Tag Archive for relationship

The “Big Little Leap” & All the Leaps That Follow

Ah…the experience of joy on the first day of kindergarten. I never really understood the parental struggle mixed with pride and joy when “letting go” of children until I dropped mine off for their first days of school. It was the first of many leaps that culminated in dropping them off at college or watching them walk the aisle with their spouse. Still, that first day of kindergarten was a “big little leap” for parent and child. Interesting, research finds that the more successfully a child makes the “leap” (AKA—transitions) into kindergarten (over a 10–14-week period) the higher they score on academic and social-behavioral skills tests at the end of that school year. That doesn’t surprise me. Transitioning easily leaves more time and more mental and emotional space to learn. The real question becomes: how can a parent prepare their children to successfully make that “big little leap” and all the other leaps (AKA-transitions) of life?

The answer to that question does not rest on academic or cognitive training but on relationship security. Children and parents will make the “big little leap” and other life “leaps” more successfully when they have experienced, and continue to experience, secure relationships at home. Having a secure relationship with our children helps them answer a couple of important questions. One question is: “Will you, as my parents, be there for me? Are you available?” A second question asks, “Do you think I’m capable? Am I capable?”

These two questions get answered in the everyday interaction of a parent and child. It begins as our children explore the world around them. As newborns, they simply want us to notice what they notice and match their curiosity with our own, reflecting back to them what they see in an ever-expanding way. “Oh, you see the squirrel. He’s fast isn’t he? Watch how he runs with that acorn in his mouth.” “Here comes the dog. He wants you to pet him. Gentle….” We join them in their experience and expand upon it somewhat, encouraging them to explore more deeply.

As they grow and become increasingly independent, they need us to allow them the freedom to explore in a more independent fashion. While they do, they need us to delight in their exploration by noticing what they notice and becoming excited and curious about things that arouse their curiosity. They need us to allow them the freedom to explore independently rather than hover in an overprotective way.

During their independent exploration, our children may experience times of stress and look to us for assurance. At those times, they need us to look at them with delight and confidence as they prepare for their “new venture.” For instance, the first time our child approaches a slide in the park they may look up the ladder and experience nervousness and doubt. They look to us to see our response. If we look with delight and confidence, they are empowered. They climb the ladder and “enjoy the ride.” However, if we look distressed or concerned for some reason, they will likely forego the slide and come to our side to confirm their own security.

This scenario will happen time and time again in all types of situations, like setting the table, joining a group, playing a game, getting on a slide, riding a bike, and so on. Each time, they find the answer to their questions: “Are you available to me?” and “Am I capable?” Each time these questions are answered in a positive way, security is enhanced. They being to internalize important messages:

  • My parents are available to help me and so there are helpers in the world.
  • I can manage my emotions whether they be joy or sorrow, courage or fear, and if I struggle, there are supports to help me.
  • I can take appropriate risks. I know my limitations and how to risk in a healthy way.
  • I am safe.

With these beliefs in place, the “big little leap” has a greater chance of success and just adds another layer of support for those beliefs. In fact, with each leap, parent and child grow more confident and trusting of one another. With that confidence comes greater joy and greater success. Isn’t that what we want for our children? Sure, letting go is hard…but watching them grow into amazing young adults is well worth the “leap.”

To Keep Your Marriage Stronger, Longer

Do you want to have a life-long, happy marriage? I do….and I have good news. According to research, this one daily behavior will contribute to a long, happy marriage. The findings came from analyzing data from 732 couples between the ages of 64- and 74-years-old. What is the behavior that contributes to a joyous marriage well into late adulthood? Well, the research involved having couples increase the frequency of intimacy in their marriage. Those that increased the frequency of their intimacy reported increased marital quality.  Not that surprising, right?  Couples that enjoy intimacy report greater positivity about their marriage. Physical contact protects the quality of a marriage.

Another study noted that a particular type of intimacy promotes well-being in marriages: kissing. Just like the old song: “K-I-S-S-I-N-G.” Kissing decreases a person’s level of cortisol (a stress hormone) while increasing oxytocin (a hormone that encourages bonding). Kissing also relaxes people and builds a deeper connection between those kissing. Decreased stress. Increased bonding. Greater connection. Each can add to a person’s sense of well-being. And, of course, previous blogs talk about the importance of hugging.

Spending quality time intimately conversing with your spouse will also increase the well-being of your marriage. Sit down and have a conversation with your spouse. Discuss your hopes and dreams as well as all the things you admire and adore about your spouse. “Look into their eyes” and tell them the depth of your love.

Let me ask again. Do you want a life-long, happy marriage? Then enjoy intimacy with your spouse. Kiss. Hug. Hold hands. Enjoy meaningful conversation with one another. Go with the flow and “see where it goes.” Not just once, but practice, practice, practice. Not only will you promote better marital quality, but you’ll have fun as well.

The Key to Happiness for You & Your Family

Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz authored a book entitled The Good Life: Lessons From the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness.  One of the authors (Waldinger) is the current director of the ongoing and longest-running study on happiness being conducted at Harvard. The study has been gathering data since the 1930’s. Throughout this study, one thing has continuously shown to “demonstrate its broad and enduring importance” to happiness. What is it? Good relationships. It’s true. Relationships contribute to happiness more than achievement, money, or health. We are a people designed for relationships. Healthy relationships make us happy. So, if you want to be happier, nurture your relationships.

I suggest that you start by nurturing a healthy relationship with your spouse. Invest in your marriage. You can nurture your marriage by:

  • Looking for and telling your spouse things you adore and admire about them.
  • Talking about your day with your spouse.
  • Expressing gratitude to your spouse for all they do for you, your family, and your home.
  • Sharing a hug and a kiss every time you separate and reunite…and sometimes just because you love them.
  • Accepting influence from your spouse. Men, be the leader in accepting influence (AKA-submission) in your family.
  • Going on a date, even if it’s a “stay-at-home date” (sometimes they’re the best).
  • Praying for one another.

Invest in your relationship with your children as well.

  • Make the time to engage your children every day. You might engage them in a conversation or in a game. However you choose to do it, make time for your children every day.
  • Be curious about their interests and dreams. Nurture and support those interests.
  • Learn about the friends in your children’s lives. Also learn about those peers who grieve them somehow.
  • Share appropriate physical affection with your children.
  • Let your children live their dreams. In fact, support and encourage those dreams.
  • Pray for your children.

Invest in your relationship with your parents.

  • Enjoy time with your parents. Visit them. Talk with them on the phone.
  • Share your dreams for the future with your parents.
  • Listen to their stories of the past…and learn from those stories.
  • Give your parents a hug.
  • Pray for your parents.

Your spouse and your family cannot provide all the relationships you need. Invest in your relationships with friends.

  • Make time to get together with friends.
  • Go on double dates.
  • Get your families together.

Relationships are the spice of life…and they begin in the family. Nurture your relationships to nurture your happiness. And, when you start in the home, you’re also nurturing the happiness of your spouse and your children.

The Power of a Simple Thank You

When encouraging married couples to express gratitude to one another, one or both of them often asks, “Why should I thank my spouse for something they should do anyway?” For one thing, because every thank you is a deposit in the Family Bank of Honor…and every deposit strengthens your marriage. For a second reason, read Why Thank Your Spouse for Doing Chores. And now, a 15-month study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers another compelling reason to express gratitude to your spouse. This study examined the impact of expressing gratitude and perceiving gratitude on a couple’s relationship. The couples were observed over a 15-month period and completed surveyed three times: once at the beginning of the 15 months, once at 8 months, and once at the end of the 15 months. Each survey gathered information about the couple’s level of arguing, conflict resolution, expressions of gratitude, perceived gratitude, and financial strain. Based on the surveys, the researchers shared several interesting findings.

  • Individuals with higher levels of expressed and perceived gratitude were more satisfied with their relationship.
  • Individuals with higher levels of expressed and perceived gratitude were also more confident in the future of their relationship.
  • They also reported fewer discussions or even thoughts about breaking up.
  • Higher levels of perceived gratitude buffered the individual and couple against the stress of financial strain and ineffective arguing. In other words, perceiving that your partner appreciates you (perceived gratitude) contributed to feeling less stressed about financial strain or ineffective arguing.  (Expressed gratitude did not have this effect.)

In other words, if you want to maintain a high level of satisfaction in your marriage, express gratitude to your spouse AND recognize when they express gratitude to you. In fact, make the expression of gratitude a hallmark of your relationship, a daily practice of identifying opportunities to express gratitude and then doing so. Not only will this increase your marital satisfaction, it will also help you manage the stress of finances and disagreements more effectively. To put it simply…. “Why should I thank my spouse for something they should be doing anyway?” Because it makes for a happier, healthier, and more intimate marriage.

Go Ahead, Sweat the Small Stuff

I know we’re told to not sweat the small stuff. And sometimes that is absolutely correct. But, when it comes to marriage, better start sweating the small stuff. In fact, sweating the small stuff might just save your marriage. For instance, imagine your wife asked you to wash the dishes and you forget. No big deal if it happens once in a while. It’s small stuff. Still, when your wife gets up the next morning to a sink full of dirty dishes, she will feel ignored, invalidated, and unimportant. You didn’t mean any of that. It was a simple mistake. What if this “forgetting” becomes an habitual pattern? She may begin to feel like you forget those small, inconsequential requests “all the time.”  Not on purpose, mind you. You just have other things on your mind—important things like work, the game, an outing with the guys, rest. (Wait a minute… “important things”? Things more important than your wife?)  

Each time you forget to do the small stuff, you drop another pebble into your wife’s emotional shoes—a pebble of feeling ignored, unimportant, and invalidated. Every night she takes those small, inconsequential moments turned irritating pebbles and throws them in the corner with the others. Each night, the pile grows higher and higher. Pebbles of resentment turn into mountains of bitterness all made up of the small stuff like unfulfilled promises & forgotten request. Soon, your wife is being crushed by an avalanche of despair and hurt set off by just one more small request and promise unfulfilled. As she lay under the rubble of habitual small stuff ignored, she knows her marriage is dead…and she weeps. Don’t get me wrong. The same process can occur when a wife lets the “small stuff” go.

Either way, the small stuff can make or break your marriage. Small stuff, like showing appreciation, responding to requests, following through on little promises, showing gratitude, hugs, remaining polite, expressing adoration….. All small stuff when taken one by one. But compounding over time, they will make or break your marriage.

My advice? Go ahead, sweat the small stuff. It can save your marriage.

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.

Give Your Spouse This Daily Romantic Booster Shot

Thanksgiving has passed. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop expressing gratitude for things your spouse does and says. In fact, I like to think of Thanksgiving as the beginning of another year to express gratitude to my spouse. I know. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of life and lose sight of the little things our spouses do for our families every day. Many of us may get so busy we don’t even recognize the little things for which we could be grateful. Or we simply take them for granted in the midst of our daily rush. However, the authors of a study published in 2010 found expressing gratitude helps to “solidify a relationship.” Expressing gratitude increases relationship satisfaction and connection for both spouses, both the one who gives thanks and the one who received thanks. Couples still noted a boost in their relationship satisfaction and connection the day after an expression of gratitude. In other words, expressing gratitude functioned as a “booster shot to the relationship.”

Other studies have also shown that a daily “gratitude booster shot” of gratitude helps couples maintain a high level of relationship satisfaction over time (Lack of Gratitude Will Sink Your Marital Ship), vaccinates against impulsiveness and increases patience (7 Ways Gratitude Benefits Your Family According to Research), and even helps promote physical health (A Free Supplement for Your Family’s Health). Doesn’t that sound like a great booster shot to give your spouse and your marriage. And…it does not hurt. There are no negative side effects. Just a happier, healthier marriage.

So, give your spouse a booster shot, a romantic booster shot filled with daily doses of gratitude.

Is Your Marriage Under Siege

Is your marriage under siege? Has an invisible enemy cut off the essential emotional and relational supplies that give life to your marriage? Maybe your own actions have unknowingly put your marriage under siege. It’s easy to do. Whether under siege from within or without, you need to recognize the siege artillery used to sap your marriage of the loving nutrients and sustenance it needs to survive. Then you can respond and overcome the siege to build a healthy marriage. Here are four strategies the enemy of marriage uses to set siege on your marriage…so you can address & defeat them!

  • TV, phones, and other screens. If you find yourself sitting in the same room with your spouse in silence as you both scroll through social media apps, your marriage is under siege. If you watch TV more than you interact with your spouse, your marriage is under siege. Excessive screen time will sap your marriage of the necessary interactions and emotional connection you need to build a healthy marriage.

Turn off the TV. Put down the phone and forget about social media for a while. Look your spouse in the eye and talk about your day, your dreams, your life. Converse with one another. Dream together. Doing so will nurture the emotional connection every marriage needs to survive.

  • Defensiveness. If you find you and your spouse caught in a cycle of blame and defensiveness every time something goes awry, your marriage is under siege. We reap what we sow, even in marital disagreements. Blame and defensiveness prevent growth. They create an environment in which both parties deny responsibility and so become powerless to change, powerless to strengthen their marriage. Instead, blame and defensiveness poison marriages with anger and resentment, slowly draining it of health.

Stop blaming. Look at yourself. Take the log out of your own eye. As you do, your spouse is more likely to do the same. Your marriage will grow as both people take responsibility for their contribution to the problem and so take hold of the power to change themselves as individuals within the marriage.

  • The primacy of “my.” When one or both people in a marriage focus on “my wants,” “my way,” “my desires,” “my,” “my,” “my…” your marriage is under the siege of pride and selfishness. It will soon die of starvation for real connection and mutual regard for one another’s needs.

Take a step back. Remember what you love about your spouse. Recall what you did when love was young and do it again. Show kindness. Give preference to your spouse’s wants and wishes. Serve them. Seek to please them. Your marital joy will be nurtured. And your relationship will grow stronger as a result.

  • Unrealistic expectations. Many people enter marriage with unrealistic expectations. We learn unrealistic expectations from family and TV. Unrealistic expectations may include things like “my spouse completes me” or “we will live happily ever after—all the time” or “we should want to spend all our free time together” or “my spouse will change to be everything I want and need.” Unrealistic expectations will drain your marriage of joy and build walls of resentment.

Face the truth. You and your spouse are two different people, each with your own faults, shortcomings, and eccentricities. You will make one another angry at times. You will feel lonely at times, even though you’re married. Accept these truths. And accept your spouse for who they are, shortcomings and all. Focus on those aspects you love about your spouse and celebrate those strengths. And intentionally work to grow as a person your spouse can love more.

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.

The Two Become One

Parents operate best as a couple rather than two individuals. In fact, researchers from Nanyan Technological University (Presence of spouse alters how parents’ brains react to children stimuli) found that husbands and wives who are in the same location show greater brain synchrony in response to their children crying or laughing. In other words, when their children cry or laugh the two parents become one as far as brain activity goes.

Interestingly, the synching of brain activity did not occur between random couples, only with the other parent of the children.

It did not occur in response to static noise either. Only in response to their children’s emotional expression.

And, it only happened when the parents were physically present with one another—in the same room at the same time.

What does all this mean? It makes me think of a couple of things.

  • When couples raise their children together, they become more united. Their brains synch, especially in their “attentional and cognitive control mechanisms.” In other words, they become more attentive together and they begin to “mesh” how they respond to their children. Similarity in the brain translates to greater similarity in parenting. This will help them parent more effectively and lovingly as a “united front.”
  • As parents’ brain sync up, they will also grow more intimate with one another, more united in their love. They will gain understanding of one another as they work together on the common goals of raising healthy children. Seeing their parents’ love grow will also strengthen a child’s sense of security. Greater security translates to greater confidence and less misbehavior.     
  • As parents respond to their children together, they will experience greater success and growing confidence in their parenting. Who doesn’t want to feel confident in their parenting?

There may be more benefits for this growing synchrony between parents’ brains as they parent. What benefits can you think of? I just found it interesting that when two people who have developed their own lives work together to raise a child, the two become one…literally.

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