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My wife and I have been together since high school, and she was just offered a new position at work. Yay!! We’re so excited. But there was only one catch: the offer required that she take and pass a standardized test. Three things trigger her anxiety more than anything else: doctors, spiders, and tests. When any of these three is a possibility, she can’t sleep and loses her appetite. We’ve always known this was an issue for her, but we work through it. One step at a time.

Her anxiety before these events made me curious. Is this normal or is it a sign of something more? Is she ok? I mean, I get anxious about some things, but not to that extent. So, I did a little digging. In the process, I came across some interesting articles and research regarding something called “anticipatory anxiety.”

What is anticipatory anxiety?

It sounds clinical, but anticipatory anxiety comes from fear or worries about things that could happen — situations, events, or experiences that may lie ahead. It can stem from past experiences, but it doesn’t always. My wife’s anxiety with tests or spiders doesn’t stem from past trauma. The anxiety with doctors? Now that’s a different story. 

Some symptoms may include things like hyperventilating, chest pain, difficulty concentrating and feeling apprehensive. It can also show up as sleep issues, loss of appetite, emotional numbness, and trouble managing emotions. 

Aren’t we all a little anxious about the future?

Sure! It’s normal for all of us to feel anxious about the future from time to time. Tests, moving, big trips, new jobs, and major medical procedures are just a few examples of things that cause anxiety. It’s not unusual to worry over these things, but there’s a BIG difference between being worried and having anticipatory anxiety.

Let’s take a look at some differences. A 2015 study looked at “phasic fear” (fear that precedes a threat you can predict) and anticipatory anxiety. Phasic fear lasts for a short time. On the other hand, anticipatory anxiety lasts longer and is a reaction to an unpredictable threat. Each fear activates different parts of the brain. The researchers found that we all experience different levels of anticipatory anxiety. BUT if a person suffers from an anxiety disorder, anticipatory anxiety can go well beyond what most people experience. Anticipatory anxiety can be life-limiting for those who suffer from panic disorder, PTSD, or a phobia.

An American Psychological Association survey in March 2021 found that 50% of participants reported anxiety in the current reentry phase of the pandemic. We’re probably all a little anxious right now as the world reopens and kids return to school (in some areas of the country for the first time since March 2020). We might even worry about a COVID recurrence or future pandemics.

So, how do we cope with anticipatory anxiety?

Anticipatory anxiety can put stress on personal relationships because you’re distracted by what-ifs. It can be life-limiting as you try to avoid things you’re afraid of. But you can cope with anticipatory anxiety and work to overcome it. 

We can also help others cope by paying attention to their actions and emotions. Maybe you have a loved one with anticipatory anxiety. If so, you can encourage them to use the coping mechanisms listed below. A strong support system that offers love, grace, and encouragement can make a world of difference.

Here are some methods to help you cope:

Practicing a relaxation response: Deep breathing, guided imagery, or meditation are a few examples. Find something that calms you.

Self-talk: Talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend who’s having a similar experience. Self-compassion can make you more mindful. It can also motivate you to recognize and face your fears.

Healthy distractions: Take a walk, listen to music, engage in your favorite hobby, or exercise.

Challenge your anxious thoughts: Ask yourself if you’re being realistic. If you aren’t, challenge those thoughts with realistic ones.

Take action: Sometimes, the best solution is to confront whatever makes you anxious. This may mean taking small steps toward conquering your fears. You don’t have to tackle it all at once.

So, my wife faced her test anxiety. She studied diligently. The kids and I cheered her on and offered words of support and encouragement. We created an environment at home to lessen her anxiety as the time to take her test got closer. And she passed her test. With that, the fear is gone… until the next test. But, when it comes to spiders, we’ve got a long road ahead. [Read How To Help Your Spouse Deal With Anxiety]

Overcoming anticipatory anxiety takes work. But, reining in your fears will be helpful for you and your family. If you think your anticipatory anxiety could be a sign of something more, consult with a therapist or counselor for guidance. 

Sources:

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/behavioural-and-cognitive-psychotherapy/article/abs/anticipatory-anxiety-as-a-function-of-panic-attacks-and-panicrelated-selfefficacy-an-ambulatory-assessment-study-in-panic-disorder/F74B866DB57404E82BAB423D9F48689F

https://www.nature.com/articles/nrn3524

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/da.22382

https://www.jneurosci.org/content/33/26/10607

https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2021/one-year-pandemic-stress

Teens experienced a lot of stress during the first round of the COVID-19 pandemic. They switched to virtual learning. They were isolated from friends. Sports got canceled. Celebrations were delayed or just didn’t happen. All these things had a significant impact.1 We thought it would all be over by now. And it looks like it is all on the verge of happening again. And it looks like it is all on the verge of happening again.

After COVID seemed to come to an end, many teens started experiencing symptoms of what scientists and doctors are calling “post-pandemic anxiety syndrome.” Yep, it’s a thing.

This syndrome is marked by an overwhelming sense of worry during this post-pandemic/repeat period. For some, the anxiety may stem from a lingering uncertainty about safety. Is the virus still a threat? Are we sure I can take this mask off? Am I still in danger? Should I put the mask back on?

For others, the cause of anxiety seems to be a product of flip-flop thinking. We know that our brains can train themselves to think in a certain way.2 Your teen has had over a year to adjust to new and sudden precautions, rules of social distancing, and risk management during extreme uncertainty. 

As if that’s not stressful enough, now we’re experiencing an almost equally instantaneous shift back to pre-pandemic life while there’s so much uncertainty about the variants. Take off the masks, go back to the ball fields, get ready for school. Some teens are celebrating. But for many, the anxiety increases.3

If your teen is showing some signs of post-pandemic anxiety, you can help them. Try these strategies to help them deal with what they may be experiencing. 

1. Keep the dialogue open.

Be open to your teen voicing their worries, fears, and stress to you. Let them know you’re a safe place for them to express their thoughts and feelings without judgment. Avoid pushing the issue if they don’t want to share, but keep that open door in their sights. If they know you are in their corner, it makes a difference. 

2. Normalize their feelings.

Your teen may feel weird or abnormal because of their anxiety. They might think that no one could possibly understand what they’re feeling. Reassure them that our whole world has been through a lot, and those anxious feelings are normal. There’s nothing wrong with them; they’re not “less than” because of their worry. Remind them that it’s how we go about coping with anxiety that is important. 

3. Coach them to get plenty of sleep.

In general, teens typically get less sleep than they need for proper health and development. But a healthy amount of rest is vital for coping with anxiety. Evidence is strong that sleep deprivation negatively affects mental health.4 The CDC recommends 13 to 18-year-olds should get 8-10 hours of sleep a night for optimal health.5 Encourage your teen to hit the hay at a decent hour so they can take care of themselves.

4. Avoid making your own diagnosis.

You’re worried about your kid, and that’s completely understandable. You can see signs and symptoms of anxiety or stress. But professionals are trained to translate these signs into what precisely the problem is — not us. You want to be careful not to jump to “anxiety disorders,” “depression,” or other conditions in a knee-jerk reaction, especially to your teen. They can easily feel labeled. They may also interpret the label as an identity that can’t be fixed (e.g., I have an anxiety disorder; it’s who I am). This is obviously detrimental to how they feel about themselves, and it can magnify the troublesome feelings they are having. 

5. Consider getting help from a professional counselor.

If the signs you see are persistent or worsen, it might indicate that you need to seek a therapist for your teen. Keep in mind that it might not be a popular choice in your teen’s eyes. But often, intense feelings of anxiety and worry are so much that we need more advanced tools to cope with them. That’s where a counselor is beneficial.

One last thought from one parent of a teen to another:

There is always hope in conquering mental health challenges. Anxiety is manageable. And your teen stands the greatest chance of overcoming post-pandemic anxiety when they know you’re cheering them on. 

Sources:

1Freed GL, Singer DC, Gebremariam A, Schultz SL, Clark SJ. How the pandemic has impacted teen mental health. C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, University of Michigan. Vol 38, Issue 2, March 2021. Available at: https://mottpoll.org/reports/how-pandemic-has-impacted-teen-mental-health.

2Berg, S. (2021, June 11). What doctors wish patients knew about post-COVID anxiety. American Medical Association. https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/what-doctors-wish-patients-knew-about-post-covid-anxiety 

3Hunter, R. G., & McEwen, B. S. (2013). Stress and anxiety across the lifespan: structural plasticity and epigenetic regulation. Epigenomics, 5(2), 177–194. https://doi.org/10.2217/epi.13.8

4Talbot, L. S., McGlinchey, E. L., Kaplan, K. A., Dahl, R. E., & Harvey, A. G. (2010). Sleep Deprivation in Adolescents and Adults: Changes in Affect. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 10(6), 831–841. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0020138 

5Sleep in middle and high school students. (2020, September 10). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/features/students-sleep.htm 

7 Strategies to Help Your Child Deal With Post-Pandemic Anxiety

Demonstrate your love, compassion, and care while walking them through their challenges.

Children, like adults, were struck with a sudden bombshell when COVID-19 arrived on the scene. Everything changed abruptly. Think about it. One day, they’re at school and seeing their friends. The next day, they’re home for an extended period. They’re isolated. Their world changed: masks, loneliness, increased family time, canceled activities, etc. The structure, predictability, and consistency kids need to thrive: gone. That’s a tough experience for a child to live through. It was even hard for adults.

As kids come out of the pandemic, it’s no wonder that so many are experiencing anxiety. Recent studies suggest the pandemic may be having a more adverse effect on adolescents than on adults.1 According to Dr. Bradley S. Jerson,2 your child may be dealing with post-pandemic anxiety if they are…

  • Spending a lot more time alone
  • Sleeping a lot more or less
  • Withdrawing from family or friends
  • Not interested in their favorite activities
  • Having changes in their overall mood
  • More irritated or angry
  • Stuck on negative thoughts
  • Hopeless about the future

As their parent, you want to help them manage their anxiety and adjust to normalcy.

These strategies can help your child deal with post-pandemic anxiety.

1. Be aware of your own mental health.

The Child Mind Institute states “that dealing with your own anxiety can be the most powerful way to make sure your kids feel secure.”3 Your children take a lot of their cues from you. So do whatever is necessary for you to be in a good space mentally. Practicing good self-care will equip you to help your child.

2. Give your child space and freedom to talk through their emotions.

What young child can do that by themselves? Not many. Try to ask questions in a gentle, non-judgmental way. Try, “What do you feel when we make plans to go to the supermarket or back to school?” This lets them know that whatever they’re feeling is acceptable and even normal. Studies show that after an event like a pandemic, mental health issues such as anxiety are common.4 Child expert Dr. Gene Beresin recommends that parents consistently listen and validate their child’s thoughts and emotions. This can help them transition to post-pandemic life.5

3. Create some routines, predictability, and consistency.

Children thrive when they know what’s coming. And it helps them adjust and know who to turn to for the things they can’t foresee. Morning or nighttime routines are helpful. Picking them up from school at a consistent time is also good. Several studies have shown that eating family meals together is beneficial for kids’ mental state.

4. Ease them back into their norms when possible .

Dr. Jill Ehrenreich-May and Dominique A. Phillips recommend taking smaller, manageable steps to move forward.6 Instead of going to an indoor birthday party, have your child choose a friend for an outdoor play date. Pick people and places that are most comfortable for your child, and use those spaces to help them overcome the paralyzing effects of their post-pandemic anxiety.

5. Talk them through what’s being done to keep them safe.

Young children look to their parents for security, safety, and protection. Asking your child what would make them feel safe can help them address their anxiety. Explaining what makes a situation safe helps build their trust in you as their parent to protect them. 

6. Get support for your child.

If your child continues to struggle, talk to their pediatrician, a school counselor, or find a therapist. Don’t hesitate to ask your child if they’ve had thoughts of self-harm. **If they have, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 (24/7).**

7. Celebrate the positives.

Dr. Jerry Bubrick, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, encourages parents to look for anything positive they can celebrate.7 Sometimes, we spend so much time focusing on what our kids won’t do. Instead, highlight the good stuff they’re doing: the family time you’re spending together, the books they’re reading. This can help shift their mentality and calm their uneasiness.

Each child responds differently to change. Your love, compassion, and care in walking them through their challenges are often the most crucial ingredients to helping your child deal with change, fear, uncertainty, and post-pandemic anxiety. You got this!

Sources:

1 The psychiatric sequelae of the COVID-19 pandemic in adolescents, adults, and health care workers.

2 Connecticut Children’s

3 The Child Mind Institute Anxiety and Coping With the Coronavirus

4 Life in a post-pandemic world: What to expect of anxiety-related conditions and their treatment

5 Gene Beresin, Executive Director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, Full professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School

6 Here’s How to Help Your Kids Break Out of Their Pandemic Bubble and Transition Back to Being With Others

7 Jerry Bubrick, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute

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.