Tag Archive for love

What A “Pittsburgher” Learned About Family in Cleveland

My wife and I enjoyed a trip to Cleveland. We had a great time and met some wonderful people. (Yes, I am from Pittsburgh AND I found Cleveland fun & enjoyable…go figure.) After breakfast one morning we strolled through the Arcade 5 and saw this sign outside the Johnnysville Woods store. It lists “The 5 Commandments for Being Happy.” I thought I’d share it with you and how the same “commandments” can help our families.

  1. Free your heart from hatred. Hatred destroys. It takes root in the heart and fills a person with resentment, bitterness, and mistrust. Hatred destroys relationships, even within the family. The antidote to hatred is apology and forgiveness. Both apology and forgiveness are crucial to a healthy, happy family life because families are made up of people who make mistakes—who say the wrong thing, forget the important thing, offend unknowingly, and blame wrongly. Each will demand apology and forgiveness to restore the relationship. Humble yourself to apology. Become vulnerable enough to forgive. Often.
  2. Free your mind from worry. Worry can kill a family too. Worry flows out of fear, usually irrational fears and fears about things over which we have no control. Excessive worry creates unnecessary limits. It hinders our exploration and our growth. It hinders our risk taking, our willingness to “put ourselves out there,” and our ability to nurture our relationships. Don’t let worry and fear drive your family life. We can begin to let go of worry by nurturing gratitude and trust toward our spouse, our children, and our parents.
  3. Give more. Give more love. Give more gratitude. Give more service. Give more consideration. Give more encouragement. Give more benefit of the doubt. Give more…and give more generously. Give so much that your family will remember you as a generous person who enjoyed giving to others. When you do, your family will grow healthier and happier.
  4. Expect less. While you give more, expect less. In fact, “consider one another as more important than yourself. Don’t look out only for your own interests but for the interests of others.” Rather than expect your spouse and children to serve you, serve them…generously. Look more to what you can give than to what you want to receive. After all, “it’s better to give than to receive.” (For more on expectations in marriage, read Do Expectations Help or Hinder Your Marriage.)
  5. Love simply. Yes. Love simply…but realize that loving is not always easy. Even when it is hard to do, love simply. When a family member says something that hurts your feelings, love anyway. When your spouse forgets to finish the “honey-do-list,” love anyway. When your child does not listen, love anyway. When your parent doesn’t understand, love anyway. Simply love.

These “5 Commandments for Being Happy” will not only bring greater happiness to you as an individual, they will also fill your family with happiness. Practice them for a month and see if you don’t agree.

I Love Valentine’s Day

It’s Valentine’s Day but…not everyone is happy about that. In fact, I’ve heard some countries actually ban Valentine’s Day. But wouldn’t it be nice to add a little more love into our families and our communities? After all, “love cures people—both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it” (Dr. Karl Menninger). Our families and communities are definitely in need of healing.

Valentine’s Day is a day to remind ourselves that love is a great gift to give our spouse, our children, our parents…and our friends and neighbors. As Victor Hugo said, “the greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.” And the knowledge that somebody loves us allows us to know our true selves and our true beauty. “It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being” (John Joseph Powell). In other words, the gift of love allows us to become the best version of ourselves…even if we start off a bit like a beast. That is “the great lesson of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ that a thing must be loved before it is lovable” (G. K. Chesterton). Love your family.

Some fear love. Maybe they’ve been hurt, or they fear losing their sense of freedom by putting on the “old ball and chain.” But “if we commit ourselves to one person for life, this is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather, it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession but participation” (Madeleine L’Engle). Likewise, “love is a vessel that contains both security and adventure, and commitment offers one of the great luxuries of life: time. Marriage is not the end of romance, it is the beginning” (Esther Perel). Security, adventure, freedom, and true knowledge of self and other…they’re all wrapped up in love. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me. Something to celebrate and share on Valentine’s Day.

“Oh, [and] how a quiet love can drown out every fear” (Jessica Katoff). “…Perfect love casts out fear” (Peter, the apostle of Christ). Why? Because fear involves punishment. Fear involves betrayal. Fear involves hurt. But love casts all that out. Love heals. Love cherishes. Love builds up. Love provides a safe haven and secure port. Love lets us rest “naked and unafraid” in the arms of another. That’s a great Valentine’s Day gift.

But don’t get me wrong. Love does demand something of the one who love. It demands action. Love is a verb, not a noun. “Love doesn’t sit there like a stone; it has to be made, like bread; remade all of the time, made new” (Ursula K. Leguin). We have to invest in love with a curiosity to know the other person, a desire to serve the other person, and a willingness to sacrifice for their benefit. Will you invest in love? When you do, you’ll know why I love to celebrate Valentine’s Day every day.

A Radical Valentine’s Day Gift for Your Spouse

We use the word “love” so often and in so many contexts that it has lost its meaning. After all, I love cheesecake, I love sunny days, AND I love my wife. Hopefully, my love for cheesecake (which satisfies my sweet tooth) and sunny days (which makes me feel physically warm and relaxed) is different than the love I have for my wife. If I’m going to have a healthy marriage, my love for my wife has to transcend the self-focused love of satisfying my sweet tooth with cheesecake and my enjoyment of physical warmth on a sunny day. My love for my wife, our love for our spouses, needs to transcend our self-centered desires. A healthy, lifelong marriage calls for a radical love. In fact, this kind of love may be the perfect radical Valentine’s Day gift for your spouse.  Let me explain the gift of radical love and some of its benefits for you and your spouse.

  • The radical love of a healthy, lifelong marriage involves giving of the self. Radical love requires us to give up our sense of entitlement and selfishness in order to give ourselves to our spouse. Radical love compels us to give our spouse our time and our energy rather than leaving them the leftovers of each. Radical love leads us to give them our attention and our listening ear. It means we give up our “I” to enjoy the “we” of marriage. Radical love invites us to give our life to our spouse…for the purpose of enjoying a lifetime together. Yes, radical love demands we give ourselves to our spouse. 
  • The radical love of a healthy, lifelong marriage also involves serving our spouses. We love our spouse and love to serve our spouse when we commit to a radical love. Who does what around the house is not an argument because we both love each other enough that we want to serve the other by doing the tasks necessary to maintain a healthy home. Radical love looks for opportunities to serve in simple ways and major ways. Radical love serves by doing the menial things like taking out the garbage or cleaning the car. It also serves by doing the noble things like supporting our spouse’s dreams. Radical love serves…and loves to serve. So ask your spouse, “How can I serve your today?”
  • The radical love of a healthy, lifelong marriage also rejoices to sacrifice for our spouses. All marriages require sacrifice. Those in the healthiest marriages, however, take joy in the opportunity to make a sacrifice for their spouse. The sacrifices of radical love may be simple or complex but, either way, the sacrifice is made willingly and lovingly. For instance, radical love sacrifices “my” desire to be heard long enough to listen to my spouse’s point of view. Radical love sacrifices “my” agenda to support my spouse’s agenda. Radical love sacrifices to express the depth of our love for our spouse.

Radical love is the perfect gift to give your spouse this Valentine’s Day. This gift of radical love would strengthen your marriage and draw you into a more intimate relationship with your spouse. Even more, your children would grow more secure and even happy as they witness this radical love. They would likely learn to practice radical love with you and one another as you model it. Soon, your whole family will be practicing radical love, even with those outside your family. It might even change a community…and it all starts with committing to radical love in your marriage.

Parenting: Power or Love?

Parenting has become a confusing adventure these days. The advice we find on-line or in the parenting section of the bookstore only adds to the confusion. In developmental psychology classes we learn that parenting styles fall along two continuums. One continuum represents rules or control. The other continuum represents relationship, warmth, and acceptance. You can review the excellent “Parenting Style Infographic” in this excellent article and learn everything you want to know about the four parenting styles represented along these two continuums. It’s great information.

I often see parents falling into one of the three less effective parenting style in this model because they believe they need to exert power and control to “shape their children” into mature adults. (Unfortunately, these children often don’t know how to act mature without their parent’s control.) Some parents exert power to build their children “according to the blueprints” provided them by parents, churches, or peers. (These children often rebel to exert their own independence.) Still other parents respond to their own fear by adding more control, exerting more power in an effort to keep their children safe. (These children often take extra risks to escape the powerful control their parents exert.)  In all this, they miss the most important aspect of being a parent, nurturing the love and relationship their children crave and need. So, when I ran across these few quotes on power and love, I had to share them with you. Read them over slowly and take time to consider what they might mean for our styles of parenting.

  • “The opposite of Love is not hate, but power.” –C.S. Lewis
  • “They fear love because it creates a world they can’t control.” –George Orwell
  • “When love rules power disappears. When power rules love disappears.” –Paulo Coelho
  • “Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.” –Carl Jung
  • “Love is the opposite of power. That’s why we fear it so much.” –Gregory David Roberts
  • “When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.” –Jimi Hendrix
  • “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” –1 Peter 4:8
  • “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” –1 Corinthians 13:4-7

I know we often want to exert power in our effort to shape children into “responsible adults” or “make them listen” or teach them how to “get by in the world.” But power leads to rebellion. And really, isn’t love where the true power to transform resides? Doesn’t love actually nurture the growth we desire in our children? Some would go as far as to say that “All bad behavior is really a request for love, attention, or validation” (Kimberly Giles). I agree.

Let me summarize by saying that the job of a parent is the job of a miracle-worker. It is a miracle to take a newborn baby and nurture them until they become a mature, independent, responsible adult…a miracle. As Marianne Williamson said, “The way of the miracle-worker is to see all human behavior as one of two things: either love, or a call for love.”

Love in a Dog-Eat-Dog World

“It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there.” The competition is brutal. In fact, you might have to step on a few people to make your way to the top. But everyone can’t be top of the hill, right?

Did you ever hear that message? I have. Do you ever act on this message, behave as though it is the gospel truth? When we do, people often get hurt. When it becomes a theme in our marriages and families, our loved ones get hurt. A “dog-eat-dog” mindset just doesn’t work in family.

Surely you and I don’t hold these beliefs and let them interfere with our families though, right? Or do we? Consider these few examples.

  • We thrust our way into a conversation, maybe even talking over the other person because
    “my” ideas need to be heard. We may even feel as if they need to be believed above others. On Facebook we debate, look down on, and even belittle those who believe differently than “me” because “my” idea is obviously the right idea. 
  • We see the last parking spot available, or the one closest to the door. Realizing only one person can have that parking space, we rush to beat the other guy to the space.
  • Only one person can have the lead part in the play, so we spend countless hours working to crush the other guy in try outs. We even talk badly about the “competitions” performance in an attempt to sway others to view “my” performance as best.
  • I need to get to my appointment on time even though I’m running late, so I cut off the other guy at the intersection even though he’s likely running behind as well.
  • There is a line at the checkout counter, so I rush to get there first.

Yes, we all have taken on some of that “dog-eat-dog mentality” and so compete to be first in line, first to be noticed, first to be picked, first and foremost in everything. We invest our energy and our time to be the top dog, the best, the first. Unfortunately, we do this even within our families in subtle less direct ways.

  • There is only one piece of pizza left and I’m hungry. Maybe someone else is to…no matter because “the early bird gets the worm.”
  • One of us has to clean the kitty litter. If I just hold out long enough, my spouse will do it. (I guess this is more of a “cat-eats-cat” type example…oh well.)
  • My favorite TV show is on at the same time as your TV show…as long as I get the remote first, I can watch mine on the better TV.

You get the idea. Even in family we allow a “dog-eat-dog mindset” to impact our relationships and how we interact with one another.  

When we do, we have less energy to invest in others. We become so busy investing in ourselves that we neglect to learn about other spouse or our children.  We devote so much time and energy in achieving our own desired ends that we have no energy left to build relationships. We expend so much energy competing that we have no energy or time left to share a kindness with our spouse, our child, our parent, our friend, our neighbor.

But love is kind. Love does not compete in order to come out on top. Love does not take up the banner of a “dog-eat-dog world.” Love is kind enough to invest time and energy in getting to know the other guy. Love is kind enough to give the last piece of pizza to another hungry family member…or shares it with another. Love kindly listens to understand and even seek common ground with the person who disagrees with us. Love shows a radical kindness that helps the competition do their best, even if the one who loves in this way “loses” in the process.

Love is kind. So, I have to ask…Would your family say you are kind?

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.

Speaking the Truth in Love

Building a healthy family requires some tough conversations—tough conversations with our spouse, tough conversations with our children, and even tough conversations with our parents. These conversations often put us in a moral bind between the desire to be honest and the desire to be kind. Of course, we can approach these tough conversations in a variety of ways. Emma Levine, a University of Chicago psychologist, describes five ways to approach these tough conversations.

  1. We could just fail to address the issue. This approach is low on honesty and, in the long run, kindness. We avoid the discomfort of bringing up unpleasant material. But our family member does not learn valuable information. And, we miss the opportunity to nurture a more intimate relationship through the conversation.
  2. We might tell a “little white lie,” a false kindness to protect our family member’s feelings. Once again, we avoid the unpleasant confrontation, but our family member misses out on learning important information. Intimacy is hindered. And, if the “white lie” is discovered, our family member may even become resentful.
  3. We could simply speak with brutal honesty. In this scenario, we speak the truth but do not take our family member’s feelings into consideration.  Our family member will likely feel criticized or attacked  and, as a result, reject the message. Once again, family members do not gain important information. Intimacy is hindered. Relationships are harmed.
  4. The fourth approach involves telling your family member something true and positive but irrelevant to the “real” issue. For instance, your son asks about his performance during the baseball game and you reply by saying, “It was a beautiful sunny day to watch your game” rather than offering a direct, but loving critique of his performance. Unfortunately, your family member will likely view this as no different than telling an outright lie. They will become frustrated. Intimacy will be hindered. Relationships harmed.

Why do we use these ineffective approaches? Dr. Levine believes we choose one of these ineffective approaches because we focus mainly on our own feelings during the anticipated interaction and we focus on short-term comfort rather than long-term kindness. All this aside, Dr. Levine does describe one more approach… and this one proves most effective. It shifts the focus to the long-term growth and increased intimacy we might gain rather than the short-term comfort. .

  • Articulate a sincere interest in your family member’s long-term benefit before describing your concern in a gentle, straight-forward manner. Remember, the conversation will end like it begins so approach the interaction gently, with a “gentle start up.” Even if you fumble over some words, your family member will sense your attempt. They will experience the warmth of emotion expressed and recognize your genuine concern. As a result, they will be more able to hear the concern…even if it is unpleasant in the moment. In other words, speak the truth in love. When we do, family members gain important information. Everyone grows. Intimacy is enhanced.

To speak the truth in love is an ancient wisdom that helps us grow more mature, more intimate, and more secure.

Six Reasons to Hug Your Family

A hug is defined as the “holding or squeezing of someone tightly in one’s arms.”  But, in reality, a hug is much more than simply holding or squeezing another person. A hug is powerful. A hug can change a life. In fact, here are 6 reasons to hug your spouse, children, and parents on a regular basis.

  • Research out of Carnegie Mellon University suggests that receiving a hug on the day of a conflict contributed to feeling less negative emotion the day of the conflict and the day after the conflict. The hug also prevented the conflict from reducing positive emotion on the day of the conflict. In other words, a hug helps people feel better even after a conflict.
  • In another study involving 404 participants, hugs were found to buffer the stress caused by daily stressors and resulted in less severe symptoms when infected with a virus for the common cold. Want your loved ones to be less stressed and have fewer symptoms of illness? Give them a hug.
  • Hugs may boost heart health also. A study published in 2003 found that people who held hands with their loved one for ten minutes and then hugged them for 20 seconds (compared to those who simply rested for 10 minutes and 20 seconds) had lower blood pressure & less increase in heart rate during a public speaking assignment. In other words, physical affection, including a hug, reduces our reactivity to stresses and promotes better heart health.
  • A good 20-second hug releases oxytocin…and oxytocin counteracts stress, helps us relax, increases our level of trust, and increases our empathy and feelings of intimacy. You could say hugs release oxytocin and make us feel good.
  • Hugs also communicate affection and love to the other person. A hug communicates “You belong.” Who doesn’t like to know they belong? Everyone enjoys knowing they are loved. Communicate your love…give a hug.
  • Last, but not least, hugs feel good. You can feel the comfort and the relaxing of the muscles even as you feel the other person’s arms engulf you in a hug.

Hugs benefit our physical health, our emotional health, and our mental health. They communicate love and help people know they belong. Give your loved ones a hug today. Better yet, give them several hugs today.

The Satisfaction of Small, Meaningful Doses All Day Long

Families need a healthy diet of love and connection to thrive. How do we meet our family’s dietary need for love? Some families have one big meal a day to satisfy their “love cravings.” They try to engage in some extravagant show of love once a day (at best) in hopes that it will last until the next big show of love. It doesn’t…it never will.

Other families fear there is not enough love and connection to go around. They fear it will run out so they cling and “act out” to monopolize whatever attention and “love” they can get. This doesn’t work either. It ends up pushing others away.

Others, fearing love resources are limited, dole out love in scanty portions, just enough to keep you hungry for more. Everyone ends up feeling just little disconnected, confused as to whether they are really loved or not.

A better way of maintaining a healthy diet of love and connection is by sharing small but meaningful doses of it throughout the day. A study out of Penn State published in 2020 (see The Undervalued Power of Experiencing Love in Everyday Life for a review) called these small, meaningful doses of love and connection “felt love.” Participants in this study were randomly sampled via cell phone to determine when and where they experienced “felt love,” when and where they felt a connection with another person. Two findings were of special interest to me.

  1. Experiencing small, meaningful doses of love throughout the day led to increased feelings of optimism and purpose. In other words, if you want your spouse, children, or parents to feel greater optimism and purpose, intentionally do and say things throughout the day that will make them feel loved. Give them physical affection. Compliment them. Appreciate something about them. Serve them. Sit and talk with them. Empathize with them. Connect. They will feel love and connection…and their feelings of optimism and purpose will increase.
  2. “Nudging study participants to be more mindful of ‘felt love,’ and encouraging people to recognize random moments of warm-heart connection actually increased their sense of being loved” (Oravecz). Simply raising a person’s awareness of “felt love” and opportunities to express “felt love” raised feelings of being loved and connected.

Based on these findings, we could do at least three things to increase the feelings of love in our families.

  • Encourage each family member to offer a daily diet of multiple, small, and meaningful doses of love to other family members throughout the day.
  • Spend time at dinner or bedtime sharing stories of when each one received love and connection during the day and how each one shared love and connection with another that day. Making this conversation a routine will “nudge” your family members to “be more mindful” of such moments.
  • Model the intentional sharing of small, meaningful doses of love and connection with others in your home and outside your home. Hold the door open for other people. Let the other driver merge. Share the remote. Pay for a stranger’s coffee. Be creative and share small, meaningful doses of love and connection with others, including your family.  

I don’t know about you, but I think our families and our world are hungry for this kind of diet. I know I am…so I’m going to share it with my family now.

Don’t Let Your Marriage Buckle Under “Social Distancing”

The corona virus pandemic has led to a call for “social distancing.”  But, don’t let the current pandemic or the call for “social distancing” exacerbate any marital issues that might already exist in your home. In fact, if you already experience “social” or “emotional distance” in your marriage, you’re probably struggling even more to navigate these stressful times. Fortunately, there is no better time than now to correct any emotional distance in your marriage and start to practice emotional connection. Here are six great ways to start building emotional connection in your marriage.

  • Talk with one another. Take time every day to sit down over a cup of coffee and have a conversation. Talk about your experiences of the current crisis, fears of anxieties you might be experiencing. Talk about how you will work together to navigate the current crisis. Enjoy simple small talk as well. Talk like you did when you were dating. Joke a little. Read a book together and talk about it. Talk about your plans for the coming years. Talk your hopes and dreams for the future. Each of these will move you toward a deeper emotional connection with your spouse. (This might be a great time to take A 30-Day Marriage Challenge.)
  • Listen to your spouse. While you converse with your spouse, intentionally and sincerely listen. Listen to hear the intent of their message, the meaning beneath the words.  Listen to understand their perspective and emotions. Ask questions to clarify what they mean. In so doing, you will learn more about your spouse and their emotions. (Learn more about The Art of Listening here.)
  • As you listen and talk, look at your spouse. I don’t mean glance at their face now and again. Really look at them. Notice their eye color and the twinkle in their eye. Notice the shape and features of their face. Pay attention to their facial expressions and their gestures. Look deeply into their eyes to notice the emotions they feel as they talk. There is power in seeing and being seen by one another.
  • Tell your spouse “I love you.” Tell them with words and actions. Whisper it in their ear. Let them see it in your eyes when you look at them. Say it by remembering what they like and don’t like. Show it in your actions by doing a chore they dislike. Love them by expressing gratitude and remaining polite.
  • Give one another a good night hug and kiss (as long as neither is sick, of course).  Don’t just give a quick hug. Dwell in the hug. Make it an “oxytocin hug.”  Give a generous kiss goodnight, not just a simple peck on the cheek.
  • Recall your story. Talk about the time you first met, your favorite dates, and your vacations. Remember the struggles you have overcome together—whether they be as simple as putting up a tent in the rain or dealing with the death of a loved one. The “story of us” is a great emotional connection. (And your children will love it, too.)

These six practices will help you build emotional connection. No matter what is going on in the world around you, keep practicing them and enjoy a growing emotional connection in your marriage.

PS–may we can begin talking about “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing.” Then we can focus on maintaining “social connection” while keeping a safe “physical distance.”

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