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 Feel the joy of healthy relationships.

Find relationship resources for teens, couples, parents, co-workers & all combinations.

Who We Are

First Things First (FTF) is a non-profit organization that provides healthy relationship skills through classes, events and multimedia outlets. 

We aim to be a community resource for the Chattanooga area and beyond by providing the most up-to-date research, content and educational experiences to all.

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Classes & Events

First Things First holds a number of events and classes throughout the year on topics ranging from dating to marriage to co-workers and everything in-between. Check back frequently for newly added classes and subscribe to our newsletter.

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Stories

Providing real tools for real relationships means we hear a ton of really amazing stories. Here are a few people who chose to connect with First Things First and feel the joy of healthy relationships.

  • Abby Beck, Bradley County High School, Class of 2018

    - Abby Beck, Bradley County High School, Class of 2018

    "What I liked most about the First Things First class was that I could find myself in the worksheets and activities, especially in the towel activity. I honestly found that I was like really controlling during that activity. I wanted to take over. But, the class helped me understand how to overcome that and work with it, and work with other people.

    The class also taught me to work well with others and still be OK with myself. I can overcome struggles or insecurities that I have with myself and with other people in almost any way, whether it’s physically, mentally or emotionally.

    I believe the class will help me in future relationships because I now know how to overcome problems in a variety of healthy ways, and how to make the smartest choices as I prepare for my future. I know I’m a teenager, but there was so much about relationships that I thought I already knew. Turns out, there’s a lot more to it like communication, dealing with conflict, personality types and healthy relationship habits that I didn’t know before that I know now.

    Thanks, First Things First."

  • Justin Washington, Work Smart, Live Well and OH Baby! Participant

    - Justin Washington, Work Smart, Live Well and OH Baby! Participant

    "I am a HUGE fan of First Things First because when I first moved to Chattanooga in 2014, I had a lot of struggles, but First Things First helped me get on the right track. I attended a Work Smart, Live Well workshop and learned a lot of skills that helped me have confidence and better communication on the job.

    I also gained a deeper knowledge of how your personal life can affect your work life and vice versa. If you’re in toxic relationships with friends or loved ones, they can take a toll on your overall mood, attitude and focus which will inevitably interfere with your motivation and performance on the job.

    Also, when my wife and I found out we were pregnant a few months ago, we realized we needed to work out a few things to keep our marriage prioritized and our careers focused in order to bring our baby into a healthy, thriving home. We went to the First Things First website and signed up for OH, Baby! It was a great date night for us and it was great insight for what to expect when we bring home our first child.

    First Things First gives the community hope. When someone wants to make a change in their life, but they don’t know what they don’t know, First Things First is there to help."

  • Tiffany Cantrell, Teacher at Ridgeland High School

    - Tiffany Cantrell, Teacher at Ridgeland High School

    "I have been an educator at Ridgeland High School for two years and in that short time I have seen tremendous, positive changes in my students as a result of their participation in the First Things First’s healthy relationship skills classes.

    The students of Ridgeland are exposed to a number of wonderful programs in our community but none of those programs reaches our students the way First Things First does.

    My students get so much more out of the classes than healthy relationship skills and helpful tips for being successful after high school. They learn about themselves and gain an appreciation for the unique characteristics that make them who they are. I have seen a huge boost in their confidence and self-esteem, which is evident in both their school and personal lives.

    First Things First has not only helped to foster relationships among classmates, it has brought me closer to my students. I have had special opportunities to get to know each of them on a more personal level which has helped me to more effectively teach them. First Things First has made a huge impact on Ridgeland and the students, and I look forward to their visits each year. I hope that they can continue to develop and offer these beneficial classes for teens for many years to come."

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First Things First Presents a Short Film About the Importance of Family

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    How Not to Hate Your Husband

    Tamara’s second child was six months old when her best friend invited her to read How Not to Hate Your Husband After You Have Kids by Jancee Dunn.

    “I was in the thick of raising two children. Both my husband and I worked full-time jobs and the biggest thing I was struggling with was feeling like I was doing everything," Tamara said. "I was frustrated because I couldn’t figure out how to get my husband to jump in and just do stuff without me having to ask. He was very willing to help, but he just wanted me to tell him what to do.”

    After reading the book, Tamara felt like she was armed with some tangible ways to engage with her husband differently.

    “We actually sat down and divided up chores,” Tamara said. “Clarity around responsibilities was huge for us. He does the dishes and puts them in the dishwasher. I unload the dishwasher. This used to be a huge point of tension for us. I don’t mind letting dishes pile up in the sink and he can’t stand that. Now we’ve got our dance going.”

    They realized that the chore one of them liked the least, the other one didn’t really mind doing. Clarity around who was going to be responsible for doing what removed a lot of frustration from their relationship.

    Another huge takeaway for Tamara was to stop correcting her husband every time he did something.

    “I used to go behind him as he was doing things and either redo them or point out that’s not the correct way to do whatever,” Tamara said. “Like the time he took initiative to sweep our hardwood floors... but his sweeping technique was subpar in my opinion, so I waited until he was finished and then swept after him and took a picture of the huge pile of dirt and hair that he had left behind to show him that if he's going to do something, he needs to do it all the way, not half-heartedly... (I'm not proud of myself.) Talk about creating tension between the two of us. I totally did not stop to think about how it would make him feel. He just basically started backing off because what’s the point in trying to help when the person comes right behind you and does it their way? Letting go of that was big!

    “Probably the most valuable takeaway from this read was understanding that we needed to learn how to actively listen to each other instead of allowing our conversations to get hijacked by our emotions,” Tamara shared. “I think everybody could benefit from learning this.”

    Tamara said she was reminded of her high school anatomy and physiology class discussions about the brain being the center of logic and emotions and the limbic system, more specifically, the amygdala, processes emotions such as fear, anger and the “fight or flight” reflex. The prefrontal cortex controls judgment, logic and thinking.

    Guess what happens when our amygdala is firing on all cylinders? The prefrontal cortex stops working at optimum levels. Stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol rush through our body, causing us to turn into something close to The Incredible Hulk. Our body is physically preparing for “fight or flight” from the perceived threat. This makes us hyper-focused on our goal of survival, which makes it next to impossible to actually understand or even hear what other people are saying. Think of a child’s teeter-totter on the playground with emotions on one side and rational thinking on the other side: When emotions go up, rational thinking goes down.

    “Maybe the biggest takeaway for me from the book was learning how to deal with my anger differently,” Tamara said. “When things went south with us, both of us could ramp up very quickly. Harsh tones and hurtful words resulted in even more tension. The book talked about exactly what is happening in our brains when we are so angry with each other and it said I needed to handle the situation as if I were an FBI hostage negotiator. Say what?”

    What would an FBI hostage negotiator do? They would use the Behavioral Change Stairway Model. It involves five tried-and-true steps to get someone to be able to understand your perspective and change what they’re doing. These steps are:

    1. Active Listening - Listen to their side and let them know they have been heard.
    2. Empathy - You understand where they’re coming from and what they are feeling.
    3. Rapport - What they feel in return from your empathy; they start trusting you.
    4. Influence - Work on problem-solving and come up with an action plan.
    5. Behavioral Change - One or both of you does something different.

    Many couples immediately jump to number four before they do the first three steps which can and usually does sabotage the process of coming to a resolution. Hostage negotiators will tell you, active listening is the most important step in getting someone to calm down. 

    Here are six techniques to actively listen like a boss:

    1. Ask open-ended questions - You want them to open up, so avoid yes/no questions. A good example would be, “You seem upset. Can you help me understand what exactly is bothering you?” If something is bothering you and someone asks this question, seek to avoid responding with, “Nothing is wrong.”
    2. Effective Pause - Try remaining silent at appropriate times for emphasis or to defuse a one-sided emotional conversation (since most angry people are looking for a dialogue.)
    3. Minimal Encouragers - Let them know you’re listening with brief statements like, “Yeah” or “I see.” If you show a lot of emotion in your facial expressions, seek to keep those to a minimum.
    4. Mirroring - Repeat the last word or phrase they said. This shows you are trying to understand them and encourages them to continue. (Note: Don’t overdo it… mirroring could become really annoying, really fast.)
    5. Paraphrasing - Repeat what the other person is saying back to them in your own words. Not only does this show you are truly seeking to understand, it gives them an opportunity to clarify if you don’t quite have the whole picture. 
    6. Emotional Labeling - Give their feelings validation by naming them. Identify with how they feel. It’s not about whether they are right or wrong or completely crazy; it’s about showing them you understand and hear them. 

    “Reading this book made me more aware on so many levels,” Tamara said. “Even recognizing that it is important for me to do things that refuel my tank, but also actually telling my husband I need reassurance from him that he is good with me doing things with friends or going to work out because I can let “mom guilt” get the best of me. He actually told me not very long ago, ‘Taking time for yourself made you a happier person, happier mom and wife. I can see the change in you.’ That made my heart happy for sure.”

    Tamara's advice to new moms? Read the book, but recognize that implementing the strategies takes time and intentionality.

    “I think both of us would say we have seen significant improvement in the way we engage each other and that has been a really good thing for us and for our children,” Tamara said.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on October 18, 2019.

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    How to Be a Happier Person

    A few months ago, I asked my Facebook friends what brought them happiness. Although their answers varied, people said things like family, friends, being in nature, their faith, pets, their spouse and more made them happy. 

    Here’s what I found interesting: Nobody listed money as something that brings them happiness, yet it is the thing many of us devote our lives to getting more of in the pursuit of happiness.

    Gary Kunath, author of Life...Don’t Miss It. I Almost Did, worked in corporate America and bought into the idea that the more money you make, the happier you will be. The only problem was, he wasn’t happy and he was working long hours away from his family. Through a series of events, Gary did some tough soul-searching and decided to leave his corporate job and do something different.

    He learned that the quest for net worth at the cost of life worth is not a good trade-off.

    “A truly rich person is not the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least. The only reason to focus on net worth is to underwrite life worth,” said Kunath. “I promise you that in the end no one will care what kind of car you drove when you were 35 or the square footage of the largest home you ever owned. What will count and what does matter is what people remember about you.”

    While heredity and other things affect happiness levels to a certain point, studies indicate that we can do certain things to impact our happiness levels. Kunath shared these keys to happiness: 

    • Money doesn’t make you rich. How you think about money really sets the tone for your priorities in life. Do you value things or experiences with others? Do you spend your money impulsively or are you thoughtful about expenditures?
    • Help other people with no expectation of anything in return. Kunath shared a story about a college intern for a baseball team who noticed a little boy at one of their events sitting on a bench crying his eyes out. The intern went over to see if he could help and showed great kindness to the little boy. Three months after his internship ended, an executive with the baseball team called to request his presence at a meeting. When the young man showed up, he learned that the little boy had lost his mom earlier that year and the kind gesture of the intern was not lost on the father of the little boy who happened to be working on a corporate sponsorship with the team. The father requested that the intern be given 100 percent of the commission from that deal. 
    • Practice the art of savoring. Kunath suggests that happiness comes from savoring moments versus being focused on the next thing. He shared that the three greatest gifts you can give your family are time (small things matter), memories and traditions.
    • Perspective is powerful. Don’t major on the minors. Irritating things happen to people all the time such as being cut off in traffic, being lied to by a co-worker or being taken advantage of. Consider how you will allow these things to impact your happiness quotient. The truth is, these incidents are moments in time and will only rob you of your joy and happiness if you allow them to. 
    • Life is fun and fun is good. Kunath quoted Dr. Gerold Jampolsky, saying, “We can only be happy now, and there will never be a time when it is not now.” In other words, fun matters. Don’t take yourself too seriously. You don’t have to have a lot of money to have fun. Fun enhances relationships, decreases stress and creates great memories.
    • Refine your relationships, or as Kunath puts it, thin the herd. It matters who you surround yourself with as you go through life. Kunath suggests that we take a look at who we have allowed in our inner circle. If there are people who are sucking the life right out of you or who are constant takers, some pruning might be in order. It isn’t that those people shouldn’t be in our lives at all - we just shouldn't be spending most of our time with them. 

    So, if you’ve been looking for happiness in all the wrong places, incorporate these keys into your life. Remember unconditional love, making a difference for someone else, giving without any expectation of getting anything in return, appreciating the beauty of family and true friends, slowing down and savoring life, and having fun are important components of happy experiences for yourself and the ones you care about. 

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on October 12, 2019.

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    How to Be a Happier Person