Nibble, Then Quibble l February/March 2015

Finding yourself and your partner on the brink of a spat? First check how long since either of you have eaten.

We all know how easy it is to be grumpy when we’re hungry. Indeed, there’s a connection between our mood and the level of blood sugar — glucose — in the body. Research has found that a low glucose level makes it far easier to express anger — even to behave aggressively — toward the people around us.i Why is this so? Think of glucose as a fuel for the brain. Without adequate fuel, the brain lacks the energy it needs to support optimal functioning. In our intimate relationships, where we regularly bump up against one another’s habits and moods and unique patterns of thinking, optimal functioning includes the ability to exercise self-restraint — to speak kindly, to be patient, to listen carefully and measure our words. Self-restraint is an invaluable skill during arguments and debates. But it doesn’t come easily; self-restraint takes energy. And much of that energy derives from the food we eat, the body’s source of glucose.

Although the brain constitutes only two percent of body weight, it utilizes nearly 20 percent of available calories. It’s a big energy consumer, needing to be “fed” in order to operate at its best.

“Our study shows how one simple, often overlooked factor —
hunger caused by low levels of blood glucose — may play a role in
marital arguments, confrontations, and possibly even some domestic
violence,” says psychology researcher Brad Bushman, who has studied
the relationship between blood glucose levels and anger." ii

If you find yourself and your partner inching toward (or in the early stage of) a difficult conversation or argument, check how long it’s been since the two of you have had food or drink. It may make sense to call a brief recess for a bit of nourishment; after eating, blood sugar levels begin to rise within 15 to 30 minutes provided your meal or snack includes the proper carbohydrates.iii So nibble, then quibble.

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i Bushman, Brad J., et al. Low glucose relates to greater aggression in married couples. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014 111 (17) 6254-6257.
ii Ohio State University. "Lashing out at your spouse? Check your blood sugar." ScienceDaily, 14 April 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140414154408.
iii “Carbohydrates from liquids, such as juices and soft drinks, are usually digested more rapidly, while carbohydrates from solid foods, such as pasta and fruits, take a bit more time to break down. Foods that don't contain carbohydrates or only very little, such as non-starchy vegetables, butter, eggs, meat, poultry, fish, cheese and nuts, do not have the ability to significantly influence your blood sugar levels.” (From: http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/soon-after-ingestion-food-blood-sugar-rise-1399.html)

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Important But Not Urgent l January 2015

For a great many couples with children, it isn’t the spouse who’s most valued — it’s the kids. At least within the middle and upper-middle-class, today’s couples tend to place kids at the top of the priority ladder, with the partner relationship landing in second or even third place (behind career). Many of us pay lip service to the importance of our marriage, but the great amounts of time, energy, and financial resources we devote to the youngsters betray those words.

Author Stephen Coveyi wrote that we all have priorities that are "important but not urgent" and priorities that are "urgent but not important." Our children’s needs seem urgent — chauffeuring to school or practice, bringing them the bag lunch they forgot at home, drilling them on concepts the night before a test — and we end up confusing what seems urgent with what’s actually important. In fact, so much of what our children ask and want of us, and so much of what we do for them, is not important — it’s optional. But on the treadmill of modern parenting, we rarely stop and ask ourselves, “How important is this? What’s truly at stake here?”

What is most important to kids’ welfare? Parents maintaining a strong and healthy marriage; it trumps most everything else. Children secure in the knowledge that their parents are solid with one another enjoy freedom to think about their studies, their hobbies, their friendships. They’re free to daydream of bright futures, to hone aspirations of the road ahead. But when the marital connection is fraught, when tension or alienation between parents is a spoken (or unspoken) dimension of home life, kids worry about the grown-ups, wondering what they can do to help, or worse, what they’ve done to contribute to the trouble. By contrast, a solid marital relationship serves as the sturdy foundation from which kids can best face life’s challenges. But solid marriage takes time and effort — it means making the relationship the highest priority.

To raise healthy kids, put your marriage first and your children second.
Because our marriages are important but not urgent, we neglect to feed and water them.
Often they die slowly and quietly, and we don’t even realize it until it’s too late.ii

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i Covey, Stephen R. et al. First Things First. (Simon and Schuster: New York), 1994.
ii Alphonse, Lylah M. Overview of an interview with author and family coach David Code, found at http://www.lylahmalphonse.com/2010/06/putting-your-marriage-first-may-be.html#more.

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A True Apology l November-December 2014

Who among us doesn’t sometimes say the wrong thing or act in a way that triggers — even accidentally — a spouse’s hurt feelings? And who among us, after a misstep, doesn’t want to be forgiven? We want our partner to move on without harboring ill will. Research has found that an authentic apology increases the likelihood of being forgiven, and reduces feelings of anger in the “injured” spouse. It seems that we’re viewed as a more valuable partner through our acts of apology, and our injured spouse feels less risk of being hurt again if we apologize.1

But a proper apology can be a tricky thing. Many of us say, “I’m sorry if you felt badly” or “I’m sorry if I upset you.” Why the “if”? The “if” conveys that we’re not sure we believe that our partner’s feelings are really hurt. Or the “if” conveys that we’re not sure we did anything wrong. Apologies with an “if” usually leave an injured spouse feeling dissatisfied or disappointed.

“I’m sorry that you feel this way” is another common expression that doesn’t cut it as an authentic apology. In this wording, too, there’s no acknowledgement that we did< anything wrong, which is precisely what an injured spouse wants to hear.

A true apology begins with three words: either "I'm sorry I …" or “I apologize for …” A true apology acknowledges that something I said, or something I did, was insensitive or unkind or triggered hurt, fear, embarrassment or humiliation. (The fact that the outcome — our partner’s distress — may have been unintentional on our part doesn’t preclude the need for an apology.)

Here are some well-phrased apologies:

  • "I'm sorry I spoke in a hurtful way."
  • “I apologize for shouting and frightening you.”
  • “I’m sorry I broke our agreement.”
  • “I apologize for losing my patience.”
  • “I’m sorry I rolled my eyes in the way you dislike.”

Without the three words — “I’m sorry I …” or “I apologize for …” — an apology is unlikely to promote the kind of forgiveness that heals emotional wounds and helps partners move past those tough moments all couples encounter.

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1McCullough, Michael E. et al. "Conciliatory gestures promote human forgiveness and reduce anger in humans." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Volume 111 Number 30, pages 11211-11216.

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