our esteem, we place the burden of potentially “ruining our status” on our children. Not surprisingly, this creates anxiety or fear in them. Rather than place such a burden on your children, develop your relationship with yourself. Nurture your own skills and talents in order to satisfy your need for achievement. Become involved in community activities and services to become known within your community as an individual beyond your children’s parent.

 

Finding our joy and satisfaction in life only within our relationship to our children places a huge burden on our children. Children are a joy, but they cannot complete our joy; they cannot bring us the satisfaction in life we desire.  They will eventually develop interests of their own, quite possibly different than our interests. They will even move out of our home and develop a life of their own…sooner than we like to think. We have to develop our own interests and relationships to bring us satisfaction in life. Nurture your marriage, your adult friendships, your interests…your own life in order to find joy and satisfaction.

 

Children definitely add richness to our lives. They hold an important place in our life and in our own development. However, they cannot be the “end all” for our life. They cannot fulfill our every desire, elevate our status, or bring us satisfaction, joy, and intimacy. We are responsible for meeting those needs. And, when we do those things independently, we teach our children to do the same…and we watch their lives blossom. What greater joy than that?

About Us

Alicia Salmon, LCSW: Alicia Salmon, LCSW, has provided services to children, adolescents, and adults in a variety of settings since 1990. Alicia’s work focuses on helping families and couples resolve issues that interfere with a healthy lifestyle, improve overall communication skills, and develop stronger support systems to strengthen families and keep relationships intact.  In working with families and individuals, Alicia utilizes Cognitive Behavioral strategies as well as concepts taken from DBT, family systems, and mindfulness to help people learn healthier thinking and coping strategies. She encourages the people she works with to develop the skills necessary to better care for themselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Education: Alicia completed a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology through Lycoming College. She then completed her Masters of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh with a concentration in physical and sexual abuse.

Work History: Alicia began her career as an inpatient social worker on the Adolescent Unit of Mercy Psychiatric Hospital, part of the Mercy Health System. She later served as the social worker at Southwood Psychiatric Hospital. Alicia furthered her career by providing therapy in an outpatient setting through Intercare Psychiatric Services and The Center for Counseling Arts. She eventually opened her own private practice in 2002 and continues to provide outpatient therapy to adolescents, adults, and families in that setting.  She enjoys working with individuals, families, and couples.

Ministry: Alicia, along with her family, is an active member of her church. She and her husband, John Salmon, have worked together to build a ministry that supports families and individuals based on the concepts of honor, grace, and celebration. As families learn to share honor, grace, and celebration with one another, they discover greater joy and intimacy with God, family, and friends.

Personal: Alicia Salmon married her husband, John Salmon, in 1992. They continue to enjoy a wonderful marriage. They have two lovely daughters. Their oldest daughter is a classical pianist. Their youngest daughter is currently a freshman in college with passion for children and music. She hopes to teach music to children in Africa.

 

John Salmon, PHD: John Salmon, PHD, has worked with children and families since 1986 in settings as varied as church, community, school, and private practice.  John currently sees children and families in an outpatient setting to help them identify the personal strengths and available resources that will enable them to more successfully navigate life’s struggles and transitions. He also assists children and families in developing the skills necessary to develop successful relationships and become involved in communities that will support them through life’s changes.

Education: He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Music Therapy and his Masters in Counseling Education from Duquesne University. John also earned his Doctorate from California Southern University. His dissertation focused on The Relationship between Attachment, Eating Disorders, & Other Deliberate Self-Harm in Female Undergraduate Students. John has also completed training in Gestalt Institute of New England, Brief Solution-Focused Therapy and Neurolinguistic Programming through the American Hypnosis Training Academy, Prepare/Enrich marriage/premarriage, and the Infancy & Early Childhood Training Course: The Basic Course on the DIR/Floortime Model.
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Work History: John began his work in social services as a Music therapist in a long-term psychiatric facility before moving into community mental health and working with families through the Child/Adolescent Intensive Case Management Program (C/A ICM) at Mercy Behavioral Health. After supervising the C/A ICM program for several years, John transitioned into working as a school-based counselor through Mercy Behavioral Health. While working as a school-based therapist, John began consulting with several social service organizations that provided in-home services for children and families in need.  He also began to serve as an Adjunct Faculty member at Carlow University. At this time, John has a private outpatient therapy practice and continues to serve as an Adjunct Faculty member at Carlow University.

Speaking: John regularly fills in for two ministers in the Pittsburgh area. In the past, he presented at several state training programs such as “Basic Intensive Case Management Training,” “Intensive Case Management Supervisor conference,” and two Annual Case Management Conferences (7th and 9th). John also was a regular presenter for trainings at Mercy Behavioral Health through 2008. In more recent years, John has spoken at two family weekend retreats at Camp Christian. He also offers two premarital training conferences a year in the South Hills area of Pittsburgh. John especially enjoys presenting and training on topics related to family, parenting, and marriage. He hopes that these presentations will better equip families to develop a healthy and happy family life.

Ministry: John has remained an active church member throughout his life. He served as a part-time youth minister during his twenties. Through his educational and work experiences in combination with his faith-based experiences, John has come to understand the importance of honor, grace, and celebration in a person’s life and family life. This culminated in writing and publishing a book, Family by God’s Design: A Celebrating Community of Honor and Grace in 2011. He believes that through the practice of honor, grace, and celebration, a person develops the healthiest and happiest of relationships with God, family, and friends. As a result, John and his wife, Alicia Salmon, have begun a ministry to teach the practice of honor, grace, and celebration to strengthen and promote health within the family.

Personal: John married his wife, Alicia, in 1992. They have two lovely daughters. Their oldest daughter is a classical pianist. Their youngest daughter is currently a freshman in college with passion for children and music. She hopes to teach music to children in Africa. When asked about his family, John replied, “A wise woman from church once told me I was richly blessed with family. These words are very true…so very true.”

To learn more about John and Alicia Salmon’s practice or to schedule an appointment, Click here

Now That’s A Legacy!

I have heard adults talking about children and making statements like, “He’s got an anger problem, just like his father…” or, “She’s a gossip, just like her mother…” or, “He is so selfish. His grandmother was the same way.” What a terrible family legacy to pass on to our children! I don’t know about you, but I want to pass on a legacy better than “angry,” “gossip,” “selfish,” or any other negative label. I’d rather pass on a legacy of generosity, thoughtfulness, hospitality, gratitude, or kindness. I think I might like to begin the legacy with generosity. A study entitled “Give and You Shall Receive” found that giving generosity to one’s spouse led to greater happiness and marital quality. I like that idea. Moreover, giving generosity had a greater impact than receiving generosity. That finding stands in opposition to our cultural message that close relationships and even marriages “exist primarily to enhance individual happiness and [individual] growth”…in other words, to make me happy. Why would “freely and abundantly giving good things to one’s spouse” increase marital quality and happiness? I’m glad you asked.
     1.      We have to learn about our spouse in order to give her something she will find meaningful. Not everyone finds a bouquet of flowers meaningful; so, we have to become a student of our spouse to discover their interests, likes, and dislikes. We have to know what our spouse considers a “good thing” to receive. Perhaps, in terms of Chapman’s love languages, our spouse might think it a “good thing” to receive “words of affirmation.” On the other hand, they might not. They might consider it a “good thing” to receive “acts of service,” “quality time,” “physical touch,” or “gifts” instead. We have to become a student of our spouse to figure that out!

2.      Not only do we have to become a student of our spouse, we have to take the initiative to act on the knowledge we gain. We have to make practical use of that information. Having a “head knowledge” of what pleases our spouse does no good unless we put it to practical use…unless we act on it. Generosity involves the actual act of “giving” some gift “freely and abundantly.” In the end, “actions speak louder than words” when it comes to generosity.

3.      When our spouse receives a “good thing” from us, they feel greater self-worth. They know that we considered them valuable enough to learn about them. They also know that we find them valuable enough to invest the time and energy necessary to act on that information as well. In addition, their love toward us (the generous spouse) increases.

4.      When our spouse receives a “good thing” from us, it boosts their gratitude and appreciation as well. They become more thankful.
 
Overall, generosity in marriage increases the satisfaction of both spouses. That’s a “win-win” proposition. Even more, generosity in a marriage will impact the children. The children will witness the generosity of their parents toward one another and, most likely, be the recipient of that same generosity displayed toward them. They will witness the joy of giving “freely and abundantly” to the one’s you love. They will also experience the joy of receiving generosity. As parents model and teach generosity, their children will soon learn the joys of giving and practice the art of giving as well. We will have created a legacy of generosity that will outlive our lifetime and flourish in the generations to come. Can’t you just hear the statements of that legacy? “You are just like your grandfather; he was so generous!” “You really know how to give great gifts, just like your mother.” Now that’s a legacy!

Christmas, Materialism, and Family

With Christmas just around the corner, a recent study suggests that materialistic attitudes reduce happiness in marriage. With a plethora of advertisers spouting the “one with the most toys wins,” this study suggests the opposite. The researchers looked at over 1,700 couples and discovered that a focus on getting or spending money was associated with lower levels of responsiveness between spouses, less emotional maturity, more ineffective communication, higher levels of conflict, lower relationship satisfaction, and less marital stability. Perhaps, this focus on “material things” resulted in over-working in an effort to gain the “needed money;” and overworking led to less time with family and less opportunity to develop family relationships. Perhaps the focus on material things stemmed from a self-focus instead of a relational focus. Either way, a focus on monetary gain did not promote happiness and it interfered with family intimacy. This study brings to mind the wisdom of one ancient author who wrote, “The love of money is the root of all evil.”
 
Today we stand at the brink of Christmas—a time when commercials and advertisements cater to our materialistic desires. Get her a diamond. Buy him a car. Satisfy your child’s need with an Ipad (by the way, how young is too young for an Ipad?). Buy this or buy that to find happiness. The American Research Group suggests that the average amount of money spent on Christmas gifts by any one person will range between $646-808 this year, depending on how the buyer purchases their gifts. We say “it’s the thought that counts” but obsessively assess each gift, hoping the receiver will be completely satisfied. In spite of all this effort and money, those receiving a gift from us are often disappointed; and, “according to the Direct Marketing Association, 65% of the population will be standing in line” to return their gift after the holidays.
 
All this focus on “what I’ll get for Christmas” can contribute to family disaster at Christmas time. What can a family do to avoid the materialistic, commercial side of Christmas? Here are a few ideas.
  • Focus on the more meaningful aspects of Christmas–family togetherness, generosity in giving, love, and caring.  
  • Watch Christmas movies and TV specials that focus on the meaning of Christmas. Sit down as a family and watch a few movies like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Clause, and of course, The Charlie Brown Christmas Attend a Christmas Eve service together.
  • Encourage family members to make a “Christmas Giveaway List” along with their “Christmas Wish List.” The “Christmas Giveaway List” can focus on all the gifts you plan to give away.
  • While you’re at it, go through all of your old toys and clothes. Pick out the ones you no longer use and take them to the Salvation Army or give them to a less fortunate family.
  • Each night, take five minutes with your family to write down 3-5 things for which you give thanks. Write something different each night for the month of December and January.
  • Send “thank-you notes” after Christmas. In fact, send thank-you notes throughout the year. You can thank people for a gift they gave you, for their service in some area, for a trait you simply admire in them, or any number of other things. Acknowledging our thanks is a wonderful habit to establish.
 Above all, remember the gift of Emmanuel this Christmas. Contemplate what the gift of God’s Son really means in your individual life and your family life.

Don’t let a materialistic attitude grow in your family through the Christmas season. Instead, cultivate an attitude of generosity and family intimacy. Focus on the true meaning of Christmas as told by Linus in Charlie Brown’s Christmas.

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