Tag Archive for family intimacy

Don’t Let Your Family Go Hungry…For Touch

Virginia Satir said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”  She realized something very important for our families. Our children, our parents, and our spouses need our healthy touch. Without healthy touch, our family will get “touch hungry” and that’s worse than “hangry.” For instance, one study involving 509 adults found “touch hunger” increased loneliness, depression, and stress while decreasing happiness, relationship satisfaction, and relational security. Another study found “touch hunger” reduced satisfaction and closeness in romantic relationships.

“Touch hunger” doesn’t just impact our mood and relationships either. It can have an actual physical impact as well. For instance, one study found that 10 minutes of holding hands followed by a 20 second hug with a partner, contributed to lower blood pressure and heart rate during a stressful experience. Other studies have shown “touch hunger” contributes to an increased sense of physical pain and disturbed sleep. Finally, this study and this study suggest that hugging increased immune health in general and, more specifically, those who were hugged more were less likely to show symptoms of a virus (the common cold) than those who were not hugged. And, when they did show symptoms, the symptoms were less severe.

I don’t want my family to go hungry for touch, do you?  I don’t want them to experience “touch hunger.” I want them to enjoy the healthy touch that contributes to less stress, greater happiness, and more secure relationships. I want them to receive enough healthy touch that they sleep well, experience less physical pain, and maintain a healthy immune system. I’m sure you do as well.  Make time today to hug your family. Better yet, hug them several times. After all, they deserve more than survival and maintenance. They deserve growth.

Leisure, Productivity, & Happiness for Your Family

Leisure…free time spent on enjoyment and relaxation in an unhurried manner. How many of us would like more leisure time? I know I do. But our answer this question may change how much we enjoy leisure time: “When is the best time to enjoy leisure activities?” Many will answer by saying,” After my work is done.” That answer points to a common belief many people in our society hold. Productivity, we believe, is the ultimate goal; time is a resource we need to maximize for productivity and leisure is secondary. (Enjoy Dr. Selin Malkoc’s Tedx Talk for more.) This belief interferes with our enjoyment of personal leisure, family leisure, and even family fun. “So what?” you might ask. Well…

A series of studies completed by researchers at Ohio State University looked at how this belief about productivity and time impacts not only our ability to enjoy leisure but our mental health as well. In one study, 199 students completed a brief questionnaire assessing their beliefs about leisure time as well as measures of how much they enjoyed various leisure activities. Additional questionnaires assessed their levels of happiness, depression, anxiety, and stress. Those who believed productivity as more important than leisure and leisure a wasteful use of time, experienced less enjoyment during leisure activities. They also reported lower levels of happiness and higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. That’s not a great combination for us as individuals or for our families.

In another study, college students came to an office believing they were simply answering surveys for a study.  In the midst of the surveys, they were given a break to watch a short, funny cat video. The actual focus of the study was based on the participants’ response to this short break, a short period of leisure in the midst of work. Those who reported on the surveys that they viewed leisure as secondary to productivity enjoyed the videos less. They were not productive or useful, so they were less enjoyable…even funny, cute cat videos!

Why do I tell you this in a blog about families? Because our families and every person in our families need leisure time.  Individually, leisure time helps us manage stress and supports a positive self-concept. Leisure time reduces anxiety and depression while increasing positive emotions.

In marriage, engaging in leisure time that both you and your spouse enjoy will create greater intimacy. In will lead to a greater knowledge of your spouse, a better friendship, and greater satisfaction with your relationship.

Leisure time allows children to learn and grow. It gives children time to play and interact, learning new skills as varied as negotiating with peers to how far they can safely “push” their physical limits of balance and speed. In fact, we will often see our children rise a “head taller than themselves” during some leisure activities.

Family leisure time provides the opportunity to talk and learn about one another. It creates an environment that nurtures intimacy and support. It helps us grow closer and so creates a safe haven in which to rest.

With all that in mind, don’t you want to spend a little more leisure time with your family? Here are 3 things to keep in mind so your family can enjoy the benefits of leisure time.

  • Put leisure time into your family schedule. One caveat though…don’t make a rigid leisure time schedule. Setting a firm start and end time for leisure often robs it of its fun. It makes it feel like another chore we have to fit in before the next thing on the schedule. In fact, one study showed that a scheduled leisure activity was significantly less enjoyable than an unscheduled or “roughly scheduled” one.  So, “roughly schedule” your leisure activity to start “around” and end “around” or “when we’re done.” Enjoy the free flow of your leisure activity.
  • Do not schedule another activity immediately after your leisure time. Doing so can make your leisure time feel rushed. It can interfere with your ability to truly “be in the moment” of an enjoyable leisure time…which brings us to the next bullet.
  • “Be in the moment” during your leisure time. Don’t think about the next event. And don’t give the leisure time some ulterior motive like “moving us toward the next event,” improving some skill, or “tiring the kids out.” These may all represent secondary benefits. But don’t let those interfere with the pure fun of being in the moment enjoying a fun interaction and time with your family.

Take Charge of Your Smartphone Before It Takes Charge of You

Smartphone users between 18- to 24-years-old check their devices 86 times per day and half of our teens say they are addicted to their smart phone. About 45% of 10–12-year-olds in the United States have a smartphone.

Prior to the COVID pandemic, 17% of 5- to10-year-olds, 23% of 11- to 13-year-olds, and 32% of 14- to 17-year-olds spent more than 4 hours a day on a screen device. In the midst of the COVID pandemic, those numbers have increased to 44%, 47% and 52%, respectively. (See Screen Time Statistics 2021: Your Smartphone is Hurting You and 40 Eye Catching Cell Phone Usage Statistics for more.)

You might ask, “So what?” Well…the more time our children spend engaged with a smartphone or other screen device, the less time they engage in imaginative play, other unstructured play, or face-to-face interactions. In addition, “smart phones are addictive,” they impair sleep, and they increase the risk for anxiety and depression in our children and teens. (For more on the risk of unbridled cell phone use, see Why Wait.)

The real question to ask is:” What can I do about it?” After all, smartphones are pervasive in our world and our children’s world. Somehow we have to take charge of our smartphone before they take charge of us. We need to model healthy “smartphone management” for our children and create an environment in which they can learn those “smart phone management” skills as well. Here are six tips to help you do that:

  • Turn off the notifications. Your smartphone calls for your attention with every buzz, ding, and flash. By turning the notifications off, it will call less often. You’ll be less distracted and better able to connect with those around you. And, just to be clear, the world will survive without us responding to every buzz, ding, and flash.
  • Turn it gray. The colors of the smartphone screen invite us to look at it as well. The little red dot screams for us to click and discover who texted, emailed, or left a message. Setting your screen to grayscale can help limit this call. Specifically, some studies suggest people are less drawn to and less distracted by the grayscale screen. Try it for a week and see what you discover. You might be pleasantly surprised.
  • Enjoy a family “unplugged day.” Set aside one day a week (or at least one evening starting at 5pm and lasting until the next morning) as a time to unplug. Turn off all smart phones and other screens. While you have no technology to interfere, enjoy family time. Play a game. Have a picnic. Go for a hike. Enjoy some technology-free-family-fun. (Read Unplug for a Family Fun Night to learn more.)
  • Enjoy some screen time together. Make some screen time a shared experience rather than allowing it all to remain an individual experience. Watch a movie together. Play a game together. Watch YouTube videos together. Doing so will help teach compromise and negotiation. It will also allow you the opportunity to have fun with your child as well as the opportunity to talk with them about messages communicated on-line.
  • Encourage a tech-free knowledge search. You know, go old school. Determine to search for knowledge on one topic each week without using Google, Alexi, Siri, or other internet service. Instead, go to the library. Use a book or encyclopedia. Go to the museum, science center, or aviary to gain the information. Make it a family outing. Going old school in a search for knowledge is like a treasure hunt. Have fun with it.
  • Finally, enjoy device free meals. Yes, put the smartphone aside while enjoying a family meal. Leave the phones in another room and commit to interacting with your family during mealtimes. Talk about the day. Talk about the food. Encourage one another. Compliment one another. Enjoy one another’s company. You will enjoy doing all this and more without the fear of an intrusion by way of your smartphone’s buzz, ding, or flash. Don’t worry, whoever calls, texts, messages, or continues a streak will still be there. You can enjoy the moment of face-to-face interaction with our family.

That’s six ways to take charge of your cell phone before it takes charge of you and teach your children to do the same. In full disclosure, I got these tips from the Wait Until 8th website under Best Practices. Check them out for at least 5 other tips you can use. Plus, they offer wonderful education, advice, and suggestions about managing smartphones in your family. A wonderful resource for you and your family.

New Year’s Resolutions to Strengthen Your Family

The time has arrived to reflect on the year gone by and our hopes for the coming year. If you’re like me, you might decide upon some goals for the coming year. This year, I would like to suggest 12 goals that, though challenging, will strengthen your family and fill your life with greater joy. You can pick one or pick them all. The most important aspect of choosing is to enjoy the reward of a more intimate family.

  • Resolve to listen intently and deeply to your spouse and children.
  • Resolve to go on a date night with your spouse at least one time a month. (You don’t even have to leave the house for these date nights.)
  • Resolve to set aside 20 minutes a day to talk with your spouse about your lives and the life of your family—not the controversial things of politics or the drudgery of daily “to-do’s” and planning, but of your hopes and dreams, things you’d like to do together, or fun things that happened during the day.
  • Resolve to tell your spouse and each child “thank you” at least one time a day.
  • Resolve to play, laugh, and smile every day with your family.
  • Resolve to write each child and your spouse a letter of gratitude and appreciation this year.
  • Resolve to read a marriage or parenting book with your spouse and put the ideas into practice.
  • Resolve to attend a marriage workshop.
  • Resolve to learn the stats for your children and your spouse.
  • Resolve to learn about a topic or activity that interests your spouse or one of your children so you can discover ways to support them in their passions.
  • Resolve to look for daily opportunities to serve your spouse and children. This could be as simple as getting them a glass of water when they’re thirsty or something as complex as completing a chore they normally do.
  • Resolve to say “no” more often to things of lesser importance (surfing the web, video games, a TV show) so you can prioritize spending time conversing with your family or engaging in activities with your family.
  • Pick a hobby or activity that your child enjoys and engage in that activity with your child at least one time a week.

That’s actually a “baker’s dozen” resolutions from which you can choose. Each one will strengthen your marriage and/or your family. Pick one. Pick two. Pick them all. Whichever you choose, resolve to strengthen your family this year.

The World Changing Power on the Tip of Your Tongue

You have a world-changing power on the tip of your tongue and your family is the perfect training ground for learning how to use it. As an added benefit, as you practice this power on the tip of your tongue within your family, your whole family will feel the joy it provides and your whole family life will improve. What is this family-improving, world-changing power on the tip of your tongue? This simple phrase of “thank you!” “Thank you” has power beyond imagination. Just consider its power to change people and relationships.

  • Saying “thank you” acknowledges an act of kindness or service. The simple act of acknowledging kindness increases the probability that the person will engage in more acts of kindness and service in the future. Don’t you think we could use more kindness in our families? Our communities? Our world? “Thank you” can help make that happen.
  • A simple “thank you” expresses value in the other person and in their investment of time and effort to show kindness. To restate an overused cliché in a more positive bent, “a person who is valued treats other people as valuable.” Won’t that make your family (and our world) a better place?
  • Giving a “thank you” extends the moment of positive connection. It represents a priceless deposit into the person’s emotional bank account, the family bank of honor. This deposit deepens intimacy and strengthens relationships.
  • The delight of a kindness or service remains incomplete until gratitude is expressed, a “thank you” returned. The “thank you” completes the loop. Not returning a “thank you” for a kindness is like “leaving a person hanging” on a high-five. Everyone feels awkward. The moment is tarnished. The action feels disgraced. Don’t tarnish the moment and disgrace the kindness by refusing a “thank you.” Complete the cycle. Return a “thank you” and complete the moment of delight.
  • Offering a “thank you” creates a ripple effect that reach an additional three degrees of people. In other words, saying “thank you” increases gratitude in your family and the world exponentially. (Read Spread the Happy Contagion of Kindness and Pay It Forward…The Surprising “Rest of the Story” For Your Family for more.)

Yes, a simple “thank you” has the power to change the world. And, by practicing “thank you” in your family, your family will grow stronger and more intimate. The simple practice of saying “thank you” carries a great power that resides on the tip of your tongue. Use it generously.

An Amazing Moment of Creating Power

There are moments that hold great power in your marriage and family. One moment in particular holds amazing power for your family. This moment occurs multiple times throughout your day. It happens when you are preparing your breakfast and your spouse or your child walks into the kitchen. It arises when your child bursts through the door upon returning home from school. It occurs when your spouse returns home from work or grocery shopping or working in the yard and walks into the room where you sit. Have you identified this powerful moment yet? It is a moment of greeting, of reuniting.

The moment of greeting is a powerful moment. A simple greeting starts the process of interaction. When we greet our spouse or children, we have opened the door to creating an experience together. We have created the opportunity for connection. This opportunity for connection grows as we continue the interaction and shapes the whole environment of our home.

Consider this study, published in January 2007 , that looked at emails in two organizations. One organization was struggling with conflict, low morale, and turnover. Their emails were short and simply offered information. They did not even include a simple greeting of “Hi” plus the person’s name. The email sent the implicit message of business is top priority and people are secondary.

The other company had a “very positive culture.” Their emails included greetings, a “widespread use” of “Hello” plus the person’s name. It seemed to communicate that people mattered and staff was valued.

We want to build a family environment that communicates value to each family member. We want our family to know they matter; that we value them. Communicating this important message begins with a greeting.

“Hi, how are you doing?”
“Hey, how’s the yard work going?”
“Look at you. What has you so excited?” “Hello. How was work?”

You pick the question and the greeting. Whatever greeting you choose, that greeting opens the door for connection. And as you both follow the question with a conversation, you create relationship by getting to know one another better.

Would you like to build a deeper connection with your spouse? Maintain a connection with your teen? Enjoy connection with your family? It all begins with that amazing moment of creative power—the moment of greeting.

How an Argument Can Lead to Longer Life & Deeper Intimacy

It’s true. Stress is a killer. Research has found that chronic stress increases depression and anxiety, impacting our mental health. It also impacts physical health, contributing to heart disease, higher cholesterol, a weaker immune system, and gastrointestinal issues.

You know what creates a lot of stress for many people (including me)? Arguments. An Oregon State University study published in 2021 examined the impact of arguments and avoided arguments on a person’s negative emotions. Utilizing data obtained through an in-depth survey of over 2,000 people, they found that on the day of an argument or avoided argument, people who felt their argumentative encounter resolved reported about half as much negative emotion as those who felt the encounter unresolved. Even more, on the day after the argument, those who felt the incident was resolved felt no prolonged negative emotion related to the disagreement.

In other words, resolve the argument and the stress goes away. Resolve the argument before the sun goes down and have no stress related to it the next day.

I don’t know about you, but I have arguments with my spouse now and again. I can also experience disagreements with my daughters. Left unresolved, I ruminate. Stress continues to push cortisol (stress hormones) through my veins. I don’t sleep well. I’m restless. And the next day I’m tired, still feeling the stress of yesterday’s disagreement, and even feeling a little grumpy.

Better to avoid all that and do the work of resolving the argument and any residual anger that accompanies it. This doesn’t mean you have to reach an agreement. It means you have to resolve your anger. How? Start by taking a break and during that break…

  1. Take a deep breath. Let the breath out slowly as you look around the room. Intentionally recognize where you are, what you see, what you hear, what positive memories you have in this place.
  2. Think of the good times you have had with the family member with whom you are having an argument. They are much more than this point of disagreement or moment of anger. Remember what you admire and appreciate about them. Recall times of joy and celebration together.
  3. Agree to meet together to understand one another better after everyone has calmed down. Notice, you are not going to meet to resolve the disagreement, although this is often a byproduct of meeting. Instead, you are going to meet to understand one another better. But first you want all the parties to become calm. When we are upset, we often don’t think rationally. Our fight or flight system gets activated and we only think of survival. Wait until you are calm and your rational, loving brain is back on board. Then you can discuss the disagreement. And, with a calm, clear mind, you can approach the discussion with the intent of understanding your family member’s perspective. The goal is not to prove your point or make them understand you, but for you to intentionally seek to understand their perspective.
  4. Share affection. A hug, a kiss, an “I respect you” or an “I love you” will go a long way in resolving anger among loved ones. Even if you still feel a little agitated…or even a lot agitated…give your family member a genuine hug. After all, deep down you love them in spite of any disagreement. As you share affection, feel the anger dissipate.

These 4 steps take effort. But the effort pays great dividends. Stress is reduced. Anger is resolved. You’ll likely find that the disagreement is even resolved or becomes less significant. Your physical health is nurtured. But best of all, intimacy with your family member deepens. Like I said, it takes effort, but the reward is fabulous.

The Power of “How Can I Help You?”

You have at your disposal a powerful question that can strengthen your family relationships. It’s a simple question: “How can I help you?” Of course, there are variations:

  • “What can I do for you today?”
  • “Is there anything I can do to help?”
  • “What can I do to help?”
  • ‘What would you like me to do?”

We underestimate the power of this little question, power that would benefit every family. Take a moment and consider its power for your family.

  • “How can I help you?” honors your family. It communicates our interest in our family members. It expresses how much we value them and their work. It reveals our interest in their lives and their work.
  • “How can I help you?” shares grace with your family. It shows your spouse, your children, and your parents that you care enough about their daily life and work to invest your time and energy in it. It means we will give up your desire to be in charge and let them be in charge, let them direct you in how you can help them.
  • “How can I help you?” promotes togetherness within your family. It opens the opportunity to work together.
  • “How can I help you?” communicates grace by opening the door for you to serve other family members.

Are you beginning to see the power of this question to strengthen your family relationships? By asking this question we honor our family, we show grace to our family, we promote togetherness with our family, and we open the door to service within our family. In other words, we lay several of the building blocks needed for a healthy family just by asking this simple question: “How can I help you?”

To truly experience the power of this question, I suggest a 30-day challenge. Every day for the next 30 days, ask a family member “How can I help you?”  You could ask the same family member every day or you could ask a different family member each day. Either way, ask a family member this question every day for the next 30 days.

After 30 days, reflect. How has this impacted your relationship with your family? How has it changed the way you think of your family? How has it changed the way your family acts toward you and you toward them?

I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the changes your family experiences because of this one simple question: “How can I help you?”

Marriage in a Box: Nasty, Neutral, or Nice?

Every marital interaction falls into a box according to Dr. John Gottman. One box is the nasty box. Even happy couples find themselves in the nasty box sometimes. We’ve all been there—frustrated, critical, defensive, blaming, and even contemptuous. But unhappy couples get stuck in the nasty box. They live and die in the nasty box. Couples who get stuck in the nasty box have about 4 positive interactions for every 5 negative interactions. Read that sentence again. They have more negative than positive interactions. This ratio contributes to a lack of emotional connection. (For more on how to use this ratio to strengthen your marriage and family read Family Bank of Honor and Making Deposits in a Topsy-Turvy Bank.) Couples in the nasty box are not only emotionally disconnected, but they are also afraid of to express the vulnerability needed to “open up” emotionally. And they lack the skills needed to resolve conflict. No one wants to live in the nasty box. It’s…well, nasty and miserable. We all want to live in the nice box.

The nice box is filled with mutual respect, affection, cherishing, and trust. Unfortunately, no one lives in the nice box 100% of the time. But healthy couples offer expressions of repair when they step out of the nice box into the nasty box. These expressions of repair help decrease the tension during conflict and confirm their affection for one another. Repairs are made possible because each spouse is aware of the other spouse’s inner world. They respect their spouse’s inner world and respond to it in a loving way. Expressions of repair can include a smile, an open-ended question, an inside joke, a touch, a gesture…anything that communicates love and commitment.

Still, happy couples only spend part of their time in the nice box. Surprisingly, happy couples spend most of their time in the neutral box, even when having a disagreement. In fact, Dr. Gottman’s research suggests that happy couples spend 65% to 70% of their time in the neutral box. Unhappy couples spend only 47% of their time in the neutral box, leaving much more time for the nasty box. The ability of a married couple to sit with one another in the neutral box reveals a trust nurtured by engagement and responsiveness. It is the byproduct of work done in the past to proactively grow a healthy relationship.

In which box does your marriage reside? You can learn to live in neutral and nice box by learning about one another’s lives, expressing adoration toward one another on a daily basis, turning toward one another to overcome life’s obstacles and celebrate life’s joys, and planning a future of celebration together.

For Your Family’s Sake, Go To Bed

Every mother knows that ta lack of sleep tonight leads to an irritable child tomorrow. Now, a study that monitored 2,000 adults over an 8-day period reveals that a lack of sleep impacts adults as much as it does children. This study also provides a little more specific look at that impact. Let me share 3 things this study revealed.

  1. Adults who got more sleep reported higher levels of positive emotions and lower levels of negative emotions than those who got less sleep.
  2. Stressful events did NOT lessen positive emotions the day after a good night’s sleep like they did after a poor night’s rest.
  3. A good night’s sleep contributed to an “even greater boost in the positive emotions experienced the next day.” In other words, positive emotions were even better after a good night’s sleep.

These findings reveal how sleep impacts each of us. However, these results also show how sleep impacts our families. First, a lack of sleep contributes to irritability, which can harm family relationships over time. Second, positive emotions build stronger family relationships. A lack of sleep robs us of positive emotions. Getting enough sleep, on the other hand, prepares us to experience and enjoy positive emotions…and positive emotions cultivate greater intimacy.
So for the sake of your family, get to bed. Develop a good sleep habit.

Here are some hints to help you get a better night’s sleep.

  • Keep a regular bedtime and “wake up time.” Go to bed at a similar tune every night and set your alarm to get up at the same time every morning. This will contribute to a good night’s rest.
  • Limit light and noise in the room where you sleep. We sleep best in quiet, dark spaces. Make your room conducive to sleep.
  • Turn off screens 90 minutes before bed. Screens stimulate us and cause us to “forget the time.” We may decide to “check one thing” on our phone only to realize later that we “should have been asleep two hours ago.” Plus, the screen’s “blue light” interferes with our sleep. In fact, you might consider purchasing glasses with a “blue light filter” if your work demands you use a computer often. (Here is the enemy of teen sleep that may be the enemy of your sleep.)
  • If you are unable to fall asleep after about 30 minutes, get up and go into another room. Engage in some activity that will not arouse or stimulate you. Return to your bed when you are ready to fall asleep.
  • Take a warm bath or shower 90 minutes before bedtime. Studies suggest that a warm bath or shower helps people fall asleep quicker, sleep longer, and sleep more efficiently.
  • If worries about tomorrow keep you awake, write out a to-do list. Research suggests that the more specific the list, the faster people fall asleep.
  • Relax your body. Go through a progressive muscle relaxation routine. You can also focus on your breathing and relax.
  • Spend some time in nature every day. People sleep better after enjoying nature.
  • Exercise is also associated with better sleeping and sleep habits. Take time to exercise on a regular basis. It will help you sleep.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
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