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Dating

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    How to Be More Supportive

    Everyone has bad days and faces challenges in life, and we all need encouragement to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes in our efforts to be helpful and to avoid awkwardness, we say things like, “Look at the bright side of things,” or “Think positive.” While well-intentioned, the words may not be super helpful.

    The reality is, allowing people to be vulnerable, open and honest about where they are can be a real gift. We live in a world where 1 in 4 people struggles with anxiety about different aspects of life. Just telling them to be positive or pointing out what we see as the “silver lining” does not provide a solution or make things better for them.

    What might be more helpful than mere words is your presence as they walk the road. Acknowledge the reality at hand by being there and by saying, “I can tell this is so hard,” or “In the midst of the storm, it is hard to see past all the challenges.” Asking, “What can you do for yourself today that will be comforting as you try and sort things out?” can also make a world of difference in how they view the situation.

    Whitney Hawkins Goodman, licensed marriage and family therapist, posted a graphic on Instagram containing common positive statements that are meant to be helpful, but might not necessarily be beneficial to someone who is really struggling. She contrasted those statements with ones that offer validation and hope instead.

    Instead of saying, “See the good in everything,” Goodman suggests trying, “It’s probably really hard to see any good in this situation. We’ll make sense of it later.” Or, instead of, “Just be positive,” what about, “I know there’s a lot that could go wrong. What could go right?” The truth is, it’s super hard to see the good in anything when you literally can’t see your way out of the pit. With these statements, you aren’t trying to sugarcoat the problem, and you are giving them the opportunity to consider whether there is potential for something good to happen.

    Think about the hard times in your own life. Sometimes it doesn’t feel safe to express yourself because you aren’t sure how another person will respond. What we are looking for in moments like this is empathy. 

    It can be uncomfortable to see someone you care about struggling. What you really want to do is fix the problem, but you can’t and usually you shouldn’t. In the midst of not being sure what to say or do, our tendency is to “Don’t just sit there; Do something.” Perhaps in this instance we should turn the tables and say, “Don’t do something; Just sit there. 

    It’s freeing for both parties if you are able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and get into the trenches with them, even if you can’t fix it for them. However, you can listen, hold their hand and help them find perspective. In doing so, you are allowing them to feel what they feel without inadvertently being judgmental or condescending, and that is powerful.

    Sometimes we underestimate the power of just showing up. You don’t have to have all the right words. Nor do you have to figure out best next steps. It’s OK not to be OK sometimes.

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

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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.


    Looking for more? Check out this article of JulieB TV on this topic!


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    Tidying Up Your Life

    Many people are looking to do some cleaning out at the beginning of a new year. Whether it’s a detox body cleanse or binge-watching “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” on Netflix, people are interested in freeing themselves from toxins in their body and letting go of material things that seem to hold them back from living their best life.

    A relational cleanse could also be helpful. Start by asking yourself, “What did I drag into this new year that is holding me back?” It could be things like:

    • bitterness and resentment
    • a toxic friendship
    • lies you have taken on as truth about yourself
    • childhood experiences that still haunt you
    • a lack of forgiveness of yourself and/or others
    • disappointment that weighs heavily on your heart
    • despair that things will never change
    • an addiction
    • a job you dislike, or something else.

    Are there people who suck the life right out of you every time you are around them? If so, why do you choose to hang with them? How would your life be different if you moved on?

    What purpose does unforgiveness, resentment and bitterness serve? Holding on to emotions may seem powerful in some way or that it is actually impacting the other person, but it’s really killing you instead. Letting go of the poison doesn’t excuse the behavior; It gives you the freedom to live.

    What about disappointment and the complications of life? Spouses walk away, jobs end, unexpected illness hits, children make poor choices, and sometimes the biggest disappointments come from the ones you care about the most. Is collecting and carrying around disappointments helping you move forward? Sometimes you look back and realize that one of your biggest disappointments taught you one of your greatest life lessons. But, if you can’t figure out how holding on to disappointments is helping you be your best you, then it’s time to let them go. Doing this might feel like letting go of a very heavy weight.

    Excessive spending, gambling, alcohol, drugs, food, sex, pornography, video gaming, exercising, work and cutting are just a few of the addictions people often find themselves battling. Acknowledging that any one of these has a stranglehold on your life is the first step toward dealing with it and moving forward. Addictions are often bigger than what we can handle on our own, so don’t be afraid to seek professional help to get you moving in a healthy direction.

    Oftentimes, the hardest part is recognizing that we each make a choice, consciously or not, to continue hauling stuff around that isn’t helpful or healthy for us. Making an intentional decision to stop dragging around unhealthy relational things can give you a completely different perspective on a new year and your life. Opportunity lies ahead.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 20, 2019.


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    Marriage, Millennials and the Divorce Rate

    Millennials are causing the U.S. divorce rate to plummet, according to a Bloomberg News report. In fact, divorce is down 18 percent since the Great Recession. On the surface this sounds like great news, but peeling back the layers reveals some good news accompanied by some not-so-good news.

    Young couples are looking at marriage differently. They are marrying later in life, waiting until after they have completed their education and have found a job. They are also being pickier about who they marry.

    Sociologist Brad Wilcox studies marriage and divorce trends as the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. He agrees that there is some news worth celebrating, but there is also a downside.

    Based on the data, Wilcox believes marriage is becoming more stable, and the adults who are entering marriage are more intentional about commitment. They don’t want to make the same mistake their parents often made at the height of the divorce revolution. 

    Wilcox says, “The Great Recession is really the first time we have seen the unwed childbearing trend go down. Many young women and young couples have become more cautious about having children outside of marriage.”

    “We will see a stabilization in families for children,” Wilcox says. “We might actually see more children raised in two-parent, married families than in the past decade.”

    Now for the bad news.

    “Based on the research, we are going to see a decline in marriage for millennials and those coming behind them,” Wilcox says. “They are more cautious. Many of the young men are less accomplished and appealing as potential mates, and both young men and women are more reluctant to commit.” 

    Census figures show the median age of first marriage in America is now around 30 for men and 28 for women. And while millennials may be holding off on marriage, they are not holding off on living together. More Americans under 25 live with a partner than are married to one.

    The second piece of bad news? It's still true that one in two children born to parents without college degrees will experience family instability. By contrast, only about one-fourth of children born to college-educated parents will see their parents break up. The class divide in American family life seems here to stay, according to Wilcox. There is an interesting caveat to note, however. In looking at the data, Wilcox found that religious attendance is as powerful a predictor of marital stability as is a college education.

    “People who regularly attend religious services are more likely to enjoy stable, happy marriages,” Wilcox shares. “This makes me think we need to expand our thinking beyond just the socio-economic factors... One factor that fuels stronger marriage among less educated Americans is an active faith.”

    More people are getting married are staying married, but there is a very significant issue going on that cannot be ignored. A large portion of the population is not experiencing the benefits of marriage, and it doesn’t only impact the couples who aren’t marrying; it affects the children and society as a whole.  

    Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on December 2, 2018.

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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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    What People Are Thinking About Marriage

    What people believe about marriage may surprise you.

    At the 2019 NARME Summit in Nashville, Dr. Scott Stanley shared what people really think about marriage using the latest marriage and cohabitation research.

    If you’ve heard that married couples have a 50% chance of eventually divorcing, did you know that this statistic pertains specifically to Baby Boomers - the most divorcing generation ever in U.S. history? The news is better for those marrying today - their lifetime risk for divorce is only around 38%.

    Before you get too excited about the divorce rate decrease though, it would be important to know that the marriage rate has also decreased. 

    WHAT MARRIAGE LOOKS LIKE TODAY

    According to Stanley, demographers and sociologists wonder whether people are marrying later or if a historic number of younger people just won’t marry. Some think marriage will bounce back, while others think the younger generations are afraid of or disinterested in marriage. 

    This is quite perplexing when research, including the U.S. General Social Survey, indicates that around 95% of people say they are “pretty happy” or “very happy” in their marriage. Stanley says it’s possible that people are happy, but that when things go south, they may do so very quickly.

    The average age of first marriage is currently 30 for men and 28 for women, but many who have young adult children or grandchildren are often puzzled by this delay in marriage. Boomers and Gen Xers reflect on their own young adulthood and realize that not only were they married in their early to mid-20s, but they also had children and jobs.

    So what’s up with the delay? Stanley likens it to people milling around the airport who aren’t all there for the same reason. 

    THREE TYPES OF SINGLES

    1. Seekers: Some are there seeking the one perfect person who will be perfectly attuned to them. Stanley cautions these seekers to examine if they are unrealistically seeking perfection from someone when they aren’t perfect themselves.
    2. Determined Delayers: The “determined delayers” at the airport might eventually be seeking “the one,” but are uninterested in finding them, at least for now. They say they want to get married - but maybe in five years or so. These delayers are either having fun trying out several relationships or are enjoying being uninvolved romantically.
    3. Wanderers: Then there are the wanderers, who aren’t looking for a relationship or preventing one either. If they get into a relationship and it works, they could easily end up married.

    It’s when a seeker starts dating a determined delayer and doesn’t know it that things can get complicated. Stanley says ambiguity can lead one person in the dating relationship to believe that the other is more interested in marriage than they really are.

    THE COMPETITION TO COMMITMENT

    According to Stanley, the number one competitor to commitment in a relationship is how good your alternatives are and your awareness of them. People who carry a lot of relationship experience into marriage tend to think, “I hope this works, but if it doesn’t, there are other fish in the sea.”

    “Marriage for many people has moved from being a cornerstone to your life to a capstone,” Stanley shares. “Instead of being foundational, it is a major achievement as a status symbol.”

    Yet, the 2018 American Family Survey (AFS) indicates that 64 percent of us believe that marriage makes families and children better off financially. A large majority believes that marriage is needed to create strong families, and that society is better off when more people are married. The percentage of people who believe marriage is old-fashioned and outdated hovers in the mid-teens.

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    • If there is a benefit in delaying marriage, Stanley believes that perhaps people are self-insuring to protect themselves from potential loss. However, the downside of that means they are doubling down on individualism versus interdependence.
    • Friends used to connect their friends to their future mate, but the data shows that more people are meeting online instead. If people wisely use these online systems to look for someone who is a better fit instead of being limited to only the people in their community, this is good news for relationships. Stanley says people need to think about what they are looking for and intentionally surround themselves with people who share their values.
    • People are wrestling with the idea of marriage for various reasons. When the AFS asked what was essential to living a fulfilled life, marriage was the lowest thing on the list. A good living, education and a rewarding job were at the top. It could be that people are thinking if they have those three things, their chances of making marriage work are greater, but no one knows for sure.

    In The Atlantic piece, What You Lose When You Gain a Spouse, Mandy Len Catron contends that marriage is socially isolating, marriage is no longer what many want, there is too much emphasis on marriage and commitment is really the main thing, not marriage.  

    Research does indicate singles are more socially connected than marrieds, and they tend to have a broader community. When people marry, they do tend to invest their time and energy into their marriage. However, couples who know that marriage could become socially isolating can be intentional about building social connectedness and community.

    THREE QUESTIONS TO CLARIFY COMMITMENT IN A RELATIONSHIP OUTSIDE OF MARRIAGE

    For those who align with Mandy Len Catron, Stanley offers three questions that are important to ask.

    1. Have you both agreed to a lifetime of commitment to each other?
    2. Have you publicly declared the depth of your commitment to those who matter most in your lives?
    3. Have you agreed to be faithful to each other for the rest of your lives?

    The answers to these questions can help determine the trajectory of the relationship, for better or for worse.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on August 9, 2019.

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    How Technology Use Impacts Faithfulness

    In July 2019, the 2019 State of our Unions: iFidelity: Interactive Technology and Relationship Faithfulness report revealed some interesting findings about marital health and relationship attitudes/behaviors, both online and in real life, in America.  

    According to the report, the internet has impacted our personal and professional lives in such a way that our definitions of romantic and sexual loyalty and commitment are changing. While most Americans still clearly oppose sexual unfaithfulness in marriage, younger adults are significantly more likely to engage in internet infidelity than older generations. 

    Researchers believe the weakening of marital and relationship boundaries matters, and the data in this report shows a generational divide in both behaviors and attitudes, with younger generations having weaker boundaries. Younger Americans are more likely to be unfaithful online, and it’s clear that relationship outcomes are markedly worse when iFidelity becomes i-Infidelity. 

    The report offers three key findings across all age groups.

    First, a majority of Americans in all generations express support for sexual fidelity in their relationships and report they are sexually faithful in real life. However, today’s young adults are more likely to cross online boundaries related to sex and romance. 

    Additionally, many online behaviors are rated by most Americans (70% or more) as “unfaithful” or “cheating.” This would include having a secret emotional relationship or sexting with someone other than a partner/spouse without the partner’s/spouse’s knowledge and consent. 

    The third finding can have a major impact on relationships if couples were to set and enforce online boundaries: Married and cohabiting couples who maintain strong online boundaries against potential sexual and romantic alternatives are more likely to be happy in their relationships. Currently married or cohabiting couples who blur those boundaries are significantly less happy, less committed and more likely to break up. On the other hand, couples who take a more careful stance online are happier, more committed and less likely to separate. 

    Here are some of the numbers:

    • 18% of millennial participants engaged in sexual talk online with someone besides their partner; only 3% of Greatest/Silent Generation participants (ages 75 and older), 6% of baby boomers and 16% of Gen Xers did so.
    • Only 18% of millennials think that electronic behaviors that blur romantic and sexual lines with others are inappropriate, compared to 26% of baby boomers.
    • Married and cohabiting people who did not follow a former girlfriend/boyfriend online had a 62% likelihood of reporting that they were “very happy” in their relationship, while only 46% of those who followed an old flame online reported being very happy.
    • Married and cohabiting Americans who break three or more romantic or sexual boundaries online are 26 percentage points less likely to be “very happy” in their real life relationship, compared to those who push none of those boundaries.

    The General Social Survey, a key source for the report, regularly gauges American attitudes and has asked the same questions regarding marital fidelity from 1998 to 2018. 

    For example, “What about a married person having sexual relations with someone other than his or her husband or wife, is it …?” The percentage of people responding, “Always wrong” dropped 8 points over a 20-year span to 75%. This indicates an increase in more permissive attitudes, but statistical tests confirm that an attitudinal shift of 8 percentage points in the last 10 years is not likely due to chance.

    According to this report, young adults who have grown up in the age of the internet are the least committed to iFidelity. It also shows that crossing emotional and sexual boundaries results in lower quality relationships. iFidelity, then, suggests that our online conduct is linked to the health of our real life relationships. Is your online conduct helping or hurting your relationship?

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on August 2, 2019.


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    Tips for Controlling Your Emotions

    When you’re in the checkout line at the store and a 2-year-old has a meltdown because they can’t have a candy bar, nobody is shocked because well, they are two. It’s totally another story when an adult who is unable to regulate their emotions has a public meltdown. 

    Unfortunately, a rising number of teens and adults seem to be struggling with emotional and impulse control, and the results are often disastrous. Think road rage, someone cutting in line or even publicly expressing a different opinion in a rude manner.

    The Child Mind Institute defines self-regulation as the ability to manage emotions and behavior in accordance with situational demands. It is a skill set that enables children, as they mature, to direct their own behavior toward a goal, despite the unpredictability of the world and their own feelings. It includes:

    • Being able to resist highly-emotional reactions to upsetting stimuli, 
    • Calming yourself down when you get upset,
    • Adjusting to a change in expectations, and
    • Handling frustration without an outburst. 

    Children who don’t learn this skill struggle to self-regulate as they get older. And, if you’ve ever experienced this out-of-control feeling or been on the receiving end, you know it’s not a good thing. There is good news, though. If you didn’t learn this skill as a child, it is still possible to learn it as an adult. 

    Your emotional brain processes information in two milliseconds, so keeping yourself under control during a frustrating experience involves being able to pause between the feeling and your response. There is a trigger; someone pushes your buttons (we all have an easy button), there is an instant reaction, accompanied by a strong emotion often followed by a feeling of remorse. This is the body’s automatic built-in protection system, also known as “fight, flight or freeze.” 

    Your rational brain, which helps you make sound decisions, processes information in 500 milliseconds, 250 times longer than your emotional brain. People have to learn how to assess situations quickly, but if they don’t pause long enough to discern what is actually happening, their emotional brain can take control before their rational brain has a chance to kick into gear. 

    If you or someone you know struggles with self-regulation, it’s not too late! You just have to be intentional about choosing to behave differently. 

    Think about what you can control and what you cannot. You cannot control how other people behave, but you can choose how you will respond or engage with them. Sometimes, the best response is to do nothing.

    Learn how to master your feelings, versus letting them master you will serve you well. For example, when someone cuts you off when you’re driving, you suddenly feel your heart rate go up, adrenaline starts flowing, and your first instinct is to go after them. However, if you are practicing emotional regulation, you can take a breath, even acknowledge that that makes you angry, but then let it go because the consequences of your actions could bring harm to you, that driver and others who aren’t even involved.

    This should not be interpreted as people not being able to stand up for themselves or being silenced. Instead, learning how to master strong and powerful emotions can help people develop calm and constructive ways to have their voice heard. When people are out of control, it’s highly unlikely that anything positive will come from the situation.