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.
The party was long and I was getting tired; but, I didn’t want to rudely get up and leave. My wife was across the room enjoying a conversation with another guest. When I looked her way, she caught my eye. She made a very subtle motion with her head and changed the expression on her face ever so slightly for a brief second. Then she returned to her conversation. I knew exactly what she had said. I walked over to the table where I could get a drink and carried it over to her. I handed her the drink and said, “Thirsty?” She nodded and took the drink. “Getting kind of late. I’m tired. Are you ready to leave?” A look of relief spread across her face. “Yes,” she replied, “I’m tired too.” We quickly said our good-byes and headed home. She thanked me for “hearing” her request from across the room and added, “I thought I saw the same in your face.”
I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience in your marriage. The experience of working as a team, of remaining attuned and attentive to one another in a way no one else is. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s time to learn this crucial skill for a happy marriage. It’s a skill developed and practiced every day in a healthy marriage. Here are some tips to help you get started…or to get even better at it than you already are.
- Get curious about your spouse. Follow their lead. Learn what they like and don’t like. Learn about their dreams and their fears. Never stop learning. Your spouse will offer new things to learn every day. Get curious and enjoy learning about your spouse. (Develop a “Love Map” with these questions.)
- Be open & transparent in speaking about what impacts you and how. Talk about your opinions and your feelings. It’s ok to differ in opinion so allow your spouse to know your thoughts.
- Learn to listen intently—not just for words but for inflection, tone, and cadence as well. Not just with ears but with eyes & touch as well. Listen intently. (Learn the The Gracious Art of Listening.)
- Turn toward your spouse to work together. Problem solve together. Make compromises. Look for win/win solutions. Function as a team. (RSVP for Intimacy can help you do so.)
- Develop an identity as a couple. Consider what you like to do together? How do you fit into world as couple? How do you balance couple time with individual time & identity? How can you create overlap? To help you do this, take time to develop a couple’s mission statement. (Include these 6 Traits for an Intimate Marriage in your mission statement.)
Want to have a better relationship, a happier marriage? Begin to practice by communicating a sense of “us” by practicing these tips. Go ahead and get started. You’ll have fun and grow a more intimate relationship along the way!
One key factor promotes lasting relationships. What? At first I was surprised then curious…so I read on. They key factor promoting lasting relationships was confirmed by a team of researchers from the University of British Columbia. They had analyzed the data on “thousands of couples” involved in two large British surveys and the Gallup World Poll. After accounting the couples’ ages, gender, income, and health conditions, they “found” one key factor promoted lasting happiness marriages and relationships. One key factor! Specifically, happiest couples all said their significant other was their closest friend. In other words, having a deep friendship with your spouse increased happiness and life satisfaction (Read Science says lasting relationships rely on a key factor for more).
Other researchers have confirmed this finding. In particular, Dr. Gottman noted that the “determining factor in whether wives and husbands feel satisfied with sex, romance, and passion in their marriage is, by 70%, the quality of the couple’s friendship!” That’s right, friendship in marriage even improves sex life! (Read Improve Your Sex Life…BEFORE You Hit the Sheets) Gottman even identifies the building blocks of friendship in marriage: building love maps, sharing fondness and admiration, and turning toward one another to work as a team. So, if you want your spouse as a best friend and if you want happiness in a lasting marriage…
- Enhance your love maps. A love map contains all the relevant information about our partner’s lives, from birthdays and anniversaries to greatest fears and dreams. It represents what we know about our spouse’s physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual life. Of course, love maps needs constant updating as the experiences and feelings that make up our maps change as we go through life. So take time to talk with your spouse every day. Find out about their day, their challenges, their joys, their sorrows. Learn about them. If you’re stuck on how to do this, try the “20 question game” in this short article on love maps.
- Sharing fondness and admiration builds friendship as well. Sharing fondness and admiration is a habit of mind in which a person identifies and verbalizes appreciation for their spouse on a daily basis. This may be as simple as saying “thank you” for what your spouse did during the day or as intimate as noting character traits that you admire in your spouse. You can make fondness and admiration a part of your marriage with a simple math equation (Don’t worry, it’s not new math!).
- Turning toward your spouse rather than away involves responding positively to their requests for attention, affirmation, affection, or connection. Of course friendship grows when spouses respond to one another’s bids for connection on a regular basis rather than turning away. Gottman actually found that couples who turned toward one another 86% of the time remained married after a six year period whereas couples who divorced in that time period only turned toward one another 33% of the time. Responding to our spouse’s builds friendship. Turning away because of preoccupation, lack of concern, or just putting our energy elsewhere destroys friendship (Read RSVP for Intimacy in Your Family for more info on turning toward).
The one key factor in a happy, lasting marriage is friendship. If you want a happy, lasting marriage, keep nurturing the friendship you have with your spouse. Build that friendship by enhancing your love maps, sharing fondness and admiration, and turning toward one another every day…starting today!
Family shepherds model their parenting style after the Shepherd described in Psalm 23. David, the author of Psalm 23, tells us that his Shepherd “makes him lie down in green pastures” and “leads” him “beside still waters.” The word used for “lead” means “to lead someone helpless and needing guidance, to lead by the hand.” Our Shepherd knows that we, His sheep, are helpless; so, He takes us by the hand to lead us to places of nourishment, rest, and safety. The Shepherd knows the needs of His sheep and how to best provide for those needs, even when His sheep do not know or understand.
As family shepherds, we need to lead our children in a similar manner. We need to take them by the hand and lead them to places of nourishment, rest, and safety…especially when they are helpless or do not fully understand or realize what they truly need. That means we have to become students of our children’s life and world. Here are some topics worthy of our study.
· Family shepherds study their children’s unique needs. Each child has unique needs in regard to rest, nourishment, alone time, and family time. Sometimes our children get so caught up in play that they forget to rest or eat. They become “cranky” with hunger or tiredness. They become irritable without time alone or lonely and moody without time with friends or family. Even as teens, our children may have a tendency to “overbook” and become overwhelmed and stressed. We need to become students of our children to learn about their limits so we can lead them in a proper balance of rest, nutrition, and activity. As they grow, they can support them in discovering how to balance those limitations more independently.
· Family shepherds learn about their children’s day. They gain knowledge about when their children get up and when they go to bed. This may sound strange, but, nonetheless, it is necessary in today’s world. We need to know that our children actually go to sleep at bedtime rather than begin a marathon text session with friends that can last into the wee hours of the morning. I meet many teens who stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning texting friends, playing video games, or watching TV. This, then, interferes with their school performance, social interaction, and physical health. Parents (family shepherds) monitor these activities and prevent them from interfering with their child’s rest. They create environments that promote healthy sleep. This may mean removing obstacles to healthy night time rest (such as TV’s and X-Box’s) from the bedroom. It may also mean keeping cell phones and IPods in the kitchen after an agreed upon time. Learn about this technology and how it can interfere with night time rest.
· Family shepherds learn about their child’s daily activities as well. When their children go out, they find out where they are going. They learn about the places that their children frequent. They may even visit the places their children frequent and get to know other people who go there. Family shepherds may participate in many of their child’s activities throughout the day as well. Of course, children will have activities that they engage in alone. Still, family shepherds participate in many activities with their children. They may participate by actual involvement or by simply observing their child’s participation. Either way, their children learns that their parents are part of their life and their world, likely to show up at any activity or place that they frequent.
· Family shepherds learn about their children’s world. Parents become acquainted with their children’s friends and the parents of those friends. They get to know the teachers and coaches involved in their children’s lives. They observe what interests their children and learn about those interests so they can promote a healthy involvement and growth in areas of interest.
Family Shepherds (parents) are perpetual students. We continually invest time in learning about our children.