Tag Archive for family intimacy

2 Challenges Every Marriage Faces…& What to Do About Them

Every marriage faces challenges. I only want to discuss two of those challenges in this blog.  Both challenges naturally arise as a couple moves along their marital journey.

The first challenge involves busy-ness. Each person in the couple becomes busier at work, in the home, and in the community. Each one takes on more responsibilities and gets involved in more activities. Work promotions increase work demands. A bigger house requires more time in upkeep and maintenance. Children demand more time due to childcare needs and increased activities. Involvement in community groups often means more participation in meetings, planning, and activities. Even church involvement can result in more responsibilities and busy-ness. This busy-ness can begin to interfere with couple time. It can start to pull each person in a different direction, straining the intimacy of the couple.

The second challenge occurs as each person becomes more comfortable with their spouse. They may begin to take less notice of their spouse’s contributions to their home and their marriage. What used to come across as important contributions becomes mere expectations that go unnoticed unless they’re not complete. In addition, each person often fails to spend as much time trying to “impress” their spouse once they have been married for a while. They might wear sweats more often than attractive outfits. Socks get left on the floor and dirty dishes are scattered throughout the living areas. The house gets slightly more unkempt as the schedules get busier. Niceties and politeness begin to slip while expectations and demands begin to rise. In other words, we begin to take one another for granted.

A third challenge that exacerbates the first two challenges involves our growing “affection” for our cell phones. On average, adults spend about 4 hours a day on their phone. This is 4 hours taken away from dedicated time with our spouse.

These challenges, though, present opportunities for strengthening your marriage if responded to wisely and intentionally. Here are 3 ways to respond to these challenges and strengthen your marriage.

  • Intentionally set aside time together as a couple. John Gottman suggests the “magic 5 hours” to create time together with your spouse (you can learn about the “magic 5 hours” here). I want to emphasize three daily times to create space for togetherness with your spouse. One, give your spouse a hug and a kiss each morning. Then spend a few minutes talking about your plans for the day.  Two, give your spouse a hug and a kiss each night before bed. Tell them you love them. Spend a few minutes talking about your days. Three, set aside 20 minutes each day for uninterrupted conversation with your spouse. Use this conversation to talk about things that will nurture the intimacy in your marriage, not daily plans but dreams and things you admire about one another.
  • Intentionally look for aspects of your spouse that you admire and adore. Then intentionally take the time to tell them what you admire about them. Intentionally seek out opportunities to thank your spouse and compliment your spouse. Make it a habit to do this every day, multiple times a day.
  • Intentionally set aside your phone at times to spend quality time with your spouse. Create “tech-free” zones and “tech-free” times in which you focus on your spouse and your relationship. (Learn more in Smartphones, Priorities, & Terrible Outcomes Even for Parents, My Cell Phone Is Ripping Me Off, and Take Charge of Your Smartphone Before It Takes Charge of You.)

These challenges naturally arise in any marriage. Don’t let them sap your marriage of love and intimacy. Use them to intentionally nurture love and intimacy with your spouse. You’ll both be glad you did.

This Vacation Will Improve Your Family’s Mental Health (& You Don’t Even Have to Leave Home)

A team of researchers at the University of Bath published a study in May of 2022 that revealed a way to improve mental health and well-being in just one week. It’s not a cure-all, but it can make a difference. The study included 154 participants between the ages of 18- and 72-years-old. Researchers randomly assigned them to one of two groups. One group was asked to stop using all social media for one week. The other group continued “scrolling through” social media as usual. I don’t know about you, but “scrolling as usual” for me often occurs mindlessly. I go to Facebook or Instagram to check something simple and find myself scrolling for more time than I want. In fact, the average time spent on social media in the United States is about 2 hours and 6 minutes (See Average Time Spent Daily on Social Media (Latest 2022 Data) – BroadbandSearch for more statistics on social media use.)  That means that taking time off social media frees up an average of 2 hours every day. Imagine what you can do with 2 extra hours a day.  But that was not the objective of this study. Check out the results this study discovered.

Questionnaires completed before and after the week of the study showed that those who had taken a time off of social media showed a “significant improvement in well-being, depression, and anxiety.”  In addition, those who took a week off social media self-reported improved mood and less anxiety. Read that again. Those who took a week off of social media exhibited an overall improvement in well-being and a decrease in depression and anxiety.

Social media usage has increased dramatically over the last decade. In fact, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that we spend more time using social media than we do socializing, eating and drinking, or doing housework. (See Time Spent Daily on Social Media (Latest 2022 Data) – BroadbandSearch for more.) Not using social media for a week opens up time for you and your family to engage in many other things that might bring you greater joy and health. For instance, you might enjoy activities ranging from visiting the zoo or aviary to going to an amusement park to taking a raft down the river to having a picnic to enjoying a free concert to spending time with your family to… the list goes on.

So here is a challenge. Sit down with your family (maybe over dinner or a trip to the ice cream parlor) and discuss the findings of this study. As a family, pick a week to take a “social media vacation.” You might combine it with your family vacation; or you might choose a different week. Whichever you choose, be sure everyone agrees to take a week off social media. Plan some activities—fun activities, family activities, individual activities—to do during that week. Put the week and the activities on the schedule. Then do it…and enjoy it. After it’s all said and done, reconvene (another trip to the ice cream parlor perhaps) and discuss your experience. Who knows? You might end up deciding to take a one-week-social-media-vacation twice a year or once a quarter.

2-Week Family Challenge: Only Honor

An interesting study published in 2002 revealed that ruminating or venting about an offense increased feelings of anger and aggression. Distraction, on the other hand, led to decreased anger and aggression. In terms of family, rumination and venting about family frustrations will interfere with a healthy, happy family life. With this in mind, I want to suggest a 2-week family challenge that can improve your family relationships by decreasing rumination and venting. Put simply, this is a 2-week family challenge involves only honor.

First, honor your spouse, your children, and your parents in your thoughts, words, and actions. Only honor them. Say nothing negative or derogatory about any of them, either to them or about them to someone else. Instead, focus only on honoring them with words of encouragement, gratitude, and compliment. Honor them with acts of service. Honor them with thoughts of love.

Of course, differences will arise. You may feel frustration or annoyance at your family member. When you do, honor them by intentionally thinking about positive interactions you have had with them in the past. Rather than vent or ruminate on the negative, honor them by recalling how they support you, your family, and your home. Honor them by expressing admiration for the character traits you see in them and appreciate about them. Honor them with gratitude and encouragement. Honor them with an act of service. In other words, rather than focus on the frustration, focus only on honor.

If a situation arises in which you need to address a legitimate concern or a problem behavior (which will occur), find a way to address that concern with honor. This will require you to address their behavior rather than their character. It will mean honoring them enough to hold the assumption that the problem behavior is not reflective of their better character and was not engaged in maliciously. It will mean honoring them enough to listen if they offer an explanation. Addressing the problem behavior with honor means believing they will attempt to grow and change for the better. Honor them enough to address the problem behavior with the motivation of improving or restoring the relationship rather than blaming or accusing.

I call this a challenge because in our world we tend to move right to venting our anger or ruminating about the other person’s wrong. This 2-week challenge encourages you to move away from the patterns of blame and self-promotion to focus on honoring those in your family and the relationship you have with them.

If 2-weeks sounds too easy, make it a 30-day challenge. In fact, 30-days would prove even more effective. You might like the results so much that you want to extend it and make it a lifestyle, not just a temporary challenge. And, in all reality, the rewards of making this challenge a lifestyle are amazing.

2 Components of Lasting Family Memories

Family memories build health and happiness. Memories of camping, swimming, reading, singing, or playing fill in the gap of our family identities. Memories of being loved and cared for, celebrated on birthdays, witnessed in activities, or encouraged in pursuing interests contribute to individual identity as well as family identity. Perhaps that explains why we all want our family filled with positive memories of joy and love…they make for a healthier individual and family identity.

But what makes a joyful memory last for a lifetime. One memory expert suggests two key components make memories stand out. First, they need to be linked to a lot of other memories. Each memory needs to have a connection to other memories so that it becomes part of a larger network of memories. You can make this happen by:

  • Talking about activities after you have completed them. Revisit the activity in your family discussions. Talk about what each person enjoyed about the activity. Elaborate on those moments and facets of enjoyment. You’ll learn about one another and help create a lovely memory that lasts a lifetime.
  • As you enjoy that discussion, let it remind you of similar memories. For instance, discussing a trip to the zoo in which you saw a gorilla sitting under a tree may remind you of a previous trip in which the gorilla walked over to the glass or ate a banana…or the memory of a movie you watched in which a gorilla played a key role. Enjoy the new memory and the old memories as you talk.  In this way, the new activity becomes part of a larger network of similar memories.

Second, for memories to be remembered they have to “be a little bit weird,” they have to stand out as somewhat surprising. Once again, you can add to the excitement and “weirdness” of memories with a few simple ideas.

  • As you share the memories with family and friends, talk about what you liked and what surprised you about the activity. Fishing is fishing, except when you have a story about the biggest fish caught and the even bigger one that got away.
  • Share some unexpected aspect of the activity. For instance, camping becomes unusual in the midst of a storm, the epic card game played in the tent during the storm, and the awesome mud slide you enjoyed after the storm.
  • Enjoy the novelty of each experience and talk about that novelty with your family. Remember the movie when your daughter jumped because a toy rolled under her feet or the concert in which your family member saw their favorite artist for the first time.
  • Laugh about the uniqueness of your experience, whether it be the struggle, the beautiful, or the unexpected. Enjoy telling the story and enjoy reliving the bonding you experience because of the uniqueness of that activity.  

Memories are foundational to a healthy family. You can build memories that last a lifetime by sharing how that activity fits in with other memories and, at the same time, was just a “little bit different,” a “little bit weird.” Oh…and by the way…have fun making those memories. 

What Spit Teaches Toddlers About a Safe Home

One of the most important skills a baby or toddler must learn is how social relationships work—who is reliable, who helps who, who can be trusted. A study from MIT identified a signal babies and toddlers use to determine if two people have a strong relationship and a commitment to help and support one another. The signal? Sharing saliva (yep…spit). They seem to observe shared saliva through activities like kissing, sharing food, or drinking from a common glass.

In this study researchers observed toddlers (16.5- to 18.5-months-old) and babies (8.5- to 10-months-old) respond to interactions between puppets and people in two different experiments. In the first experiment, the puppet shared an orange with one person and played catch (tossed a ball back and forth) with a second person. The crux of the experiment came afterward when the puppet “experienced distress.” Which person would the observing toddler look to in expectation of that person helping the distressed puppet? You guessed it. The one who shared food (an orange) with the puppet.

In the second experiment, a person placed her finger in her mouth and then into the mouth of the puppet (I know…gross). With a second puppet, the person touched her forehead and then touched the puppet’s forehead. Guess which puppet the child expected to help the person when she became distressed. The one who shared saliva by putting a finger in her mouth and the puppet’s mouth (still gross). In other words, babies and toddler seem to assume that people who share saliva by sharing food, sharing cups, kissing, or, apparently, sucking a common finger will come to one another’s assistance during times of stress. (See a video talking about the study here.)

So what? Good question. Babies and toddler thrive when they reside in an environment which they perceive as safe, an environment in which people have strong relationships and a mutual desire to help one another. Apparently, a toddler sees this sign of safety by observing the sharing of saliva among family members. Of course, that does NOT mean you have to start spitting around the house to make your child feel safe. Instead, you can help your toddler experience your home as a safe, trusting environment with some simple, innocent actions in which you might share saliva (I know it’s gross sounding but…). For instance,

  • Let them see you and your spouse share a simple kiss when one of you leaves the house and again when you reunite. (This will also strengthen your marriage.) A good night kiss for your spouse and your toddler will communicate a trusting relationship with both.
  • Sharing simple foods like orange pieces or ice cream with family members will communicate a strong relationship to your toddler as well. And a strong relationship among family members translates into an increased sense of safety. Plus, sharing will increase overall family trust.
  • Lick the bowl together after making cookies or icing. Your baby may even lick the treat right off your own finger…which you probably used to put icing in your mouth as well. (I know, it’s gross, but we’ve all done it…and it actually increases your toddler’s sense of safety and trust!)

Overall, sharing food, drinks, and kisses does more than potentially share saliva, doesn’t it? It represents a trust in the person with whom you share. Your toddler will pick up on that trust…and that will increase their sense of safety in your home. I have to say it (gross as it is): Give your child a sense of security in your home, share some saliva.

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.

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