Tag Archive for affection

What Motivates You in Your Marriage? And…So What?

Psychologists speak of two “motivational systems” that people exhibit. In one, we pursue positive growth and meaningful experiences. In the other, we avoid distressing experiences. For instance, a person may be motivated to work to gain income, as an opportunity to learn and meet new people, and to have meaningful experiences. Or a person may work to avoid the distress of not having money or the stress of boredom or loneliness.

A study completed through the Universite of Basel and published in 2020 explored how these two motivational systems impact people within a marriage. The study involved 456 couples who completed two 14-day assessments. These two 14-day assessments were 10-12 months apart. During each 14-day assessment, participants submitted daily reported about how often and in what ways they had worked to avoid distress and conflict in their marriage OR to pursue positive meaningful experiences in their marriage. Results indicated that the motivational system one person used one day (either to avoid distress or to pursue positive interaction) influenced the motivational system their partner used the next day. Specifically, their partner used the same motivational system the following day. Also, the total daily levels of each type of motivation recorded in the first 14-day period predicted their partner’s actions during the second 14-day assessment period 10-12 months later. In other words, one person’s actions and motivations influenced their partner’s actions and motivations. When certain motivations were acted on consistently, the resulting actions developed into consistent patterns of behavior. 

In this study, the effect occurred regardless of relationship satisfaction. But the authors also cited previous studies that suggested behaviors aimed at enhancing the relationship (behaviors motivated toward positive growth and meaningful experiences) led to greater relationship satisfaction over time. Behavior aimed at avoiding distress and conflict, on the other hand, led to decreased relationship satisfaction over time because the root of the conflict was avoided and not resolved. In other words, the avoidance pattern, the “shut up and put-up strategy,” did not contribute to a happy marriage. It  decreased relationship satisfaction.

Putting this together suggests a wonderful way to improve your marriage—create a cycle of influence that will increase marital satisfaction. How? Begin with step one and what steps 2-4 unfold.

  1. Invest time and energy into behaviors that will enhance your relationship. This includes, among other things, expressing gratitude, sharing non-sexual physical affection, engaging in simple acts of service, and expressing fondness and admiration for your spouse.
  2. Your investment of time and energy to enhance your relationship will influence your partner to respond to you in a similar manner.
  3. Ironically, as your partner responds to you in a similar manner, their behavior will influence you to respond in the same manner to them…thus creating a cycle of positive influence.
  4. Over time, this cycle of positive influence will develop into new, “consistent patterns of thoughts, behaviors, and feelings” aimed at enhancing your marital feelings.

Isn’t it time to begin today?

Your Marriage & Teen Cyberbullying

Cell phones and social media have become common place for our teens. Although social media can serve a positive purpose, it also comes with multiple challenges. One challenge relates to cyberbullying, or online behavior involving harassment, insults, threats, or the spreading of rumors. Over half the teen’s in the U.S. have experienced cyberbullying. If you have two teens in your home, there is a good chance that at least one of them has experienced cyberbullying. That’s the bad news. The good news? You can help reduce the risk that your teen will engage in cyberbullying and become a cyberbully by focusing on one particular relationship, your relationship with your spouse!

A study published this year (2020) in the International Journal of Bullying Prevention suggests that your relationship with your spouse may impact whether your teen engages in cyberbullying. This study utilized data from the World Health Organization’s Health Behavior in School-Aged Children Survey. Specifically, they looked at data from 12,642 pre-teens and teens (age 11 to 15 years) surveyed in 2009-2010. These teens were asked about their bullying behaviors and their perceptions of certain characteristics of their family, characteristics like relationship quality and investment. Questions included whether parents were loving. The study revealed that those who said their parents were “almost never” loving were 6 times more likely to engage in high levels of cyberbullying than those who said their parents were “almost always” loving. In other words, those teens who perceived their parents as loving were less likely to engage in cyberbullying. So, if you want to contribute to less cyberbullying and reduce the risk of your child becoming a cyberbully, let your teen see a loving relationship between you and your spouse. Here are some hints to keep your relationship with your spouse strong and loving.

  • Spend time with your spouse. Your children need to see you enjoying time with your spouse. Sit together when watching TV. Go for walks together. Enjoy a date night. Laugh together.
  • Show your spouse physical affection. Your children may be grossed out when you share a hug or a kiss, but they will know you love one another. Hold hands. Sit arm in arm. Share physical affection.
  • Express gratitude. Make it a habit to thank your spouse for things they do for the family, for the children, for the home, for you. Thank them for earning money to support the family. Thank them for cleaning the kitchen, making the bed, doing the laundry, cooking dinner. There are a thousand things a day for which you can thank your spouse. Express gratitude.
  • Praise your spouse in your children’s presence. Recognize when your spouse does something well and acknowledge it verbally. Compliment them on how nice they look. Acknowledge their hair cut. Let them know you think they are a good cook, a hard worker, a sensitive and considerate friend. Admire your spouse’s positive qualities in the presence of your teens.
  • Work together around the house. Let your children and teens know that you and your spouse are a teen. You both contribute to the household chores and tasks. You help each other out. You and your spouse are a team caring for your home and family.
  • Flirt with your spouse. I know, your children and teens will be totally grossed out by this but do a little flirting anyway. Let them see how much you truly adore your spouse.

These behaviors will communicate the love you and your spouse share. Your teens will hear it loud and clear. And, even more, they will reduce the risk of your teen engaging in cyberbullying.

The Heartbeat of a Hug

Parents hug their children as an expression of affection, comfort, and joy…and because we like to hug them. Even as adults we recognize a hug as a communication of love, comfort, or celebration. But did you know that hugs have a physical impact on the hugger and the one hugged. A study published in 2020 in iScience confirmed this by monitoring the heart rate of infants under the age of 1-year-old while they were given a 20-second hug, held for 20 seconds, tightly hugged for 20 seconds, or in their crib for 20 seconds. The hug, holding, or tight hug was given by their parent and by a female they did not know (who had experience in childbirth and childcare). Some of their findings you might expect. For instance,

  • Children four-months-old and older exhibited a slower heart rate when hugged by a parent. They physically relaxed when hugged by their parent.
  • They did not exhibit a slower heart rate or physically relax when hugged by a stranger, even though the “stranger” in this experiment had experience in childbirth and parenting. Experience with children and infants does not replace the hug of a parent!

Some results were a little more unexpected. For instance,

  • The parents’ heart rate also slowed when they hugged their children. Parent and child both physically relax when a parent hugs their child. 
  • The children did not exhibit a slower heart rate or physically relax when simply held or hugged tightly, even if it was their parent.  This suggests that a child can differentiate a hug from simply being held and from being held “tightly” (perhaps as a parent holds the child to protect them or while experiencing their own fear or negative emotion.)   It is not just physical contact that impacts heart rate and relaxation but an affectionate, loving hug.

This study reveals the heartbeat of a hug for infants and parents. But I wonder if this ever changes in life. Who doesn’t relax into the arms of a spouse’s hug? Who doesn’t rejoice in the hug of their teen? And, if truth be told, what teen doesn’t really enjoy the occasional affectionate hug of a parent? The heartbeat of a hug is more than just a slowing of the heart and physical relaxation. The heartbeat of a hug is a life-giving, joyous celebration of connection. Today, share a few hugs with those you love and experience the heartbeat of a hug!

Is Your Marriage Like Chocolate Cake Without Icing?

Research published from Binghamton University has verified a secret ingredient of a stronger marriage. Well…it not really such a secret. Many people know about it without ever reading the research. They would consider it common sense, a “given.” So, maybe it’s not such a secret but…well, let me just tell you about the study and what it suggests.

The researchers of this study included 184 couples over the age of 18 years in an exploration of the connection between attachment style, touch satisfaction, and marital satisfaction. Not surprisingly, they found a strong association between non-sexual physical affection and a satisfying, strong marriage. Non-sexual physical affection included things like cuddling, holding hands, and hugging.

As always, there was a caveat and I found it extremely interesting. Non-sexual physical affection had a different meaning and impact for men and women. For men, the presence of non-sexual physical affection was associated with an increase in marital satisfaction. In other words, physical affection was a positive contribution to the marriage, “the icing on the cake.”

For women, however, the lack of non-sexual physical affection was associated with relationship dissatisfaction. Its presence did not necessary create greater satisfaction. Non-sexual physical affection was an essential, expected ingredient for marital satisfaction. The lack of it was a negative and resulted in a less satisfying relationship. In other words, women want non-sexual physical affection as a basic ingredient for creating a satisfying relationship.  

As I said, non-sexual physical affection is a “not-so-surprising ingredient of a solid marriage.” What is surprising is how many couples leave this ingredient out of their marriage and so never enjoy a fully satisfying relationship. According to this research, leaving the snuggle and the hug out of your marriage is like enjoying a chocolate cake without the icing (my favorite part by the way) for men.

For women, having a marriage without the snuggles, hugs, or holding of hands is like trying to eat a chocolate cake made without any sugar or sweetener; you can’t even enjoy it.

So, reach out and hold your spouse’s hand while you drive down the road or walk around the block. Cuddle up on the couch to talk, watch TV, or listen to the radio. Give several random hugs throughout the day. Fill your day with acts of non-sexual physical affection. It is a crucial ingredient to your happy marriage. (For more on the benefit of physical touch in your marriage read Six Reasons to Hug Your Family.)

Rather Than Building a Bully, Try This…

None of us want our children to become a bully. That’s why I really like the study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence. The researchers of that study followed 1,409 children from 7th through 9th grade to explore how parenting style impacts a teen’s ability to manage emotions such as anger. This study revealed the negative impact of a parenting style that expressed criticism, sarcasm, put-downs, and hostility toward children while using emotional and physical coercion to gain compliance from children. They called this a “derisive parenting style.”

This “derisive style” of parenting contributed to children who had poorly regulated or poorly controlled anger. In the peer interactions, poorly controlled anger led to more negative emotions, greater verbal and physical aggression, and hostility. The poorly controlled anger put teens at greater risk for bullying AND victimization AND for becoming a bully who is also victimized by other bullies.

I don’t know any parent who wants their child to becomes a bully, a victim, or a bully-victim. So, rather than using “derisive parenting style” let me suggest a kinder, more loving kind style.

  • Rather than criticism offer sincere appreciation for what’s done well, constructive appraisals around areas of potential improvement, and acceptance for differing ideas.
  • Rather than sarcasm offer playful banter, respectful limits, and loving boundaries.
  • Rather than put-downs offer much needed encouragement, admiration of positive effort, and compliments on personal growth.
  • Rather than verbal hostility offer verbal affection, loving and firm boundaries, and light-hearted opportunities for laughter.
  • Rather than physical coercion offer healthy physical affection, physical assistance, and gentle guidance.
  • Rather than emotional coercion like shame and guilt offer the emotional support, acceptance of different ideas and methods, and assurance of love.

Ironically, replacing a “derisive parenting style” with a more loving, supportive parenting style results in greater compliance as well as a more independent, confident, and self-controlled child. Step away from building a bully with “derisive parenting;” build a strong, confident child by using a kinder, more loving parenting style instead.

What “Master Parents” Do

Do you want to be a “Master Parent”? No parent is perfect. In fact, the most perfect thing about a “perfect parent” is their imperfection (blog).  Still, don’t you want to become a “master parent,” one that creates an environment most likely to produce growth and health for your children? If so, let me briefly describe seven ingredients that go in to becoming a “master parent.”

  1. A “master parent” is warm and affectionate. They prioritize developing a relationship with their children. Of course, they are the parent and their children will get mad at them sometimes. In fact, almost every “master parent” has experienced their children saying, “I hate you” in one way or another. Still, “master parents” focus on relationship. This means maintaining a respectful tone of voice and using respectful words with their children, even when angry. It means giving regular, healthy physical affection like a hug, a good-bye kiss, an arm around the shoulder, or relaxed wrestling. (The NBA Playbook will give you hints on doing this well!)
  2. A “master parent” gives time to their children. Relationships require time, lots of it. Spend time having fun, doing projects, talking, or just hanging out. Make sure your children know you are present and available. (Here’s some tips on How to Spend Quality Time with Your Children.)
  3. A “master parent” works with their children’s other parent. They do not put the other parent down nor do they allow their children to put their parent down. Instead, “master parents” support their children’s other parent. They encourage them. They build them up in front of their children. Most important, “master parents” work to build a positive relationship with their children’s other parent, ideally modeling a positive marital relationship for their children to emulate.
  4. A “master parent” establishes clear rules. Rules are geared toward safety and respect for others. Rather than have a rule for every possible scenario, “master parents” teach their children the “spirit of the rule” so they can think through any given situation and act accordingly. (Family Rules are the Guardrails of Safety.)
  5. A “master parent” established appropriate and enforceable consequences for misbehavior. Consequences are age appropriate, clear, concise, and enforceable. They are geared toward teaching appropriate behavior rather than simply punishing misbehavior.
  6. A “master parent” focuses on behavior rather than criticism. Criticism contributes to children feeling bad, inadequate, or incapable. Mocking, sarcasm, and name calling ultimately result in more misbehavior.  Effective correction is aimed at correcting the misbehavior and replacing it with more thoughtful, appropriate behavior. It involves teaching.
  7. A “master parent” maintains a sense of humor. “Master parents” smile, laugh, joke, and play with their children. This helps build a more positive relationship. And, families that laugh together grow closer to one another.

Seven ingredients of “master parents.” How many do you already practice in your role as parent?

Help Your Children Flourish

Parenting is like trying to balance a multi-dimensional see-saw. On one end of the see-saw sits discipline and structure. On the other end is warmth and affection. How we balance these two ingredients contributes to four possible types of parenting:

  • Neglectful parenting, which is low in both discipline and warmth,
  • Permissive parenting, which is high in warmth but low in discipline,
  • Authoritarian parenting, which is high in discipline but low in warmth, and
  • Authoritative parenting, which is high in both discipline and warmth.

The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University published two studies in early 2019 that explored these parenting styles and their impact on flourishing later in life. Not surprisingly, parenting high in both warmth and discipline (authoritative parenting) proved most beneficial in promoting a flourishing life, even as a person matured into adulthood.  Somewhat surprising, permissive parenting—low in discipline but high in warmth—proved the second most beneficial parenting style for promoting a flourishing life. Falling to a distant third was authoritarian (low in warmth but high in discipline).  Of course, a neglectful style of parenting was least effective.

With further study, it appears that warmth (which authoritative and permissive parenting exhibit) is the most important aspect of parenting when it comes to helping our children flourish later in life. Specifically, parental warmth and affection was associated with the following benefits in later life:

  • A 46% reduction in depression
  • A 39% reduction in anxiety
  • A 68% reduction in eating disorders
  • Higher levels of emotional processing and expression
  • Lower levels of cigarette and marijuana use.

Providing warmth and affection to our children tops the list of important ingredients in parenting. When we provide an environment of warmth and affection to our children, they have a better chance of flourishing later in life. With that in mind, here are six simple ways to show your children warmth and affection…and promote their ability to flourish.

Making Deposits in a Topsy-Turvy Bank

I spoke with a couple about making deposits into the Family Bank of Honor several weeks ago. They went home and put the discussion into practice. They made loving deposits of honor and grace into their Family Bank of Honor. Much to their surprise, these deposits resulted in a major improvement in their relationship. As we talked about their experience, they realized another important aspect of the Family Bank of Honor. When we think of making deposits, we often try to make big deposits…the bigger the better. However, in the Family Bank of Honor even small deposits carry tremendous value. Small deposits are of great value. In the economy of the Family Bank of Honor, even a deposit of one cent is worth a million bucks! Consider a few examples.

  • Greeting one another with a smile seems like a minor thing. But it communicates the joy you feel in the presence of your spouse. It reveals the affection and admiration you have for your spouse. It tells your spouse how much you desire their presence in your life. That’s worth a million bucks.
  • Holding the door for your spouse seems like another penny deposit. But, by arriving at the door first we have established the right to enter first. By holding the door for our spouse, we give up our right and allow them to enter ahead of us. We have placed them ahead of us; we have made them “as more important than ourselves.” That is worth a million bucks.
  • Offering to get your spouse a drink as you get your own drink seems like a minor penny deposit. But that penny deposit informs your spouse that they are on your mind. You are concerned about their needs and their desires. By offering to get them a drink, you have proclaimed that their needs and desires are important to you. You have voiced a willingness to meet those needs and desires. And that is worth a million bucks!
  • Letting your spouse pick the activity or the movie for a night seems like a slightly bigger deposit than those listed above, but still only a nickel deposit. However, this nickel deposit represents a personal sacrifice, a giving up of your desires so you can satisfy the desires of your spouse. It communicates that you value your spouse’s interests as much as (and at times more than) your own. You care so much about your spouse that you are willing to give up your own interests and desires to satisfy your spouse’s interests and desires. That is definitely worth a million bucks.

You get the idea. A simple, inexpensive, penny deposit in the Family Bank of Honor is actually worth a million bucks to your relationship. The more you make these deposits, the richer your marriage will grow in intimacy and health. Now that’s worth a million bucks!

Cuddle Up A Little Closer

Ah, the cuddle. Whether it be a hug, a snuggle, hand-holding, or a “smooch,” we love ’em all. And why not? Cuddling does wonderful things for us and our relationship. Let me just name a few: 

  • Cuddling releases a “bonding” hormone (oxytocin). When we cuddle, we bond with the one to whom we cuddle. In other words, we feel closer to one another. So, snuggle up and bond. Enjoy the intimacy. You might even find yourself talking a little more.
  • Cuddling increases happiness. Who can stay grumpy when snuggled up with the one you love?
  • Cuddling reduces stress and anxiety. There’s just something about snuggling into the arms of our love and feeling the stress melt away.
  • Cuddling also lowers blood pressure. Increased happiness, reduced stress, and lowered blood pressure all add up to increased heart health too!
  • Cuddling releases oxytocin which helps block pain signals. As a result, cuddling reduces pain.
  • Cuddling also helps us fight colds and other infections. When we feel good our body doesn’t want illness to interfere. So, it fights infections even more.
  • Cuddling helps us sleep too.

Is it any wonder we like to cuddle? It soothes us and lifts our mood. It melts away the strain and stress of the day. It relieves the pain. All the while it bonds us to the one with whom we snuggle. So, grab your spouse and “cuddle up a little closer.” You know you want to. Sing along with Andy Burrows with full sincerity, “I’d rather have cuddle than a video; I’d rather have cuddle than anything I know. I’d rather have a cuddle than ketchup, chips, or peas. A computer can be lovely, but a cuddle’s what I need!”

“I Love You” Getting Stale? Try These

If you feel like “I love you” is getting stale, try a couple of other phrases to express your Senior Couple - Kiss on the Cheeklove. Here are a dozen ideas from which you can choose.

  • You are important to me.
  • I’ll make sacrifices for you. I’ll give that up for you.
  • I forgive you.
  • I need you.
  • I think about you all the time.
  • If I had it all to do over again, I’d still choose you.
  • You get more beautiful every day.
  • What can I do for you today?
  • Let me help you with that.
  • I think about you all the time.
  • I am committed to you for life.
  • I’m sorry.

And to make it a baker’s dozen:

  • I love you more today than the day we got married.
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