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Can valuable relationships make you a better person? We’ve all heard someone’s “value” calculated as their Net Worth, but what about cultivating the value of your Network? I’m talking about your true friends, accountability partners, and mentors. People that know your goals and will help you achieve them.

Those valuable relationships don’t happen by accident. We have to be open to them. We have to be intentional. We have to invest. Often, when I need those kinds of people in my life the most, my instinct is to go into hiding. I run the opposite way.

I find ways to build taller fences, not longer tables.

  • This isn’t where I point out that according to recent research, Americans report being more lonely than ever- but they do.
  • This isn’t where I point out that social media Friends, Followers, Shares, Likes, and Upvotes aren’t the true measure of your Social Capital- but they aren’t.
  • I’m not even going to say that old fashioned, healthy, Rugged American Individualism has often changed us into unhealthy, Radical American Individualists- but it has.
  • I’m just going to quote something my father drilled into me: “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” He was onto something.

It’s easy to surround yourself with people that always agree with you or always take your side. I get it. I do it. That can feel good. It also feels good to have people in your life that you can have fun with and be yourself. But who in your life is helping you be the best version of yourself?

Who is truly helping you be the best spouse or partner, the best parent, the best person that you can be? Who in your life has permission and is willing to confront you and say the hard things? (You know, those things that sting a day or two, but you know they’re true.)

Community, true Social Capital is more important than ever:

  • I never once got a job solely based on an application. It always involved someone I knew and built a connection with before I even knew a new job was even a possibility.
  • My wife taught me the value of finding married couples deeper into the season of life we were in or heading toward and risking getting real with them.
  • The best thing we did as parents was to connect with other parents for coffee or dessert just to talk about parenting stuff- especially parents with kids heading out of the stages that our kids were heading into.
  • I’ve never regretted cultivating relationships- real friendships- with a couple of guys that I could be honest and transparent with, knowing that in return they would ask me the tough questions about the kind of husband, father, and man I am.

These kinds of people and couples and parents that become valuable relationships can be difficult to find. Maybe the best way to find them is to first work at being that kind of person for other people.

I could not begin to tell you my Net Worth. It probably isn’t much. I’m positive it isn’t much. My Network though- priceless. Where are you investing?

Looking for more resources for healthy relationships? Click here!

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Why do couples fight? And what do they usually fight about?

Most people say they fight about money, sex, kids, and in-laws straight out of the gates.

In romantic relationships, all kinds of major and minor disagreements can impact the quality of a couple’s relationship. If you’re wondering what couples are most likely to fight about, check out this 2019 study by psychologists Guilherme Lopes, Todd Shakelford, David Buss, and Mohaned Abed.

They conducted the study in three stages with newly-married heterosexual couples. They looked at all of their areas of discord, and what they found was pretty interesting. Out of 83 reasons for couple conflict, they found 30 core areas of conflict which they placed into six component groups.

Component Groups:

  1. Inadequate Attention or Affection: This would include things like not showing enough love and affection, lack of communication, one not paying enough attention to the other, not being appreciated, and feelings.
  2. Jealousy and Infidelity: This was affected by real or perceived risk to the relationship from things like talking to an ex, possessiveness, past relationships, and differing opinions on whose friends couples hang around more.
  3. Chores and Responsibilities: Think about everyday tasks that couples may share. The housekeeping, chores, who does more work, not showing up when expected, and sharing responsibilities would fit here.
  4. Sex: One may want sex and the other doesn’t, frequency of sex, sexual acts, and telling private information about the relationship to others—and the list goes on.
  5. Control and Dominance: This would refer to events in which one partner tries to manipulate or control the other in some way.
  6. Future Plans and MoneyThings like goals for the future, children, and the ability and willingness to invest resources in the relationship would fall into this category.

Utilizing these areas of discord, the psychologists created the Reasons for Disagreements in Romantic Relationships Scale (RDRRS).

Key Findings

  • Jealousy and infidelity seemed to decrease after several years of marriage
  • A husband’s higher income contributed to control and dominance issues.
  • Men who were more religious mentioned less disagreement over jealousy and infidelity elements.
  • Relationship satisfaction improved over time, although the frequency of differences did not change significantly during the three years of marriage.
  • Females were less satisfied when there was more disagreement about control and dominance. As women grew older, there was more disagreement about infidelity and jealousy.
  • Women reported that sexual satisfaction was lower when there was greater disagreement about chores and responsibilities.
  • Women were more likely to guess they would have an affair in five years when there was greater disagreement around inadequate attention and affection.

Whether you’re considering marriage, engaged, or already married, this info can provide a great foundation for a conversation about potential disagreements. There’s some relief in knowing that lots of people struggle with the same types of issues. However, it might be a bit disconcerting to find that the one you love doesn’t see things the same way you do. It’s pretty much impossible for two people from two different upbringings to come together and not have any differences of opinion about certain things.

Either way, knowing you have these differences or areas of conflict can help you talk about how you’ll navigate them so your relationship can thrive in the process.

How Do You Talk About It?

Find a time when you both can talk for 30 minutes or so without distraction. Choose one of the topics you differ on and begin sharing. Keep in mind, your best bet is for each of you to seek information and to remain curious. There’s no rule that says at the end of 30 minutes you’re done with this topic. This also isn’t the time to try and convince your partner they’re wrong and should for sure see things your way.

Couples often find that seeking to understand their partner helps them make sense of why they think the way they do. It doesn’t mean you have to agree. You can still disagree on some things and have a healthy marriage, but it’ll require some effort on each person’s part. If you’re dating or engaged, your differences may be significant enough for you to evaluate whether marrying each other is the best next step. It really boils down to respecting your partner and doing what’s in your relationship’s best interest.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 11, 2020.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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Cheating. Pretty much universally denounced as the worst thing you could do in a relationship (maybe just a tiny bit behind murdering your partner). We can all agree that cheating is wrong and definitely nobody wants to be cheated on, but…

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Let’s be real, there aren’t too many people in this world that would choose to actually be lonely. We as human beings thrive off our interactions and connections with other people. We are usually our best selves when we have people who care about us in our lives.

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What do you do when your friend is in a toxic relationship? Can you spot it? But what about you? Do you know when you’re in a toxic relationship? Most people want to be in healthy and satisfying partnerships, but sometimes we settle for less just so we can feel wanted, appreciated, or loved.

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“I have a dilemma.” An old co-worker mused as we headed back to the office after a quick lunch date, reconnecting after I had recently changed jobs.

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How do you typically deal with the surprises life hands you? How you handle these situations – whether it’s a sick family member, a traffic jam on the morning of your big meeting or a last-minute, expensive repair – can determine whether the problem is minor or becomes huge and affects the rest of your day, week, month and beyond.

When unexpected things collide with the best-laid plans, some people have a tendency to react to the emotions of the moment. Their anxiety goes through the roof, they begin to panic, thinking about being late and all of the things they are supposed to get done. This often leads to frustration and feelings of helplessness and in some cases, even feeling hopeless.

How can you effectively prepare for these situations in a way that will help you remain calm, cool and collected? The key is to learn how to respond versus react, so the first item on the agenda is to have a plan and utilize the resources available to you.

The first key: Have a backup plan just in case something goes wrong. This is like having an emergency generator so your life can keep going regardless of the crisis at hand. Be intentional about creating a support network of people who are willing to assist you when you are in a bind. It doesn’t have to be family. It could be teachers, neighbors, the parents of your child’s friends, co-workers, etc.

The second key:  Step back and assess the situation before doing anything. People often move to action before actually assessing the situation to determine all their options. This includes getting the facts. We are much less likely to do something ridiculous when we think before we respond.

Once you have your plans in place, remember to follow your plan when the unexpected happens. Having steps to follow helps to make these situations more manageable.

  • Keep your emotions in check. Don’t let the situation control you.
  • Be prepared. Keep basic medication on hand, have a spare set of keys for your car, take a lesson on how to change a flat tire, give your neighbor keys to your house, etc.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. It is hard to be helpful when people don’t know there is a need.
  • Ask for a second opinion. Sometimes talking with an objective third party can be helpful.

All kinds of things will pop up in your life that have the potential to wreck your schedule, cause irritation or create stress, but how you handle it can be a game-changer. The next time you are dealt an unexpected surprise, be ready to respond by staying calm, assessing the situation and working your plan. You will probably be amazed at how quickly you can manage the crisis and get on with your day.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 16, 2019.

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Why should you date?

Wow! That’s an incredibly personal question that has different answers depending on many different factors. Are you divorced? In your 20s fresh out of school and never married? In your 30s and hoping to be married? Looking for someone to have loads of fun with?

Answer This Question First…

“Why do I want to date?” And therein lies the first question that a person must answer for themselves. This must be answered honestly. To answer the question is to come to terms with the expectations and desires which I have from the process of dating. (The easy answer is that I may be looking for companionship in a romantic way. But who’s going for easy?)

Desire, by definition, is a strong feeling of wanting to have something. Do I desire to be married? Desire a committed relationship? Want someone to hang out with? Have the desire to be totally free and intimate with someone?

Many of us get into relationships with the desire to be our full, authentic selves with the other person. However, that involves a level of trust and vulnerability that the dating process is often designed to reveal over time. It doesn’t happen quickly or automatically. Can I be my truest self with you?

A large part of the dating process should help you learn about yourself. Do I change who I am when I’m around people that I’m romantically interested in?  Do I lose parts of myself trying to win the heart of my partner? Is there anything that prevents me from being myself? How do I respond when I, or strong facets of who I am, aren’t accepted? At the same time, am I willing to grow as an individual as I am learning more and more about myself? Do I compromise in ways that are unhealthy for me? Dating requires you to be vulnerable in a way that most other relationships don’t. One of the reasons that we date is to learn more about ourselves and what it means to let someone get to know us.”

Then Answer This Second Question…

Secondly, and closely related, is to answer the question, “As I am getting to know who I am, am I truly learning  who my partner is and their unique journey?” Let’s face it, just because I’m able to be me with someone does not mean we’re romantically a good match for one another. While I am not a supporter of “finding the one person out there who was meant for me,” I do recognize that there are those that I am romantically attracted to while others I’m not.

But What If It’s This Question?

What if part of dating is simply to answer the question, “Are we compatible?” Can we talk about things that matter to us? Is he/she an emotionally safe person to be with? We both know that relationships can accelerate a wide array of emotions. Are they able to deal with the emotional baggage that comes with me into the relationship? Do our values and belief system mesh with one another? Are we able to support one another?

We begin our dating relationships not knowing if we are compatible. We don’t know if this is a person who truly wants to get to know me. Let’s not assume that we do know. Starting with the pure knowledge that I am interested in getting to know this person and finding out if we’re a good fit is a lot less pressure. There are fewer expectations to meet or not meet.

Time, talk and being together during the dating process is no longer about us proving that we’re compatible. It’s not about you proving to me that you like who I am or worse, me being the person you want me to be.

For more resources, visit our Dating and Engaged Page here.

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Being engaged is a season of anticipation! You feel all kinds of excitement, right? You can’t wait! Before the wedding arrives, that and the honeymoon are all you can think about! (Plus, you can’t wait for all those wedding questions to stop!)

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You’re in love with your total opposite. Is this your true love? Can your relationship last forever? Do you guys stand a chance? You’ve heard “opposites attract” and you’ve definitely felt that attraction, but you can’t deny how opposite you are either. (Your friends and family constantly remind you…)

Then, maybe in quiet moments, the nagging questions creep in…

How different is too different? Are we total opposites? Maybe opposites attract, but can opposites also drive each other crazy? Is there a point where you are so different that you are forced to concede that you aren’t compatible? Does it matter how different you are if both of you are willing to accept each other’s differences? Can there be a “balancing act” between the differences? He has this one t-shirt that he thinks is so cool and it’s all I can do to not burn it! THIS CAN NEVER WORK, CAN IT?

Calm down. Take a deep breath. These are (mostly) good questions to be asking! 

If we start with the idea that EVERYONE is already different from each other to some extent, then the next thing to understand is that the bigger the differences, the more you will have to work to function as one, to be unified, to be a team AND the more you’ll have to work to avoid conflict, arguments, and deal with disagreements. 

This is a key concept. Got it? Bigger differences equal more relationship work.

I’m using “bigger” here as in how important are the differences? (Personality and character, core values like religion or politics, issues like whether to have kids, parenting styles, or approaches to conflict, communication, sex and money.)

Some people get hung up on the little differences and don’t even consider the BIG ones. The little differences are the spice of life. Different taste in music or food. City or country upbringing. Cake or pie? (Pie of course!) Those kinds of differences keep things interesting. But there are Big Differences that can make things difficult down the road. Have you thought about those?

In theory, you’d think it doesn’t matter how many differences or how big they are if each of you is willing to do the required work. (“But we love each other!”) That sounds so nice.

In practice, people have limits, get worn out, or have certain things where their partner just has to be on the same page. Worse, sometimes you can’t predict the impact of the differences down the line. Listen, the rest of your life is a long time.

Give some serious thought to these next little pieces of wisdom:

First, marriage tends to magnify your differences, NOT minimize them. It certainly won’t make them go away. Oh, and you or marriage aren’t gonna “fix” him or her. If it’s a “thing” while dating, it will really be a “thing” when you get married.

Secondly, in general, while they are dating, people tend to greatly underestimate the impact of these differences, while, at the same time, overestimating their ability to look past them. (Read that last sentence a couple of times. I’ll wait.)

Why can’t they see straight? They have these big blindspots called “Attraction,” “Being In Love,” “Infatuation” or “But He’s/She’s So Hot! Then at some point, a few years into the rest of their life, they are like, “Wow, this is really, really hard!” (If children come into the picture, multiply the difficulty level by a factor of at least five.)

Here’s the thing, nobody is going to be able to tell you definitively, “You guys are just too different.” There is something there or you wouldn’t be dating, right? But here is some help seeing around those blind spots…

Are the differences in core values, non-negotiables, or just preferences?

I’ll use my 25-year marriage (That’s twenty-five years. A quarter-century!) as an  example. We. Could. Not. Be. More Different…

Her idea of a fun Saturday morning is re-organizing the kitchen cabinets so she can check that off her List of Things to Do. (That’s an illness, right?) Then she wants to proceed to the next things on her list, all equally as exciting to me. My perfect Saturday is watching some (pretentious) art-house movie, then analyzing and endlessly discussing the cinematography and the significance of the director’s color palette while listening to some obscure Icelandic band.

She is a grounded, list-making Doer. I am a list-averse, head in the clouds.

She is concrete. I’m abstract. She’s about accomplishments, I’m about … not.

All these are real differences, BUT we pretty much completely agree right down the line when it comes to religion, spirituality, and politics. We have the same non-negotiables of honesty and loyalty. We both wanted kids and wanted the same things for them. (But, man, if my life depended on buying a dress for her that she would actually wear, I’m a dead man.)

Do the differences complement or compete?

She is more of an extrovert who loves people and parties. I’m an introvert who is good at faking being extroverted. She loves the crowds on Black Friday. I hate them. But, if she has to return something and has lost the receipt, I will be called upon to talk our way out of that with the manager. I’m just good at that sort of thing.

See, when encountering differences, people often make a judgment as to who is better and who is worse. If you can avoid that kind of thinking and be more like, “Where does THIS come in handy? Where does THAT?” now you are complementing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Boom.

Are the differences an obstacle or an opportunity?

Religious differences are unique. Now, you can say that in this arena you’ll just agree to disagree. That’s sounds grown-up. Might work for you two. But It will be a thing with the in-laws. In fact, it will be THE thing. If you have children, you will have to pick which traditions they will be raised under. That can cause some serious tension! I’ve seen it. Just sayin’…

Speaking of children, it can be really good for them to have parents who are significantly different but model how to make that work and play to their strengths. Maybe the kids end up being balanced and learn valuable life-skills. Or maybe they grow up seeing their parents arguing all the time because they are so, so different. Are you guys arguing a lot now?

Are the differences a problem to be solved or a tension to be managed?

Some differences might get smoothed out a bit over time so they don’t rub each other so sharply. but they will always be there. These differences aren’t something you solve, they are something you learn to live with the rest of your life. You cool with that? 

I don’t have a wife who enjoys talking about philosophy, movies, music, books, art, or the beauty of the word “oblivion.” She indulges me and works at it and is a really good sport about it. I try not to wear her out and corner her with lengthy conversations about Southern Gothic authors.

She doesn’t have a husband who will ever be organized, be good about budgeting, will jump up to tackle some project around the house, will ever want to go jogging, or organize my day around a list of things to do. I know that stuff is important to her, so I work at it. We both have accepted these thingsWe had to grow into it… It was hard for a long time until we figured it out.

Are the differences equally valued?

This is important. For us, this has taken some time and been tough. When it comes to our differences, she likes to claim, “Hey, at least I get stuff done.” Then I say, “Yeah, but you miss out on so much beauty and wonder and will likely die from a stress-induced heart attack.” (Point, mine. Check THAT off your list…)

We have learned to play to our strengths. Who do you think makes sure that bills get paid on time? Who do you think helps our kid with his Shakespeare project?

Spending the rest of your life with someone doesn’t require uniformity – that would be boring. It does require unity. Whatever the differences, you will need to be able to stand unified. Unified against challenges, problems, hardships, the test of time, and even sometimes things like in-laws and often your own children. It’s gonna be you two against the world. Is there enough common ground for you to stand together?

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

For more resources, see our Dating and Engaged or Marriage pages.

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