4 Ways to Be More Present With Your Spouse
Have you ever gotten into bed, rolled over, and said “I miss you,” after sitting next to your spouse on the couch all evening? Or thought it silently to yourself as you question, “What did we even do? I mean we were next to each other—how can I miss them?” Just being in the same room with your spouse doesn’t make you present with each other in ways that make your marriage stronger.
I know I’ve felt this when the busyness of life comes crashing in—uninvited and without warning. The circumstances right now in 2020 alone can cause all sorts of unrest, even in the places we’ve felt the most at home. There’s COVID and the adjustments constantly being made because of it, social justice at the forefront of conversations, political division, online schooling, and then there are your personal struggles outside of what’s going on in the world.
All of these things can cause your relationship to feel robotic, like you are just going through the motions. It is monotonous, it’s boring, it lacks depth and it lacks the intimate connection you both need to enjoy life together—not just go through it together.
The fix for this? Finding ways to be more present with your spouse. Think of it as the way you spend your time together. Quality over quantity… though if you can make time to have your cake and eat it, too, a high quantity of quality time sounds amazing.
Here are 4 Ways to Be More Present with Your Spouse:
1. Intentional conversation.
When you have time (make time) to catch up, do it intentionally. Turn the phones on silent or put them aside. Let the world take a backseat and really tune in to each other. “How are you feeling?” “What do you think about…?” “What was the best or worst part of your day and why?” “How can I be there for you?” “How can I show you I love you today?” Here are 20 questions you can ask each other besides, “How was your day?”
While you’re having conversations, hold hands, or place your hand on your spouse’s arm. Little moments of touch without distraction go a long way. Speaking of touch…
Though being present with your spouse goes beyond being physically present, your body language and how you interact can say a lot about how you feel toward one another. If you’re both exhausted after a long day and just want to sit on the couch and watch a movie, do it! It doesn’t take much to communicate, “Hey I’m here with you and I want to be here.” Get close, cuddle up, and kiss a few times (or lots of times!)
A daily 6-second kiss will increase your emotional and physical intimacy. Hey! Research says that physical contact releases oxytocin (the bonding or trust hormone), and dopamine. This can improve your mood (for days at a time), and can help you stay calm. To top it off, something as simple as holding hands, hugging, getting close, and yes, making out, can lessen your stress hormones (cortisol) and enrich your sense of relationship satisfaction.
3. Pay attention to ways you can connect throughout the day…
Dr. Linda Duncan found four powerful ways for couples to connect throughout the day. Being intentional about connecting at these times on a regular basis can increase the intimacy in your marriage and make your spouse feel like you’re present, not just there.
- When you wake up, start with an “I love you,” a kiss or cuddling up beside your spouse (whichever is their cup of tea). Unless of course, they aren’t a morning person. Then maybe you just make the coffee and put a cup on the nightstand without saying a word. 😉
- When you part for the day, even if you’re just sitting at the dining room table and your spouse is in the other room working from home, how you say see ya later sets the tone for how you think about your relationship throughout the day. The symbolic start of your workdays can be coupled with “Thanks for working so hard. I can’t wait to spend time together when you’re done with work.” Think about what you could say that would encourage and recognize your spouse.
- How you greet each other once you’re done with work. A hug, kiss, or “I’m so glad you’re home!” are great ways to show you care and acknowledge your spouse coming home is important to you.
- How you say goodnight is the last point of connectedness. Take a few moments between letting your head hit the pillow and falling asleep to talk about your day or your day tomorrow. Asking “Is there anything I can help you with tomorrow?” and ending with another “I love you.” (Because you can’t say it enough!)
4. Make time for fun!
I know life is busy, but we make time for the things we care about, and being present with your spouse is one of those things for you or you wouldn’t be reading this blog. If you operate on opposite schedules, it may look like compromising some sleep and getting up earlier or going to sleep later. Maybe it’s a date night once a week or every other week. Having fun to look forward to will build anticipation, just be sure to talk about what you both want to do so there aren’t hidden expectations!
Incorporating a date night is essential! The New York Times writes about the importance of reinventing date night: “The theory is based on brain science. New experiences activate the brain’s reward system, flooding it with dopamine and norepinephrine. These are the same brain circuits that are ignited in early romantic love…” When you have fond feelings for each other, being present will feel more natural and you’ll crave that kind of quality time.
Being more present with your spouse doesn’t have to take a lot of time or energy. But it does take being intentional with the time and energy you can offer each other.
- 5 Ways to Be More Present When Talking to Someone
- How To Have More Meaningful Conversations With Your Spouse
- Keys to Effective Communication in Marriage
- 3 Great Dates To Enhance Communication In Your Marriage
***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
4 Ways To Be A More Present Parent
Does it feel like you’re at war with the clock? Like you don’t have enough time to do all the things on your to-do list? Struggle with finding time for yourself? Feel disconnected from your kids?
If you answer any of these questions with a “yes,” welcome to parenthood! Being a parent is one of the most difficult, yet rewarding jobs. You have so many things on your to-do list. Often, we are spouses, employees, caregivers, dietitians, Uber drivers, and teachers for our children “going” to school digitally. With so much on our plate, we become overwhelmed and stressed. This easily can turn into not being really present. We feel disconnected from our children, ourselves, and from our lives.
How do you reconnect and become a more present and “in the moment” parent with your kids?
1. Put down your phone.
It’s so easy for us to be engrossed in our technology (i.e., social media). When you do, it’s easy to see other people’s photos, videos, homes, and compare them to yours. You may ask yourself: “Why doesn’t my house look like theirs? Why doesn’t my family look this happy? What am I doing wrong?”
The average adult spends 11 hours per day in front of some type of screen while they check their phone every 10 minutes. When you put down your phone, it allows your attention and focus to be placed on what is important to you (your children). It allows you to prioritize time with your children, your family, your spouse, and even yourself. I encourage you to take an honest look at how much time you spend on social media (IG, FB, Pinterest, etc.). Once you have that amount of time calculated, invest that time in doing something that brings value to your life.
2. Be intentional in spending quality time with your child.
Whether it is when they wake up or during your bedtime routine, create space for intentional and focused time with your child. Quality time doesn’t have to be a big planned activity. It’s really the little sweet moments that matter like telling your child you love them, placing a note in their lunch box, playing with them, or reading to them. As they grow, allow them to read to you, have a snack together, tell silly jokes. It can be easy to start with 5 to 10 minutes, then work up from there. When you are intentional with spending quality time with your child it increases the bond between the two of you.
Things You Can Do First Thing In The Morning To Be a More Present Parent:
- Lovingly rouse them from sleep.
- Wake them by singing a good morning song.
- Cuddle in the bed with them.
- Ask them what are they looking forward to today.
Things You Can Do At Bedtime To Be a More Present Parent:
- Read them a book.
- Ask them about the highs and lows of their day.
- Give them backrubs and back scratches.
- Snuggle up with them.
Your child will begin to look forward to and anticipate the time that you will spend together. Try for quantity time and quality time and mind your mindset while you are with your child. Make sure all of you is present.
3. Take time for yourself.
If your tank is empty you have nothing to give and won’t be present. As parents, we have been told that our lives should revolve around our kids. Parents feel like it is selfish to take care of themselves. It’s really not. When you take care of yourself, you are creating greater capacity to give your energy to be with your child. Taking time to get enough sleep, eating right, exercising (running, yoga, biking, walking, hiking), or writing in a journal, all help put you in the right frame of mind to be an engaged and present parent.
4. Bring them into your daily life.
There are many parts of our lives that we can incorporate our children into.
Exercise: If you walk, run, or bike, get a baby carrier and take them with you. Put them in their stroller for a walk around the neighborhood or park. All the while, talk to them about what they see: the tall trees, the falling leaves, insects, and animals.
Cooking: Set up a small table for your child with child-sized utensils. Allow them to play with pots you’re not using. If your child is an infant, place them in their seat where they can see you. Cook while having a running conversation with your child. Talk to them about what you are doing. Ask them questions about their thoughts and feelings.
Work: If you are having to work from home with a young child, create a “workspace” for your new “assistant.” Give them paper, crayons, and washable markers as supplies.
Household Chores: Your child can sort clothes by color to place in the washing machine, take clothes out of the dryer, and carry clothes to the correct room. Give your child the responsibility to feed and water the family pets.
If you’ve been beating yourself up as a busy parent, STOP.
Kids aren’t looking for perfect parents; they are looking for present parents. Don’t allow the stress of “Am I doing enough?” hamper you from enjoying what you are doing. Spending quality time being present with your child should trump your feelings of guilt and stress about not spending enough time with a child.
In reality, working moms today are actually spending more time with their children than stay-at-home moms did in the 1970s. Father-child quality time together has almost tripled in that same time period. Please give yourself a break. Make the most of all the moments you have with your child. You can do it!
5 Ways to Be More Present When Talking to Someone
Have you ever been in the presence of someone who was supposed to be listening to you and even though they’re looking you straight in the eyes, you 100% knew they were not really present with you? Not a very good feeling is it?
There is really an art to being present and engaged with someone. We all want it from others, but sometimes we aren’t great at doing it for them.
Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh once said: “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence.” So, when we are asked if we are listening or paying attention to our spouse, children, friends, or co-workers, it’s a serious question. Think about that a second.
Want to be successful and valued at work and at home—really anywhere? Be present with who you are with and who you are talking to. I know you’re gonna say, “But I am present—I’m standing right next to them!” That’s the easy part of being present. The hard part is being mentally present.
It’s impossible to be mentally present with someone when we are full of our own thoughts. Our minds are usually rethinking the past or wondering about the future. A study by Harvard University psychologists concluded that we spend 46.9% of our waking hours thinking about something other than what we’re doing. In conversations, we are often waiting for our chance to speak, thinking of something interesting to say, or thinking about our appearance and the impression we are making.
We aren’t listening. We aren’t present. Be mindful of the moment you’re in.
Here are five ways to be more present when talking to someone:
I used to think of listening as just hearing. Then I thought of listening as a skill. Now, I realize listening is a skill and a choice. Listening is choosing to block out distractions, choosing to empty my mind of clutter, choosing to focus on the speaker, and choosing to let them know they are heard.
Putting It Into Practice: Put your phone away. Stop thinking about what is going on around the speaker. Don’t think about what you want to say. Ask questions like, “Tell me more about that.” “Are you saying…” “How did that make you feel?”
2. Body Language.
Do you look like you are present? Do you look like you’re listening? Your body is sending signals about how engaged you are and even how much you care about what is being said.
Putting It Into Practice: Face the speaker. Make eye contact. Avoid crossing your arms, slouching, and sighing. And of course, keep that phone away.
3. WAIT (Why Am I Talking?)
Our own self-talk or mental dialogue is the biggest enemy of being present and listening. “What am I going to say next?” “Do I have a thought or story as good as that one?” “That can’t be right because…” In the meantime, we have mentally disengaged from the conversation. Be attuned to the ebb and flow of conversations. Listen for the right time to ask questions or take your turn speaking.
Putting It Into Practice: Be interested—not concerned about being interesting. Don’t interrupt or talk over someone. Take turns speaking and listening. This may sound kind of crazy, but since my mind has a tendency to wander, I try to write down words or statements while they are talking that I don’t want to forget so I can fully focus on what the person is saying without getting distracted trying to remember a point that was made. It has made a huge difference in my ability to be present.
“I know research says we aren’t good at multitasking, but I really am!” No, you’re not. At least not when it comes to being present and listening. Multitasking causes us to miss so many moments. The truth is we cannot do multiple things effectively—so pick one thing and do it with gusto. Being present with the people in our lives—what is more important than that?
Putting It Into Practice: Close the laptop. Put the mixing spoon down. Get out from under the hood of the car. Pause the TV show or video game. It’s okay to say, “Give Daddy two minutes to finish this email, and then I’ll be able to give you my complete full attention.” Exception: It’s been shown that for hard conversations, doing an activity together like walking or golf or even riding in a car actually helps facilitate a difficult talk.
This isn’t anything fancy. It’s just self-awareness. Minding your mind. Minding your body. Being aware of what you’re thinking and doing. Being aware of your breathing. This is really the foundation of being present with people and in the moment with them. It takes practice and patience, but you’ll learn to be present.
Putting It Into Practice: Learn to ask yourself questions: What am I thinking and why? What is my body saying? Is my breathing telling me I’ve slowed down to listen? Where is my focus? Am I present in this moment?
Being present requires a great deal of humility and self-control. I think that’s why we’re so rarely actually present with others. We can’t get out of our own way. We’re always thinking about what we’re about to say or what we need to get done. Many people get stuck thinking about their past or their future. Think about the present. Be in the moment. Practice a few of these tips to be more present with people and see the difference it makes. You can do it!
How to Be Present During the Holidays
It’s here—that season when you throw sanity out the window and with wild abandon throw yourself full throttle into the holidays. I mean, there are things to do, people to see, and places to go. Not to mention there’s only a certain amount of time to make things happen. Right?
For the most part, we’re really good at our to-do lists. We get the coveted gifts for our family, hopefully at the prices we want to pay. We plan holiday gatherings and assign tasks to our guests. Plus, we ferociously clean and shop and wrap and eat. Then, if we’re honest, we often complain either inwardly or outwardly about how we try to make the season merry and bright for the ones we love. When that’s the case, we look a lot less like Santa and a lot more like the Grinch.
Maybe you gave up aiming for the “perfect” holiday, but you’re still stressed about all you want to pack into the month. Even if you’ve opted for simpler moments of peace and quiet, you may find yourself wrestling with everybody else’s expectations.
The holiday season is full of opportunities for us to really be there for our friends, family, and even strangers.
It may be tempting to rush through it all and complete our to-do list with as little financial and emotional damage as possible. However, this season has the unique potential to create a new mindshift going forward.
A couple of years ago, a holiday to-do list went viral, probably for a lot of reasons. But perhaps the most important reason is that in spite of how “connected” we say we are, people are longing for the presence of people in their lives. The list is a great reminder of ways we can be present during the holidays and in the lives of others.
Keeping this list in mind can set the tone for how you give what you give during the holidays and beyond. It’s kind of amazing that the most meaningful gift we can give doesn’t require us to spend money. But in our minds, it may be the most costly present—because we can’t be completely present with someone while focusing on something else at the same time. Perhaps the best present is to be present during the holidays. Time is the one thing that once you spend it, you can’t get it back.
Dr. Suess said, “Sometimes you never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” There will always be things to buy, but the moments when we give our best selves to people are what make lasting memories.
Ready to take a short family connectedness quiz?
- Who is your child’s favorite teacher of all time?
- What is your spouse’s favorite thing to do in his/her spare time?
- What is your child’s favorite meal?
- Given the opportunity for a night out, how would your spouse prefer to spend the evening?
- What person outside the family has most influenced your child’s life?
- What accomplishment is your child most proud of?
- If money were no object, what one thing would your spouse most want to purchase?
- What household chore does your spouse dislike the most?
- Who is your child’s hero?
- What makes your spouse feel truly loved?
Now, go check out your answers to see how close you were to getting them right. Being truly connected to your family is the only way to know all the answers to these questions.
“From a cultural standpoint, the connections that people have with one another and through social networks have been shown to improve the mental, physical and spiritual health of individuals,” said Christopher Brown, anthropologist and president of the National Fatherhood Initiative. “There is something that happens physiologically when people are connected, which is why people do better when they are involved in healthy relationships with others.”
One of the most powerful relationships is between a parent and child. Studies show that parents are the first and most important teachers of children. Kids thrive when they can depend on a reliable parent when they need to talk, when they want input, when they need a hug, or want assurance that life will work out.
Research from the University of Michigan found that the connectedness that takes place during frequent meal times with the family was the single strongest predictor of better achievement scores and fewer behavioral problems, even better than time spent studying or in a faith setting.
Experts agree that:
- Conversation at the dinner table shows to increase children’s mental and verbal abilities;
- Eating together promotes good communication, and strengthens family bonds and relationships;
- Families who regularly eat together have more cohesion and unity; and
- Family meals give children a sense of security.
Connections count every day of the year. If you didn’t do so well with the quiz above, this could be a great opportunity for you to re-evaluate how you connect in your home.
This article originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 18, 2018. Click here to read the entire article.
As a parent, you might be in too much of a hurry if:
- You talk on the phone when your child tells you about their day;
- Your kids eat most meals in the car;
- You dress your child when she can dress herself – buttoning, zipping, finding her coat, etc;
- Your child constantly hears, “Are you ready?” or “Hurry up!”;
- Your child never completes a project at playtime;
- You don’t have time to read to your child or let him/her read to you; and
- You don’t have enough time to talk with and listen to him/her.
Why does this matter?
All of these activities help your child develop fine motor skills critical for reading and writing.
“In order for a child to develop holistically, fine motor skills are very important,” says Lu Lewis, early childhood educator. “When you slow down and allow your child to do the activities listed above, you allow him to learn eye-hand coordination. His hands and eyes learn to work together. For example, when you give a child something to cut out, their eyes see what you want them to cut and their hands cut what their eyes see.”
Even simple things like a baby grasping for an object is a fine motor skill.
When a parent always gives the rattle to the baby, it robs them of an opportunity to learn this skill.
“A mom once asked me if it was bad if she didn’t play with her child all the time,” Lewis says. “In today’s society, I think many people believe they are not being good parents if they are not always entertaining their child. The truth is your child needs to play for a period of time with an object in order to complete a play cycle and concentrate to the point that it is etched into their long-term memory. Many educators see children in their classroom who are always dependent on an adult to complete a project for them because they have never completed a project by themselves.”
Believe it or not, helping your child develop fine motor skills isn’t complicated.
Just including your child in your day can help develop these skills. Folding laundry, talking with your child as you cook, letting him walk with you to the mailbox and allowing him to open the mailbox and grab the mail, asking him to get a pan or utensil for you, and allowing him to play in the tub with toys are all activities that help to naturally develop these necessary skills.
“Most parents I work with really want their child to do well,” Lewis says. “Sometimes parents do things they believe are helping their child when they are actually hindering their development. The number one thing I would tell parents is to slow down, relax and let your child truly experience life.”
In addition to including your child in your daily activities, Lewis encourages parents to:
- Walk with your child down the street and count bricks or pick dandelions without being in a hurry.
- Encourage them to sit at the kitchen table while you fix dinner and string beads or sort blocks by color instead of watching television or playing on the computer.
- Incorporate time for your child to play every day.
“Learning is a human endeavor,” Lewis says. “It takes place from one human to another and it requires your most precious commodity, time.”
Thanksgiving a month early?? But why??? Well. My oldest son is now a college freshman… and the cost of travel (as well as his school schedule) made it impossible for us to celebrate Thanksgiving on the traditional 4th Thursday of November—so we did it early.
I’ve taught families through our parenting classes at First Things First for almost 10 years now. That means I’ve talked to thousands of people about the importance of creating new family traditions. This year, I actually had to put my money where my mouth was. I cleaned and shopped like it was nobody’s business, about a month ahead of everyone else! I may have spent a little more on food items. But I didn’t have to deal with the crowded conditions of grocery stores.
The weekend of our early celebration was also my Big Guy’s first visit home since we took him to college in NYC. I should have remembered that “the best-laid plans of Mice and Men go astray” because I was anxiously anticipating his arrival. And, of course, his plane was delayed 2 hours.
I was looking forward to spending time with him. I couldn’t wait to attend the regular Friday night football game at his alma mater. He reminded me that he wanted to play with the band for old times’ sake, so I had to take him to practice an hour and a half before the game. I saw him for a bit his first night home, from afar.
The next morning, I made plans for us to have a big breakfast and for me to send all my fellas (husband and 3 boys) off to experience the Vol Walk and Homecoming at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Well, remember that best-laid plans statement I mentioned earlier? Big Guy had a paper due on Saturday by 6PM, so there was no opportunity for male bonding. And I spent the entire day cleaning and prepping the meal for Sunday—which included turkey and all the traditional Southern fixings.
Finally, the morning of our big Thanksgiving celebration arrived. Friends and family filled our home and we had A BALL. We talked, laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. When it was over, I was mega-tired, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
I still celebrated Thanksgiving with my whole family.
Image from Unsplash.com
Is date night dead? Date night may need some serious resuscitation. Redbook magazine found that 45 percent of couples rarely have date nights, while only 18 percent said they go out once a month.
This is sad news, since marriage experts say you can keep your marriage strong, healthy and adventuresome by spending regular time together doing something you both enjoy. Couples who intentionally spend time together often marvel at the positive impact it has on their marriage and family.
An astonishing 80 percent of marriages crumble, but it’s not because of something huge. It’s because they say they have become disconnected.
According to The Date Night Opportunity, a report by the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project, couples who devote time specifically to one another at least once a week are way more likely to enjoy high-quality relationships and lower divorce rates.
How can a simple date actually help a marriage?
Researchers say date nights provide opportunities to talk that may help couples deepen their understanding of one another and the relationship. Couples who engage in new activities that are fun, active or otherwise arousing — from hiking to dancing to travel to card games — enjoy higher levels of relationship quality. They also counteract the tendency to take each other for granted. Regular date nights may especially benefit couples who do more than the old standby of dinner and a movie.
Date nights may also:
- Strengthen or rekindle that romantic spark in order to sustain the fires of love.
- Strengthen a couple’s sense of commitment to one another. Partners who put each other first, steer clear of other romantic opportunities and cultivate a strong sense of “we-ness” or togetherness are happier than less-committed couples.
- Relieve stress. They allow a couple to enjoy time away from the pressing concerns of their ordinary life.
- Give couples an opportunity to support one another emotionally in trying times.
The report found that couples who spend time together at least weekly:
- Are about three times more likely to say they are “very happy” in their marriages;
- Report higher levels of communication and commitment;
- Express higher satisfaction with their sexual relationship than couples who spend less couple time together.
If you haven’t been planning date nights, maybe you could try it out for the next six weeks. Consider setting aside an hour or two each week for a little adventure. If you don’t have a clue where to start or just need some fresh ideas, here are some tips.
Agree not to talk about the kids, your job or the in-laws. You don’t have to spend a ton of money – just play together! At the end of the six weeks, discuss any changes you have experienced in your relationship.
“Couple time” can make a serious difference in your relationship. Try it and see for yourself.
***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.***