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Fathers

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    Being an Involved Single Father

    Jeff* celebrated his first Father’s Day when his daughter was 9-months-old, and he is thankful for that day with her. Jeff is a single father who shares custody of his daughter with his ex.

    “Our relationship ended shortly before our child was born,” says Jeff. “Things were crazy. I am an industrial engineer and teach people how to build cars for a living. I knew nothing about going to court and all that would be involved with being able to see my child.”

    Since he wanted to be an active father even before his child was born, Jeff took a class for new fathers through First Things First, along with other classes.

    “In spite of the circumstances, I did not want to be an absent father,” Jeff says. “My ex was very nervous about me taking care of our child by myself. There was a lot of tension in our relationship. Through a series of events, I ended up in the Dads Making a Difference class. That was a real game-changer.”

    In addition to learning communication and conflict management skills, Jeff found out more about the importance of a father’s involvement with his child. Plus, he learned what it meant to protect and serve both his child and her mother.

    “From the time I began the class to now, the transformation in the relationship between me and my ex has been amazing,” Jeff says. “A personality inventory we took in class helped me to understand her better, which led me to handle situations differently. The response surprised me. We have moved away from supervised visitation. In addition to getting more visitation time with my daughter, she spends every other weekend with me and that is pure joy.”

    In Jeff's opinion, being a first-time father and learning about caring for a baby has been a steep learning curve, but worth every minute.

    “I love spending time with my daughter,” Jeff says. “I want to nurture her in a way that will allow her to thrive. Being an engineer, I love math and science but I also love art and music. I sing to her a lot and enjoy playing with her, and watching her develop her motor skills. I can’t wait for her to walk.”

    Believe it or not, Jeff is an exception to the rule.

    In 2014, 17.4 million children in the U.S. were growing up in a home without their biological father. Moreover, data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing survey indicates that a third of non-residential fathers had no contact with their child five years after birth. Jeff has no intention of becoming a part of this statistic.

    Through various circumstances, including divorce and unwed births, there are many men who are missing out on the gift of a relationship with their child. While it can be complicated, unnerving and extremely challenging, don’t underestimate a child's need for a healthy father's involvement. Literally thousands of credible studies show that children need mom and dad engaged in their lives.

    So, if you're actively involved with your children, consider yourself blessed. On the flip side, if you are estranged from your children, remember that you can still make a change regarding that relationship.

    *Name changed.

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    Co-Parenting: Smoother Transitions

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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.