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    How to Be a Happier Person

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    What Women Want in a Mate

    There's been a steady decline in marriage rates over the past few decades. While some studies blame the decline on gender ratio discrepancies and millennials just not being interested in marriage, a 2019 Cornell University study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family (JMF) says the root cause might be that there aren’t as many men who are economically stable and therefore are not attractive to women looking for a mate. The study notes that ethnic minorities, especially Af...  Read More...

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    How Hearing Loss Impacts Relationships

    Think hearing loss really doesn’t have an impact on your relationships? You might want to think again.Lorina knew that she had some hearing loss, but didn’t really think it was that big a deal. “I knew over the years my hearing loss had increased, but it wasn’t until my friend pointed out to me that I was constantly saying, ‘What?’ and ‘Huh?’ and strongly encouraged me to get my hearing tested that I thought it might really be a thing,” ...  Read More...

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    What People Are Thinking About Marriage

    What people believe about marriage may surprise you.At the 2019 NARME Summit in Nashville, Dr. Scott Stanley shared what people really think about marriage using the latest marriage and cohabitation research.If you’ve heard that married couples have a 50% chance of eventually divorcing, did you know that this statistic pertains specifically to Baby Boomers - the most divorcing generation ever in U.S. history?   Read More...

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    How Technology Use Impacts Faithfulness

    In July 2019, the 2019 State of our Unions: iFidelity: Interactive Technology and Relationship Faithfulness report revealed some interesting findings about marital health and relationship attitudes/behaviors, both online and in real life, in America.  According to the report, the internet has impacted our personal and professional lives in such a way that our definitions of romantic and sexual loyalty and commitment are changing. While most Americans still clearly oppose sexual unfaithfulne...  Read More...

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    Is the Nuclear Family a Problem?

    In the March issue of The Atlantic, David Brooks writes a provocative and compelling article about the nuclear family and how he thinks it was a huge mistake. 

    He summarizes the changes in family structure over the past century, saying: “We’ve made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families. We’ve made life better for adults but worse for children. We’ve moved from big, interconnected, and extended families, which helped protect the most vulnerable people in society from the shocks of life to smaller detached nuclear families (a married couple and their children), which give the most privileged people in society room to maximize their talents and expand their options. The shift from bigger and interconnected extended families to smaller and detached nuclear families ultimately led to a familiar system that liberates the rich and ravages the working class and the poor.”

    Brooks lists many cons of the nuclear family, including the absence of extended family to function as a safety net when challenges arise, the socializing force of having extended family close by and lack of resilience.

    On the surface, one might conclude that he is onto something, which he may well be, but is the nuclear family really the problem or is there something else at play?

    Scott Stanley, research professor at the University of Denver, questions whether the nuclear family is the real villain in Brooks’ article. 

    “Disconnection and isolation are his real targets,” writes Stanley. “To me, the nuclear family seems like a passenger along for the ride in a car leaving the scene of the crimes Brooks describes - when the car is driven by us. By us, I mean most of us, motivated for our desires for autonomy and freedom.” He continues, “A lot of the problems we see may be caused by what most people want - even if those things also have downsides for individuals and society."

    In another response, Kay Hymowitz, William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, examines the past and finds that scholars basically agree that the nuclear family household has been the “dominant form” in Western Europe and the United States since the dawn of the industrial era… the anomaly was the extended family, not the nuclear family.

    “As demographics changed, the dominant family form did not,” writes Hymowitz. “Rising life expectancy and falling fertility starting in the latter half of the 19th century meant more surviving grandparents available for smaller numbers of couple households. But the share of households with extended families stayed more or less the same. It seems that people preferred the privacy and independence of the nuclear form - despite all its disadvantages.”

    Bottom line, what Brooks seems to be espousing is that in order for children and adults to really thrive, we need to bring back the extended family - whether people are related or not. 

    Brooks suggests there are plenty of examples of those who have moved from nuclear families to forged families. He gave Common as an example, which is a real estate development company that operates more than 25 co-housing communities where young singles can live in separate sleeping spaces with shared communal areas.

    The big question is, does this really address the problem Brooks’ narrative highlights - disconnection and isolation? There is nothing legally binding that keeps the people in these communities from coming and going. People move for various reasons - job transitions, marriage, divorce, etc., so it still doesn’t address the root problem.

    In general, human beings are relational by nature and thrive on connectedness. Whatever our family form looks like, how do we create intentional community in a society that seems to have a strong bent toward isolation?

    Regardless of your situation, you can deliberately and persistently build a tribe around you that will create the safety net extended families might fill. In the past, communities of faith often helped to fill this void and it is still true today for those who choose to be active in a community. Neighbors can also help create a safety net, but one has to be willing to establish and maintain relationships with those around them. School and work present opportunities as well for connection and networking to build your community.

    Perhaps you are fortunate enough to have vast social capital, but chances are pretty great that others around you don’t. As a part of a larger community, we all have some responsibility to help others connect if we really are about helping people thrive.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 22, 2020.

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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.