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Happy Marriages = Happy Kids!

It's common knowledge that stress in a marital relationship negatively affects children, emotionally, socially and intellectually. What if we proposed that the best thing you could do to help your child succeed was to improve your relationship with your spouse? Would you want to know how?

According to John Medina, author of Brain Rules and professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine as well as the director of Seattle Pacific University's Brain Center for Applied Research, "The emotional stability of the home is the greatest single predictor of academic success. If you want your kid to get into Harvard, go home and love your spouse."

The concept is simple. Stressed out brains don't learn in the same way that calm brains do. Stress damages virtually every kind of cognition that exists from executive function to memory to immune function.

While the concept "love your spouse and relax" sounds straightforward, it can be a difficult mandate to put into action. Couples we have worked with over the years tell us how hard it is to actually accomplish. "I'd love to relax, but the stress of work, then soccer practice, followed by homework and housework is too much – at the end of the day all I want to do is fall into bed and sleep and all he wants to do is watch TV or sit in front of his computer and check out … there is no time for us." Or, "I try to talk to her and it just deteriorates into an argument – it's not worth it."

Most couples we work with want to build the type of relationship within which they feel heard, understood and connected, but they just don't know how.

The latest brain research tells us that being in a marriage within which you are not feeling safe enough to share your own emotional truth or are not able to get your needs and wants met will result in the kind of stress that will diminish your cognitive function as well as your child's. It turns out being emotionally literate and engaged with yourself and your partner creates the type of secure base that can lead to successful kids, socially and academically.

A recent study published by Robert Epstein and Shannon Fox, presented at the American Psychological Association, compared the effectiveness of 10 important parenting practices that support this notion. Their study, published in Scientific American Mind, states that the three most important parenting competencies in terms of their influence on children's health, happiness AND school success are as follows:

1) Love and Affection: Parents spend quality one-on-one time with their children as well as showing them physical affection and support and, more importantly, acceptance for who they are.

2) Stress Management: Parents take steps to reduce their stress as well as their children's stress by teaching and practicing relaxation techniques and positive interpretation of events.

3) Relationship Skills: Parents work to maintain healthy relationships with their spouse, co-parent or significant others and model positive communication and relationship skills with others.

Kids from birth to late adolescence feel in their minds and hearts parents who vulnerably love and intimately share with each other. This type of relationship advantages your children across their entire social and academic spectrum.

Cynthia Benge MSW-LMHC is a licensed therapist. Joseph Losi MA-MFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist. They offer Emotionally Focused Therapy in their practice in the Wallingford neighborhood in Seattle. For more information on their work and upcoming couples workshops, including a spring workshop from April 4 to 6 in downtown Seattle, please visit www.holdmetightseattle.com.

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