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The Attitude Needed for Communication in Marriage

Communication is crucial to a healthy marriage. Everyone knows that, right? We teach couples to communicate—to listen well and take turns explaining their point of view when a conflict arises. All well and good…until you have a real disagreement and give in to the temptation of making your goal to convince your spouse of the superiority of your point of view. With that goal in mind, you practice repeating what your spouse says so they know you “understand” their point of view (at least well enough to blow it out of the water). You “wait” (however impatiently) for your turn to talk. You maintain eye contact and stay calm (most likely with an air of condescension). You word your point of view in a way that your spouse will understand (or are they just stupid?). But something is missing. You never reach resolution. You both grow more frustrated and even angry. Why is it not working? Because you started with the wrong goal and, as a result, you are missing at least three important ingredients.

  1. Humility. Effective communication is undergirded by humble listening. Good listeners humble themselves by setting aside their own agendas and listening to their spouse with the sole purpose of understanding their point of view. They do not have to prove the superiority of their own opinion. They do not listen for flaws in their spouse’s reasoning or ammunition to bolster their own argument. They listen to understand. They listen until they can appreciate their spouse’s perspective based on their knowledge and perception. In humility they acknowledge the sense of their spouse’s perspective. Humility is an essential ingredient for effective communication in marriage.
  2. Respect. Effective communication is premised upon mutual respect. Both spouses respectfully believe the other has a valid viewpoint. They trust their spouse’s intelligence and ability to develop and grow. They respect their spouse’s knowledge and intelligence. They model that respect by listening intently, speaking politely, and disagreeing with love.
  3. Curiosity. Effective communication assumes curiosity. To learn demands curiosity. To learn about your spouse’s perspectives and ideas starts with being curious. Remember, communication is an opportunity to “grow” something new—a new relationship, a new level of intimacy, a new knowledge. “Growing” something new assumes a curiosity about what will grow from this interaction, a curiosity that nurtures the growth of something new. Effective communication means each spouse is more invested in learning about their spouse than in making themselves known. They are more curious to know their spouse than they are demanding to be known.

If you want a really healthy marriage, add these three ingredients into your life and communication. Get curious about your spouse and humbly listen to learn more about them…and do it respectfully. When you do, you’ll discover a greater goal of communication as well. The goal is not to pass on information or convince someone of “my” ideas. The goal is to connect and grow together.

4 Simple Words

Four simple words can help strengthen your marriage, especially if your partner’s history makes them feel insecure in relationships. It’s true. Sometimes our family history or our history of previous romantic relationships creates a relational insecurity in us. This insecurity may “pop up” when even a subtle action, word, facial expression, or event is perceived as threatening the relationship. It may be unclear to you why your partner suddenly feels insecure. But you can glean a hint that they might feel insecure in relationship by their actions.

  • If they need constant reassurance and praise, their relationship history may be contributing to a sense of insecurity in relationships.
  • If, when you compliment them, they consistently dismiss, minimize, or doubt the compliment, they may have a history that contributes to insecurity in relationships.
  • If they express concern that they can never live up to your expectations, even when you have told them you love them no matter what, they may feel insecure in relationships.
  • If they often wonder if “you really know” them, even though you’ve shared time and conversation together, they may feel insecure.

Their insecurity may have little to do with you. It may have everything to do with their history of relationships—their relationship to the family they grew up in or their relationships with previous romantic partners. Even though the insecurity may have little to do with you and your feelings toward your partner, there is still something you can do to help increase satisfaction and security in their relationship to you…and it only takes 4 simple words.

These four words do not make up a compliment. Compliments actually trigger self-doubt and increased insecurity in people who feel insecure in the relationship. No, rather than compliment, use four simple words to show genuine interest in your partner. In a series of studies, a show of genuine interest led to increased satisfaction and security in the relationship. Which leads me to the 4 simple words that can strengthen your relationship: “How was your day?” That’s it. Four simple words, “How was your day?” Then, after you ask, listen. Show genuine concern. That’s all it took to increase satisfaction and security in relationships in a series of survey studies published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, especially for someone who feels some insecurity.

So, “put on your listening ears” and ask, “How was your day?” Pay attention to the answer and get curious. Show a genuine interest in their answer. It’s the most important way to show how much you really care.

The One Trait Kids Need to Achieve

Did you know that children from a lower socioeconomic status often have lower academic achievement than peers from families with higher income? According to several studies, children who live in families with a lower socioeconomic status start school with a disadvantage, they don’t have access to the same resources. As a result, they have lower academic achievement UNLESS… Yes, there is a BUT to this statement. There is one trait that levels the playing field. If children have this one trait, they perform equally well regardless of socioeconomic status! This trait even gives an advantage. Most important, parents can nurture it! What is this all-powerful trait for academic achievement? Curiosity. That’s right. (Learn more about the benefit of curiosity in Parenting the Curious Explorer.)children exhibit curiosity they achieve well regardless of socioeconomic level and even ability to sustain attention (What Science Says is One Trait Kids Most Need to Succeed in School). Fortunately, parents can nurture curiosity. If your curious about how to nurture curiosity, try these 6 tips.

  1. Ask questions. When your children show an interest in something, even a fleeting interest, ask them questions about that interest. Become a student of your children’s interests. Let them teach you about the object or topic of their interest.
  2. Let them ask questions. I know…sometimes it gets old listening to our children incessantly ask questions. But, let them ask. Feed their inquisitive nature. Encourage their exploration. If you don’t know the answer, help them look it up. You’ll learn a lot. They’ll learn a lot. You’ll deepen your relationship with them. And, you’ll nurture a curiosity that will contribute to future achievement.
  3. Make up alternative endings. Enjoy a good book or movie with your children. Then write a new ending. Maybe write two. What happened to Cinderella when she and the prince run off together? What did Moana do after she restored Te Fiti’s heart, what other adventures did she experience? Use your imagination and have fun.
  4. Allow your children to experience new things. Better yet, encourage your children to experience new things. You don’t have to push them into things. You can do it with them. Take them to free concerts of all types of music. Accompany them to the park, the zoo, the river, the ocean, the conservatory. Visit the aviary and make up stories about the strange birds you find.
  5. Travel. Traveling is a great way to experience new things and nurture curiosity. You don’t have to travel far. Look around your state and see what would be of interest to visit. There are historic sites, nature sites, and interesting factories. For instance, our family had the opportunity to visit the Crayola factory, the Bluebell Ice cream plant, the Andy Warhol Museum, Gettysburg, and Lincoln’s home among others. Traveling also allows your children to experience different cultures. It all nurtures curiosity. What can you visit near your home or near family?
  6. Pay attention. When you pay attention to your children and focus on the things that catch their attention, you increase their attention span (Nurture Your Child’s Attention Span) and their curiosity.

I’m curious…what are some other ways you nurture your children’s curiosity? Share them in the comment section below.

Motivating Children with Tin Men Eating Artichokes

Why did the tin man eat artichokes? That’s a good question…and the answer is coming up. An even better question is how to motivate our children to follow through with chores and other desired behaviors. Parents have struggled with this “age old problem” since the beginning of time and one answer involves tin men eating artichokes. In fact, I recently reviewed a series of four studies revealing how parents can use the tin man eating artichokes to motivate their children. Curious?  Yes, that’s the answer. Curiosity helps motivate. Polman and colleagues showed this in four experiments (Read study here). In the first study, 200 people were given a choice of eating one of two cookies. One was covered in chocolate and sprinkles. The other was a plain old fortune cookie that contained “personal information” about them.  That fortune cookie aroused their curiosity and 71% chose to discover the “personal information” rather than enjoy chocolate and sprinkles.

In the second study, participants were given a choice of watching a “high-brow film” versus a comedic, entertaining film. When given a simple choice, the high-brow film gained a many viewers. However, when researchers promised to reveal the secret to a magic trick only in the high-brow film, the number choosing the high-brow film increased significantly. Seems curiosity outweighs pure entertainment for many.

Next, the researchers wanted to see if curiosity would encourage people to use the stairs rather than the elevator. After measuring the average number of elevator versus stair users, the researchers added curiosity to the mix. They put a question at the bottom of the stairs noting the answer would be found in the stairwell. It was a simple question: “What animal preceded man into space?”  They put four true answers in the stairwell. Only those taking the stairs could discover this answer.  Yes, you guessed it. When curiosity was added to the mix significantly more people took the stairs!  (The answer was frog, guinea pig, rabbit, and fruit fly by the way.)

Finally, in a fourth study, the researchers wanted to see if curiosity could increase the sale of fruits and vegetables. They did this by writing a joke above the produce and giving the answer only at the wrapping area.  For instance, the question over the artichokes was, “Why did the tin man eat artichokes?” The answer could only be discovered by wrapping the produce for purchase. When a consumer did so, they learned the tin man ate artichokes because he “always wanted a heart” (hahaha). Once again, produce sales went up when simple jokes added curiosity to the purchasing process.

What does this have to do with your children? We might try using some curiosity to encourage them to do their chores or eat their vegetables or…anything at all. We did this when our daughter was in kindergarten. She had difficulty getting her morning routine done in time for school. So, we made puzzles out of pictures of her favorite cartoon dragon characters.  We didn’t tell her which dragon it was but for each task of her morning chore she received a puzzle piece. Much to her delight, she received the final puzzle piece when she completed the final task and could see the whole dragon. Just imagine how many different ways you might use curiosity as one tool to encourage your children to do their chores: the answer to a joke at the bottom of a bowl of fruit, the discovery of some secret when they finish a chore, the opportunity for a surprise when they make their bed…. The list is only limited by our imagination. So, get your creativity and start building curiosity.

How to Avoid the “Failure to Launch” Syndrome

Parents love to see their preschooler exploring the world around them. We encourage our children to engage in exploration and play. Rightly so…such exploration helps them discover their interests and strengths during elementary school, their passion and identity during their teen years, and their vocation and independence in young adulthood. Exploring is crucial to healthy developmental in each age group. And, if you really think about it, it requires a great deal of courage for our children to explore the world and “become their own person.” Unfortunately, many parents unwittingly embezzle their children’s innate courage, robbing them of the grit and determination needed to develop healthy independence. Don’t embezzle your children’s innate courage, invest in it and nurture it with these four tips.

  1. Accept your children’s unique style of exploration. I have two daughters. One jumps into new activities and experiences. The other wades in slowly, first one toe and then another before her whole foot slips in. Then she slowly (sometimes painfully slowly) wades further in until she is fully immersed. (She takes after me, by the way.) Eventually, both daughters become fully immersed in an adventure, but they required different kinds of support and encouragement. One needed encouragement to “think before she leaps.” The other needed a hand, support, and even a gentle nudge at times. As young adults, they still have different styles and ways of approaching new experiences; but both of them have become independent and capable of courageous exploration. Accepting each child’s unique style of exploration and nurturing it in a complementary manner allows your child to explore courageously.
  2. Observe before removing obstacles. Our children will encounter obstacles, problems, and frustrations along the way. It is inevitable. Do not jump in to help too quickly. Step back for a moment and observe. Watch them to see how they respond to the obstacle. Give them the opportunity to solve the problem on their own. Watch a preschooler with a toy and you will see them try several actions with it before settling for the one that seems most appropriate. Let your elementary age children and your teens do the same with challenges that arise. Let them struggle with various attempts to solve the problem before you offer a suggestion. You might be pleasantly surprised at the creative solution they discover. (More on “stepping back” in Do Your Rob Your Teen of Victory?)
  3. Teach problem-solving. Of course, our children will not have the ability and knowledge to solve every problem that arises. So, when they come to you for help or you see them reach an impasse, teach them problem-solving. Teach problem solving rather than simply solving the problem for them. Ask questions about what they have done and why it did not work. Ask questions to prompt other ways of looking the problem and thus give rise to a potential solution. Help them look at the obstacle from various perspectives and points of view. Come up with three or four possible solutions and let them choose which one they will try first. Learning the process of problem-solving gives children the confidence they need to courageously explore the world around them.
  4. Acknowledge effort and reframe failures as learning. Children become more willing to explore when they know that effort produces success and failure is simply a step toward success. So, acknowledge and praise children’s effort. When they do make a mistake or fail, return to step three and teach problem-solving. Effort and problem-solving opens up a world of possibility and emboldens exploration. (Read Growing Your Child’s Mind for Success for more.)

These four tips can help increase our children’s courage to explore…and that can help us avoid the “failure to launch” syndrome as they mature. It will also give you the pleasure of watching your child explore the world with confidence and, in so doing, grow more independent and mature.

Keep Curiosity Alive in Mom & Dad

People love babies. Just watch a group of women talking around one baby. Everyone chatters away until the baby utters a single monosyllabic sound while waving his arm. Suddenly, all chatter stops and everyone’s eyes turn to the baby. Curious gazes watch to see what the baby will do next. Then, as the baby makes eye contact with the women, a collective “Awwww” will be released. Guys, we love babies too. Admit it. Research has already outed us by revealing many men get “baby fever” and go all “goo-goo” in response to babies (Read “Baby Fever is a Real Emotion”). Men and women delight in babies. They arouse our curiosity. We want to know what they are thinking and feeling, so we pay special grandfather and grandchildattention to their every move. We follow their gaze to see what attracts their attention. We engage them in a variety of playful ways to see what draws them to us and makes them smile. We present various toys to see which ones they like the best, to discover what interests them the most. We make faces and look silly in an effort to make them laugh and repeat that silly behavior until they tire of laughing. Every day our curiosity leads us to learn something new about our baby. We listen closely to every sound, learning to discern which cry sounds the alarm for a diaper change and which cry signals hunger. We observe their face with curiosity, learning which face calls for comfort and which means they have gas. We love babies. They arouse our curiosity and we become their students to learn as much about them as we can.

Unfortunately, those acts of curious delight change as our baby grows through toddlerhood, childhood, and into adolescence. Rather than following their gaze to discover what attracts them, we begin to tell them to “quit staring.” We direct their gaze in directions we believe will limit their risk and decrease our fears. Instead of exploring what attracts their interest and holds their attention, we tell them to pay attention to whatever we deem important (our directions, church, school, crossing the street). We don’t explore what it is that does attract their attention and so lose the knowledge and opportunity needed to present them with alternative attractions that we deem safe and interesting to them. When their play becomes silly we judge their maturity or lack thereof. Rather than playing to discover what draws them to us, we judge their pulling away from us as a lack of appreciation for all our efforts. Instead of creating opportunities for them to laugh at and with us, we tell them to grow up and get serious. We listen half-heartedly while labeling or minimizing their emotions rather than discerning the need that lies beneath the emotion. We scold and assume negative intentions instead of trying to figure out what is causing their outburst. I understand it. We want our children to learn. We want them to mature. We want to keep them safe.  So, as they grow, we replace our curiosity with discipline. As a result, our relationship, and our influence, suffers.

In reality, we do a better job of keeping our children safe, helping them mature, and teaching them important life lessons when we maintain our curiosity. Sure, we have to discipline; but when discipline replaces curiosity our children suffer. When we maintain playful curiosity, our children will more likely reveal their emotions, intents, fears, and desires to us. As we maintain a curious observation of what bothers them and excites them, we will also learn what comforts them and motivates them. When we find ways to continue laughing with our children, they will feel free to cry with us as well, providing us the opportunity to comfort them. Maintaining a playful curiosity in our children (even when we need to discipline) will enhance our relationship with them. It will increase our opportunity to influence and guide them. It will allow us to watch with great curiosity how they mature into confident adults. So have some fun. Be curious about your child and your teen. Be silly. Play. The world will be a better place for it!

Family Fun When it’s Blah Outside

It can be tough to find a fun family activity when it’s cold or rainy outside. But, never fear. Kids looking through magnifying glassThis idea will provide a full day of family fun for the price of going out to dinner as a family. No, it’s not dinner. It lasts longer than dinner, giving you more for your money. What is it? Your family can have a blast all day at the Children’s Museum (check out all the fun you can have at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum here). At the Children’s Museum, you and your family can experience amazing fun at the crossroads of curiosity, creativity, and hands-on experimentation. You can learn about woodworking, circuitry, stop-motion animation, and bouncy balls through hands-on activities. That’s not all either. You can witness illusions of all kinds, explore transportation that drives, flies, or rolls through space, and discover the joys of creative water play. As you can imagine, this fun family activity will fill a whole day with laughter, fun, and learning. So, when it looks like a boring day inside because of rain or bad weather, head on down to the Children’s Museum and have a family blast.

A Baker’s Dozen to Show Grace in Troubled Relationships

John Gottman believes “91% of the time the ground is ripe for miscommunications” in a marriage. I don’t know about the percentage, but I know conflict and misunderstandings arise in every family. It is inevitable. But, have you notice that family conflict can go from familysunheartbad to worse in no time? Grace gets thrown out the window and everyone involved begins to respond with anger, blame, accusations, and defensiveness. These responses lead to more anger, blame, accusations, and defensiveness. They may even result in withdrawal from the relationship and the death of a family. How can you avoid this terrible end? Respond with grace. Grace is an unmerited kindness, a favor given to someone even if they do not deserve it. When at least one person responds with grace, the outcome of the interaction will change. The people involved in the argument have a greater chance of connecting rather than pushing one another away. The argument has a greater chance of reaching a resolution. Let me share a baker’s dozen for responding with grace in the midst of troubled family relationships.

  • Rather than blaming the other person, look at your own contribution to the current situation (the log in your own eye).
  • Rather than making accusations, accept responsibility for your own actions and your own limited understanding.
  • Rather than responding with defensiveness, respond with curiosity about the feelings and emotions of the other person.
  • Rather than shutting down, communicate with the other person.
  • Rather than arguing and fighting, share a friendly conversation about something that interests the other person. If some topics lead to arguments, table them for another time.
  • Rather than assuming negative intent about the other person and their actions, look for the times they showed love. Assume positive intent—even in seemingly negative behavior.
  • Rather than trying to control the situation or the other person, pursue an understanding of the other person.
  • Rather than focus on the negative you perceive in the other, focus on what you admire and adore in them.
  • Rather than trying to make the other person change or “grow,” focus on your personal growth. You are only responsible for your personal growth.
  • Rather than criticizing and making accusations about the other person’s past or character, practice kindness…and give a blessing (1 Peter 3:9).
  • Rather than making assumptions about the other person’s motives or intents, believe the best and simply ask what the other person wants.
  • Rather than speaking in sarcasm, speak in patience and love.
  • Rather than taking responsibility for the other person’s thoughts, feelings, and decision, take responsibility for yourself. You cannot make the other person happy—that is their personal responsibility. You cannot make decisions for the other person or determine how they will live—that is their personal responsibility. Let the other person take their responsibility and you take your responsibility.

 

Responding with grace in the midst of troubled family relationships will change, filling you with greater character and personal strength. It will change your relationship as well, filling it with greater joy and intimacy.

The Not-So-Silent Killer Stalking Your Family!

There is a killer stalking your family. This killer does not physically attack families; but it will destroy family relationships and devastate each person’s self-image. Sometimes it works subtly, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, hiding behind humor, knowledge, and deception. At other times it blatantly attacks family members. This enemy of your family goes by many names, but ultimately we know it goes by the name of disrespect.

 

馬鹿にするビジネスマンDisrespect harms individuals and devastates relationships. It creates wounds so toxic they can remain open and unhealed for a lifetime! Disrespect thrusts a person into an inferior role.  It creates an environment of inequality, an environment in which the disrespected person is treated as less valuable, less worthy, and less esteemed. The very act of disrespect sets up a hierarchy in which the disrespectful person assumes the role of a controlling master and assigns the role of a less capable, less intelligent serf onto the one he disrespects. The disrespected person naturally responds with anger and rebellion, self-hate and emotional withdrawal, or both. Communication falters and, eventually, the relationship dies. Disrespect is a killer stalking your family!

 

A person can show disrespect toward family in several ways. Jennifer Gill Rosier, PhD (The Family Coach) discusses five ways family members can show disrespect to one another:

  • Disgracing. Family members show this type of disrespect when they criticize or insult other family members. Disgracing includes name calling, shaming, and attacks on a person’s character.
  • Dramatizing. We dramatize by using absolute language (words like “always,” “never,” “all,” “none,” etc.) to describe other family members or their behavior in a negative way. For example, “You never did care about me;” “You never listen to me;” “You always boss me around;” “You will always be a loser;” etc.
  • Dictating. This type of disrespect occurs when we give orders, commands, or communicate in a way that implies a hierarchy with us on top. A person who shows this type of disrespect often expects family members to make huge investments in family relationships or household duties while making no investment of their own.
  • Disregarding. Family members disregard one another by ignoring or rejecting. Disregarding shows its ugly head when a person ignores a family member’s attempts to converse, a family member’s feelings, or family member’s interests, among other things. The disregarding person can also simply reject other family members directly—”leave me alone”—for no real reason.
  • Dominating. We exhibit disrespect when we control the conversation, inhibiting our spouse or child from involvement by interrupting them, talking over them, or simply overpowering them during a conversation. A person can also show this type of disrespect by telling another person what to feel, think, or find interesting rather than allowing them to determine their own feelings, thoughts, and interests.

 

We may all show disrespect to family members from time to time. However, if disrespect becomes the norm, family relationships die. So, if you find yourself becoming disrespectful, apologize and change your behavior. Here are some behaviors to replace disrespect.

  • Rather than disgracing family members, encourage family members. Build up your family members. Make statements that will bring them joy. Honor them with your words.
  • Stop using words like “always” and “never.” Instead, deal with each situation as it arises. Focus on one thing at a time.
  • Invest in your family. Rather than barking out orders and commands, work with your family to get things done. Make chores and household duties a family project. Involve everyone, especially yourself!
  • Honor family members with your time and attention. Turn off the TV, take a break from the video game, and focus on your family members.
  • Include everyone in the conversation. That means you have to listen. Look each person in the eye and listen. Get curious about each family member’s feelings, thoughts, and desires…and consider those feelings, thoughts, and desires as you make plans.

Those are just a few ways to replace disrespect with respect in your home. The ideas are simple, but they will have a long-lasting and magnificent impact on your family life and joy!

Parents, Are You a Slingshot or an Anchor?

Michael Byron, Smith, retired Air Force officer, wrote an excellent blog for the National Fatherhood Institute (click here to read it). In this blog, he wrote: “Families should be slingshots, throwing children into the world prepared for what lies ahead. Unfortunately, the problems of dysfunctional families are like anchors, dragging down their children’s potential….” So, I have to ask: Have you created a family environment that will serve as a slingshot for your children or an anchor? 

Anchor families:

  • Punishment concept.Place unrealistic expectations on their children.
  • Make demeaning, degrading, and discouraging remarks about their children or their children’s activities.
  • Imply greater acceptance of their children only after they have performed to a certain level (good grades, starting team, practiced their instrument, etc.).
  • Punish or demean children for times they experience failure.
  • Offer rude criticisms about their child’s character or performance.
  • Engage in name-calling.
  • Disregard their children’s feelings…or even punishing their children for “negative” feelings like anger, frustration, sorrow, or tearfulness.
  • Tell or imply they know more about what their children feel, think, or like than their children do themselves.

 

These behaviors act as anchors around your children’s neck. They weigh your children down, drowning them under the waves of guilt and shame.

 

Slingshot families, on the other hand:

  • grandfather and granddaughter with computer at homeLearn about the development of children, their children’s development in particular, so they can maintain realistic expectations.
  • Encourage their children.
  • Make sure their children know they are loved even when they fall short of perfection or have a particularly bad day.
  • Teach their children that failure is an opportunity to learn. They encourage determination and healthy persistence.
  • Offer their children constructive criticism in a loving manner.
  • Use “negative” feelings like anger, frustration, sorrow, or tearfulness as opportunities to grow more intimate with their children.
  • Remain curious about their children’s feelings, thoughts, and interests…using them as touch-points from which to deepen intimacy.

 

These behaviors serve as slingshots for your children. They help your children develop the skills necessary to navigate the world with courage, confidence, and poise.

 

So, I ask again. Which one are you—an anchor family or a slingshot family?

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