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Engaged

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    How to Be a Happier Person

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    Before You Move in Together...

    Over the last two decades there has been a steady increase in the number of couples choosing to live together before marriage, and many of them expect to make a commitment to each other. The catch is that a large number of them decide not to marry. The nagging question becomes, does marriage really make a difference in relationship quality over time? 

    The Census Bureau reports that the percentage of cohabiting adults ages 25 to 34 increased from 12 percent a decade ago to 15 percent in 2018. Among 25- to 34- year-olds, living together has become commonplace. Among currently-married adults, a whopping 67 percent say they have lived with either their current partner or someone else before they tied the knot. In 1978, however, marriage was more common, with 59 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds married compared to only 30 percent today. 

    With the dramatic increase in couples who live together, one might believe that cohabitation is becoming more like marriage (or at least a step toward it). If you think that, you aren’t alone. 

    Plenty of researchers across the globe have surmised that over time, cohabitation would become more like marriage with all of its benefits. Interestingly though, the latest research released by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and The Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University indicates that might not be the case.

    Researchers analyzed the results of a December 2018 YouGov “iFidelity Survey” of 2000 American adults. The data continues to confirm key differences in marriage and cohabiting relationships. They even found categorical differences between marriage and cohabitation on three relationship factors in particular.

    First, married men and women are more likely than couples who live together to report satisfaction with their relationship. After controlling for education, relationship duration and age, married women (54 percent) and married men (49 percent) were more likely to report being “very happy” in their relationship compared to cohabiting adults.

    Second, married adults are more likely to report higher levels of relationship commitment. Forty-six percent of married men and women were in the top relationship commitment group compared to just over 30 percent of cohabiting partners. This finding is consistent with other research that links cohabiting relationships with lower commitment levels.

    Third, married adults are more likely to report higher levels of relationship stability than those who live together without the commitment of marriage. When asked how likely respondents thought their relationship would continue, 54 percent of married adults were in the top perceived relationship stability group, compared to only 28 percent of cohabiting adults. 

    Married relationships are much less likely to break up than cohabiting ones. Even in places like Europe where cohabitation has long been an accepted practice, studies consistently show that married couples experience more stability than couples who live together.

    Marriage has many other benefits for men, women and children in addition to commitment, satisfaction and stability, and there’s plenty of research to prove it. Whether adults are looking for financial benefits, better physical and emotional health, longevity or a more satisfying sex life, the evidence shows that marriage offers some things that cohabitation does not. 

    If you are looking for a committed, highly-satisfying and stable relationship, the research strongly indicates that cohabitation is likely not the best route. Before you decide to move in together, do your homework and decide if that road will take you where you want to go.  

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 24, 2019.


    Looking for more resources? Watch this episode of JulieB TV for an in-depth look on this topic!


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    8 Must-Have Conversations for Couples

    How do you know if love will last? Some say you don’t, that it’s just luck of the draw if your love lasts over time. Many believe that the more a couple has in common, the more likely they are to be compatible over time. Others say, not so fast. 

    With more than 40 years of love and relationship research under their belt, The Gottman Institute says that whether love will last is more about how couples address their differences and support one another’s needs and dreams. 

    In studying successful couple relationships and couples whose relationships fail to thrive over time, The Gottman Institute found that people connect and fall in love by talking. John and Julie Gottman and their co-authors, Doug Abrams and Rachel Carlton Abrams, MD, discovered eight crucial conversations that couples need to have. These conversations can either help couples know that love will last or help rekindle love that has become lukewarm. The authors made the crucial conversations for couples into dates in the book, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.

    These conversation-based dates have the potential to help couples increase understanding and commitment regardless of how long they have been together. The topics for discussion include:

    • Trust and Commitment. Trust is cherishing each other and showing your partner you are reliable. Choosing commitment means accepting your partner exactly as he or she is, despite their flaws.
    • Conflict. Conflict is a part of every healthy relationship. There is purpose behind it and it is an opportunity to take your relationship to a deeper level. 
    • Sex and Intimacy. Romantic, intimate rituals of connection keep a relationship happy and passionate. Couples who talk about sex have more sex. 
    • Work and Money. Money issues usually aren’t about money at all. Instead, they are about what money means to each person. Learning what money means to each person can help take your relationship to a totally different place. 
    • Family. It is not unusual for relationship satisfaction to decrease after the birth of a child. The decrease often continues with each subsequent child. Couples who maintain their sexual relationship and learn how to manage conflict in a way that builds up their relationship can avoid this drop in relationship happiness.
    • Fun and Adventure. People are often so busy “adulting” that they underestimate the importance of play and adventure in their relationship. They actually are vital components to a successful and joyful relationship. While couples may not necessarily agree on what constitutes play and adventure, learning more about the one you love can be part of the fun. 
    • Growth and Spirituality. The only constant in a relationship is change, and how each person in the relationship accommodates the growth of the other partner is key. Relationships can be more than just two individuals coming together; they can be stories of transformation and great contribution and meaning to the world.
    • Dreams. Honoring each other’s dreams is the secret ingredient to creating love for a lifetime. When dreams are honored, everything else in the relationship gets easier.

    The Gottmans contend that every strong relationship is a result of a never-ending conversation between partners. This book will guide you through how to talk and how to listen in a way that will benefit you as an individual and as a couple.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 10, 2019.

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    4 Keys to Help You Survive Wedding Planning

    “I had no idea how much planning was involved in getting married,” remembers Amy Carter. “On top of wedding plans, my fiancé and I were trying to sell my condo so I could move to Nashville. Fortunately, both of our families were very supportive of us as we planned for our big day. I was surprised how much my mother and I agreed on details of the wedding.”

    Carter is lucky. Many couples preparing for their wedding day find themselves between a rock and a hard place by trying to please their parents, siblings, friends, grandparents and others who have an opinion on how the wedding should go. One bride’s mother refused to help because her daughter preferred a small and intimate wedding instead of a large formal affair.

    Most experts agree that planning for a wedding is something most brides and their moms look forward to. Things can get a bit sticky, though. But don’t fear; there are some things you can do to help avert bitter feelings.

    First and foremost, this is your day. Others may give their opinion about how things should go, but ultimately the bride and groom get to have the final say.

    “We are probably different than most couples because we were more concerned about doing it the way that made us comfortable instead of being so concerned with stepping on toes,” says Rebecca Smith. “We set the rules early.

    “There were certain things that I really didn’t care about, like the flowers. When my mom asked me what I wanted, I told her whatever she picked out would be fine. For us the overriding theme was we are incredibly excited about being married. We don’t want our focus on the wedding to be more than our focus on our marriage.”

    At some point during the planning process, Rebecca and her fiancé acknowledged that something could go wrong. They eventually realized it really didn’t matter because they would still be married. They didn’t pursue a perfect production.

    According to the experts, the Smiths would get an "A" in wedding planning.

    Here are some additional tips to help you have the wedding day of your dreams:

    • Decide what matters most to you. You can’t give 100 percent of your attention to everything, so decide where you want to focus and delegate the other things. This is a great way to involve family members without feeling like they are trying to control your day.

    • Decide on a realistic budget. Although the average wedding today costs between $20,000 – $25,000, couples can have a beautiful wedding for significantly less money. Since money is the top area of conflict for couples, one way to begin your marriage well is to be realistic about your finances. Know what you and your family can comfortably afford. The amount of money spent is not a determining factor in the success of your marriage.

    • Plan for your marriage. It is easy to get so caught up in your wedding planning that you neglect to plan for your marriage – all those days after the wedding. Take time out to attend premarital education classes or a marriage seminar. Read a good book together, like Fighting for Your Marriage: A Deluxe Revised Edition of the Classic Best-seller for Enhancing Marriage and Preventing Divorce or Before "I Do": Preparing for the Full Marriage ExperienceYour marriage will be stronger if go into it with your eyes wide open.

    • Enjoy this time. Even though the preparation may be a bit stressful, schedule your time so you can truly enjoy these special moments. For many, this is a once in a lifetime experience. Instead of looking back at a whirlwind of activity that you really don’t remember, take non-essential things off the calendar. Rest adequately, eat well and don’t let others steal your joy.

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    Engaged Couples and Expectations

    Are you headed down the aisle soon? If you are, whether this is your first marriage or not, you probably have some thoughts rolling around in your brain in terms of what you expect from your soon-to-be spouse. Don’t worry, you aren’t alone.

    Almost everyone comes to marriage with some pretty specific ideas about how things will be, whether they realize it or not. These expectations might be based on what people have experienced in their own family (things they liked or didn’t like and don’t want to repeat), a romantic movie, a previous relationship or even the Hallmark Channel.

    Here’s the thing: Whether it’s how you plan to handle money, accepting support from family and in-laws, how often you will make love, being on time, handling conflict, career aspirations, helping with chores or cleanliness, if you don’t talk about your expectations ahead of time, there’s a really good chance it could lead to some disappointing and frustrating moments in the future.

    People often don’t voice their expectations because they fear the other person won’t live up to them. If you do talk about them and your spouse-to-be doesn’t see these expectations as a big deal or doesn’t plan to change their approach to these issues, you may try to convince yourself that once you have a ring on your finger and things are more final, things will be different. Don’t be fooled, though: There are plenty of studies indicating the best time to look for behavior change is before the wedding, not after.

    Unspoken expectations can silently kill relationships. Do yourself and your fiancé a favor: Be honest about your expectations. Just because your family did something a certain way doesn’t mean you necessarily have to do it the same way. It could be that in the midst of discussing what is important to you both, you realize your expectations aren’t realistic or that you want to tweak them a bit to better fit your relationship. 

    One thing you want to guard against is sacrificing who you are in the name of your relationship. If your faith is very important to you and you strongly expect your fiancé to one day share your faith values, realize that change is possible, but it could place a hefty load of tension on your relationship if your faith is in conflict with what they believe.

    It’s totally possible that you and your fiancé have expectations of each other that you don’t even realize you have. Taking the time to go through a premarital education experience either in person or online could help you both identify things you feel strongly about and help you to work through those issues before you get married. Talking about your expectations ahead of time can save you a lot of headaches and heartache down the road.

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    Do Happy Couples Argue?

    Even after being married for 30 years, I vividly remember our first argument after we got married. It was intense and to be honest, it scared me. In my mind, I thought, “Wait, we are happy and we love each other, but happy couples don’t argue, do they?”

    I wish I knew then what I know now: Happy couples do argue. In fact, they actually argue about the very same things unhappy couples argue about - money, children, in-laws and intimacy.

    Amy Rauer, associate professor of child and family studies and director of the Relationships and Development Lab at the University of Tennessee, along with three colleagues - Allen Sabey at Northwestern University, Christine Proulx at University of Mississippi and Brenda Volling at University of Michigan - looked at two sets of couples who described themselves as happily married. One group had been married an average of 9 years and the other group had been married an average of 42 years.

    Couples ranked the issues they tended to argue about from most to least serious. Intimacy, leisure, household chores, communication and money were among the most serious, as was health for older couples. Jealousy, religion and family fell on the least serious end of the spectrum.

    Researchers saw that these couples focused on the issues with clearer solutions such as division of household chores or how to spend leisure time. The couples rarely chose to argue about harder-to-resolve issues, which Rauer suggests could be one of the keys to their marital success.

    “Focusing on the perpetual, more difficult to solve problems may undermine partners’ confidence in the relationship,” says Rauer.

    Longer-married couples reported fewer serious issues and argued less overall, which is consistent with previous research suggesting that older partners’ perceptions of spending less time together may lead them to prioritize their marriage and decide some issues are not worth fighting over.

    When it comes to not discussing the more difficult issues such as health and intimacy, researchers said that part of the challenge could be that spouses believed talking about it might make the partner believe they were challenging their competence or it would make the spouse feel vulnerable or embarrassed, which might result in more conflict.  

    “Since these issues tend to be more difficult to resolve, they are more likely to lead to less marital happiness or the dissolution of the relationship, especially if couples have not banked up any previous successes solving other marital issues,” Rauer says. “If couples feel that they can work together to resolve their issues, it may give them the confidence to move on to tackling the more difficult issues.”

    There are several really useful takeaways from this study.

    • Learning to choose your battles matters. Early on, it might be a little more difficult to discern what is a mountain and what is a molehill. Some of this can happen through conversation and some will happen through experience. The most important thing? Focus on the issue and don't point the proverbial finger at your spouse. 
    • Differentiate between issues that truly need resolution versus those that can be set aside for the time being. Sometimes timing or taking time to process can make all the difference, and some challenging issues really do require an amount of simmering on to figure out what you think before you can even talk about a helpful resolution. Plenty of long-married couples could tell you that sometimes there is no quick fix. It may help to talk and think, then repeat the process over time in order to solve certain problems well.
    • Seek to be solution-oriented. Clearly, couples who focused on working together to find a solution seemed to be happier in their relationship. Also, working as a team to solve less-challenging issues builds confidence that is helpful when tackling more complicated issues. 
    • No matter what stage of marriage you are in, there will always be something to argue about. Remember - your spouse is not the enemy. Choosing the issues you will focus on matters and making some intentional decisions together about how you will engage around those issues will impact your marital happiness, for better or for worse.

    Even after 30 years of marriage, obviously there are issues that still arise. We have learned over time that many of the issues we spent a lot of time and energy on were molehills. Ultimately, we began asking, “Is this something that will matter a month from now or six months from now?” If the answer was yes, we began to problem-solve together. If the answer was no, we stopped letting it distract us from what really mattered - our marriage.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 15, 2020.

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    7 Ways to Embrace Being a #girldad

    Kobe Bryant’s untimely death brought to the forefront a great conversation about being a girl dad. 

    Elle Duncan from ESPN Sports Center spoke about meeting Bryant when she was eight months pregnant. He congratulated her and when he found out she was having a girl, and he high-fived her and said, “Girls are the best!” 

    Bryant said that he and his wife had talked about having more children, but they joked: What if they had another girl? 

    Duncan said, “Four girls. Are you joking? What would you think? How would you feel?” 

    Without hesitation, Bryant said, “I would have five more girls if I could. I’m a girl dad!”

    Beyond his basketball legacy, Bryant will certainly be remembered for enthusiastically embracing his role as a girl dad. 

    A healthy father-daughter relationship can give a daughter the self-confidence to deal with challenging issues. However, when fathers are not engaged, research shows that daughters often struggle with abandonment issues, lack of self-esteem, feelings of unworthiness and are especially vulnerable to predators. 

    Girls who grow up without a healthy father-daughter relationship are at greater risk for experiencing problems in school, abusing drugs and alcohol, and participating in risky sexual behavior. In fact, adolescent girls without fathers are twice as likely to be involved in early sexual activity.

    In Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, Dr. Meg Meeker states that no matter the age of the daughter, she takes her relationship with her father to the grave.  

    While some dads are quick to embrace having a daughter, others struggle with the father-daughter relationship.

    Here are some ways dads can embrace being a girl dad:

    • It’s no secret that girls tend to be more verbal than boys. Instead of getting annoyed with all the chatter, take time to listen to her thoughts, feelings and dreams.
    • Find something you can learn to do together or teach her a skill. 
    • Spend intentional time with her doing things she enjoys doing. Yes, tea parties, nail painting and dress-up count.
    • Daddy-daughter dates are a thing. It doesn’t have to be extravagant.
    • Encourage her uniqueness and help her know her value as a person.
    • Get involved in their education. Research suggests that daughters' academic successes are closely related to the quality of their childhood relationship with their fathers.
    • Show that you believe in her ability to handle challenges.

    The father/daughter relationship can sometimes feel very confusing, especially as your daughter enters adolescence. One minute she wants a hug from you, but the next minute she can’t stand to be in your presence. While you might be tempted to back off, don’t. From birth to adulthood, your daughter can benefit from your healthy presence in her life.

    Looking for a fun opportunity to spend time with your daughter? Don’t miss the Daddy Daughter Date night with Coach Phillip Fulmer and his daughter, Brittany Fulmer Ennen, on February 28. The event is designed for dads and their daughters (ages 7-18).

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 8, 2020.

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    What You Need to Know About Smartphones, Teens and Depression

    Panicking About Your Kids’ Phones? New Research Says Don’t is the title of an article in the New York Times. 

    The writer says a growing number of academicians are challenging the true impact of social media and smartphones, questioning whether too much time on devices is actually the culprit for the dramatic increase in anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, especially in teens.

    Before you jump on that bandwagon, believing the claims, you might want to hear what psychologist Jean Twenge has to say. Twenge is a professor of psychology at San Diego State and author of numerous books including Generation Me and her most recent release, iGen: Why Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.

    In a blog for the Institute for Family Studies, Twenge calls out the NYT writer on six facts that, she claims, he ignores. 

    Twenge contends that the NYT article grossly misrepresents the research consensus on technology and mental health because the article makes it sound as if the majority of researchers have concluded that technology use isn’t related to mental health. Twenge says that is not the case. 

    “The article also misrepresents findings from a recent review of screen time and mental health studies,” writes Twenge. “The article does mention a recent review of studies on screen time and mental health by Amy Orben, who concluded that the average correlation between social media use and depressive symptoms is between .11 and .17.”

    The article cites this study as evidence that the link is small, but Twenge argues these are not small effects. Data from the CDC’s Youth Risk Survey of US High School students indicates that twice as many heavy users of electronic devices (5+ hours a day) compared to light users (1 hour a day) have attempted suicide (12% vs. 6%).

    Twenge states that the NYT article quotes experts who, without plausible evidence, dismiss the possibility that the rise of social media and smartphones might be behind the marked rise in teen depression, self-harm and suicide in recent years. The article quotes Jeff Hancock of the Stanford Social Media Lab as saying, “Why else might American kids be anxious other than telephones? How about climate change? How about income inequality? How about more student debt?”

    “The problem with this argument is that none of these factors can explain the increase in teen mental health issues that began in 2012,” Twenge writes. “First, they didn’t happen at the same time. The largest increases in income inequality occurred between 1980 and 2000… Student loan debt has been stable since 2012. The number of Americans worried a fair amount or a great deal about climate change went from 73% in 2012 to 74% in 2019.”

    Twenge contrasts this with 2013, the first year the majority of Americans owned a smartphone. By 2018, 95% of teens had access to a smartphone and 45% of them said they were online “almost constantly.”

    “The largest increase in self-harm, self-poisoning and suicide occurred among 10- to 14-year-old girls,” Twenge writes. “Hancock would have us believe that 10- to 14-year-olds are harming themselves because they are upset over income inequality or possibly someday having to pay off student loans after college - not because they are bullied online, not because they feel constant pressure to look perfect on social media, not because they can access online sites instructing them in self-harm, and not because electronic communication has replaced in-person interaction, a basic human need.”

    While Twenge does state that concern about climate change seems plausible, she asks, “How many 12-year-old-girls do you know who are cutting themselves because the planet is warming? It is much more likely they are concerned about self-image, social status, friendships and family relationships - all issues that have become fraught in the age of social media.” 

    Twenge also notes that the rise in depression, self-harm and suicide has been considerably larger among girls than boys. She contends that all of the issues listed above should impact boys and girls equally. Thus, they do not explain why the rise would be larger for girls.

    Technology use, however, does differ by gender. Girls spend more time on social media, which may be more toxic than the gaming which is more popular among boys.

    Twenge calls out the author for combining two completely separate questions - whether technology use is related to depression among individuals and whether the increase in smartphone and social media use is related to the generational increase in teen depression.

    “Even teens who don’t use technology have been affected by the shift in teen social life from in-person get-togethers to online interactions,” Twenge says. “Consider a teen who doesn’t use social media and would prefer to go out with her friend, but who will she go out with when everyone else is at home on Instagram?”

    The NYT article also points to Europe as proof that smartphones are not behind the increase in teen depression, yet the evidence shows otherwise. The study used to make the case examines adults, not teens. The World Health Organization reports increases in suicide rates around the world, with the largest increases among youth.

    The last point Twenge makes is that while the researchers claiming that technology use is unrelated to well-being said they had not taken any funding from the tech industry, one of them is currently employed and one was previously employed by the Oxford Internet Institute, which is funded by Facebook, Google and Microsoft. 

    “Parents can rest assured that their instincts to protect their kids from too much screen time are not wrong,” Twenge writes. “If kids who ate five apples a day versus one were twice as likely to attempt suicide, parents would make extremely sure their kids didn’t eat too many apples. Why should our response to technology time be any different?”

    The moral of this story is - don’t believe everything you read. Check the facts for yourself. What you don’t know can hurt you and the ones you love.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 1, 2020.