Thoughts on “Being Present”

Recently Laura and I have been talking with a couple friends about “Being Present.”  Here are few summary questions: (Thanks P & K!)

  • Do I have mindfulness + willfulness?  Or do my actions reveal a lack conscious submission to what is important? 
  • Am I aware that I can influence the outcome of this situation I am in?  Or am I just a product of my circumstances?
  • Do I have that “Burning Yes” in my spirit, a deep sense of commitment and purpose?  Or am I just busy staying busy?
  • Am I giving attention and thoughtfulness to the present details of life?  Or am I too focused on the future or the next big thing?
  • Am I careful about that which enters my mind?  Or do my present words and actions reveal an careless and unfiltered life?


Had a good talk with a couple friends recently about marriage, personalities, values, and differences.  Someone once told me that we often have a process in dealing with our differences in marriage or relationships.  Ignore, Reject, Accept, Celebrate.  At first we tend to ignore our differences.  When we can’t ignore the differences, we consciously reject them.  Eventually we come to accept these differences (they are not necessarily better or worse…they are just different).  And finally, we are able to celebrate these differences, embracing and cultivating them and allowing them to flourish.

the ratio

This has been a good week.  Last Friday three friends from the US came and babysat the boys while Laura and I went to Lake Balaton for the night.  We had a blast!  (Thanks Liz, Katherine, and Kami!) It was a really great time of relaxing and talking by the lake.  It has been a year since we’ve had the chance to get away like that.  What in the world? 

This getaway prompted us to think about marriage this week.  It’s easy to let our home-life revolve around the kids and around parenting.  Life keeps moving and it is also easy to neglect or overlook the importance of our marriage.  I’ve said it before, but it is easy to let marriage slip into “cruise-control.” 

Today I spent some time with a friend thinking about what makes for a healthy marriage.  John Gottman has a fantastic book entitled “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail” which sheds some unusual light upon this subject.  Gottman writes, “…happiness isn’t found in a particular style of fighting or making up.  Rather, our research suggests that what really seperates contented couples from those in deep marital misery is a healthy balance between their positive and negative feelings and actions toward each other.”

In fact, after studying 2000 married couples, Gottman found a very specific ratio for healthy, lasting marriages.  That magic ratio is 5 to 1… long as there is five times as much positive feeling and interaction between husband and wife as there is negative, we found the marriage is likely to be stable.”  He continues to say that based upon this ratio he is able to predict, with a high degree of accuracy, whether or not a marriage will endure.

Well finally, we have a mathematical formula to solve the problem of marriage!  🙂  Actually it makes a lot of sense, and this is why “cruise-control” is so dangerous for marriages. 

Now my friend had a good point today.  He said, “This seems a little artificial.  I can imagine a wife becoming overwhelmed or irritated as the husband is attempting to throw so many positive things her way and keeping track of his “ratio” all the while.”  Yep.  Great point.  Laura never likes it when I pull out my “ratio” chart.  🙂  Just kidding.  I really don’t have a “ratio” chart.  But this raises the question of authenticity and how marriages change for the better.

For me, even an akward, somewhat forced positive gesture comes from an authentic desire to grow and improve.  With time and practice these akward and seemingly inauthentic acts can become genuine expressions of the heart.  We’re talking about the heart afterall.

So we’re having a great time nurturing our marriage this week, learning and re-learning, and accentuating the positive.


A friend once told me, “don’t put your marriage on auto-pilot.” It’s easy to do. When you’re driving for hours in a car, it is so much easier to put it on cruise-control. And in marriage, it’s easy to stop being intentional, to stop investing in the relationship, and to let time just pass by.

We have a lot to learn, and I think Laura and I are still discovering new ways to invest in our marriage. I feel like we’re getting relationally richer all the time. Tomorrow is a Hungarian holiday, and we’re going on a date! I think we’ll go into the city, find a cool coffee shop, play some cards, and talk. I can’t wait!

Strong Families

What makes a family strong? What makes a family work well? What do strong families have in common?

In a 1995 article in Heart and Mind, Carla Dahl wrote some great thoughts related to this. There are no perfect families, but there seem to be some common characteristics of strong, thriving, and well connected families. The following are some modified quotes from Carla Dahl.

1) Strong Communication skills: Healthy families talk to one another clearly, directly and openly–especially about troublesome or hurtful issues and about values and guidelines for decisions members must make. Two integral components of good communication are our ability to be truthful about ourselves, and our ability to listen to one another without making premature assumptions.

2) Commitment to one another and to the family: In a healthy family, individuals are able and willing to balance personal preferences with family well-being, individual growth with family growth, independence with interdependence.

3) Ability to manage stress: Strong families are able to draw upon resources (faith, friends, time, information, money) at their disposal and articulate a shared, realistic perception of stresses. Through this shared process, stresses become meaningful and manageable.

4) Spiritual well-being: Many strong families take time to cultivate their values, identity, and beliefs, and to blend these core realities with their world.

5) Appreciation and affection: Strong families value and respect the unique contributions each member brings, and they are able to express that appropriately.

6) Time together: Time must be the arena in which the five other strengths are lived out. Healthy families use time to laugh, play, be spontaneous, and celebrate. This is quantity and quality.


Two friends of ours just arrived to Budapest from Virginia. In their luggage, they managed to pack some books for us!! Here’s three of them:

“Why Marriages Succeed or Fail” This is a book I’ve heard a lot about. John Gottman spent 20 years researching and studying 2000 married couples, trying to understand what makes marriage succeed. Apparently, he is renowned for his ability to predict (within 94% accuracy) which people will stay married and which will divorce. Here’s some statements from the book cover: “More sex doesn’t necessarily improve a marriage. Frequent arguing will not lead to divorce. Financial problems do not always spell trouble in a relationship. Wives who make sour facial expressions when their husbands talk are likely to be seperated within four years. There is a reason husbands withdraw from arguments–and there’s a way around it.” This will be an interesting read!

“Good to Great”This book by Jim Collins is quite popular in the business world now, and a couple friends are reading it. Their comments have peaked my interest. The subtitle is “Why some companies make the leap…and others don’t.” A couple weeks ago, Kristof showed me his Hungarian version of the book. And that made me even more interested.

“Moral Calculations” Since Péter and I talked about this book months ago, I’ve been hoping to read it. Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of trouble getting a copy of it until now. The subtitle is “Game Theory, Logic, and Human Frailty,” and it’s by Lászlo Mérő. Mérő is a leading Hungarian mathematician, psychologist, and thinker.