Tag Archive for: Communication

We are all guilty of phubbing whether we’re aware of it or not.

Answered a text during family dinner? You phubbed. Checked your notifications during a meeting your colleague was leading? Phubbed again. Decided to scroll through social media during your downtime instead of calling your close friend or family member? Major phub.

Phubbing is the act of ignoring your companions or relationships to give attention to your phone or device. In other words, you are snubbing others for your phone. 

While many parents complain of feeling snubbed by their teens for technology, it’s clear adults are also struggling with the distracting screens.

Researchers now have a clear picture of how phubbing impacts adult relationships. A recent tech report released by the Institute for Family Studies found that 1 in 7 parents of teens (15%) use their phones or other digital devices “almost constantly” during conversations, meals, or family events. Also, using a sample of 145 adults, researchers James Roberts and Meredith David found that regular phubbing between romantic partners leads to relationship dissatisfaction.

A new report from the Wheatley Institute surveyed 2,000 married couples. It found that 37% of married Americans (roughly one-third) feel their spouse is often focused on a device in place of having a conversation or spending time together. Interestingly enough, this statistic varies greatly between socioeconomic status. Phubbing is worse among lower-income couples, with 44% reporting their spouse is distracted by their phone compared to only 31% of higher-income couples.

It makes sense that phone usage would create frustration in a marriage, but this study reveals even more.

Couples who experience excessive phone use are less happy about their marriage than others.

Only about 6 in 10 married adults whose spouse is often on the phone (59%) say they are “very happy” with their marriage, compared with 81% of those who don’t struggle with this issue. More so, 1 in 5 married adults (21%) with a spouse who overuses a phone say they are not happy with their marriage, compared with only 8% of couples who do not report the phone as an issue.

Of course, the question has to be asked: Is phubbing the real issue?

Or are there other factors in the marriage that increase the phubbing behavior? According to the Wheatley report, infrequent sex and fewer date nights may be contributing to lower marital satisfaction among couples who have a phone problem. Fewer than half of these couples (44%) have sex at least once a week, and about 1 in 5 of these couples (23%) report that either they haven’t had sex at all in the past 12 months (11%) or only once or twice (12%).

In contrast, couples with greater control over their phones are more likely to report more frequent sex and date nights.

Smartphones get a lot of blame for relationship and mental health issues. There’s no doubt that correlations exist between relationship dissatisfaction, loneliness, anxiety, and smartphone usage. But smartphones themselves aren’t the real issue–phubbing is. Whether couples find themselves using their devices to avoid spending time together or they slowly slide into prioritizing their phones over each other, phubbing is a choice. It’s something to be aware of and practice against for the health of ourselves and our relationships.

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Photo by Kev Costello on Unsplash

I introduced my 4-year-old son to the Broadway musical “Wicked” last week. Shameless plug, it’s one of my all-time favorite soundtracks.

As the cheeky but pointed song “Popular” blared through the speakers, he asked, “Mom, what does that word mean – popular? Is it important to be popular?”

Good question, kid. Here’s what I found.

Research from the last two decades reveals that Americans prefer a few close, intimate relationships over many superficial ones.

Even in the era of social media influencers who gain popularity through hundreds of thousands of followers, we innately know these numbers do not provide the connection we seek.

A review, or meta-analysis, of 38 studies released by the research group Frontiers in Psychology found that having a few high-quality adult friendships can significantly predict well-being and protect against mental health issues such as anxiety and depression for a lifetime.

On the flip side, people with a large amount of low-quality friendships are twice as likely to die prematurely

This is a risk factor greater than the effects of smoking 20 cigarettes per day, according to the Public Library of Science Medical Journal.

So, how can you tell if a relationship (romantic or platonic) is of quality or not? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Can I be honest and vulnerable with this person, and are they always open and honest with me?
  • Do I value this person for who they are rather than just for what they do?
  • Can I rely on this person?
  • Do we communicate openly, regularly, and respectfully with one another?
  • Do they encourage me to grow as a person and make good decisions?

While low-quality friendships may decrease your potential long-term health benefits, daily interactions with familiar faces or acquaintances can bolster your confidence, provide stability, and increase “feel good” chemicals in your brain. 

Small connections with strangers—a barista, clerk, co-worker, or neighbor—can be surprisingly sustaining.

Dr. Gillian Sandstrom conducted research that found people who have more superficial interactions regularly are happier than those who have fewer. Also, people tend to be happier on days when they have more than their average number of simple interactions.

In short, research confirms popularity isn’t the goal. It’s more beneficial to build relational depth with a few close people.

But being friendly and interacting with strangers can boost your mood in the short term. As 20th-century artist Pablo Picasso once said, “When you are young and without success, you have a few good friends. Then, later on, when you are rich and famous, you still have a few… if you are lucky.”

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

It’s an election year, which means more news, more debates, and more campaign ads are on the horizon.

While many have figured out how to avoid heated politically-fueled conversations around extended family members, it’s more challenging to keep the peace when you and your spouse have different political views.

As the political landscapes become increasingly polarized in our nation, maintaining harmony within the confines of marriage can feel like a high-stakes balancing act – but it’s not impossible. With understanding, respect, and open communication, couples can navigate the choppy waters of divergent political beliefs and emerge with a stronger, more resilient bond.

Finding commonality amid differences requires a delicate touch.

Here are some strategies for married couples seeking to keep the peace and the passion alive this election season and beyond:

1: Listen with empathy and speak with respect.

The foundation of any healthy relationship rests on open communication. When discussing political matters, prioritize active listening over winning debates. Seek to understand your partner’s perspective, and ensure they feel heard and respected. Remember, love and respect can transcend political differences.

2: Establish boundaries ahead of time.

It’s crucial to recognize the point at which political discussions become counterproductive. Agree on boundaries to prevent heated debates from escalating into arguments. Designate specific times or spaces for discussing politics, ensuring that these conversations don’t overshadow the shared joys and interests that initially brought you together.

3: Find common ground.

Explore areas of shared values and interests that extend beyond the realm of politics. Engaging in activities that you both enjoy can strengthen the foundation of your relationship. Remember: a deep connection goes beyond the voting polls.

4: Embrace the art of compromise.

Successful marriages thrive on compromise. When faced with political disagreements, seek a middle ground where possible. Understand that compromise doesn’t mean abandoning personal beliefs but rather finding solutions that respect both perspectives. Two things can be true: You can love your spouse dearly, and you can completely disagree with their political views. Those two things can coexist.

5: Lead by example.

Be a model of the values and behaviors you wish to see in your partner. Encourage open-mindedness and a willingness to consider alternative viewpoints. Leading by example can inspire positive change and create an environment where differences are celebrated rather than feared.

6: Seek professional guidance if necessary.

If political disagreements begin to strain the fabric of your relationship, consider seeking the guidance of a professional counselor. A neutral third party can provide valuable insights and tools to help you navigate complex issues and strengthen your connection.

Instead of allowing political differences to drive a wedge between you and your spouse, use them as an opportunity for growth and understanding.

By cultivating empathy, establishing boundaries, finding common ground, embracing compromise, and leading by example, you can not only survive the political storm but emerge with a relationship that stands resilient in the face of challenges. After all, the strength of a marriage lies not in the absence of differences but in the shared commitment to weathering life’s storms together, hand in hand.

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at [email protected].

“Momma, when you die and I don’t have a Momma anymore, can I go live with Nana and Poppy?” my four-year-old asked nonchalantly last Saturday.

“Well, if anything happens to me and your dad, you can certainly live with Nana and Poppy. What made you ask that question, bug?” I said blindsided.

“People die. And, I know you’re gonna die and live with Jesus. So. I just want to have someone to live with, too,” he responded. Then, he ran outside and started digging in the dirt with his dump trucks.

I was in shock from the conversation. What was going on in his little mind? Where did that question come from?

My husband reminded me that our son has attended four funerals in his short four years of life– three great grandmothers and a great aunt. That’s a lot of death to unpack. I also learned he overheard a conversation about the tragic shootings and deaths of 3 adults and 3 children at the Covenant School in Nashville a few weeks ago.

As a parent, I want to protect my son at all costs.

I want to keep him from having to deal with the hard, unfair and cruel injustices of this world. But, the truth is, avoiding difficult conversations and shielding him in an effort to preserve his innocence does more harm than good in the long run.

The American Psychological Association (APA) released a statement earlier this year encouraging parents to have hard conversations with young children: 

“Taking a proactive stance and discussing difficult events and topics in age-appropriate language can help a child feel safer and more secure. If adults don’t talk to them about it, a child may overestimate what is wrong or misunderstand adults’ silence. So, be the first to bring up the difficult topic. When parents tackle difficult conversations, they let their children know that they are available and supportive.”

While this statement is empowering, sitting down and having these conversations can be stressful. How do you define age appropriate language? What if you don’t have all the answers to the questions they ask?

Here are a few things to remember when these hard conversations happen:

1: If you can, practice ahead of time.

When a tragic event occurs, try to be the person your child hears it from first. Decide what you’re going to share, how you’re going to share it, and most importantly, when the best time is to have the conversation.

2: Timing is everything.

Choose a quiet place to sit with your child one-on-one and look them in the eyes. Avoid having hard conversations when you’re busy making dinner or when your child is playing. The conversation at hand should be the center of both your attention.

3: Ask them what they already know.

“There was a shooting at a school. What do you know about this?” And then listen, listen, and listen more.

4: Tell them how you feel.

Sharing your emotions with your child allows them to create a deeper connection with you. It’s also a great opportunity to model behavior and emotional regulation for them.

5: Stick to the facts and avoid details.

Tell them the outline of what happened. There’s no need to share gory details or show gruesome graphics. 

As a parent, the greatest thing you can do for your child is build a deep connection with them. No matter how hard we try, we can’t control them or the world around them. Having hard conversations when they’re young allows them to see you as a safe, wise and trusted source for a lifetime.

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Photo by Jonas Kakaroto on Unsplash

I gave a presentation to a local community group last week. At the end, someone in the audience raised their hand and asked, “I keep hearing all this stuff about how lonely we are. Is it really true? And what do we do about it?”

A few days later, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an advisory statement. The headline read: New Surgeon General Advisory Raises Alarm about the Devastating Impact of the Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation in the United States.

Awareness of the rise in loneliness and isolation in our country is the first step to finding a solution. The next steps are to understand why it’s happening and what to do about it. Let’s break it down.

Why is loneliness increasing in our country? Here are a few potential causes:

1: Children have not received emotional connections from parents and caregivers.

A meta-analysis of decades of research on the average American’s “attachment style” reveals today’s adults are more likely to have an insecure attachment style than a secure one. This means we desire relationships, but we are also fearful of them. 

 (Konrath, S. H., Chopik, W. J., Hsing, C. K., & O’Brien, E. (2014))

2: Concerns about societal issues create distrust.

One psychologist who dove deep into Americans’ insecure-attachment trend found a list of fears that people may be wrestling with, such as: war in Europe, trends in technology, school shootings in the news, and the national debt. When society feels scary, that fear can seep into your closest relationships.

3: Technology produces fake intimacy.

It’s no secret–  technology hinders us from creating deep emotional connections. There’s a large body of research revealing the impact of technology on relationships. Staying up-to-date with someone on social media is not the same as having them over for dinner or being a regular part of their life. Technology helps us form digital communities that can hinder us from forming more tangible relationships.

Faith Hill, a reporter and contributor to The Atlantic draws this conclusion in her recent article America’s Intimacy Problem: “All in all, we can’t determine why people are putting up walls, growing further and further away from one another… The good news is that if humans have the capacity to lose trust in one another, they can also work to build it back up.”

What do we do to build connection and trust back up?

Here are a few potential solutions suggested by the Surgeon General and mental health experts alike:

1: Create and use more community spaces.

Playgrounds, libraries, and community centers provide opportunities for human interaction and connection for children and adults. Creating these spaces is half the battle. To experience connection and reverse isolation, we must be willing to use them in our everyday lives.

2: Use connection as a healing remedy.

Because loneliness and isolation are risk factors for several major health conditions, healthcare professionals are well-positioned to assess their patients’ loneliness and isolation and suggest connection and relationship-building remedies.

3: Enable public policies that ensure connection.

At every level, the government can play a role in creating more avenues for connection. Increasing free and easy access to public transportation and providing family leave are a few ways to discourage loneliness and isolation from a systemic level. 

4: Consistently gauge your use of technology.

Only you can prevent fake intimacy from forming in your relationships. How often are you “liking” a picture rather than inviting a friend to coffee? Or scrolling on your phone rather than having a conversation with your spouse?

At its core, the loneliness epidemic has one cure: deep, meaningful relationships. While this ideal has many obstacles, prioritizing relationships is the first step forward. 

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Photo by Alex Ivashenko on Unsplash

It’s no secret that poor communication habits are the silent killers of many relationships.

Spouses, parents, children, and siblings often fail to connect, express, and respond to expectations and effectively work through conflict. In all relationships, it’s easy for individuals to misunderstand each other, not actively listen before responding, and miss verbal cues for connection.

As much as clear communication plays an important role in relationships, one method suggests the Most Generous Interpretation (MGI) of people and their behavior plays an even bigger role in family health.

Dr. Becky Kennedy, author of the New York Times bestselling parenting book Good Inside, suggests that you can separate a person from their behavior. “Finding the MGI teaches [us] to attend to what is going on inside… (feelings, worries, urges, sensations) rather than what is going on outside (words or actions).”

Here’s a parenting example:

We had a few families over for dinner last week. My 4-year-old son enjoyed playing with all of his friends. When the night ended and everyone went home, I told my son it was time to take a bath. “No! I won’t take a bath. I’m not going to do it right now, and you can’t make me,” he yelled at the top of his lungs.

At that moment, I had a few response options:

1) Yell back with something like, “Don’t talk to me like that or you’ll be punished!”

2) Lay the guilt trip on with a statement like, “I just gave you a fun night with friends. You’re ungrateful.”

3) Make it about my emotions, saying, “It makes me really sad when you talk to me like that. I don’t deserve that.”

4) Use my Most Generous Interpretation by separating his behavior from who he is and following up with curiosity. “Wow, I hear how upset you are. Tell me more.”

I chose option four.

My son then told me he didn’t think it was fair for everyone to go home. He missed them and felt sad that they were gone. He started crying and told me he was extremely tired and didn’t think he had the energy to take a bath. So, I responded, “I get it. I’m tired, too. If we don’t take a bath before bed right now, then we have to wake up a little early in the morning to take one before school. It’s your choice. Bath tonight or in the morning?” He chose the morning option and was asleep in about 5 minutes. He woke up the next morning refreshed and ready to take a bath before school.

Some may interpret this method as “being too easy” on kids, but Dr. Kennedy suggests it’s actually framing their behavior in a way that will help them build critical emotion regulation skills for their future, and parents are preserving their connection and close relationship along the way.

“I often remind myself that kids respond to the version of themselves that parents reflect back to them and act accordingly,” Dr. Kennedy shares. “When we tell our kids they are selfish, they act in their own interest… but the opposite is true as well. When we tell our kids, ‘You’re a good kid having a hard time… I’m right here with you,’ they are more likely to have empathy for their own struggles, which helps them regulate and make better decisions.”

So, how does this method work in a marriage?

The next time your spouse snaps at you, ignores you, or does something to make you feel unseen or unheard, use the MGI rather than yelling, sulking, or blaming. Let them know you see them and want to know what’s going on inside, beyond their behavior outside.

Say something like, “You seem upset. Would you like to talk about it?” or “You seem distracted. Can we talk about what’s on your mind? I’m here with you.”

Choosing the Most Generous Interpretation isn’t easy. At the end of the day, it forces you to respond instead of react and to be curious rather than make assumptions. The connection and depth the MGI can bring to your family is worth the challenge.

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto

The well-known statistic still rings true: about half of all first-time marriages in the United States end in divorce.

This stat increases in likelihood of subsequent marriages, reaching 70% for third-time marriages, according to a research-based article released by Forbes earlier this year. 61% of dissolved marriages involve children under the age of 18 living in the home.

What happens to the children whose parents choose to part ways?

For many years, the kids almost always ended up living with just one parent, typically the mom. But recent studies reveal a new trend is dramatically on the rise in the U.S.–joint physical custody. This means a child resides with each parent for an equal or significant amount of time.

A 2022 study released by Demographic Research revealed that the number of divorces ending in physical joint custody rose from 13% in 1985 to 34% in 2010. “Although the increase is steepest among high-income couples, it’s happening across the socioeconomic spectrum,” says Daniel Meyer, a social work professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison who studies child custody.

How do the children fair who spend an equal or significant amount of time between two households?

A 2018 study released by the Family Process Journal reveals on average, children in shared arrangements tend to fare slightly better than those in sole custody on a variety of metrics, including life satisfaction, stress levels, and self-esteem. That being said, the majority of couples who share custody are usually better off financially, have higher levels of education, and have a more amicable relationship. This makes sense, considering it takes money to provide for a child and have consistent means of transportation.

While there are many advocates for joint physical custody and research shows the scenario is beneficial for children overall, it’s important to note in some situations—like if one parent is abusive or unstable, for example—sole custody is in fact what’s best for the child. 

Since the 19th century, full custody has been generally granted to the mom. However, in America’s earlier days, fathers were automatically given custody of their children because they were seen more as property. As women began to take on a more domestic role, these social dynamics shifted. Today, custody battles rage on for years, even as joint custody becomes more common. The reason? America is built on the premise there can be two parents, but only one household. Therefore, joint custody is difficult to measure and researchers are confident children in joint custody homes are often reported twice- because they are living in two households. Benefits, such as tax returns and medical insurance, can only be granted per household, which assumes all children are part of only one.

What does this mean for the future of families in America?

Here are three things to consider around this new “two household child” reality.

  1. Policies, procedures, and systems need to change for joint custody children and parents to receive the support and benefits they need. While a two-parent household is supported as the most beneficial for children and communities long-term, separation and divorce will inevitably continue. With a better understanding of joint custody and the value it can provide for children, it’s in our nation’s best interest to reevaluate the current workings around child custody and divorce proceedings. 
  2. Increased access to marriage education, therapy, and support could prevent some marriages from ending in the first place. Of course, custody wouldn’t be a topic of conversation if marriages were healthier. Supporting families begins with seeking to better understand what’s causing marriages to dissolve and providing assistance when possible. PewResearch and Forbes recently reported the number one reason for divorce was due to a lack of commitment in the relationship, with 75% of individuals saying they could no longer fulfill their wedding vows due to lack of desire and compatibility. Lack of commitment significantly surpassed infidelity and domestic abuse as reasons for divorce. 
  3. Joint custody may provide a sort of remedy to the “fatherlessness” crisis our country has faced for the last century. According to 2023 data released by the Census, the proportion of children growing up with a resident dad is at its highest since 1989. Slightly more than three-quarters of children today (75.9%), or 54.5 million of our nation’s 72.3 million, can count a resident dad as a housemate. Decades of research show children who grow up with their dads being consistently present in their lives are more likely to thrive physically, emotionally, and socially than children who grow up without their dads. 

There’s no point in ignoring the reality of two household children. While the complexities are obvious, it’s time to figure out a new path to support them. The answers will undoubtedly be complicated, but necessary nevertheless. 

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

How to Set Healthy Boundaries With Parents

Clear communication can help you honor each other.

When you were a child or teen, your parents set rules to protect you and help you learn independence. But now that you’re an adult, there’s been a shift. Roles look different. There is a need for different boundaries: boundaries set with your parents, not by them.

This is new territory for you and your parents.

You’re learning what it means to be self-sufficient, and your parents are finding out they’re no longer in control – to whatever extent they have been. Stress and tensions can rise quickly. Chances are, you’ve seen traits in your parents that may not be healthy. Or maybe you’ve simply decided to do things differently from your parents. There must be boundaries for your relationship to continue in a healthy way.

Without healthy boundaries, tension can easily build from things your parent may do, like:

  • Frequent unexpected visits.
  • Offering unsolicited advice about your relationships, social life, or career choices.
  • Purchasing items for your home, personal life, and/or children without asking.
  • Disregarding your opinions or choices and offering what they think is best for you.

This lack of boundaries can be frustrating. They may have the best intentions, but you must help them understand that you’re an adult. If you don’t address it, it may cause a rift between you and your parents. So now’s the time to set some boundaries. Addressing issues in the parent-adult child relationship leads to higher relationship quality.1

Here are some expert tips from therapists on how to set boundaries with your parents.

Remember the why of setting boundaries.2,3

Feeling anxious is normal because you love your parents and don’t want to hurt them. But remember, boundaries are essential for all types of healthy relationships. Without boundaries, there’s confusion and frustration. You are allowed to have your needs met, so practice self-compassion and remember that you’re doing this because you care about yourself. And you care about your relationship with your parents.

Seek outside advice if necessary.2

Approaching a difficult conversation with your parents can be scary. You may even need to seek professional help to prepare yourself for talking with them. A therapist can help you identify and address any toxic behaviors. If you recognize that your parents’ unhealthy behavior has caused poor boundaries, a therapist can help you and your parents resolve any deep relationship wounds.

Try to stay positive.2

This doesn’t need to be a fight between you and your parents. It may take time for them to accept what you’re saying and adjust their actions. However, if you stay positive, they may be more accepting of what you have to share. Help them understand that you love and respect them but that roles in the relationship have changed.

Have an open conversation.2

We all have a desire to be heard and understood. This goes for your parents as well. Approach the conversation with concern about how they’re doing. They may be lonely since you moved out. They may be concerned. Express your needs and wants by using “I” statements like “I feel like you’re…” No one likes being accused or blamed.

Be clear and concise.3

Before approaching a conversation about boundaries, ask yourself what is bothering you and why. If you have a clear understanding of your concerns, you’ll be better prepared to communicate them clearly. And when you’re ready to have the conversation, be respectful but direct about your desires.

→Instead of saying, “It’s really annoying when you drop by unexpectedly. Stop doing that,” try saying, “I appreciate that you want to come and visit, but I feel flustered when people drop by unannounced… Could you call before you come by?”

Show appreciation.3

Show your gratitude for the care and concern they have for your life. Express that you recognize they want the best for you. Show them you value their presence and role in your life. You just have a desire for how they show up in your life to look a little different.

Know your limits.3

Be clear about where you draw the line. If your primary concern is that your parents frequently drop by unannounced, then be clear about what you’d like to happen. Maybe you have a busy schedule and a social life, and you’d prefer to spend time with them on the weekends only. If that’s best for you, there is nothing wrong with setting limits like this. 

Be conscious of your feelings. You must do what is healthy for you.

Setting boundaries with your parents can be scary, but you can do this. Be clear, kind, and loving. You’ll be grateful that you addressed this issue, and your relationship will be better for it. Effective boundaries lay the ground for healthy, positive relationships.

Helpful reads:

How to Set Boundaries with Your Parents (and Stick to Them)

Boundaries in Relationships and Stress

What To Do When Grandparents Undermine Your Parenting – First Things First

What to Do When You Disagree With the Ones You Love – First Things First


1Birditt, K.S., et al. (2009). “If You Can’t Say Something Nice, Don’t Say Anything at All”: Coping with Interpersonal Tensions in the Parent-Child Relationship During Adulthood. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0016486

2Ertel, A. (2022, February 4). How to set boundaries with parents: A therapist’s guide. Talkspace. https://www.talkspace.com/blog/setting-boundaries-with-parents/

3Mancao, A. (2020, March 25). 6 Steps to setting healthy boundaries with parents (and what that looks like). Mindbodygreen. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/setting-healthy-boundaries-with-parents/

4Buck, C.A. (2015). Establishing effective personal boundaries. Vanderbilt University Medical Center. https://www.vumc.org/health-wellness/news-resource-articles/establishing-effective-personal-boundaries