Tag Archive for connection

To Deeper Connection and Beyond

Buzz Lightyear challenges his friends to go to “infinity and beyond.” I’m ok avoiding infinity actually. But I do want to move to deeper connection and beyond with my spouse and family. I think most people do. Connecting with other people in a deep and meaningful way makes us happy, especially when that other person is our spouse. In fact, we have a deep need for emotional connection to our spouse. And, if we perceive something as threatening our connection with our spouse, we do all sorts of crazy things—like argue, blame, accuse, give the silent treatment—in an attempt to reconnect. These actions rarely work well; but, like a toddler crying and screaming when dropped off at day care, we hope our behavior will bridge the disconnection and bring us back into synchrony and deep connection with our spouse.

There is a better way to restore our connection with our spouse, a way that doesn’t involve those “crazy actions.” Ironically, a series of twelve experiments focused on building greater connection to strangers provides us with solid instructions for restoring connection to our spouse as well. In these experiments, researchers asked pairs of people to discuss either deep or shallow topics. Sometimes they gave them the topics and sometimes the pair came up with their own topic. Shallow topics involved small talk like questions about weather, a TV show, or a recent sporting event. Deeper topics included more personal, intimate information about emotions, values, or personal desires. Participants also made predictions before having the conversation about 1) how awkward the conversation would be, 2) how connected they would feel, and 3) how much enjoyment they would experience. After the conversation they rated their actual experience in the same three areas.

Not surprisingly, those who discussed the deep topics found the conversation more enjoyable than those who engaged with one another on shallow topics. Those who discussed deep topics tended to overestimate how awkward the conversation would be. Additionally, if allowed to have a shallow conversation with one partner and a deep conversation with another, they preferred the deeper one. Most importantly, those who discussed deeper topics also experienced a stronger sense of connection with their partner.

As one of the researchers said, “If you share something meaningful and important, you are likely to get something meaningful and important exchanged in return, leading to a considerably better conversation…” and, I might add, a deeper connection.

The application to marriage is obvious, right? We want to know meaningful, important things about our spouses and their lives. They want to know meaningful and important things about us. We are interested in having a deeper conversation as a couple and so does our spouse. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of life and only talk about the “shallower topics” needed to manage our lives together, topics like family chores, children’s schedules, dinner plans, house maintenance. All these topics need to be discussed and managed. However, for deeper intimacy, we need to make time to discuss deeper topics as well. Put down the cell phones and tablets, turn off the TV, look at your spouse, and enjoy a conversation about the deeper, more meaningful aspects of life. If you struggle to think of what might constitute a deeper conversation, try these 10 conversation starters.

  • What first attracted you to me?
  • Would you rather talk about your problems or wait until they are resolved?
  • What are the top 5 things on your bucket list?
  • What is something you cannot live without?
  • What is your biggest struggle right now? How can I help?
  • What makes you the happiest?
  • What has been your greatest accomplishment as an individual? What do you think has been our greatest accomplishment together?
  • What is the best part of our relationship?
  • If you could change one thing about how you grew up, what would it be? Why?
  • What qualities do you most love about me? 

Enjoy sharing these questions with your spouse…and enjoy going to deeper connection and beyond.

Give Your Spouse This Daily Romantic Booster Shot

Thanksgiving has passed. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop expressing gratitude for things your spouse does and says. In fact, I like to think of Thanksgiving as the beginning of another year to express gratitude to my spouse. I know. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of life and lose sight of the little things our spouses do for our families every day. Many of us may get so busy we don’t even recognize the little things for which we could be grateful. Or we simply take them for granted in the midst of our daily rush. However, the authors of a study published in 2010 found expressing gratitude helps to “solidify a relationship.” Expressing gratitude increases relationship satisfaction and connection for both spouses, both the one who gives thanks and the one who received thanks. Couples still noted a boost in their relationship satisfaction and connection the day after an expression of gratitude. In other words, expressing gratitude functioned as a “booster shot to the relationship.”

Other studies have also shown that a daily “gratitude booster shot” of gratitude helps couples maintain a high level of relationship satisfaction over time (Lack of Gratitude Will Sink Your Marital Ship), vaccinates against impulsiveness and increases patience (7 Ways Gratitude Benefits Your Family According to Research), and even helps promote physical health (A Free Supplement for Your Family’s Health). Doesn’t that sound like a great booster shot to give your spouse and your marriage. And…it does not hurt. There are no negative side effects. Just a happier, healthier marriage.

So, give your spouse a booster shot, a romantic booster shot filled with daily doses of gratitude.

Take This 4-Week Challenge with Your Teen

A study published in September, 2020, reported the results of a simple classroom activity that increased the life satisfaction of ninth- and tenth-grade students. In fact, it did even more than that. This study involved over 1,000 ninth-and tenth-grade students in a 4-week project. One group of students spent 10 minutes a week writing gratitude letters to parents, teachers, coaches, or friends. Another group of students worked on becoming more organized by listing their daily activities, reflecting on the benefits of those activities, and considering any obstacles they might encounter.

The group that wrote gratitude letters reported greater life satisfaction and increased motivation to improve themselves than the group that work on organization. They also reported increased feelings of connection and positive mood (elevation). Even better, the students maintained these positive changes for the whole semester.

Why not make this activity a 4-week challenge for your family—a challenge to enhance life satisfaction? Gather some paper, pens, envelopes, and stamps. Then, sit down with your children and your teens for 10 minutes every week to write gratitude letters. (Writing them by hand adds a special benefit you can read about in This Will Make Your Children Smarter.) Parents can participate in this challenge by writing gratitude letters too. Parent and teen writing gratitude letters to whoever you want—parents, siblings, teachers, friends, coaches, mentors…whoever you want. It’s only 10 minutes a week, but just think about what those 10 minutes will reap for you and your family—greater life satisfaction as well as a greater feeling of connection, a more positive mood, and a greater motivation for self-improvement. That sounds like an amazing benefit for 10 minutes of time every week.

The Blessing of a “Royal We”

My spouse and I live alone in our house now…just the two of us. Our children have grown into beautiful young ladies, each of them living in their own homes. We can even have a pillow fight without anyone interfering or telling us to “settle down.” In addition, when my wife asks,” Did we run the dishwasher?” or I inquire if “we bought eggs?” we know what we are talking about.  Still, questions like that give me pause.

Why? For starters, it’s obvious that the person asking the question knows they didn’t do the task. The objective truth of the question asks if their spouse did the task. But rather than using the pronoun “you,” we both use the “Royal We.”

But that’s not really why the “Royal We” give me pause. The “Royal We” gives me pause because it reminds me how grateful I am to be part of our marital team. The “Royal We” reminds me that I am not alone. I live with a spouse who loves me and works with me to create a joyous marriage and life. Sure, we have our individual interests and strengths. We enjoy individual hobbies. We have our personal sensitivities and struggles. But, encompassing all our personal nuances and idiosyncrasies is the protective, loving “Royal We.”

As charter members of our “Royal We,” we have each other’s happiness in mind. We weep when the other weeps and rejoice when the other rejoices. We support one another in joyous times and in times of sorrow. We protect one another emotionally, mentally, and physically. We nurture one another’s dreams. Yes, we plan a future together.

Research suggests that a healthy “Royal We” is good for a marriage, too. Specifically, couples with a strong sense of “we” are more positive toward one another and feel less stressed. In other words, the “Royal We” supports happy, healthy marriages that nurture healthy individuals. So, how can you build the “Royal We” in your marriage?

First, be responsive to your spouse. John Gottman refers to this as “turning toward” one another. People within relationships make multiple bids for connection with one another. These bids may be as simple as eye contact or a comment about the weather. Or, they may be as direct as saying, “We need to talk.” In whatever way bids are made, couples who respond 86% of the time become “master couples” who experience greater joy and intimacy. Those who respond only 33% of the time are “disasters” and at risk of divorce. So, the first step in becoming a “Royal We” is to respond to your spouse.

Second, create rituals of connection. Build a ritual for reconnecting with your spouse after having spent time apart. The ritual can include a simple verbal greeting, a hug, and a kiss. It might also include an exchange highlighting anything important that happened while apart. So, take the time to reconnect after being apart. It’s simple…but it will have a powerful impact on your relationship and the strength of your “Royal We.”

Third, dream together. Look to the future and what adventures you would like to experience with your spouse. What do you want to do as a couple in five years? Ten years? What vacations would you like to enjoy together? What dreams can you nurture in your spouse and enjoy with them? How can you work toward these dreams and activities? Not only will you enjoy the dreams and activities in your future, but you will also enjoy the time you spend working toward those dreams and activities.

The “Royal We” fills me with gratitude…which leads me to one final aspect of building a strong sense of team in your marriage. Express gratitude to your spouse and for your spouse. Thank your spouse often for being a part of your team, the “better half” of your “Royal We.”

Protecting Our Young Adults…AKA Saving the Life of a Young Adult

According to the 2017 Center for Disease Control and Prevention Data, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young adults, accounting for 18% of deaths in this age group. That is terrible news. But researchers from McGill University published a study that suggests a simple way to decrease suicide in young adults. This same factor can reduce depression and anxiety as well. Simply put, young adults who perceived higher levels of social support showed lower levels of anxiety and depression. Specifically, young adults who felt they had someone they could depend on for help experienced 47% less severe depression and 22% less anxiety than those with perceived less social support. They were also at a 40% decreased risk of experiencing suicidal ideation and attempts. 

You likely know people in this age group. You may even have a child in this age group. Either way, I’m sure you’d like to see fewer young adults suffering from depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide. You can help make this happen. You can help decrease the number of young adults suffering from depression, anxiety, and thought of suicide simply by welcoming them into your life. Here are four ideas to help.

  • If you have children who are young adults, reach out to them regularly. Make a consistent investment in their lives to remain connected to them. Make sure they know they remain part of the family even if they live outside the home. Be available to them when they reach out to you. Even for young adults, time is one of the greatest currency of love.
  • When you drop your children off at college, look for the potential social groups they might enjoy. Connect them with those groups. Encourage their involvement in some social groups in or around their school.  This may include young adult groups through churches, school clubs, or community groups.
  • If there are young adults in your religious community, reach out to them. Call them. Send them cards. Even invite them to lunch. Many college age people are looking for a good home-cooked meal while away from home. Make sure they know you care about them.
  • If you are a church or religious community and a young adult walks into your service, welcome them. Talk to them. Find out their name. Get to know them. Invite them back and remember them when they return. Even reach out to them during the week with a card or a call. Make them feel a part of the community.

These may sound like obvious ideas, but I have met too many young adults who could not find this connection anywhere…too many.  Make sure the young adults in your life know they are welcome in your family and your community. Invest in their lives. You might just save a life!

Adolescence, Depression, & Technology

Two recent studies explored the relationship between adolescents, video games, and internet use. Unwrapping the first study reveals a surprise. A research team from UCL, Karolinska Institute, and the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute reviewed data from 11,341 adolescents born between 2000-2002. At the age of 11 years, these adolescents answered questions about their time spent on social media, time spent playing video games, and general internet use. They also answered questions about their mood, any loss of pleasure, and levels of concentration at the age 14 years. After ruling out other potential factors, the research team found that boys who played video games most days at age 11 had 24% fewer depressive symptoms at the age of 14 than did boys who played video games less than one time a mouth. Somewhat surprisingly, moderate video game playing at 11 years of age was associated with fewer depressive symptoms at 14 years of age.

A second study, published in Child Development, gathered data from a study involving 1,750 high school students over a three-year period, through the ages of 16, 17, and 18 years. This study explored risk factors contributing to problematic internet use (or internet addiction). The research suggested three harmful effects of problematic internet use and each of these effects had a reciprocal relationship with internet use. In other words, problematic internet use increased these negative outcomes and these negative outcomes increased problematic internet use. The negative outcomes included higher levels of depression, increased substance abuse, and lower levels of academic achievement. We all want to avoid those outcomes. So, what risk factors contributed to problematic internet use? And what can you do about it?

  1. A lack of satisfying relationships or the perceived inadequacy of social networks contributed to problematic internet use. In other words, loneliness predicts problematic internet use. With that in mind, involve your children in community. Enroll them in scouting, sports, dance lessons, theatre, or other group activities. Involve them in a local church youth group. Give them the opportunities to develop relationships with peers and other trusted adults in the community.
  2. Parenting practices, as perceived by the teen, contributed to the level of teen internet use. Parenting perceived as warm, empathetic, interested, and close led to healthy internet use. Parenting perceived as neglectful, being inconsistently available and consistently unresponsive, predicted problematic internet use. This draws attention to the need to build a positive connection with your children. Take time to develop a warm, loving relationship by spending time together and engaging in activities together. Talk, go on outings together, worship together, attend their concerts and sporting events, share meals together. Invest time and attention in developing a positive, loving relationship with your children. (By the way, did you know your parenting style could be killing you?)
  3. Paternal neglect, neglect by a father, had a particularly strong relationship to problematic internet use. Dads, get involved with your children. If you need ideas for involvement in your children’s lives, check out the “cheat codes for Dads.”

Teach Your Child Happiness? You Bet

Who doesn’t want happy children? We all do…well, at least I know I do. But we often forget to teach them the skills and mindsets that contribute to happiness. No worries. It’s not too late. Now is the best time to start teaching them happiness. And here are 7 lessons to get started.

  • Teach your children gratitude. Happy people, just like the rest of us, have plenty of things to complain about but they have learned to focus on those things they are grateful for. They have learned to “give thanks in all things.” Teach your children to practice gratitude.
  • Teach your children to find their “flow.” Flow is an experience in which a person is fully immersed and involved in an activity they enjoy. Flow leaves us feeling energized and fulfilled. It is intrinsically rewarding and motivating. Help your child find those activities that give them a sense of flow. Such activities may include sports, dance, music, reading, yoga, hiking, or many others [For more read What is Flow in Psychology: Definition and 10+ Activities.].
  • Teach your child to celebrate the achievements of other people. Teach them there are plenty of opportunities for success and achievement to go around. Celebrate the successes of others. It is a great pathway to happiness.
  • Teach your child to take healthy risks. Teach them to enjoy an adventure, to leave their comfort zone to try something new or to go someplace new. People who try new things, meet new people, and go to new places tend to experience happiness as well.
  • Teach your children to persist. One way to do this is by acknowledging their efforts instead of their achievements. Acknowledging effort encourages persistence, even in the face of obstacles. Persistence contributes to happiness.
  • Teach your children to share. Studies have shown that toddlers who choose to share exhibit greater happiness. When you nurture your growing child’s willingness to share, you also nurture their happiness for a lifetime.
  • Teach your child that you love them. Remember, children have two currencies for love: time and attention. So spend time with your children. Engage them daily, even multiple times a day. Follow their lead in an activity. Recognize and acknowledge their contributions to the home, their efforts in school and their involvement in the community. Learn about their interests.

These seven things may not sound like much on the surface, but they will bring your child greater happiness…and that makes most parents happy as well.

What Every Mother Already Knew

I love looking at research, especially research about families and mental health. But sometimes the results seem so obvious.  For instance, a study published in 2020 confirmed something every mother already knows. The study had two parts: a lab study of 147 participants and community daily-diary study involving 202 participants. Both parts of this study revealed what mothers already knew—lack of sleep amplifies anger. More specifically, decreasing a person’s amount of sleep by 2 to 4 hours a night for two nights decreased their ability to adapt to frustrating conditions and increased the likelihood they would react with anger. And who doesn’t have to adapt to frustrations on daily basis? So, lack of sleep puts us all at risk, parent and child alike. In other words, less sleep increases anger. What mother didn’t already know that?

But these results do raise a few other important questions. First, how much sleep does a person need?  Sleep experts recommended that:

  • Those 6-13 years old need 9-11 hours of sleep per night.
  • Those 14-12 years old need 8-10 hours of sleep per night.
  • Those 16-25 years old need 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
  • Those over 25-years-old need 7-9 hours of sleep per night as well.

Second, what can a parent do to help themselves and their child get enough sleep? Here are 4 tips to that can help you create good sleep environment for you and your family. Remember, by building a good pattern of sleep, you are proactively reducing anger in your family.

  • Establish a consistent bedtime and bedtime routine. Start the bedtime routine 30-60 minutes before bedtime. A bedtime routine might include personal hygiene activities. It might also include setting out clothes for the morning. A bedtime definitely needs to include quiet time to connect with one another, a parent with a child, a spouse with their partner. You can do this through reading a book together, talking about the day, sharing things for which you are grateful, or offering support around any struggles of the day. Overall, a good bedtime routine offers one of the best times to connect with your child and spouse. So get your child on the sleepy train with a good bedtime routine.
  • Make sure the bedroom is dark, quiet, and comfortable. That may mean no TV in the bedroom (link) and no social media in the bedroom after bedtime. It will involve a comfortable temperature. For children, it may include stuffed animals or blankets that promote a sense of safety. Work to create a comfortable environment in the bedroom, an environment that is safe and promotes rest. 
  • Do not use electronic devices for an hour before bed. Electronic devices tend to interfere with sleep, either through the blue light they emit or through the outright stimulation of peer drama, gaming, or exciting shows. So, turn off devices once you start the bedtime routine. Put on some enjoyable music instead.
  • Do not eat large meals too close to bedtime and avoid caffeinated drinks close to bedtime. Both tend to interfere with quality sleep.

Do everything you can to promote quality sleep for your child and yourself. Doing so will help increase everyone’s ability to manage frustration and anger. It also has many other physical and mental health benefits (see also . And, it contributes to an overall happier, healthier family.

Toward a Self-Compassionate Family Life

Three of the greatest obstacles to effective parenting are self-criticism, a lack of energy, and ruminating on our fears of doing the wrong thing. These same three obstacles interfere with a healthy marriage.  Fortunately, a study published in 2019 reveals two ways to overcome these obstacles. Both ways involve nurturing your self-compassion. Plus, they only take 10 to 20 minutes a day. Those 10-20 minutes a day will lower your heart rate (indicating relaxation), increase your feeling of connection to others, and boost your immune system. They will also increase your sense of security and turn down that self-critical voice in your head. As you can imagine, this will result in wiser choices and a more satisfying connection with your spouse and children. What are the two exercises?

One exercise is a compassionate body scan. A compassionate body scan involves paying attention to your body sensations in a kind, compassionate manner. Most body scans start at the head and quietly move down the body with compassionate attention to any sensations in the body. Here is an example of a brief (5-minutes) compassionate body scan.

The other exercise is a lovingkindness meditation. The lovingkindness meditation used in this study instructed a person to bring to mind someone for whom they feel a natural warmth and affection. They would then direct friendly wishes to this person (or offer prayers for this person’s well-being). They then offered the same friendly wishes to themselves. Here is a 9-minute lovingkindness meditation you might enjoy.

As noted above, these exercises resulted in a greater sense of security, increased relaxation, and a decrease in self-criticism. In terms of family, these changes open the door to greater connection and intimacy, wiser decisions, and more effective family interactions. Isn’t that worth 10-20 minutes a day?

Healthy Family Pandemic Tips

The pandemic lingers on. Even as vaccines become more readily available, cases rise and fall. Schools go in-person only to return to hybrid model before going back to in-person with every fluctuation in COVID cases. News of “variants,” “surges,” and “waves” keep us all vigilant. On top of it all, many of us are simply exhausted after having already spent a year struggling with pandemic related changes. Our children in particular struggle with this current environment of constant change and lack  of predictability. They may respond by engaging in risky behaviors. Or they may, like adults, experience an increase in depression or anxiety. Fortunately, we are not powerless in this situation. We can help each one of our family members survive this time. We can encourage and even assist one another in developing healthy coping skills through these turbulent times. Here are five suggestions to begin.

  1. Encouraging healthy coping during the current pandemic and its related stressors begins with conversation. Acknowledge your children’s current struggles. Talk about the struggles and frustrations. Speak about the boredom. Discuss the loneliness, the fears, and the losses related to the pandemic. Remember, everything is more manageable when we can talk about it with someone, and we can talk about anything within our families.
  2. Create healthy schedules. The pandemic has robbed us of the typical structures that provide predictable schedules. School, work, churches, community groups—they have all changed, closed, or gone online. Without a predictable schedule we tend to feel insecure. This is especially true for our children. Creating a schedule in your home can provide the predictability and security under which our children thrive. Ironically, a routine and schedule can add meaning and purpose to our lives and our children’s lives as well. Be sure to include mealtimes, school time, play time, and even game time and free time in your schedule.
  3. Build daily routines of connection into your family schedule. Online school is lonely. Online work provides less interaction. But humans are social creatures. We need social connection just like we need air to breath. Build daily opportunities for your children to connect with you throughout the day. This may involve mealtimes, play time, or free time. It may simply mean pulling up a chair to “check in” with your child or teen.
  4. Our children also need to socialize with peers. Parents cannot provide all their children’s social needs. Children and teens need peer interaction. So, create opportunities for your children to socialize with other children. Plan a time for your child to get together with their one or two of their peers at a park. Allow your children invite a friend over to play in your yard. Let your children go for a walk or a bike ride together. Any of these activities provide a safe way for our children to socialize. You can also set up opportunities for your children to interact with one another through zoom, face time, or some other social app.
  5. Although social media provides a way to build social connection, a parent also needs to monitor social media use to assure appropriate usage. Determine how you will monitor social media consumption in your house. Possible ideas include utilizing a common area to charge phones overnight, shared passwords to allow periodic review of incoming media, and tech-free times (such as dinner). Also, don’t let your children get caught up in FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) because everyone looks like they’re having so much fun without me on social media. Talk about the false images portrayed on social media as we all post our happy times and best face.

These five ideas can help you keep your family emotionally healthy during the pandemic. What other ideas do you have?

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