Being engaged is a season of anticipation! You feel all kinds of excitement, right? You can’t wait! As the Wedding Day gets closer, that and the honeymoon are all you can think about! (Plus, you can’t wait for all those wedding questions to stop!)

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You love your spouse, but your in-laws aren’t your favorite people on the planet.

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You’re in love with your exact opposite. Is this your true love? Can your relationship last forever? Do you guys stand a chance? You’ve heard “opposites attract” and you’ve definitely felt that attraction, but you can’t deny how opposite you are either. (Your friends and family constantly remind you…)

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Have you ever had a friend who completely began to ignore you when they started dating someone? Or a friend who began acting differently once they were in a relationship? How did that make you feel? Angry, irritated, frustrated? However it made you feel, we all say that will never be us until… it is.

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There’s been a steady decline in marriage rates over the past few decades. While some studies blame the decline on gender ratio discrepancies and millennials just not being interested in marriage, a 2019 Cornell University study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family (JMF) says the root cause might be that there aren’t as many men who are economically stable and therefore are not attractive to women looking for a mate.

The study notes that ethnic minorities, especially African American women, are dealing with very low numbers of economically attractive potential mates.

Researchers found that attractive potential husbands had an average income approximately 58% higher than the current unmarried men.

“Most American women hope to marry but current shortages of marriageable men—men with a stable job and a good income—make this increasingly difficult, especially in the current gig economy of unstable low-paying service jobs,” said lead author Daniel T. Lichter, Ph.D., of Cornell University in their media release. “Marriage is still based on love, but it also is fundamentally an economic transaction. Many young men today have little to bring to the marriage bargain, especially as young women’s educational levels on average now exceed their male suitors.”

A 2016 study, also published in the JMF, found that women have made greater educational gains than men during the past few decades in the U.S. Among newlyweds:

  • The percentage of couples in which the husband had more education than the wife declined from 24 percent in 1980 to 15 percent in 2008–2012.
  • The share of couples in which the wife had more education than the husband increased from 22 percent to 29 percent during the same period.
  • If two spouses differed in their level of education, in 1980 the husband was more likely be more educated, but from 2008 to 2012, the wife was more likely to have more education.

Less than a decade ago, Stanford psychology professor Philip Zimbardo and Kay Hymowitz, fellow at the Manhattan Institute, expressed their concerns about what is happening to boys. Each made comments similar to “pre-adult men often seem like children, filling their leisure time with video games, Adam Sandler movies, indie bands, beer pong and the company of inebriated women.”

Along with them, others were raising voices of concern, stating these 2011 statistics:

  • Boys are 30 percent more likely to drop out or flunk out of school than girls.
  • Girls now outperform guys at every level from elementary to graduate school.
  • Two-thirds of all students in special education are boys.
  • Boys are five times more likely to be labeled ADHD.
  • By the time boys are 21, they have played more than 10,000 video games, mostly in isolation.
  • The average boy watches 50 porn clips a week.

Zimbardo noted that one of the most interesting things he was seeing in his research is what he refers to as the “social intensity syndrome” where guys prefer the asynchronistic internet world over the spontaneous interaction in social relationships.

Many studies show that boys continue to lag behind girls. Additional studies show that the gap is widening as women continue to make educational and financial gains and are seeking to marry men who are also educated and financially secure. Both of these studies published in the JMF indicate that women want to marry, but can’t find a partner they consider to at least be their educational and financial equal.

None of this means that a woman (or a man) should marry for money instead of love or that they should believe that who makes the money or how much each person makes won’t impact their relationship. There is plenty of research indicating that money impacts marital stability and is often the source of much stress in marriage, especially when expectations around money go unspoken, which isn’t helpful to the relationship. It is important for couples to be on the same page when it comes to money, education and expectations.

Instead, the question for us is, “Why are boys lagging behind?” and what can we do about it? What will we do about it? We will continue to fail our boys and our girls if we sit back and do nothing, but the results of that would seemingly be disastrous for men, women and children.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on September 27, 2019.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

What, exactly, were you expecting when you got married? Did you expect marriage and your spouse to make you happy?

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“When will I be old enough to date?” – the question many parents dread. You’ve known it was coming, but you also realize you are crossing over into a whole new world with lots of moving parts, plenty of which you cannot control. 

You may reply sarcastically, “When you’re 30!” Or, you may try to be a bit more realistic and really wrestle with the right age for your child to date, which may be different depending on the child.

A study published in The Journal of School Health found that dating during the teen years can help teens learn social skills and grow in emotional intelligence. But guess what? Not dating during these years actually has benefits as well. 

Here’s what they found:

  • The non-dating students had similar or better interpersonal skills than their more frequently dating peers. 
  • While the scores of self-reported positive relationships with friends, at home and at school did not differ between dating and non-dating peers, teachers rated the non-dating students significantly higher for social skills and leadership skills than their dating peers.
  • The study indicated that students who didn’t date were also less likely to be depressed. Teachers’ scores on the depression scale were significantly lower for the group that reported no dating. And, the proportion of students who self-reported being sad or hopeless was significantly lower within this group as well.

Teen dating relationships today are complicated. Here are just a sample of the thoughts teens have, and the drama that often accompanies dating relationships is a whole other discussion that cannot be disregarded. 

“Does she like me?”  

“Is he cheating on me?”  

“I’m scared of what he will do if I break up with him. I think he might hurt himself.”

“Are his constant questions about where I am, what I am doing, who I am with, and what I am wearing signs of how much he loves me?” 

“Do I break up with him because he is mean or stay with him because a bad relationship is better than being in no relationship?” 

In an endless sea of questions, some teens feel intense pressure to date and be in the “cool” crowd while others could care less. Either ways, this is a time to pour into your teen the qualities that will help them navigate relationships in a healthy way, whether it is romantic or not.The following things are important to keep in the forefront of your mind as you seek to teach your teen how to engage in relationships with others. 

  • They still need your guidance. The prefrontal cortex, or the rational part of the brain that helps with planning, decision-making, problem-solving, self-control and thinking about long-term actions and their consequences, is nowhere near fully formed, and it won’t be until age 25 or so. This has huge implications for teen behavior. 
  • Healthy relationship skills don’t come naturally, even if your teen seems super smart. They are the result of intentional teaching and modeling of behavior such as looking someone in the eyes during a conversation, using a respectful versus disrespectful tone of voice, and having high regard for one’s feelings. 
  • What your teen does in high school absolutely will follow them into adulthood and impact future relationships. Set standards, develop a strategy and don’t allow them to believe the lie that how they treat others now (or allow themselves to be treated) won’t impact them later. Unfortunately, this is a harsh reality many have experienced.
  • Sexual activity affects teens’ mental and emotional health. While the culture often pushes that having sex in the teen years is perfectly normal, plenty of young adults now believe that kind of relationship in high school created more anxiety, stress and depression for them and distracted them from truly enjoying the teen years.
  • They need to hear from you that their value and worth is not dependent on their relationship status. Friendships can be rich, deep and rewarding. Teens need to know and appreciate that their uniqueness is what makes them individuals.
  • Experiencing a range of emotions in relationships is normal, and it helps teens build their emotional regulation muscle. Being able to discern how they are feeling and learning to handle the intensity of the emotions that come with being in any relationship with others, whether it is happiness, sadness, anger, elation, disappointment or encouragement, is beneficial. 

So, when will your child be old enough to date? Great question! It’s definitely something you should consider with great care ahead of time. Waiting until they are 30 for sure isn’t the right answer. Agreed-upon guidelines for when the time is right will be important. And, it may be comforting to you and to your teen to know that in no way does it mean they are missing out if they don’t date at all during the teen years.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on September 21, 2019.

“WILL!! YOU’RE PUSHING ME UNDER A TREE!!!”

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There is pretty much nothing more exciting and scary than thinking about crossing the threshold into your freshman year of college. Your parents won’t be telling you what time to get up or that you need to study. You can stay out as late as you like with whomever you like. Don’t feel like going to class? No problemo. The professor isn’t going to report you and your parents will never know. FREEDOM!

We asked some recent college grads what most surprised them about their freshman year, and here are some things they wished they had known:

ROOMMATES

95% of college freshmen have never shared a room with anybody, so you have to figure out how to communicate, handle conflict, respect each other’s differences and create clear boundaries. This is easier said than done, but worth the discussion for sure.

ABOUT YOUR PARENTS…

They may only be a phone call away, but they shouldn’t be coming onto campus to do your laundry, making sure you get to class, nagging you to study or setting up a party so you can get to know people. This is truly your chance to take advantage of what you’ve learned and put it into practice.

BE PREPARED TO:

  • Know how to do your laundry.
  • Live on a budget.
  • Manage your time. Don’t let the freedom go to your head.
  • Go to class.
  • Get involved in a few organizations to help you meet people.
  • Avoid the temptation to go home every weekend. 

ALCOHOL, DRUGS… AND SEX

No matter where you go to school, you might be shocked at the drug and alcohol scene. You may choose to stay away from it, but your roommate might not. (And it can definitely impact your relationship…) If you do choose to participate, don’t underestimate the kinds of things that can happen when you are under the influence. Chances are great that you will participate in behavior you otherwise would not get involved in.

Use your head. If you go to a party, get your own drink. Before you go somewhere alone, tell someone where you are going or even better – take somebody with you.

You should familiarize yourself with your college’s sexual misconduct policy and definition of consent and know what a healthy relationship looks like. Think about your boundaries ahead of time. 

Maybe you want to do some things differently at college, or perhaps there are some friendships you know you need to leave behind. Freshman year is an opportunity for a fresh start and greater independence. Take this time to become who you really want to be and surround yourself with people who will help you reach your goals. The next four years are laying a foundation for your future, and how you spend your college years really does matter.

Sometimes, truth be told, the whole thing is super overwhelming, but nobody wants to admit that’s the case. If you ever feel like you’re in over your head, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are plenty of free resources on campus to help you adjust to campus life.

This article was originally published
in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on August 16, 2019.