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Have you ever had a friend who completely began to ignore you when they started dating someone? Or a friend who began acting differently once they were in a relationship? How did that make you feel? Angry, irritated, frustrated? However it made you feel, we all say that will never be us until… it is.

Dating can be hard, especially in today’s digital age. You can’t open Instagram without feeling bad that you are single. When it comes to dating (or not) there are some things we have to be aware of. There’s not a right or wrong way to date, but there are unhealthy and healthy ways!

How can we make sure we are staying true to ourselves while also being in a relationship? Here are some dos and don’ts of dating…

Dos:

  • DO take your time. Good things come to those who wait. Anything worth having is worth waiting for.
  • DO stay true to who you are. Never forget where you came from. Be who you are because losing yourself is not worth it.
  • DO know what you stand for! You don’t have to compromise what you believe for others. Be strong and stand for your values. If they don’t like it, it is possible they’re not supposed to be in your life anyway.

Don’ts

  • DON’T block out your loved ones! Closing out the people who have always had your back is the last thing you should do. There is such a thing as having a family life and a social life while in a close dating relationship, trust me!
  • DON’T let your relationship status determine your worth. No, you’re not a loser because you’re the only one in your friend group that is single. Go live your best life. Being single can be lit! You don’t have to worry about someone eating your food, Valentine’s Day isn’t a huge deal for you, and no one gets upset with you for not calling them.
  • DON’T get in a relationship just because everyone else is in one. It’s completely fine if you’re single…

Listen, you don’t have to date right now. It’s okay to date yourself for a little bit. It’s okay to live in the moment by yourself. It’s okay to take yourself on dates. It’s okay to learn about who you are. It’s okay to tell yourself you’re beautiful or handsome. It’s okay to reassure yourself that you’re not alone- you have people in your corner! Don’t rush for the status. The heartbreak isn’t worth it.

For more resources, see our Dating and Engaged page here.

Image from Unsplash.com

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“When will I be old enough to date?” – the question many parents dread. You’ve known it was coming, but you also realize you are crossing over into a whole new world with lots of moving parts, plenty of which you cannot control. 

You may reply sarcastically, “When you’re 30!” Or, you may try to be a bit more realistic and really wrestle with the right age for your child to date, which may be different depending on the child.

A study published in The Journal of School Health found that dating during the teen years can help teens learn social skills and grow in emotional intelligence. But guess what? Not dating during these years actually has benefits as well. 

Here’s what they found:

  • The non-dating students had similar or better interpersonal skills than their more frequently dating peers. 
  • While the scores of self-reported positive relationships with friends, at home and at school did not differ between dating and non-dating peers, teachers rated the non-dating students significantly higher for social skills and leadership skills than their dating peers.
  • The study indicated that students who didn’t date were also less likely to be depressed. Teachers’ scores on the depression scale were significantly lower for the group that reported no dating. And, the proportion of students who self-reported being sad or hopeless was significantly lower within this group as well.

Teen dating relationships today are complicated. Here are just a sample of the thoughts teens have, and the drama that often accompanies dating relationships is a whole other discussion that cannot be disregarded. 

“Does she like me?”  

“Is he cheating on me?”  

“I’m scared of what he will do if I break up with him. I think he might hurt himself.”

“Are his constant questions about where I am, what I am doing, who I am with, and what I am wearing signs of how much he loves me?” 

“Do I break up with him because he is mean or stay with him because a bad relationship is better than being in no relationship?” 

In an endless sea of questions, some teens feel intense pressure to date and be in the “cool” crowd while others could care less. Either ways, this is a time to pour into your teen the qualities that will help them navigate relationships in a healthy way, whether it is romantic or not.

The following things are important to keep in the forefront of your mind as you seek to teach your teen how to engage in relationships with others. 

  • They still need your guidance. The prefrontal cortex, or the rational part of the brain that helps with planning, decision-making, problem-solving, self-control and thinking about long-term actions and their consequences, is nowhere near fully formed, and it won’t be until age 25 or so. This has huge implications for teen behavior. 
  • Healthy relationship skills don’t come naturally, even if your teen seems super smart. They are the result of intentional teaching and modeling of behavior such as looking someone in the eyes during a conversation, using a respectful versus disrespectful tone of voice, and having high regard for one’s feelings. 
  • What your teen does in high school absolutely will follow them into adulthood and impact future relationships. Set standards, develop a strategy and don’t allow them to believe the lie that how they treat others now (or allow themselves to be treated) won’t impact them later. Unfortunately, this is a harsh reality many have experienced.
  • Sexual activity affects teens’ mental and emotional health. While the culture often pushes that having sex in the teen years is perfectly normal, plenty of young adults now believe that kind of relationship in high school created more anxiety, stress and depression for them and distracted them from truly enjoying the teen years.
  • They need to hear from you that their value and worth is not dependent on their relationship status. Friendships can be rich, deep and rewarding. Teens need to know and appreciate that their uniqueness is what makes them individuals.
  • Experiencing a range of emotions in relationships is normal, and it helps teens build their emotional regulation muscle. It is beneficial to know how they are feeling. Through that, they will learn to handle the intensity of the emotions that come with being in any relationship with others.

So, when will your child be old enough to date?

Great question! It’s definitely something you should consider with great care ahead of time. Waiting until they are 30 for sure isn’t the right answer. Agreed-upon guidelines for when the time is right will be important. And, it may be comforting to you and to your teen to know that in no way does it mean they are missing out if they don’t date at all during the teen years.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on September 21, 2019.

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Dating after divorce or death can be complicated, especially if children are involved. As people navigate the world of dating and blending families, they have asked Ron Deal, stepfamily expert and author of Dating and the Single Parent, the following questions plenty of times: How soon is too soon to start dating? Should I introduce this person to my children?

“On the topic of blended families, someone once said, ‘People marry and form a blended family because they fell in love with a person, but they divorce because they don’t know how to be a family,’” says Deal. 

Deal believes the key to dating as a single parent is to include the children in the bigger picture.

“Certainly, it depends on the age of the children,” Deal shares. “A younger child is more open to new adults in their life, but you don’t want to introduce your 4-year-old to a person that you just started dating. You don’t even know whether you like this person. Wait until you think this relationship really has a chance of going somewhere, then you bring them into the picture with intentionality.”

For older children, elementary and beyond, Deal suggests talking with them about it first. Ask, “What if I started dating? How would you feel about that?” This way, you are putting it on their radar that this might happen. 

“Once you know that the relationship has potential, it is important to create opportunities for everybody to be together and for additional conversations to take place,” Deal says.

Deal strongly encourages couples to discuss a few things before deciding to move forward with marriage, though.

Some couples decide to test the waters with the two families by living together first. This creates ambiguity for the children. When children experience this uncertainty, it creates chaos and empowers resistance. If they don’t like the idea of the families coming together, the ambiguity leads them to believe they could actually make the whole thing unravel. 

Deal believes what a stepfamily needs more than anything are two adults who have clarity about their relationship and the future of the family. By having conversations ahead of time, you are valuing the “we,” and then the children. If you can’t come to an agreement on your parenting styles, Deal believes this is just as serious as marrying someone with addiction issues. The outcome of these discussions should be part of the equation as to whether or not you get married.

“At least half to two-thirds of dating couples don’t have serious conversations about how they are going to parent when they bring their two families together,” Deal says. “If your parenting styles are vastly different, this can be a deal breaker.”

In many instances, one parent has been making all the decisions for the children. Now add a second adult into the mix who isn’t their biological parent. What will you do when your child asks to do something and your answer would typically be yes, but your new spouse doesn’t agree with that?

There is no question that negotiating parenting and romance all at the same time is complicated. You have to manage the complex moving parts, but Deal believes that if you are going to make a mistake as a blended family couple, err on the side of protecting your marriage.

“The goal here is to protect your marriage, which is why it is so important to talk about these things prior to getting married,” Deal asserts. “Biological parents have an ultimate responsibility to and for their children, but if you make a parenting decision without consulting your spouse, it isn’t helpful to your marriage. The goal is to co-create your parenting response. You cannot have two different answers for two different sets of kids. That unravels your “us-ness” as a couple.

“It typically takes four to seven years for a stepfamily to find their rhythm,” Deal adds. “There is no rushing it. You can’t will it into being. There are certain aspects of your family that will merge faster than others. Even in the midst of figuring out how to make it work, your marriage can be thriving.”

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

Looking for more? Check out this article of JulieB TV on this topic!