Articles for Dating Couples

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    What Single Parents Need to Know About Dating

    Dating after divorce or death can be complicated, especially if children are involved. As people navigate the world of dating and blending families, they have asked Ron Deal, stepfamily expert and author of Dating and the Single Parent, the following questions plenty of times: How soon is too soon to start dating? Should I introduce this person to my children?

    “On the topic of blended families, someone once said, ‘People marry and form a blended family because they fell in love with a person, but they divorce because they don’t know how to be a family,’” says Deal. 

    Deal believes the key to dating as a single parent is to include the children in the bigger picture.

    “Certainly, it depends on the age of the children,” Deal shares. “A younger child is more open to new adults in their life, but you don’t want to introduce your 4-year-old to a person that you just started dating. You don’t even know whether you like this person. Wait until you think this relationship really has a chance of going somewhere, then you bring them into the picture with intentionality.”

    For older children, elementary and beyond, Deal suggests talking with them about it first. Ask, “What if I started dating? How would you feel about that?” This way, you are putting it on their radar that this might happen. 

    “Once you know that the relationship has potential, it is important to create opportunities for everybody to be together and for additional conversations to take place,” Deal says.

    Deal strongly encourages couples to discuss a few things before deciding to move forward with marriage, though.

    Some couples decide to test the waters with the two families by living together first. This creates ambiguity for the children. When children experience this uncertainty, it creates chaos and empowers resistance. If they don’t like the idea of the families coming together, the ambiguity leads them to believe they could actually make the whole thing unravel. 

    Deal believes what a stepfamily needs more than anything are two adults who have clarity about their relationship and the future of the family. By having conversations ahead of time, you are valuing the “we,” and then the children. If you can’t come to an agreement on your parenting styles, Deal believes this is just as serious as marrying someone with addiction issues. The outcome of these discussions should be part of the equation as to whether or not you get married.

    “At least half to two-thirds of dating couples don’t have serious conversations about how they are going to parent when they bring their two families together,” Deal says. “If your parenting styles are vastly different, this can be a deal breaker.”

    In many instances, one parent has been making all the decisions for the children. Now add a second adult into the mix who isn’t their biological parent. What will you do when your child asks to do something and your answer would typically be yes, but your new spouse doesn’t agree with that?

    There is no question that negotiating parenting and romance all at the same time is complicated. You have to manage the complex moving parts, but Deal believes that if you are going to make a mistake as a blended family couple, err on the side of protecting your marriage.

    “The goal here is to protect your marriage, which is why it is so important to talk about these things prior to getting married,” Deal asserts. “Biological parents have an ultimate responsibility to and for their children, but if you make a parenting decision without consulting your spouse, it isn’t helpful to your marriage. The goal is to co-create your parenting response. You cannot have two different answers for two different sets of kids. That unravels your “us-ness” as a couple.

    “It typically takes four to seven years for a stepfamily to find their rhythm,” Deal adds. “There is no rushing it. You can’t will it into being. There are certain aspects of your family that will merge faster than others. Even in the midst of figuring out how to make it work, your marriage can be thriving.”

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on March 10, 2019.

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    A Single's Guide to Valentine's Day

    Singles everywhere are bracing themselves for the holiday they dread the most – Valentine’s Day. This week there will be an onslaught of commercials advertising amazing packages couples can take to celebrate their love. If you don’t have a special someone in your life and wish that you did, it can be really painful. Some have even dubbed the day, S.A.D.— Singles Awareness Day.

    There are certainly options for ways to handle Valentine’s Day and the weeks surrounding it. Some choose to ignore the day altogether, claiming it is nothing more than a made-up holiday to generate revenue. This could be true since people will spend more than approximately $650 million on food, candy, flowers and other Valentine’s Day gifts. Others sit at home, lamenting the fact that they don’t have someone special in their life.

    One group of singles decided they were done being irritated and sad about the day. They came up with a plan for an annual dessert party and contest. The guys had to come up with a dessert recipe and make it with no help. The desserts would be judged on presentation, creativity and taste.

    Each year the ladies in the group developed a different theme and gave awards based on the theme. The theme of the party was not announced until the night of the party. Past themes have included the Olympics, Reality Shows, current events and news headlines.

    There have been some pretty amazing entries such as volcano cakes, replicas of landmarks, Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding and jalapeno brownies. There have also been some epic failures. For instance, one guy tried to make something kind of healthy thing that turned out to be totally disgusting.

    Bottom line, it didn’t really matter whether it was a winner or a serious dud, it was a great way to spend time together, celebrate and laugh, which made it a fun way to spend Valentine’s Day.

    Through the years some of the original members of the group have married, but they still participate in the annual contest.

    If you are single and dreading Valentine’s Day, here are a few tips from other singles for making the day fun.

    • Gather with friends. Have dinner and make Valentine’s cards to send to people who probably won’t receive a Valentine, like an elderly neighbor who has no family.
    • Make a batch of Valentine cards and send them to some single friends without a signature.
    • Invite friends over for a special dinner instead of going out to eat.
    • Offer to babysit for some married friends so they can go on a date.
    • Send yourself some flowers.
    • Throw your own dessert theme party or come up with your own creative party idea.

    Valentine’s Day is not just for romantic couples; it’s a celebration of the love we feel for others. Take time out to acknowledge those who have made a difference in your life through their affection and support.

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    Singles and the "I Don't" Mindset

    According to the Pew Research Center, the number of never-married Americans is at an all-time high. CDC data shows that in 2012, 1 in 5 adults age 25 or older had never been married. That's compared to 1 in 10 in 1960.

    Researchers attribute the dramatic rise of never-married adults and the emerging gender gap to several factors.

    • Adults are marrying later in life, and there's a significant increase in adults who are living together and raising children outside of marriage.

    • The median age at first marriage is now 27 for women and 29 for men, up from 20 for women and 23 for men in 1960.

    • About 24 percent of never-married young adults ages 25 to 34 live with a partner. This trend cuts across all major racial and ethnic groups, but it is more pronounced among blacks.

    • Among black adults ages 25 and older, the never-married share has quadrupled over the past half century - from 9 percent in 1960 to 36 percent in 2012. For whites, the share doubled from 8 percent to 16 percent.

    • Fully 36 percent of blacks ages 25 and older remained single in 2012, up from 9 percent in 1960.

    • For whites and Hispanics, the share of never-married adults has roughly doubled over that same period. In 2012, 16 percent of whites and 26 percent of Hispanics had never married.

    Why is this happening?

    There are a variety of circumstances contributing to this "I Don't" mindset.

    • Many adult children of divorce are gun-shy about marriage. Many who watched their parents' marriage fall apart doubt their own ability to choose a good partner. They also doubt their ability to make it last.

    • Women in subsidized housing can lose their benefits when a man is in the home. Celebrity marriages are unstable. Many young people question their own chances for marital success when those they admire can't make it work.

    • Still others see marriage as a mere piece of paper with no real value.

    Survey data found a deep division in public perception of marriage's role in society.

    • Approximately 46 percent of respondents believes that making marriage and having children a priority is better for society. But, 50 percent believes society is just as well off if marriage and children are not top priorities.

    • Taking age into account, two-thirds of 18 to 29 year olds believe that society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children.

    • Interestingly, most Americans (68 percent) still believe marriage is important if couples plan to spend the rest of their lives together.

    • One in five adults 25 and up have never married, yet 53 percent would like to marry some day. And, there is plenty of research indicating that healthy marriage positively impacts adults, children and society.

    Perhaps millennials don't need to be convinced to invest in marriage. They may need more confidence that they can make it work - and that it's worth the effort for the success of generations to come.

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    How To Avoid Marrying a Jerk or Jerkette

    Jennie met Kevin through a friend at work, and she thought she had met her knight in shining armor. He was such a gentleman. At the time, she had no clue that the relationship was headed for disaster. 

    Have you ever dated "the love of your life" only to discover you were really involved with a jerk or jerkette? Well, you aren’t alone. Thousands of people every year marry “person of their dreams” only to have the relationship turn into a real nightmare in a few short months.

    “I have seen far too many people fall into the trap of marrying a person thinking that they knew them, but in reality they only knew about them,” says Dr. John Van Epp, relationship expert and author of How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk.   

    Van Epp is committed to helping singles and singles-again in their dating and marital preparation. 

    “As I worked with individuals, I found myself talking with people who repeatedly became involved in unhealthy relationships,” Van Epp recalls. “When I asked these individuals if they saw any signs of problem areas at the beginning of their relationship, the answer was always ‘yes.’ The bottom line is, they were suffering from what I call the ‘love is blind’ syndrome. They had become too attached and involved too quickly and overlooked the problem areas. Even when you know what to look for in the dating process, you can still be blindsided when you allow your attachment to become too strong too soon.”

    Jennie admits to being blinded by love. Kevin was quite the gentleman when it came to treating Jennie with respect and spending time with her. So while they were dating she admits that she never noticed any red flags such as his jealousy because she worked in a predominantly male environment and went to lunch occasionally with a group of male co-workers.

    As a result of his experiences, Van Epp developed a program to help people form healthy relationships from the very beginning. Van Epp says there are five areas a person should know about another person before marrying.

    Bonding Dynamics 

    Getting to know people is the first of five bonding dynamics. These forces create the feeling of closeness in every romantic relationship. They are: 

    • getting to know about the person you are dating;

    • family background; 

    • what a person’s conscience is like; 

    • compatibility potential;

    • relationship skills; and 

    • previous relationship patterns. 

    Because Jennie met her boyfriend through a co-worker, she felt like she knew something about him. In hindsight, she realizes that she didn't have the chance to know much about him or his family because his family was not a close-knit one.  

    “I come from a very large extended family,” says Jennie. “We are used to hugging and saying I love you. None of that was present in Kevin’s family. I never really learned much about his family background. I honestly thought that after Kevin met my family he would change and would love the closeness of a tight-knit family.”  

    “Some people have an established friendship before they start dating,” Van Epp says. “Other relationships start out with a bang – you see someone, talk with them, end up going out and hitting it off and you are totally infatuated with them. No matter how you get together, it really does take time to get to know someone.”  

    Dr. Van Epp encourages couples to wait two years before marrying. You may be thinking that sounds like an eternity. Van Epp believes that within three to six months you can begin to know someone, but like looking through a microscope at its lowest power, you can only see certain things in that amount of time. 

    Dating someone for an extended period allows you to see certain things that may not become evident right away. After dating for about a year, you begin to have history with him/her. Many couples get through their first year just fine, but issues often begin to surface in the second year that weren’t there in the past.  

    A relationship needs time for things to normalize. Many people are very flexible in the infancy of a relationship, but as time goes by they become less flexible. By taking things slow and easy you give your relationship time to grow up and you get to see how the person will really treat you.  

    There's also the trust dynamic. As you get to know a person based on the areas listed above, you shape a picture in your mind of what this person is like. From that picture comes trust. 

    “Trust is a picture in your mind that tells you what that person will do when you are not around,” Van Epp says. “It is a living and active definition that changes as the relationship evolves. For example, your boyfriend tells you he is going to call at 5 p.m. and he calls at exactly 5 p.m., in your mind you think, ‘He did what he said he was going to do, therefore I can trust him.’ With that you begin to fill in the gaps in the trust equation that the person is trustworthy to do what they said they would do.”  

    After three months of dating, Jennie felt like she could trust Kevin.  

    “He seemed to have respect for me,” Jennie shares. “He didn’t try anything, which really impressed me because most guys try to make a move on you the first time you go out. A few months later, we moved in together. It seemed like the ‘adult’ thing to do if we were considering marriage, which we had talked about several times.”

    Dr. Van Epp cautions that you must be careful not to over-exaggerate what a person has done and draw the conclusion that the person is trustworthy. Generalizations are dangerous. Just because a person has certain characteristics that you like does not mean that they are trustworthy. Knowing their family background and their history helps you to know whether or not you can trust them.  

    The third dynamic is reliance. As you really get to know a person, you look to them to meet certain needs that you have. This forms reliance in the relationship. This is when you think that your deep needs in life can be met by this person. If you go too fast and get too close to soon, you won’t have an accurate picture of what it will be like with this person down the road. You should not marry a person and suddenly find out new things about them. 

    According to Dr. Van Epp, reliance can be overcharged by sexual involvement. Couples who are sexually active prior to marriage often say they can depend and rely on each other, but the feeling of closeness is really fed by the sexual chemistry not true knowledge about the person. 

    “In real life, in long-term marriage relationships, sexual chemistry does not dominate the majority of life together,” Van Epp says. “Most of life is talking together, having a personality that blends well with the other person, having a good sense of humor, etc. Sex is part of it, but not a major portion of it.”

    Commitment is the fourth dynamic. As a relationship grows, it has different definitions. Each definition is a level of commitment. Friends have a low level of commitment, whereas best friends have a higher level of commitment to each other and soul mates have the highest level of commitment.  

    Based on their time together, Jennie thought that Kevin was committed to her for life. They enjoyed each other’s company and seemed to have a lot in common. After 13 months of dating, Jennie and Kevin married. As they were leaving the wedding in a limo, Kevin turned to Jennie and said, “Now that we are married, you can have all my money.”  

    “I thought that was the strangest statement to make to me,” Jennie recalls. “It was a warning sign of things to come. I was going to find out very quickly that Kevin was not committed to me. He was committed to money. Our relationship began going downhill very quickly.”

    The fifth dynamic is sexual touch. This includes chemistry as well as any expression of touch from hand-holding to giving a hug to complete openness. Sexual involvement tends to create a feeling of really knowing somebody when in fact you don’t know them at all. Living together and sexual involvement prior to marriage usually create barriers for your understanding of the person.  

    Sexual intimacy is intended to build a feeling of bonding and closeness, but not when you are trying to get to know someone. Becoming sexually intimate outside of marriage can cloud the picture of the person you are dating to a point that you miss very important warning signs.

    “Like Jennie, many people think that living with a person will tell you everything about another person,” Van Epp asserts. “Perhaps you do get to know things about a person that you might not know if you weren’t rooming with them, but there is a cost involved. It breaks down the depth of commitment that is imbedded in the marriage relationship.”  

    Even though Jennie lived with Kevin, she had not dated him long enough to see his abusive tendencies. In spite of hearing him constantly yell at his sister, she attributed it to sibling issues, not a potential threat to their marriage.

    “Think of this like your stereo mixing board where each one of these dynamics is a slider that goes up and down,” Van Epp says. “There is a certain safe zone that will protect you from the ‘love is blind’ syndrome. You should never let one level exceed the previous.  For example, the level of your sexual involvement should never exceed your level of commitment, which should never exceed your level of reliance. Your level of reliance should not exceed the trust picture you develop and that should not go beyond what you know about that person in the key areas.”

    According to Dr. Van Epp, most if not all relationship problems occur when there is an imbalance in these five dynamics. For instance, co-dependency occurs when the reliance dynamic is at the top and what you know about the person and trust about the person is significantly lower. For the person that is sexually active, their sex level is high and their commitment dynamic is low as well as all the others.  The naive person fills in the gap of their trust picture long before they actually know the person they are dating in these five areas. Their trust level is high and their real knowledge of the person is low. Never allow the level or intensity of a bonding force to exceed the level of the previous bonding force.

    “If you really want to make sure you aren’t marrying a jerk or jerkette it takes time,” Van Epp says. “There is no substitute. You need to spend time talking with each other about all kinds of things. You also need to do things together. This is why electronic relationships are dangerous. It is one thing to have someone tell you about their family via the internet. It is totally different to actually spend time with their family and watch how they interact together. 

    "Based on research, there seems to be an embedded amount of time that it takes to know someone that you can’t get around. It is certainly possible to meet someone and have this sense of love at first sight and be married for 50 years, but the risks of marrying someone you don’t know are very high. 

    "The divorce rate is twice as high for those who have dated less than two years before getting married. Therefore, time is a strong predictor of a lasting marriage. BUT, time alone doesn’t give you an accurate enough picture. When your brain knows what to look for, and your heart knows how to keep the boundaries and balances in your growing attachment, then you will be in the best position to make a marital choice you will not regret.”

    The veil that had been keeping Jennie from seeing Kevin’s true nature lifted when they married. The respect he had shown her in the beginning went out the window as he became verbally abusive. He would show up at her workplace unexpectedly to check up on her and began monitoring her spending habits. Jennie hung in there for more than two years trying to make their marriage work.

    “I kept thinking that I could make him happy,” she says. “In the end I realized I could not change him.”

    Jennie ended up filing for divorce. Looking back, she wishes she had heeded some of the red flags that she shrugged off as nothing major. From this point forward, she says she will be more cautious in her dating relationships, careful not to repeat the same mistakes.  

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    The Single Journey

    Tabi Upton describes her life as footloose and fancy free when she was in her 20s.

    “I loved not being tied down to anyone or anything,” Upton says. “I lived in California for a while, worked for the Peace Corps in West Africa and went to graduate school in Colorado.”

    Upton had a plan to spend her 20s doing whatever she wanted. Then, she planned to marry in her 30s and settle down to have a family. Everything seemed to be falling into place.

    “I did get engaged in my late 20s," Upton says. “He was a great guy, but the more time we spent together the more I realized I wasn’t in love with him. We ended up breaking the engagement. Even though I knew it was the right thing to do, it was scary. It made me wonder if I would ever find Mr. Right.”

    When Upton turned 30 as a single, anxiety set in. If she dated she wondered, "What does he want? Is this going to go anywhere?" She struggled with the whole dating thing emotionally and became depressed about being single.

    “I resented people who told me it wasn’t a big deal and not to worry about it,” Upton shares. “Sometimes I think people don’t allow you to be honest with your feelings because it is uncomfortable for them. Over time I have become much more peaceful about where I am in life. I have wonderful friendships, a supportive family, and some great male friendships that have really enriched my life. Right now I am choosing to focus on pursuing my dreams, work, writing and things I want to do.”

    Despite a growing trend to marry later in life, more than 90 percent of Americans say they plan to marry. So how do you handle the single years while waiting for Mr. or Ms. Right?

    “As a counselor I tell my clients it isn’t about having your life all in order before you marry,” Upton states. “Your education and career are important. So is making sure that you are a healthy person, good marriage material and that you are proactive and intentional about putting yourself in places where you are likely to find a good marriage partner.”

    Believe it or not, the most likely way to find a future marriage partner is through family, friends or acquaintances.

    According to research conducted by The National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, social networks are important in bringing together individuals of similar interests and backgrounds. This is especially true when it comes to selecting a marriage partner, despite the romantic notion that people meet and fall in love through chance or fate. And according to a large-scale national survey, family, friends, co-workers or other acquaintances introduced almost 60 percent of married people.

    The study also found that the more similar values, backgrounds and life goals people have, the more likely they are to succeed in marriage. Opposites may attract, but they may not live together harmoniously as married couples. People who share common backgrounds and similar social networks are more suitable marriage partners than people with very different backgrounds and networks.