Tag Archive for intimacy

For Your Marriage’s Sake, Get Serious About Play

If you want a long and happy marriage, you may want to get serious about play. A sober review of the research on playfulness offered a thoughtful reminder of play’s far-reaching effect, what did this review reveal?

  • Playing as a couple facilitates the experience of positive emotions. Sharing positive emotions enhances relationship satisfaction.
  • Play also influences how couples communicate. Specifically, play helps couples communicate in ways that better deal with stress and resolve tension. This, in turn, can build trust.
  • Play strengthens intimacy and connection. Some suggest playfulness even serves as a positive ingredient of a satisfying sex life. What married couple doesn’t want that?

As you can see, play serves a crucial role in building a long and happy marriage. So, here is the prescription you’ve been waiting for. Enjoy a healthier marriage and have fun doing it.  Get serious about play. Grab your spouse and have some fun. Seriously, go PLAY for a better marriage.

Teach Your Child Happiness? You Bet

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

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

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

Toward a Self-Compassionate Family Life

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

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

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

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

Don’t Catch Depression From This Pandemic

Depression has increased dramatically during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic studies suggested 11% of the population reported enough symptoms to meet the criteria for a diagnosis of depression. In December of 2020, during the pandemic, 42% reported enough symptoms of depression to reach a diagnosis (COVID’s Mental Health Toll). In fact, the World Health Organization noted depression as the leading cause of disability in 2020. This increase in diagnosable symptoms is shocking, but not surprising. In fact, a study published in August of 2020 and drawing information from a database of over 100,000 participants revealed social connection as the strongest protective factor against depression. So, it comes as no surprise that after a year of needing social distancing and “shelter-in-place” protocols that depression has increased. The question is: how can we connect socially while maintaining a level of physical safety? After all, our emotional lives depend on social connection, the frequency of confiding in one another, and the opportunity to visit with family and friends. How can we help our families connect socially? Here are just two ideas.

  • Consider each family member’s interests and look for groups related to those interests. This may include sports, music, scouting, science, or other clubs. Find out how various groups are encouraging involvement during this time. They may meet over zoom. Maybe they have small groups meeting while necessary precautions. You may also participate in your faith community. Once again, they may meet over zoom or in small groups with necessary precautions.
  • Call a friend and talk…or zoom. Although not as personal as face-to-face contact, talking on the phone or zooming is the next best thing to face-to-face contact. So, connect via phone or zoom rather than text. You may also meet a friend at the park for a walk or sit in an outdoor setting to talk. You might even meet a friend or two at a restaurant that has outdoor seating or is maintaining necessary safety precautions. You can also enjoy a picnic or simply watching your children with a friend in the back yard.

These represent only two ideas for maintaining social connection during this time. Doing so takes some effort but will bring a greater sense of peace and happiness to you and your family.

What are your ideas for maintaining social connection during the pandemic? What have you and your family done?

Learn the Stats…Your Family Stats

I have friends who love football, soccer, baseball, basketball…really any sport. They watch all the games. They know the players’ names, backgrounds, and achievements. They can recite various players’ position, height, and weight. They can rattle off statistics about a favored player’s style of play and perhaps even tell you the names of the player’s wife and children. They have an amazing grasp on the knowledge of the sport and the players they love.

Some of these men, though, have trouble telling me the name of even one of their children’s friends, even though they live with their child. They have difficulty recalling their anniversary date or their spouse’s birthday, even though they see their spouse every day. They have no mental model of their family members’ lives or world. In the words of John Gottman, they lack a love map of their partner and children.

This raises questions in my mind…questions about priority and honor. We make time to learn about those things we love. We spend time being with and learning about the things we value. We talk about the things we love. We develop a complete and exhaustive “love map” of those things we enjoy and love. So, let me pose a couple of questions to consider:

  • Based on your knowledge base, what receives a higher priority: the sport you love or your spouse and children? Which do you know the most about?
  • Do you know more stats about your favorite athlete or your spouse? Your children?
  • Are you more familiar with the world of sports or the world of your spouse (life story, friends, hobbies, dreams, favorite clothing style, struggles)?
  • Are you more familiar with the world of sports or the world of your children (favorite school subjects, friends, frenemies, dreams, struggles, hobbies)?
  • Do you invest more time and effort to learn about your favorite sport or your spouse? Your favorite athlete or your children?

The point is, we need to become intimately familiar with the world our family members navigate on a daily basis. We need to develop a “love map” of our spouse and our children. It will show that you “buy in” to your marriage and your family. It will reveal how much you value your spouse and your children. It will strengthen your marital relationship by giving you a deeper understanding and appreciation of your spouse. It will nurture a healthier relationship with your children as well (which will also make discipline easier). So, get to know the family stats—the dreams, the life story, the thoughts, the fears, the joys, the list goes on…. You will have fun learning the information and you will nurture a stronger family at the same time.

In Marital Conflict, “What” Is In Charge

When it comes to conflict with your spouse, “what” is in charge. Not who, “what.” If left to its own devices, the “what” in charge of your marital conflict will leave no “who” in charge. Let me explain.

In many marital arguments, anger and fear represent the “what” that takes charge. Anger and fear shape our reactions and our words. When anger takes charge, it may lead us to blame our spouse or our parents or our boss…anybody but ourselves. Anger may also direct us to belittle our spouse, maybe even call our spouse a few names. When anger is the “what” in charge of conflict, the result in disaster.

Fear is “what” takes charge of marital conflict even more often than anger. Fear, in fact, is often the true commanding officer of the conflict and anger merely fear’s emissary. Fear, if it does not turn to its emissary anger, will lead us to become defensive, distant, or avoidant during the marital conflict.

When anger or fear take charge of a conflict, there is no “who” in charge. Anger and fear have formed a coup and taken charge…and the results are disastrous: blaming, defending, belittling, feeling rejected, emotional distance, more anger, and more fear. The hurt caused by anger and fear puts us on guard, ever vigilant for the next slight, the next provocation. There is no security and no winner when anger and fear are the “what” in charge of your marital disagreement.

None of us want fear and anger to run our martial conflict. So, “what” do we want to take charge of our marital conflicts? Empathy. Empathy commands us to listen and intentionally work to understand. Empathy directs us to seek connection and intimacy above “winning” or “being right.” Empathy calms the fear and resolves the anger. “What”—anger, fear, or empathy—may take charge of your marital conflict, but “WHO” determines which “what” will take charge. “Who” will make that decision? You. Only you can choose how you will engage in the conflict. Only you can choose which “what” will take charge of the marital conflict—anger, fear, or empathy. You, only you, can choose your response. Be the “who” that takes charge of the “what” that shapes your response during marital conflict.

Step back. Take a breath. Choose “empathy” as the “what” to direct your conflict. You will be so glad you did. And do you know “who” else will be glad? Your spouse.

Those Aren’t Fightin’ Words

Every couple has their disagreements. Parents and teens have disagreements as well. Sometimes those disagreements escalate. Emotions flair. Words fly. We say things we wish we had never said. Rather than letting the escalation go that far, try doing or saying something different, something to calm emotions and deescalate the situation. Here are some words to try. Believe me, “these aren’t fightin’ words.”

Even if you disagree:

  • “Good point.”
  • “I’m glad you explained that to me.” “
  • “So, you’re saying that….”

To move into a conversation:

  • “Explain that to me one more time. I want to make sure I understand.”
  • “I’m not sure I really understand. Can you explain it more?”
  • “I understand why you would want that.”
  • “I see. That makes sense now. Have you thought about…?
  • “I hadn’t thought about that before.”

If it starts to escalate:

  • “You’re really passionate about this aren’t you?
  • “I can tell this means a lot to you.”
  • “You sound angry/upset/ frustrated.”
  • “I have trouble listening when you speak that way. Could you speak more calmly (or ‘change your tone’ or ‘lower your voice please’?”
  • “I’m feeling overwhelmed, can we take a break and finish this conversation at (note a time)?”

Good to say at any time…and all the time:

  • “I love you.”
  • “Even if we disagree, we’ll figure it out together.”
  • “I’m glad we’re together.”
  • “We make good team.”
  • “I love you.”

These phrases are what John Gottman calls “repair statements.” They can help calm emotions during a disagreement and keep you on track for a positive resolution. Give them a try. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The Big Things or the Best Things in Small Packages

I’ve heard it said that “big things come in small packages” and that “the best things come in small packages.” When it comes to marital conflict, I agree with both statements.

Sometimes “big things do come in small packages.” Unfortunately, these “small packages” can bring “big things” like dynamite to blow your marriage up. For instance, “small package words” like name-calling can create “big thing problems” and explode in your face. “Small package words” include phrases like “That’s stupid,” “You always burn the toast,” “You’re lazy,” or “You never clean this house.” These “small package words” create “big thing problems” that become a minefield in your marriage.  One wrong step and they explode to release anger that has built up in response to these “small package words.”

“Small package actions” can also cause “big thing problems.” Rolling the eyes, a demeaning laugh, or simply walking away in the middle of a discussion are “small problem actions” that lead to “big thing problems.” It’s true that “big things come in small packages” but those “small packages” can blow your marriage up.

On the other hand, the “best things come in small packages” as well. For instance, “small package words” like “Thank you,” “I love you,” or “You’re the best” are the “best things” to hear. Through such “small packages” we know we are loved, valued, appreciated, and adored…and those are the “best things” we can receive in our marriage.

“Small package actions” can also give us the “best things.” For instance, intentional and patiently listening to our spouse is one of the “best things” we can offer.  Such a “small package” but one that reveals the “best things,” our love and concern.

Another “small package” that gives our spouse the “best things” is a thoughtful response or loving question. “Small package” statements like “Tell me more about that,” “You sound excited (sad, unsure, or whatever emotion fits the context),” or “Can you explain that more so I can understand better?” These short phrases, “small packages” so to speak, express interest and value in the one we love and that’s one of the “best things” we can offer our spouse.

Yes, “big things” and “the best things come in small packages.” Just make sure the “small package” you give to your spouse is one that gives the “best things” you have to give.

The Proactive Relationship Advancement sYstem

Every couple wants to keep their marriage healthy and strong. In fact, we all want our marriages to grow stronger and healthier every day. Expressing gratitude to our spouse is one great way do this. But a study published in May of 2020 suggests an even more powerful way. I call it the Proactive Relationship Advancement sYstem [ P.R.A.Y.].

This study involved 95 married couples and sought to discover if general gratitude had a different impact on marriage than prayers of gratitude. A person who practices general gratitude expresses gratitude easily. They tend to attribute good intent to their spouse, notice the good things their spouse does, and openly express gratitude for it. As you can imagine, this general gratitude contributes to a happier, healthier marriage. In fact, according to this study, a husband’s general gratitude contributed to him having greater marital satisfaction. A wife’s general gratitude contributed to her having greater marital satisfaction as well. Notice, a person’s general gratitude enhanced their own level of marital satisfaction. Interestingly, a person’s expression of gratitude toward their spouse did not enhance their spouse’s marital satisfaction. In this study, it enhanced the grateful person’s own marital satisfaction.

So, how did prayers of gratitude for one’s spouse compare? After running statistical tests comparing the effect of prayers of gratitude to general gratitude, the authors concluded that a husband’s prayers of gratitude for his wife increased his marital satisfaction over and above what generalized gratitude did. The same was true for wives who engaged in prayer of gratitude for their husbands. It increased their marital satisfaction over and above general gratitude. They found one additional benefit that prayers of gratitude offered beyond what generalized gratitude offered. When a wife offered prayers of gratitude for her husband, her husband experienced greater marital satisfaction!

Interesting, right? Thanking God for your spouse increases your own marital satisfaction above and beyond the marital satisfaction gained through general gratitude. And a wife’s prayers of gratitude for her husband also increased her husband’s marital satisfaction. Prayers of gratitude for your spouse proactively strengthen your marriage. They become self-fulfilling, prophecies of an increasing marital satisfaction. With that in mind, I recommend we all start participating in this Proactive Relationship Advancement sYstem (P.R.A.Y.) today. For the sake of your marriage will you join me in P.R. A.Y.er? (For more on the impact of prayer in marriage, read Improve Your Marriage with One Simple, Daily Activity.)

Materialism is Robbing Your Marriage

Some, like Madonna, might say “we are living in a material world” so the one “with the cold hard cash is always” the one I love. That may be the world in which we live, but is it the world of happy marriages? Researchers at Brigham Young University decided to find out. They asked 1,300 married people a series of questions to measure their level of materialism as well as a series of questions about their marriages. They discovered at least 3 things.

  1. The more materialistic a person was, the more dissatisfied they were in their marriage.
  2. Those who reported money was not important to them scored 15% higher on measures of marital satisfaction and stability. In other words, they were happy with their marriage and their marriage was more stable than those who thought money important.
  3. If both partners were materialistic, their relationship quality was lower than couples who had only one materialistic spouse. So even if both partners agreed about materialistic values, they were still dissatisfied.

Makes sense when you think about it, doesn’t it? A person who excessively values materialistic things (money, possessions) expends their physical and emotional energy gaining wealth and working to appear wealthy. They expend less energy learning how to spend quality time with their spouse and family. They expend less energy on developing healthy communication skills and effective conflict resolution skills. And so, their relationship suffers.

This is not to say that money itself is bad. We all need enough money to live. But the “love of money,” prioritizing the material life above relationship, can rob your marriage of the intimacy it needs to survive. Unfortunately, many people say they value family above material goods but live a life that begs to differ. We must all honestly answer some hard questions to make sure our lived values match what we believe to be our values…after all, our actions speak louder than our words. So, ask yourself:

  • Do I act as if “things” inform others of my success? Do I have a secret desire to “keep up with the Joneses”?
  • Would my family say that I value work more than I value them? Do my actions suggest that work is more important than family? (You might want to ask a few people to make sure you hear the truth.)
  • Do I struggle with a desire for immediate gratification?
  • Do I put the desire for more possessions above emotional and relational goals of connection?
  • Do I think I need more things to be happy?  Or have I learned to be content with what I have?

It takes courage to answer these questions honestly. If you find yourself sounding like a “material girl (or boy)” in your answers:

  • Start reevaluating what you truly value in your life.
  • Practice daily gratitude.
  • Intentionally practice generosity.
  • Declutter and give things away.

Each of these practices can help you escape materialism…and keep materialism from robbing your marriage of intimacy and joy.

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