Tag Archives: children

4 Tips to Strengthen Relationships with Your Children

I realize this is a blog on marriage tips, but since many of you have children, I thought I’d share a guest post I recently provided to Moms with Grace explaining how some of the marriage research we discuss here can also boost your relationships with children.

Moms with Grace has the following philosophy:  Motherhood comes with mistakes, mysteries and moments of pure bliss. Explore them all while keeping your dignity firmly intact. Dignity and grace are two things we can all use more of in our families, so explore her new blog–a mommy blog with positive energy.

Photo Credit: ©PhotoXpress.com

Putting Kids First in Families Harms Children

Making time for the marriage when you have children is a constant battle for many parents. It is for me. Whether you have kids or plan to in the future, the following may help guide you. A new book suggests putting the kids first not only harms the marriage, it also harms the children. And putting the marriage first not only benefits the marriage relationship, it also benefits the children.

“To raise healthy kids, simply put your marriage first and your children second,” says David Code, author of To “Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First” in a Boston Globe interview.  (Read the full interview here.) Code adds that many individuals escape from their marital problems by focusing on the children. “The truth is, we often find it easier to be with our kids than our partners,” said Code. “This seems child-friendly, but we don’t realize we’re using our kids as an escape from our spouses.”

A minister and family coach, Code found couples coming to him to save their marriages when they were already on their way to divorce court. Others wanted him to fix their children, but he saw it was the household that needed repair.

The biggest myth of parenting, says Code, is that the more attention we give our kids, the better they’ll turn out.  He says we’re killing ourselves to create perfect childhoods for our kids. “Where are the results? Studies show today’s parents spend more time with their kids, and yet…they seem more troubled, entitled and needy.”

How does this slide happen? Children’s needs seem more urgent and constant than the marriage, which is important but not urgent. Little by little, parents pull away from the marriage to focus on their needs. The damage is done slowly, often without even realizing it. “Not only do we lose our marriages, we set a poor example for our children’s future marriages, and we also create highly anxious households where our kids soak up that anxiety and then act out,” said Code.

Code suggests overparenting can lead to anxious children who are over-praised, over-protected, and under-developed on skills of teamwork and cooperation. They’re less happy, and they’re less successful. Kids need to learn how to self-soothe, how to deal with setbacks, and how to be resilient. These skills train us for adult life.

He advises that parents need to make decisions about activities and priorities, saying, “Kids are too young to drink, vote, or drive, and they’re definitely too young to make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives.”

Couples need to address their problems directly, understanding there is no such thing as a conflict-free marriage. In addition to placing too much focus on the children, issue avoidance can also come in the form of working long hours, being involved in too many children’s activities, focusing on electronic devices (from TVs to iphones), and making up “excellent reasons why we never have sex anymore,” explains Code.

Code doesn’t see the issue as the spouse’s needs outweigh the child’s. Rather, he sees that prioritizing the marriage benefits the whole family in the long run, even when it’s not clear in the short-run.

Even small changes can benefit the family, he says, including making time as a couple to talk about your day’s highlights and lowlights, taking regular walks together, and making weekly appointments for sex. “I’m not about going from chaos to perfection,” Code says, adding a five perfect improvement can pay huge dividends. “Over a lifetime, that five percent improvement could make the difference between your child graduating from college, getting divorced, or raising a child with mental illness.”

Far from being a perfect parent, Code says his research has changed his parenting, saved his marriage, and made his children more self-reliant. If you missed it, read Who Gets More of Your Attention–Your Children or Your Spouse?

I think his points are on target. I’ve talked to a few people who admit their marriages failed because they became fully devoted to their children at the expense of their spouse and marriage. Kids are so loveable, so easy to forgive, and so willing to take all your time and adoration. Their futures seem so full of promise that we believe if we only do all the right things, they will be successful. Instead, helicopter parenting (hovering) stifles the realization of their potential. We need to create limits (bed times, time to be with just our spouse) and allow them to develop independence while reuniting with the person we married.

What are some ways you can achieve a five percent improvement by shifting attention from your kids or other activities to your marriage?

How Would You React in a Crisis?

I’ve been thinking about this NYT article for months called “Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear” by Laura Munson. It’s the story of a man in a midlife crisis who comes home and tells his wife he doesn’t love her anymore. That’s not so unusual, but her reaction is. They had two kids, a happy marriage and 15 years of history together. They had traveled, dreamed, and moved to a 20-acre plot of land to enjoy solitude. While she felt hurt and upset, she was steady. Her response to him was, “I’m not buying it.” When he told her he wanted to move out and get a divorce, she stood her ground and didn’t get angry. How many of us could respond so calmly, so rationally?  

She understood his career crisis, that he was feeling lost and needed to have time to work through his emotions.  She asked, “What can we do to give you the distance you need, without hurting the family?” Of course, her husband was dumbfounded at her response, but it changed their future. Read the full story. It wasn’t easy, but he did take the time he needed, and they did eventually reconcile. She says the real lesson is not even that she saved her marriage, but about her philosophy of taking care of herself in a crisis.

Not surprisingly, publishers were clamoring for Munson to immediately write a book about her experience, which she did. The book This Is Not the Story You Think It Is has received great reviews, despite being written nearly in real time, as the events were unfolding. Munson has been hailed a hero by marriage advocates. She is being interviewed by every network and every magazine. Here’s a video explaining her philosophy.

Do I think she is worthy of this attention? Yes. Why? There will be times in our marriages when one of us will act inappropriately, maybe crazily, probably wrongly. (Read the post Outlast Your Marriage’s Stupid Phase.) It only takes one person to put on the brakes, to see the crisis for what it may be—an opportunity. Shed light on the situation. Allow time and space to permeate the heated discussions. Get help if you need it. Think about what the other person truly needs. Don’t take their words at face value. Don’t always take hurtful comments as they are intended.

As an example, I have many friends with teenagers who are experienced at hearing them say, “I hate you, Mom.” Do the moms believe them? No, they do not. Do they continue loving them? Yes, they do. And time passes, wounds are healed. Life goes on. The teens never hated their mothers. They hated the situation in which they felt trapped, or the rules that were imposed on them.

Munson did say her patience had limits. She wouldn’t wait forever for her husband to work through his problems. She wasn’t allowing him to cheat or abuse her. All she provided was time and distance, support, a lack of anger or demands, and a steadiness that was needed. Eventually, while staying with his ill sister, it struck him that relationships were the most important part of his life.

Whether it’s in a crisis situation, or just on a day when your spouse just had a bad day at work and reacted poorly, your reaction could indeed dictate your future. How will you respond?

What do you think of Munson’s story? Have you read the book? What does her reaction say to you?

What Have You Done For Your Marriage Today?

The Catholic Church is running public service messages and billboards in different parts of the country asking, “What have you done for your marriage today?” The campaign is aimed at encouraging people to make small investments of time and love in their marriage. Last post, we discussed how it’s so easy to give children all of our time and attention in “Who Gets More of Your Attention—Your Spouse or Your Children?”

Today, we’re looking for solutions and ways to show we care. I’m providing a couple of options—one for the busy slackers like me who often feel overwhelmed with just one additional task, and two other levels for those who want to go the extra mile. For example, one man said after reading about how many women view their bodies, he would post a note on his wife’s mirror saying, “My husband loves my body.” That’s the extra mile.

Try to focus on your spouses’ love language. I’d love for you to contribute your own ideas to these suggestions.

Show Appreciation

Level 1: Before going to sleep, thank your spouse for something he or she regularly does for you or the family. For some people, words of affirmation mean a great deal. You can even send a text or email if that is how you regularly communicate.

Level 2: Buy a card and add a note of appreciation. Leave it under his pillow.

Level 3: Write a note expressing a sincere appreciation for your spouse’s contributions and support. Mail it to work her at work or home.

Give a Gift

Level 1: Pick up a book, movie or other item your honey would enjoy. For those whose love language is gifts, this will make them feel loved. Wrap it lovingly.

Level 2: Add some fun: Plan a scavenger hunt with clues around the house from one point to another until they find the gift. Or fill balloons with cute notes that have hints.

Level 3: Buy something nice for your spouse he wouldn’t buy on his own. Present it at a special time like on a lunch date out.

Show Care

Level 1: Stock up on her favorite beverage and offer one when she is working or relaxing.

Level 2: Prepare his coffee or tea each morning as a sign of care and love.

Level 3: Clean or organize an area of the home that has been driving your spouse crazy (a closet, area of the garage, basement, etc.)

Involve the Senses

Level 1: Bring home some lovely, fragrant flowers or a scented candle or lotion. Or have them delivered to home or work.

Level 2: Bring home her FAVORITE flowers or perfume or his favorite lotion or cologne.

Level 3: Plant some pretty flowers in the yard to enjoy for months and surprise him/her.

Involve Touch

Level 1: Give frequent hugs, back scratches or loving pats/touches during the day.

Level 2: Give a foot or shoulder rub at the end of the day.

Level 2: Offer a full-body massage at your spouse’s chosen time.

Make Plans

Level 1: Hire a sitter if needed and plan a night out. Play his/her favorite song while you are out or request that it be played. (Music is emotionally bonding even when you are having some conflict.)

Level 2: Do something unusual or new like seeing a live concert or show, or participating in a new activity. (This creates excitement and closeness.)

Level 3: Plan a weekend or vacation away with just the two of you.

Commune with Nature

Level 1: Take a leisurely stroll in a nearby park or garden.

Level 2: Visit a state park together for a hike.

Level 3: Plan a surprise picnic with delicious food near uplifting natural surroundings.

Or, ignore all of these ideas and just come up with one small thing you will do today to show love—make her favorite dinner or his favorite dessert. Take care of one extra errand he had on his list. Buy some lingerie he would enjoy. Draw her a bubble bath and play her favorite tunes. Whatever makes your sweetie smile and lets them know you have been thinking of them. I think one small thing each day or week is better than a bigger act of kindness every few months. Don’t complain when your spouse doesn’t immediately reciprocate. You are doing this as an act of love, not so you can get something in return. In general, couples who are doted on do begin to think more about expressing their love in return. Some couples even find they are competitive with which spouse can come up with spontaneous or creative ways to show their love.

What are your easy or fast ideas to express kindness, love, or appreciation to your spouse?

Who Gets More of Your Attention—Your Children or Your Spouse?

I’ve often heard the advice, “The best gift you can give your children is a strong marriage.” While I strongly agree, I don’t often live it out as I should. In fact, I think we often unconsciously reverse the statement and feel that we are giving our spouse the greatest gift by loving their children. This is the hard part, because I think it’s true that loving one’s children is also a gift to our spouses. There’s nothing wrong in loving our children—except when we have nothing left for our spouses. I’ve heard too many marriages fail because the mother refocused all of her attention and energies from the husband she adored to the children to whom she now devotes every waking moment.

It is so easy to get caught up with everything kids need and want that you have little or nothing left at the end of the day for your spouse. (This can be true of childless or empty nesting couples who fill their lives with positive pursuits of work, volunteerism or time with friends.) On an average day, most of us have our jobs, laundry, cooking, shopping, bill paying, and cleaning. If you have school-aged kids like me, you are also shuttling them to and from school and various activities. With the few minutes you have in between these, you will frequently hear requests from the children for more of your time and attention. Mine often ask to read together, sit together, cook together, build something together or play pretend together. Then, of course, there’s the morning routine, the bedtime routine, the mealtime routine. At the end of the day there are lunches to make and laundry to finish.

Meanwhile, your spouse is probably not asking you for your time and attention. Either he is working or trying to help out with the various household activities and is also busy, or he has learned that asking for your attention when you are focused on the kids is a losing proposition, particularly when the children are very young. Perhaps this is why for parents who do not regularly nurture their relationship, there can be a large dip in marital satisfaction after kids arrive.

Don’t get me wrong, I think children are a great blessing—but I also think they will take all the time you give them and still ask for more. Yet, they can still thrive on maybe 90 percent of the energy you give them, allowing you to carve out some time and energy to replenish your own needs and to feed your marriage. We must better manage our time and energy so there is something left for the person we married. This is something I have to regularly remind myself to do.

Todd Sellick wrote a great post at the blog Simple Marriage recently about giving 1 percent  of your week to your spouse. Just 1 percent! (That’s about an hour and a half of together time.) Yet that one percent can make a huge difference. During that 1 percent, you are not using your  smart phone or computer. You are not watching television. You are not talking about work or the kids. You are focused on each other—having a cup of tea, taking a walk or cuddling on the couch. Read about true connectivity. That connection time will help your relationship flourish and will help fill your own love tank. You may even have more to give those around you.

Start thinking about ways you might provide a bit more attention and love toward your spouse this week. Next post, I’ll share some quick and easy ways to do just that.

How much time do you think you spend truly connecting with your spouse in a week? How much time do you spend on childcare activities? What ideas do you have for regularly feeding your marriage’s love tank?

How Do Modern Men Contribute in Marriage?

Recently, I shared some news on how men are now apt to receive an economic boost from marriage, as more men are marrying women who have either higher education or income levels. Most of you probably agree that whether husbands or wives have higher educational levels or higher incomes, other factors are more important to marital happiness. Still, experts are commenting on this gender shift, particularly in light of the stress of the recession and the large number of people still out of work.

“Shifts in gender norms come with pain and conflict. But they can also be a win-win recipe for marriage,” says Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage.

Coontz says there are certainly struggles, particularly with working-class men attaining rewarding, stable jobs. Some men compensate for the lack of respect they are getting in the workplace by becoming “hypermasculine” or aggressive. We hear about these abusive men in the news, unfortunately.

However, many husbands are making positive strides by making greater contributions to their homes, both in childcare and housework. College-educated men led the way with become more actively involved at home during the 80s and 90s. Since then, husbands with less education have caught up and are now contributing just as much as more educated men.

In fact, so many husbands and fathers are now active participants in the home that they are reporting the same work-family conflicts as women have for decades. Coontz says this suggests they are internalizing the importance of their role to nurture, not just to earn. “Most women now say that having a husband who is capable of intimacy and who shares housework and childcare is more important than having a partner who earns more money,” she adds.

It boils down to what you value and what makes each of you feel loved and appreciated, don’t you think? So what do men and women value?

Coontz cites the best predictors of a man’s marital satisfaction are how much sex he gets and how little criticism he gets. (How many men would like to disagree?) She adds that numerous studies report women react very positively to men who participate in childcare and housework—feeling greater intimacy and more sexual attraction.

“There’s nothing sexier than a man doing dishes,” I’ve heard more than one friend say.  Do you agree?

Children clearly benefit from more active fathers, and according to experts, guys who help out at home get more action at home. Is this a win-win situation?

In your marriage, does the wife handle more housework and childcare? How important is it to share this load, and does it depend on how much each person is working outside the home?

Celebrate National Marriage Week: Be a Marriage Advocate –Part II

We continue our discussion with Susan Dutton Freund, Executive Director of thinkmarriage.org, on why marriage is relevant and important in 2010…Read Part I here.

“Marriage is worth fighting for as a society and personally,” says Susan, who draws parallels to other causes that were meant to help society—anti-smoking campaigns, drunk-driving campaigns, fighting for civil rights and for the environment. She says with all the well-documented evidence for marriage, we should all advocate for healthy marriages. “When it’s not working, people suffer, especially children who are helpless to keep their own homes together. Adults become helpless, too, when the court divides assets and children.”

“In this country, we think relationships and marriage are all about adults’ happiness.  This is very short-sighted and self-centered. It’s not that adults shouldn’t be happy, but we know they can learn skills to be quite successful in marriage. They need to have patience and perseverance to pursue that, and not throw it away,” says Susan. This leads to thinkmarriage.org’s new campaign:

Go green with your relationships. Don’t throw away your marriage; recycle it. Don’t’ pollute the human environment with unhealthy interactions and poor communication.

Susan suggests we can all become marriage advocates and champions by entering the public debate, by standing up for marriage, and by educating others about why it is important. The web site thinkmarriage.org offers a free Myth Busters Guide about marriage, which can be offered to others when you hear common myths, such as “children are resilient after a divorce,” Susan says. In reality, she says research shows divorce has lifelong effects on children, “so it’s worth trying really hard before you choose that option.”

While 70% of divorces are from low-conflict marriages, Susan warns that not all marriages can or should survive. There are three cases in which a marriage needs professional intervention, such as medical/psychological help, or therapy, for a chance at survival:

  1. Physical abuse—as well as serious verbal or emotional abuse
  2. Mental health issues—true mental health issues make it very difficult to have a healthy relationship
  3. An active, ongoing addiction—to a substance, pornography or sexual addiction, or gambling—addictive behaviors make an individual unable to sustain a healthy relationship

 However, she adds, “The vast majority of divorces are not as a result of these difficult circumstances, and 40 percent of children are now born outside of marriage, so we are out of balance.” Where’s the solution? “We all need to take part in a movement to restore marriage to the centerpiece of American life,” she says.

What do you think? Is advocating for marriage is difficult in today’s society? Do you feel like you’re forcing your viewpoints on others when you speak highly of marriage? Is it possible to support single parents and children/families who have experienced divorce, while also raising awareness about healthy marriages?

Celebrate National Marriage Week: Be a Marriage Advocate –Part I

In honor of National Marriage Week, which is celebrated this year from Feb. 7th to Valentine’s Day, I wanted to share a recent interview I had with Susan Dutton Freund, Executive Director of thinkmarriage.org. Her organization, based in Wisconsin, provides education, online tools and local programs to build healthier relationships. Susan is also part of a national movement to support healthy marriages.

Susan believes marriage education is “more important than ever.” She should know, after growing up in a high-conflict marriage, marrying and divorcing at a young age and raising two children on her own, and finally building a healthy and stable marriage in which to raise a family the second time around. She says our society isn’t preparing individuals for relationships as it did a century ago, when manners were taught in tight-knit communities by positive role models. “Today we live in a mobile society and are loosely networked,” Susan says. “There’s less emphasis on social mores, a do-your-own-thing mentality, separation from extended family, and an easy exit from marriage.”

Despite these challenges, a couple who works on their relationship can be successful, she says. “With a little time, thought, and effort, you can see really great things happen in your relationships.” Susan says a love letter is a tiny example of what should be in a good marriage—“pouring yourself and your affirmation, love and encouragement into another person.” She adds that a love letter not only makes your mate feel good, it also reminds you of your partner’s great attributes. That’s why her organization is offering interactive love letter kits for a nominal donation of $1.99. What a great idea for Valentine’s Day!

Susan says her organization teaches three positive messages, which she says have resonated within her community, and on a broader scale:

  1. Marriage is a public good that is beneficial to both adults and children. Research has shown married adults have more wealth, greater happiness and psychological wellbeing, lower rates of chemical abuse/addictions, less physical violence, better sex life, longer life, and better health. Children within intact families have greater academic achievement, greater lifetime earnings, lower rates of drug use, lower rates of teen pregnancy, higher physical health, emotional health, and fewer problematic behaviors.
  2. Divorce is preventable when you learn skills. Susan says two truly critical marriage skills are positive communication and conflict resolution. If a couple has these, they can manage other areas of conflict, such as finances, sex, housework and childcare. She adds that marriage retreats, seminars and courses are offered around the country to help couples improve these two skills.
  3. Children need both of their parents in their home to do their best. “As long as humanity keeps producing children, marriage will always be relevant,” says Susan. “Family is the building block of society, and when the family fractures, society fractures.”

 Stay tuned for Part II of our discussion tomorrow.

 How do you plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day and National Marriage Week? 

What are the Best Divorce Predictors?

Take five seconds to think about what you think are the most common events or reasons people divorce. During which years of marriage do you think couples most likely to divorce? Let’s see if you’re right.

Most people mistakenly think the most common events that precipitate a divorce are illness, infidelity, job loss or death of a child. Diane Sollee, founder of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education (CMFCE), says the event most likely to precede divorce is the birth of a child and the three months following. People also mistakenly think year seven has the highest divorce rate, but she says the highest divorce rates are during first two years and years 14 to 16, leading to the average marriage length of seven years.

Couples may believe that conflict causes divorce, but actually the opposite is true. Smart Marriages, the educational organization run by CMFCE, reports that “the number-one predictor of divorce is the habitual avoidance of conflict.” Early in a marriage, couples may feel that to stay in love they need to agree, be quiet, not fight. In a more mature marriage, couples may avoid conflict because it quickly gets out of hand, either leading to blow-ups or at least one partner shutting down. “Successful couples are those who know how to discuss their differences in ways that actually strengthen their relationship and improve intimacy,” says Sollee. She adds that they know how to keep the disagreement confined so that they don’t contaminate the rest of the relationship.

In other words, don’t let a disagreement stop you from having fun together and making time to enjoy what brought you together in the first place.

Are you thinking that healthy, happy relationships shouldn’t have these areas of disagreement? That would be an incorrect and unrealistic expectation. According to Sollee, marriage researchers have found that “every happy, successful couple has approximately ten areas of incompatibility or disagreement that they will never resolve.” That’s right, Never. So focusing on these areas may just keep you from enjoying the best parts of your relationship. And leaving your partner because you can’t agree on everything will likely lead to you being stuck with another partner who has ten different areas of incompatibility. (For second marriages, the biggest areas of disagreement are about children from earlier relationships.)

“Successful couples learn how to manage the disagreements and live life ‘around’ them—to love in spite of their areas of difference, and to at least develop understanding and empathy for their partner’s positions,” explains Sollee. They also learn to welcome and embrace change, and to lovingly negotiate with one another.

Sollee says the skills for handling disagreement and conflict and for integrating change and expressing love, intimacy, sex, and appreciation can all be learned, for example through educational courses. Gaining or improving these skills will not only improve your marriage, it will allow you to provide a positive model for your family and friends, and particularly your children, who learn most through your example.

Teach the Next Generation to Love, Not Hit

R&B singer Chris Brown spoke to Larry King this week about his alleged beating of his former girlfriend, Rihanna, (for which he pleaded guilty to felony assault) and the court’s decision in the case. The quote that jumped out at me when reading about it on CNN is, “No one taught us how to love.” With his “very shocked” mother by his side, Brown said he was sentenced to five years probation and six months of community labor.

The regretful Brown says he is still in love with Rihanna, and when pressed by King to explain the violent altercation, he said, “We’re both young. So nobody taught us how to love one another. Nobody taught us a book on how to control our emotions or our anger.”

This in no way excuses his behavior, but it is a reminder for all of us of two important points. First, we need to be aware of the potential for violence against our daughters, sisters, friends and neighbors. Don’t think it cannot affect your family. A good friend of mine’s sister was murdered by her own husband in 2005, leaving a toddler to grow up without his mother. The close-knit and devastated family was not aware of any violence against her prior to the murder.

Secondly, it is a huge reminder to teach our children what love looks like, and what it doesn’t look like—that control and jealousy are not part of a healthy relationship. Imagine how much education Rihanna and Brown have had in their young lives about singing, dancing, dealing with the paparazzi, staying on top of fashions and how to manage their wealth. Yet he says they had no education about how to love. Don’t teach your kids that talent or education are all that matters. Teach them about how to seek character, kindness and real love. Teach them about the signs of abuse, and look for the signs yourself.

My 6-year-old likes to have pretend weddings with imaginary princes. I like to inquire whey she chose that particular prince; I ask the prince’s name about how he treats her. She keeps the discussion going for a while, not realizing I’m trying to ingrain in her important factors in choosing a spouse.

Unfortunately, even if the choices are done with the best of intentions, violence can still erupt. One woman I interviewed from Michigan dated her boyfriend for three years during college before marrying him. On their honeymoon, he changed abruptly, and regularly abused her physically (only where it wouldn’t show) and sexually. He controlled where she went and even how much she ate. She hid it for nearly two years, embarrassed to tell her family at first, but eventually confided in them. With their support, and law enforcement assistance, she escaped to a battered women’s shelter and eventually built a new life for herself. After helping herself, she also helped others overcome violence and later found a kind and patient man with whom she built a love-filled marriage and family. You won’t be surprised that she teaches her own daughters about violence and about love.

What are you teaching the next generation about love through your words or example?

An interesting article on Ending Violence Against Women and Girls

Learn the Signs of Domestic Violence .