Q: It seems like dinner is about the only time that our whole family is in one place at the same time. How can we get the most out of our family meal times?

Jim: Meals are ideal times for socializing, conversation and celebration. They can and should be an occasion for sharing the day’s events, decompressing, commiserating and encouraging one another. It’s a time to laugh, learn how to speak and listen politely, establish one’s identity as a member of the family and even welcome guests.

Realistically, this is an art, not a science. The key is to strike the proper balance; i.e., don’t adopt such a rigidly “intentional” approach that you squelch spontaneity. You can use games, stories, questions, books, articles and jokes to get some productive table talk going. Try going around the table and asking each family member to share a personal goal. This can also be a good time to talk about healthy eating habits that can last a lifetime. The possibilities are almost endless.

Ideally, the family table should be characterized by warmth, respect, safety and mutual support. It should be a place where everybody is genuinely interested in what everybody else has to say. That starts with Mom and Dad. If no one seems to have much to say, try stirring the pot with a few open-ended questions, such as, “What was the highlight of your day?” or “What didn’t go well today?”

Whatever you do, I would strongly suggest that televisions and phones be turned off before the family gathers. Your physical presence around the table won’t accomplish anything if your minds are somewhere else. This is a time to talk to one another unhindered by electronic distractions. The whole point is to connect in meaningful ways and to know one another better.

Q: As newlyweds, what can my spouse and I do to ensure that our marriage will last a lifetime?

Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: To begin with, believe that it’s possible. A growing number of people today have such bad attitudes about marriage that they go into it — if they get married at all — expecting the worst. This is tragic, because fears and negative expectations have a way of becoming self-fulfilling.

So set your hearts and minds in a positive direction. If you do, I’m confident that your marriage can beat the odds of today’s sorry statistics. After all, many psychologists believe that the greatest predictor of a lasting marriage is a commitment to marriage itself.

You can maintain that attitude by remembering that marriage is a relationship, not a possession. Yes, we do say “my wife” and “my husband,” but that’s simply a way of setting boundaries for others outside your marriage to recognize and respect. It’s all yours — to protect and nourish. Look at your marriage as one of the longest relationships you’ll ever experience on purpose, and you’ll be well on your way to reaching the goal.

It’s also important to keep your faith strong and vibrant. The deeper your relationship with God, the more motivation you’ll have to love and cherish one another. Faith produces gracious attitudes and kindly behavior. A good sense of humor doesn’t hurt either.

Focus on the Family offers a wealth of information and resources to help you on the journey. See our website (focusonthefamily.com) or give us a call us at 1-800-A-FAMILY (1-800-232-6459).

Again, husbands and wives who have made a journey of many years together know that theirs is a marriage of more than mere pleasure or convenience; it’s a commitment in which divorce has never been considered an option. I wish you all the best.

Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.