Benefits of Family Mealtime

Implementing regular family mealtimes may be difficult, but determining the best strategy for your family to be able to make shared meals possible will benefit your family in more ways than one!

Sharing a family meal provides an experience that touches all of our senses – sight, touch, taste, smell and listening to warm laughter or good conversation. Family meals help provide a regular, consistent opportunity to create a shared experience that is meaningful and offers a sense of belonging to all. Research has shown that regular and meaningful family meals offer a large variety of benefits to both children and parents.

Some of the benefits of family mealtime include:

1. Communication Skills

Family meals make a positive impact on young children’s language acquisition and literacy development. Having uninterrupted conversations at the dinner table can expand children’s vocabulary and reading abilities regardless of the family’s socioeconomic status!

2. Emotional Development

“Mealtime conversation brings the family together and promotes positive self-esteem in children” (Bligh, Garen, & Rosales, 2017). Having consistent family meals provides structure for children allowing them to feel more safe and secure within the family unit. Having meals together is a time when children can see how parents interact with each other, solve problems, express emotions, and communicate with their spouse. When this
interaction is positive, it models healthy relationships and helps children develop these
skills.

3. Promotes Health

Family meals furnish a meaningful opportunity to provide a role model for healthy eating. Parents and other adults can help model eating moderate portion sizes, tasting new foods or stopping when full. Also, they can use family mealtimes to encourage courtesy and other social manners.

4. Improved Family Relationships

Family meals give a meaningful opportunity for family members to spend time together and enjoy one another’s company in a relaxed setting. The conversation around the dinner table allows give and take among family members and the chance to cultivate attitudes of patience and respect in communication.

There are many effective strategies that can help create a habit of eating family meals
together in order to reap the above-mentioned benefits:

  • Plan ahead
  • Choose a regular time
  • Involve all family members in preparation and cleanup
  • Turn off the TV
  • Leave electronic devices turned off or in another room
  • Eat around a table
  • Keep the conversation pleasant
  • Be flexible
  • Try family mealtime for breakfast or lunch
  • Avoid arguing and discipline
  • Create an atmosphere of happiness and togetherness

BUT most importantly – Do what works best for your individual family.

If eating meals together is new for your family, set a realistic goal that all family members agree on. Start small by eating one or two meals together per week, and then work up to at least four or five meals together each week. Working together as a family can help establish a regular family mealtime habit and potential positive benefits and outcomes.


Research and information provided by Cindy Nelson and Makendra Goff.

References:

 

 

 

Supporting Others Coping with Infertility

It is likely that you know an individual or couple who is impacted by infertility. The natural human response is to want to comfort them, but it can be difficult to know what to say or do, especially if you have not experienced infertility yourself. This blog will help you better understand the experience that infertile couples go through and give you ideas for how to most effectively support them.

The American Pregnancy Association estimates that 10-15% of U.S. couples will be impacted by infertility. Not being able to get pregnant or having several miscarriages in a row is difficult to deal with. There are physical, social, and especially emotional repercussions.

One important element of helping those struggling with infertility is to try to see the situation from their perspective. Although they may not make sense to you, try to recognize the losses associated with infertility that they are experiencing.

What people experience:

Self-esteem: The ability to conceive is often seen as a mark of masculinity or femininity so being unable to conceive may make the infertile individuals question their identities.

StatusSociety places value on being a parent so interacting with others can result in daily reminders of the couple’s infertility.

Relationship: Infertility can potentially result in “lost” relationships as the infertility
creates distance between the partners, but also in relationships with others as they may
not see eye-to-eye with the couple on what path to pursue, are unaware of the situation,
do not meet expectations of support, or are uncomfortable with the sexual connotations
of the situation. The intense introspection and inner turmoil that results from infertility
may also lead to defensiveness, moodiness, etc.—reactions that add distance to relationships.

Control: Becoming pregnant is such a personal matter, but when it does not work,
the couple may feel helpless. There is a lack of definitive answers, as well as uncertainty
in deciding what treatments to pursue/not pursue. Becoming pregnant becomes the
main focus, causing everything else in life to take a back seat, disrupting the sense of
control that the couple felt over their lives before. Choosing to seek infertility treatments results in a lack of privacy and intrusive tests that seem to take away from the couple’s control over keeping their relationship private and personal.

But what is the best way to support friends and family members who are suffering as a result of infertility? Each couple, and even each individual will have their own unique experience, but here are some suggestions for how to help:

1. Prepare yourself

You will not be able to best help a couple or individual struggling
with infertility until you have prepared yourself. Acknowledge that there is a  problem and work through your own feelings, shattered expectations, etc., with
regards to infertility. In addition, become informed so that you do not unknowingly
make hurtful comments.

2. Acknowledge the struggle

It will not be helpful if, in your interactions with someone struggling with infertility, you pretend that there is nothing wrong. Do not shy away from talking about the infertility if the couple or individual wants to, but at the same time, recognize that the infertility may
affect his/her/their interactions with you. Although the sufferer(s) may seem irrational
in their struggle, recognize that what they are experiencing is very real to them, and
their reactions may be a surprise to them as well. Realize that you cannot take away their pain or solve the problem for them, but that the purpose of conversations is to
communicate concern. Ask for patience and guidance as you strive to understand and be
sensitive to their needs, feelings, and experience. Ask how they would like to be supported.

3. Listen

Although you may feel powerless to help a struggling couple or individual,
being willing to listen can go a long way. Let the individual or couple know that you
are there to listen. They may or may not be ready to open up, but make sure that they
know that you are there for them whenever they are ready. It can be helpful for the
couple or individual to rehearse their “story” of what they have been through and the
dreams that have been shattered. Ask appropriate questions, such as how treatment is going or how they feel. That will give them an opportunity to confide in you if they choose to. However, if they choose not to, do not push. Listen without interjecting your thoughts and opinions. Accept that each person copes differently and that the needs of the same person may change throughout the experience.

4.  Keep the bigger picture in mind

While itis very important that you are there for the couple or individual in their struggle, do not limit your focus in your interactions with them only to the infertility. Affirm your love and respect for who they are, emphasizing that their infertility is only a part of them. This will help the couple disconnect their identity from the infertility. Invite them to do enjoyable activities with you, but be okay if they choose not to come. For example,
you could find a babysitter for your own children and go out on a double date with the struggling couple. This could be a much-needed distraction from the stresses of infertility.

As you strive to be genuinely concerned and figure out how they would like their needs to be met, you will not only help the struggling couple or individual, but you will also strengthen your relationship with them.

 


Research provided by Dr. David Schramm and Jennifer Viveros

References:

  • American Pregnancy Association [APA]. (2017). What is infertility? Retrieved from
    http://americanpregnancy.org/infertility/whatis-infertility/
  • Boss, P. (2004). Ambiguous loss research, theory, and practice: Reflections after 9/11. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66(3), 551-566.
  • RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. (2017). Frequently asked questions about infertility. Retrieved from http://www.resolve.org/about-infertility/whatis-infertility/frequently-asked-questions-aboutinfertility.html
  • RESOLVE. (2007). Coping with infertility: How family and friends can help. Retrieved from http://www.resolve.org/resources/factsheets.html

I’m Not Stressed: 10 Effective Stress Coping Techniques

Everyone feels stress daily in multiple ways. Relationships, work, holidays, tragedy, special events, school, housework, and traffic are just some of the many stressors we experience at some point. Stressors may not always be easy to identify, but they are still present.

Luckily we have a choice in how we respond to stress and what responses we use to cope with the stress.

How Do We Cope?

Everyone copes with stress in their own way. While many turn to quick fixes that make the stress go away temporarily, such as drugs, alcohol, gambling, eating, etc., these temporary negative coping strategies can potentially create more stress and problems in the long run.

A more positive way to cope with stress includes:

a) identifying the stressor(s)

b) managing our thinking as we interpret the stressors

c) considering the consequences of our actions

d) changing our thinking to healthy ways of coping.

We can also practice healthy stress management techniques. How individuals apply these techniques may be very different for every person.

Consider implementing some of the following common research-based techniques that have been found helpful when coping and dealing with stress:

1. Breathe deeply

When people are stressed, they sometimes have a tendency to hold their breath or breathe quicker than normal causing their bodies to react and get tense. Taking deep breaths from the diaphragm, rather than the chest, can help calm nerves and anxiety.

2. Visualize calm

Go to a happy place or think of calming scenes such as a warm tropical beach or a cabin in the snowy mountains.

3. Exercise

Physical activity releases the happy positive chemicals that can help fight against illness and help individuals to feel better naturally. When stressed, take a walk, stretch, and focus on having straight posture. It can also be helpful to roll the shoulders backward and forward five to ten times slowly to relax the neck and shoulder muscles.

4. Take up a hobby

Spend some time doing something enjoyable such as knitting, playing a sport, or reading. Taking part in a hobby can help with thinking more clearly and feeling more energized in order to take on daily challenges.

5. Just say no

When individuals realize they can’t do everything, they often feel more at ease and capable to deal with the stress they can control and handle. Research suggests making a list of attainable goals for the week and working toward achieving one goal every day. Crossing off a completed goal on that list can boost self-confidence!

Hint: assign tasks to friends and family who are available to help. If no one is available, prioritize tasks and check each one off as it is completed.

6. Have fun!

Learning to laugh at ourselves and see the humor in any situation can reduce stress. Smiling (even when not feeling happy) and laughing are good for the body because they help generate the positive chemicals in the body and help it to physically relax.

7. Talk or write it out

For many, it helps to talk about what he/she is experiencing with a friend, loved one, or professional who can be trusted and is not involved in the stressful situation. People with little to no social support are more likely to engage in sedentary behavior, alcohol or drug use, and too little or too much sleep, which can often cause more stress. Others who don’t want to talk about issues also find that writing a description of the stressor and feelings in a journal is often helpful in venting intense feelings and thinking more
clearly.

8. Get pampered

On occasion, some individuals find it can be helpful to do something nice for themselves that they normally wouldn’t do, such as getting a massage or buying a treat.

9. Take a time-out

Get away from the stressful situation and play a round of golf or go to a movie. While taking a break will not make the problem go away, having a positive temporary distraction can allow time to calm down and rethink the response to the stressor.

10. Learn to recognize the warning signs

Everyone responds differently to stress but recognizing common stress symptoms such
as headache, insomnia, digestive issues, and anxiety can help individuals to take action to cope with stress earlier rather than later.

 


Research provided by Naomi Brower and Kimberly Stanley

References:

  • Chao, R. (2011). Managing stress and maintaining well-being: Social support, problem-focused coping, and avoidant coping. Journal of Counseling & Development, 89(3), 338-348.
  • Singer, T. (2010). Stress less. New York, NY: Hudson Street Press.
  • Weiss, B. L. (2003). Eliminating stress, finding inner peace. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc.
  • Wheeler, C. M. (2007). 10 Simple solutions to stress: How to tame tension and start enjoying your life. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

From Time to Quality Time: Making Every Moment Count

Couples and families often look for ways to find more time together and to make better use of that time. Most people struggle to find enough time in their day for everything. In fact, according to Dr. William Doherty, those that care about each other often feel starved for time together

When considering how to increase time together, individuals often reference two kinds of time: quantity of time and quality of time. While the quantity of time refers to the total amount of time spent together, quality time refers to giving someone his/her undivided attention. This generally implies doing something together rather than just sitting in the same room doing individual activities.

The following ideas are suggested ways to maximize time with loved ones through transforming moments together into quality time.

1.Create a Positive Atmosphere  

How individuals greet or say goodbye to loved ones sets the tone for what follows. Set aside other concerns and give full attention to greetings and farewells. Create a special phrase or way to greet each other that has special meaning in the relationship. Making hello’s and good-bye’s special shows that the relationship is a priority. Regardless of the challenges of the day, when individuals make an effort to smile, be positive, and give their best selves to those they love during their initial greeting, they can set a tone
for more positive interactions in the time they have together.

2. Connect with Conversation

Self-disclosure helps build emotional intimacy with others. Self-disclosing means that all participants involved are sharing their thoughts, feelings, ideas, and desires with each other. Quality conversations focus on taking turns listening and learning about the other person. Asking open-ended questions and listening can help participants to feel closer to each other and better support each other and cope with challenges that arise.

While sometimes it can be helpful to engage in lengthy discussions, conversations can also be as simple as asking about one important thing that happened that day or sharing one thing they appreciate or admire about each other. Establish a time each day to check in with each other, even if it is for 10 minutes.

3. Leave Work at Work

It can be difficult to come home from work and not think about work. Many people stress over tasks they need to do at work while they are spending time with their families. When this happens the time they are spending is not really quality time because their attention is still focused on work and not on connecting in relationships; and because of this, loved ones may not feel as important as the job. One way to relieve this stress and build relationships with others at the same time is to vent to a partner and let go of the stress before engaging in other activities together. Another approach is to focus on being in the moment, which may help to drown out thoughts of work.

4. Unplug

Technology can be a great way to stay connected with loved ones that are far away, but it can also be a distraction to quality time together. In order to better enjoy quality time together, decide together, as a couple or family, boundaries for electronic devices. For example, some families set time limits on the computer, video games or smartphones or turn them off entirely at dinner time.

5. Make the Everyday Tasks Count

Help each other with making dinner, folding laundry or cleaning up the yard. These opportunities may not be as exciting as a night on the town but they can give opportunities to connect with conversation and to lighten each other’s load.

6. Make the Moment Memorable

Quality time can sometimes be found in very small increments of time. Take advantage of 5 minutes and make a memorable experience happen! For example, stop to watch the sunset, swing at the park on the way home from running errands, or make a silly face on each other’s pancakes just for fun. Be silly and laugh together. Take a picture of the fun to make it even more memorable. Couples may also choose to go to bed at the same time in order to have a few moments together before bed.

7. Play Together

Couples and families can benefit from experiencing new activities together and spending time together having fun. Play can increase positive feelings that are associated with those who were also involved in the experience and helps individuals to create positive memories and build connections with each other.

While spending quality time as a family is important, couples can also benefit greatly by planning and going on regular date nights together. Having fun is a great way for couples to remember why they are together in the first place and to increase their feelings of love for one another.

8. Long Distance Connections

Even when couples or families don’t have much time together or live apart from one another, they can still spend time connecting in other ways. For example, individuals can leave a small note where a loved one can find it, or send a text or email of encouragement or appreciation. Online technology can also bridge the distance by utilizing tools such as SkypeTM or FaceTime.

 

While there never seems to be enough time for everything, regardless of the amount of time couples and families find to spend together, utilizing some of these techniques can help individuals ensure they are making the moments count by creating quality time together.

 


Research provided by Naomi Brower and Joe Wallace

References:

  • Chapman, G. 2004. The 5 love languages. Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing.
  • Doherty, W. J. 2001. Take back your marriage. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
  • Gottman, J., & Silver, N. 1999. The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Three Rivers Press.
  • Markman, H. J., Stanley, S. M., Blumberg, S. L., Jenkins, N. H., & Whiteley, C. 2004. 12 hours to a great marriage: A step-by-step guide for making love last. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Parrott, L., & Parrott, L. 2006. Your time-starved marriage. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
  • Townsend, M. 2010. Starved stuff. Utah: Townsend Relationship Center.
  • Walker, E., Darrington, J., & Weeks, N. 2009. Honey I’m home: Strengthening your marriage ten minutes at a time. Logan, UT: Utah State University. FC/Marriage/2009-01pr.

 

Emotions and Illness—What’s the Connection?

People with good emotional health are aware of their thoughts, feelings and behaviors. They have learned healthy ways to cope with the stress and problems that are a normal part of life. They feel good about themselves and have healthy relationships.

However, many things that happen in life can disrupt emotional health and lead to strong feelings of sadness, stress or anxiety. Both “bad” and “good” life events can lead to strong emotions. Examples of some of these events may include:

  • Experiencing financial difficulties
  • Getting married or divorced
  • Suffering from an injury or illness
  • Having a child leave or return home
  • Changes in employment
  • Moving to a new home or having a baby

Mind-Body Connection

Our bodies tend to respond to the way that we think, feel and act. This interaction is often called the “mind/body connection.” When we are stressed, anxious or upset, our bodies often try to tell us that something isn’t right by having a physical symptom to get our attention. Some of these symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • Stomachache
  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Insomnia (trouble sleeping)
  • Extreme tiredness

 

In addition, when we are not feeling well emotionally we are often less likely to feel like exercising, eating nutritious foods or maintaining our other general health habits. All of these things may lead to a decrease in our body’s immune system, which in turn often leads to getting a cold or other infection.  

What Can You Do?

First, try to recognize your emotions and understand why you are experiencing them. Sorting out the root of negative emotions in your life can help you know what to do to improve the situation and manage your emotional health. Next, consider some of the following techniques to improve your emotional health:


1. Express your feelings in appropriate ways.

If feelings of stress, sadness or anxiety are causing physical problems, keeping these feelings inside can make you feel worse. It’s ok to let others know when something is bothering you in a respectful way. Keep in mind that your family and friends may not be able to help you deal with your feelings appropriately and it may be helpful to ask for a counselor, religious leader or friend for advice and support.

 

2. Take care of yourself.

 In order to feel your best it is important to take care of your body by having a regular routine for eating healthy meals, getting enough sleep and exercising to relieve pent-up tension. Avoid overeating, using alcohol or drugs, or any other behaviors that assist in “running away” which could cause further problems or possible addiction.

 

4. Calm your body and mind.

Finding activities that help you relax such as deep breathing, meditation, taking a bath or taking a walk in nature. They can help you find a healthy release and bring your emotions into balance.


5. Live a balanced life.

While it is important to deal with these negative feelings rather than just “stuffing them,” it is also important to focus on the positive things in life and make time for things that you enjoy! Consider keeping a journal of things you are grateful for or things that help you feel peaceful or happy. You may also need to find ways to let go of some things in your life that make you feel stressed and overwhelmed.

 


Research provided by Naomi Brower

Tips to Encourage a Healthy Body Image in Your Child

Parents have an important role in helping their child develop a healthy body-image. From as young as age three, children begin modeling their parents’ behaviors, thoughts, and lifestyle choices. Research is finding that a child’s dieting choices are heavily influenced by their environment, especially in those first few years of life. For example, children who are surrounded by family who frequently speak negative about their weight, are at higher risk for having poor body-image later in life.

This blog will explore a variety of ways to encourage a healthy body-image in both you and your child.

It Starts With You

There are many ways to help promote a healthy body-image in your child. Most importantly, it starts with establishing a healthy body-image within yourself. Children tend to model health-related behaviors exhibited by their parents, even those behaviors parents don’t want children to model. As a result, modeling healthy behaviors is an important way to encourage your child to make healthy lifestyle choices. There are many behaviors you can model during mealtime—or ‘at the table’—that may seem insignificant but are actually simple ways to increase your child’s body satisfaction and help establish long-term healthy eating habits.

“At the Table” Tips:

  1. Eat the foods you give your child to eat. This may seem silly, but if you don’t eat the same foods that you put on their plate, then they won’t eat them either. It may take a while for a child to try a new food, but if you are eating that food with them, eventually they will be willing to try it.
  2. Don’t restrict your child’s food intake. Children will naturally eat when they are hungry and stop eating when they are full—they are very intuitive eaters. Children
    who experience food restrictions tend to weigh more and experience greater body-image issues as they age. One study found that over 50% of children, both male and female, who experienced consistent food restrictions grew up to be overweight and/or obese.
  3. Present a wide variety of food options for your child and let them decide what they want to eat. This gives them some control over what they get to eat and also shows them you won’t restrict their intake.

“Away from the Table” Tips:

  1. Refrain from labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” This can prevent the guilt that often comes along with eating “bad” foods. Instead, discuss foods as “most of the time” and “some of the time” foods. That way your child feels that no foods are off limits and feel less pressure to eat a certain way.
  2. Stop talking about and practicing dieting as a means to control your own weight—instead, focus on well-balanced eating. Research has consistently found that children are two times more likely to diet before adolescence when they grow up in a home where weight is a major concern.
  3. Do not obsess about weight and focus more on how you feel. This promotes a focus on health without letting a number define yourself.
  4. Avoid over-emphasizing appearance, whether through direct or offhand remarks, comments, or behaviors. Do not make negative comments about anyone’s appearance, size, or shape—this includes your own appearance, size, and shape. Try to focus on positive attributes that come from the “inside,” and discuss how beauty can be found at all shapes and sizes.
  5. Participate in exercise and other activities that you enjoy, not just for weight control. Being active can be fun and can also be a great bonding experience for your family. Exercise does not have to take the formal approach of gym memberships and running clubs—do whatever gets you moving without keeping you counting down the minutes to the end. Examples of this are: going to a playground, playing sports in your yard or at a park, playing tag or hide-and-go-seek outside, going on bike rides around your neighborhood, etc.

Developing a positive body-image in your child has the potential to change the way they look at themselves and their body for the rest of their lives. Although these ideas are not exhaustive lists of ways to promote a positive body-image, this process requires a lot of patience and conscious thought that will help both you and your child in the long run. In the end, the goal is for a child to be both their happiest and healthiest selves.


Research provided by Megan Jensen, Student Dietitian, Mateja R. Savoie-Roskos PhD, MPH, RDN, Jaqueline Neid-Avila MDA, RDN, Brittany Bingeman MS, RDN.

References:

  • Balantekin, K.N., Savage, J.S., Marini, M.E., & Birch, L.L. (2014). Parental encouragement of dieting promotes daughters’ early dieting. Appetite, 80, 190-196. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2014.05.016
  • Ek, A., Sorjonen, K., Eli, K., Lindberg, L., Nyman, J., Marcus, C., & Nowicka, P. (2016). Associations between parental concerns about preschooler’s weight and eating and parental feeding practices: Results from analyses of the Child Eating Behavior Questionnaire, the Child Feeding Questionnaire, and the Lifestyle Behavior Checklist. PLoS ONE, 11(1), 1-20. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0147257
  • Fox, K. R., Page, A., Peters, D. M., Armstrong, N., & Kirby B. (1994). Dietary restraint and fatness in early adolescent boys and girls. Journal of Adolescence, 17, 149-161. doi: https://doi.org/10.1006/jado.1994.1015
  • Hendy, H. M., Gustitis, C., & Leitzel-Schwalm, J. (2001). Social cognitive predictors of body image in preschool children. Sex Roles, 44(9/10). doi: 0360-0025/01/0500-0557$19.50/0
  • Kluck, A.S. (2009). Family influence on disordered eating: The role of body image dissatisfaction. Body Image, 7, 8-14. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2009.09.009
  • McCabe, M. P., Ricciardelli, L. A., Stanford, J., Holt, K., Keegan, S., & Miller, L. (2006). Where is all this pressure coming from? Messages from mothers and teachers about preschool children’s appearance, diet and exercise. European Eating Disorders Review, 15, 221-230. doi: 10.1002/erv.717
  • Ricciardelli, L. A., McCabe, M. P., Holt, K. E., & Finemore, J. (2003). A biopsychosocial model for understanding body image and body change strategies among children. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 24, 475-495. doi: 10.1016/S0193-3973(03)00070-4
  • Satter, E. (1987). How to get your kids to eat: But not too much. Boulder, CO: Bull Publishing Company.
  • Seguias, L., & Tapper, K. (2018). The effect of mindful eating on subsequent intake of a high calorie snack. Appetite, 121, 93-100. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2017.10.041
  • Tribole, E., Resch, E. (1995). Intuitive eating. Manhattan, NY: St. Martin’s Press.
  • Tylka, T. L., Lumeng, J. C., & Eneli, I. U. (2015). Maternal intuitive eating as a moderator of the association between concern about child weight and restrictive child feeding. Appetite, 95, 158-165. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2015.06.023

 

Strengthening Your Marriage Ten Minutes at a Time

Strengthen your marriage relationship by making the first ten minutes of your interactions together a positive experience! We often do not realize that these first ten minutes of interaction are an opportunity to set the stage for the rest of the time we spend together that day.

This positive communication can foster positive emotions. By spending more time in positive communication patterns, you can increase the positive emotions you feel toward your spouse. When individuals anticipate feeling positive emotions around their partner they are more likely to look forward to being together; but in contrast, unfavorable anticipation of being together can actually create negative emotions and diminish or eliminate the desire to be together. When couples create patterns of positive hellos and healthy initial interactions, positive feelings of friendship and love grow. Spouses look forward to being together as allies and sources of strength in the struggles of life.

The following are suggestions as to how to best utilize this time with your spouse: 

1. Prepare yourself mentally

When anticipating seeing your spouse after an absence, mentally prepare to give your spouse and family the best of yourself. There are likely problems and challenges that need to be discussed, but the problems and challenges will still be there later. During the first ten minutes, focus on having a positive initial greeting (i.e., starting off on the right foot) with your spouse. Later as a team, you will be able to address any problems and challenges more constructively because the negative emotions of the day will be decreased and the positive emotions of being together will be increased. Think of specific things you can say and/or do that will help make those first minutes a positive experience.

2. Focus on the needs of your spouse first

Genuine interest in your spouse’s daily stresses will foster greater love and emotional connection. Attempt to put aside your own issues for the moment and focus on reconnecting with your spouse, asking about his or her day, listening and responding positively. If both partners willingly commit to do this for their spouse, everyone will end up a winner!

2. Understand the power in a smile

Smiling in and of itself can have a powerful impact on others’ reactions and their desires to connect with you. Even though the house may be a mess, you are exhausted from running after the children, and dinner isn’t ready yet, prepare to give a glowing smile to your partner. Your spouse will be better able to put aside his or her own stresses and focus on a positive connection with you. And you just might find that you feel better and can see the humor in the situation if you smile (even when you don’t exactly feel like it)!

3. Be prepared to help your spouse

Inevitably there will be times when your spouse is not prepared to optimistically greet you because of emotions associated with their specific life challenges. It can be easy to get angry, pull away, or become critical, but these are actually the best times to build trust and strengthen your relationship. You can do this by helping your spouse calm the overwhelming emotions. Although you cannot fix all the struggles or change the negative emotions your partner may be experiencing (nor would your spouse probably want you to), you can provide key support by listening, empathizing and letting your spouse know you are on their side.

The daily struggles of life are rarely pleasant, but they can provide opportunities to develop patterns of turning towards each other, supporting each other, and building trust and reliance in the relationship.


Research provided by Naomi Brower, Eric Walker, and Jana Darrington

References:

Gladstone, G. L., & Parker, G. B. (2002). When you’re smiling does the whole world smile with you? Australian Psychiatry, 10, 144-146.

Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New
York: Three Rivers Press.

Guénguen, N. (2008). The effects of a woman’s smile on men’s courtship behavior. Social Behavior and Personality, 36, 1233-1236.

Voydanoff, P. (2005). Consequences of boundary-spanning demands and resources for work-to-family conflict and perceived stress. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 10, 491-503.

Mackey, W. C. (1976). Parameters of the smile as a social signal. The Journal of Genetic
Psychology, 129, 125-130.

Essential Patterns for a Resilient Spirit

Dr. Brené Brown is a researcher who, through her work on the topic of shame, has identified key characteristics and patterns of those who practice what she calls “wholehearted living.” Among these are three patterns that help people become resilient and overcome and grow from adversity in their lives. These patterns can help you develop tools, skills, and personal strengths, “adding water” to a reservoir that will keep you safe from rocks of adversity. They are:

1. Cultivating Hope:

Although hope is generally viewed as an emotion, research has shown it is more a way of thinking. We are able to practice hope when we have an idea of where we want to go and how to get there. We set realistic goals, figure out how to reach them, and believe in ourselves. This process takes flexibility – being willing to adjust as needed along the way – and perseverance, as well as hard work and a tolerance for disappointment. Rather than being a passive belief in a better tomorrow, this kind of hope empowers us to effect change in our lives.

Developing a “growth mindset” (understanding that we can change and grow rather than being stuck as we are), practicing realistic optimism, and asking for help are key steps in cultivating hope. Also, when setting goals, keep in mind what is most important to you. Be specific and reasonable, and try to make a good decision, not a perfect one.

2. Practicing Critical Awareness:

This involves becoming aware of the messages and expectations from society, media, and people around us and putting them through a “reality check.” Are they realistic and healthy? How do they make you feel? Practice taking a step back to see the big picture, recognize shame triggers in your life (anything that makes you feel like you’re not good enough) for what they are, and reorient yourself.

When you recognize a shame trigger, watch your self-talk. Acknowledge how you’re feeling, recognize why, and find a way to let it go. For example, practicing empathy and self-compassion might be a helpful way to remind yourself of the strengths and struggles we all have, which can put the situation in a realistic perspective as well as nurture a vital sense of connection and “being enough.”

3. Letting Go of Numbing and Taking the Edge Off of Vulnerability, Discomfort, and Pain:

Most of us try to avoid unpleasant emotions by engaging in numbing behaviors that can look as harmless as staying busy or surfing the Internet, or as extreme doing drugs or having an affair. Research has shown that these practices can not only keep us from facing problems that need to be faced, but also from engaging in positive emotions. If we practice recognizing when we’re trying to “take the edge off” and walk ourselves step by step through our vulnerability, it will allow us to be more authentic, be emotionally honest, and be more connected with our best selves and those around us.

Try to think of ways that you can more intentionally handle emotions you normally would try to hide from. This might include talking things through with a trusted friend, practicing mindfulness to gain a more helpful and proactive perspective, or finding a way to help someone else.

Each of these patterns is built on the belief of benevolent connections with others and
with something greater than ourselves. Resilient people don’t just try to push through and face adversity alone. They find ways to take action, have realistic expectations, and walk through discomfort with the perspective of giving and receiving without judgment from other people. Practicing these three patterns can nourish relationships that can be an important source of strength in good times and bad, and which can help you develop other ingredients that can contribute to your personal reservoir of resilience.

It takes time and practice to have these principles become patterns in our lives. They aren’t all-at-once or all-or-nothing. It’s okay to struggle while you’re developing them. Some of the things that hold us back may be deep-rooted beliefs or habits. But as you are intentional and reach out to those around you when you need help, these patterns, as well as the resilience to not just endure but grow from adversity, can become a part of your daily life.


References:

Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing.
Duckworthy, A. (2016). Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Korb, A. (2015). The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

First Comes Love, Then Comes Money

Ever wonder what the “secrets” are behind happily married couples’ personal finance tactics? It’s no secret that while we do choose our spouse, we don’t choose each other’s personal financial background, habits, attitudes, money personalities, or ability/inability to balance a monthly budget. Financial harmony in marriage isn’t automatic. Below are six research-based, money management strategies used by couples in great marriages (Skogrand, Johnson, Horrocks, & DeFrain, 2010). As you read, consider which tip you could implement now.

Strategy 1: One Spouse Handles the Finances, Budgets, or Pays the Bills

This first tip may not work for everyone, however; when one spouse makes sure all the bills are paid, it’s less likely for financial obligations to fall between the cracks. A positive side effect of one spouse managing day-to-day spending? Communication with the non-managing spouse is required to stay on the same page.

EXPERT TIP: To simplify your monthly money management tasks, decide together which bills to pay manually and which to set up automatic payments for each month.

Strategy 2: Have a plan

Couples in great marriages reported having a financial plan that they decided on together. They didn’t ignore their finances from month to month or year to year. For example, a plan to get out of x amount of debt by the end of the year or to save x amount of money in an emergency fund as quickly as possible.

EXPERT TIP: Go out for a quarterly “money date” to create, review, and take steps to stay on track with your financial plan together.

Strategy 3: Little or No Debt

Couples specifically stated they had little or no debt or were paying off debt quickly. The quickest way to pay off debt is to make “power payments” otherwise known as the “snowball method”.

EXPERT TIP: http://www.powerpay.org is a free program developed by finance experts at Utah State University Extension that will take the debt payment information you enter and create a payment plan using power payments. When followed, the power payment strategy will help you knock out your debt as fast as possible.

Strategy 4: Live Within Means

The majority of the happily married couples surveyed said they did not buy what they could not pay for. They were frugal. They lived within their means. We might each define
what “living within our means” looks like a bit differently. The important thing is that we don’t regularly supplement our spending with credit cards.

EXPERT TIP: Together, choose a category in your monthly budget i.e. eating out, entertainment, clothing, etc. and review your spending for the past 30 days. Are you surprised by what you spent? Should you consider adjusting your spending in this category for the following month?

Strategy 5: Communicate about Money

Not surprising that these couples reported talking about money together. What was surprising? Some of them had never argued about money and others were currently
having money disagreements. What’s the take-home message? Even couples in great marriages disagree about money! They have the communication skills necessary to work through their disagreements.

EXPERT TIP: Regular date nights can help you reconnect and strengthen your communication skills. See relationships.usu.edu for the USU Extension-sponsored date nights near you.

Strategy 6: Trust

What does financial trust look like? Being open about purchases, not spending extravagantly on credit cards, not making major financial decisions without the other spouse. Couples in great marriages shared financial trust. Examine financial trust in your marriage.

EXPERT TIP: Express gratitude to your spouse for something they do that helps you trust them financially. Together these strategies can sharpen our skills and strengthen our financial relationship.


Research and information provided by Amanda Christensen

Amanda is an Extension Associate Professor at Utah State University. She has authored fact sheets, grants, national award-winning curriculum, T.V. & radio segments related to personal finance throughout her career. She runs the Utah Money Moms blog and social media platforms. Her favorite things include her husband of 7 years, her 2-year-old son, Yellowstone National Park, the Utah Jazz, andthe Hale Center Theatre. Connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @UtahMoneyMoms.

Reference: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10834-010-9195-2

Check out http://www.utahmoneymoms.com for more personal finance topics and follow along on your favorite social media platform @utahmoneymoms.

6 Thoughtful ways to show your partner you care this Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s day can often feel like an overwhelming holiday with expectations of big grand gestures or expensive gifts, but it can be less daunting to look at it as a day to serve and focus on your partner by doing thoughtful things to show gratitude and love. Many studies show that thoughtful acts add up to higher levels of happiness, marriage longevity and satisfaction.

Take the challenge to dive into your feelings this Valentine’s Day to dig deep and really show your partner you care. We’ve got 6 ideas to get you started on making this the most meaningful Valentine’s Day yet!

1. Write a love letter

Set aside 30 minutes to write your partner a love letter. Remind them of all the things you love about them and why they mean so much to you. Use this time to show appreciation for the little and big things they do that continually bring you closer. It doesn’t take a lot of time but it can make a lasting effect on your relationship.

2. Cook their favorite meal

Light some candles, pull out the fancy dinnerware and prepare their favorite meal. Not only is the gesture romantic, but nothing is better than coming home after a long day and finding out that someone has not only already taken care of dinner, but they have also made your favorite meal.

Pro Tip: Dress for the occasion. Pull out your favorite dress or a shirt and tie to take this dinner date to the next level!

3. Surprise them

It doesn’t have to be a huge surprise to be effective! It could simply be buying them their favorite treat, delivering them flowers at work, or having the kids make them cards. These are just some examples of small ways to really show you care and are thinking of them.

Pro Tip: Make sure your partner is the type that likes surprises!

4. Tackle their least favorite chores

This could be something around the house like dishes, laundry, or the house project you’ve both been putting off! It could also be errands they might have to run, such as going to the post office, dropping off dry cleaning, or picking up groceries. Whatever it is, taking on the task will alleviate stress and could even open up more time to spend together.

5. Leave notes for them in everyday places

Take a small stack of post-it notes and write down things you love about them on individual notes. Leave the notes in places they will be sure to find them, such as in their wallet, on the steering wheel, or on the bathroom mirror. This small act lets them know that you are thinking of them, and will help make for an unforgettable day.

6. Put your phone away

Put your phone or other distractions away while spending time with your partner. Show your partner that they are your priority and give them your undivided attention. Taking this simple action will allow you to more fully connect, listen, and cherish that special time together.

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