The Polluted Pond of Pop-Culture Dating: What is unhealthy dating and how can it be improved?

Many of you may be wondering why in the title of this article pop-culture dating is so bad tat it has to be compared to a polluted pond or a picture of a dead fish.That will be explained as this article goes on, but first, ponder this:

Does a fish that has lived in polluted water its entire life know that it is in polluted water? In other words, does the fish need to swim in clean water to know about pollution?? As you think of this analogy, reflect on your own dating experiences for a minute. How was it overall? What kinds of activities did you do? Was your experience mostly positive or negative? These questions might lead you to think back on some hilariously awkward, stressful, or anxiety-provoking situations that you felt during those times. I have plenty of dating experiences myself that fit that description, especially as a current college student. In my experience, people–or maybe it’s just college students–do not know how to date.
During my first three semesters of college, I was not asked on one date, just “hangouts”. When I did end up going on dates–because I caved in and downloaded a dating app–it felt as if I was only there to provide physical touch for guys that craved it. No bueno. It was so stressful and I started to despise going on dates and “hangouts” disguised as dates. It was clear that the dating culture I was suddenly immersed in was no longer about doing fun things and getting to know a wide variety of guys, it had now become people using one another fulfilling their wants masquerading as “needs”. Regardless of how each of us views our past dating experiences, think of how the current dating culture might impact young people today–especially your own children. How might it affect their relationships 20 years from now? How is this polluted dating culture affecting your relationships now?

According to the Pew Research Center, most people in the dating scene are not satisfied and think finding a significant other has gotten even harder today than it was in the past. Of those that are currently dating, 67% said that overall, their dating is not going well. Only 33% of daters in the study say that their dating is going very or fairly well overall (see chart).

So how did we get here? How did dating become something so negative? And why do we even still do it?

Unless you are Patrick Star and live under a rock at the bottom of the sea, you have probably noticed–especially on college campuses today–the popular terms of “hanging out” and “hooking up.” Hanging out is essentially watered-down dating without intention or purpose. Monto and Carey (2014) specify that hooking up is “a pattern involving transitory sexual interactions between partners who have no expectation of a continued romantic relationship or sexuality outside of a committed relationship.” In other words, hooking up is:

Sex without strings and relationships without rings.

For most people, especially those engaging in these activities, this phenomenon might not seem like such a bad thing. However, many studies have found that casual sex and the hang-out/hook-up culture can increase psychological distress, anxiety, depression, in addition to “[lowered] self-esteem and reduced life satisfaction” (Napper et al., 2016). I don’t know about you, but these outcomes do not sound very appealing. I personally have experienced these negative outcomes in my own life and can see them in the lives of my peers.

The Polluted Waters

Now back to the fish in polluted water. As you’ve probably already guessed, we young people are the fish and this toxic dating culture is the polluted water. Figuratively speaking, some of us have only ever known polluted water. And just like the fish, if you’re in this toxicity long enough, it can be harmful to your overall health. But there is hope! We can clean the “dating water” we are in and break the cycle creating a new environment for ourselves and our relationships. But how?

 

Using Dr. Jon Van Epp’s Relationship Attachment Model (RAM), we can gain some insight into good and healthy dating attitudes and habits. The RAM model (see image) is built with five sliders that are labeled: know, trust, rely, commit, and touch. Each of these are important components of any and all relationships. Dr. Van Epp explains in his book How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk that each slider should be slightly lower than the previous one…in ascending order. This simply means, it is important to know someone more than you trust them; and to trust them more than you rely on them; and to rely on them more than you are committed to them; and to commit to them more than your amount of physical touch.

The dating culture today–which is generating more emotional and mental health problems–is more of a “Relationship Detachment Model.” Physical touch is often the highest slider, rather than one’s knowledge of and trust in the person with whom they are having sex.

Essentially, research has discovered that healthy dating (i.e., clean water) follows this model and helps to build stable and satisfying relationships that can then enhance future families and society as a whole.

If more of us follow this model, especially in high school or college, the dating waters will be clean and individuals and couples will thrive, both in these dating stages and later on in marriage or with our families. The principles of the RAM have changed me and the way I approach dating for the better! I strongly encourage you to read How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk, incorporate its ideas, and teach others to do the same.

Sydney Stratton is from Lubbock, Texas, and is a junior in Marriage and Family Studies at Brigham Young University – Idaho. She is currently the Vice President of the Child and Family Advocacy Society on campus.

3 Valuable Lessons Breastfeeding Taught Me about Marriage

From day one of being a mom, I was so excited to nurture my little girl. I wanted to give her the world! I thought the least I could do would be to give her the food she needed to develop well. And I knew my “liquid gold” would be the best thing to help my baby girl grow healthy and strong.

Breastfeeding has so many benefits, both for baby and for mom. But what people don’t usually talk about is the fact that it can be really, really hard

Now after nursing two kids, I’ve realized that it’s not all that different from marriage. Here are a few things I’ve learned.

1. It’s hard.

Yes, breastfeeding is natural and good. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy! There are all sorts of things to adjust to, especially at the beginning. Breastfeeding can bring sore nipples, engorged breasts, a crazy feeding schedule, and more. And just when you think you’ve figured it out, more challenges come!

Similarly, marriage is natural and good. We want to be with someone we love in a secure relationship. But just like breastfeeding, marriage can be hard too! Marriage means there’s someone else to coordinate with, and odds are there will sometimes be misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Like breastfeeding, there are difficulties and things to adjust to in married life, both at the beginning and all along the way. 

2. It’s good for you.* 

Pediatricians agree that breastfeeding is so good for a baby’s development. Breast milk naturally has the nutrients, calories, and antibodies your baby needs to be healthy! It also creates a healthy bond, probably in part because mom and baby have to work together to figure it out. 

Marriage, like breastfeeding, definitely has its benefits! People who are married are more likely to live longer and be happier. And like breastfeeding, being married allows you to grow closer to the one you love as you work through the difficulties that naturally arise. 

3. It’s individual. 

Every new mom has different challenges, because her body and baby’s body are unique. Not only that, but those challenges will likely change over time. For example, my baby girl used to fall asleep all the time while eating. When she got older, she stayed awake but got distracted easily. These individual challenges, however, gave us great opportunities to work together and grow. 

Just like every mom and baby is different, each marriage has both unique challenges and solutions. Basic principles can help both with breastfeeding and marriage, but ultimately, the two of you have to figure it out. So work together to find what helps you get through the hard times and really enjoy the sweet blessings that come. 

Don’t give up! 

With my first child especially, there were days when I was tempted to give up on breastfeeding, to throw in the towel and give her formula instead. But I’m so grateful my little girl and I were able to learn and grow together. 

Maybe there are times when you want to give up on your marriage, when you think it’s just not worth the effort anymore. But don’t give up! Don’t give in! You may find that it is working through those difficulties that makes your marriage even sweeter. 

*Disclaimer: For various reasons, some moms or babies may not be able or choose not to breastfeed. The same is true for marriage. This article is in no way trying to put down those who don’t breastfeed, or those who get divorced/don’t marry. Everyone’s situation is different. 

Author’s note: I originally wrote this article while I was breastfeeding my first child. Nursing child number two was a lot easier (partly because he was easier, partly because of what I’d already learned). But I found that these principles still hold true for both breastfeeding and marriage.


Elizabeth Warner, Content Manager

Elizabeth Warner graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Marriage and Family Studies from Brigham Young University-Idaho. She is married to a wonderful man, and together they have two delightful kids. When she’s not busy changing diapers or teaching her daughter to read, she enjoys exercise & nutrition, hand lettering, and writing.

7 Tips for Fighting Pornography’s Harms in Your Home

When my son was about 8 years old, he quietly knocked on the door of our bedroom one night. We invited him in, and I could sense his unease. “Mommy, I think I did something bad.” The tears began to flow as we scooped him up and inquired over his supposed misdeed. “I was watching a music video and I saw a man’s bum. It was naked. I’m so sorry”. He believed he had viewed pornography. He was a sobbing mess, but my mommy-heart melted over the admission because we have always been honest in our home about the damaging effects of pornography. This meant it had sunk into his little mind and heart. Even a naked bum sent his conscience reeling. He believed he had viewed pornography. And he was right, accidental as it was. 

The Problem with Pornography

While this event might seem minor in the grand scheme of what could have been available to my son in the world of pornography, it’s still no small matter. It’s a rare occasion that users of pornography jump straight to “hard-core porn”. It usually starts inadvertently and small: a naked rear, for example. Most exposure happens early, with the average first age of exposure at 8 years old. One Australian study reports that by age 14, nearly 94% of youth have seen pornography. This is troublesome on many levels. This is a crucial developmental period when an under-developed prefrontal cortex makes children and youth less capable of making rational decisions. My son fit the demographics to a tee, and we count ourselves blessed that he had the good sense to look away and come talk to us. 

Many of you, like me, are parents with unsuspecting, innocent children. You love them, care for them, and want what’s best for them. You’d do anything to protect them. But the pornography industry is crafty. They don’t care about protecting your children. Your children are seen as potential consumers for their product. And they will do anything to hook them. Pornography is nicely packaged these days. A popular magazine, lyrics of a catchy song, popup ads, or a music video. It’s easier than ever for your child to be exposed and hooked. 

Some argue the benefits of porn. Such benefits include sexual education, sexual satisfaction, and sexual release. But the other side of the coin speaks volumes when correlations are linked to rape, aggression, sex-trafficking, infidelity, divorce, among others.

Think it would never happen in your home or that your child has never been exposed? Think again. A recent report by the BBFC reports that while 75% of parents believe their children have never seen porn, 53% of those children actually have. Your children could be among those. 

How You Can Protect Your Family

While those numbers can be discouraging, it doesn’t mean that we can’t do something about it. And it doesn’t mean that accidental exposure inevitably leads to a pornography addiction. My son is proof that with the right kind of education and action, we can feel secure that our children will make the right decisions in those moments. We can take charge in our homes today to protect our children against pornography exposure and its damaging effects. Here are seven things that have worked for our family:

1. Do the talking before someone else does. 

The pornography industry is eager to get to your children before you do. Don’t give them the satisfaction. If pornography exposure starts early, then talking needs to start early.

2. Make home a safe space to talk.

Our kids know that they can ask us anything without unfair reaction or judgement. Children need to know that they can have their questions answered lovingly and honestly. If your child has a question, let them ask and then do your best to answer. If you don’t know, say so, and schedule a time to talk again once you’ve found answers. Keep your word and follow up. Parent-child communication is key to opening up about these hard issues. 

3. The discussion about pornography must be ongoing. 

I cringe when I hear parents say that they’ve successfully given their children “the talk.” This is not a “one and done” event. Discussing important things like sex and pornography must be ongoing. Your children are growing and developing. This includes their understanding of and curiosity about pornography. Keep talking.

4. Set rules as a family. 

We found that our children are more likely to keep rules that they help make. We also found that they are more willing to make rules when they understand the why behind needing them. Tell them how damaging pornography can be. Then trust them to help you make rules to keep the family safe. They will surprise you!

5. Have a healthy dialogue about dating, marriage, love, and sex. 

Pornography distorts a child’s view of what real love is. Pornography teaches a child to objectify another person. When parents talk positively and honestly about dating, marriage, love, and sex, we teach them that people are for loving in real ways. Sex is an expression of that love and is most satisfying within a devoted relationship. There is no room for pornography in a healthy relationship because it teaches us that people are to be used instead of loved. 

6. Talk about your body and the bodies of others in uplifting, positive ways. 

Pornography will challenge the self-esteem of a person because of its ability to distort the reality of the human body. Let them know how beautiful and amazing the human body is and that it should be treated with respect. Bodies are not perfect and come in all shapes and sizes. Speak kindly about your body and the bodies of others.  

7. Watch for warning signs. 

Is your child unusually stressed, tired, depressed, secretive, and removed? While this might indicate many different types of problems, it might also be time to ask about and reevaluate their digital habits. They may be struggling with pornography. Be supportive and ready to help.

Keeping Kids Safe 

I know these steps have helped in our home. My son, now 13, is a happy and healthy teenager. He uses his devices in the family room because this is a rule he helped make. He knows it keeps him safe. He knows that if something does happen, he can always come talk to my husband or I because our home is a safe space. My son knows that his body is a gift and that it should be respected. He knows that the bodies of others should be respected. He knows that real relationships are built on love and trust. Above all, he knows that we love him and that we’re proud of the person he’s becoming. He knows that pornography holds no place in becoming the man he wants to be. While we can’t safeguard our children completely, these small steps can help continue the battle against pornography. 

Guest Blogger: Sarah Fairbanks

Guest Blogger: Sarah Fairbanks

Sarah Fairbanks is a student at Brigham Young University-Idaho. She is majoring in Marriage and Family Studies with an emphasis in Human Services. She will graduate in December 2021. She lives in Northern California with her husband and three children. 

 

Three Ways Instagram is Ruining Your Marriage

social media ruins marriage
By guest blogger Miriam Merrill

Your Instagram account may be ruining your marriage.

With the number of active monthly users reaching 1 billion, Instagram is more popular than ever. While there are millions of users in every age category, approximately 64% of users are unsurprisingly between 18-34. It seems innocent enough, but with the average age of marriage for men and women hitting 28, this puts the most trying years of marital relationships right inside the bracket of the most loyal Instagram users. Some of the most crucial years of relationship development in a marriage are likely to be spent trying to obtain “likes” and “follows,” which has been proven to be damaging to relationships.

But why is it so damaging? Keep reading to find out three ways that Instagram is hurting your relationship with your spouse.

1. It gives you unrealistic marital expectations and sets you up for failure.

One of the biggest threats to marriage in general is having unrealistic expectations. On their own, these false ideals are consistently linked to lower relationship satisfaction and less investment in the marriage. But when you add social media to the picture? It just gets worse.

There is nothing like having a disagreement with your spouse and then getting on Instagram just in time to see a new post with a caption like “He is so perfect,” “He meets all of my needs,” or “He is my soulmate.” While the posters may have acted innocently, all those reading the captions are likely to assume that it’s normal to feel like that. They then discouragingly conclude their marriage must be a bad one.

This of course couldn’t be further from the truth. No one is perfect. It’s impossible for a single person to meet all of your needs, and unhealthy and unfair to ask someone to. The notion that there’s only one perfect person meant for you in the world just isn’t true. And ironically, research suggests that the couples who post the most are actually the most insecure about their marriage. So you shouldn’t believe everything you see on Instagram anyway!

Regardless, the more you see perfectly curated lives on Instagram and assume it is the norm, the more your own marriages seem unexciting and unromantic, and you become less committed to each other and the marriage.

2. It adds anxiety and distrust to your relationship.

Relationships are difficult enough without adding breeding grounds for anxiety and distrust. Worry about online affairs and looking good on social media is enough to make any spouse sensitively jealous. It’s a proven fact that the use of technology in relationships distances partners, causes trust issues and misunderstandings, and distracts couples from sharing intimate moments.  

The latter is such a big deal that a term was even recently invented for snubbing someone while using your phone: phubbing. Fifty percent of people report being “phubbed” by a significant other. That’s a pretty big deal considering the fact that the act has been linked to spousal depression and lower marital satisfaction. While none of us like being ignored while our partner uses their phone, we’re all probably also guilty of it.

Even on a personal level, Instagram has been associated with high levels of anxiety, depression, and bullying. You may feel that social media is not negatively impacting your relationship. But because it’s affecting you, it prevents you from being your best self for your spouse.

3. It increases your chances of having an affair.

With the ever-increasing popularity of social media, it’s easy to find old friends and re-connect. While this is certainly one of the most advantageous aspects of Instagram, it can also be one of the most dangerous. In fact, one in three divorces start as online affairs.

With a few clicks, it’s easy to look up profiles of exes. Seeing pictures of them can easily stir up the old feelings you used to have. It may promote romantic longing as you see what your life may have looked like if you were still with them. And if you make the decision to reach out, you’ve entered a seriously dangerous zone.

Licensed marriage and family therapist George James illustrates this: “The initial intent [can be] to reconnect as friends. As time progresses, the conversations become secretive, and the married person starts to think that the old flame is there for them more than their spouse.”

Author Kelly Chicas adds, “When you’re at home with your partner, you have all the problems of day-to-day life, and it’s easy to want to forget all the responsibilities of today. It becomes easy to romanticize this ‘other life’ with someone on social media.”

Even if you don’t have an affair, this study found that the more frequently someone contacted their ex, the less satisfied they felt in their current relationship. So why take the risk?

What Can You Do?

While I don’t think anyone would disagree that social media complicates your relationships, its use doesn’t exactly seem avoidable in this technology-driven world, either. So, what can you do? Here are a few ideas.

Establish Boundaries

Work together as a couple to decide on boundaries regarding social media use. You could pick a technology-free time before bed to allow yourselves time to reconnect. Maybe you create a “no cell phones on date night”-type rule. You might combine social media profiles. Or you may even delete them altogether. The boundaries themselves don’t matter as much as the commitment to communication and dedication to marital fidelity.

Watch What You Post on Social Media

Make sure that what you are posting isn’t building someone else’s unrealistic expectations. Commit to genuineness on social media. And next time you envy someone’s life on Instagram, just remember that couples who endure challenges in marriage are actually stronger than those who don’t.

Recommit to Date Night

With so much working against couples, recommitting to date night is a great step in strengthening your marriage. Research has shown that couples who have weekly date night are 3.5 times more likely to report being “very happy” in their marriage and 3.5 times more likely to report “above-average” communication. Read more about how date night can help your marriage and how to make it successful here.

With the world of social media constantly surrounding us, your marriages can take a hit if you aren’t careful. But as you take steps to set boundaries and reconnect with your spouse, you can make sure that your Instagram account doesn’t ruin your marriage after all.

Miriam Merrill has a Bachelor of Science in Marriage and Family Studies with an emphasis in Family Advocacy and Policy. She interned with both The Sutherland Institute and Family Policy Resource. She also attended the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. When she isn’t writing or researching, you can find her performing, singing, and making happy memories with her husband, Sam, and puppy, Jimmy Stewart.

5 Benefits of Intimacy in Marriage + How to Increase It

happy couple

As human beings, we’re hard wired to connect. In other words, we have a biological need to build close bonds with people! Even as a baby, we connect to our parents for warmth, food, security, and love. When parents meet those needs, bonds of closeness form called attachment. On the other hand, when a parent isn’t there to meet the child’s physical and emotional needs, the child may feel anxious and insecure about seeking help.

These same patterns follow us into our adult romantic relationships as well. When spouses respond with love and make themselves available for each other, they grow closer together.  Not only this, but having a close relationship allows you to share intimate details and experiences with the one you love. This can be a big help during stressful times.

When people hear the word intimacy, they often think of sexual relationships. But intimacy is more than just physical! True intimacy includes emotional closeness too.  Being close emotionally and physically are important and healthy aspects of any good relationship. And what’s more, this intimacy can lead to several health benefits.

Here are just five of the benefits of intimacy in marriage:

1. Intimacy Helps Reduce Stress.

Studies have shown that chronic stress can have a huge negative effect on the body, including insomnia, muscle pain, cardiac events, a weakened immune system, and irritable bowel syndrome.  Thankfully, intimate relationships help reduce stress by allowing spouses to act as a buffer for stressful events.

2. Intimacy Counters Loneliness to Reduce Risk of Mortality.

Recent health studies have linked social isolation (essentially a lack of intimacy) with increased morbidity and mortality. And some studies have found that in addition to higher mortality, loneliness can also affect our thinking, sleeping, and mental and physical well-being. But staying close to your spouse can help reduce your social isolation and feelings of loneliness.

3. Intimacy Fuels a Better Sex Life.

Emotional intimacy can lead better sex in your marriage, which has health benefits in and of itself. Being authentic, open, and willing to listen to each other’s needs will really improve your sexual intimacy experience. Sexual intimacy also releases oxytocin (aka “the cuddle hormone”), which in turn brings you closer to your spouse.

4. Intimacy Helps Reduce Feelings of Anxiety and Depression.

Being sexually intimate with your spouse releases a burst of hormones that will improve mental well-being. But sex isn’t the only thing that releases the feel-good hormone of oxytocin! Studies have found that sharing an intimate act of decision-making or even a simple touch from our loved one changes our brain chemistry and our oxytocin levels. Then those increases help defend against the negative effects of stress.

5. Intimacy and Emotional Support Strengthens You.

Discussing issues with a close, empathetic spouse can be really comforting in times of stress. Your attachment bonds can act as emotional barriers to stress and provide you with security when you’re feeling vulnerable. On the other hand, when emotional insensitivity occurs in a relationship, this can often exacerbate pain.

How to Increase Intimacy in our Relationships

Clearly, being emotionally and physically close to your spouse does a whole lot of good. But just how can you increase that intimacy in your relationship? Here are a few ideas:

  • Be open and honest with each other. Close relationships are built on a foundation of trust and openness. It’s important to share with your spouse the details of your life, both the good and the bad. As you’re authentic in sharing these details, you’ll be able to connect in ways that bring you closer as a couple.
  • Remember that intimacy takes time. You have to spend time together and get to know each other if you want to be close. So spend time getting to know each other’s wants, needs, hopes, and goals. Put down your digital device and actually share with each other face-to-face. Spending electronics-free, quality time with each other will be worth it!
  • Be accepting of your spouse and open to learning. Dr. John Gottman, a nationally recognized marriage therapist, says it’s important to be a friend to your spouse and accept them with their mistakes and weaknesses. Also, as you’re open to learning from your spouse, you can show more empathy and understanding. This will really increase that emotional intimacy with your spouse.
  • Accept your spouse’s bids for connection. Gottman also talks about how important it is to turn toward your spouse as an anchor, which reinforces those bonds of closeness. When you respond to your partner with interest and enthusiasm in small, everyday moments, you build up an “emotional bank account” that helps the relationship weather conflicts. These bids for connection are powerful opportunities to connect with our spouse both emotionally and physically.

Having an intimate and close relationship with our spouse or loved brings many physical and emotional benefits. Reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, increasing our sex life, and countering loneliness are just some of the benefits. Connecting with others can be a huge health benefit and comfort, so start working on your intimacy today!

Dr. Kevin M. Green is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE). He is a full-time professor at BYU Idaho and specializes in human connection and intimacy. He loves baking, reading, and spending time with family and friends. He has been married to his wife Mallory for 21 years and has four amazing children.