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    Getting Engaged During the Holidays?

    Christie and Jim celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday with both of their families. Just before the meal, Jim began to tell Christie how thankful he was for her. He also shared what he appreciated about her. A bit embarrassed, she asked him if he realized he was talking to her in front of their entire family. With a smile on his face, he responded, “Yes.”

    After a few more moments of sharing, Jim asked Christie to marry him. She said yes, and everyone broke out in applause.

    According to WeddingWire, almost 33 percent of marriage proposals occur between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

    “There is something special about celebrating the big moment with family and friends who are gathered together during this special time,” says Dr. Greg Smalley, co-author of Before You Plan Your Wedding…Plan Your Marriage. “However, the memories of the ‘moment’ are often shoved to the backseat as many of these couples hurriedly launch into planning for a June wedding. Since they only have six months to get ready, they spend all their time planning for the ‘day’ instead of doing things that will help them stay married for a lifetime.”

    Smalley contends that many couples make this common mistake: They think they have all the answers for marital bliss. Then they find out they were wrong.

    “We see so many couples who clearly want to have successful marriages,” Smalley says. “The good news is most of them can be successful as long as they get the right knowledge and skills. Research shows that couples who succeed gain the knowledge they need before they settle into destructive patterns that often lead to divorce.”

    A study conducted by Dr. David Olson indicates that 80 percent of couples who participate in premarital preparation report higher marital satisfaction. Additionally, studies show that couples who participate in premarital preparation are 31 percent less likely to divorce.

    “Most newlywed couples are clueless that they are getting ready to face enormous adjustments like managing expectations, dealing with disagreement and disappointment, household issues, financial decisions, intimacy in their relationship, in-laws, how to spend free time, personality differences, re-orienting old friendships and more,” Smalley says. “The key to successfully navigating these adjustments is: A) attacking the problem and not each other, and B) feeling emotionally safe with your spouse.”

    Two people who feel emotionally safe in their marriage are much more likely to reveal their deepest thoughts, feelings and desires because they know their partner will still love, accept and value them. When couples can share at this level, they're much more likely to get to the heart of issues and work through them. Interestingly, communicating at this level actually increases intimacy in the marriage relationship. The skills to do this are what couples learn through premarital preparation.

    “You can have a 'perfect' wedding day and a safe marriage relationship. It just takes some additional effort,” Smalley shares. “Building a safe relationship is key to a strong foundation for your marriage. Ideally, your marriage should feel like the safest place on earth.”

    Are you planning for the day, or are you planning for a lifetime?

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    What You Need to Know About Sexual Assault

  • Benefits of Pre Marital Education

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    Tips from Newlyweds for a Happy, Healthy Marriage

    The bride-to-be shared that it was only two weeks, four days and six hours until the wedding. Her eyes sparkled as she talked, and everyone could tell she was head over heels in love.

    Many brides who have gone before her know that feeling so well. They also know that starry-eyed love is not all you need to carry you through the marriage journey.

    What kind of advice would newlyweds give to engaged couples?

    One bride shared that she and her husband didn’t talk about finances before walking down the aisle. Even though they were set up for automatic deposit and bill payment, she was clueless about what was in their checking account.

    “Not too long after we married, I decided to spend a little extra on payday,” said the bride. “I almost caused us to bounce checks because it was the first of the month, when many of our largest bills are paid. To this day, we still haven’t established a budget.”

    Research shows that money is one of the least important factors couples consider when preparing for marriage. However, it is the number one thing that creates distress in marriage. Many newlyweds create massive debt furnishing their home, driving nice cars, and generally “keeping up with the Joneses.” Instead of trying to immediately have what your parents accumulated over many years, attend a money management seminar to learn how to budget your money. Most money experts agree there are three cardinal rules to follow when it comes to managing your money: Spend less than you make, avoid going into long-term debt, and put away a little bit for a rainy day.

    One couple shared that even though they love each other, adjusting to having someone else around and having to consider their thoughts, feelings, likes and dislikes is a huge change. Everything from getting ready with only one bathroom and bedtime when one person is a night owl and the other isn’t - to spending habits, how to do the laundry, a clean bathroom, in-laws/extended family, visitors and time for date nights - are now up for discussion and negotiation.

    Learning how to do the marriage dance without stepping on each other’s toes is a skill that takes time to master. The best thing you can do is talk about all of these issues as they arise. Keeping your frustration to yourself will only create friction in your relationship. This is where you learn it isn’t all about you and your wants and desires. It is learning how to let another person be a part of your life. You have to figure out how to give and receive and compromise.

    One bride said she wished she had known she'd have to sacrifice who she was for the sake of her marriage. Healthy marriage isn’t about sacrificing who you are when you come together as one. Coming together should make you better as an individual and better as a team. Talking about career expectations, children, individual and collective goals before you marry will be helpful. There are seasons in marriage when you choose to make sacrifices because it honors your relationship. This doesn’t mean that only one person makes sacrifices.

    Finally, keep expectations realistic. The person you marry cannot meet your every need, make you happy and always be perfect. You will disagree. You will make mistakes. And believe it or not, there will be times when you don’t feel head over heels in love. That doesn’t mean you married the wrong person - nobody is perfect. We all have needs and growth opportunities. Don't focus on your needs and your mate's weaknesses. Instead, focus on their needs and strengths, and on your own opportunities for growth.

    A great start for your marriage takes at least as much prep time as you put into your wedding day. These couples have high hopes for a long lasting, healthy marriage. If that is your goal, make it a point to start investing now in your relationship.

    The return on your investment will be worth it!

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    How to Deal With Unspoken Expectations

    In his book, Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married, Dr. Gary Chapman tells about the frustration he and his wife felt in the early years of their marriage. At one point, he shares that they went for weeks without cleaning the toilet. 

    He couldn’t understand why she wasn’t cleaning the toilet because that was something his mom always did. Carolyn couldn’t understand why Gary wasn’t cleaning the toilet because that was her father’s chore in her childhood home. Unfortunately, neither told the other about their expectation.

    When Chapman worked up enough nerve to ask his wife why she hadn’t cleaned their toilet, he finally learned she was waiting for him to do it. Needless to say, that became an interesting and eye-opening moment in their marriage.

    Truth be told, every married couple probably has a similar story. They walked into marriage thinking they knew and understood each other only to discover there were numerous unspoken expectations that each person assumed the other understood - little things like how to spend money, how many children to have (if any), where to spend the holidays, whether to buy new or used cars and how much to spend on them, who cleans the house and who handles yard work.

    Looking back, even the happiest of couples will acknowledge that these “little” unspoken expectations have created tension in their marriage. And, if they had it to do over again, they would discuss them ahead of time.

    So, what are some of the most common unspoken expectations? You can probably guess many of them. Many expectations revolve around: house cleaning and maintenance, money management, frequency of lovemaking, boundaries with the in-laws, work and marriage, childcare responsibilities, punctuality, celebrations, conflict management, meal prep and meal times. The list could go on, but you get the gist. There is lots of room for hurt feelings, misunderstandings and assumptions with unspoken expectations.

    Whether you are preparing for marriage or already married, having a conversation about unspoken expectations could be very enlightening.

    Where do you begin? 

    First, it’s helpful to write down your expectations, even if you think you have shared them before. Then ask yourself, where did these expectations come from? Many unspoken expectations are based on family traditions and values, past relationships, life experience and friends. 

    Next, share your unspoken expectations. As you walk through them, keep an open mind. Differing opinions don’t mean one is right and the other is wrong. The question is, how can you make that expectation work for your relationship? If you aren’t married yet, it is important to know your non-negotiables when it comes to expectations for your marriage. 

    If you are clearly on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to managing money, whether or not to have children, what a career path looks like, etc., do not expect things to change once you walk down the aisle. Many have led themselves to believe things will be different after marriage, thinking they would be able to change the other person’s mind. Not only did they not change their mind, each person can end up feeling angry and empty.

    Unspoken expectations can be the silent killer of relationships. Do yourself and your loved one a favor: be honest about your expectations and ask yourself if they are realistic. Just because your family did it that way doesn’t mean you necessarily have to do it the same way in your marriage. Talking about your expectations ahead of time can save you a lot of headaches and heartache down the road.

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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.