Tag Archive for support

Our Longest Relationship & Our Happiness, Part 2

In Our Longest Relationship and Our Happiness, we discussed our longest relationship, the relationship with our siblings. Our siblings know us as children, adolescents, single adults, married adults, and possibly widowed adults. They have known us, and we have known them, for a lifetime. Even more, sibling relationships, beginning in childhood, form a training ground for all kinds of other relationships in our lives. As adults, our siblings can provide guidance and insight as well as fun times and companionship in our lives. To keep those relationships strong in spite of the passage of time and physical distance, practice these tips.

  • Reach out. Take the initiative to reach out to your sibling. Reaching out to your sibling is an expression of love. It communicates how much you value them and their relationship.
  • Share your life with your sibling. Talk about the “happenings” in your life. Share stories about activities, relationships, and interests. Take a deep breath and courageously talk about some of the struggles in your life as well. Share your disappointments and sorrows. People grow closer by sharing themselves with one another.
  • If you do something that hurts your sibling, either knowingly or unknowingly, apologize. See the hurt from their perspective. Apologize and determine not to do it again.
  • When your sibling talks about their struggles and disappointment, don’t try to “fix” it. Simply be available and listen. If they need a professional counselor, they will get one. They need us to be their sibling, a person who will be available, listen, and understand. After you have listened, they may ask for advice. Then you can share ideas and talk about possibilities.
  • If you and your sibling have grown apart over the years but are now reuniting, start slow. Start off with small talk. Avoid touchy subjects. Enjoy memories. Enjoy your different perspectives. It’s alright to have differences. Allow those differences and celebrate them. They may contribute to growth in both you and your sibling.

I do offer one caveat. Sometimes we need to maintain distance and strong boundaries with siblings for our own mental health. There could be a number of reasons for this. It is unfortunate, but the truth for many people. If this is the case in your sibling relationships, I encourage you to maintain those boundaries and continue to grow as an individual. Find good friends who can become your “adopted siblings” and offer you the support you need. Even with your newly formed “friend siblings” you can use the practices above to deepen your relationships for a lifetime.

Available to Family Today, Healthy Tomorrow

An important aspect of feeling secure in a family is wrapped up in the answer to this question: “Are you available to me?” Most of the time, this question is not explicitly spoken, and the answer is given without saying a word. Instead, the answer is seen in our actions. A study published in the November 2021 edition of the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity involved 1,054 healthy adults and showed the critical importance of how we answer this question. Specifically, the study explored whether giving social support played an important role in health. The researchers utilized measures of interleukin-6 (IL-6, which is a marker of systemic inflammation in the body and associated with increased risk of diseases like cardiovascular disease and cancer) to assess the relationship between giving social support and personal health.

At the start of this two-year study, participants completed a questionnaire measuring their social integration and how much they believed they could rely on family and friends when needed. Two years later, participants returned to the lab for blood tests measuring for IL-6. Careful reviews and assessments of the questionnaires and the completed blood work revealed that being available to give support was associated with lower levels of IL-6. In fact, the researchers only found this association in those who believed they could give support in their relationships. Did you catch that? It wasn’t the receiving of support that proved beneficial to health. Health was associated with being available to provide social support to family and friends, not just receive social support. It seems that our health is bound up in our willingness to be available to give social support to family and friends. This was especially true for women.

Back to our question: “Are you available to me?” According to this study, an individual’s answer to this question effects their health. When I am available to support my family and friends today, I experience greater health tomorrow. Now imagine if each family member made themselves available to support other family members. Each person’s relationships would become more rewarding and stress-relieving. The healing power of mutually supportive relationships would enhance the whole family’s health and well-being. In other words, being available to your family today means having a healthier family tomorrow. So put your family on the schedule. Set the example for your family by making yourself available to support them. Here are some great ways to make sure you are available to your family.

  • Schedule family meals several times a week. You can meet as a whole family or with individual members of your family.
  • Schedule a family fun night.
  • When you have an errand to run, invite a family member along. When your family member has an errand to run, ask to go along.
  • Do chores together and enjoy other mundane opportunities for quality time together.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Have a date. Whether it be a family outing date, a date with your spouse, or a parent-child outing, enjoy time together.
  • When a family member celebrates, celebrate with them. When they look down, ask them what’s going on. When they need comfort, comfort them. Take time from your schedule to be available to the profoundly important things in your life—like your family.
  • When a family member asks you for help, make the time to help them. Sure, there may be times you cannot help. But you can often set aside some less important activities (watching a TV show, reading a book, playing a game on your phone, etc.) for a short time in order to be available to help your family. Do your best to remain available to support and help your family.

Be Your Spouse’s Dream Champion

Everyone wants their spouse to grow into their best self.  Unfortunately (or, maybe fortunately) you cannot make them grow into their best self. But you can nurture and support their dreams. You can help them grow into their dreams and their best self by keeping these four practices in mind.

  • Be your spouse’s dream champion not their dream blocker. Show interest in your spouse’s dreams and goals. Talk about their dreams. Learn what that dream means to them and how they need to do to move toward that dream. If there are ways in which you can help them achieve their dream, do it. Celebrate their successes with each step they make toward their dream. Your support will nurture your spouse’s self-confidence to take wise steps toward achieving their goals and their dream.
  • Be your spouse’s encourager not their controller. If there are ways you might help your spouse move toward their dream, do it. However, do not intrude and take over their dream. Do not push them toward their dream or act as though you know how to best achieve their dream. Don’t take control of their dream by telling them what they need to do in order to achieve it. It is their dream. Let them have it. Encourage them when they feel discouraged. Encourage them when they feel overwhelmed. Be your spouse’s encourager…not their controller.
  • Be your spouse’s wise sounding board not their micromanager. You may have insights into how your spouse can move toward their dream. As you and your spouse talk about the dream, offer your insights. But don’t micromanage. Don’t interfere with their exploration of their dream and the pathway to it. Let them own their successes and their failures.
  • Be your spouse’s comforter not their sergeant. When your spouse experiences a setback or a temporary failure, comfort them. Don’t brush off the doubts that arise because of the setback. Don’t push the stress aside as common to everyone chasing a dream. Don’t motivate them with threats or powerful motivational speeches. Instead, remain emotionally available to share that time of disappointment and sorrow with them. Sit with them. Comfort them. Then, become their encourager again…their dream champion.

Our spouses help us become our best selves (I know my wife is My Michelangelo) …and we can help our spouses become their best selves. However, we must act wisely for that to happen. Encourage but don’t take over. Be a wise sounding board, not a micromanager.  When necessary, comfort rather than motivate. When you do these things, you will become your spouse’s dream champion and they will become their best self.

Mom’s Village & Your Child’s Cognitive Abilities

Several studies published in 2021 (reviewed in Small measures can be a big help for children of mothers with depression — ScienceDaily.) suggest the importance of a mother’s support in raising children. Specifically, these studies looked at 120 families with 9- to 10-month-old infants in Sweden and Bhutan and 100 refugee families in Turkey with children between 6- and 18-years-old. The common finding for the families in all three countries was that children’s attentiveness, social understanding, and ability to make decisions fell behind when their mothered suffered from mental health struggles like depression. That’s the bad news.

But there is good news. When a mother receives support from her partner or if she had a large family or a large social network that “rallied round and supported” her, the child’s development returned to the developmental norm. In other words, a mother’s strong, supportive “village” helps her become the best mother she can be and keeps her child on track developmentally.

Where does this strong, supportive “village” come from?

  • A supportive spouse who invests in the life of the mother and his family is part of a strong supportive village.
  • A healthy extended family is another crucial aspect of the supporting village. Extended family willing to support, assist, and help while maintaining healthy boundaries is priceless for any parent raising a child
  • Social groups like those found in religious life or an active community life rounds out a supportive village for mothers. These groups allow for regular times of meeting with other supportive people in a common phase of life or who share common interests. They allow for the development of relationships that support us in our life transitions, struggles, and celebrations. (For more ideas on building a village for your family see It Takes a Village…Yeah, But How?)

If we want strong, healthy families to support our children’s attentiveness, social understanding, and ability to make wise decisions, we need to build a village for every mother, parent, and family. If you’re a family, you can begin by reaching out to build that village today. If you are part of an extended family, strengthen your relationship with your family. If you are a church or other religious organization, intentionally work to create a supportive community for families within your community. Our families, our children…our future…depends on it.

In Family, Is It Better to Give or Receive?

If you are a student of ancient Biblical sayings, you probably think you know the answer to this question already. In fact, you will quote the words of Jesus in response to the question: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Researchers from Ohio State University put that to the test in a study involving 1,054 healthy adults between 34 and 84-years-old. Each participant completed three measures: one of their social integrations, one of their perceptions of how much they could rely on others, and one of their perceptions of how available they were to support family and friends. Two years later they returned for follow-up blood tests that measured markers of systemic inflammation in the body. These markers are associated with increased risk for health issues like cardiovascular disease and cancer.

What did they discover? Lower inflammation markers [and, as a result, the risk for related diseases] was associated with increased availability to give social support to family and friends. In other words, the researchers found the healing power of relationships increase when a person gives support to family and friends rather than simply receiving support.

Don’t mistake, receiving support is also good. It, too, is associated with greater health. But the greatest health benefit comes when we offer support as well. So, it’s true. When it comes to giving and receiving support in your marriage and family it really “is more blessed to give than to receive,” even in terms of our physical health. With that in mind, how can you give support to your spouse and family? The ways are endless but let me offer three principles.

  1. Being available to give support to your family takes time. You have to give of your time to your spouse and your family to remain available to offer support. Get out your calendar and prioritize time with your family.
  2. Giving support to your family means setting aside your personal agenda at times. The need for support often arises at “inconvenient times.” You might have to sacrifice watching your favorite game or TV show to spend time supporting your family. You might have to change your schedule, postpone an activity. But, in the long run, what really is more important to you, your family or a sitcom? Your spouse or a video game? Your children or reading the news? Postpone your agenda and make yourself available to support your family.
  3. To truly support your spouse and children, you have to know them well. Each person receives support in slightly different ways. One person may feel supported with encouraging words while another desires hands-on assistance. Moreover, each person may need support in a different area of their life depending on their developmental needs and current needs. Take time to know your family so you can support them in the ways that are most meaningful to them. If you can’t figure out how a family member wants support or in what area they might like support, ask them.

These three principles will open up a “world of opportunity” to support your family. As you do, you will experience the joy and health of giving support to your family. You will gain firsthand knowledge that “it’s more blessed to give than to receive.”

Will You Take the 30-Day Clandestine Marriage Challenge?

You can support your spouse and your marriage in at least two ways. One, you can offer support in a very visible way. This way often involves receiving some acknowledgment or fanfare in return. Generally, the more fanfare the giver requires, the less appreciated the support.  Still, recognizing and acknowledging your spouse’s support will definitely strengthen your marriage.

But I want to focus on a second way to support your spouse—the invisible, clandestine way. Clandestine support often flies under the radar. It is done without your spouse asking for it. They may not even know you did it, even when they recognize it has been done. And clandestine support will often alleviate stress for your spouse. To me, the most beautiful aspect of clandestine support is the pleasant surprise I see on my spouse’s face when she recognizes what was done.

How can you offer clandestine support?

  • Do a chore that your spouse normally does. And do it without being asked.
  • Prepare your spouse’s favorite food.
  • Bring home a treat your spouse enjoys—flowers, candy, pie (that one’s in case my spouse reads this post).
  • Plan a night out for no special reason…and make it a surprise.

I’m sure you can think of more ideas. The point is to do it without being asked and with no expectation of any fanfare or recognition in return.  Then, enjoy your spouse’s delight and surprise when they recognize what has been done.

In fact, I want to challenge you to participate in a Clandestine Marriage Challenge. Complete as many clandestine acts of service for your spouse as you can over the next 30 days. While you do, pay attention to any changes you notice in your spouse, your marriage, and your children. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The “Benevolent Lie” that Destroys Your Marriage

Obviously, lying to your spouse damages your marriage. It destroys trust. It drives a wedge of secrecy between you and your spouse. But, what about a “benevolent lie”? You know, those little lies that hide your need from our spouses. After all, we don’t want to burden our spouse with our needs. We don’t want them to worry about our concerns. We don’t want them to see us as “too needy” or weak. So, we withhold our suffering, our pain, our need for emotional support or physical help with a little “benevolent lie.” Unfortunately, this “benevolent lie” will also destroy your relationship. Let me explain.

First, our spouse very likely recognizes our struggle, but they don’t know what it is. If we do not share the details of our struggle or our need, our spouse does not have to “guess what’s bothering us.” They will begin to make assumptions about what our need might be…and you know that they say happens when we “ass-u-me.”

Second, we enhance trust when we become vulnerable enough to express our need and then accept our spouse’s help. By doing so, we offer them the opportunity to know us more deeply, which builds trust.

Third, a strong marriage involves interdependency and mutual support. How can we develop greater interdependency if we do not express our need for support? Expressing our needs, on the other hand, opens the door for greater interdependency and support.

Fourth, by expressing our needs, we make it possible for us to meet the need, fix the problem, and work on a solution together.

Finally, expressing our need allows our spouse to love us by supporting us through our needs.

Do not let the “benevolent lie” interfere with your marriage. Instead, express your emotional needs to your spouse. Doing so will help you build a stronger, healthier marriage in the long run.

Succeeding in School: On-Line OR In Person

The school year has started. Well, sort of…I mean, it is different. Some of our children are in school part of the week and on-line part of the week. Others are on-line all the time. No one seems sure about school next month…in person or on-line? With all this in mind, how can we support our children in having the most productive, successful school year possible? Here are a few suggestions.

  • First, provide a space in your home for schoolwork. In fact, make this space specific to schoolwork.  Whether it be a desk or a space at the dining room table, having a space set apart for schoolwork will help your children focus. Designate this space for schoolwork only–no social media use or gaming from this spot. Encourage your children to get up and walk away from this designated area when they engage social media or simply need to take a break. This space is designated for schoolwork only. This will help your children focus; and, it will inform others in the family to “not disturb, schoolwork in progress.”
  • Second, encourage working on one task at a time. Set up your children’s work areas so they are not distracted by other screens, TV’s, people, or cellphones (including their own). Turn on the “do not disturb” on their phone and computer to help them focus. Teach them to focus on one class at a time. Do not disturb them with other household tasks during school time. Learning to focus on one task at a time is an important skill leading to success. Multitasking is ineffective and inefficient.  So, set up their “on-line school environment” to encourage a single focus on school.
  • Third, establish a healthy sleep schedule. Our children still need a healthy night’s rest to function well in school, even when they are “doing school” from home. A good night’s rest improves mood, concentration, and ability to learn. Set up the routines that will allow your children to get the sleep they need. Their academic achievement will thank you for it. (Learn about Your Teen & the Importance of Sleep and The Enemy of Teen Sleep)
  • Fourth, start the day off with positive interactions to promote a positive mood. Negative emotions take up space in our mind and interfere with concentration and learning. There is enough going on in the world that threatens to rob our children of a spacious mind for learning. Make your home a haven in which they can experience positive emotions that support positive spaces in the mind for learning. (Prime Your Children for a Good School Day)
  • Fifth, foster their motivation to learn. I believe this represents one of the great challenges of on-line learning. How can you foster your children’s internal motivation to “do school”? Having our children at home increases the risk that we, as parents, might step in to “help out” and accidently “take over.”  Resists the urge to step in. Promote their independence instead. Ask them about their plan to complete homework, prepare for school, or complete an assignment rather than planning it for them. Allow them to experience their own failures rather than bailing them out. Let them experience their own successes rather than doing the nitty gritty for them. Foster their independence and you foster their motivation to learn. (Read 3 Tips to Motivate Your Child to learn more about instilling internal motivation.)
  • Sixth, acknowledge their effort. Our children need to know that we recognize their hard work, especially in these times of uncertainty. Rather than focusing on the final grade, acknowledge their effort. This will help build a growth mindset that will benefit them for a lifetime.

These six tips can help make this school year a productive, successful year of learning whether they “do school” on-line, in person, or both.

Parents as Emotional Containment Pods

A teen’s life is full of emotions. They can be happy one moment and angry the next…down in the dumps one moment, then turn around, and be on top of the world.  I’m sure you’ve seen it. School and community do not provide a safe place for them to unload these emotions. Instead, our teens endure the tedious demands of teachers, authority figures, and other teens while they go through their day at school or wander through the community. They put up with annoying peers with whom they need to interact as they navigate the teen challenges of becoming their own person and learn to differentiate from their family. Amazingly, they do this all with a great deal of grace.

Then, they come home. The frustrations, angers, annoyances, hurts, sorrows, and tears of the day remain bottled up until they release them, pour them out right onto us, their emotional containment pods. Yes, as a parent we get the privilege of serving as emotional containment pods for our teens. I say privilege because they come to us, a person they consider safe and who lives with them in a place they consider safe, to let it all out. They are comfortable enough with us to let all the uncomfortable feelings roll right out of their mouth and onto us. We help them contain the mess. We help them manage the emotions and navigate the frustrations. They have given us an opportunity to support them because they trust us! Unfortunately, knowing this does not make it easier for us to manage the frustration of experiencing their emotions wash over us and fill us.  But here are some tips that might help.

  • Remind yourself that you are providing them a way to unload stress so they can “keep it together” while at school and in the community. In addition, this provides an opportunity to teach problem-solving. But, before you move into any problem solving, listen.
  • Listen. Listening will teach your children that you value them.  It also informs them that their emotions are not overwhelming to you, you can handle them. You can help them manage the emotions, contain them in a healthy way.
  • Confirm whether your child wants to vent or complain. Venting simply expresses frustration and allows the “venter” to feel better because they have been listened to and heard. If your child simply wants to vent, listen, empathize, and listen some more.  Complaining, on the other hand, conveys the message that someone else needs to fix the problem. It takes no time to look at the areas of the difficulty “I” can influence. It leaves the complainer helpless. The complainer never feels better. Complaining does not accomplish anything. If your child wants to complain, move to the next bullet.
  • Help your child learn the difference between problems over which they have influence and those they cannot solve. Help them learn where their responsibility begins and ends. Help them determine what aspects of the problem they have influence over. When they have discovered those areas of influence, help them think through a plan of response. For those areas over which they have no influence, encourage them to learn to “accept the things they cannot change.”
  • Set limits. We want to have more relationship with our children than just listening to them vent. Encourage them to tell you positive events of the day as well. Also, sometimes our teens have bad days. They are irritable and snap out at family. They punish their family for their own bad mood with cutting remarks and snarky comments. It is a fair limit to say, “You can vent, I’ll listen. You can come to me and we can problem solve. But, we will not allow you to mistreat us.”

Teen years are filled with stress and emotion. Fortunately, these emotions provide a wonderful opportunity to grow closer with your teen and guide them toward greater maturity.

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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