The Science of Marriage & Partnership

Couple talking

Especially when you have young children and you are building relationships within the family as a whole, it’s easy to forget the relationship that got you there: your relationship with your spouse.

Today is my 20th wedding anniversary. That’s a big deal! It doesn’t seem like it could possibly be that long, but here we are. My husband and I are taking the opportunity to go away alone together for the first time since we had children. I certainly don’t recommend that you wait that long, but we just didn’t have the family backup or the desire to leave them—until now.

We are also asking together what has worked so far and what might improve our relationshihp. When we were about to get married, a friend of mine who had recently been married suggested that we go through a workbook she used with her new husband, just to clarify our expectations to one another. I’m not sure whether it helped, but we had fun doing it. We decided it would be fun to get another workbook and check in on our expectations again.

What Helps a Marriage?

I’ve been sharing videos from the Berkeley Greater Good Science Center from a class I took recently on The Science of Happiness. I found the 13.5-minute video on marriage so helpful that I want to share the whole video with you.

Especially if you are still early in your marriage, taking steps to protect your relationship can help you find happiness together.

What doesn’t work? In the video we learn that researchers (John Gottman & Robert Levenson 2002) studied 75 couples early in their relationships. They asked the couples to sit down to have a 10-minute conversation. Then, they followed these couples for 14 years (now 26 years). They found that four specific behaviors predicted a couple will divorce within a decade.

  • Contempt – Look down on your partner.
  • Criticism – Find fault first.
  • Stonewalling – Shut down a conversation, common in the men in the study.
  • Defensive Counterpunch – Follow criticism with counter criticism.

What works? Inspired by this work, scientists looked for traits that predict happier couples and happier families. A few of the traits of happier couples are:

  • Humor – De-escalate tension.
  • Gratitude – Express appreciation, including in writing.
  • Forgiveness – Let go of grudges.
  • Disclosure – Open to hearing emotions of the other.

Consciously choosing the open communication techniques can help you. Watch the Greater Good Science Center video ”Relationships, Marriage, and Happiness” for more about what works and what doesn’t.

Attachment Marriage

After investigating the workbooks and marriage resources I could use with my husband, I found Dr. Sue Johnson. Her Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT) is based on the same science of attachment theory as attachment parenting. I watched video after video of her speaking about what works for couples, I knew I had found a place to start.

EFT is “[t]he most successful approach to creating loving relationships, endorsed by the American Psychological Association as scientifically proven.” You know I look at the studies. Other therapies have been found to be 35% effective but “Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, developed by Dr. Sue Johnson, has achieved an astounding 75 percent success rate.” Granted, this is from the dust jacket of her book Hold Me Tight, but I was sold at attachment theory.

My husband and I are reading together Dr Johnson’s Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love (2008).

In the mindfulness posts over the past couple of months, I’ve tried to make the point that stopping and noticing, acting in a mindful way in our families and in the rest of our lives, helps us to face and embrace what we have.

To apply that thinking to marriage, I picked up another book: Marcia Naomi Berger’s Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted (2014). A simple time investment following a few simple rules (including basic nonviolent communication) can bring you both to a place of awareness and common understanding.

I’m not far enough through either book to offer a review yet, but I will share what I find.

In the meantime, I will be celebrating twenty years with the kindest person I know, my husband Marc.

Image © Rocketclips | - Sweet African Couple Relaxing On Floor Talking Photo

Give the Gift of Togetherness

Playing board games with grandfather

We’ve been conditioned to think of gifts as things, material things that can be wrapped up and tied with a bow. What if gifts mean a little bit more?

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” ~Dr. Suess, How the Grinch Stole Christmas
(Since my family just watched this last night, and we’ve been quoting it to one another today.)

If we think bigger about what we need and want, about gifts that would really enrich our lives, we need time together. It’s tough to pull together a whole family from their busy lives, especially when one member of the family is gone 12 hours a day.

So, we guard our time together and we give one another the gift of togetherness.

My two teenagers don’t share all of the same interests, but they each agree to share time doing the other’s favorite activities so they can spend that time together. I sit with each of my children separately, and we read books to one another. My son has had an ongoing game group for a couple of years. Both of them play board games with friends.

And, when my husband is finally home, we play games together as a family. We have drawers and closets full of games, but we tend to come back to the same board games and card games over and over. It isn’t the games themselves that we are seeking, though.

We talk. We laugh. We bend and break the rules we don’t like. We help one another. We are ourselves together.

I’ve found that there are games families and non-games families. When we find game families, we show up at their houses with our games, and we blend. That’s what we have planned for New Year’s Eve.

Does it matter to you that playing board games increases attention and listening skills, enhances vocabulary, encourages higher thinking, or teaches good sportsmanship? (This list is from the work of Dr. Sylvia Rimm.) I hope it does. Even when the games you play aren’t played well and fairly, playing together can create lifetime bonds.

Set the habit of family game night now to get the positive ripple effect. You will get to know your children better. Your children will get to know you better. You’ll bond. You’ll engage in the very process of creating your family.

We carry a big collection of cooperative games and puzzles for a big range of ages. Stop by the store to be pick up puzzles, board games, and card games for the family for the holidays. Giving and playing games is one way to give the gift of togetherness. Sure, it’s a thing to wrap, but the point is a lot deeper. The point is the commitment to actually play the game together regularly.


Dr. Sylvia Rimm, PhD, “Families that Play Together, Stay Together,”

Ellie Gibson, “Board games don’t just bring us together – they remind us how to play,” The Guardian, 24 November 2014.

“Every Kid Needs Puzzles & Games,” EcoBabySteps, 11 December 2012. Highlights of a few of the games and puzzles we carry at

“Teaching Children about Herbs for Health,” EcoBabySteps, 28 May 2011. About one of my family games for families: Wildcraft!

“Finding Life Balance: Family Time,” EcoBabySteps, 29 May 2012. About the real need to create the family you want, since it won’t just appear automatically.

Image ©  |

Are You the Happy Parent?

Happy father with daughter

It turns out, what we bring to parenting impacts our happiness in parenting. That may not be a surprise result of psychological research, but grasping the idea can make a difference in your approach to your job as parent.

As my children are older, I’m honest with them about how difficult parenting can be. I don’t want them to have unrealistic expectations, if they decide to be parents, but I also don’t want them to block all desire to be parents. It’s a hard job—and the hard job is worth it. My 14-year old son is less likely to just accept such talk now, so I decided to dig into the research to figure out if I could tell him how the ideas of “hard job” and “worth it” could go together.

The research turns out to be fascinating—and not at all simple.

I’ve been writing about paths toward happiness with our children over the past month: cultivating compassion, grateful kids, and teaching mindfulness for self control. All of that addresses helping our children to ground their own happiness, though. What about your happiness as a parent?

A study published earlier this year asked “when, why, and how is parenthood associated with more or less well-being?” Studies that ask a simple question of “Are parents more or less happy than non-parents” contradict one another. This study (Nelson et al.) reviewed studies to ask the more nuanced question. Their review finds a complex relationship between parenting and happiness.

“We propose that parents are unhappy to the extent that they encounter relatively greater negative emotions, magnified financial problems, more sleep disturbance, and troubled marriages. By contrast, when parents experience greater meaning in life, satisfaction of their basic needs, greater positive emotions, and enhanced social roles, they are met with happiness and joy” (Nelson et al.).

What the parent brings to parenting can make the difference. The Berkeley Greater Good Science Center broke down the links to happiness, as outlined in the study, in age, gender, parenting style, and emotional bonds. Though there are still questions to be asked in more research, it is quite clear from long research that attachment leads to secure adults. If we are the parents are not secure in our attachments, though,

For us, that could mean that

“parents who do not feel secure in relationships seem to be more susceptible to declines in their relationship with their spouse during the transition to parenthood” (Nauman).

The review study (Nelson) looked at that transition to parenthood as a particularly important time. That is the phase many of our customers are going through as they meet us to talk about baby stuff, but we always understand that their underlying needs are much bigger than a cloth diaper or a pair of socks. We try to address the immediate needs as well as the deeper needs.

If you are interested in a review of the review, I suggest you read the full article at the Greater Good Science Center for an outline of factors in well-being and characteristics of those parents found to have greater well-being.

The conclusion may seem obvious that parents who know what they are getting into are more likely to find happiness in their parenting.

It’s important to know, as well, that

“happy parents often mean happy kids: Research has shown that happier parents engage in more positive parental behaviors and also influences positive outcomes in their children, like their child’s motivation, achievement, and relationships with peers.” (Nauman)

It’s worth finding your happiness in parenting. It does matter for the happiness of your children.


S. Katherine Nelson, Kostadin Kushlev, Sonja Lyubomirsky, “The pains and pleasures of parenting: When, why, and how is parenthood associated with more or less well-being?” Psychological Bulletin, Vol 140(3), May 2014, 846-895.

Emily Nauman, “What Makes a Happy Parent?” August 19, 2014.

Image © Szefei | - Happy Father Photo

Wool Slippers: DIY or Buy

Padraig wool slippers


Three weeks. That’s plenty of time to crochet a pair of wool slippers for a family member. Pick up the hook and start now!

Every year, no matter what else changes, we give slippers as a holiday gift. I try to make them different each year. I have piles and piles of leftover wool, so I have my eyes on making simple wool slippers this year.

Do-it-yourself, but Start Now!

Your local yarn store can help you find the wool yarn and the wool slippers pattern. A lot of local yarn shops will not only sell you the yarn and the hook to crochet or needles to knit but teach you how to use them. Many have open times when you can just drop by and sit around knitting and crocheting, asking others for pointers along the way. It’s a busy season, and you will have a great time sharing your last-minute making with others.

Just to get you started, I poked around for a quick pattern and found a super simple pattern on for felted, crocheted slippers (Norwegian house slippers). I like this pattern because she explains why she made the choices she did, then she gives you a lot of links and videos to figure out what will work for you. No one-size-fits-all pattern here. If you can make squares then sew the squares together into wool origami, you can make these slippers in a few evenings plus a couple of wash loads to felt them.

Two weeks—no problem.

If you are a knitter, dig into the pattern at to find the knit version of the pattern that she used.

OK. Get moving. Pick up your yarn now.

Quick, I Just Want to Order Wool Slippers

Kids wool slippers by Padraig

Not interested, no time, don’t know how to knit or crochet? We’ve got you covered. At we sell the Original Padraig crocheted wool slippers, handmade in Canada since 1977. Every pair is slightly different.


We carry a big variety of colors in all sizes from newborn and baby slippers to youth and adult sizes. Drop by to pick out just the right pairs for your family members, or order wool slippers online at

Padraig wool slippers

Teaching Children Mindfulness for Self Control

Mindfulness for Children

Have you wondered how to teach your child those inner skills that will make life a lot easier—skills like controlling one’s own responses to outside stimuli. Research shows that yoga and mindfulness for children helps them gain that self-awareness they need to control their own behavior.

Delayed Gratification Studies with Children

My father studied psychology in college. He didn’t live long enough to experiment on me, but I have heard funny stories from my older cousins about tests they remember.

My dad was on the young end of his family. He hung out often with his siblings and their families of young children. He was a favorite because he really talked to the kids. He interacted with them. He was genuinely curious how they worked.

One of my cousins told me a few years ago about the time that my dad gave him a candy bar when he visited. My cousin was about 8 years old at the time. There was no catch. He could eat the candy bar right then if he wanted. There was a potential bonus, though. If he could wait to eat it until my dad came back again, he would get two candy bars he could eat right then.

“Did you wait?” I asked him.

“Of course,” he said.

He said my dad taught him self control with that one test.

Could it really be that simple?

The test most commonly referred to when discussing delayed gratification in children is the Stanford Marshmallow Test, but that didn’t occur until the late 1960s and early 1970s. My dad was conducting his test about 1961, so it was probably based on tests published in the late 1950s, since he had died before the Standford tests. Just based on the detail of my cousin’s story and the similarity to the marshmallow and earlier tests, it sounds like there might have been a lot of poking around looking for the origins of self control.

The Stanford tests followed the children to learn that those who resisted the marshmallows had better academic achievement and fewer behaviors considered problematic to parents and schools.

How Can We Help Our Children?

Back to today and our gentle parenting of our own children, how can we teach them self control? If our children are those who eat the marshmallow right away, what can we do to help them?

That is the question asked in an article at the Greater Good Science Center: “What can we do to help the children who just can’t resist the marshmallows?” The answer was published last year in the Journal of Child and Family Studies: “Enhancing Preschoolers’ Self-regulation Via Mindful Yoga” (October 2013).

Teaching the children awareness in the moment resulted in less impulsive behavior and longer attention for classroom activities (compared to students who didn’t participate in the yoga and mindfulness program). Those who experienced the biggest change had started out with the weakest skills in self-regulation. There were no differences at home between the two groups, though.

We can see that self-awareness and consciousness in the moment can help a child to regulate behavior. It won’t work the same for every child, but it can help a child develop skills for dealing calmly with the difficulties they meet.

To help your child learn self control, cultivate self awareness, mindfulness. Talk about this self awareness to keep the practice in consciousness.

To put mindfulness into practice with your children, follow the “Tips for Teaching Mindfulness to Kids” from the Great Good Science Center.

Loving-kindness Meditation for Compassionate Kids

Image © Alvera | - Little Child Relaxing On Beach Photo