DatingArticles

Articles for Dating Couples

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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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    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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    "I Do" is Complicated

    What can you learn from a focus group of millennial women who live with their boyfriends? You can really find out about their relationships, their thoughts about marriage and how they think cohabitation differs from marriage.

    Only one of the six women had ever married. Some had children with their current boyfriend. Others brought children into the relationship. They discussed the following questions, and more.

    Do you believe living together and marriage are pretty much the same thing?

    Most of the women agreed that living together and marriage were practically the same thing. They said it really boiled down to commitment to the relationship. And, they wondered why someone needs a piece of paper to prove their commitment to each other.

    They also wondered if they could make a marriage work. For instance, only one of the women came from an intact family. She said everyone in her family had been successful at marriage so far except her.

    Are there any ways that marriage is different from living together?

    Regarding the differences in cohabitation and marriage, they discussed missing benefits because they weren't legally married, even though they thought of themselves as married. They also said people treated them differently when they discovered they were unmarried.

    The National Center for Family and Marriage Research indicates that 41 percent of cohabitors express pessimism about marriage. More than half (64 percent) of Gen-Xers and millennials agree that living together before marriage may help prevent divorce. 

    Interestingly, only about 35 percent of individuals who married first believe that cohabitation may help prevent breakups.

    If your boyfriend asked you to marry him, would you?

    Surprisingly, all but one woman enthusiastically said yes, despite saying they believed there was really no difference in cohabitation and marriage.

    While these women and many like them believe living together and marriage are basically the same, consider these statistics:

    • The overall rate of violence for cohabiting couples is twice as high as for married couples. Plus, the overall rate for "severe" violence is nearly five times as high, according to the Family Violence Research Program at the University of New Hampshire, the nation's leading institution studying domestic violence.

    • Studies conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health found that women in cohabiting relationships had depression rates nearly five times higher than married women. Those rates were second only to women who were twice-divorced.

    • Children living in households with unrelated adults are nearly 50 times more likely to die of inflicted injuries as children living with two biological parents, according to a study of Missouri data published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

    Most of the women in the focus group said they want to avoid the pain of divorce. Unfortunately, many people don't understand that relationship dynamics without relationship structure increases that risk.

    If you're in a serious relationship and wonder if you should take your relationship to the next level, think carefully. Instead of moving in together, consider taking a class that will help you know if you have learned all of the different skills that can help your relationship last a lifetime.

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    Cohabitation and Relationships

    Arielle Kuperberg, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, claims that her findings on premarital cohabitation debunk 30 years of research. Kuperberg believes her study shows that couples who cohabit before marrying are no more likely to divorce than anyone else.

    Since the 1960s, there has been a 900 percent global increase in cohabitation. Many people believe that not living together before marriage is a huge mistake. However, there is still no clear evidence that cohabitation helps to create family stability.

    It is a huge deal to claim you have debunked decades worth of study with one piece of research.

    The University of Denver's Dr. Scott Stanley, and others, have conducted research on this issue for years. In his blog, slidingvsdeciding.com, Stanley breaks down many of the myths surrounding cohabitation and marriage.

    “At the heart of it, Kuperberg asserts that scores of researchers have had it wrong for decades, and that maybe there never has been an association between cohabiting and marriage and divorce,” Stanley writes in a recent post. “She asserts that what was misunderstood all these years is that cohabiters are more likely to divorce, not because they cohabited, but because they tended to start living together when they were too young to either be making a wise choice in a mate or to take on the roles of marriage. This logic is akin to the well-replicated, robust finding that marrying young is associated with greater odds of divorce. Given that, why wouldn’t moving in together at a young age also be a problem?”

    Great question.

    Kuperberg’s study does not show that living together before marriage decreases divorce. At best, it may show that cohabiting before marriage does not increase the risk of divorce for some couples.

    Stanley's blog describes some of the issues with premarital cohabitation. These matters can cause difficulty forming lasting love in marriage. If you're considering living together, you just might want to think about them:

    • Serial cohabitation is associated with greater risk for divorce. Cohabiting with more than just your future spouse is linked to poorer marital outcomes.

    • Cohabiting with your eventual mate before having clear, mutual plans for marriage correlates to lower marital satisfaction and higher divorce risk. Couples who currently live together and have clear plans for marriage have stronger relationships.

    • Cohabiting without a mutual and clear intention to marry is on the rise. Unmarried, cohabiting women have greater rates of unplanned pregnancies than married women.

    • Living together often creates constraints that make it harder to break up. Yet, the kind of dedication most strongly associated with happy, strong relationships levels off.

    You can read Stanley's entire blog post here.

    If this topic is relevant to you, don't buy Kuperberg’s research hook, line and sinker. Learn more about all the research related to cohabitation. Then, consider how it might impact your life and the ones you love.

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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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    10 Red Flags in a Dating Relationship

    The person you are dating wants to dominate your time and/or keep you from friends and family.

    He/she asks you to sacrifice your values for the sake of the relationship.

    Your significant other disrespects and discourages you instead of encouraging and honoring you. 

    Your date wants to control you – where you go, who you see, what you wear, etc.

    When talking about past relationships, your date always blames the other party for the problems in their relationship.

    Your dating relationship is in constant turmoil.

    Your date has anger issues.

    Your date is rushing the getting to know you process.

    Your friends don’t like him/her.

    You continually make excuses for their behavior.

    He/she seems to be heading in the opposite direction of where you are headed in life.

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    3 Myths About Waiting to Marry

    Not too long ago people tended to marry in their early 20s, but now the average marrying age is 29 for males and 27 for females. Why are people waiting so long to marry? And is it helping or hurting their chances of success in marriage?

    “It is interesting because today’s young singles (emerging adults) want to have a great marriage yet they keep putting it off,” says Dr. John Van Epp, author of How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk (or Jerkette). “This is occurring across almost all subcultures, races and the socio-economic spectrum in both the U.S. and most European countries.” 

    For instance, researcher Katherine Edin found that marriage was a dream for most people living in poverty, a luxury they hoped to indulge in someday when the time was right, but generally not something they saw happening in the near or even the foreseeable future.

    “To understand what is happening with singles we can’t just look at their behavior—we have to ask what they are thinking,” Van Epp says. “There seem to be three prevalent myths that emerging adults buy into when it comes to marriage. First, marrying later results in marrying better. Second, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. And finally, marriage takes more than it gives.” 

    In some ways, it is true that marrying later leads to better marriages. In a 2002 study of 10,000 women, marrying after 21 did contribute to improved marital stability; however, there wasn’t much difference between the ages of 21 and 30. On the other hand, premarital sex, premarital cohabitation and unwed childbearing contributed to marital instability. As a result, researchers suggest that marrying after the early 20s may increase the risks because people become set in their ways and are more likely to engage in these higher risk activities.

    The second myth – what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas—is used to compartmentalize risky activities apart from their effects on a future marriage. 

    “Many singles operate under the premise that sowing their wild oats before they get married will not impact their marriage relationship,” Van Epp shares. “However, this is a myth. Research has provided indisputable evidence that the number of sexual partners women had before they married were directly related to their chances of divorce. A 2003 study found that involvement with just one partner outside of marriage raised the risk of divorce three times higher than those who had only had sex with their husband.”

    For emerging adults, there seems to be a marital horizon, the ideal age at which to marry. Those who have a more distant marital horizon are much more likely to participate in the risky premarital activities identified by research to put them at greater risk for divorce. 

    “Clearly we are seeing that it isn’t just the experience of marriage… it is the mindset of marriage,” Van Epp notes. “For instance, my daughter remembers a friend she had in high school who told her that when she dated she always kept in mind her future husband. Do not be fooled, what happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas.”

    The third myth, according to Van Epp - marriage takes more than it gives - comes from messages that society sends to our young people. Too many well-meaning parents are counseling their kids to slow down, delay settling down, experience and enjoy life, and not to marry until they have to.   

    “The implication for the emerging adult is that when you finally get married it’s as if you stepped into a life sentence of limited options,” Van Epp believes. “The truth is just the opposite: marriage creates a framework that gives you something more than what you can gain and be by yourself.” 

    So how can you keep from falling prey to these three myths?  

    First, educate yourself on these issues so you have accurate information. It’s helpful to know that what you do now programs your future behavior. Keep marriage close on the horizon versus a distant goal. Realize the risks involved with premarital cohabitation and premarital sex. 

    “We have intentionally raised our daughters to think of marriage as a wonderful experience that could be just around the corner after they entered their 20s,” Van Epp says. “Our oldest is getting married soon. Throughout her high school and college years she dated with her future marriage in mind. Many parents are cultivating a narcissistic and compartmentalized view of dating and the 20s. I would encourage an emerging adult to move marriage closer on the horizon, to consciously work at a better attitude toward marriage and to live in a way that would not jeopardize marriage in the future.”  



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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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