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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.

  • 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."

  • Felicia and Eundra Porter, Maximize Your Marriage Participants

    - Felicia and Eundra Porter, Maximize Your Marriage Participants

    "My husband and I were having major problems. Our marriage was in crisis. I saw an advertisement for a First Things First class on a bus, so I encouraged him to call and see what we could do.

    We went to Maximize Your Marriage, and it was eye-opening to me. Or really, for both of us. There were some things in my mind that I thought were happening in our marriage, but after attending that class I realized our problems were all about a lack of communication. Until that point, I didn’t know if I was really going to stay or walk away.

    Without First Things First, I believe, we honestly would not be married today. Or, at the very least, not as happily married."

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

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    Steps for Keeping the Peace in Broken Homes

    “How do I get my ex to be consistent with discipline?”

    “Sometimes I find it very hard not to talk bad about my ex in front of the children.”

    “There is nothing that will make my blood pressure go up faster than when my ex says they will do something and they don’t.”

    “I honestly believe my ex does things intentionally to get back at me.”

    In the aftermath of a divorce, people often realize that instead of being better off as they hoped, they have traded one set of problems for another. There are a lot of frustrated moms and dads who don’t understand why they can’t agree on anything after the divorce when it comes to parenting.

    Life is Different

    Even though you have lived with this person for a number of years, you are now learning how to live separate lives while still parenting your children well. There may be things your ex is doing that you totally don’t agree with, but you have to figure out how to work within the boundaries of your new relationship - while always considering what will be in the best interest of your children.

    For starters, it is important for you to plan how you will manage as a single parent.

    • Get organized. Make a plan for moving forward. Take time to sort through activities, job demands, a budget, available resources, friends who can provide support and backup, etc. This will help you to be more in control of your situation and to focus on what is important.
    • Focus on family. Set expectations, keep the lines of communication open, establish boundaries and set aside time to be together as a family.
    • Throw perfection out the window. It isn’t about having it all together. It is more about doing the best you can under difficult circumstances.
    • Ask for help. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. There are resources available, but you have to make the connection. Neighbors, church friends and co-workers are often ready and willing to step up to the plate when you need them.
    • Take one day at a time. After you have put a plan together, don’t get overwhelmed by the big picture.

    This transition time can be very challenging. Having a plan in place will help you bring some order into your life and help you keep your cool when things don’t go as planned with your ex.

    Keep the Children out of the Middle

    An old African proverb says, “When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.”

    “Biological parents who fight and refuse to cooperate are trampling on their most prized possession - their children,” says stepfamily expert Ron Deal. “Elephants at war are totally unaware of what is happening to the grass because they are far too consumed with the battle at hand. Little do they know how much damage is being done.”

    Parents who want to reduce the negative effects of divorce on their children should strive to be effective co-parents because it reduces between-home conflict and increases cooperation. Taming your tongue, for example, is critical to cooperating. Conflict containment starts with controlling your speech. You cannot be an effective co-parent without doing so.

    “Parents have to remember and accept the fact that while they can end a marriage to someone, they will never stop being parents,” Deal says. “While you may be relieved to be out of the marriage, your children have been in a transitional crisis. How well they recover from that crisis has a lot to do with you, the parents. The key to successful co-parenting is separating the dissolution of your marriage from the parental responsibilities that remain.”

    According to Deal, children successfully adjust to the ending of their parents’ marriage and can fare reasonably well if:

    • The parents are able to bring their marital relationship to an end without excessive conflict.
    • Children are not put into the middle of whatever conflicts exist.
    • There is a commitment from parents to cooperate on issues of the children’s material, physical, educational and emotional welfare.

    Many ex-spouses have great difficulty cooperating about anything, let alone the nurturing and disciplining of their children. That does not absolve you of the responsibility to try. Your children deserve your best effort.

    Co-parenting does not mean sharing all decisions about the children or that either home is accountable to the other for their choices, rules or standards. Each household should be autonomous, but share responsibility for the children. It also does not mean that rules or punishment from one home cross over to the other home.

    For example, if your child gets in trouble on Thursday and he loses his television privileges, in an ideal world it would be great if your ex were willing to enforce the consequence over the weekend. That may not happen in reality, so the actual consequence would go into effect when your child returns home to you Sunday evening. Telling your ex that he/she has to enforce your consequence usually leads to more conflict between the two of you and more angst for your child.

    Deal believes effective co-parenting should look something like this:

    • Work hard to respect the other parent and his or her household.
    • Schedule a monthly “business” meeting to discuss co-parenting matters. Make a list of things that need to be discussed. A word of caution: Do not discuss your personal life or that of your ex. If the conversation drifts away from the children, redirect it toward your children and their activities, schedules, etc.
    • Never ask your children to be spies or tattle-tales on the other home. The goal is to decrease distress, not create more. If you hear information about what happened while they were with their other parent, listen and stay neutral.
    • When children have confusing or angry feelings toward your ex, don’t capitalize on their hurt and berate the other parent.
    • Children should have everything they need in each home. Don’t make them bring basics back and forth.
    • Try to release your hostility toward the other parent so that the children can’t take advantage of your hard feelings. Bitterness, hurt and anger keep you from being the person and the parent your children need.
    • Do not disappoint your children with broken promises or by being unreliable.

    In the midst of a complicated and difficult situation, you have the opportunity to show integrity, honor and respect. Even when you don’t like someone anymore or you don't think they deserve it, you can still find a way to be respectful.

    • Make your custody structure work for your children even if you don’t like the details of the arrangement.
    • If you plan to hire a babysitter for more than four hours while the children are in your home, give the other parent first rights to that time.
    • Suggest that younger children take a favorite toy or game as a transitional object.
    • If you and your ex cannot resolve a problem, change in custody or visitation, agree to problem-solve through mediation rather than litigation.

    Moving On

    “The reality is many parents who were poor marriage partners are good parents and their children enjoy them very much,” Deal shares. “Give your ex-spouse the opportunity to be wonderful with the children, even if he/she wasn’t wonderful with you.”

    You are traveling in uncharted waters. While you probably have friends who have experienced this and are willing to give you advice, it may not be right for your family.

    A father once said that it had been six months since his divorce and it was time for his “kid” to get over it. Children of divorce don’t ever “get over it.” They may learn how to cope with it, but every day for the rest of their lives they will have to make decisions that are a result of their parents' divorce.

    As time goes by, you may feel like you are moving on, adjusting and putting this chapter in your life behind you. However, this is not something your children will ever “put behind them.” At every turn your child will gain new insights and more questions. They must understand the divorce was not their fault. Equally as important is being intentional about modeling healthy relationship skills with your children.

    Additional Resources:

    The Smart Stepfamily: Seven steps to a Healthy Family – Ron Deal

    Parenting After Divorce: How to Work Together with Your Ex-Spouse for Happier, Healthier Children – Ron Deal

    The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce – Judith Wallerstein, Julia M. Lewis and Sandra Blakesless

    What About the Kids?: Raising Your Children Before, During and After Divorce – Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee

    Smart Stepfamilies

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    8 Warning Signs of Unhealthy Dating Relationships

    Jessica was a junior in college when she started dating Jason. She had her eye on him for a while, thinking he was cute. When he finally asked her out, she was very excited.

    Within a month of their first date, Jessica’s girlfriends complained that she never spent time with them anymore. Her whole world seemed to revolve around Jason. Initially Jessica made excuses, but she finally told them that Jason got jealous and angry when she spent time with them.

    Rather than make him angry, she was willing to give up her time with friends for the sake of the relationship. She loved him.

    Jessica's friends thought Jason was controlling, possessive and had an anger problem. On more than one occasion after one of Jason’s outbursts, friends warned her that the relationship was not healthy and that she needed to end it. She ignored them.

    When she finally broke up with Jason six months later, her friends had moved on and she found herself alone, heartbroken and face to face with the reality that her friends had been right all along.

    Why hadn’t she listened to her friends?

    This common scenario plays out on many high school and college campuses, more so for girls than guys.

    Key findings from a College Dating and Abuse poll conducted in 2011 by Fifth and Pacific Companies (formerly Liz Claiborne) indicated that a significant number of college women are victims of violence and abuse.

    • 52 percent of college women report knowing a friend who has experienced violent and abusive dating behaviors including physical, sexual, tech, verbal or controlling abuse.

    • 43 percent of dating college women report experiencing some violent and abusive dating behaviors including physical, sexual, tech, verbal or controlling abuse.

    A 2009 study by the same company among dating high school students found that American teens are experiencing alarmingly high levels of abuse. Furthermore, the economy appears to have made it worse.

    Findings also showed that parents are disturbingly out of touch with the level of teen dating violence and abuse among teens. The large majority of abused teens are not informing parents, and even when they do, most stay in abusive relationships.

    People need to know the red flags of an unhealthy relationship and they need to know how to get out.

    The warning signs include:

    • Checking the other person’s cell phone or email without permission.

    • Constant put-downs.

    • Extreme jealousy, insecurity or anger.

    • Isolation from family or friends.

    • Making false accusations.

    • Physical violence.

    • Possessiveness.

    • Controlling behavior.

    Breaking it off can be complicated, but putting a plan together will help. Asking for help from a trusted person is a sign of strength.

    To make a clean break, move on to a different group of friends; otherwise it might be tempting to fall back into the unhealthiness. Remember, this is a dating relationship, not a marriage. If it isn’t good while you are dating, it won’t get better over time.

    There’s nothing wrong with having great expectations for a relationship. However, if you have to change and sacrifice your friends to make it work, it’s time to move on.

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    7 Ways to Support Teens During a Divorce

    I was 18 when my father announced he was divorcing my mother. My sister and brother were 13 and 20 respectively.

    While some might think that the three of us were old enough to grasp what was going on, our lives were honestly in an absolute tailspin. Sure, we had heard our parents fight, but it never seemed like it was anything major.

    Never in a million years would I have suspected they were headed down the road to divorce. If you had asked anyone in our community about the likelihood of my parents splitting, they probably would have laughed in your face. The whole thing was a very big shocker.

    “What some people don’t take into consideration is the younger you are when your parents divorce, the more childhood you have left to travel between two parents whose lives become more different with each passing year,” says Elizabeth Marquardt, author of Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce and director of the Center for Marriage and Family at the Institute for American Values.

    “The older you are when your parents divorce, the more you have to lose. You have a long experience with your ‘whole’ family. You have (for yourself, the teen) a lifetime of memories, experiences, photographs and stories of YOUR FAMILY. All of that comes apart.”

    A World Turned Upside Down

    Going through the divorce process was an awkward time, not just for my family, but for friends, youth leaders, teachers, and neighbors. People knew what was happening, but seemed to keep their distance as if they weren’t quite sure what to say.

    Just recently I was talking with a childhood friend about my parents’ divorce. She said the divorce shocked her so much that she didn’t know what to say - so she never said anything at all.

    As a teenager, I had all these thoughts and feelings rumbling around inside my head and no idea where to turn to sort things out. Furious with my parents and the situation in which I found myself, I wondered how I had missed the severity of the situation and if there was any way I could have helped to prevent the divorce.

    I had questions:  

    • “Would we have to move?”
    • “How would I afford college?”
    • “Would we see our father and did I even want to see him?”
    • “What will my friends think of me?”
    • “Why me?”

    I would lie awake at night praying that this was just a bad dream and that I would eventually wake up and everything would be just fine.

    “Divorce is tremendously painful at any age (even if you are grown and have left home when your parents divorce), but especially so in the vulnerable teen years when you are just looking at the world and imagining taking it on, on your own,” Marquardt says. “You are standing on the rock of your family, about to jump off, but needing to know that the rock is there so you can jump back at any time. But before your eyes the rock fractures in two.

    “Teens can be more likely than younger children to get drawn into their parents’ needs and to worry about their parents’ vulnerabilities. And this is occurring at precisely the time when, developmentally, they are supposed to be identifying more with peers than parents. It’s not developmentally appropriate for a teen to spend the weekend ‘visiting’ his father or ‘visiting’ his mother. His parents are supposed to just BE THERE, steady, in the background, while the teen is focusing on other things.”

    Teens Need a Strong Support System

    In many instances, teens don’t feel like they can talk with their parents about the divorce. I suspect there were many people who wanted to be supportive of me as I went through this tough time, but just didn’t know what to say or how to approach me. Honestly, I think just letting me know they were aware and available if I needed to talk would have been helpful.

    “Parents can do their teen a great favor by personally speaking with people who are close to their teen such as grandparents, a beloved aunt or uncle, coach, youth leader or close adult friend letting them know they want their teen to feel free to speak openly about how they’re feeling, even if it means sometimes saying something bad or unflattering about their parents,” Marquardt says.

    “Clearly, this is not about family members and the teen joining together in badmouthing the parents, but they do want to give 'permission' to the teen and family member to speak openly as the TEEN wishes. Parents need to understand that if this person is not someone the teen already has a close relationship with, the teen is likely just to see them as another adult and unlikely to form a trusting bond during that time, unless the person is especially skilled and empathetic.”

    Family members, friends or others who have their own feelings they need to process about the divorce should turn to someone besides the teen, cautions Marquardt.

    Local clinical psychologist, Susan Hickman encourages caring adults who find themselves in a position to reach out to teens who are experiencing divorce to consider the following:

    • Be immovable. Provide unlimited, unyielding support at a time when everything seems chaotic.
    • Be patient with their behavior. Remember that teens often express their pain through their behavior versus words. Respond to this with positive regard and consistent support for the child providing gentle limits and correction if needed.
    • Listen, listen, listen. Do more listening than talking. Teens experiencing divorce are in pain and confusion. Someone needs to hear them.
    • Validate their feelings even if you do not agree. Emotions aren’t reasonable. They are expressions of exuberance or distress. Acknowledge their emotions and tell them you understand why they might feel that way.
    • Save judgment or criticism for later. This is a time of repair – being there for them in the midst of distress speaks volumes. Teens need to know you care and that they are worth caring about.
    • Find a teen support group. Support groups for teens experiencing divorce allows them to connect with people their own age in similar circumstances.
    • Time is the key. Giving teens the time they need can sometimes be challenging. Just like there are times when we think people ought to be in a certain place in their grieving process after a death, people often assume that after a certain amount of time kids should just be over the divorce. Sometimes it takes a long time for teens to process what they have been through and for healing to take place.

    “Teens going through this very hard time should get the help they need. They should also be encouraged that there are so many great ways to learn about having a good and happy marriage,” Marquardt says. “The pain they are going through is something they can use to inspire them to be a great husband/wife and father/mother some day. There are many children of divorce in happy, lasting marriages and that can be them, too.”

    They say time heals all wounds, and I suppose to some degree that is true.

    I remember talking to one of my college professors before heading home for Christmas break my freshman year. I did not want to go home. After listening to me for a while, he said, “I know you don’t want to do home. I understand that what you are experiencing is miserable, but you have told me that you plan to be a counselor. And while this is not something I would wish on anybody, what you are experiencing now will be helpful to you later on when you are working with people who are dealing with divorce.”

    He was right. I am painfully aware that my parents’ divorce left scars on my life. If there is a positive side to the divorce, it would have to be the tenacious passion I have for having a healthy marriage and for helping teens that are experiencing divorce. They need to know somebody out there cares and is willing to walk the road with them.