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Friday, May 21, 2010

The Importance of Appreciations in Marriage

It is easy to take people for granted. We don’t mean to do it, but often we fall into expecting our spouses to do what satisfies us. We stop saying please and thank you, we stop acknowledging how special our mate really is. We get so caught up in the daily routine that we don’t stop to feel and express appreciation.

One of the single most important attitudes in marriage is a pattern of looking for the good and positive in each other. The reality is that if one is looking for the good - - - - that is what will be seen. The converse is also true, if the negatives are the center of attention and focus, then that is what will be seen. One of the characteristics of a successful marriage is where the focus is on the good things that can be appreciated. Unfortunately, it can become easy to notice all that our spouse doesn’t do, while focusing on the positives may require a conscious decision. Criticism tears down a marriage, while appreciation builds up and strengthens a relationship.

Research on marriage conducted by Dr. John Gottman at the Family Research Lab at the University of Washington has found that happily married couples make five times as many positive statements to and about each other and their relationship than negative ones. A good marriage has a positive attitude where affirmations and appreciations are expressed. Dr. Gottman advices couples to “cultivate a culture of appreciation” where there are many acts of fondness, admiration, gratitude and positive sentiment. A positive attitude enables a marriage to better cope with stress, conflict, disappointment, and other negative influences.

Appreciations can take different forms. Acknowledgement for what we do – both the little and the big things is important. Communicate to your spouse that you recognize their contributions that make life better. Affirmations is where a spouse is reminded how important they are and how deeply a connection and commitment is felt. Adoration where there is a genuine expression of admiration and affection, and is another important type of appreciation. It is easy to fall into the “they know how I feel” excuse. However, do any of us tire of being reminded of our importance and value to others? Another form of appreciation comes with Acceptance. None of us are perfect and none are married to perfect spouses. Acceptance is a true appreciation of differences without the intention to change our spouses to be more like us.

Appreciations are most effectively expressed when they are specific. A verbal expression of appreciation or “thank you” is sometimes all that is needed, but a written card or note, flowers, or an embrace can make the thought more special and effective.

The single best advice for a happy marital relationship is to “be the spouse you wish you were married to”. In my work over the past 25 years with hundreds of couples, I have found this simple guideline to be the most effective. Waiting for change from your partner before committing to personal effort is doomed to failure.

If you and your spouse feel stuck – get help! Most couples struggle unnecessarily for years before seeking help. While only 1% will contact a professional for assistance, many more will end their marriage or settle for a marriage that is unhappy. To learn more about what makes marriage work, read The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (Three Rivers Press, 2000) by John Gottman, Ph.D. This is an important resource for troubled marriages and for good marriages that want to be better. It is never too late to have the marriage you want.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Reflections on Being a Mother

“All that I am, or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”
Abraham Lincoln

I have written in the past about the importance of fathers and how much they contribute to the lives of their children and to the family. However, I’ve never written about being a mom. It’s a no-brainer to declare that mothers are important. Psychological research confirms what we know by common sense, - - mothers are crucial in the emotional and physical development of children. Babies need a mother’s love and attention and there is something uniquely special in the relationship between a mother and a child. Mothers play a critical role in family life and have invaluable contributions in creating the next generation.

Mothers Day is the day set aside to honor mothers and to let moms know how much they are appreciated. In the United States, Mother’s Day falls on the second Sunday in May of each year and became an official holiday in 1914. However, Americans didn’t originate the idea of honoring mothers and their many contributions and sacrifices. In fact, tributes to mothers actually date back to the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Being a mom has at times been described as a thankless job. So much gets unnoticed and seemingly unappreciated. However, the work involved in caring for a home and family are enormous even if not directly related to a pay check. Salary.com completed a survey of more than 12,000 mothers and determined that based on the time mothers spend in typical daily activities; they would earn an annual salary of $122,732. Moms earn this income with their efforts and commitment even if they never see the paychecks!

There are so many things no one tells you about being a mom. It is a rare mother who never experiences self-doubt. Being a mother includes continual changes in the job description. As soon as you master or even get a little bit comfortable with one stage, your child grows, changes, and demands you learn something new. How truly difficult!

New moms especially express painful feelings of inadequacy because our culture tends to focus on “maternal instincts” and “falling in love with your baby at first sight”. While these phenomenons may exist, there are many more experiences of being overwhelmed and exhausted. Women tend not to open up about their struggles and frustrations in mothering. Even worse, mothers often are openly and harshly critical of other mothers. These factors make it difficult to be realistic about being a good mother. It is essential to give up on perfection. You will make mistakes, you will disappoint - - and your child will survive!

While challenging, being a mom is also wonderful. The tasks are so important, the demands so endless, and often the criticisms so harsh that it is essential to develop strategies to enjoy the roller coaster ride called motherhood. Having fun and enjoying the process of mothering is not only important - - it is survival!! Strive to let go of your own and others expectations and allow the fun to take whatever form available.

Being a great mom is about being yourself and giving your children the best of you. This requires taking the time to care for you and accepting yourself without judgments. During those times when you struggle, get help from family members, and seek advice from others along the journey. Children don’t need perfect mothers - - they just need mothers who are present, nurturing, and are “good enough”.

This year, on Mother’s Day take the time to thank your mom. If you are dad, thank the mother of your children. If you are a mom, take the time to recognize your worth and contributions to your family. All of us should remember to acknowledge and appreciate the sacrifices and challenges each mother faces.