Posts

It’s been one year since our lives drastically changed. Schools shifted to virtual learning, many of us were scrambling to set up home offices, and some lost their jobs. Life looks somewhat different today. But we can see the light at the end of the tunnel; there is hope. 

With so many drastic changes, 2020 also saw a rise in stress, anxiety, and loneliness. The American Psychological Association reports that 78% of Americans say the coronavirus pandemic is a significant source of stress in their lives. I’m part of that group.

As anxiety and stress increase, self-care is essential, whether that’s through outdoor exercise, getting into nature, yoga, reading more, unplugging from technology, or breathing exercises. I enjoy going for a run. Being outdoors is my go-to. (In cases of extreme stress, anxiety, loneliness, or a psychological disorder, seek the help of a professional.)

If we don’t care for ourselves, we’re unable to care for others.

There are many techniques and practices to help us navigate stress

Let me introduce you to a method that neuroscientists have found useful. You may already do this and not even realize it’s an actual practice. Enter: havening. Neuroscientist Dr. Ronald Ruden created havening techniques a decade ago. Havening uses gentle touch to the upper arms, hands and face, and constructive messaging to replace stressful responses with healthier ones.

Havening can be as simple as rubbing your hands together, on your face, or through your hair when you feel stress rising. You may do these simple acts without even realizing it. But neurologically, it helps your brain cope with stress.

You may be asking, how does this help? (I know I was). 

Havening helps boost oxytocin, a “love hormone” that is typically released through human touch and bonding. Contact is something that we’ve been lacking over the past few months. The hugs, handshakes, and high-fives all help us de-stress. Havening can convince your brain that you are receiving some of this touch. 

We are built for community, for relationships, and to do life with other people (in-person, not virtually). This has presented challenges for many as we balance our need to be with people and health concerns. Of course, I’m not suggesting that havening should replace personal contact and touch. But in a world where touch and close proximity is still being limited or feels uncomfortable to many, havening is a great way to calm yourself and the ones you love. It’s also helpful for those who are not comfortable being touched by others.

This technique can also be beneficial for kids, especially as anxiety has risen due to online school and the lack of time with friends. If your child has been struggling with meltdowns, anger, or anxiety due to loneliness, encourage them to pause, take a deep breath, and wrap their arms around themselves in a big bear hug. It may seem weird at first, but practicing havening can help you feel more grounded and connected.  

We have learned much over these past 12 months. We’ve learned resilience, flexibility, what’s important, and that we are made for relationships. We’re made to be with other people, and our brains need that connection, along with physical touch. 

As we push forward through this pandemic, continue to take care of yourself and your family. If you haven’t already, figure out what reduces your stress and brings you joy. Use havening if you feel out of control or anxious. Put self-care at the top of your to-do list. And if you take up running, I’ll see you out there.

Other helpful resources:

What 2020 Has Taught Us About Marriage

A thriving marriage can be yours in the coming year, too!

2020 is finally in the rearview mirror, so let’s all breathe a collective sigh of relief. It was a challenging year for many. But as we close out that chapter, it’s good to reflect on lessons learned. I want to focus specifically on what 2020 has taught us about marriage. 

Many declared a year of vision as they launched into 2020, but maybe it turned out to be a year of clarity. It was a year filled with trials, a global pandemic, political and social unrest, just to name a few. It became a year filled with opportunities, more family time, innovation, and flexibility. 

Despite all the challenges and uncertainties we faced in 2020, my marriage experienced some much-needed growth and is more joyful than before. This gives me hope.

When W. Bradford Wilcox, Wendy Wang, and Lyman Stone looked at the 2020 American Family Survey (AFS) recently, they discovered that couples are stressed out. No surprise there, right? The burdens of 2020 impacted everyone. While the AFS sheds light on this, it also reveals some good news for married couples.

Here are a few things 2020 taught us about marriage:

1. Healthy communication is a necessity.

Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, many families found themselves at home. The bustle of a busy home 24/7 can be overwhelming. Some transitioned to work from home or lost jobs. Some found their jobs classified as essential. Each scenario brought its own stressors and hurdles. Through all of this, one need remained the same: strong communication. As couples adjusted to a new normal, there was a critical need to make sure communication happened often and well.

As we venture into 2021, let’s keep healthy communication at the center of our marriage and family. Healthy communication helps marriage thrive.

2. Marriage is about commitment and appreciation.

As a couple, you don’t have to face trials alone. Married couples can walk the road of uncertainty together hand in hand. As the pandemic began, many predicted a rise in divorce in America. The thought was that marriages wouldn’t survive if couples spent extended time together. Instead, the AFS found that divorce actually decreased in 2020. That’s great news! 

More couples surveyed said their marriage grew stronger during the pandemic. They experienced a deeper commitment and appreciated their partner more. When times are tough, we turn to our loved ones for support. 2020 was proof of this. Marriage provided a supportive framework for many as the world around them closed. 

In 2021, let’s continue to appreciate and commit to our partner. An appreciated spouse feels loved and respected.

3. Prioritizing sex during stressful times can keep your marriage healthy.

A common assumption when the pandemic began was a future baby boom. With more couples at home together, people assumed there would obviously be an increase in pregnancies. While we don’t know if the baby boom will happen, this survey shows that couples did prioritize sex in their marriage. 

Although stress can often lead to a decrease in the frequency of sex, more couples reported they had sex more often and connected intimately due to the pandemic. A healthy sex life is one sign of a healthy marriage. 

As we enter the new year, let’s continue to make sex a hot priority in our marriages.

Marriages in our nation have faced enormous challenges over the past few months. Resilience and determination have helped many cope with and overcome obstacles. The importance of healthy communication, more appreciation and commitment, and a healthy sex life are invaluable takeaways from 2020. As we move forward, let’s all take a moment and commit to making this the new normal of our marriages.

Read more about how to strengthen your marriage in these blogs:

5 SIMPLE WAYS TO STRENGTHEN YOUR MARRIAGE WHEN YOU’RE STUCK AT HOME TOGETHER

HOW TO IMPROVE BAD COMMUNICATION IN MARRIAGE

3 WAYS GOOD COMMUNICATION CAN ENHANCE SEX IN MARRIAGE

The Year of Change

Even if you're glad to see 2020 go, you probably learned a few things.

If 2020 were a movie, the storylines would make your head spin. Murder hornets, politics, a pandemic, and quarantine. Racial unrest, job loss, and Zoom. Economic roller coasters, working and learning from home, professional from the waist up, and more.

Add in crazy and unpredictable twists, turns, drama, pain, loss, even unexpected joy, and you have quite the Drama-Sci-Fi-Action-Thriller-Documentary.

We may have been taking some things for granted (until 2020).

Thank goodness 2020 is almost in the rearview mirror. Goodbye and good riddance! It’s pretty unlikely anybody will be sad to see it go. 

But, like a lot of other life experiences, while nobody would wish to go through some of what 2020 brought us, there might be a few folks who wouldn’t trade what they learned about things we often take for granted. For example: 

  • the value of spending time with people we love and care about face to face (not over Zoom or FaceTime);
  • the privilege of being by someone’s bedside when they’re sick;
  • your presence at your family member or friend’s wedding;
  • getting to go to work;
  • going out to dinner and a movie for a date night;
  • being live and in person at a sporting event; 
  • attending a faith-based service; 
  • throwing a party for friends;
  • being able to attend the funeral of a loved one;
  • children being able to go to school and the teachers who pour into them; 
  • the amazing truckers, first responders, grocery store workers, team members in the food processing industry; and
  • just being able to go outside and be around others. 

We could add way more to this list, I’m sure.

The point is, major disruption offers the opportunity for growth. Even when things normalize a bit, we (hopefully) won’t forget that all the things we thought were just a way of life aren’t necessarily so.

Embracing Change

Life can change in an instant, and we saw that during this year of change. The things we thought were so important took a back seat. Caring for our existing relationships and building new ones with people who aren’t “just like us” took on greater importance. The pandemic actually showed what can happen when we all come together to help meet others’ needs. 

There were monumental accomplishments, too. 

Individuals figured out how to help farmers get food from their fields and into the hands of hungry people. Right in the middle of the quarantine, people helped those who lost their homes in the tornadoes. We figured out how to host drive-in concerts and worship services. And we celebrated milestones through technology, drive-by parades, and window visitation at nursing homes. 

In so many instances, people said for years, “We could never do that,” or “That would never work.” The pandemic helped us see we could make it work, and it probably won’t return to the way things were before after it’s over. Maybe the pandemic helped discover a better way forward. Wouldn’t that be a shocker?!

Speaking of moving forward and embracing change this year, this is my final column here as I seek to strengthen marriages across the globe in my new role at the WinShape Foundation. 

Over the last 21 years, it’s been an incredible privilege to journey with you through life. Hopefully, the research and insights I’ve shared helped us all build strong relationships in every season and get through tough times (like 2020) together.

Mitchell Qualls, Operations Director for First Things First, will step in to continue bringing you relevant and relatable family-strengthening information. He is very passionate about helping people strengthen their relationships through writing content and facilitating events (when we’re able to do that again).

Mitchell married his high school sweetheart, Dalet, in 2004, and they have two children, Yadi and Bella. He is an avid baseball fan and loves running and hiking with his family.

Wishing you all the best in 2021!

,

5 Simple Ways to Strengthen Your Marriage When You’re Stuck at Home Together

Being together all the time can be a struggle, but these things can help your marriage thrive!

With the ongoing pandemic many couples are stuck at home together more than ever, which for some has been great. For others, it’s been a real struggle to not get on each other’s last nerve.

After witnessing some of these struggles, Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, wrote 5 Ways to Be with Each Other When You are Stuck at Home.

Here are five simple ways to strengthen your marriage when you’re stuck at home together:

1. Call a truce on throwing verbal bombs.

“You can kill your spouse with your tongue or you can give them life,” says Chapman. “Verbal bombs will always explode in the heart and mind of your spouse. Each of these bombs causes further destruction in the relationship.” 

Chapman recommends trying to go three weeks without throwing a bomb. Then work to replace the bombs with affirmation or appreciation. 

You might be thinking you don’t have any words of appreciation for your spouse. If that’s the case, Chapman encourages you to think of just three things to appreciate about your spouse. It could be putting gas in the car, cooking a meal, engaging with the children (if you have any), remembering to pay the bills, or something else. If affirmation and appreciation don’t come easily for you, try writing out a sentence and practice saying it before you say it to your spouse. For the next three weeks, share one way you appreciate your spouse without expecting anything in return.

“This changes the emotional climate in a relationship,” Chapman says. “It moves it from death to life.”

2. Tear down the emotional wall.

It’s easy to get offended in stressful times, especially if your relationship is already rocky or you’re stuck at home together more than usual. According to Chapman, each time a spouse is offended they put a block in the wall. Before you know it, that wall is long, high, and thick. It’s impossible to have a long-term healthy marriage without apologies and forgiveness. 

Chapman says apologies don’t look the same for everyone, and research backs that up. When you apologize, what do you say or do? What do you want to hear and see when someone apologizes to you?

The following five ways to apologize can help you out in this area:

  • Expressing regret. This is the emotional aspect of an apology. People who speak this language believe it’s important to acknowledge that you offended them. Then you must express your own sense of guilt, shame, and pain that your behavior has hurt them deeply. Saying, “I’m sorry” is very important to a person who speaks this language. 
  • Accepting responsibility. In this instance, an apology means accepting responsibility for one’s actions and being willing to say, “I was wrong.” 
  • Making restitution. For an apology to be genuine, it isn’t just about saying, “I am sorry.” It’s about making it right.
  • Genuinely repenting. The word repentance means “to turn around” or to change one’s mind. And not do it again.
  • Requesting forgiveness. A person who speaks this language believes an apology not only includes, “I’m sorry,” but also asking for forgiveness. 

“Forgiveness is not a feeling; it is a decision,” Chapman says. “Forgiveness does not remove the consequences nor does it rebuild trust.” It’s a good place to start rebuilding your relationship, though.

3. Discover and speak each other’s primary love language while you’re stuck at home together.

There are five love languages—words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, physical touch, and gifts. If you don’t know your own love language or your spouse’s love language, do yourself a favor and take the quiz. This one thing could transform your marriage while you’re stuck at home and spending more time than (maybe) ever together.

4. Learn the value of teamwork.

Even though roles may have changed during the pandemic, you probably have the same objective as a couple—to keep all the balls up in the air and keep your relationship moving forward. If you’re both willing to adapt and adjust and work together as a team it can make the load seem lighter.

5. Have a daily sit-down-and-listen time.

Take time out each day and share three things that happened in your life and how you feel about them. You may know what your spouse is doing, but you may not know how they’re feeling or what they’re thinking unless you take time to be curious and find out.

If you want to take things a step further, Chapman suggests a weekly time focused on one conflict or thing you wish you could change as a couple. Take turns sharing.

No doubt, every marriage faces challenges, but most would agree this year has been a bit extra. If you feel your marriage is off-kilter, utilizing these five strategies can help you get things back on track and enjoy each other’s company while you’re stuck at home together.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

It’s been a different kind of year, to say the least. You’ve changed, adapted, adjusted, and dealt with disappointments, uncertainties and the unexpected. But you made it. And as a family, you made it together. Here are 20 fun ways to end 2020 on a high note with your family.

These ways will help you connect with your family and remember what’s most important.

  1. Give to essential workers—thank you notes, gift cards, prepackaged treats, coffee, etc.
  2. Build and play a music playlist with songs each family member has listened to most in 2020.
  3. Family Karaoke with songs from 2020.
  4. Practice your 20-20 vision by naming what you’re most thankful for in 2020.
  5. Learn a new game the family can play together in 2021. Teach it to others and create a new tradition. 
  6. See how many family and friends you can get on to one video call. Have a simple encouraging message that your family can share with everyone who gets on the video.
  7. Get hot cocoa and go on a holiday lights tour in your car.
  8. Write letters to family members. Include family updates, pictures, highlights of the year.
  9. Read a book together as a family.
  10. Create and write a family story together.
  11. Build a fort and camp out in the living room. Each family member chooses a TV show or movie, and the family watches it together.
  12. Make s’mores in the kitchen using a microwave, stove, or oven and share funny memories from 2020. (No burns! Be careful!)
  13. Cook a favorite family meal. All hands on deck to prepare the meal.
  14. Look online and create a special family meal together: buy the ingredients, make plans, cook it together and of course, eat together.
  15. List what you’ve learned about yourself or your family from A-Z. A: We’re Appreciative of each other. B: We’re Bad at Board Games. C: Cook good meals, etc.
  16. Have a family awards ceremony. For example: Best Attitude, Loudest Snorer, Longest Shower, Most Adaptable, Best Hand-Washer, Best Sharer, Most Improved Attitude, Most Improved Cook, Best Helper, and come up with your own categories!
  17. Cardboard Race Cars—build a race car out of cardboard and race around your home.
  18. Build a maze or tunnels through your home out of cardboard. 
  19. Use cardboard to build forts and have a family fun time: paper battles, Nerf gun battles, pillow battles, blow-dart battles using straws and Q-tips, etc.
  20. Create your own New Year’s Eve Party. Make your own ball drop, streamers, and countdown clock. With younger children, you don’t have to wait until midnight to watch the ball drop.

Bonus:

Make a large sign wishing neighbors a Happy New Year. You can drive through your neighborhood honking your horn so neighbors will look out and see the sign. Post on family social media accounts. Include an encouraging message to lift their spirits.

The circumstances aren’t what we remember most as a family most. It’s how we deal with the circumstances that color how we remember events. Instead of focusing on what you didn’t have or get to do during this challenging year, help your family recognize how you grew and are better for it.

Whew! What a year it has been. We’ve all been through the wringer and it looks like this will be our reality for a while. How do we handle such hard stuff and not let circumstances steal our joy, especially around the holidays?

I grew up with a brother who had many special needs. Every single day posed some kind of challenge to him. While he was never supposed to live past 30, he passed away at 56. Because of his life circumstances, he had every reason not to be joyful, yet he was one of the most joyful, funny people I’ve ever known. I’m thinking I could take a cue or two from him about navigating hard times without letting them steal my joy. As we approach the holidays, here are some things Lee taught me about finding joy when life is hard that may be helpful for you, too.

1. Don’t let circumstances dictate your mindset.

Even in the worst situations, it is possible to have joy because you can choose it. What amazed me about Lee was although he had bad days, they were always the exception to the rule. I don’t remember my mom saying to him, “You are going to be happy,” and that wouldn’t have worked anyway. Somehow, he was able to look past all of his daily challenges and experience joy. Boy, do I want that! The holidays may not go like we want or plan for, but they’re going to happen and we get to choose to make the best of them!

2. Focus on others.

Lee was always thinking of others. Once, on a trip, he bought so many t-shirts for friends and co-workers, he didn’t have room for his own clothes when it was time to pack. If my mom hadn’t made him pack his clothes, I guarantee you he would have left them behind. He loved people and genuinely cared for them. Spending time loving on others and letting them care for us can help us experience joy.

3. Wishing away your current set of circumstances can steal joy, and it’s a waste of time.

No doubt, all of us are over COVID-19 and ready to get on with life. But, the more we talk about and focus on that, the more joyless we become. My brother was on dialysis for the last 10 years of his life. Three times a week he would sit in the chair for hours while the machines worked. He didn’t like it, but I never really heard him complain. He took that opportunity to meet a whole bunch of people he never would have known otherwise. Lee chose to see the opportunity in his current set of circumstances instead of focusing on wishing them away. We can do that, too. 

4. Make a list of all the things that bring you joy.

Sweets, football, holidays and people, for example. My brother never met a sweet he didn’t like, but he especially liked sugar-coated orange slices. Give him a container of those and his face lit up like you had given him gold. While he couldn’t add numbers, he knew football better than most and was an avid fan. He loved every holiday, but Christmas was his favorite. Being around people made him happy. What brings you joy? How can you bring joy to others during the holidays?

5. Avoid information overload.

Lee was aware when tough things were happening in our world and he took in the information, but he didn’t go looking for more. News and talking heads are available 24/7, so it’s easy to get drawn into the same news over and over again. I’m not even going to go there with social media, but…you know. Talk about joy-stealing on steroids—that’ll do it for you. We have to learn to turn it off. I haven’t spoken to anybody yet who regretted limiting it. This is a great time to take a break from technology and spend that time doing activities that bring you and others joy.

I’ve learned it is exhausting to focus on the negative and it for sure doesn’t help me work my way through the hard times. During times when we are really put to the test, just doing one thing differently can help begin the process of flipping the script. Circumstances will only steal our joy if we allow them to this holiday season.

College for my son began with the entire family traveling to NYC to drop him off. 

College life this year is DIFFERENT.

You probably experienced many different emotions all at the same time like excitement, sadness, pride, worry, happiness, and anxiety. You had concerns because it was the first time your student had been away from home and had the responsibility to manage their life. 

We are still in the middle of a pandemic. You watch the news and see reports on the mental health of college students. OMG! I didn’t even talk to them about their mental health. How can I help them from a distance?

Here are a few ways you can help your college student with their mental health from home:

Communicate with your student.

Text, email, IG, Messenger, a goodie box, or even a simple phone call works. It’s important to stay in touch. To prevent missed connections, it may be good to set a specific day and time to check in. 

Be realistic in your communication expectations. All day, every day is unrealistic ( and not healthy) even by text. Remember your calls are for connection and checking in, not CONTROL.

Be patient with your student and yourself.

If this is your first time having a college student, it’s brand new for both of you. There will be a learning curve in what and how your student communicates. If you feel you aren’t getting all the information you need, learn to ask open-ended questions. This gives them space to share without feeling interrogated.

Be aware of how much pressure you’re placing on them. 

Perceived or real, many college students feel the pressure to perform. A certain amount of pressure is healthy. Be aware of your words and actions that can add extra pressure for them to perform academically or join specific organizations. 

Talk with your college student about mental health.

Reassure your student that having many different feelings is normal. It’s normal to be overwhelmed during midterms and finals, it’s normal to be sad and miss your friends, and it’s normal to be frustrated and disappointed this year is not going as you wanted it. 

Share with them the warning signs of depression and anxiety. Talk to them about drug use on campus and ways to protect themselves from being sexually assaulted or being accused of sexual assault. 

Talk to parents who’ve had kids in college.

Yes, talking to your child about their mental health is important. Taking care of yours is equally important. You may find yourself extremely sad or anxious now that your student is gone. “The house feels empty and is so quiet.” Finding people who have been through this journey and made it to the other side will be beneficial for you. 

Listen to your intuition.

Things have been going well, and all of a sudden your student stops communicating. Or, you feel something is wrong or going on. Trust your instincts. Share with them that you are concerned and ask open-ended questions: How are you feeling? Is there anything I can do to support you? Would you like to use me as a sounding board? If you find the issue is bigger, take appropriate action.

Be willing to reevaluate each semester.

Each new school term brings a different set of challenges. Being flexible, open, and honest will help you and your student successfully move forward. Discuss how this first semester went—the good, bad, and ugly. Then, take time to examine any changes that need to be made (i.e. more/fewer check-ins, more/fewer visits, and any mental health needs, etc.).

For many, college is a time of fun and exploration. However, this year, you and your student may be feeling the pressure of the “new normal.” Working together, connecting, and paying appropriate attention to your student will get you through the college journey.

How to Plan for the 2020 Holidays Without Getting Stressed Out

Happy (and easier) holidays can be yours with the people who mean the most to you!

For many of us, planning for the holidays is just another thing to add to our long list of things that stress us out. I felt the pressure as I walked into Home Depot over the weekend—I was greeted by a HUGE variety of holiday decor. 

OMG! It’s that time of year, again. 

This year, like no other, will cause you to search for the true meaning of the holidays and new ways to celebrate.

As you prepare for this upcoming holiday season, here are a few questions to consider:

  • What’s the meaning of the holidays to you and your family? 
  • In the past, what have the holidays looked like? 
  • What are some of your family’s favorite holiday traditions?
  • This year, what will be different? 
  • What needs to change?

Personally, the holidays are a time of celebration and gathering. It usually includes families who travel and friends who are like family. Food and fun are the centerpieces of activity. However, this year requires more conversation and planning beyond the menu and what football game is on television. Below are some ideas to consider as you make your holiday plans.

Think About Other Years The Holidays Were Different. Learn From Them!

This year will be like no other, but there may have been some years that didn’t go according to tradition. I recall one Thanksgiving where I had to work on the day after, but I wanted to have dinner with my out-of-town family. We decided to meet midway between our homes so we could be together. The only thing open was a southern-style restaurant. We were the only people there, and the food was pretty good. Was it our traditional holiday? No. But it is one of the ones that my children talk about and remember the most. 

Consider Creating New Traditions.

Change is not always comfortable for our near and extended family. A tradition becomes a tradition because it has meaning, and it occurs over time. Traditions take many forms: from using Grandmother’s china and silverware to who carves the turkey. As your family grows, it’s inevitable that change will occur. You may have had to create new traditions or adapt old ones. Different doesn’t mean deficient. It’s just different.

Create A Plan.

You have considered how things used to be. Now, think about the new possibilities for the holidays. It’s ok to look at a variety of conditions in order to create a plan that works for your family this year. (You may need to work on contingency plans as well.) 

Here are some thoughts that may enhance your planning:

  • What are the latest health guidelines and recommendations? 
  • Are we willing to travel? If not, will we allow family to come to us?
  • How many people can attend? 
  • Should we be tested before gathering? 
  • Should we gather in homes or try to find a large space for our festivities? 
  • Can we celebrate earlier? Later?

Talk and Listen to Family

Seek out your family to discuss plans. Everyone may not be on the same page and that’s ok. Be open and willing to be flexible with the plan. Listen for concerns and fears, but also new opportunities. Remember the meaning of the holidays and how you can work together to make it come together this year. 

If this year has taught us anything, it’s that family and friends are what matter. The holidays are moments of concentrated time we have with those we care about the most. It may not look the same as it has in the past. It may actually be better because we’re keeping first things first.