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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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    Why People Stay in Abusive Relationships

    In 2014, there was enormous outcry over video footage of pro football player Ray Rice knocking his wife Janay unconscious, then dragging her off an elevator. In the midst of the coverage, the Rices appeared together at a press conference, and she clearly seemed to have no intention of leaving him. This set off a whole new barrage on social media asking why in the world she would stay.

    In the U.S., it is estimated that every nine seconds a woman is beaten. Moreover, research indicates that 85 percent of reported cases of domestic violence are by men against women. These relationships usually involve intense jealousy, controlling behavior, denial and blame, intimidation, coercion and threats, and isolation.

    • Approximately 50 percent of men who assault their partners also assault their children.
    • As many as 10 million children witness domestic violence annually.
    • Men and women engage in comparable levels of abuse and control, though women are more likely to use emotional manipulation. In contrast, men are more likely to use sexual coercion and physical dominance. (Statistics from Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network)

    Dr. David M. Allen, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, says it's important to realize that not all abusers were abused as children. And, that many - if not most - people who are abused do not become abusers. However, child abuse is most likely the single largest risk factor – biological, psychological or sociocultural – for later adult abusive behavior.

    According to Allen, significant family dysfunction is almost always present in a repetitive abuser's background. Unfortunately, these dysfunctional patterns rarely stop when abused children grow up.

    Why do people stay?

    Fear, reliance on the abusive partner, pressure and conflicting emotions are all reasons why someone would stay in an abusive relationship.

    “The reason many of these victims stay is because they are brainwashed to believe that the violence is their fault. They may think they cannot survive without their abuser and that they are too stupid, too ugly or too unfit to be a good employee, wife, friend or mother,” says Dr. Charlotte Boatwright, President of the Chattanooga Area Domestic Violence Coalition.

    So, what can you do if you have a friend who is in an abusive situation?

    • Recognize the abuse. Help your friend see that what is happening is not normal. Healthy relationships revolve around mutual respect, trust and consideration for the other person. Intense jealousy and controlling behavior, which could include physical, emotional or sexual abuse are all indicative of an unhealthy relationship.
    • Support your friend’s strength. Acknowledge the things she does to take care of herself.
    • Help your friend with a safety plan. There are resources available in our community to help victims of domestic violence. Express your concern for your friend’s safety and the safety of her children. Encourage her to get help as soon as possible. Give her the phone number to the domestic violence hotline: 423-755-2700. Assure her that when she is ready to leave, you will be there for her.
    • Be a good listener. Empower her through listening. Be nonjudgmental.

    “Never underestimate the power and encouragement of a friend,” Boatwright says. “Sometimes all a victim needs is permission to seek help.”

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    Life After Graduation

    When Kerri Crawford graduated with a college degree in Child and Family Studies, she planned to find a job with a minimum salary of $30,000 working with adolescent girls.

    “I had some pretty grand ideas about how things would go after I graduated,” said Crawford. “It was much harder finding a job than I thought it would be, and the salary was not close to what I expected. My friends and I have joked that you should add a few zeros after your age and that is more likely to be your salary right after you graduate.”

    Just like going from home to college was a transition, so is moving from college to the working world. Working eight hours a day, possibly moving to a new city, living alone, no more fall, winter, spring and summer breaks, and no more cafeteria food (not necessarily a bad thing) are pretty dramatic changes when you are used to going to a few classes a day, hanging out with friends, having your food prepared for you and maybe working a part-time job.

    “I wish someone had told me how different it was going to be,” Crawford said. “I was so proud of my accomplishments, but I had unrealistic expectations. So I definitely have some advice for people who have just graduated from college.”

    Some things would have been really good to know beforehand, according to Kerri. She said, "I wish someone had told me...":

    • Not to sell back all of my textbooks and to keep some of the notes I took in class. There have been countless times when I wished I could refer back to something I read or heard in a class.
    • How important it is to build relationships with classmates. The world is a lot smaller than you think. I have run into so many people I never thought I would see again. These people become your co-workers and are great contacts in the community.
    • Have an open mind when you are looking for a job. I wanted a job working with adolescent girls. I work mostly with adolescent boys in a job that I believe will be a stepping stone.
    • Have good relationships with your professors. They know people in the community and can give good job leads and recommendations.
    • Practice your interview skills ahead of time. I thought interviewing for jobs would be a breeze. After the third or fourth rejection, I had to rethink what I was doing. You have to learn how to sell yourself and what you are capable of to the person interviewing you.
    • Experience in your field is an asset when you graduate. Every interviewer asked me if I had any experience. Looking back, I wish I had volunteered more so when they asked me if I had experience I could have responded with a confident yes.
    • The real world is a full-time job. Not only do you have to adjust to a new work situation, you must also adjust to life outside of work. Instead of pulling all-nighters and taking naps in the afternoon, try to get a decent night’s rest. Be ready for financial changes. It is a whole new ballgame when you are responsible for rent, groceries, utilities, insurance, gas, etc. You may have to say no to the “wants” until you get on your feet.”

    Making it to this point is what many young people strive for from high school on. Even though the working world is challenging, it's time to put all of your learning into practice and experience life in the world’s classroom.


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    A Singles 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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    Should Couples Live Together Before Marriage?

    Sara and Ethan* started dating in 2012. One year later, Ethan told Sara he wanted to try and figure out what he wanted to do with his life and was seriously considering an out-of-town move. 

    “I was attending a community college at the time, but knew I needed to transfer to a four-year school,” says Sara. “I felt like our relationship was strong, but trying to keep things going from a distance didn’t seem like a good idea. Since UTC was close to where Ethan would be, I decided to move as well.”

    Money was tight for Ethan and Sara. Living together made sense to them financially, but Sara was concerned about what her family and others would think.

    Ethan and Sara are among the more than 70 percent of couples who choose to live together before tying the knot. 

    “Cohabitation has greatly increased in large measure because, while people are delaying marriage to even greater ages, they are not delaying sex, living together or childbearing,” say researchers Scott Stanley and Galena Rhoades. “In fact, Dr. Wendy Manning noted in her 2018 address to the Population Association of America that almost all of the increase in non-marital births in the U.S. since 1980 has taken place in the context of cohabiting unions.”

    Stanley and Rhoades note that increasing cohabitation rates, as well as serial cohabitation, might be of no special consequence except for the many births that now occur in those unions. Some of these couples have a long-term commitment similar to marriage, but on average, cohabiting parents are much more likely than married parents to break up, increasing the odds of family instability for children. 

    Additionally, a Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics report found that cohabiting men and women tend to be poorer and less-educated than married ones, which creates a greater disadvantage for children. For instance:

    • 47.9% of cohabiting women had household incomes less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level, compared to 25.6 percent of married women.

    • 36.1 percent of cohabiting men had incomes less than 150 percent of the federal poverty line compared to 21.2 percent of married men.

    • 25.2 percent of cohabiting women had incomes over 300 percent of the federal poverty line, compared to 48.1 percent of married women.

    • 32.4 percent of cohabiting men had incomes over 300 percent of the federal poverty line, compared to 52.4 percent of married men.

    • 25.3% of cohabiting women had a bachelor’s degree, compared to 43% of married women.

    • 16.2% of cohabiting men had a bachelor’s degree, compared to 36.5% of married men.

    Large majorities of married, non-married and cohabiting couples believe that having and raising children without being married is fine and that living together before marriage may help prevent divorce.

    “This notion has had wide acceptance since at the mid-1990s, when three-fifths of high school students believed that, ‘It is usually a good idea for a couple to live together before getting married in order to find out whether they really get along,’” Stanley and Rhoades say. 

    Based on their ongoing research on cohabitation however, Stanley and Rhoades have strong evidence that some patterns of living together before marriage are associated with increased risks for less successful marriages, that experiences and choices impact future outcomes, and that cohabitation is definitely linked to relationship risks.

    “What this means is that people who are already at greater risk for worse outcomes in relationships because of things like family background, disadvantage or individual vulnerabilities are also more likely to do any of the following: cohabit and not marry, cohabit before having clear, mutual plans to marry, or cohabit with a number of different partners over time,” Stanley and Rhoades assert. 

    There is significant research showing that people learn from experiences and that experiences change people’s beliefs, so it’s no surprise that the experiences of living together change people's beliefs about marriage. Consequently, Stanley and Rhoades believe that the increase in cohabitation, serial cohabitation and premarital cohabitation has led to consistent downward trends in the belief that marriage is special.

    Another concern is that cohabitation makes it harder to break up.

    “Because of the inertia of living together, some people get stuck longer than they otherwise would have in relationships they might have left or left sooner,” Stanley and Rhoades say. “We believe some people marry someone they would otherwise have left because cohabitation made it too hard to move on. While the increased risk can be modest, the prediction is consistently supported through numerous studies showing that those who cohabit before deciding to marry report lower than average marital quality and are more likely to divorce. This is compounded by the fact that most couples slide into cohabiting rather than make a clear decision about what it means and what their futures may hold.”

    Finally, since more children are being born to unmarried parents in relatively unstable relationships, studies indicate that only 1 out of 3 children born to cohabiting parents will remain in a stable family through age 12 compared to nearly 3 out of 4 children born to married parents. This means that many who cohabit are entering future relationships with the challenge of children as part of the package.

    Our society finds itself in a complicated reality where a very large portion of the population is choosing to live together before marriage. There’s a lot for all of us to consider when the research shows that emotional, financial, educational and social stability of cohabiting impacts current and future relationships, along with the communities in which we live.

    *Names have been changed.

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    40,000 to an Audience of One

    Anger, hurt and fear are some of the emotions Ben Petrick felt when it was confirmed in 2000 that at age 22 he had early-onset Parkinson’s disease. He went from being a very gifted catcher with an incredible future with the Colorado Rockies to not knowing what tomorrow would bring.  

    “My entire identity was in baseball,” said Petrick. “I spent most of my adult life with 25 guys in a clubhouse or on the field. I had only wished for two things in life, to play pro baseball and to be a father. Now, one of those had been stripped from me and I had no clue how I would do the other with my physical limitations. I was very down. The disease progressed over five years to the point that there were many times I was not able to help care for our daughter.”

    In an effort to improve his quality of life, Petrick underwent risky surgery. Initially, the surgery seemed to be successful, but a short time later he developed an infection which landed him back in the hospital and unable to move. At this point, he told his father he thought that his family might be better off if they didn’t have to worry about him.

    “My dad looked at me and said, ‘Don’t you ever say that. You have a daughter at home who is counting on you. Quit thinking about yourself and think about your daughter.’ Not a surprising response from the man who had pushed me my entire life to be a better person,” he recalled.

    A few months later, Petrick underwent a successful second surgery. With medication, his physical ability was back to almost 100 percent. While his wife taught, he was able to help with their two daughters, Makena and Madison. He also gave private lessons and helped coach a local high school baseball team.

    “When the disease robbed me of the thing I loved, I was bitter and had no clue who I was anymore,” Petrick said. “Looking back, my baseball career seems like a million years ago. I am happy that I had the opportunity to play. I didn’t finish my career the way I wanted, but I am okay with that. My focus has turned to caring for my wife and girls. My oldest daughter could care less that I am not playing ball anymore. She just wants me to get on the floor and play princess. I figured out that my little girls gave me something that 40,000 fans in the stands couldn’t give me, a love that made me want to live.”

    It was only through adversity that Petrick figured out his real purpose in life.

    “When you marry and have children, you give your wife and kids a ‘Forever card,’” he said. “It signifies that I’ll be there for them yesterday, today and always. I had definitely been thrown a curveball, but in the darkest time, my purpose became clear: My job was to focus on the needs of those I love.”

    “I used to think that being a champion depended on what I did when nobody else was watching,” Petrick said. “Now I know it is about what I do before the eyes of two precious little girls.”

    To learn more about Petrick, you can check out his full story on ESPN 360 or read a collection of short stories from his life in the book, 40,000 to One.

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    Where Have All the Fathers Gone?

    Several years ago a company donated Mother’s Day cards for prisoners to send to their mothers, and they actually ran out of cards. The company also donated cards for Father’s Day, but guess what? This time, inmates only used a handful of cards. This shocked the company.

    A Pew research piece may offer some insight into why this happened. After analyzing the 2011 American Community Survey, Pew asserted that a record 40 percent of all households with children under 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family.

    On the surface this sounds like a victory for women, but the report's details tell a very different story. It shows that two very different groups make up these "breadwinner moms." Actually, 5.1 million are married mothers who earn more than their husbands, and 8.6 million are single mothers.

    “You would never guess from the triumphant headlines in the media that almost two-thirds of the family breadwinners are single mothers,” says Kay Hymowitz, William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of Manning Up and Marriage and Caste in America. “These mothers are not ‘top earners,’ they are the only earners. Only 37 percent of the ‘breadwinning women’ are married mothers who are making more than their husbands, and in many instances, this is because the husband lost his job.”

    A whopping 63 percent (8.6 million) of these moms are single mothers, 29 percent of whom are not working at all. More than half of the children in homes with single moms are growing up poor. According to the report, a growing number of these women never married. Other studies have shown that never-married mothers tend to get less financial assistance from their children’s fathers than previously-married mothers.

    The Atlantic responded to the Pew research by saying, ‘Employment and gender roles in the United States continue to shift away from the Leave it to Beaver model. Murphy Brown is winning,’” Hymowitz says. “It speaks volumes that the article’s vision of a single mother is a make-believe character who is a television news star.”

    Research still consistently shows that children do better in every way when their two parents are present in the home. So what exactly are we celebrating? It isn’t about who makes more – it’s about helping families thrive.

    On Father's Day, perhaps prisoners took so few cards for a reason. Maybe it's because so many fathers have walked away from caring for and engaging with their children, although others want to be there. Oftentimes, a father's seemingly irreconcilable differences with the other parent keeps them from engaging with their kids.

    Whatever the case, guess who loses? The children.

    An analysis of 100 studies on parent-child relationships shows that having a loving and nurturing father is very important. It's as crucial for a child’s happiness, well-being, social and academic success as having a loving and nurturing mother.

    Dad, your kids need you.

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    Embracing the Second Half of Life

    A few years ago my mom attended the Wednesday night program at her church. Afterward, she called me and shared the speaker’s topic: “Your Kids Don’t Want Your Stuff.” Then she asked me the dreaded question: “You really don’t want all these treasures I have accumulated through the years?”

    While I appreciate the sentimental significance of some of her things, I honestly appreciated the speaker’s point. This is just one of the complicated moments the second half of life often brings.

    Our daughter surprised us with a visit a few days ago and as we were talking with friends, someone commented to her, “I can’t believe you’re 25!” She responded, “I know, I realize I’m halfway to 50!” 

    It occurred to me that if she’s halfway to 50, I’m halfway to 114. Whoa. This second half of life does have a way of sneaking up on us. Growing old is hard, especially when you still feel young and vibrant, but your body is screaming, “Not!”

    Recently, my mom shared that her best friend was really struggling with giving up driving. She was trying to help her understand that it really was a loving gesture from her kids. I couldn’t help but wonder what it will be like when I have to have that same conversation with her or our daughter has to make that decision for one of us.

    Plenty of us are independent folks, and the idea of losing that independence is really scary. In fact, many of us are unwilling to think about it, much less have some of the difficult conversations we need to have with our loved ones. When it comes to living life well to the end, what will your legacy be where relationships are concerned? 

    Many of us can look in the rearview mirror and think about situations or relationships we wish we had handled differently, perhaps with our children, our own parents or a close friend. Sometimes we believe it’s too late to do anything about it. If you’re reading this, you still have time.

    While working on my Master’s in counseling, I completed an internship on one of the cancer floors at UTK Medical Center. I will never forget the many times I walked into a room where the patient was literally ready to die but held on because there was unfinished business with the people standing around the bedside.

    Do you have unfinished business to take care of with the people who mean the most to you? It is abundantly clear that people take their relationship with their parents to the grave. And, I can tell you based on research, a parent’s words and actions matter.

    I recently heard a very successful man share that his parents have never told him they loved him, and he become very emotional. There was this big, burly, manly-man in his 60s who still longs/wants/needs/wishes to hear his parents say I love you. 

    What is your relationship like with your children? Do they know you love them and believe in them? If that’s a hard place for you, remember that you can’t control their response, but you can control what you do.

    When our daughter was growing up, I used to tell her that I loved her but I didn’t like her behavior. Over time I transitioned to telling her there is nothing she can do to make me love her more or less. That doesn’t mean I will agree with all of her decisions, but I want her to know I believe in her and I love her, period. If I unexpectedly died in my sleep, I don’t want her to wonder how I feel about her. 

    A young man in his 30s with a brain tumor was talking with his father after a medical appointment, and he reminded his dad that our life on this earth is “terminal.” There is some serious wisdom. A lot of us hate talking about dying, yet it’s inevitable. So here’s another question: How do you want to live until you die? That’s a huge part of your legacy, and you are teaching those around you.

    There is no super-secret formula for this. We are all different. Whether it’s driving, turning over the reins of the company, moving out of the house you have lived in forever or getting rid of your stuff, what do you want to pass on to the next generation?

    If you don’t already have a plan, there’s no time like the present to create one and share it with your loved ones. Make sure there are no surprises, because it’s often the surprises after someone is gone that create huge rifts in families. Talking about it might be hard, but it’s healthy. It really is important for us to model, even for adult children, how to live and die well.

    Finally, perhaps life hasn’t gone as you planned it and anger and bitterness have taken up residence in your heart and mind. Instead of talking about it, perhaps you behave badly and take it out on the ones you love the most. Growing old sometimes stinks, but there are lots of shifts and decisions to make, and things to talk about. Seeking help in this area isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength and health. 

    Moving forward, how will you go about creating a meaningful life with your family and friends?