Tag Archive for love

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.”

Resting on a Stable Stool of Love

Passion and intimacy are important aspects of a healthy marriage. One theorist even developed a “Triarchic Theory of Love” that included passion, intimacy, and commitment. Like a 3-legged stool, this theory held that the seat of love rested on three components: Commitment, Intimacy, & Passion. Missing one or two of these components meant an unstable love. No one wants to sit on a 2-legged stool or, worse, a 1-legged stool. We need a stable love with all three components on which to rest.  Of course, passion and intimacy can wane, but commitment contributes to their waxing strong again. In fact, committing to these six activities can help keep passion and intimacy alive and growing.

  • Keep on dating. Dating is the opportunity to give one another the kind of attention you shared in the early days of your relationship. It is an opportunity to give your undivided attention to your spouse for an extended period of time. With that in mind, you can have a “date” at home as well as in the community. Take time every week to put the kids to bed or get a babysitter and spend one-on-one quality time in which you give one another your undivided attention. Remember, you can Make Date Night Spectacular with just a few simple actions.
  • While we’re on the idea of full, undivided attention, unplug. When you go on a date, unplug. Schedule daily tech-free periods of time with one another, times in which you can be together with no interruptions from technology. Two excellent times to create “a couple’s tech-free time” include mealtimes and the last 15-30 minutes before going to bed.
  • Practice eye contact. I know it sounds gushy, but stare at one another with those high school googly eyes of love. When you talk, look one another in the eye. Notice the beauty of your spouse’s eyes. Let them know how much you admire their beauty. It may be somewhat uncomfortable at first but allow yourself to enjoy the connection of eye-to-eye contact.
  • Hide a love note…or five…or ten….  Write a few simple love notes to your spouse and hide them in their clothes, their lunch box, their car, under their pillow…whatever creative place you can imagine. The note doesn’t have to be extravagant. They can be as simple as “I love you,” “You’re beautiful,” or “Thanks for being mine.”
  • Put on some music and dance. You can dance in the kitchen, the living room, the dining room, the bedroom…wherever you want. Even if you don’t like dancing in public, a little private dancing can sure ignite your passion and intimacy as a couple.
  • Give a massage; receive a massage. Sharing massages is a great way to relax and share romance. You don’t need any special training. Just pay attention to your spouse and give them a massage. If you want some hints, consider these simple instructions from wikiHow.

Don’t let your spouse sit on an unstable 2-legged stool. Commit to keeping keep the stool of love stable so you can both rest comfortably and securely on your passionate, intimate, committed love.

Parents Are Students…& Guess Who the Teacher Is?

I was talking with a father of a teen. He was struggling to establish a relationship with his daughter, so I asked him to tell me about her. He struggled to tell me her birthday, interests, likes, and dislikes. He tried to explain his difficulty learning and remembering this information. He seemed so uncomfortable that I changed the subject to sports. He sighed with relief as we discussed his favorite football players. He knew their weight, height, and age as well as their position, speed, college attended, completions, and other relevant stats.

As we talked, I had to ask, “How did you learn all this?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I guess it just like it. It’s important to me. I enjoy the games.”

“Hmmm. Isn’t your daughter just as likable, important, and enjoyable?”

The fact is, we learn about those things we value. We learn about the things we enjoy. And, we value and enjoy our children. Even more, our children need us to learn the details, the stats, of their lives. If we don’t learn their stats, they will feel lonely, unimportant, and uninteresting. They will feel as though we don’t value them and love them.  They will feel unloved. To put it another way, our children will feel loved as we learn and know the stats of their lives.

Guess who will teach you your children’s stats? That’s right. Your children will! They are the teachers and we are their students in learning the stats of their lives. So, become a good student by:

  1. Listening to the teacher. Listen closely as they talk about their lives. Listen to the stories that include their friends, their activities, their fears, their peers, their studies. Listen closely.
  2. Remembering the details. You may have to write some things down in a notebook to help you remember the constantly changing plays, players involved, and opponents. Call it your Children’s Stats notebook. Review the information now and again.
  3. Asking them about the details of their lives. Now that you know the stats of their lives, talk with your children about them. Ask them how that project for English is going. Ask about the argument they had with their friend. Ask them about things that interest them and how they are resolving various areas of discomfort. Then, as they answer, go back to #1 and start again. They will grow. The answers will evolve. The players, the plays, and the opponents will change. The goals will mature. With that in mind, go back to #1 and repeat: listen, remember, and ask.

At least two things will happen as you learn your children’s stats. One, your relationship with them will grow. They will feel loved by you and draw near to you. Two, you will enjoy your relationship with your children more. What’s not to love about that? Learn the stats.

Kiss Your Spouse & Live Longer!

Kissing has a long history. For generations couples have enjoyed the “feel-good” benefits of kissing. But, did you know that for generations people have known kissing adds years to your life as well? In the late 1960’s, Dr. Szabo, a professor from the University of Kiel, collected two years of data from physicians and leading German insurance companies. From the data collected, he found that “kissing husbands” earned 20-35% more income and used less sick time than husbands who did not share a “good-bye kiss.” Ironically, not kissing one’s spouse before leaving for work was also associated with a significant increase in the possibility of a car accident. And, those who kissed their spouses before going to work in the morning lived an average of five years longer than those who did not kiss their spouse before leaving for work. 

Perhaps that sounds crazy to you. But a 2009 study noted a decrease in total cholesterol when couples increased the frequency and duration of their kissing. Dr. Szabo and his associates did not believe kissing in and of itself resulted in these outcomes. Instead, they believed it was part of a “positive attitude” that both contributed to the kissing and was enhanced by the love shared in the kiss. In other words, the strong marital bond that promotes regular kissing, and the regular kissing that enhances a stronger marital bond, helped  create a positive attitude and healthy lifestyle that promoted safety, hard work, and life longevity.

What’s the “take away”? Build a stronger marriage and add years to your life, give your spouse a great big kiss today!

A Remedy for the Common Cold in YOUR Marriage?

A study reported in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology suggested an interesting way to prevent the common cold. It’s all natural…no medications, no formulas. Even more, you can experience this in your life. There’s a good chance you already have. It’s very simple. It was explored in this study involving 47 women, blood samples, and questionnaires about relationships. What is this “cure for the common cold”? Falling in love. That’s right. When the women in this study “fell in love,” they experienced a boost in their immune system, especially the immune system involved in antiviral defenses. Of course, this does not guarantee improved immunity for the lifetime of a marriage. This study only showed improved immunity for those “falling” in love, those in the honeymoon stage, not those who experience long-term love. The research team plans to look at the health implications of long-term love relationships in future studies. But I wonder…. I have “fallen in love” over and over again during my 27-year marriage. It seems that new experiences and special moments bring out the feelings of “new love” all over again. A special night at a romantic restaurant…a weekend getaway for “just the two of us”…a romantic trip to a new location…a walk through the park hand in hand…it all sparks those feelings of new love, of falling in love. So, I wonder…could those experiences boost our immunity to defend against the common cold? I don’t know for sure. I guess I’ll have to wait for the research. But, in the meantime, I’m going to plan a few more romantic getaways…just in case. After all, those romantic getaways are a whole lot more fun than the common cold. (For other benefits of love read The Superpower You Can Give Your Spouse.)

The Superpower You Can Give Your Spouse

I love love…and I love reading experiments about the power of love to influence our lives. If love is powerful, then the love of a spouse is a superpower. For instance, researchers at Brigham Young University subjected 40 couples to intentionally challenging tasks on the computer while measuring their pupil diameter (a rapid and direct measure of the body’s physiological level of stress). In one group, an individual from the couple worked alone on the task. In a second group, the person’s spouse sat near them and held their hand while they worked on the task. Both groups were initially stressed BUT the group that held hands with a loving spouse calmed down much more quickly. As a result, they were able to work on the task with reduced stress levels. Just having a loving spouse nearby holding their hand reduced their stress. That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.

In her book Hold Me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson refers to several studies that show the power of love.

  • A study by Mario Mikulincer of Bar-Ilan University in Israel monitored the heart rates of couples as they responded to scenarios of couples in conflict. Those who felt close to their partners (who knew the superpower of a spouse’s love) reported feeling less angry and attributed less malicious intent to the partner. They expressed more problem-solving initiative and made greater effort to reconnect. In other words, a partner’s love decreased feelings of anger and increased the perception of positive intent, even during arguments. That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.
  • In addition, the power of love led to a greater curiosity and willingness to try new things. That willingness to explore and have adventures with the one we love increases intimacy and personal growth. That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.
  • Jim Coyne, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania concluded from the research that the love people share with their spouse is a good a predictor of survival at four years after congestive heart failure. In fact, it’s as good of a predictor of survival as the severity of the symptoms and impairment caused by the congestive heart failure. In other words, the power of a loving spouse is at least as powerful, if not more powerful, as congestive heart failure. That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.
  • One of my favorite studies in this area shows the power love has over pain. At the University of Virginia women received MRI brain scans while under the threat of possibly receiving a small electric shock on their feet. You can imagine the stress of this threat. When a loving partner held the women’s hands, they registered less stress on the MRI. When they did receive a small shock, they experienced less pain! The happier (the more loving) the relationship, the more pronounced the effect. In other words, the power of love is stronger than shock, stress, and pain! That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.

Maybe Huey Lewis was on to something when he sang, “that’s the power of love.” Or, maybe he needed to change the lyrics to “that’s the superpower of a loving spouse.” Then again, that just doesn’t rhyme. Nonetheless, the love of a spouse is a superpower…and I’m going to share that superpower with my spouse. How about you?

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