Category: Marriage

Traits of a Healthy Family

Betty blue bordered (2)Today let’s look at some simple lists and then, if you make it through to the end, I’ll offer my own two recommendations for building healthier families.

First, an addition to the Single Parent Family topic from two weeks ago. In Dr. Phil McGraw’s book, Family First: Your Step-by-Step Plan for Creating a Phenomenal Family, he lists


The most profound needs of children who are adjusting to life in a single parent family:

1.         Acceptance – They need acceptance. They need to know that they are important, that they are a priority. They will try to gain approval because their sense of belonging to the family has been shattered.

2.         Assurance of Safety – Parents need to go beyond normal efforts to assure their children that although the family has fragmented, their protection is solid. The key is to maintain a normal pace, boundaries, and routines. They need to know that their world is predictable and that it’s not going to change on them.

3.         Freedom from guilt or blame for the divorce – Children often assume the blame for the dissolution of a marriage. Be conscious of this and assure your children they’re blameless.

4.         Need for structure – They need structure more than any other time in their lives, because this is when things seem to be falling apart for them. Enforce discipline consistently and with the right currency for good behavior. They need to see that the world keeps spinning around, and they’re still an integral part of what’s going on.

5.         Need for a stable parent who has the strength to conduct business – Whether or not you feel brave and strong, you have to appear to be the best for your children. Do everything possible to assure them of your strength, and in doing so, you make it possible for them to relax. Show yourself to be a person of strength and resilience.

6.         Need to let kids be kids

•          Do not burden your children with situations they cannot control. Children should not bear such a responsibility. It will promote feelings of helplessness and insecurity, causing them to question their own strengths and abilities.

•          Do not ask your children to deal with adult issues. Children are not equipped to understand adult problems. Their focus should be on navigating the various child development stages they go through.


Now on to all families:


In Traits of a Healthy Family by Dolores Curran, she writes that families for ages held traditional goals:

1.         To achieve economic survival.

2.         To provide protection.

3.         To pass on the religious faith.

4.         To educate their young.

5.         To confer status.


These goals were largely taken for granted until the 1900s. Today we focus instead on relationship. Curran writes, “We marry so we can love and be loved, not feed and be fed. We join together in a search for intimacy, not protection. We have children so that we can give and be given to, care and be cared about, and share the joys of connecting with posterity, not for old-age bread and bed. Abraham Maslow once observed that we are the first generation in the history of peoples sufficiently beyond sustenance to be able to focus on the quality of our relationships.”

Here’s Curran’s list of the traits of today’s healthy family:

1.         Communicates and listens

2.         Fosters table time and conversations

3.         Affirms and supports one another

4.         Teaches respect for others

5.         Develops a sense of trust

6.         Has a sense of play and humor

7.         Has a balance of interaction among members

8.         Shares leisure time

9.         Exhibits a sense of shared responsibility

10.       Teaches a sense of right and wrong

11.       Has a strong sense of family in which rituals and traditions abound

12.       Has a shared religious core

13.       Respects the privacy of one another

14.       Values service to others

15.       Admits to and seeks help with problems

Not a bad list to strive towards. I think I like it better than Stephen Covey’s but I’m offering his list for those it might appeal to. In Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families, Covey writes:

“Good families—even great families—are off track 90 percent of the time! The key is that they have a sense of destination. They know what the “track” looks like. And they keep coming back to it time and time again.” 

Stephen Covey’s list of habits for effective families includes:

1.         Be Proactive – Become an agent of change in your family

2.         Begin with the End in Mind – Develop a family mission statement

3.         Put first things first – Make family a priority in a turbulent world

4.         Think “Win-Win.” – Move from “me” to “we

5.         Seek first to understand . . .then to be understood – solve family problems through empathic communication

6.         Synergize – build family unity through celebrating differences

7.         Sharpen the saw – renew the family spirit through traditions

Well done! You made it to the end, so here are

Two of my suggestions for growing a healthier family:

1.         If you know you make unhealthy choices in an area—whether physical, emotional, spiritual or relational—get whatever help you need to become healthier.  A family benefits whenever any member improves.

2.         Spend more relaxed time interacting with your family. Sacrifices you’ll need to make for this to happen (turning off the TV, computer, and cell phone) are worth it. You won’t regret it. In our marriage, from the time our fourth was born, we made time for a date night each week (in order to complete a whole sentence and keep our relationship strong.) During the hectic years with four elementary school daughters, we restricted them each to one activity beyond faith formation classes. Schedules became more complicated with teenagers, but we flexibly enforced Sunday afternoons as family time and, with rare exceptions, expected everyone home for dinners.

I’ve quoted him before, but I still love Matthew Kelly’s concept that the key to thriving relationships is carefree timelessness. By this he means spending time with people without an agenda, simply to enjoy their company. “No matter what the relationship, whether spouse to spouse, parent to child, friend to friend, or person to God, increase carefree timelessness and it will deepen.” *

Does anyone remember the commercial, “Try it, you’ll like it”? Try family carefree timelessness today. You will like it, even if the eight year old stomps his feet and crosses his arms. Or wait, maybe that was the fifteen year old. Secretly, they’ll love having your focused attention.

Blessings on your week!


*For more information about carefree timelessness and Matthew Kelly visit



Unconditional Love

bettyarrigotti photo blogWelcome to this new Lenten series of 4 Minutes for Growth!

This year we concentrate on the family.

John Powell, S.J., starts us off with his timeless book, Unconditional Love: Love without Limits. I chose this book because unconditional love must be the basis of family life. Though we all fall short at times, loving without preconditions should be our goal—the type of love we continually strive to achieve and maintain. Unconditional love says, “No matter what, I will not reject you. I’m committed to your growth and happiness. I will always love you.”

Powell reminds us that love is not a feeling, but rather a decision and a choice. We choose to place another’s welfare on the same level as, and sometimes even above, our own. By so doing we bring true meaning to our lives. Such meaning, or self-fulfillment, is an elusive quality which we can’t capture by direct pursuit but only attain as a by-product of loving.

Unconditional love says: I will love you, I will encourage you by helping you to be aware of your strengths, and when necessary I will challenge you to grow.

Most times this love will be tender and gentle, but not always. Sometimes unconditional love must be tough love, when truly wanting what is best for someone’s growth and happiness means not giving them what they want, but rather what is essential. A spouse may need to firmly point out a loved one’s self-destructive choices, or a parent will set limits to protect a child who is not ready for the independence he or she demands. A wife might ask her husband to cut back on his time away from home, or a mother might forbid a son to attend a party that “everyone else” is allowed to attend. Love is not unconditional if it weakly allows poor choices in order to avoid uncomfortable confrontation.

However, even tough love is not harsh. Sometimes as parents we think we need to constantly correct in order to assure our children’s proper growth. But a child does not flourish under criticism. Rather, Powell contends:


There is nothing else that can expand the human soul, actualize the human potential for growth, or bring a person into the full possession of life more than a love which is unconditional. […] Unconditional love is liberating. It frees the loved one to be authentic and real.


I think most people would agree that our children deserve unconditional love. We parents know we fall short, but we remain determined to love our children no matter what they do. It gets harder, though, when we turn it around. Shouldn’t we love our parents unconditionally, too? They weren’t perfect, but neither are we. And, even more difficult, what about our siblings? Heaven knows, siblings can find and attack our vulnerabilities. Do I need to love them unconditionally after what they did… or continue to do?

(Apologies to my two brothers. I’m speaking generally here, not specifically. Though I also apologize for when I didn’t treat you with the love I should have.)

Granted, not all family members are healthy to be around. Sadly, some are caustic, and boundaries must be raised in order to protect our emotional well-being. We mustn’t fear that loving another unconditionally will mean losing ourselves. In fact, in order to love another we must first love ourselves, as much as we are able, unconditionally. God has made us and declared us good and he has shown us we are loveable and worthy of the greatest sacrifice. So we come to love others, not out of weakness, but out of strength and awareness of our worth. It would be unloving to allow others to treat us with disrespect.

Yet, for spiritual and emotional health, unconditional love calls us to endeavor to forgive the wrongs of the past, even from a distance. That way, if the family member ever makes changes for the better, we will be ready to reconnect.

God’s word to us in the Bible is full of stories of unconditional love. We read of the prodigal son’s father, who knew unconditional love requires forgiveness and so ran to embrace his son at his penitent return. We believe that Jesus demonstrated unconditional love as he died for our sins and yet bid his Father, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

These are our models for building strong families. We must offer our family a lifetime of striving to love them unconditionally, forgiving them for their mistakes and asking forgiveness for our own, but always trying again to love, encourage, and challenge each other to be the best we each can be.


Next week we will turn to Building Christian Families, by Mitch and Kathy Finley.

Blessings on your first week of Lent!


Man to man about marriage:

Siena's Grandpa 2


My husband George is an amazing spouse! We celebrate 35  years of happy marriage this week, so I invited him to offer advice to men about marriage. Here’s what he had to say:


  • A woman is a gift of great value to be treasured throughout your life. She is easily the most valuable gift you will ever receive on this earth, and must be treated with respect at all times.
  • Be cautious with criticizing her, even in private.
  • Never express disappointment about choosing her to be your partner, or comparing her to previous partners, or current acquaintances.
  • Never speak as though you’ve had enough, or would ever consider leaving her or ending the relationship.
  • When you’ve hurt her (or learned after the fact that you’ve hurt her), apologize. And mean it. Even if you have rationalizations in your head, just go with the apology. Try to understand why she was hurt, even if you don’t think that you would have been in the same situation. Only if you can do it without sounding antagonistic, ask her for advice on what you could have said or done differently to handle the situation.



  • Don’t ever talk about money as though it were ‘yours’. All money is ‘ours’ in the family, regardless of whose paycheck it comes from.
  • Never treat your job as more important than hers, whether you make more money than she does or not.
  • If she does take a traditional role in your family, such as at-home mom, remember that she’s doing this by choice for your good and the good of the family, not because she’s any less capable.
  • With your children, take care that they realize that her staying home or working away from home are options, and neither is an expected role for women.



  • Thank her for the normal things she does daily for you and the family. Even if you thank her every day for the same things. There should be several times each day when you acknowledge her efforts and thank her:
  • When you get up from a meal: “Thank you for dinner!” (And clear your place.)
  • When clean clothes appear in your drawers or closet: “Thanks for the clean clothes!” Or when there’s clean laundry on the bed to be folded: “Thanks for doing the laundry!” (Help fold them and put them away, at least your own items.)
  • New groceries in the fridge or cabinet: “Thanks for shopping for us!”
  • When you notice that a room looks especially nice, tell her so! (But avoid any comparison with past condition.)



  • Give her a generous hug, at least three times a day. Hold on to her as long as she wants.
  • A woman needs to be told that her looks please you. And she needs to hear it frequently. Never just count on her ‘knowing’ that you love how she looks all the time (even if you do). When you notice something nice about her clothes, or hair, or face (or figure!) or whatever, tell her she looks great, or pretty, or nice, or whatever you feel. But don’t force it, or make something up. This shouldn’t be hard; of course you love how she looks! And don’t compare to any previous time (you look better today than yesterday). And don’t say that she looks nice ‘today’ (possibly implying that she doesn’t on other days). But OK to say that she looks ‘especially nice today’.



  • Don’t tease her by saying something that isn’t true, or isn’t what you mean, as a joke. Don’t make her guess if what you say can reliably be taken at face value, or must be tested for believability before accepting it. It may be funny to you, but never is to her. It’s embarrassing to be made to feel stupid by believing something false that was said in jest.
  • Be cautious with other teasing, as well. Preferably don’t tease her about anything! Teasing is never nice, even if she seems to laugh, go along with it, and say that it’s OK. She could fear that there’s a grain of truth in whatever
    you’re teasing her about, whether there is or not (and there often is).
  • Talk with her! She loves talking with you, about anything (as long as you’re not the one doing all the talking).
  • Listen to her! And pay attention while you do. She needs to know that you’re hearing what she has to say. Ask her, every day, how her day went. And listen while looking at her, not while reading, or checking email, or watching TV. Remember that sometimes she just wants to be heard, and doesn’t want to you offer advice or try to ‘fix’ the things she tells you about. (But be sure that when she does ask you to fix something, you take it seriously!)
  • Learn how to disagree (and even express your anger) without raising your voice. A raised voice in a man is a danger signal to a woman. No matter how well she knows you, she may fear being physically or emotionally hurt.
  • If not done as part of your marriage preparation, realize that you likely have different methods of resolving conflicts, and that you now need to have a common method. It’s best to have some rules that you discuss when you’re not emotional.
  • Never try to make her feel stupid.


Family & Friends:

  • Women need family and relationships, much more so than you might. Don’t try to keep her from seeing or communicating with friends or family. And be sure to consider this strongly in decisions about where you’ll live or what job you’ll take.
  • Never complain about your wife to friends or family.
  • Never embarrass her in front of the children, or anyone.
  • Make an effort to compliment her in front of others, and say how proud you are of her, for whatever reason that you are. Or what you like about her, or why your treasure her.


The Future

  • Realize that you both brought dreams, goals, hopes, and desires to your relationship. Some of those now need to be subjugated to hers, and to the higher dreams and goals of the relationship. When you marry, you agree that your personal priorities will change to support your joint relationship. You don’t need to give up everything, just realize that some things may not be possible right away, and that some may no longer be appropriate.
  • Ask her what her dreams and goals are, and what she’d like to see in the relationship. And then, simply listen, and listen some more.


Betty here: Didn’t I tell you he is an amazing guy? Some of these recommendations come naturally to him and some we’ve learned the hard way, over the years.

Ladies, be careful how you show this to your husband so that he doesn’t feel criticized! Maybe instead, thank him for how he currently shows his love for you. Positive reinforcement goes a long way!

Blessings on your week!

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