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There is pretty much nothing more exciting and scary than thinking about crossing the threshold into your freshman year of college. Your parents won’t be telling you what time to get up or that you need to study. You can stay out as late as you like with whomever you like. Don’t feel like going to class? No problemo. The professor isn’t going to report you and your parents will never know. FREEDOM!

We asked some recent college grads what most surprised them about their freshman year, and here are some things they wished they had known:

ROOMMATES

95% of college freshmen have never shared a room with anybody, so you have to figure out how to communicate, handle conflict, respect each other’s differences and create clear boundaries. This is easier said than done, but worth the discussion for sure.

ABOUT YOUR PARENTS…

They may only be a phone call away, but they shouldn’t be coming onto campus to do your laundry, making sure you get to class, nagging you to study or setting up a party so you can get to know people. This is truly your chance to take advantage of what you’ve learned and put it into practice.

BE PREPARED TO:

  • Know how to do your laundry.
  • Live on a budget.
  • Manage your time. Don’t let the freedom go to your head.
  • Go to class.
  • Get involved in a few organizations to help you meet people.
  • Avoid the temptation to go home every weekend. 

ALCOHOL, DRUGS… AND SEX

No matter where you go to school, you might be shocked at the drug and alcohol scene. You may choose to stay away from it, but your roommate might not. (And it can definitely impact your relationship…) If you do choose to participate, don’t underestimate the kinds of things that can happen when you are under the influence. Chances are great that you will participate in behavior you otherwise would not get involved in.

Use your head. If you go to a party, get your own drink. Before you go somewhere alone, tell someone where you are going or even better – take somebody with you.

You should familiarize yourself with your college’s sexual misconduct policy and definition of consent and know what a healthy relationship looks like. Think about your boundaries ahead of time. 

Maybe you want to do some things differently at college, or perhaps there are some friendships you know you need to leave behind.

Freshman year is an opportunity for a fresh start and greater independence. Take this time to become who you really want to be and surround yourself with people who will help you reach your goals. The next four years are laying a foundation for your future, and how you spend your college years really does matter.

Sometimes, truth be told, the whole thing is super overwhelming, but nobody wants to admit that’s the case. If you ever feel like you’re in over your head, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are plenty of free resources on campus to help you adjust to campus life.

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

Controlling your emotions is hard, regardless of your age. When you’re in the checkout line at the store and a 2-year-old has a meltdown because they can’t have a candy bar, nobody is shocked because well, they are two. It’s totally another story when an adult who is unable to regulate their emotions has a public meltdown.

Unfortunately, a rising number of teens and adults seem to be struggling with emotional and impulse control, and the results are often disastrous. Think road rage, someone cutting in line or even publicly expressing a different opinion in a rude manner.

The Child Mind Institute defines self-regulation as the ability to manage emotions and behavior in accordance with situational demands. Consider it a skill set that enables children, as they mature. It directs their own behavior toward a goal, despite the unpredictability of the world and their own feelings.

It includes:

  • Being able to resist highly-emotional reactions to upsetting stimuli,
  • Calming yourself down if you get upset,
  • Adjusting to a change in expectations, and
  • Handling frustration without an outburst.

Children who don’t learn this skill struggle to self-regulate as they get older. And, if you’ve ever experienced this out-of-control feeling, you know it’s not a good thing. Often controlling your emotions feels the same. There is good news, though. If you didn’t learn this skill as a child, it is still possible to learn it as an adult.

Your emotional brain processes information in two milliseconds. Keeping yourself under control during a frustrating experience involves being able to pause between the feeling and your response.

There is a trigger; someone pushes your buttons (we all have an easy button). An instant reaction follows, accompanied by a strong emotion, often followed by a feeling of remorse. This is the body’s automatic built-in protection system, AKA “fight, flight or freeze.”

Your rational brain, which helps you make sound decisions, processes information in 500 milliseconds, 250 times longer than your emotional brain. People have to learn how to assess situations quickly, but if they don’t pause long enough to discern what is actually happening, their emotional brain can take control before their rational brain has a chance to kick into gear. 

If you or someone you know struggles with self-regulation, it’s not too late! You just have to be intentional about choosing to behave differently.

Think about what you can control and what you cannot. You cannot control how other people behave, but you can choose how you will respond or engage with them. Sometimes, the best response is to do nothing.

Learn how to master your feelings, versus letting them master you will serve you well. For example, when someone cuts you off when you’re driving, you suddenly feel your heart rate go up, adrenaline starts flowing, and your first instinct is to go after them. However, if you practice emotional regulation, you can take a breath, even acknowledge that that makes you angry, but then let it go because the consequences of your actions could bring harm to you, that driver and others who never involved themselves.

This should not be interpreted as people not being able to stand up for themselves or being silenced. Instead, learning how to master controlling your emotions can help people develop calm and constructive ways to have their voice heard. When people are out of control, it’s highly unlikely that anything positive will come from the situation.

***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.***

Looking for relationship resources? Click here!

It was my 12th birthday, and I was (in my mind) an aspiring guitar-playing rock star. All I lacked was the right equipment. You see, all of the ultra-talented hair bands of the time had huge stacks of black-boxed amplifier speakers that blasted their gnarly guitar solos.

So, I made it perfectly clear to my parents. For my birthday, I needed a guitar amplifier so that I could be a rock star. 

On the big day, my parents presented me with a smallish wrapped box. As I unwrapped the gift, disappointment ensued. Indeed, it was a guitar amplifier – one that could almost fit inside my shoe, battery-operated, and just a little bigger than my Walkman tape player. When hooked up to my guitar, it barely made a sound louder than the actual guitar itself. And made of red plastic. I never saw a rock star on stage with anything made of red plastic. Talk about expectation frustration. 

I can now see the problem in hindsight. My expectations weren’t clear enough. I told my parents I wanted a guitar amplifier, but I wrongfully assumed they knew exactly what I meant. I mean, it’s not like they knew anything about being a guitar superstar like me. Ultimately, it was an unspoken expectation.

Imagine how this can happen in a marriage! 

One spouse expects the other to cook dinner every evening. One expects the other to spend time with the kids on the weekends. One expects sex four times a week. The other expects regular time together talking about each other’s day after work. But nothing ever said out loud. 

And then, when dinner isn’t ready, the kids are left to entertain themselves all weekend, the daily conversations don’t happen and sex is not happening nearly often enough, expectation frustration takes over the relationship.

We all have expectations for our relationships. Expectations are good in the fact that they are formed in the hope for something good to happen. When we expect something to come out of a certain situation, like our marriage, normally it’s in the hope that some sort of value is created.

But expectation frustration happens when we assume that our spouse somehow knows what we want without us telling him or her. There are times when I think my wife should know exactly what I expect because we both want a good, healthy marriage. And if she wants a good, healthy marriage just like I do, isn’t it just common sense that her expectations should line up with mine? 

See the problem here?

It’s perfectly normal – and OK – that two people have different expectations for achieving the same goal of a healthy marriage. The main thing is that these expectations don’t go unspoken. It shouldn’t be assumed that our spouse is thinking the same thing we are. And so a healthy, safe space needs created in the relationship to regularly communicate what we hope and expect from each other.

Trying to share your hopes in an unsafe space is like, well, two large guitar amplifiers blaring incoherent sounds toward each other. You get nothing but noise that can’t be heard. A safe environment, however, creates the space for a couple to experience harmony.  Each person approaches the conversation with a spirit of listening to understand rather than getting what they want. No value judgments are put upon the other person’s expectations; rather, their opinion is affirmed, even if it’s not necessarily agreed with.

The goal of a safe space for communicating expectations is that these opinions can be shared with the idea of reaching common ground. 

The magical part of this is that, when both people feel they can safely communicate expectations, they often find just how much their goals for their relationship are in line with each other. When my wife and I sit down and calmly talk about what we hope from each other, I hear her heart for our marriage rather than her expectations overriding mine. And she hears the same thing from me.

Unspoken expectations are like an acid that has a corrosive effect on the relationship – they slowly eat away at the common goal for a healthy marriage. Take the time to create that safe space and talk about your hopes and dreams for your relationship. 

***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.***

Looking for more marriage resources? Click here!

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What If My Spouse Doesn’t Make Me Happy?

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An interesting study just released in JAMA Pediatrics should grab our attention. The study, a joint effort between Johns Hopkins University and The Guttmacher Institute, raises a warning flag about your sons, sex, and standards.

Two national surveys showed that between 4 and 8 percent of boys reported having sex before they were 13. Black males were most at risk, followed by Hispanic males. In some metropolitan areas, more than a quarter of young, African American men. These men reported sexual intercourse before age 13.

Young men having sex before age 13 usually haven’t received the appropriate sex education and services, and we need a better system to respond to their needs,” says Arik Marcell, M.D., M.P.H., senior author of the study and associate professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. 

“The cultural double standard about sexual behavior in the United States, in which it is OK for young boys, but not girls, to be sexually active, has prevented us from effectively addressing male adolescents’ vulnerabilities and their healthy sexual development,” Marcell adds.

Marcell explained that he has heard boys and adolescents talking about their first sex encounters in a way that suggests they didn’t anticipate, understand or know what was happening or what’s appropriate and what’s not. It is concerning that such early sex experiences happening to boys could be unwanted and influence their future health. Marcell and his colleagues used the survey data to attempt to get a better look at the scale and pattern of this problem across the nation.

The investigators underscored the importance of recognizing young people’s perspectives, and also noted that reports of whether a first sexual experience was wanted may be influenced by gender and race expectations, stereotypes, peer pressure and coercion. Parental education also appeared to have an impact. For instance, boys whose mothers graduated from college were 69 percent less likely to have sex before 13.

As to why there are such variations in early sex rates, Guttmacher Institute researcher Laura Lindberg says, “Adolescent males’ attitudes and values about their sexuality and masculinity are influenced by the social context of their community. 

“Our findings reflect that where you live exposes you to different social norms about manhood,” she added. “The variation across settings means that programs for young people’s development and health need to be tailored and responsive to the communities they are in.”

In many instances, it seems like they have taken massive strides when it comes to educating kids about sex. But this study clearly indicates work still needs to be done. All young people need to receive sex education. Parents need to be ready to have open, honest and ongoing talks with their kids. 

The best time to start talking with children about sex is when they are young. Look for teachable moments. Things such as when you see a pregnant woman or a peer’s new brother or sister, are a natural discussion-starter.

Focus your conversation with elementary-age children on:

  • the correct names of sexual organs and body parts,
  • explaining sex and reproduction,
  • personal boundaries,
  • pregnancy, and
  • building healthy relationships.

If they are old enough to ask questions, they are old enough to receive correct answers. But make sure to clarify your child’s question. When you understand the question, answer it briefly and simply. Sometimes kids have questions, but they are afraid to ask. This is why it is important for parents to look for opportunities to discuss these important matters.  

Talking about sex is just as important as talking about drugs and alcohol, smoking, stranger danger and pornography. If this feels overwhelming to you, you might want to practice talking privately with your spouse or another adult first. The most important thing is that conversations are happening and you are an askable parent.

This article originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on April 14, 2019.

As I think back to when my children were first born, there are many memories that come to mind of being bombarded with all the things that babies need. I remember attending a presentation for a $1,000 high chair. It was implied that if I didn’t purchase the high chair, I really didn’t love or wasn’t very concerned about the safety of my child. And I’ll admit, I began to struggle with the paradox of what my child needs versus what I, in my parenting, want my child to have.

If I were keeping it totally honest, I really wanted that high chair. Not for all the safety reasons or the fact that it would grow with my child, but the honest truth was I thought it made me look good to others. I heard messages that said to be a good parent, you provide what your children NEED, but even more so what they WANT.

Let’s talk about this struggle.

I should’ve owned stock in LeapFrog due to the number of their electronic toys that I purchased for my son, only because they were educational and would help with his language skills, color recognition, etc., or so I thought. I felt so disheartened when I found him playing with an empty 2-liter bottle rather than the toys I bought.

That was a pivotal point for me. I recognized that I was seeking external approval from friends and family rather than looking inside, and I realized what I was really teaching my sons. While I had taught them that they could have everything they wanted, I never taught them that there was a difference between a want and a need.

I composed a list of things that my sons really need from me, emotionally. It included:

  • Love
  • Time with me
  • Support
  • Discipline (teaching)
  • Comfort
  • Consistency
  • Teaching them values of hard work, sacrifice, persistence, grit, etc.

That was the easy part. The hard part was changing the expectations and behaviors of my sons. Every time we went to a store, their expectation was to get something because they WANTED it. Really, they wanted it because I taught them to expect it by usually getting them something. They didn’t like the word NO.

After one especially rough trip, we had a meeting of the minds.

  1. I no longer took them to the store with me.
  2. I explained to them the difference between a want and a need in practical terms.

For example…

Need:  Food (home-cooked); Want: Eating Out

Need: Shoes; Want: $200 name-brand that you are going to outgrow in 3 months.

Need: Uniforms for school; Want: Name-brand pants that you are going to get grass stains in and holes in the knee.

You get the idea.

As I look back, I’m so glad I made that pivot.

Even though that $1,000 high chair was fancy, I can’t put a dollar value on the lessons learned. My sons have grown into young men who know their worth doesn’t come from things like the right shoes or clothes or cars. And when they start parenting, they will know the difference between a want and a need.

Looking for more parenting resources? Click here!

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There’s nothing worse than getting into the same argument, again and again and again. Amirite? The sheer repetition is enough to drive one MAD. And sadly, that tends to happen quite a bit in marriage. When we get really upset, we can go from zero to 60 in two seconds flat. We don’t want to fight. We don’t want to be angry. But WE ARE LIVID. And ya know what? We have every right to be! But.

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Opposites attract. They really do! Then you get married and often opposites repel.

When my wife and I began dating in college, we couldn’t have been more different. Ours was really a case of “opposites attract.” Frankly, the differences were enchanting, fascinating and intriguing. Then we got married. About six to eight months in, those differences were not nearly as charming anymore – they were were just different. I remember thinking, “That thing you do that when we were dating was so beguiling and fascinating? Yeah, well it’s annoying now.” And my wife was feeling the same thing with my differences…

What did we get ourselves into? The rest of our lives seems like a long time to put up with this!

Are you really opposites? Below are some questions to turn this obstacle into an opportunity:

*Is this a problem to be solved or a tension to be managed?

What kind of differences are we talking about here? Is one person laid-back and the other more assertive? That’s a tension to be managed – probably your whole life. Is one person trying to save money while the other person is blowing through it? That’s a problem that is a problem that is gonna have to be solved.

*Is one person taking the moral high ground?

I was fond of saying that all our differences were equal but some were more equal than others. My wife was more assertive, list-driven and task-oriented. I was laid-back and cared more about people. She always had “The Moral High Ground.” My wife would often say, “Well, at least I get things done!” (Aaaand you’re gonna die from a heart attack.) Try not to label the differences good & bad, right & wrong, helpful & unhelpful. They can just be different.

*Is there a duty to validate your spouse and their differences?

Do you have a chance to celebrate your spouse and the unique things that they bring to the relationship and the family? Be sincere and not condescending.

*Is there an opportunity for you to provide each other balance?

My wife and I finally learned that our differences should not be competing with each other, but rather, they could be complimenting each other.

*Is there wisdom in playing to your strengths?

Sadly, there are many “gendered” jobs around the house where we often just expect a certain partner to do it. But what if that is not their skill-set or passion? The other spouse is like, “I LOVE doing that job and I’m awesome at it!” Play to your strengths, not stereotypes.

*Is there a way for your kids to benefit from seeing your differences?

Absolutely – especially if you can show them how you work together through your differences. With an example like that, it’s more likely that your kids will be able to work well with people who are different than them. Plus, if you allow your differences to balance each other out, it’s more likely that your kid will follow suit. So, instead of constantly planning or constantly sleeping, they’ll have a deeper understanding of how to “work hard, play hard,” so to speak.

An important thing to remember is that a relationship with two people wired the exact same way comes with plenty of problems of its own.

***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.***

Headed down the aisle soon? You probably have some thoughts rolling around in your brain in terms of being engaged and your expectations. Don’t worry, you aren’t alone.

Almost everyone comes to marriage with some pretty specific ideas about how things will be. 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 while discussing what is important to you both, you realize your expectations aren’t realistic.

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.

It’s totally possible that you and your fiancé have engaged 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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Discover the 8 Essential Lessons to Build an Unbreakable Marriage Right from the Start! 

Preparing for Marriage is a self-guided online course that will guide you and your bae on a journey to build a solid foundation for your marriage! And the best part is, you can watch each video in the comfort of your own home and on your OWN TIME. All the essential tools to create a thriving marriage are jam-packed into 8 fun and fast-paced lessons guided by relationship experts.

How you’ll build an unbreakable marriage:

✅ You’ll get 8 essential lessons that you can work on when you want & where you want.

✅ Each lesson is divided into 3 parts, “Past You,” “Present You,” and “Future You.” Each part has a brief video led by marriage experts, Reggie & Lauren. You’ll have questions to talk through together and a handout to dive deeper. 

✅ After watching the videos and completing the lesson, there will be a quick pop-quiz* to make sure you’re getting the information you need! (And remembering it!)

✅ BONUS: You’ll have access to Reggie & Lauren by email every step of the way to answer any questions or just give you a little encouragement!