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Son seeks parent's advice on pending engagement


QUESTION: My son and his girlfriend have been talking about getting engaged, but he’s worried about the high divorce rate that threatens every new marriage and asked me how he could lower the risk. What advice would you have given?

DR. DOBSON: The answer to that question could go 600 different ways, but I’ll be content to offer just one suggestion. You need to explain to your son how women are different from men and how that uniqueness will affect his marriage.

It concerns what might be called “differing assumptions.” Many men come into marriage laboring under the mistaken idea that their wives are going to be their cheerleaders, who will take care of the children and expect nothing in return. They believe that their greatest and perhaps only responsibility is to make money and to succeed professionally, even if it requires 12 hours a day to do it.

The assumption of women, on the other hand, is that their marriage will be a wonderfully romantic affair. They anticipate candlelit dinners and walks in the rain and evenings of soul-to-soul conversations. Both of these expectations are illusions that bump along for a few years until they finally collide. Workaholic men and Cinderella women often destroy each other.

I strongly urge fathers to tell their adolescent and college-age boys that girls are incurable romantics and that it will not be enough for them as husbands to be successful in their professional pursuits. That would have been sufficient in decades past. Today, something more is expected. If they are going to have strong marriages and families, they must reserve time and energy for the marital relationship, talking together and treating each other as sweethearts.

This is the advice that I would like to give to every engaged or newly married couple: A simple understanding of these “differing assumptions” could prevent many painful divorces. I think you should share it with your son.

QUESTION: Teenage rebellion has hit our home at last. My 15-year-old son’s rotten attitude just went from bad to worse! How do I get him through the “rapids” of adolescence without rocking the boat any more than absolutely necessary?

DR. DOBSON: First of all, you need to recognize that the trial you’re facing is “common to man.” Adolescent revolt is hormonally driven and occurs in the best of families. When hostility and rebellion begin to appear, how do you keep your boys (and girls) from blowing up and doing something stupid? I’ve addressed that subject in the past, but let me offer a finding that I haven’t shared before.

The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health surveyed 11,572 teenagers to determine which factors were most helpful in preventing harmful behavior, such as violence, suicide, substance abuse, early sexual behavior and teen pregnancy. Here’s what the researchers found: The presence of parents is beneficial at four key times of the day – early morning, after school, dinnertime, and bedtime. When that regular contact is combined with other shared activities between parents and kids, the most positive outcome is achieved. The researchers also observed that adolescents who felt a sense of connection with their parents (feelings of warmth, love and caring) were least likely to engage in harmful behavior.

Some of my readers might be asking, “How can I be with my teenagers morning, noon and night? I have altogether too much work to do.” Well, you simply have to decide what is most important to you at this time. It won’t matter as much a few years down the road, but your availability right now could make the difference for your child between surviving or plunging off the cliff.

Dr. Dobson is founder and chairman of the board of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, CO. 80903; or Questions and answers are excerpted from The Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide and Bringing Up Boys, both published by Tyndale House. Copyright 2006 James Dobson Inc.