Articles for Dating Couples

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    What Single Parents Need to Know About Dating

    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.

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    A Single's Guide to Valentine's Day

    Singles everywhere are bracing themselves for the holiday they dread the most – Valentine’s Day. This week 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.

    There are certainly options for ways to handle Valentine’s Day and the weeks surrounding it. Some choose to ignore the day altogether, claiming it is nothing more than a made-up holiday to generate revenue. This could be true since 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 with no 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. The theme of the party 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 such as volcano cakes, replicas of landmarks, Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding and jalapeno 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 are single and dreading Valentine’s Day, here are a few tips from other singles 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 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.

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    The Single Journey

    Tabi Upton describes her life as footloose and fancy free when she was in her 20s.

    “I loved not being tied down to anyone or anything,” Upton says. “I lived in California for a while, worked for the Peace Corps in West Africa and went to graduate school in Colorado.”

    Upton had a plan to spend her 20s doing whatever she wanted. Then, she planned to marry in her 30s and settle down to have a family. Everything seemed to be falling into place.

    “I did get engaged in my late 20s," Upton says. “He was a great guy, but the more time we spent together the more I realized I wasn’t in love with him. We ended up breaking the engagement. Even though I knew it was the right thing to do, it was scary. It made me wonder if I would ever find Mr. Right.”

    When Upton turned 30 as a single, anxiety set in. If she dated she wondered, "What does he want? Is this going to go anywhere?" She struggled with the whole dating thing emotionally and became depressed about being single.

    “I resented people who told me it wasn’t a big deal and not to worry about it,” Upton shares. “Sometimes I think people don’t allow you to be honest with your feelings because it is uncomfortable for them. Over time I have become much more peaceful about where I am in life. I have wonderful friendships, a supportive family, and some great male friendships that have really enriched my life. Right now I am choosing to focus on pursuing my dreams, work, writing and things I want to do.”

    Despite a growing trend to marry later in life, more than 90 percent of Americans say they plan to marry. So how do you handle the single years while waiting for Mr. or Ms. Right?

    “As a counselor I tell my clients it isn’t about having your life all in order before you marry,” Upton states. “Your education and career are important. So is making sure that you are a healthy person, good marriage material and that you are proactive and intentional about putting yourself in places where you are likely to find a good marriage partner.”

    Believe it or not, the most likely way to find a future marriage partner is through family, friends or acquaintances.

    According to research conducted by The National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, social networks are important in bringing together individuals of similar interests and backgrounds. This is especially true when it comes to selecting a marriage partner, despite the romantic notion that people meet and fall in love through chance or fate. And according to a large-scale national survey, family, friends, co-workers or other acquaintances introduced almost 60 percent of married people.

    The study also found that the more similar values, backgrounds and life goals people have, the more likely they are to succeed in marriage. Opposites may attract, but they may not live together harmoniously as married couples. People who share common backgrounds and similar social networks are more suitable marriage partners than people with very different backgrounds and networks.