Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Dr. Gary Chapman's book, "The Family You’ve Always Wanted: Five Ways You Can Make it Happen," (Northfield Publishing, 2008).  

If the family life you have now doesn’t look like the healthy, nurturing family you’ve always wanted, don’t despair. It’s possible to create a better family, no matter what your background or current circumstances.

Here’s how you can build the family you’ve always wanted:

1. Develop a heart for service. So much work needs to be done in a family – from household chores like laundry, dishes, and paying bills to errands like grocery shopping and taking cars for oil changes. Make sure that every family member pitches in to help with a fair share of the work. Assign age-appropriate tasks to each of your children. Even very young children can help set the table for meals; older kids can do a wide range of chores like mowing the lawn or organizing closets.

If your family learns to serve each other, you’ll learn to serve others outside your family, too. Such service pleases God and enlarges your hearts. Model service to your children by letting them see you engaged in service projects that make a positive difference in other people’s lives. Give them opportunities to serve alongside you whenever possible. Affirm your children when they complete the work you’ve assigned them to do; your words will encourage them to keep serving.

2. Start relating intimately to your spouse. If an emotional wall has developed between you and your spouse, break it down by regularly acknowledging your failures, asking your spouse to forgive you, and forgiving your spouse whenever he or she hurts or offends you. Communicate well with each other, sharing your thoughts and feelings openly and honestly and listening carefully to what your spouse has to say.

Move beyond simply sharing information (such as when you plan to pick up a child or what you’d like to eat for dinner) and start sharing your deep desires and frustrations with each other. Develop intellectual intimacy by telling your thoughts, develop emotional intimacy by discussing your feelings, develop social intimacy by spending time together and discussing the time you’ve spent apart, develop spiritual intimacy by opening your souls to each other, and develop physical intimacy by sharing your bodies through sex.

3. Guide your children well. Keep in mind when training your children that they must feel loved in order for your training to work. If they feel loved by you, even poor attempts at training can produce good results. Discover each of your children’s love languages – how you can express love to them in ways they’ll best understand. The main love languages are:

  • Words of affirmation,
  • Quality time,
  • Physical touch, receiving gifts, and
  • Acts of service.

 

Look for clues to your children’s love languages in how they express love to you, what they request of you most often, and what they complain about most often.

Make time to teach your kids creatively throughout every part of life you experience together. Pray with your kids often. Engage in conversations with them regularly, in which you discuss their thoughts and feelings and show a genuine interest in their lives. Encourage your children to take risks as God leads them and to learn from both their successes and failures. Speak encouraging words to your children often and write them encouraging notes or send them encouraging texts messages or e-mails.