Tag Archive for appreciation

What Makes a Successful Marriage?

Researchers from Western University in London Ontario asked a question: “What makes for a good relationship?” To answer this question, they analyzed data collected over an average of six years from 11,196 couples…. all to discover  the best predictors of a successful relationship. They considered how each partner perceived their spouse and relationship as well as the individual characteristics of both partners. What did they discover?

A person’s perception of their partner and their relationship with their partner was the best predictor of relationship satisfaction. Three specific qualities that had the greatest impact included:

  • Perceived partner commitment
  • Appreciation
  • Sexual satisfaction

So, if you want to have a great marriage, build your relationship in each of the three areas noted above by doing the following.

  • Pay attention to ways your spouse shows their commitment to you and your marriage. Your spouse may show their commitment by working around the house or by getting up everyday to work. They may show their commitment through their words, their actions, or touch. Become a student of your spouse. Pay attention and learn how they show commitment.  When they do something that seems unloving, assume love, pause, then respond.   
  • Ask your spouse what you can do to let them know you are committed to your marriage. This will assure that you know how to show your spouse your commitment to your relationship in ways they will see and understand. Then do it. Don’t just ask once. Things may change. So, keep asking and keep doing.
  • Make it a habit to appreciate your spouse. Appreciate their appearance. Thank your spouse for cooking dinner, doing laundry, washing the car, and every other action they take to support their family. Appreciate your spouse verbally every day.
  • Talk about sex. Remember, sex is about more than what happens between the sheets… much more. As Kevin Leman has said, “Sex begins in the kitchen.” So, ask yourself: what will put your spouse “in the mood”? What brings your spouse the greatest pleasure? What words or actions might increase your spouse’s sexual satisfaction? Listen to their answers. They may surprise you. Share your own answers as well. Enjoy the discussion… and the knowledge you gain.

Building a relationship in which your spouse can feel satisfied and secure is a gift to your marriage and your family. Your spouse will benefit, your children will benefit, and you will benefit. You and your spouse will enjoy the security and joy of greater relationship satisfaction and intimacy. Your children will enjoy the freedom to mature, knowing that your marriage is a safe haven from which they can explore and grow.

This Will Make Your Children Smarter

This simple activity has been shown to help children and adults learn more and remember better. In fact, two recent studies (one in 2017 and one in 2020) have shown how this activity increases brain activity to increase learning and memory. What is this activity? Writing by hand.

Writing by hand is a slower process to learn and practice than using a keyboard. It uses more intricate movements and stimulates more sensory areas of the brain than using a keyboard—the nuanced sensation of the paper, the ever-shifting feel of the pen, the subtle movement of the hand and fingers as they form different letters and shapes, the scratch of the pen on the paper, the sensation of the pen or pencil rolling across the paper, the vision of seeing the letters and words form, etc.  These sensory experiences create more contact between different areas of the brain, helping to further integrate the brain and open it up for greater learning.

Receiving so many Christmas gifts and experiences offers a tremendous time to help our children (and ourselves) get smarter by writing thank you notes. Of course, writing thank you notes has many other benefits as well (see 7 Wonderful Benefits of Writing Thank You Notes). Because it has become a lost art, if you need help knowing what to write, check out Forgotten Family Arts: The Thank You Note.

By the way, you don’t need to limit thank you notes to Christmas either. Write them with your children after birthdays, graduations, or simple get-togethers. Enjoy writing them as a family for no apparent reason except to show appreciation and gratitude to someone for whom you are thankful. You’ll build stronger relationships, improve mood, and yes, even “get smarter.”

Learn to Complain Well

Complaining can easily become a habit that traps us in a cycle of finding even more reasons to complain. That cycle is bad for our mood, our health, and even our brain… UNLESS we learn to complain well!

Complaining well has a different purpose and outcome than simply complaining. Simply complaining traps us in the self-perpetuating cycle of negativity that feeds negative expectations and attracts even more negative experiences. How can we complain well and break out of this cycle of complaining? Here are 3 tips to help you do just that.

First, determine what you can and cannot control. Rather than complain and worry about what lies outside your control, focus on what you can control. You cannot control what other people do or say. You can control your response to other people. You cannot control the weather. You can control how you dress for the weather. Notice, those areas we can control tend to evolve around ourselves, not others. Focus on those areas you can control and take action to make a change.

Second, practice gratitude and appreciation. Learn to view your desire to complain as a signal, a light on the dashboard of your “car of life,” that warns you of the need to “fill up” your tank with gratitude and appreciation. When the signal arises (when you feel like complaining) fill up the tank by thinking about those things you appreciate and those for which you can be grateful. Then start sharing your gratitude and appreciation.

Third, voice your complaint with a goal toward resolution. This 4-step plan can help you do this.

  1. Assess why the situation arouses your desire to complain. What value or expectation is being infringed upon? Is it a reasonable expectation?
  2. Determine what you would like instead. What action would better align with your values or expectations? Is it possible and within your control? Is it reasonable?
  3. Give a solution with an appropriate boundary. If it is possible, how can the solution be achieved? Can you enact the solution alone or do you require assistance? If the solution is not accepted, how will you respond? Are you willing and able to respond in this way?
  4. Calmly verbalize this to whoever else is involved. If there is no one else involved in the situation, simply determine what action you can and will take to remedy the aspects of the situation over which you have influence.

At first glance, this may seem more difficult than simply venting and complaining. In fact, complaining is easy. It just doesn’t do anything but make us feel worse. And, habits take intentional effort to change. Changing the habit of complaining is no different. However, changing the habit of complaining will add to your happiness and your health. Perhaps more important, it will enhance your family’s happiness and health. It will improve your relationship with your spouse. And you know that’s nothing to complain about!

Top 5 Ways to Know Your Partner Feels Unappreciated

Number 5: You notice your partner leaving things they usually do undone. Yes, this is a little passive aggressive. But it sends a message loud and clear. “I’m tired of being unappreciated for all I do around here…so I’m just not doing it anymore.”

Number 4: Your spouse withdraws into a quiet shell. Sometimes a person will become quiet and sullen when they feel unappreciated. They look angry or unhappy in their quietness around you but perk up around others. If you see that, maybe you’re seeing a spouse that feels unappreciated.

Number 3: Your spouse begins to sound like a martyr. When your partner begins to act and talk like they are the martyr or say things about feeling taken advantage of, you may be living with a spouse that feels unappreciated.

Number 2: Your partner begins to complain. “Do I have to do everything around here?”  “Can’t you help out a little? I’m tired of doing everything.” “Why do you just sit around while I do all the work?” If you are hearing statements like this, your spouse likely feels unappreciated. (And, you may show your appreciation by helping “around here.”)

Number 1: Your spouse tells you directly. They may say it kindly. “I’m feeling a little underappreciated, honey?” Or they may say it in anger. “You don’t appreciate anything I do around here.” Either way, the easiest way to know your spouse feels unappreciated is when they tell you so.

More importantly, what can you do about this? The answer is simple. Begin appreciating your spouse. Look for opportunities to thank your spouse for things they do for you, your family, and your home. When you see something they have done, thank them. Don’t just smile or acknowledge what they’ve done in your head. Verbally tell them, “Thank you.”

Don’t stop there. Don’t just respond to things they do. Respond to who they are. Voice your admiration and adoration for them. Acknowledge their beauty, their hard work, their kindness, their wisdom. Whatever you admire and adore in your partner, let them know. (Here are 6 great things you can say to show appreciation to your spouse.)

Finally, get involved. Help around the house. Serve your family. Ask how you can help…then do it. Nothing makes a person feel more appreciated than a partner who is actively involved in working together.

Pathways to a Critical Spouse…& Back Again

Intimacy has several building blocks. Unfortunately, we can topple these building blocks in response to personal issues. When we do, we often find ourselves on the pathway to becoming a critical spouse.  Let me give a few examples as way of explanation.  

Pathway 1: Intimacy requires that we accept our spouse and ourselves. Unfortunately, many people do not accept themselves. Instead, they think all sorts of self-critical remarks. They criticize their abilities, their appearance, their accomplishments, or any number of other things. They may believe their self-criticism motivates them toward improvement and success. But, how many of us would like a teacher or mentor who constantly criticized our efforts and abilities. Rather than motivate, criticism holds us back. We also grow accustomed to criticism when we engage in constant self-criticism. We become hardened to its hurt. We may even lose our ability to recognize it. Eventually, what’s in our mind comes out toward ourselves and others. We become critical not just of ourselves, but of our spouses as well. And, we probably don’t even recognize it when we criticize our spouse…but our spouse recognizes the criticism and it hurt them.

Pathway 2: Some people fear becoming too dependent on their spouse; so, they don’t acknowledge how much their spouse helps them. They don’t show their gratitude and appreciation. Other people don’t believe it necessary to show gratitude to another person for doing “what they’re supposed to do anyway.” So, they don’t acknowledge their appreciation for tasks done. (In case you’re wondering, here’s the reason Why We Thank Our Spouse for Doing Chores even though they’re supposed to do them anyway.) However, in both cases, the ungrateful person feels free to criticize their spouse. Why? Because criticism reinforces their independence from their spouse. Criticism also points out what the other person needs to do to improve so they too can become more independent. Unfortunately, reinforcing my independence and pointing out how my spouse needs to improve only comes across as a critical spouse, especially when I don’t acknowledge any gratitude.

Pathway 3: Many people fear the vulnerability inherent in an intimate relationship. It opens us up for potential hurt. Perhaps we’ve experienced hurt at the hands of loved ones in the past; or, we’ve lost relationships in the past either through “break-ups” or death. Either way, we fear losing the relationship now. In response to that fear, we protect ourselves by keeping some distance between us and the other person. We protect ourselves by limiting access to our deeper emotions. We avoid the vulnerability of intimacy by keeping our spouse at “arm’s length…” and criticism is a one way in which people do this. It’s a very effective way to keep a loved one at “arm’s length” and so protect one’s self from the vulnerability of deepening intimacy.

How can you step off the pathway to a critical spouse and turn back into a loving spouse?

  • Acceptance: In order to have a healthy relationship with another person, we need to know and accept ourselves. Then we must accept our spouse. We can accept our spouse in spite of differences, mistakes, and hurts because we love our spouse and we know they have the best interest of our relationship in mind. (Read Accepting Family Members Unconditionally and Six Tips for Practical Acceptance to learn more on acceptance.)
  • Appreciation: One way to grow in acceptance of one another is to develop a habit of mind that looks for and then verbally acknowledges those things you appreciate about your spouse. Make it a habit to thank them for what they do throughout the day. Voice your admiration for their character and their love. Verbalize your adoration for them as often as you can ever day. A Lack of Gratitude Can Sink Your Marital Ship but building an environment of appreciation will keep it afloat through any storm.
  • Courage: Growing more intimate puts us in a vulnerable position. We are entrusting our lives, our security, and our joys into the hands of another. Doing this takes courage. Yes, you develop this trust over time. Both partners reveal themselves as trustworthy through their words and actions. Still, it takes courage to let down your guard and allow yourself to stand naked (emotionally, mentally, and spiritually as well as physically) and unafraid before your spouse. Be courageous. Show yourself trustworthy to encourage your spouse’s courage.

Practice acceptance, appreciation, and courage to find yourself on the pathway to a loving intimate relationship.  

Savor Your Spouse

I love cheesecake, especially my wife’s cheesecake. However, it is a process to make…and very rich. So, I eat it slowly. I savor each bite to make it last as long as I can. As I linger in the moment of enjoying the creamy taste of the cheesecake, I learn to appreciate and enjoy it even more.

I also love to savor a sunset…to sit quietly and watch the sun slowly sink into the horizon as it casts hues of reds, yellows, and oranges across the sky. To recognize and soak in as much beauty as I can relaxes me and fills me with peace.

I also love to savor my spouse and our times together.

  • I savor the moments when we have an engaged conversation in which we open our lives and honestly share our innermost selves with one another.
  • I savor the moments when we reaffirm our love through words, actions, touches, or a simple smile. Those moments when the glint in her eye communicates the joy she takes in our shared love.
  • I savor those times when she appreciates me in front of our children or publicly acknowledges her affection and love for me.
  • I savor the times when we experience and share something unique and special, like driving through the vastness of Iceland or watching the beauty of a sunset together or walking down a street filled with color and vendors after a nice dinner or…the list goes on.

Each of these moments helps me recognize and appreciate my wife and the life we have together. Each one helps me slow down, relax, and savor the joy of our marriage. Each moment of savoring builds a stronger love and nurtures a greater intimacy. And, each one builds anticipation for the next moment of savoring.

Yes, I love to savor my wife. In fact, I’m going to make some time this week to sit down with my wife and recall some of these wonderful moments. As we share our memories, we can savor them all over again. Won’t you take the time this week to do the same with your spouse? Believe me, you won’t regret it!

The Sacred Moment In Every Conversation

Our families, our marriage, and our children are flooded with information today. TV’s, computers, smart phones, Ipads, social media, 24-hour news…they all throw information our direction faster than…you fill in the blank. With so much information spoken “at us,” it’s hard to get a word in edgewise.  In fact, we jump into conversation with our spouse and family midsentence with a “yeah, but….” Or, we talk over one another, each one talking louder than the last in an attempt to be heard. Once we have the floor, we don’t stop speaking…no breath, no pause, just tell all as quickly as possible and keep it going in an unending filibuster. Throughout the process, each person becomes defensive. The initial topic often gets lost in our ever more emphatic arguments. Each person grows more possessive of “my time” to speak. And…we lose the sacred moment every conversation needs to bring connection between those involved. The sacred moment in every conversation is the pause, that moment of silence between two speakers. The sacred moment means one person has finished speaking for the moment and the other person has received the opportunity to speak. There is no “yeah, but,” no interruption, no filibuster in the sacred moment…just a sacred moment of silence between speakers. Still, the sacred moment provides so much more than mere silence between speakers.

  1. The sacred moment confers appreciation to the listener for patiently waiting their turn to speak.
  2. The sacred moment means the speaker respects the listener enough to pass them the baton of speech, the opportunity to talk.
  3. The sacred moment also respects the speaker by providing an occasion for the listener to think about what was said, to really consider the speaker’s point of view.
  4. The sacred moment allows both parties to confirm mutual understanding about what was already spoken.
  5. The sacred moment grants the time needed to consider areas of agreement before jumping into a defensive posture.
  6. The sacred moment allows all parties to remain calm, to breathe life into themselves and the conversation, to maintain composure and an attitude of affection.

Appreciation, respect, mutual understanding, agreement, composure, and affection all in a single sacred moment. Amazingly, that moment remains very short, a simple pause between two people engaged in mutual understanding as the baton of speech is handed from one person to another. But that sacred moment can save a conversation and a relationship! Don’t you think it’s time we start practicing the sacred moment, the most important moment in any conversation, today?

Powerful Hints to Build a Happy Marriage

Linda and Charlie Bloom recently wrote an article in Psychology Today describing essential qualities of happy marriages. They came up with seven qualities by interviewing “50 of the happiest couples” they could find. Their conclusions are very insightful…and I wanted to share a short summary of them with you.

  1. Happy couples appreciate the differences between them and their partner. In fact, many of the happy couples managed and enjoyed profound differences between them and their partner. They saw those differences as adding richness to their relationship. As a result, they could appreciate and express gratitude for their differences. (Appreciating your spouse holds other benefits as well. Read A Provocative Secret for a More Satisfying Sex Life to learn of one.)
  2. Happy couples found delight in bringing greater fulfillment and joy into their partner’s life. They did not consider it a sacrifice to promote their partner’s success and joy. Instead, they found it a pleasure to see their partner find fulfillment and success. (Discover how this attitude helps the family in The Lost Art of Sacrifice in the Family.)
  3. Happy couples kept short accounts of wrongs committed. They practiced quick apologies and forgiveness. They effectively and quickly dealt with any disappointments that occurred.
  4. Individuals in a happy marriage take responsibility for their part in any conflict. They do not blame, become defensive, or scapegoat. Instead, they take responsibility for the impact of their actions and words upon their partner. They acknowledge their responsibility and make amends as needed. (Taking responsibility for our actions may involve saying The Hardest Word.)
  5. Happy couples practice honesty. But, rather than practicing “brutal honesty,” they practice sensitive, loving honesty. They remained sensitive to their partner’s feelings and vulnerabilities when expressing their honest thoughts and feelings.
  6. Happy couples maintained a healthy balance between self-care and marital care. Happy couples saw each partner’s health and well-being as inextricably tied to the health and well-being of their marriage. So, they practiced healthy self-care and encouraged their spouse to practice healthy self-care.
  7. Finally, happy couples practiced gratitude on a daily basis. Gratitude seemed to contribute to an optimistic view of their partner and their marriage. Ironically, this optimistic view of their partner and marriage contributed to even more gratitude.

These seven points are excellent ways to keep your marriage strong. Read them over and talk about them with your spouse.  Discuss how you can begin to practice each one in your marriage. Start today. Your partner will love you for it, your marriage will be stronger for it, and you’ll both discover a growing happiness in one another. Who could ask for more?

This Pattern Will Kill Your Marriage

Every marriage relationship develops patterns of interaction. Some patterns help marriages grow. Some can kill marriage. An analysis of 74 separate studies that included over 14,000 people discovered one pattern that can kill our marriages! This negative relationship pattern lowers relationship satisfaction, decreases intimacy, and contributes to poorer communication. It is often lovingly referred to as the demand-withdraw pattern. In this pattern one partner makes criticisms, complaints, and requests while the other withdraws and gives the silent treatment (The Most Toxic Relationship Pattern). Knowing this pattern can destroy your marriage is a start. Learning what you can do to replace it is even better. That’s the real solution. Here are a couple of ideas.

  1. Instead of criticizing, use what Gottman calls a “gentle startup.” Rather than verbally attacking your partner’s personality, stick to describing the situation causing the stress. Find a way to explain the positive need inherent in your complaint rather than “harping” on what your partner’s doing wrong. Coming up with a positive need opens the door to discovering a solution and building intimacy.
  2. Rather than creating an environment of abuse in which you insult your partner or show contempt for your partner, create an environment of appreciation. Maintain your awareness of your partner’s positive qualities. Speak words of affirmation and adoration to your partner every day.
  3. Rather than making excessive demands and requests on your partner, practice serving one another. Build a culture of service, a culture in which both partners serve one another.
  4. It’s easy to begin taking a “tit-for-tat” position when you feel like your partner blames you for something. Our first instinct is often to return blame for blame, attack for attack. Rather than do so, take responsibility for your own mistakes. Own up to your shortcomings. Admit your wrongdoings and seek forgiveness for your mistakes.
  5. Rather than shutting down, practice calming yourself and your partner. Don’t push buttons. Breath. Take a break. Distract yourself. Then, after you have soothed yourself, return to #2 and tell your partner what you love about them.

The demand-withdraw pattern could destroy your marriage. But you can end it. You can replace it with something better by beginning to practice the 5 actions above. Why not start today!

You Can Help Prevent Teen Suicide with These Simple Actions

I have bad news. Teen suicide rates are on the rise. In fact, suicide rates for teen girls hit a 40-year high in 2017 (Suicide Rate for Teen Girls Hits 40 Year High). Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens 12- to 19-years-old in 2006 (CDC: Mortality Among Teens Age 12-19 Years Old) and the second leading cause of death for those 10- to 24-years-old in 2015 (National Vital Statistics Report-see page 10 for figure). Many times depression or other mood disorders can be involved (Teen Suicide Statistics).  Overall, this is devastating information. Our young people are crying out in need of something.  But what do they need? A study presented at the 2017 American Public Health Association conference gives us a hint and tells us how we might stem the rising tide of teen suicide. They presented three conclusions from a 2012 US national Study of Parental Behaviors and Suicidal Feelings Among Adolescents that can cut suicide risk by up to 7 times (These Parenting Behaviours Cut Suicide Risk 7 Times).

  1. Tell your children and teens you are proud of them. Adolescents were five times more likely to have suicidal thoughts, seven times more likely to have a suicidal plan, and seven times more likely to attempt suicide when their parents rarely or never expressed pride in them. Adolescents need to know we take pride in their actions and their efforts. They need to know we take pride in them!
  2. Tell your children they have done a good job. This simple action was associated with a similar level of suicidal risk noted above. When we acknowledge a job well done we communicate our teen’s value. We inform them that we notice their and appreciate their work. We express the importance of their place and work in our home and world. We acknowledge their power to do things and the importance of that power in our lives.
  3. Help your children with their homework. Once again, helping with homework was associated with a similar level of suicidal risk noted in bullet #1. Helping our children and teens with homework communicates love. It lets them know we are interested in their world and committed to their growth. It gives us the opportunity to learn and grow with them, sharing in tasks together. It expresses how much we love them…enough to help them in the work of their daily world.

Once again, these three simple actions significantly reduce the risk of suicide in teens. Unfortunately, many teens do not receive these simple blessings from their parents. Make sure your teen does.

I would add two other important actions we can take to protect our teens from suicide.

  1. Get to know your teen. Learn about their world of friends and activities. Observe their moods and behaviors. If you see some change in their mood, if they appear depressed or isolated, seek help. Many teens who commit suicide have some type of mood disorder or change in peer relationships (Teen Suicide Statistics). Know you teen well enough to recognize the signs…and get help if they need it.
  2. Limit the use of electronic devices and encourage face-to-face interactions. In recent studies, Jean Twenge and colleagues identified that teens who spend five or more hours per day on devices are 71% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide. (The Risk of Teen Depression and Suicide is Linked to Smartphone Use) At the same time, getting rid of all devices did not help. Instead, the option resulting in the best mental health limited time on devices while encouraging face-to-face interactions.  (Read Just So You Know: Screen Time & Teen Happiness for more on this.)

Overall, these five actions are not hard. They do take time. They mean investing in the lives of our youth.  And that’s a great investment…after all they are amazing people with exciting futures who will build the tomorrow in which you and I grow!

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