Sept. 23-29 is Marriage and Family Therapy Week in Colorado. Colorado State University marriage and family therapy experts have tips about how to keep relationships running smoothly.
- Tip #1: Take care of yourself. We all know that when you get on an airplane the announcement reminds us that in case of an emergency, to put our own oxygen mask on before we help the person sitting next to us. This is a good reminder for our daily lives as well. If we do not take care of ourselves, we will have trouble being there for the ones we love. So what does it mean to take care of ourselves? For some people it means getting exercise, for others a hot bath, and for some curling up with a good book. Whatever nurtures you be sure to do it a little bit each day. When we take time to take care of ourselves, we are more present and available for others.
- Tip #2: Be mindful about the relationships in your life. Practicing mindfulness (which some may call prayer or meditation) refers to taking a few minutes on a regular basis to stop, breath, and reflect on the relationships in your life. Reflection can be centered on many different aspects of the relationship. For instance, reflecting on being grateful for the relationships in your life and reflecting on what you love about the important people in your life are common in relationship mindfulness practice. Taking time to reflect is not only calming to most people but it tends to make us more patient and forgiving with those we are in relationships with and can keep us from dwelling on the negative or simply remind ourselves to nurture our relationships.
- Tip #3: Spend five hours a week with your partner. We all want more time with those we love. Spending time with our partners is so important. But how much time is enough? Recent research from renowned marital expert John Gottman says spending five hours a week minimum doing something with our partner is important (of course more is always better). Paying bills and cleaning the garage don’t count! This is a time to just be together without chores or children. Some couples find they spend this time on a hike on Saturday morning or a movie on Wednesday night. Other couples enjoy coffee in the morning for 20 minutes and a walk in the evening for half an hour. It doesn’t seem to matter if you spend the five hours split between various small amounts of time or spending larger amounts of time together less often. The point is to make time in our busy schedules for each other and spend it together doing something we enjoy.
- Tip #4: Couples should nurture fondness and admiration in their relationships. Gottman has spent decades studying what factors contribute to long and successful relationships. His research suggests that nurturing fondness and admiration for your partner or spouse can provide an essential foundation that is at the core of a successful relationship. Many couples can be distracted by personality flaws or annoying habits, but simply reminding yourself of your partner’s positive qualities – even as you struggle with each other’s flaws – can prevent a happy marriage from deteriorating.
- Tip #5: It’s OK to think of “family dinner” as a very casual affair. The importance of family dinners has been getting a lot of attention in the media. In a recent study of nearly 18,000 teens, “family dinners” were correlated with decreased substance abuse and delinquency. However, the frequency of “family dinner” was measured by asking teens, “How many of the past seven days was at least one of your parents in the room with you while you ate your evening meal?” So, take the pressure off yourself to have a Cleaver family dinner and focus more on being together.
- Tip #6: Worry less about your teen feeling “overscheduled.” Encourage organized activities. According to a report by the Society for Research in Child Development, the “overscheduled child” is a media myth. Parents might feel frazzled hauling multiple kids around, but many teens themselves generally enjoy their activities. In addition to being enjoyable for teens, these organized activities, build a sense of competence, and allow them to interact with peers and positive adult role models. Most teens still spend many more hours in unstructured leisure activities (such as media, hanging out), and the real concern is the 40 percent of youth who do not participate in any organized activities.
- Tip #7: Make sure your teen is getting enough time with you, especially dads. In a 1999 survey of more than 1,000 kids ages 8–18, teens were more likely than kids ages 8-12 to report wanting more time with their parents, and were more likely to want more time with their fathers than their mothers. Forty percent of teens said they want more time with their fathers and 30 percent said they want more time with their mothers (and no differences based on whether mom was employed or not).
- Tip #8: Parents should share their values with their children and tell them why they feel strongly about specific issues or behaviors. Research indicates that children adopt the values of their parents more often than not when they understand why their parents feel a certain way. Particularly in an election year, children and teens are hearing a lot about different social issues. This provides a valuable opportunity for parents to share what their values are about different issues, and to explain their rationale for their beliefs. These are rich discussions that will help children and teens better understand their parents’ perspectives and identify their own values.
- Tip #9: Sexuality education with children should start early and take advantage of teachable moments. Many parents feel nervous and unprepared to teach their children about sexuality, but research indicates that parents should start early and capitalize on "teachable moments" instead of a "big talk.” This takes a lot of the pressure of off parents because it becomes part of regular conversations with their children and teens. Teachable moments include bath time or potty training with young children, and television, movies, or current events with older children and teens. Research also indicates that learning about sexuality encourages responsible sexual behavior rather than promiscuity, so parents need not worry that bringing up sexuality will have adverse effects on children’s sexual behaviors.
- Tip #10: You are never too old to be playful in your relationships. A child’s primary form of learning, expression, and communication is play. As we grow older, however, we stop playing as much in favor of more “adult” interactions. Play has been shown to be a very effective form of stress relief and bonding for adults as well as children, and some experts encourage adults to engage in more play in both their adult relationships and with children. Play time can be pre-planned or spontaneous. Embracing the spirit of play is often what is missing in adult relationships. Try to increase the amount of time you spend in playful activities with your partner or children by just 15 minutes a day. Try playing making up a silly game the next time you are on a long car ride or create a scavenger hunt on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Go outside for a game of hide-and-seek around the neighborhood or have everyone dress up in funny costumes for dinner on a Friday night. One note of caution: playfulness is not the same as sarcasm or teasing so make sure the activity is fun for all.
This information is provided by professors with CSU’s Marriage and Family Therapy Program, part of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. The program also runs the Center for Family and Couple Therapy. The center provides therapy services to families, couples, individuals, adolescents and children. Services are offered on a sliding-fee scale and during a variety of times of the day, including after school. The program is part of the university’s graduate program for future therapists.
The Department of Human Development and Family Studies is part of the College of Applied Human Sciences.