Tag Archive for responsiveness

The First 3 Minutes: Predicting & Reflecting

Three minutes. That’s all it took. Three minutes…and the researchers could predict who would be divorced within six years. It was a study completed by John Gottman and Sybil Carrere to see if the way a discussion of marital conflict began would predict divorce. The study involved observing couples engage in 15-minute conversations about an area of marital disagreement. Want to know the secret of the first 3 minutes?

Three minutes. That’s all it took. Three minutes…and the researchers could predict who would be divorced within six years. It was a study completed by John Gottman and Sybil Carrere to see if the way a discussion of marital conflict began would predict divorce. The study involved observing couples engage in 15-minute conversations about an area of marital disagreement. Want to know the secret of the first 3 minutes?

If the first 3 minutes of a conversation about a marital conflict started with criticism and involved more negative affect (disgust, contempt, anger, defensiveness) than positive affect (interest, validation, humor, affection), divorce was more likely within the next 6 years. For husbands, the atmosphere of the first 3 minutes of the discussion tended to amplify over the remaining 12 minutes of the conversation. Those who grew more negative more quickly over the remaining 12 minutes were most likely to be divorces. For wives, the rest of the conversation remained similar to the first 3 minutes. Either way, the more negative the first 3 minutes of a conversation, the more likely the couple would divorce within 6 years.

Let me say this in a more personal way. I don’t want you to miss its importance. If you initiate a conversation about a marital conflict with a harsh statement or criticism about your partner or their character, they are more likely to respond with defensiveness. From there, your conversation will likely remain negative at best, and, at worst, grow more negative. That growing negativity predict the greater possibility of your divorce within the next 6 years. And no married couple wants to go through a divorce.

On the other hand, the first 3 minutes of the conversation about a marital conflict also reflects the past. It predicts the future AND it reflects the past. Let me explain. Marital partners invite one another to connect and interact hundreds of times a day (see RSVP for Intimacy in Your Family). When each person responds to those invitations with interest and genuine responsiveness, an environment of trust and security grows. In that environment, one person is less likely to begin a conversation about some marital conflict with a harsh statement or criticism. And, if they do, their partner is better able to remain non-defensive and open to hear the concern. They show a greater willingness to accept their spouse’s influence and change. As a result, the relationship grows. Love and intimacy are nurtured. 

So, 3 minutes… 3 short minutes that reflect a history of marital interactions and predict the future of the marriage. What will your 3 minutes reflect…and predict?

A Parenting Practice that Increases Children’s IQ

This parenting practice can increase your child’s IQ. I know it sounds too good to be true, but research supports the claim. A study involving over 1,600 children, followed from birth to their teenage years and raised in environments in which they faced a great deal of adversity, showed that this parenting practice contributed to raising children’s IQs by six points even in the midst of adversity. What is this miraculous practice? Nurturing and responsive parenting.

Nurturing parents create an environment that counteracts the disadvantages of early adversities and promote learning and growth.  How can a parent practice nurturing, responsive parenting? Let me share some ideas.

  • Get involved in your children’s lives. First and foremost, be available to your children and present in their daily lives. Children love to have their parents involved in their lives. A parent’s loving involvement in their child’s life creates a sense of security that frees their minds to learn and grow in healthy ways.
  • Become a student of your child. Learn about their needs and their interests. Just as important, learn how they act and respond when they’re hungry or sleepy, upset or simply distracted. The more you know about your child and their nuanced responses to life, the more you can respond to their needs in a nurturing, sensitive way.
  • Read to your child. Reading to your child has so many amazing benefits including increasing their empathy, building their imagination, providing a time for bonding, and increasing their problem-solving among many other benefits. Reading to your child also creates a nurturing environment. Pull out those books and start reading.
  • Play games with your children. You can play board games, card games, or outdoor games. Games teach many skills, like turn taking, winning and losing gracefully, negotiation skills, compromise, patience, and more. Children love to learn, and games will help them learn. You can turn daily chores like shopping or cooking into a game to teach your children math. You can play games with letters like the alphabet game while driving. Your child will be learning and not even know they are doing it.
  • Sing songs together. Singing is a great way to bond and build a sense of security in your child’s relationship to you. In addition, we learn many things through singing. We can learn how to cooperate and “harmonize” with one another (rather than sing over one another), listen and respond (like in a call and response song), basic information (the ABC’s song), how our laws get developed (Schoolhouse Rock – I’m Just a Bill ), the basics of grammar (Schoolhouse Rock, conjunction junction) and many more things. Barney, Big Bird, and Mr. Rogers knew how to make the best of music to nurture healthy children. You can too.

That’s five ways to become a nurturing parent. Although they’re surprisingly easy to implement, they have one thing in common. Each one involves investing your time in your child’s life and activities. But you’ll discover this investment is relatively simple and great fun. You will also be pleasantly surprised at the amazing benefits you will reap from this investment: a stronger bond with your children and the nurturing of their higher IQ.

The Blessing of a “Royal We”

My spouse and I live alone in our house now…just the two of us. Our children have grown into beautiful young ladies, each of them living in their own homes. We can even have a pillow fight without anyone interfering or telling us to “settle down.” In addition, when my wife asks,” Did we run the dishwasher?” or I inquire if “we bought eggs?” we know what we are talking about.  Still, questions like that give me pause.

Why? For starters, it’s obvious that the person asking the question knows they didn’t do the task. The objective truth of the question asks if their spouse did the task. But rather than using the pronoun “you,” we both use the “Royal We.”

But that’s not really why the “Royal We” give me pause. The “Royal We” gives me pause because it reminds me how grateful I am to be part of our marital team. The “Royal We” reminds me that I am not alone. I live with a spouse who loves me and works with me to create a joyous marriage and life. Sure, we have our individual interests and strengths. We enjoy individual hobbies. We have our personal sensitivities and struggles. But, encompassing all our personal nuances and idiosyncrasies is the protective, loving “Royal We.”

As charter members of our “Royal We,” we have each other’s happiness in mind. We weep when the other weeps and rejoice when the other rejoices. We support one another in joyous times and in times of sorrow. We protect one another emotionally, mentally, and physically. We nurture one another’s dreams. Yes, we plan a future together.

Research suggests that a healthy “Royal We” is good for a marriage, too. Specifically, couples with a strong sense of “we” are more positive toward one another and feel less stressed. In other words, the “Royal We” supports happy, healthy marriages that nurture healthy individuals. So, how can you build the “Royal We” in your marriage?

First, be responsive to your spouse. John Gottman refers to this as “turning toward” one another. People within relationships make multiple bids for connection with one another. These bids may be as simple as eye contact or a comment about the weather. Or, they may be as direct as saying, “We need to talk.” In whatever way bids are made, couples who respond 86% of the time become “master couples” who experience greater joy and intimacy. Those who respond only 33% of the time are “disasters” and at risk of divorce. So, the first step in becoming a “Royal We” is to respond to your spouse.

Second, create rituals of connection. Build a ritual for reconnecting with your spouse after having spent time apart. The ritual can include a simple verbal greeting, a hug, and a kiss. It might also include an exchange highlighting anything important that happened while apart. So, take the time to reconnect after being apart. It’s simple…but it will have a powerful impact on your relationship and the strength of your “Royal We.”

Third, dream together. Look to the future and what adventures you would like to experience with your spouse. What do you want to do as a couple in five years? Ten years? What vacations would you like to enjoy together? What dreams can you nurture in your spouse and enjoy with them? How can you work toward these dreams and activities? Not only will you enjoy the dreams and activities in your future, but you will also enjoy the time you spend working toward those dreams and activities.

The “Royal We” fills me with gratitude…which leads me to one final aspect of building a strong sense of team in your marriage. Express gratitude to your spouse and for your spouse. Thank your spouse often for being a part of your team, the “better half” of your “Royal We.”

The Big Things or the Best Things in Small Packages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intimacy…It’s Easier Than You Think

Intimacy—the state of having a close, familiar, and loving personal relationship with another person. We all desire intimacy in our marriages. More specifically, we all desire mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual intimacy in our marriages. But how can we develop that intimacy? It’s not as difficult as you might think. It only involves three ingredients and four steps.

First, intimacy is an interpersonal experience. It involves two or more people. For purposes of marriage, we will limit the intimacy to two people.

Second, intimacy begins with one person engaging in self-disclosure. At least one person must be courageous enough to disclose something about themselves. They might disclose information about their personal history, a life milestone, a past experience, or some emotion. The self-disclosure could be about a positive event or a traumatic event, a positive emotion or a heavy emotion. Either way, the self-disclosure represents a moment of vulnerability and a courageous invitation to connect.

Third, intimacy requires another person to pay attention to that self-disclosure. In paying attention, the person does not try to fix anything or change the person who engages in self-disclosure. They simply notice the self-disclosure, acknowledge it, and express interest in it. In other words, they accept the invitation to connect by showing interest in what the person has disclosed.

These three ingredients—two people in a relationship, one person willing to courageously self-disclose, and one person willing to pay loving attention to the disclosure—combine into four steps of growing intimacy.

  • Step one: one person reveals something personal about themselves. 
  • Step two: a second person responds attentively to that disclosure.
  • Step three: the interaction becomes reciprocal with both people paying attention and disclosing.
  • Step four: the intimacy that grows through this interaction promotes more self-disclosure and attentive responding.

That’s all there is to it. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But these simple steps often present a challenge to us. If you accept the challenge, however, the rewards have a ripple effect that will grow stronger and deeper as it expands. Each intimate interaction becomes a piece of a positive relationship history contributing to the expectation of more intimate interactions. The intimate interactions and the belief that future intimate interactions will occur increase our commitment to our relationship. Our sense of togetherness grows stronger and the safety of our relationship deeper. Self-disclosure becomes easier and paying attention more readily engaged in. And the ripples continue to grow….

Another Benefit of a Responsive Spouse

A responsive spouse—one who not only listens and understands but also responds with sympathy and compassion. Who doesn’t want that kind of spouse? I know I do. And really, who doesn’t want to be that kind of spouse? After all, I love my wife. She deserves a “responsive spouse.”

Responsiveness validates our spouses. It lets them know we care for them. It reduces anxiety and arousal. It increases a sense of security in the relationship. It comforts. Overall, responsiveness is a powerful way to improve your marriage. And, a 2016 study involving 698 married and cohabitating couples suggests responsiveness does something more. It improves sleep quality. Not surprising, right? We sleep better when we feel safe. We sleep better when we feel less anxious. We sleep better when we know someone cares for us and validates us.

There you have it…another benefit of a responsive spouse: improved sleep quality. Good sleep quality contributes to a better rested person. A better rested person is happier, healthier, and more able to respond to their spouse. Not only…. Oh wait. I hear my wife calling. Sorry. I have to go. After all, a wife responded to is a happy wife who sleeps well…and loves her responsive husband.

One Key Factor Promotes Lasting Relationships

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…

  1. 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.
  2. 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!).
  3. 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!

Improve Your Sex Life…BEFORE You Hit the Sheets

Kevin Leman published a book entitled Sex Begins in the Kitchen. (Read the review here.) It’s not really a book about sex. But, it does make an important point about sex—if you want to enjoy sexual intimacy with your spouse, start preparing outside the bedroom. I mean way outside the bedroom. In fact, the most enjoyable and satisfying sex life is firmly established on factors that, on first glance, seem totally unrelated to sex and the bedroom. Let me give a few examples.African American Couple Laughing On The Floor

  1. A satisfying sex life is premised on responsiveness to your spouse’s needs and requests OUTSIDE the bedroom. This responsiveness will result in you serving your spouse. Taking out the garbage, washing the dishes, running the vacuum, and even cleaning the toilet become ways to respond to your spouse’s need for help and cleanliness. Responsiveness will also lead you to honor your spouse and her need for a break, his need to develop friendships, or her need to go out “with the girls.” You can learn more about the impact of this type of responsiveness on the quality of your intimacy by reading Increase Your Spouse’s Sexual Desire.
  2. A high quality sex life is built upon communicating admiration and fondness for your spouse on a daily basis. You don’t have to plan some extravagant show of admiration, just simple statements like “you look nice,” “thanks for dinner…you’re a great cook,” “you do a nice job on the yard,” or “thank you, I like working by your side” show fondness and admiration. Simple shows of affection (like a hug, holding hands, or a kiss with no expectation of anything more) are nonverbal ways to show admiration for your spouse. These simple shows of fondness and admiration communicate love. They build trust. They let our spouse know we desire him or her. They create an atmosphere conducive to intimate sharing and abandoned trust.
  3. An intimate sex life is enjoyed when we learn to accept invitations from our spouse to connect throughout the day. We offer up invitations of connection all the time. Some invitations are explicit; others are implicit. Questions like “Want to go for a walk” or “can we talk” are explicit, direct invitations to connect. But the day is filled with indirect, implicit invitations as well…like, “nice day, isn’t it?” or a gentle touch on the shoulder, a smile, or a sigh. Each of these statements, questions, or actions invite us to connect with our spouse. Each time we respond with genuine interest we stoke the fires of intimacy and open the doors for deeper relationships.
  4. Take #3 a step further by connecting emotionally to really boost your sex life. We all want to “feel” understood. We want to be known at the deepest level, to be heard in the silence of our hearts. When we acknowledge our spouse’s emotions and let their emotions impact us, we connect more deeply. When we respond to our spouses based on their emotions they feel heard, valued, connected. Sharing emotional connection builds an intimacy outside the bedroom that carries over into the bedroom.

At first glance, these four factors may not seem directly related to our sex life. But, our sex life is built upon and premised on our daily words, actions, and interactions. It is an outgrowth of our intentional responsiveness, communications of admiration, and connections throughout the day.