How Sharing Family Stories Can Strengthen Relationships

How many family stories do you know? There may be stories of migration or comedies about great-grandma or uncle so-and-so that have been passed down. Family members may have survived natural disasters, served in the armed forces, or had a successful business. These shared stories can be influential in developing family and individual identity because stories are important for understanding the world. Sharing family stories is also a powerful way to strengthen and unite family members. Family stories that show examples of overcoming challenges can help younger generations find the strength to overcome their own struggles.

Research shows that when children know more about their family, they are more resilient, have higher self-esteem, better self-control, lower anxiety levels, fewer behavioral problems, and are more prepared to make good decisions when facing challenges. Family events such as holiday gatherings, mealtimes, and vacations are good times to share family stories. Sharing different people’s perspectives of a story is also enjoyable as families gather and reminisce. Keeping a record of the stories is essential, but it doesn’t have to be elaborate. It has been shown that writing them down or typing and printing them is more meaningful and preserves them better than digital recordings since formats and equipment change frequently. If preserved in a way that can be replayed, video and voice recordings can be fun for future generations.

Stories of both triumph and failure teach essential life lessons. Humorous anecdotes that include misunderstandings or coincidences, or just using humor to make life more enjoyable, also teach valuable skills. As you plan summer reunions and family time, be intentional about sharing family stories. Ideas include: playing ancestor bingo, visiting a place of significance to your family, celebrating birthdays for deceased family members, playing games family members enjoyed, and making a favorite family recipe book. Other ideas include showing photos of what family members looked like in their youth and determining who looks alike now, creating a family history time capsule, and doing family service projects.

Remember – the family activities and traditions you create now become family stories for future generations. For more information on making family stories powerful, visit: How Family Stories Can Strengthen and Unite. To see article references, click here

Tips to Reduce the Chance of Flood Damage to Your Home

With Utah’s high amounts of snowfall this year, flooding is a possibility in many areas. For anyone who has experienced the impacts of water or mud inundating their home, this may induce a sense of helplessness. 

Fortunately, there are many things that can be done now to prevent or lessen the possibility of flooding in and around your home. The Extension Disaster Education Network offers tips to help, including a publication from North Dakota State University titled, “Steps to Reduce Flood and Water Damage,” which includes the following tips:

Move snow away from your home’s foundation. Moving snow just 3 to 5 feet from the house can reduce problems if the ground is sloped 1 inch per foot near the house.

Prevent water from entering window wells. Build dams, and contour the ground so water will naturally drain away from the house. You can do this with sandbags or by adjusting the landscaping.

* Check your sump pump. Clean the sump pump and pit, and test the pump by pouring water into the pit. Consider having a spare submersible portable sump pump. Make sure the discharge hose delivers the water several feet away from the house to a well-drained area that slopes away from the house. If the hose outlet is too close to the house foundation or on flat ground, the water may simply recycle down through the house drain tile. Don’t run sump pump water into a rural septic system because the water may saturate the drain field.

Be sure downspouts are in place. As snow melts, downspouts can be helpful in carrying water away from the house. Use caution if they are buried or frozen and need to be repositioned, as salt or chemicals to melt the ice could damage the lawn in the spring.

Plan an escape route if roads or streets around you are known to flood. Where would you go if your home flooded? Consider local shelters or a family member or friend’s house. Plan and practice an evacuation route with your family.

Plan for pets. Pets aren’t allowed in shelters due to health regulations. If left behind, stressed pets can damage your house, and their safety is at stake, too. Have a plan in place so you know where your pets will go in an emergency.

* Know where and how to safely shut off electricity and how to plug basement floor drains.

Assemble supplies in case the electricity goes out. This includes water, food that requires no refrigeration or cooking, a non-electric can opener, a battery-powered radio and flashlight, as well as extra batteries.

Move valuables off the floor. These include irreplaceable family photo albums, high school yearbooks, videotapes, tax records, insurance policies, household inventories, and other valuable items.

Move hazardous materials to higher locations, including paint, oil, and cleaning supplies. These and other dangerous materials should not be left on the floor.

Have emergency supplies on hand in case of an evacuation order. Gather water, nonperishable food, paper plates/cups and plastic utensils, extra clothing and shoes, blankets or sleeping bags, a first aid kit, prescription medications, cash and credit cards, important phone numbers, and specific items for babies, pets, and the elderly.

Prepare appliances for flooding. Know where fuse boxes or breaker panels are so you can shut off appliances if it becomes necessary. Place freezers, washer, dryers, and other appliances on wood or cement blocks to keep motors above the water level. If high water is imminent and large appliances can’t be moved, wrap them in polyethylene film, tying the film in place with a cord or rope. The water may still get in, but most of the silt won’t, which will make cleanup easier.

* Teach adults and older children where water service mains and natural gas mains are and how to turn them off if necessary.

* Be open and honest with children. Hiding the situation from them may be even more stressful than talking openly. Let them know that you have a plan.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, flooding is the most common natural disaster in the United States. Since “knowledge is power,” using knowledge to lessen or prevent damage to home and property and preserve a sense of emotional well-being and safety is a helpful way to exercise personal power.

To see the complete article, visit https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/disasters/steps-to-reduce-flood-and-water-damage.

By: Kathy Riggs, Utah State University Extension professor, Kathleen.Riggs@usu.edu,


Five Ways to Share the Mental Load in Marriage

Have you ever felt mentally exhausted as you try to remember the never-ending to-do list in your head?

It goes something like this:

Remember to bring a treat to your child’s class party, call the insurance company about an unclear charge, return an Amazon package, and call in that prescription. Which reminds you, it’s time to get your dog’s heartworm medicine ordered, and don’t forget to buy a gift for your child for the birthday party on Friday, and wash the track uniform for the track meet, also on Friday…yikes!

There is a massive mental work load that people tend to carry in their heads. And by people, we mean mothers.

Studies suggest that the bulk of  “worry work” is mainly carried by moms – nearly 9 out of 10 of them say they feel solely responsible for organizing the family’s schedule.

Why is this so exhausting?

It turns out that the brain can only really focus on three to four things at a time. When it switches focus between tasks and upcoming tasks, it uses brain energy, and there’s only so much of it to go around. It doesn’t take long for this invisible work and mental load to take its toll and overflow!

The result? Frustrated, burned out, stressed out, overwhelmed, anxious moms. And this leads to connection killers in relationships: anger and resentment.

It’s not possible to keep up with the physical, mental, and emotional work at a crazy pace without it taking a toll on your relationships with your children and your partner. One sure sign it’s gone too far? Having a tough time controlling your temper, tongue, and tone of voice at home.

Here are five ways couples can share the mental load.

1. Bring awareness to the invisible work. Raise awareness about your mental load and the toll it’s taking. If it’s not on your partner’s radar, change will seldom happen, and burnout and resentment will continue.

Without criticizing or attacking, offer some concrete examples of what you are experiencing. For example, “I often feel exhausted and mentally tired. I’ve recently read about what it may be stemming from – it’s called ‘worry work,’ and I’d love to share what I’ve been experiencing.” Then share a few examples. Make it clear that this isn’t you just worrying too much or complaining. It’s an exhausting mental load that affects your mood and attitude throughout the day, and it spills over into family relationships.

2. Divide and decide. After you discuss the load, it’s time to share the load. This will look different for every family situation. For the partner who is not carrying the bulk of the worry work, instead of responding with, “Just tell me what to do,” try something like, “I’ve noticed you have a lot on your plate. I don’t always know what to do to help you, so can you give me some things to take on as my responsibility?”

3. Lighten the load with technology. We have a lot of great technology that can help us get the worry out of our brains and onto a task list. For example, Alexa or Siri can add items to your grocery list and set reminders. You can also set up auto-orders on things such as toilet paper, laundry detergent, pet food, and paper towels to lighten your brain load. Or try apps for planning and organizing that are shared across the family. Maple, Bublup, and Todoist are just a few that allow you to add tasks and to-dos that can be assigned and shared across devices.

4. Let go of control. While the mental load can feel overwhelming, for some women it may seem easier to just do it all rather than risk it not getting done right. For example, women can often fall into the habit of gatekeeping when it comes to household labor. This may include monitoring, criticizing, or correcting the way her partner or child does chores, which may easily discourage them from fully engaging. Try letting go of some control by discussing each of your strengths, challenges, and preferences. Allow everyone to try new things and be patient through changes.

5. Keep checking in. Have regular conversations. Remember these require patience, flexibility, awareness, and expressions of appreciation for both partners. Discuss upcoming activities that bring stress. A helpful question is, “Tell me what your day looks like tomorrow,” then see what you can do to help lighten the mental load.

But be aware – it is best for couples NOT to discuss any of this when either of you are feeling: hungry, angry, hangry, lonely, or tired. Late at night in bed is not the best time to bring up demands and to-dos.

“Worry work” is quickly becoming one of the top struggles for couples, but it is often not talked about. It is important for each partner to be mindful of the other and communicate regularly to avoid burnout and resentment. It is definitely worth the effort to help keep balance and peace at home.

Strengthening Attachment to Allow Teens Choice and Responsibility without Dangerous Behavior

Adolescence marks an exciting time full of growth and change in a child’s life, but even with their growing desire for independence, they still need support and guidance from their parents. We know that the adolescent brain continues developing well into the mid-20’s, with the parts of the brain that help with things like risk assessment, impulse control, and decision-making being the last to develop (Casey et al., 2008). On the other hand, the emotional, sensory, and reward-seeking parts develop first (Casey et al., 2008), making it natural for teens to have a strong urge to seek out new and exciting experiences without always thinking through the consequences (Konrad et al., 2013).

As a result of this brain development, some parenting strategies that work for younger children no longer work for teens (Yeager et al., 2018). Even though parents may not want to let go, attempting to manipulate or control their teens will push them away and undermine their need for closeness and autonomy (Scharf & Goldner, 2018). Luckily, teens who have secure emotional attachments with their parents are less likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors and have better social skills and coping strategies (Moretti & Peled, 2004). No matter your teen’s age, it’s not too late to implement some strategies for improving your parenting skills and relationships. Start to strengthen attachment with your teens today with the following tips:

  1. Set firm limits and rules: Being emotionally close with your teen does not mean you can’t have rules and boundaries. In fact, children will feel safer in a relationship when they know there are high expectations, as well as love and trust (Gottman & DeClaire, 1997). Don’t be afraid to let them know what types of behaviors you do not approve of, but help them feel that they can feel safe asking for help if they mess up.
  2. Show your teen the same respect you expect: When teens sense a threat to their growing autonomy through adults’ attempts to control them, they tend to shut down and refuse to cooperate (Divecha, 2017). Make sure to talk openly with your teens, listen to their perspective, and respect their opinions and budding personality.
  3. Support them in safe exploration: You can support your teens in activities that give them the thrilling experiences they seek with activities like rock climbing, mountain biking, amusement park rides, or other pro-social activities that utilize their talents while pushing them a little outside their comfort zone. Safe exploration can benefit youth by increasing their confidence and helping them develop independence (Kelley et al., 2006).
  4. Don’t take their choices personally: When your teen opts to make choices that you wouldn’t make yourself, it can cause a lot of emotions, ranging from hurt to frustration to outright anger. However, being able to regulate your own emotions will not only preserve your relationship with your teen, but also set a good example for them on the importance of coping with emotions (Hajal & Paley, 2020).

As you look for resources to be the best parent you can be, remember that you don’t have to do it alone. If you are concerned about your teen’s safety, looking for help from school administrators, teachers, counselors, family members, or other community resources can be helpful. Healthy relationships with strong attachments to positive role models is key. These healthy attachments provide teens with positive examples, safety, encouragement, access to resources, and new experiences that focus on safely gaining independence and responsibility (Davis & McQuillin, 2021). Start strengthening attachments with teens today with these tips and the following resources.

Additional Resources:


Casey, B. J., Getz, S., & Galvan, A. (2008). The adolescent brain. Developmental review28(1), 62-77.

Davis AL, McQuillin SD. (2021). Supporting autonomy in youth mentoring relationships. J Community Psychol. 2022 Jan;50(1):329-347. doi: 10.1002/jcop.22567. Epub 2021 Mar 30. PMID: 33786867.

Divecha, D. (2017). Teenagers might have a problem with respect but it’s not the one our think. Developmental Science. Retrieved December 8, 2022, from https://www.developmentalscience.com/blog/2017/11/29/teenagers-might-have-a-problem-with-respect-but-its-not-the-one-you-think

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 227-268. https://doi.org/10.1207/S15327965PLI1104_01

Gottman, J. M., & DeClaire, J. (1997). The heart of parenting: How to raise an emotionally intelligent child. Bloomsbury.

Hajal, N. J., & Paley, B. (2020). Parental emotion and emotion regulation: A critical target of study for research and intervention to promote child emotion socialization. Developmental Psychology56(3), 403.

Kelley, A. E., Schochet, T., & Landry, C. F. (2004). Risk taking and novelty seeking in adolescence: Introduction to part I. In R. E. Dahl & L. P. Spear (Eds.), Adolescent brain development: Vulnerabilities and opportunities. (Vol. 1021, pp. 27–32). New York Academy of Sciences.

Konrad K, Firk C, Uhlhaas PJ. Brain development during adolescence: neuroscientific insights into this developmental period. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2013 Jun;110(25):425-31. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2013.0425. Epub 2013 Jun 21. PMID: 23840287; PMCID: PMC3705203.

Moretti MM, Peled M. Adolescent-parent attachment: Bonds that support healthy development. Paediatr Child Health. 2004 Oct;9(8):551-555. doi: 10.1093/pch/9.8.551. PMID: 19680483; PMCID: PMC2724162.

Scharf, M., & Goldner, L. (2018). “If our really love me, our will do/be…”: Parental psychological control and its Implications for children’s adjustment. Developmental Review49, 16-30.

Yeager, D. S., Dahl, R. E., & Dweck, C. S. (2018). Why interventions to influence adolescent behavior often fail but could succeed. Perspectives on Psychological Science13(1), 101-122.

By Josie Hatch, BS, Health & Wellness Coordinator & Ashley Yaugher, PhD, Health & Wellness Faculty

How Can We Keep Our Marriage Strong as We Age?

As couples age, keeping a marriage strong can become a challenge. Children move away, mental and physical health challenges arise, complacency creeps in, and retirement can create more time together than you are used to. For these reasons and others, gray divorce – the divorce rate among adults 50 and older – has doubled since 1990.

Consider these tips to nurture your marriage as you grow old together.

  • “TNT” try new things. Keep your relationship alive by finding new ways to play together. Try new activities or sports, take a class together, try new restaurants, or go to events you may not otherwise attend. It might include going on that bucket list vacation or buying season tickets to the theater or a sporting event. We tend to be creatures of habit, so overcoming autopilot and being open to adventure is essential. 

  • Keep communicating. Stay in tune with who your partner is and who they are becoming. We all change over time and may develop new preferences or have new goals, dreams, and plans. Turn the TV off and put your phone in another room regularly so you can connect. Have check-in conversations at least weekly to discuss upcoming plans, expectations, and schedules to keep you on the same page.

  • Avoid affection deprivation. Stay in touch. As we grow older, it is common for couples to experience relationship ruts, and many tend to demonstrate less physical affection. Research continues to show the power of touch. Whether you are holding hands, hugging, giving gentle pats, or sitting next to each other while watching a movie, an electrical connection occurs, and chemicals of love and attachment are released. This, in turn, can draw you closer together and help relieve stress. Affection can also be shown through surprises, gifts, saying I love you, and random acts of service.

  • Balance time together and time apart. When children move out of the house, couples often have more time on their hands. While trying new things together is important, time apart can also benefit your relationship. Have lunch with a friend, neighbor, or sibling. Spend an afternoon or evening with friends playing a sport or participating in a club. These activities can be invigorating and interesting, causing the positivity and happiness to spill over into your relationship at home. In addition, having downtime doing something you enjoy can be refreshing and provide a boost to you, which, in turn, boosts your relationship.

Teaching Children to Clean: Lessons Learned from a Mom

You may be familiar with the “Telephone Game” where the first player will whisper a statement in the second player’s ear and down the line it goes until the last player says, out loud, the statement and everyone laughs because, while it may have a shadow of the original statement, it isn’t close to it.  Well, here is my “telephone game” version of cleaning.  Years ago, I attended a seminar on organization.  Afterwards I overheard a friend who mention the words “FlyLady method and 15 minutes.  Much like the telephone game, I took the what I “heard” my friend say and started using the ideas in my own home.  Following is my “telephone game” version of cleaning and it only takes 15 minutes a day.                   

  • Start when your children are young. You can start by asking very young children to pick up a toy and hand it to you for you to put away.  Small children love to be involved, so make a game of it. 
  • Pre-school through grade 2. Instead of telling them, “Go clean your room”, go with them and help them clean their room.  I found out early, as a mom, if I gave each child a verbal list of what to do it didn’t happen.  The child enters their room where multiple toys and dirty clothes are strewn about resulting in it being overwhelming to them and they won’t know where to start, so they don’t.  They sit down amongst the clutter and play or shove it all under the bed. This is where a little positive parental time will provide big dividends.  You join the child cleaning, sit by the toy box and have the child pick up and bring the toys to you, then move to the next item, say, dirty clothes.  Tackle each category individually.  Soon the room is clean and as long as no yelling occurred, everyone is happy and feels accomplished.
  • Now for the rest of the house and ages. Make a list of what you would like cleaned in each room of your house.  For example, you may select the living room and determine you would like the floor vacuumed, furniture and lamps dusted, baseboards cleaned, and cobwebs removed. Create a cleaning wish list for each room that can be checked off, drawn out of a hat, or visually referenced.
  • Assign one or two rooms (depending on the size of the room), each day, to be cleaned (Monday-Livingroom, Tuesday-Kitchen…you get the idea). I divided the rooms in my home to clean during the week in order to have the weekend free.  Gather all family members and let each person select items from your cleaning wish list to clean in the room of the day. 

There are things that won’t be cleaned every week but, at least once a month everything in each room will be cleaned.  This was life changing for my family.  Yes, my children grumbled about cleaning at first but once they realized I was serious that it would only take 15 minutes they became willing participants. 


Cilley, M. 2002. Sink Reflections, Bantam Books.

Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting for a Healthy 2023

With many illnesses circulating, including the common cold, flu, RSV, hand-foot-mouth disease, and the COVID virus, the new year is an excellent time to reevaluate hygiene habits. How often do you clean and disinfect items used daily, such as electronics or water bottles? Did you know there is a difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting?

  • Cleaning – Regular cleaning will remove most germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces. Use water and soap to reduce the risk of infection from surfaces in your home. Experts recommend cleaning first before sanitizing or disinfecting since dirt and other impurities may make it more difficult for chemicals to kill germs. Areas of focus include high-touch surfaces such as light switches, electronics, doorknobs, countertops, etc.

  • Sanitizing – Sanitizing reduces the remaining germs on surfaces after cleaning and can be done with a weak bleach solution or commercial sanitizing spray. For nonporous objects, sanitize by boiling, steaming, or using a diluted bleach solution. Depending on the item, you may be able to put it in the dishwasher on a sanitizing cycle. 

  • Disinfecting – Disinfecting kills most bacteria and viruses that remain on surfaces after cleaning and sanitizing. By disinfecting after cleaning, you can significantly lower the risk of spreading disease. According to the CDC, it is not necessary to sanitize or disinfect daily unless someone in your home is sick or someone who was recently ill visited. To disinfect, use an EPA-registered disinfecting product or a stronger bleach solution. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds immediately after using disinfectants.

Consider these cleaning tips for regularly used items.

Electronics – Many of us use our phones, tablets, touch screens, remote controls, and other devices dozens of times a day. And while the best way to keep germs from spreading is to wash our hands frequently, we can also reduce the risk of infection by regularly cleaning the items we use. The CDC suggests following the manufacturer’s instructions and recommendations for cleaning electronic devices, but general tips include putting a wipeable cover on devices to make cleaning and disinfecting easier and using a slightly damp, lint-free cloth. Do not spray anything directly on the device, and keep liquids or moisture away from openings.

Water bottles – Experts recommend washing and sanitizing bottles after each use to keep them clean and not sharing a water bottle with someone who has cold-like symptoms. If your bottle is dishwasher safe, you can clean and disinfect it there. If it is not, Michigan State University Extension suggests you wash the bottle in hot water with a teaspoon of unscented dish soap each day to reduce the risk of illness from bacterial growth. Soak the bottle in soapy water for a few minutes, rinse it with warm water, and let it completely dry before the next use. Avoid leaving water in your water bottle for long periods. 

And don’t forget the health precautions we learned during COVID. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available. Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough. Avoid close contact with people who are sick, and avoid sharing personal items with them. Stay up-to-date on immunizations, and stay home when you do not feel well.


How to Keep Your Water Bottle Germ-Free. Retrieved from https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/how_to_keep_your_water_bottle_germ_free 

When and How to Clean and Disinfect Your Home. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hygiene/cleaning/cleaning-your-home.html

How to Sanitize Your Phone and Other Devices. Retrieved from https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/how-sanitize-your-phone-and-other-devices#:~:text=Our%20mobile%20phones%20connect%20us,day%20as%20a%20preventative%20measure

By: Emma Parkhurst, USU Extension assistant professor, health and wellness

Emma.Parkhurst@usu.edu, (435) 919-1334

Relationship Resolutions for the New Year

As the year draws to a close, many people reflect on the previous year and anticipate the year ahead. Now is the perfect time to make “relationship resolutions” to become a better spouse or partner.

Consider these tips to become better together in 2023:

  • Commit to more fun and adventure. After years together, it is common for couples to fall into relationship ruts and routines. To counter this, intentionally plan to do things together. Consider a getaway after the holidays, or set dates on the calendar to go out or stay home doing something fun together. Plan an event or activity to look forward to this coming year.
  • Commit to more connection. Life gets busy, and we tend to become more critical when we get comfortable and casual. To stay connected, commit to minimizing distractions. A great place to start is to reduce time on your phones. Other ideas include: going to bed at the same time, eating meals together, checking in more frequently throughout the day, expressing appreciation, and doing random acts of kindness to express love and affection.
  • Commit to more understanding and less conflict. All couples disagree. Happy couples find ways to manage differences in healthy ways. It may be leaving a few hurtful words left unsaid, being less reactive and more responsive, or working to monitor your temper, tongue, or tone. Happy couples are also more likely to drop grudges, be grateful, and be quick to forgive.
  • Commit to complete financial fidelity. In today’s world of online bank accounts, Venmo, and PayPal, it can be tempting to make secretive purchases without your partner knowing. But “sly buys” can break trust and create resentment. Perhaps you could consider combining bank accounts if necessary or coming clean about credit cards. Commit to sitting down together at least once a month to review finances, reconcile accounts, and budget for purchases. When you both know where your money goes, it can create a feeling of peace and openness to more connection. 

As you look at making personal improvements in the year ahead, consider making relationship improvements as well. Commit to connect. Plan to be more playful. Think to thank. Give your time and attention to making your marriage a priority. It is worth the effort!

By: David Schramm, Utah State University Extension family life specialist, David.Schramm@usu.edu, 435-797-8183

Helping Your Child Adapt to Changes

The past few years have been full of change, adjustment, and relearning. While we are all learning to navigate these changes in addition to other normal life challenges, parents also have the added responsibility to help their children. Consider these tips on how to help your child successfully navigate changes.

  1. Be open and honest. Children look to caring adults for advice and guidance. Talk about potential changes and what they can expect. Be as open as possible with them about your thoughts and feelings, while also being sensitive to what they can understand developmentally. Acknowledge their fears and answer their questions the best that you can.
  2. Help children explore their feelings about change. Encourage children to use writing, drawing or other creative methods to explore their feelings about changes.
  3. Involve children in decisions about change. While they may not be able to control changes they are experiencing, including them in decisions can help them feel more in control.
  4. Keep their routine as normal as possible. Children need stability and structure. Daily, predictable routines can provide comfort, stability, and dependability to children, especially during times of change.
  5. Put yourself in their shoes. When compared to adults, children have limited experiences. Some things that are very important to them may seem insignificant to adults that have more experience and perspective. Make an effort to see situations from your child’s perspective and respond with empathy.
  6. Get support. Work together with teachers and child care providers to support children through big changes. When needed, seek professional help for support.

Change is inevitable and will happen to everyone. By following these tips, you can know you are doing what you can to support youth in adapting to changes successfully.

Additional resources:

Signs of distress in children and how to help them reduce stress and support their well-being: https://www.unicef.org/parenting/child-care/how-to-recognize-signs-of-distress

Teaching children positive coping skills:  https://www.easternflorida.edu/community-resources/child-development-centers/parent-resource-library/documents/positive-coping-skills-during-life-changes.pdf


Dalton, L., Rapa, E., & Stein, A. (2020) Protecting the psychological health of children through effective communication about COVID-19. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, 4(5), 346-347. https://www.thelancet.com/action/showPdf?pii=S2352-4642%2820%2930097-3

Stephens, K. (2007). Ways to teach children positive coping skills during life changes. Parenting Exchange. https://www.easternflorida.edu/community-resources/child-development-centers/parent-resource-library/documents/positive-coping-skills-during-life-changes.pdf

Unicef. (n.d.) How to recognize signs of distress in children. https://www.unicef.org/parenting/child-care/how-to-recognize-signs-of-distress

By Naomi Brower, Extension Professor and AJ Evans, USU Extension Intern

Working Through Religious Differences in Marriage

Disagreements with someone you love can be challenging. The conversations can be uncomfortable, especially about firmly held beliefs. Differences in religious beliefs or spirituality can even become a source of pain and discontent if not addressed in a respectful and accepting manner. 

According to the Pew Research Center, the religious landscape of the United States is rapidly changing. With adults who identify as non-affiliated, atheist, or agnostic increasing yearly, changes and differences in religiosity and spirituality have the potential to negatively impact relationships. This is further complicated because these things affect more than Sunday worship, including decisions on parenting, finances, and friendships. Even couples practicing the same religion may not agree on religious or spiritual practices, including how often to attend church service or engage in church activities. It is important for couples to recognize the pitfalls and potential for hurt when engaging in a mixed faith relationship or when one partner’s beliefs change, no longer aligning with their spouse’s beliefs. 

In spite of the challenges that come from significantly different beliefs, there are many mixed-faith marriages and relationships that thrive.

Consider these tips from John Gottman, psychologist, author, and relationship expert, to help navigate religious differences in intimate relationships. 

1. Explore your own relationship with your faith.
There is a difference between identifying with a religion or spiritual practice and engaging in that faith. Explore your religious or spiritual identity and what that means to you. It is necessary to understand your own faith identity in order to navigate the differences with your partner. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Did you grow up in a religious or spiritual household? If so, what was practiced? What was your experience like?
  • What brings you peace? What helps you get through hard times?
  • Which aspects of your religious or spiritual beliefs do you hold onto tightly?
  • Which aspects do you feel more flexible about?

2. Acknowledge the differences and what they will mean for your life together.
Avoidance is not a sustainable option. It is important to identify the differences that may affect you so you can plan together on how to best manage them as a couple. According to Gottman, 69% of problems in relationships are perpetual, meaning they are not solvable. While that number sounds high, it is reassuring to know that this is normal and includes happily functioning couples. Instead of trying to change the other person’s mind or beliefs, approach these conversations with curiosity and interest, try to understand your partner’s point of view, and realize that this is an opportunity to increase your love for them.

The way you start a conversation can predict how the rest of the conversation will go or be perceived. Be intentional in your tone of voice and the words you use to initiate a conversation. Using soft start-up techniques such as “I messages” and positive statements to start conversations allows your partner to better receive and understand what you are saying.

3. Share stories
Sharing stories is a great way for you and your partner to get to know each other better. Share about your cultural and religious experiences in a way that is not threatening and invites understanding.
4. Participate before negotiating. 
It’s important to show genuine interest and curiosity in your partner’s beliefs and practices. Go with them to their religious events and services. This is not a promise to leave your own beliefs and convert, but it is a powerful way to communicate that you value them and are embracing who they are. 
5.  Make Repairs. 
Mistakes are inevitable. Don’t beat yourself up, just apologize and move forward. Well-used humor (not sarcasm) can help ease tense moments. The main goal of making a repair is to determine what when wrong (without blaming) and resume being on the same team to address an issue instead of treating each other as the issue that needs to be fixed.
6. Consider therapy.
Talking about faith is deeply personal and can be hard, despite our best efforts. Some differences might seem impossible to overcome. Seeking the help of a professional can provide relief. Find a therapist who specializes in helping interfaith couples.
It is unlikely that you will change someone else’s views, feelings, or beliefs on the topic of religion or spirituality, but you can practice respecting each other’s beliefs and purposely refrain from criticizing or attempting to sway them.

Gottman maintains that disagreements provide an opportunity for increased intimacy and connection, and religious differences provide an opportunity for increased respect, understanding, and love.Working Through Religious Differences in Marriage

By: Elizabeth Davis, Utah State University Extension professor, Elizabeth.Davis@usu.edu