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    50 Shades of What?

    Women are more than just sexual objects. Even after the height of the women's movement, they fight to seen as bright, capable of great accomplishments and worthy of respect. For years, women have taught other females about the difference between a healthy relationship and an unhealthy one.

    Now, there's Fifty Shades of Grey. Married women, college women and even young teen girls are so infatuated with it that they have actually bought more than 30 million copies.

    It is the story of Ana, a college student who is pursued by an older guy, Christian Grey. Ana is attracted to Grey when they meet, but she believes the attraction is not mutual. Through a series of events, Grey reveals that he wants to have sex with Ana. However, he requires her to complete paperwork beforehand: a non-disclosure agreement forbidding her to discuss anything they do together. There is also a second contract: one of dominance and submission, with the understanding that there will be no romantic relationship, only a sexual one. Grey is into bondage, discipline and sadomasochism (BDSM).

    While Ana finds Grey intriguing, he confuses her. He showers her with gifts and takes her to meet his family. Yet he wants to control what she eats, tell her what to wear and require her to obey him. And, he does not allow her to touch him or look him in the eyes. Grey beats her with a belt when Ana asks him to show her how extreme the BDSM could get.

    Why does this novel draw so many women in? Doesn't it promote women as sexual objects? What is the book's message about love? Would you want your daughter to date or marry Christian Grey?

    “I think women who are intrigued by this book must ask themselves, ‘Why does this guy appeal to me?’” says Pam Johnson, licensed clinical social worker. “Being willing to turn over the keys to your life to someone who wants to dominate and control you has a very high price tag.”

    Trust and support, mutual respect, non-threatening behavior, negotiation, healthy boundaries and fairness are the hallmarks of healthy relationships. Contracts forbidding conversation about the relationship or treating one of the people in the relationship as less than the other are not healthy or loving behaviors.

    Why would a woman offer herself to a man who makes it perfectly clear he only wants to dominate her and have sex with her?

    “In many instances, this 'Christian Grey' kind of person attracts women who are looking for safety and security,” Johnson says. “At first it may be very appealing to have someone who will take all the hard decisions away when things feel scary and out of control. However, you cannot mistake control over your life for a real love that is safe and secure.”

    Any relationship that dominates, degrades, and fails to nourish and cherish is nothing more than a work of fiction. When a woman learns to first love herself for who she is, there is no room for shades of gray.

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    What You Should Know About Fishing for Relationships

    Relationships are complicated, but "catfishing" takes things to a whole new level. A "catfish" uses Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.

    Have you heard about the media firestorm concerning Manti Te’o and his serious "girlfriend's" tragic death? The entire country felt sorry for Te'o. The problem: The girlfriend never even existed.

    Here's another example: Four attractive young women tearfully told Dr. Phil of being duped online and believing they were talking to a guy…the same guy. One woman talked with him on the phone every day for three years; they exchanged photographs, texts and were planning their future together. None of these women ever personally met their love interest. They were shocked to discover that "David" was actually a woman. And, they had never spoken with the guy in their photos.

    How can people be so naïve to fall victim to this kind of scam, and why would someone do this? Who knows how or why a person deceives and leads people on. Perhaps it's a need for power and control, a desire for attention or to hurt people. But, the bigger question is – why do people ever fall prey to this? The women pushed red flags aside in the name of love. Maybe people are so desperate for love that they are willing to deceive themselves about what real relationships look like.

    Real Relationships

    Spend time together, talk and get to know each other face to face. Talking on the phone and messaging back and forth only provides a one-dimensional perspective of your relationship. It is impossible to be in love with someone without seeing how they interact with others, how they handle anger and conflict, or how they treat you. You may be in love with who you think they are, but you have no proof that what you have heard or seen is real.

    Look for trust, honesty and openness. If a person can’t meet you, your friends or family in person, stop wasting your time in a fantasy world. Don't settle for anything less than a relationship that is healthy, nurturing and most importantly, REAL.

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    The Value of Father-Daughter Relationships

    Beth, a 26-year-old church secretary was in a particularly good mood. She was actually glowing when a friend asked if her boyfriend had proposed to her.

    "Her response took me by surprise,” says Ken Canfield, author of Seven Secrets of Effective Fathers and The Heart of a Father. "She told me her father initiated a phone call to her for the first time in a very long time. I noticed she had flowers on her desk and I asked who sent her flowers.

    "With a huge smile, she told me her dad sent them to her for her birthday. Beth’s response to her father’s attention made me realize something. Even grown women hunger for love, attention and affirmation from their father.”

    Research from Canterbury and Vanderbilt Universities shows that from birth on, a father's activity and presence uniquely benefits their daughters.

    “Many men operate off of the premise that if they were uninvolved in their daughter’s life as she was growing up, it is too late to make a difference,” Canfield says. “Thinking that the die is cast or the deal is done because our children are grown is something we must re-examine. It simply is not true. In a parallel vein, research shows the devastating impact of divorce affects adult children deeply. Contrastingly, the continued investment in your child’s life even when they are parents of your grandchildren will reap tremendous benefits for you and them.”

    Studies reveal that men tend to spend more time with their sons than they do with their daughters. In fact, fathers tend to back away from their daughters during the pre-adolescence and adolescence. However, a girl's need for attention and affection during that time period is even more important.

    “When a father abandons a relationship with his daughter, she can become frozen in time relationally with the opposite sex,” Canfield says. “A 50-year-old woman may look like an adult, but on the inside she is still working on issues that should have been attended to by a healthy, engaged father.”

    Based on research, we know a few more things about these relationships. Without a healthy relationship with their father, girls will find other ways to contribute to their development when it comes to relating to men.

    “When you are frozen relationally, it is difficult to know your place and how to develop a healthy relationship. It's because you are working from a point of need instead of working out of a position of co-equal,” Canfield says. “There is a void in her life. The search to fill that void prompts her to take risks in relationships, which usually result in some really poor choices.”

    According to Canfield, limitless healing and restoration can take place in father-daughter relationships. Here are Canfield's tips:

    • Initiate communication with your adult daughter. Affirm her for the positive contributions she has made to your life or in the lives of others.

    • Consider asking for forgiveness. The three toughest things for fathers to say are: “I was wrong, I am sorry, and will you forgive me?” Use these to deepen your relationship with your daughter.

    • Ask your daughter for three ways you can support her in the coming year.

    • Ask your child’s mother (who is an adult daughter) to describe how her father influenced her most significantly.

    • Affirm your daughter’s femininity by being sensitive to her emotional highs and lows.

    Cultivate an atmosphere of “no-strings-attached” love in your home. Be ready to listen to and support your children in every challenge.

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    Dad's Role in a Daughter's Marriage

    Sometimes the closeness of a father/daughter relationship can interfere with the couple relationship.

    For example, one couple was arguing over purchasing a $600 set of dishes. According to the husband, they could not afford them. As a result, the wife was furious.

    When she told her father that her husband would not purchase the dishes, her dad purchased them for her. Some might say, "Why is this a problem? He was just trying help."

    But most relationship experts would say the dad crossed a line when he got in the middle of something the couple needed to figure out for themselves. If she thinks she can run to her father and get what she wants every time there is a disagreement about spending money, two things will eventually happen:

    • The husband will grow to completely resent his father-in-law, or

    • The daughter will stop discussing these things with her husband and go straight to her father to get what she wants.

    Neither of these outcomes are good for the marriage.

    Couples need to openly discuss these potential pitfalls and agree ahead of time about boundaries and expectations within their marriage.

    For Fathers:

    While it may be difficult, it is important for you to step back emotionally once your daughter is married. Even though you enjoy doing things for her, it is better to ask yourself one question: Is if what I am about to do going to be helpful to their marriage?

    If the answer is no, don't do it. OR, ask them how they would feel about you helping. If both aren't in agreement that it would be helpful, then don't do it. Let them figure it out.

    It's hard to believe that any guy will ever measure up and be good enough for your daughter. If you want their marriage to be successful, however, guard against criticizing your son-in-law.

    Recognize it is not your job to control things. And while she will always be your daughter, her husband comes first.

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    5 Holiday Tips for Divorced Parents

    The holidays will be different for many children who are adjusting to their parents’ divorce. What once was, is no more. In the midst of their “new normal,” now they must learn how to deal with dividing the holidays between parents. And, it isn’t just the kids who will be experiencing stress.

    “I think it is critical for newly-divorced parents to anticipate the added emotional strain the holidays can present for both themselves and their children and prepare accordingly,” says Dr. Susan Hickman, local psychologist. “First and foremost, parents must remember that it is their role to provide emotional support for their children, not vice versa. Unfortunately, too many parents look to their children, rather than to other appropriate adults, for emotional support, love and/or validation.”

    Rarely does everything go according to plan. Maybe one parent doesn't pick up or return the children on time or the kids forget their favorite teddy bear. Perhaps somebody says something hurtful, resulting in a meltdown along the way.

    “The likelihood of this happening is great because favorite routines that are so easily remembered have gone away and truth be told, everybody still longs for them,” Hickman says. “Nothing is as it was, and with this realization comes sadness and perhaps anger – especially during the holidays, when family time is viewed as more sacred. Understanding these sensitivities and the reasons for them is the first step in not allowing the stress to spiral out of control.”

    If you want to prepare for dealing with the holidays constructively, try Hickman's suggestions:

    • Have a release valve. Identify a parent or friend in advance, someone who has a level head and who is willing to listen without attempting to fix the problem or meddle, to be on standby for you to call and blow off steam. Recognize that the overwhelming emotions of the present are not permanent.

    • Be available for your children. If it overwhelms you as a parent, imagine how overwhelming it is for children with their limited coping abilities. Children cannot reason through or understand adult decisions or actions and thus often blame themselves erroneously for parental behaviors such as divorce. If they do not have the opportunity to express their grief, anger, sadness, shame and self-blame, how will you ever tell them differently? Many emotional and behavioral problems arise because children of divorce try to cope on their own.

    • Allow children to be children, especially during the holidays. While divorce is serious and full of heavy ramifications, children still need to laugh, play, relate to others, engage in fantasy, etc. They do not understand the emotional pain of their parents, nor should they! Do not think they “don’t love you” because they don’t show empathy. Try not to expect or force them to carry this load the same way you do. One of the best gifts you can give them as a parent is the gift of childhood.

    • Give up the idea of ultimate control. Adults often believe they can change and control others, and they frequently make themselves (and others) crazy in their attempts. This is the art of parenting from a distance. Children need to see healthy coping skills and positive attitudes modeled in difficult situations toward all. This is a time to promote family involvement, not sabotage it through bitterness and the need to hurt one another.

    • Keep as many old traditions as you can, but don’t be afraid to start new ones. The old traditions provide stability, but many disappear due to divorce. Invite your children to help you create some, but be sensitive if they are sullen and reluctant to do so. This is especially important for teens.

    “There will likely be some tough moments this holiday season,” Hickman says. “Don’t let this daunt your enthusiasm. Your willingness to move ahead sends the message that you can live fully, happily and hopefully despite unexpected loss. This is the real message of the season: Hope, joy and peace.”