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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’ve 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 make the whole thing unravel. 

Deal believes, more than anything, a stepfamily needs two adults who have clarity about their relationship and the family’s future. 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, that’s serious. Deal believes it’s 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 plan to marry.

“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 dealbreaker.”

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’s no question that negotiating parenting and romance all at the same time is complicated. You have to manage the complex moving parts for sure. But Deal believes that if you’re 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.”

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

Most parents believe they’re pretty good at communicating love toward their children. But did you know that saying “I love you” only begins the process of communicating your love for your child?

There are some important communication practices to consider. For example, has your child ever said they were hungry and you told them they weren’t because they just ate? When kids say things like this and parents discount or correct the feeling, children think they can’t trust their own feelings and judgment. They also believe they need to rely on someone else to tell them what they think and feel. This can be very dangerous.

Validating a child’s feelings helps them feel important and loved.

When parents want to raise capable children who think, solve problems and care for others, it’s important for them to trust their feelings. Instead of discounting a child’s expression of anger or feeling tired, ask questions that will lead them to talk about their feelings, such as, “Tell me what you are angry about.” Or, “You just woke up from your nap, do you think you need to sleep a little longer or do you think you just aren’t quite awake yet?”

In an effort to show love, parents often give their child what fills their own emotional fuel tank.

For instance, if a parent loves receiving gifts and that really replenishes their tank, they may show love to their child by giving them gifts. But, gifts may not mean as much to that child as a big bear hug, which is the language of physical touch. In turn, the parent may become frustrated because the child does not respond to the gifts like the parent expected.

Several books have been written about the languages of love. Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages of Children, lists the love languages as:

  • Acts of service
  • Quality time
  • Words of affirmation
  • Gifts
  • Physical touch

Chapman asserts that speaking a child’s primary love language can fill the child’s emotional fuel tank much more effectively.

Although parents need to speak all five love languages to their child, one language usually speaks louder than any other. Once a parent knows the child’s primary love language, this language can more effectively motivate, discipline and teach their child.

In a world where many children seem confused and are looking for love in all the wrong places, parents have the opportunity to give a wonderful gift. Learning their child’s love language and speaking it often will truly say, “I love you.”

Singles everywhere are bracing themselves for the holiday they dread the most – Valentine’s Day. In the weeks leading up to the holiday, there will be an onslaught of commercials advertising amazing packages couples can take to celebrate their love. If you don’t have a special someone in your life and wish that you did, it can be really painful. Some have even dubbed the day, S.A.D.— Singles Awareness Day.

But there are all kinds of ways to handle Valentine’s Day and the weeks surrounding it. Some choose to ignore it, claiming it is nothing more than a made-up holiday to generate revenue. I mean, it could be true – people will spend more than approximately $650 million on food, candy, flowers and other Valentine’s Day gifts. Others sit at home, lamenting the fact that they don’t have someone special in their life.

One group of singles decided they were done being irritated and sad about the day. They came up with a plan for an annual dessert party and contest. The guys had to come up with a dessert recipe and make it without help. The desserts would be judged on presentation, creativity and taste.

Each year the ladies in the group developed a different theme and gave awards based on the theme, which was not announced until the night of the party. Past themes have included the Olympics, Reality Shows, current events and news headlines.

There have been some pretty amazing entries: volcano cakes, replicas of landmarks, Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding and jalapeño brownies. There have also been some epic failures. For instance, one guy tried to make something kind of healthy thing that turned out to be totally disgusting.

Bottom line: It didn’t really matter whether it was a winner or a serious dud. It was a great way to spend time together, celebrate and laugh, which made it a fun way to spend Valentine’s Day.

Through the years some of the original members of the group have married, but they still participate in the annual contest.

If you’re single and dreading Valentine’s Day, here are a few tips for making the day fun.

  • Gather with friends. Have dinner and make Valentine’s cards to send to people who probably won’t receive a Valentine, like an elderly neighbor who has no family.
  • Make a batch of Valentine cards and send them to some single friends without a signature.
  • Invite friends over for a special dinner instead of going out to eat.
  • Offer to babysit for some married friends so they can go on a date.
  • Send yourself some flowers.
  • Throw your own dessert theme party or come up with your own creative party idea.

Valentine’s Day is not just for romantic couples – it’s for singles, too. It’s a celebration of the love we feel for others. Take time out to acknowledge those who have made a difference in your life through their affection and support.

Do you remember the date of your wedding anniversary? If you didn’t cheat and look at the engraved date on your wedding band, give yourself some points.

How many years have you been married? If you had to think to figure it out, take away some points.

How did you celebrate your last anniversary? Did you remember without having to ask your spouse what you did?

If the answer is yes, give yourself a few more points. Add some points to your total if you did something fun as a couple. 

If you let it slide by with no real celebration because you didn’t have time or were too tired, take away a few points. 

If you completely forgot your wedding anniversary, you just lost ALL your points.

Couples marry and even a year or two into their marriage they are still planning crazy fun adventures to celebrate their love. But after a few years, things begin to settle down. Children come along and creativity often flies out the window. Who has time or even feels like planning to celebrate a silly anniversary?

We do a great job of celebrating birthdays and holidays, but lots of couples let their wedding anniversary slide by. Think about it – how many wedding anniversaries do you recall celebrating?

Birthdays and holidays are certainly things to celebrate. But, considering how much time, effort and energy it takes to make a marriage really hum, wedding anniversaries are cause for celebration. If your marriage faced exceptional challenges during the year, some anniversaries might deserve a huge celebration to acknowledge making it through the tough times.

When life is coming at you full speed ahead, you can easily take your marriage for granted. But doing this over the years is like watching a sinkhole form. Erosion is taking place underneath the surface. And while there may be a few signs things aren’t right, it may not appear to be anything major until the whole thing caves in and people are shocked.

Don’t take your marriage for granted. It’s up to both people in the marriage to intentionally make every anniversary something you won’t forget. Every time you make it another year, celebrate your anniversary and what you have. Dream about your future together.

Whether your anniversary is this weekend or nine months from now, take the time to make it special. It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Re-create your first date, plan a romantic evening, write a love letter to your spouse or plan a surprise getaway. Do married well!

***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.***

Have you ever thought or said these words after you said the vows “til death do us part”?

I just can’t take it anymore… We’ve grown apart… I love you as a friend, but I’m not in love with you anymore… You aren’t the person I married… Things change.

The crazy thing is, many happily married people also experience some of these feelings. It’s true. Sometimes you feel like you can’t take it anymore. Other times you may feel distant to your spouse. Over time, mates do change.

But do all these things have to shake the very foundation of your marriage? The answer is NO.

What makes it possible for first-time marriages to survive?

Marriage experts have found that couples who make their marriage work decide upfront that divorce is not an option. Although many couples who choose to divorce have challenges, their marriage probably could have been saved and in the long run been a happy one. Their fatal error in the relationship was leaving their options open. If the going got too tough, in their mind, divorce was always a way out.

You might be surprised to find this out, but research shows that divorce does not make you happier.

Does Divorce Make People Happy? Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages, conducted by the Institute for American Values, found that:

  • Unhappily married adults who divorced or separated were no happier, on average, than unhappily married adults who stayed married.
  • Unhappy marriages were less common than unhappy spouses.
  • Staying married did not typically trap unhappy spouses in violent relationships.
  • 2 out of 3 unhappily married adults who avoided divorce or separation ended up happily married five years later.

The bottom line is, you have to make a decision to stay at the table and be committed to making the marriage work. Here are some things to help you keep the vow: “til death do us part.”

  • Learn skills to help keep your marriage on track. Research continues to show that couples who learn how to talk to each other, resolve conflict, manage their money, have appropriate expectations of the marriage, and build intimacy are significantly more likely to keep their marriage on track over time.
  • Understand that the grass may look greener on the other side, but you still have to mow it. On the surface, someone may look better than the one you are with, but in truth, even beautiful sod eventually has onions, crabgrass, and clover if you don’t properly care for it. In most cases, people who have jumped the fence will testify that the grass is not greener, just different.
  • Learn how to resolve conflict without threatening to leave the marriage. All couples have spats. Some yell; others talk things through. The common denominator for couples who keep their marriage on track is learning how to disagree with the best of them, but leaving the marriage is never an option.
  • Stop using divorce as a crutch. Instead of throwing in the towel when the going gets tough, consider it a challenge to learn as much as you can about your mate and how you can effectively deal with adversity. Intentionally choose to love the one you’re with.
  • Keep the big picture perspective. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. One woman described her 65-year marriage to a group of young people. She shared about seven years throughout the 65-year span that were really bad due to work conditions, children, lack of time together, the husband’s out of town job for a couple of years, etc. In the end, she asked herself, “Would I really want to trade 58 good years for seven bad years?” The answer was a resounding “No!” All marriages experience trials and tough moments. Don’t trade years of history for a couple of bad months or tough years.
  • Make a plan for your marriage. Going into marriage without a plan is like playing a football game without memorizing the playbook. If you want to win, you’ll have team meetings, set goals, learn and relearn skills, learn how to lead and follow, and share responsibilities. And, you both need a copy of the playbook.

If you want a “til death do us part” marriage, you must learn the plays so you can execute them correctly and prepare to adapt in different situations. That takes time. When you understanding that there will be occasional setbacks, you can move toward the goal line and even score a few touchdowns. Teammates block for each other, throw the ball to one another, help each other up, and encourage perseverance when the going gets tough.

It has been said that individuals win games, but teamwork wins championships. So, make it your goal to have a championship marriage.

 ***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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