Friendsgiving and the Four Stages of Friendship

The holidays are already just around the corner (how did that happen?), and so many of us are already filling up our calendars with festive events, dinner parties, school functions, and traditional gift exchanges. It’s a season to focus on family and friends. How many of you are having a Friendsgiving celebration this year? I know that I am, so I definitely have the topic of friendship on my mind.

With so much focus on spending time with those we love, I’m reminded of what real friendship looks like. “Friend” is one of those words that has taken on a new meaning in today’s social media-inundated world. Now, the word “friend” can easily refer to a life-long confidante, or simply someone you just connected with on Facebook or started following on Instagram! BIG difference, don’t you think?

Generally speaking, healthy long-term relationships progress through four stages and—no offense to Facebook—“friend” isn’t the first stage. Ideally, each relationship stage should build on the other and at the proper pace. What advances a relationship to new stages or levels, IF it is meant to advance at all, are: mutual trust, compatibility, a shared interest in cultivating a deeper friendship, and the tests of time.

The stages go like this (imagine a pyramid, starting at the base):

  1. Acquaintance
  2. Prospect (a potential friend)
  3. Friend
  4. V.I.P. (Very Important Person)

Every person who becomes more than an acquaintance will start in the first stage.  Most stay there forever while others may progress into the next stages. Only a very few will make it to the VIP stage—and that’s the way it should be. Most of us usually have 4-5 VIPs, the crème de la crème of people in our lives.

Unfortunately, many people—particularly young people—can rush the stages, prematurely moving from one to the next in a quest for intimacy, new friends, popularity, or a full social calendar. When the stages are rushed, people exhibit behaviors in one stage that should be reserved for a deeper one. Inevitably, these relationships disintegrate due to a breakdown in trust, a loss of interest, or a pace that is uncomfortable for one or both of the parties. Note this applies to both friendships and romantic relationships.

If you want healthy, lasting relationships, don’t rush to stage four (like they do in the movies!). When you do, you risk making an emotional investment without really knowing the person—a mistake that can take a major toll when the relationship ends. It’s better to go slow through the stages and reserve the VIP level for people who really prove their friendship, commitment, and compatibility over time.  Don’t forget that good friendship and true love take time and good timing, and that’s okay.

Take some time to think about your current relationships. Can you recognize which stage each one is in? This holiday season, make a conscious effort to invest your deepest relationships and those poised to move up to the next stage. Those are the friendships that will build you up and last a lifetime!

6 Easy Ways to Show You Care

I hope this post finds you refreshed and uplifted after a Father’s Day well-spent with your family. Father’s day is such a special time to focus on the dads in our lives and show them our appreciation and love. This day always reminds me of the value of relationships—of mine with my parents and with my kids. I’m reminded of the strategic impact that fathers have in the roles of their children, even years after they’ve left the house!

As I reflect on the value of the relationships in my life, I’m reminded of our culture’s vulnerability to two conflicting priorities: relationships and things. While our society has progressed in many respects over the past 50 years, it’s clear that we’ve regressed in terms of relational health and depth. Sadly, with the distractions of technology and busyness, it seems to be getting worse.

Have you taken the time to think about what you really value in life lately? What are you communicating about your priorities to the ones you love—whether intentionally or unintentionally? You can use the following list as either a self-check or a to-do list. Either way, we hope it gives you some inspiration and ideas for communicating your love to others (dads, friends, children, and beyond):

  1. Be fully in the moment. When you’re with someone, be completely engaged (not on your phone, scrolling through Instagram, playing Candy Crush, Snapchatting, etc.).
  2. In a tug of war between relationships and tasks, give the edge to relationships. Our tasks may seem urgent, but relationships should take priority. This is especially true when our children need our attention. Compromise your inconvenience for the times they need your counsel.
  3. Keep family and close friends at the top of your priority list in terms of time and energy. Don’t just give them the leftovers! They deserve your best self.
  4. Express appreciation regularly. Be grateful for the people in your life and share your feelings with them. (I doubt that my kids could have known that my all-time favorite Father’s Day gift from them would be a license plate frame with the engraved words, “Dad’s are cool!”)
  5. Praise them in front of other people. Say something nice about then when they are in earshot. You will help build their self-worth and indirectly communicate how much you value them (parents, this is a great pointer for you!).
  6. Forgive offenses quickly and (really) let them go. After all, you’d want your loved ones to do the same for you, right? On a related note, pick your battles carefully and when arguments do arise, keep your cool and be an agreeable disagreer.

 

Do the people you love know how much you care about them? What creative ideas, license plate frames or otherwise, would you be willing to share?

10 Regrets to Avoid Like the Plague!

Looking back on your life so far, do you have any regrets? Are there things you did and wish you hadn’t—or things you didn’t do and wish you had? Any relationships that are strained? Opportunities missed?  Bridges burned?

Although these are some of life’s most important questions, too many people wait until the end to ask them—and by then, it’s too late.  We’ll all have regrets from time to time. However, you can minimize big ones (or avoid them altogether) if you periodically ask yourself these questions (and then actually do something about it!).  Today is the best time to start!

When it comes to considering our regrets, there is wisdom to be gained from senior citizens who are in a naturally more reflective stage of life.  If you ask them about their life regrets, you’ll likely hear some—or maybe even all—of the following:

  1. I didn’t spend enough time with my loved ones
  2. I didn’t tell my family and friends that I loved them often enough
  3. I was too stubborn or proud to admit my mistakes and apologize
  4. I chose bitterness over reconciliation
  5. I allowed my life to be consumed by work
  6. I was too hesitant to take risks, try new things, and live my passion
  7. I wasted too much time
  8. I didn’t appreciate the little things in life
  9. I valued things over relationships
  10. I worried too much

Do any of these apply to you? Be honest! Although regrets run the gamut, did you notice that most involve relationships and priorities? This is why it’s so important that your life is balanced, you fully invest in relationships, and your priorities are right.

This discipline is a great one for all ages.  Consider sharing it with the young people in your life. It will help you—and them—make needed midcourse corrections and “relationship repairs” along the way.

Be forewarned, though: it’s not easy, and it takes a strong dose of courage, humility, and determination. Wouldn’t it be great, though, to get to the end of life and be able to say, “FEW REGRETS?!?”

3 Ground Rules for Playing the Dating Game

Why does “The Bachelor” have such a rabid following? It’s beyond me, but it sure appeals to lots of people! Maybe it’s because people know the drama of trying to find that “special someone,” and watching someone else go through it has a kind of vicarious romantic appeal (without the heartache, of course!). Whatever the reason, it’s a big hit.

 

           

Dating can be the best of worlds and the worst of worlds, particularly for young adults. There are so many new, fun, and interesting people to meet as one’s circles expand, but it’s also a mystery because you never know what will become of the people you meet. I recall feeling like I was on an emotional roller coaster at Six Flags at that stage of life wondering if she was Mrs. Right. Yes, I, Mr. Analytic, even lost his objectivity from time to time. It never worked.

 

           

Do you (or does the teen/young adult in your life) have a random or a strategic mindset when it comes to dating?

 

 

 

Although true love can happen opportunistically (e.g., when my college sweetheart and I were successfully matched at a computer dance!), it pays to lay down some personal ground rules in your dating life.  One way is to become a “3D dater!” Seriously! Here’s what I mean by “3D”:

 

 

Be Discriminating

 

Be highly selective with your choices of dates. Sadly, so many people define their self worth by whether they’re dating someone that they “date for dating sake” and often compromise their values along the way. It always pays to be choosy by focusing on people who share similar interests, values, and goals.

 

 

 

 Be Discerning

 

Be wise when you date. Many approach dating so impulsively and emotionally that they simply don’t think clearly. Understand what you want in a relationship, like your goals and expectations, and have the courage to move on if it’s not a great fit. Also, avoid placing yourself in “high risk” situations with people you don’t completely trust.

 

 

 

Be Deliberate

 

Be patient. This is often the hardest thing to do when the infatuation is intense (or when a computer matches you!). However, if the relationship is truly meant to be, it needn’t be rushed. If you’re feeling pressured, have the strength and self respect to put on the brakes. If they’re not willing to, they’re probably not the best choice for the long term and you’re only delaying the inevitable.

 

 

By being a 3D dater, you’ll set yourself up for long-term success rather than settling for short-term, superficial gratification that’s so common today. You’re much more likely to find Mr. or Mrs. Right with fewer peaks and valleys (and heartaches) along the way!

 

                                                                       

 

As you reflect on any dating you’ve done in the past, how would you rate yourself along the 3D dimensions? If you are a parent or youth mentor, how can you communicate what you’ve learned with the young people in your life?

 

8 Ways to Communicate You Care

Valentine’s season reminds us of the value of relationships—and not just romantic ones.  Not only do sweethearts profess their admiration and affection for each other, but so do parents to their children, children to their teachers, friends to friends, and so on. In a rare creative moment, I once wrote a love letter using strategically placed candy hearts to share my thoughts. Bingo!

At the same time, Valentine’s Day can expose our vulnerability to these conflicting priorities: relationships versus things. While our society has progressed in many respects over the past 50 years, it’s clear that we’ve regressed in terms of relational health and depth. Sadly, with the distractions of technology and busyness, it seems to be getting worse.

Have you thought about what you really value in life? What are you communicating about your priorities to the ones you love—whether intentionally or unintentionally?

Relationships are enduring—things are not. The way we communicate this to our loved ones lies in how we prioritize our time, attention, and money. You can use the following list as either a self-check or a to-do list. Either way, we hope it gives you some inspiration and ideas for communicating your love to others:

1. Be fully in the moment. When you’re with someone, be completely engaged (not on your phone, your Facebook, your Instagram, your Candy Crush game, etc.)

2.  Keep family and close friends at the top of your priority list in terms of time, energy, etc. Don’t just give them leftovers.  They’ll notice, even if they don’t mention it.

3. Focus on the important, not the urgent.  Sometimes maturity and experience are the best teachers on this lesson, but the sooner it’s learned, the better! Our tasks may seem urgent, but our relationships should take priority. This is especially important when our children want or need to talk.

4. Tune in to their uniqueness. Gifts, experiences, and expressions engender different responses from each of us. What uniquely means the most to them? Customize your giving wherever possible and you’ll surely hit the mark.

5. Express appreciation regularly. Be grateful for the people in your life and tell them how much you appreciate them. You don’t always have to communicate with outward displays of affection. Sometimes simple actions, like saying, “I appreciate you,” packing a family member’s favorite lunch (with a note in it), or doing an unasked favor can be just as meaningful.

6. Praise them in front of other people.  Say something nice about them when they are in earshot. You will help build their self worth and indirectly communicate how much you value them. (Great parenting pointer!)

7. Set aside time and money for special occasions and gifts. This may be harder for those whose “love” languages are not gift giving or quality time.  But for those who really need these things in order to feel loved and appreciated, they mean the world.

8.  Forgive offenses quickly and let them go. After all, you’d want your loved ones to do the same for you, right? Related, pick your battles carefully and when arguments do arise, keep your cool.

It pays to examine how we prioritize our time, energy, and finances to build strong relationships with family and friends. Do you the people you love know you care? How so?

Take a 3D Approach to Dating – PART 3

(This is part three in our 3D Dating series.)

Go – ready – set!
 
What’s wrong with this picture? Well, it certainly wouldn’t work at a track meet or on your tennis serve. And, it most definitely doesn’t work when we date—as we search for that Mr. or Mrs. Right. Nonetheless, it’s one of our most common relationship mistakes.
 
Unfortunately, when emotions and/or hormones are flying, READY-SET-GO can be difficult to execute when we think we’re “in love.” Patience is an incredible virtue when it comes to dating, but it’s often the hardest thing to exhibit when infatuation is intense. And, it’s an “equal opportunity” condition that happens to both teens and adults!
 
After making the commitment to be discriminating and discerning in one’s dating choices and practices, the third quality we want to encourage is being deliberate.
 

  • Intentional.
  • Patient.
  • Friends first!

 
Although they may not actively seek it, young adults sometimes need the measured time-tested wisdom of experienced people that enduring relationships needn’t be rushed. After all, our closest relationships should be marathons rather than sprints. Approaching it as a mad dash is generally an ominous sign of insecurity among either or both parties. The Hollywood, “three months and we’re good to go” approach rarely works.
 
There’s really no downside to taking it slow—not being desperate, hurried, or pressured. If they want things to move much faster than you, it’s time to have a serious heart to heart talk and get to the root cause. More often than not, it’s either a sign of a poor fit, insecurity, or simply the wrong time.       
 
Here are some qualities of a deliberate dater worth mentioning to the young people (and dating adults) in your life:

  • Go out because you are genuinely interested, not because they’re merely the best available
  • Avoid any pressure to go faster than is right; take steps to ensure the pace of a relationship works for both of you. Stay confident and in control. You’re worth it!
  • Focus on becoming best friends first (the new BFF!) and seeing where it goes rather than emphasizing the physical.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be so consumed with a new relationship that you curtail time with friends
  • Commit to really getting to know the other person and spend lots of time talking (A telltale warning sign of a rushed relationship is that more time is being spent “acting” than “talking.” Taking time to develop a friendship indicates they care more about you than they do about it!)

 
By being a 3D dater, who is Discriminating, Discerning, and Deliberate, you’re much more likely to find the right one with fewer peaks and valleys (and mistakes!) along the way.
 
Have you read our entire 3D dating series?  Which quality(ies) stood out to you as the most important and why? We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!
 

Take a 3D Approach to Dating – PART 2

This is part two of our “3D Dating” series, a timely topic as we head into Valentine season! We started last week with a look at being DISCRIMINATING. This week we talk about the second quality of a 3D dater -– being DISCERNING…
 
The teen years are an exciting time of self-discovery and getting to know other people. Teens are developing their own identities and learning about themselves—who they are outside of their parents and family—and are starting to recognize which kinds of friends are their best fit. But, whether they admit it or not, when it comes to relationships (and dating in particular), they still need the input of parents, mentors, and older friends to help them hone a very important quality: discernment.
 
Will your teen leave home with strong inner radar that will help guide his relationship choices? Have you equipped your young person with the gift of discernment to help her make prudent decisions in her dating life? 
 
It’s worth thinking about, because if parents don’t, others (including our media/entertainment culture) will fill in the gap! Knowing that, here are some helpful topics for you to discuss with your teen to ensure he/she is being a discerning dater:
 

  • Understanding what you each want in a relationship—your goals and expectations and ensuring they’re compatible.
  • Recognizing incompatibility of values, interests, and goals as soon as possible and  ending it if it’s not a fit. Don’t expect the other will change!
  • Ensuring that the timing is right for both of you. There’s no point investing in a new relationship if you don’t want the same thing at the same time.
  • Objectively assessing whether you’re feeling “love” or “lust.” Be brutally honest in evaluating your friend in this regard. If it’s lust, it won’t last!
  • Avoiding unsafe situations before they happen and never allowing yourself to be coerced into actions that compromise your values, risk getting out of control, or that you’ll later regret.
  • Warning them of danger signs—manipulation, put downs, physical or emotional abuse/isolation/control, pressure to drink or have sex, etc.  
  • Reminding them to stay objective and  be willing to opt out if a relationship isn’t working. Sometimes you want to make it work so badly, you overlook serious flaws. Don’t do that. 
  • Advising them not to trust too soon … don’t put yourself in a vulnerable position with someone you don’t know extremely well and with whom you’ve built a history of confidence.  Remember that true love takes time

 
Make sure your teens know they can talk to you at any time, without repercussion, especially if they get into a hot spot and need help. Establish a private code they can use to call or text you to let you know they need to be picked up NOW. 
 
Many troubling situations might have been avoided had the parties demonstrated discernment. Help your teen develop it.  It’s one of the most important qualities of being a healthy 3D dater! 
 
What ideas and tips do you have for teaching discernment to teens when it comes to dating? Share your suggestions with us; we and our other readers would love to hear from you!
 

Take a 3D Approach to Dating – PART 1

Sweaty palms.
 
Racing heart.
 
Butterflies.
 
I’m not sure who has more of the above—a teenager getting ready for a date or a parent talking to him (or her) about dating!
 
No matter from whose angle you look at it, it’s a hot topic.
 
Whether a young person is in high school, college or already launched into their career, an independent social life can be the best of worlds and the worst of worlds. On one hand, there are so many new people to meet and things to do. On the other hand, it’s a time when many lives get derailed because they can’t handle the responsibility that accompanies this newfound freedom. Unfortunately, the consequences of these mistakes can be far reaching and life altering.
 
The fact is, even responsible dating comes with its share of challenges. That’s because: 1) many people define their own self-worth based on whether they’re “together” with someone and struggle with loneliness and doubt when unattached, 2) dating is a “trial and error” process with many dead ends or worse, and 3) there are two parties involved, each with their unique needs, goals, feelings, and interests. Two don’t always tango and it takes time to discover that.
 
So, what’s the best way to navigate this process? Encourage your young adult to try a 3D approach to dating—being: 1) Discriminating, 2) Discerning, and 3) Deliberate.
 

  1. Discriminating: In order for your dating to have worth and potential, you’ve got to be discriminating (i.e. highly selective) with your choices. The problem is, many people define their self-worth by whether they’re “with” someone, so they date for dating’s sake, often compromising their values along the way. The results are never pretty. Being a discriminating dater means:
  • Knowing the qualities you admire and that attract you to another person; these are the characteristics that are right for you.
  • If you don’t see a fit, moving on. Never waste your time on those you know are dead ends. It’s not only good for you, but it’s also the right thing for them.
  • Above all, focusing on values and your ability to become best friends. Do everything in your power to emphasize the non-physical over the physical when you’re assessing your compatibility. Think BFF: Best friends first! Remember, love can be blind…at the worst of times! 

 
I hope you’ll share these principles with a young adult in your life. Be sure to check back for my next blog in this series, where you’ll learn the second step in the 3D dating process—being DISCERNING…
 
What are ways you’ve found to help young adults develop discernment in their dating choices? Please share your ideas and experiences with us; this is a hot topic and we’d love to hear your input!
 

Is He/She the One?

It goes without saying that love and a lasting marriage are two of the most amazing gifts life can bring. Finding that special someone you love, trust, enjoy, and with whom you want to spend your entire life is a wonderful experience, something most people hope for.

However, despite best efforts, many marriages eventually fail. The reasons are varied, but an often-preventable one is that they didn’t fully examine their compatibility (or lack thereof!) before tying the knot.
 
How can you determine if someone is right for you?
 
Frankly, it’s hard to think objectively when we’re smitten. We often dismiss cautionary words from parents and friends, even if they have our best interests at heart. Unfortunately, by doing so, many people enter love relationships for the wrong reasons with the wrong person or at the wrong time. Inevitably, those kinds of relationships end painfully.
 
Because of the joy that comes from a successful love relationship and the painful consequences of a failed one, it’s essential to know what you’re getting into before committing yourself to another person. Marriage is arguably the most important human relationship you’ll ever have, and ought to be treated carefully, cautiously, and respectfully. This means everything from understanding what love really means, gauging compatibility, ensuring that goals are in sync, respecting each other’s individual life while enjoying a strong relationship, and understanding the investment required for a successful partnership.
 
If you’re single, before even thinking of getting married, note the qualities that are really important to you in a partner—the deal breakers. That way, when that (potentially) special someone comes along, you can put him or her to the test and see if it survives.
 
What key areas ought to be evaluated for compatibility if your goal is a forever marriage? Try these ones for starters:

  • Goals and dreams—near and long-term
  • Values and character qualities such as integrity, respect, trust, empathy, commitment, and unselfishness
  • Commitment to the partnership first, while also respecting individual needs
  • Ability to satisfy emotional needs
  • Spiritual life and religious affiliation
  • Quality of communication
  • Interests and activities
  • Children—how many and when
  • Finances—spending authority, risk appetite, and living within means
  • Work situation for each spouse after you start a family
  • Responsibility for household operations, meals, housework, etc.
  • Living location
  • Physical/intimacy desires
  • Listening skills, temperament, and willingness to work together to solve problems
  • Ability to handle constructive criticism and respect differences of opinion
  • Personal motivation and commitment to excellence
  • Personal vices and any dependencies
  • Family history/relationship quality

 
Evaluations like these will take time, but isn’t your eventual marriage (and lifelong happiness) worth it? If the results of your investigation aren’t to your liking, it’s certainly better to know sooner rather than later. If you’re really serious about having a forever marriage, it pays to objectively evaluate your compatibility beforehand. If it’s meant to be, you’ll know it.
 
How important do you think compatibility is in a relationship? What are some ways you’ve discovered to determine if another person is right for you? Have you shared these thoughts with the young people or students in your life? Please share your insights and experiences with us; we’d love to hear from you!

Recognize What True Love Is

It’s unfortunate the English language has only one word for love. We can say we love our friends, family, and spouse—and we can also say we “love” chocolate, our dog, and our favorite TV show!
 
It’s also unfortunate that the media and other cultural drivers constantly send distorted messages to young people about what love is. Sadly, too many believe those messages and end up making terrible life decisions and bearing deep emotional scars as a result.
 
I believe it’s our responsibility as parents and educators to do what we can to instill a healthy understanding of what true “love” really looks like. My definition would include:

  • enduring emotional regard for another
  • steadfast loyalty
  • strong affection arising out of kinship or personal ties
  • admiration, benevolence, or common interests
  • unselfish loyalty and genuine concern for the good of another
  • putting another’s interests ahead of your own

 
Many times people will say they’re in love when, really, they are in “lust.” Some definitions to describe “lust” might include:

 

  • passionate or overwhelming physical desire
  • craving another
  • intense, impatient, or unbridled sexual desire or appetite
  • pursuit of fulfilling one’s own satisfaction/needs/wants

 
 
For young people, knowing what true love really is can be confusing—and intimidating. Sometimes they think when they feel attraction that it is love.  But at this point it might more accurately be called infatuation or, if it’s especially intense, lust. Love involves much more than a physical attraction—although that’s certainly part of it.
 
Especially for people who may be experiencing attraction, infatuation, and “love” for the first time, it can be hard to tell the difference.  Remind them, real love takes time and timing and a healthy relationship will go through a  natural progression of growth stages.
 
Encourage the young adults in your life—whether your own kids, students you teach, or teens you mentor—to stand firm and not be fooled. Regardless of what they see on TV or hear on the radio, love isn’t just a bundle of intense feelings, emotion, and attraction. It’s all of the deeper elements mentioned above. They need to learn to know the difference.  Their most important love relationship depends on it!
 
How have you encouraged the young people in your life to think about their most important love relationship, either now or in the future? Can they see the importance of making sure it’s built on the right foundation?  Share your comments on our website; we’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!