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Am I a good friend? That’s a great introspective, self-aware kinda question! To find the answer, you could do what any sensible person would do—take a bunch of online quizzes and see if the internet thinks you’re a good friend. (I was everything from a “BFF” to a “just-okay friend.”) OR you could ask yourself this question: 

What am I looking for in a friend? 

Maybe your answers will include some of these 7 signs you’re a good friend…

1. A good friend shows up.

A huge part of friendship is just showing up and being available and reliable. You don’t have to tell your friends that you’re a good friend—you show them. (People don’t always tell you how they feel about you, but they will always show you.) We make time for what (and who) is important to us. Good friends inspire your confidence, they don’t flake out of plans at the last minute. They are there when you need them, even if uninvited. They don’t just sit back and wait for an invitation by text, but they initiate get-togethers and meet-ups.

2. A good friend lets you be yourself…

A good friend lets you be you. You don’t have to put on airs or fronts for them. You don’t worry or stress about showing “your good side.” You can be real with them and be your true self, warts and all, and not fear being rejected. They know your struggles and imperfections and accept you for who you are. A good friend helps create a space where you are comfortable being honest and transparent with them. 

3. … while helping you be your best self.

But they accept who you are while also helping you be the best version of yourself. A good friend knows who you are, but also knows who you want to be and part of their time and communication is spent holding you accountable for your personal goals and encouraging you to be the healthiest version of yourself. A good friend isn’t afraid to do and say the kind of hard things you need to grow into a better spouse, parent, friend, employee, and person. When you bring your problems to them, they care, but they give it to you straight.

4. A good friend is self-aware.

They are not a stranger to themselves. They understand very clearly what is going on inside of them as well as how they come across to other people. This helps them be grounded and secure as a person. They are in touch with their own feelings, passions, motivations, goals, and abilities, as well as their own faults, shortcomings, negative tendencies, and weaknesses. Because they know who they are, they don’t get caught up in other people’s opinions or drama. Also, because they have the ability to have a realistic view of themselves, they also have the ability to have a realistic view of others and see the world through their eyes.

5. A good friend is empathetic.

A good friend is good at seeing things from multiple people’s perspectives. They have the ability to put themselves in other people’s shoes and try to feel what they feel and think what they would think in a given situation. This ability is what helps them encourage you and also hold you accountable. A good friend can put themselves in your shoes, but also put themselves in your boss’s, your spouse’s, and your kid’s. This is a big part of why they are able to dispense such good advice and aren’t afraid to call you out when necessary. 

6. A good friend is trustworthy.

A good friend creates a climate in your friendship that allows you to feel safe sharing what’s really on your mind and heart. Not only can you feel safe being transparent and vulnerable but you trust them to keep things in confidence that are shared in confidence. You don’t have to worry about becoming part of the latest gossip going around. They don’t say things to you like, “Well, I promised her I wouldn’t tell anyone but did you know…” or “He told me not to share this, but you can keep a secret, right?” If someone is saying those kinds of things to you, you better believe they are saying those things about you.

7. A good friend is fun, introduces you to new experiences, and helps you grow.

Not all the qualities of a good friend are super serious! A good friend knows how to have a good time. Since they are curious about life, they are often trying new things and picking up new hobbies and interests that draw you in and enrich your life too. A good friend gets you out of your comfort zone and helps you grow as a person and try new things. They are fun to be around and when you leave their company you feel recharged, not drained. When you get back together, you feel like you can pick up where you left off.

What you are looking for in a friend—be that person! Being a good friend and having good friends are two essential things in life. Having a quality social network is associated with having a stronger immune system and even living longer. Friendship has wide-ranging benefits for your physical and mental health and general wellbeing. The best way to have good friends is by being a good friend. You got this!

When I became a parent, I was not prepared for the “surge” of protectiveness that took over my body. I felt like it was my job to protect my child from all sorts of hurts, disappointments, fears, and sadness. I may have unknowingly included their father and other family members, too. Did they wash their hands before holding my child? Are they following my parental instructions to the letter of my law? Why is he playing so rough with them? Learning how to moderate my “Grizzly Bear Mom” tendencies helped me become a more supportive parent.  

Research has shown that being a supportive parent has far-reaching benefits for your child. Being a supportive parent helps your child be better equipped to handle stressful situations, be able to handle their own emotions, be capable of regulating their behavior, and get along with others.

Here are a few steps you can take on your journey of being a supportive parent for your child:

1. Be as empathetic as possible.

Being able to empathize with your child means you can place yourself in their shoes. And consider: How tight are the shoes? Do they have holes in the toes? Be aware of a situation they experience that mirrors one from your childhood. If your childhood experience or trauma becomes the focus, your child will feel unheard and marginalized. Now is not the time to help them learn to build tough skin. When you empathize, you become a soft place for your child to land when experiencing difficulties. 

2. Enjoy being a student of your child.

Becoming a student of your child means you enter their world. You learn about the topics they’re interested in even if it holds no interest to you. Your child may be interested in: Sports (baseball, soccer, lacrosse, football, tennis), Music (instruments, singing, producing videos), Art (drawing, painting, photography) Animé, Video Gaming, Crafting, Animals, or a myriad of other topics. Dig deeper and say things like: Tell me what you like about… The key here is to remember that your child is a separate person from you. Children feel seen and valued when parents ask about what they like.

3. Be open and askable.

For many parents, showing support means doing something (also known as having the “fixer syndrome”). Here’s the BEST thing your child needs you to do for them: Listen, Listen, Listen. Listen to understand, listen for more information, and listen to identify emotions. You can also give your child space to process what they’re feeling. As you become more open and askable, you’ll have to guard your reactions, especially when your child shares difficult situations with you such as being bullied, picked on, or teased by others. Believe it or not, your child is very aware of your feelings and will shut down if they feel like you’re upset. Probing statements like “tell me more” allow your child to share on their terms without feeling like they’re being interrogated.

4. Make time to connect.

Create intentional time where you both engage in an activity they really enjoy. Making time in your schedule to play them, watch something with them or even allow them to teach you something new will demonstrate your support to them. Children feel supported when they know they are cared for, encouraged to grow, and feel a sense of belonging in your family. 

As you work through these key steps to becoming a supportive parent, remember it’s all about process, not perfection. There will be days you’ll miss a step or two. Becoming a supportive parent is about seeking to understand your child’s world, including their feelings, fears, and frustrations without making the situation about you. When you create this connection with your child, you’re actually creating an environment of support and helping them feel like they belong. Ultimately, you’re preparing your child for LIFE.

Image from Unsplash.com

Have you ever whipped up your favorite batch of homemade cookies to find out in the first bite that you left out that one key ingredient that makes all the difference? Empathy is that key ingredient to a great recipe for a healthy marriage that you don’t want to forget. 

A large body of research tells us the practice of empathy is essential to a thriving, happy, healthy marriage. However, many people reduce the idea of empathy to it being just  “touchy-feely” or something that some people are born having, but others not so much. 

What exactly is empathy, and can you have it for your spouse if you’ve never experienced what they have experienced? 

There are many definitions out there for empathy; some have described it as the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. I like the definition that U.C. Berkley researchers Levenson and Ruef give: empathy is the ability to detect accurately the emotional information being transmitted by another person. The keywords here (in my humble opinion) are detect accurately. The goal of empathy in marriage is to understand as closely as possible what is going on in your spouse’s mind and heart at the moment. And keep in mind this is a skill that you can learn, not an inherent trait that you’re born with. 

But real marital empathy doesn’t stop with simply understanding. Empathy is an action. We find this reflected in an explanation of empathy given by Dr. Paul Ekman, who separates empathy into three parts. Cognitive empathy is what we just talked about; it allows us to imagine how someone is feeling and say Wow, that must be really tough.

Emotional empathy goes a little further to allow ourselves to actually feel what our spouse is feeling (even though we don’t have the same experiences).  It’s the same mental processes at work as when you shed tears watching a romcom or feel sadness when you witness someone who’s down and out. The thing is, you can control whether you attempt to feel what the other person is feeling. Which is good news for spouses (like you) who want to build more empathy in their marriage. 

But the third part of Ekman’s empathy triad is compassionate empathy. It balances the first two parts so that we can take empathetic action. This empathy triad, according to Ekman, keeps the whole person in mind, making empathy a work of both mind, heart, and behavior.

So here’s what this may look like in marriage. Your spouse comes home from a stressful day at work to find the kids still haven’t taken care of the dirty dishes in their rooms that they were told a thousand times to put in the dishwasher. You listen to them and try to non-judgmentally understand how they’re feeling (even though the thought of lingering dirty dishes doesn’t particularly bother you). You allow yourself to feel at least a little bit of the frustration they feel. And out of compassionate empathy, you extend a hug, thank them for all the hard work they do. Then you go upstairs to goad the ankle-biters into gathering up the fungus-laden dishes so your spouse doesn’t have to for the 1,001st time. 

Considering this trilogy-approach to empathy, how do you build empathy in your marriage? Here are some steps for couples to take: 

  • Listen. Not to judge. Not to fix. And not even to retort. Listen simply to grasp what your spouse is feeling with as much accuracy as possible. Listen closely to your spouse to understand their feelings in the same way you’d listen to a teacher to understand how to do calculus. 
  • Validate. You may listen and think, Gee, I’d never get so riled up (or excited, or sad) over this. Avoid judging your spouse’s feelings based on how you would respond in the same situation. Instead, acknowledge to yourself that these are their feelings (and not yours). Respond verbally to your spouse with legitimizing replies like, “Wow, that must be frustrating,” or “I can see how you’d be excited about that.”
  • Share. Namely, your spouse’s emotional response. This may take some conscious effort on your part, especially if they are emotionally responsive to a situation in a way you wouldn’t. Truly put yourself in their shoes. See the world from their eyes. Allow yourself to experience any part of the anger, frustration, excitement, happiness, or whatever feeling they are expressing to you. (Even for the most stoic person, the more you put this into practice, the easier it becomes over time.) 
  • Act. Take what you’ve come to understand from the previous steps and respond in compassion. When you come to understand accurately the mind and heart of your spouse in a given situation, it’s easier to be in tune with what they need at that moment. Keep in mind that this very well may not be the time to “fix” their problem. A helpful trick I’ve learned is to ask my spouse, “Is this a time you want me to listen and help you figure out a solution, or would it be more helpful to listen and simply try to understand?” More often than not, she simply needs an empathetic ear and a compassionate response. 
  • Practice vulnerability. Here’s the thing: empathy begets empathy. What I mean is, it’s a two-way street. Empathy is best built when both people in the marriage open up about situations, feelings, and thoughts they simply want the other to better understand. That’s the beauty of it: the practice of empathy helps you to know that you can open up to your spouse and they’ll be non-judgmental and supportive. And they can be open with you and you’ll respond in the same way. Trust is reinforced. The marriage is strengthened. And all because empathy is that one ingredient that makes the difference in the recipe. 

Empathy is an all-important ingredient for a healthy marriage, but building it takes time. Empathy grows with momentum, especially if it hasn’t been expressed very much previously. However, you might find that if you pay close attention to the above steps, it doesn’t take long for the momentum to get rolling pretty quickly. 

Read other blogs to learn more about empathy here:

What to Do When Your Spouse Lacks Empathy

3 Ways Empathy Can Strengthen Your Marriage

How to Stop Resentment

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Image from Unsplash.com

COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR SPOUSE SHOULD BE FULFILLING, NOT FRUSTRATING.

With the right tools, you and your spouse can have the best communication ever!

This easy-to-use virtual 5-day course guides you and your spouse to have the best communication you’ve ever had! Through this course, you will learn:

  • How to establish healthy communication habits
  • The secrets to creating a deep connection through communication
  • Skills to help you (and your spouse) be a better speaker and listener
  • How to celebrate and understand your different communication styles
  • And so much more!

Do you find it hard to see things from your spouse’s perspective?

Do you think your spouse should see things exactly the way you do?

Is it easier for you to try to fix things for your spouse rather than listen to them? 

If this is true about you or your spouse, you may have a lack of empathy. Situations where you fail to empathize with your spouse can lead to misunderstandings and disconnection. To truly understand empathy, we must define it. Brené Brown defines empathy as “feeling with people.” In its simplest form, empathy means to care as much about your spouse’s likes, dislikes, interests, issues, dreams, goals, and problems, as you care about your own. 

It can become difficult in marriage when you recognize that your spouse is so very different from you. According to psychotherapist Cindy Sigal, AMFT,  “Empathy bridges the divide between being separate individuals with different backgrounds, feelings, and perspectives.

How do we build and/or maintain the bridge of empathy between spouses?

1. Listen, Listen, Listen

The greatest need your spouse has is to be seen, heard, valued, and understood by you. This begins with listening to understand them—not to fix a problem. Additionally, give your spouse your full attention within the conversation. Asking questions allows you to become a “compassionate detective” of your spouse. Resist the urge to tell them what to do or how to fix the issue. In doing so, you validate your spouse’s feelings and capacity to solve the problem while utilizing empathy to fuel your connection.

2. It’s Not About YOU

The key to empathy is seeing things from your spouse’s perspective—literally, putting your feet in their shoes. Think about: What do they like to do? How did they grow up? What brings them happiness and what causes them to get upset? What is their favorite activity, food, etc.? How would they see this situation? Practice putting aside your views and thoughts to focus on those of your spouse. 

3. Respect Your Spouse’s Differences

At the beginning of your marriage, you may have thought, “It’s so GREAT how different we are.” Now reality has set in and you’re probably thinking, “OMG, WE ARE different.” YES, you are. However, there is strength in your differences. Having different views can give you the opportunity to see the picture/issue from a variety of ways. Allowing each spouse their own perspective provides opportunity for out-of-the-box decision-making as well as increasing mutual respect. 

Empathy so often is considered to be the “secret sauce” in relationships. It encourages us to see past ourselves and take our spouse into consideration. It bonds couples together. Building your capacity for empathy builds your relationship.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Image from Unsplash.com

COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR SPOUSE SHOULD BE FULFILLING, NOT FRUSTRATING.

With the right tools, you and your spouse can have the best communication ever!

This easy-to-use virtual 5-day course guides you and your spouse to have the best communication you’ve ever had! Through this course, you will learn:

  • How to establish healthy communication habits
  • The secrets to creating a deep connection through communication
  • Skills to help you (and your spouse) be a better speaker and listener
  • How to celebrate and understand your different communication styles
  • And so much more!

It hurts when you feel like your spouse doesn’t “get you.” You may have been together for a while and you’re thinking, “How do they not know this about me by now? Don’t they care?” On the other hand, you might be able to read your spouse down to an eyebrow twitch. However, just telling your spouse they aren’t empathetic or saying, “Our marriage lacks empathy,” might not be the best approach. People mean very different things when they say “empathy.” No need to spin your wheels. You can break “empathy” down to the specific thing(s) you need—here’s how.

A definition of empathy would be: the ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives and to use that understanding to guide our actions. But you want to be able to tell your spouse what that looks like in your relationship.

With all that in mind, let’s get super, super practical. 

Do you want your spouse to:

  • Feel what you feel after a hard day? 
  • Think about how you feel after a hard day? 
  • Respond to you in an appropriate way after your hard day? 

Out of these questions, which is more meaningful to you? Which meets your needs? Which helps you feel understood, connected, and cared for the most? These questions are crucial because understanding what you need from your spouse is the first step in working with them to get it.

Just telling your spouse, “You lack empathy,” might be counter-productive. It would be like saying, “You lack love.” What does that mean? That statement is going to require some serious explaining for your spouse to attempt to work on it. You need to think about how specifically your spouse is not meeting your needs. What do YOU mean you say that your spouse “lacks empathy?”

Expectations are everything.

In a relationship context, you want your spouse to understand how you feel and lovingly help you. But don’t assume they should just know. Believe me, your spouse has some things they wish you just knew—this is why quality communication is so important.

What you are probably expecting is for your spouse to think about how you feel and respond to you accordingly

Not an unreasonable expectation at all. Not a hard fix, either. It just requires some communicating on your part. Instead of saying, “You need to be more empathetic,” try making your needs more concrete. Are they not being considerate, thoughtful, and attentive? Are they not being responsive, compassionate, sensitive, gracious, or helpful? Do you need them to listen and really hear you? Have some grace too—they might not even realize what they are doing or not doing. Don’t jump to, “My spouse doesn’t care about me!

Talk about it.

Communicate your needs. Help your spouse help you. Unpack “empathy” and zero in on what you really need. Consider making the following two requests of your spouse:

  • I need you to be more empathetic.
  • I need you to be more attentive to me and my need for…

The first question will have you talking about what you both think empathy means. Wasted calories. The second question gets right down to it! It understands that your spouse isn’t a mind reader and makes your specific needs known to them. 

Remember, people can’t give what they don’t have. Model and give your spouse more of what you want to receive from them. Don’t stumble over the simplicity of having conversations with your spouse about what you need. “Empathy” may be a tough nut to crack, but understanding what you specifically need will make working on it much easier. You can do this! Get talking!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Image from Unsplash.com

COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR SPOUSE SHOULD BE FULFILLING, NOT FRUSTRATING.

With the right tools, you and your spouse can have the best communication ever!

This easy-to-use virtual 5-day course guides you and your spouse to have the best communication you’ve ever had! Through this course, you will learn:

  • How to establish healthy communication habits
  • The secrets to creating a deep connection through communication
  • Skills to help you (and your spouse) be a better speaker and listener
  • How to celebrate and understand your different communication styles
  • And so much more!

The last couple of weeks have found us having more conversations with our 7-year-old about what being diversity aware means. We have discussed what has happened in our nation over the last few months as well as what is currently happening in our city and state. This was not our first conversation about diversity. It has been an ongoing theme in our household since he was born. We have the same conversations with our 4-year-old daughter as well. 

Diversity is important to us as we are a multicultural family. But the conversations over the last couple of weeks have taken a different tone, a more urgent tone. We have had some deeper conversations about recognizing and appreciating diversity. Our language has changed, too. More clarity has entered the conversation to ensure that our son understands what words like racism, diversity, and prejudice mean. 

So how can we help our children become more aware of the diversity around them? We, as parents, play an invaluable role in teaching our children how to respect and appreciate differences. Here are some of the ways we have taught diversity to our kids.

1. Acknowledge Differences

We are all unique. We represent different cultures and ethnicities. There is beauty in our differences and we should celebrate them. This makes the world a more interesting place, it would be kind of boring if we all were just alike. One thing you can always count on with kids is that they will ask questions. Sometimes they ask the hard questions. When our children ask why someone has a different color skin, different hair, or speaks a different language, we need to take the opportunity to discuss the visible differences that we have. Reinforce that regardless of the color of one’s skin or the language they speak, every person has equal value.

2. Model Diversity

If we want to teach our kids about diversity, we need to make sure our circle of friends is diverse. Diversity comes in many forms—ethnicity, culture, and socioeconomic are just a few examples. I’ll never forget the last Christmas we lived in South Florida. My son was two and we had a group of friends over to celebrate. These were people we worked with and did life with. The group makeup was myself, my Latin wife, a Jamaican, a Haitian, a black friend from Florida, and our friends who are white. This was a unique blend of cultures and these were all people that our son had the opportunity to spend time with during his first two years of life. I share this to say that we need to surround ourselves with diversity so our kids see how important it really is.

3. Introduce Diversity

One of my favorite books to read to my daughter is Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Mendez. Why? Because this book is a conversation between a young girl and her grandpa about why she looks different than her friends. Children’s books offer a vast array of diversity. Take a look at what you have in your child’s library and see if there are books that represent people of different races and cultures. You can find some ideas by clicking here. Another fun way to learn more about diversity is to attend culture festivals in your area. These are fun, interactive events that introduce a variety of cultures… and great food is a bonus. Also, look at the children’s movies that you watch with your kids. Point out the differences in the ethnicities of the characters and have a conversation about who those characters represent. 

4. Teach Empathy

What does it mean to have empathy? It means that we can sense and understand the feelings of others and share in those feelings. Many of us have heard the saying “Don’t judge a person until you walk a mile in their shoes.” We may not be able to fully identify with someone else’s reality, but we can choose to share their feelings. Jimmy Rollins explains it this way: “Do we have the capacity to love someone else’s reality that is not our own?” As parents, we can have conversations with our children to help them understand what it means to identify with the feelings of another and walk alongside them. We can help our children identify their own feelings and label those emotions. This will give them the tools to have a conversation about the emotions of others and how we can walk alongside someone who is different than us.

5. Encourage Conversation

Helping your child become diversity aware is not a one-time discussion. This is an ongoing conversation that will last for years. Take every opportunity to help your child continually learn about diversity. Encourage them to ask questions as well. Kids are curious—they want to constantly know more. I can attest that my kids never stop asking questions. We can be intentional about creating an environment that promotes curiosity and learning. 

6. Take A Stand

If we have done all these things, then we need to help our kids understand when and how to take a stand. If my son has a schoolmate who is bullied because of their race or culture, we have taught him to take a stand for them. Sometimes taking a stand is as simple as including people of different ethnicities. Ask your child what their friend group looks like. Look for ways that they can include people who look different than them into their group. Taking a stand can be as simple as showing kindness, compassion, and love. And when your child does take a stand, affirm and celebrate them. This will encourage them to continue.

Helping your child become diversity aware is a marathon, not a sprint. Stay in the race and help our kids continue to change the world.

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