“Coupleness” Doesn’t Equal “Familyness”
About the Guest
Dating is hard, and dating again after divorce or loss can be even more complex. Therapist and blended-family expert Ron Deal joins Rob and Rhonda Bugh, long-time family friends who married each other after their spouses died; and widow and mother of two, Sabrina Beasley, to talk about the challenges of dating and marrying again.
Rob and Rhonda BughRobert Bugh is a graduate of Southern Methodist University. He received a Master of Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary and a Doctorate of Ministry at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has served as the Senior Pastor at Wheaton Bible Church in West Chicago, Illinois since 1994. Rob also serves as the chairman of the board of Greater Europe Mission. Following the death of his first wife, Rob married a long-time family friend, Dr. Rhonda Williams, a pediatrician who previously lost...more
Ron DealRon L. Deal is one of the most widely read and viewed experts on blended families in the country. He is Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®, founder of Smart Stepfamilies™, and the author and Consulting Editor of the Smart Stepfamily Series
Sabrina Beasley McDonaldSabrina Beasley McDonald is a former senior writer and web editor for FamilyLife, working mainly with FamilyLife's online magazine The Family Room. Over the years she has written of her engagement, wedding, and marriage to David Beasley, her experiences as a mother, her adjustment to widowhood in 2010 when David was tragically killed in a car accident, and her marriage in 2013 to Robbie McDonald. Sabrina has written dozens of articles for FamilyLife. Her articles have also appeared in numerou...more
Dating is hard, and dating again after divorce or loss can be even more complex.
“Coupleness” Doesn’t Equal “Familyness”
Bob: Rhonda Williams lost her husband, Tom, to cancer after more than two decades of marriage. Her pastor, Rob Bugh, lost his wife to cancer, as well. Months later, Rob and Rhonda got married.
Rhonda: We really thought we were prepared for remarriage, but we still—
Rob: We were naïve. We were much more focused on the chemistry between us than the chemistry of that dynamic with our kids.
Rhonda: It was difficult for our children to understand, especially how you could love somebody else.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, October 15th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. It’s possible for two spiritually-mature, committed believers in Christ to walk into a second marriage unprepared and to be surprised at what they find. We’ll hear about that today. Stay tuned.
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Have you ever been at an amusement park where you’ve gone on a ride and you thought, “That was a fun, exciting ride; and I never want to go on that ride again.”
Bob: Have you ever had that happen?
Dennis: I have, yes.
Bob: That’s how Mary Ann and I have talked about dating. It was a fun and exciting thing, and we hope we never have to go on that ride again; you know?
Dennis: Right. It is an experience that is meant to be once in a lifetime; but for a number of people, they have to date more than once. Now, I’m not talking about dating your spouse after you get married. We’re talking about what happens after a divorce, after the death of a spouse.
We’ve got some guests who, not only have solutions, but have some fascinating stories around the whole concept of being single again and dating. Our friend, Ron Deal, joins us on FamilyLife Today. Ron is brand-new to the staff of FamilyLife. He’s not new to our listeners. They’ve heard him on FamilyLife Today on multiple occasions. Ron is married to his wife, Nan, since 1986. They have three sons. He is heading up a new ministry, here, at FamilyLife, targeting blended families.
Ron, first of all, welcome to the broadcast. I’ll introduce our other guests in just a moment. Share with our listeners a little bit about what you hope to do through FamilyLife’s blended family outreach.
Ron: Well, thank you, Dennis. It’s always a pleasure to be on FamilyLife Today with you and Bob. We endeavor to try to equip blended family couples to go the distance. We want the marriage that they’re in to be their last. The couples that are listening right now, who are in stepfamilies, know exactly what I’m talking about.
By death or by divorce—some script that they did not choose to write—they now find themselves in a different family situation. We want to try to help them understand their family, make sense of what’s going on, and create it into a home that is a redemptive home. I really believe, very strongly, that stepfamilies can be homes of redemption—stop the cycle of divorce with this generation—make a difference in the emotional, spiritual, and psychological lives of their children so that they have the ability to grow, trust the Lord, and live vibrant lives of their own.
Dennis: And out of that heart, you’ve written a brand-new book called Dating and the Single Parent. We’re going to be talking about that in a few moments. Also joining us is Sabrina Beasley. She used to work, here, at FamilyLife. She gave birth to her first child and went home to be a stay-at-home mom and had a second child. Then, in 2010, her husband was killed in a car wreck; and she became a single parent. She has agreed to come in and share a little of her story and kind of how that whole process is going currently. Sabrina, welcome to the broadcast.
Sabrina: Thank you, Dennis. Thank you for having me today.
Dennis: And then we have Rob and Rhonda Bugh from Wheaton, Illinois. Rob, Rhonda, welcome to the broadcast.
Rhonda: Thank you.
Rob: Thanks, Dennis. It’s great to be here.
Dennis: Rhonda is a pediatrician and has been for 28 years. Rob has been a pastor—pastor of Wheaton Bible Church for—how many years?
Dennis: Eighteen years. Together, they have six children—six adult children—and one teenager. The unique side of their story is Rhonda’s husband, Tom, was Rob’s best friend. He died of cancer in 2005. Then, in 2005 and 2006, Rob’s wife fell prey to cancer, as well, and died. Interestingly, they started dating and remarried. We’ve got their story that we’re going to be illustrating what Ron is talking about—from his book.
Ron, in America this year, there should be a million—approximately a million—marriages. How many of those will be remarrieds?
Ron: Right. About 45 percent of them will be remarrieds. Now, the majority of those remarriages will also include children from previous relationships. So, about 40 percent of all weddings will give birth to a stepfamily.
Bob: Interestingly, one of the things you talk about, in your book on Dating and the Single Parent,is that, in a first-time marriage, the marriage forms the foundation on which the family is built.
Bob: But when there are already kids present and then there’s a remarriage, it’s a different kind of home; isn’t it?
Ron: It’s a different kind of home, and it has a different sort of foundation. For that couple to put their relationship into a place of being the foundation of the new step-family home is one of those long-term agendas that they need to have to bring stability. During the dating season, the challenges are many.
I say it this way, Bob: Dating, as a single—never-married, no kids—dating another person, who is a single—never-married, no kids—is a very, very different process than dating somebody who has children from a previous relationship. When you both bring children from previous relationships, there is a tremendous amount of complexity that comes into that dating experience—that just doesn’t exist in a first-dating situation.
Really, the heart of the message of this book, Dating and the Single Parent, is “coupleness” does not equal “familyness”. There is a process of falling in love with a person; and that creates coupleness, if you will. I like to make up words, by the way. [Laughter] There’s a different process of becoming a family. Sometimes, coupleness fosters in and ushers in the familyness. Sometimes, people find that they’re just two totally different experiences; and one doesn’t necessarily follow the other.
We want to help single parents, or somebody who is dating a single-parent, understand the difference in dating—what difference it makes to have children involved with it, and how to date smart.
Bob: When Mary Ann and I were dating, about the only issues we had to resolve, as we started thinking, “Might God be leading us toward marriage?” —about the only thing we had to figure out was our compatibility— “What are our likes and dislikes? How do we fit together?”
Bob: You bring existing family structure and kids into that. Now, all of a sudden, you are not just thinking, “Do I like this person?” but you are thinking, “How does it fit into the whole of the rest of my life and the other relationships that are already a part of my life?”
Dennis: Yes, and to that point—kind of going out to the end of the matter—you get a lot of emails from remarrieds.
Dennis: What’s the most frequently-mentioned thing when you get those emails?
Ron: Well, one of the issues that they’re often facing is parenting: “How do we parent together as a team? What if how I parent is very different than their parenting style and what they value, and how they want to approach discipline, and those sorts of things?” It’s no big surprise to hear that most dating single parents will never have a conversation—or won’t have a series of conversations—like I would want them to have about what parenting will look like after they marry.
They’re so focused—like you said, Bob—on finding their fit with another person—the coupleness matters—that they really don’t attend to the familyness matters very much. It’s amazing, to me, that two thirds to 75 percent of single parents, who are dating, really don’t have any conversations about the most important thing in their life—and that is raising their kids. You do have to attend to the fit, as a couple; but you also have to attend to the fit, as a family.
Dennis: Let’s talk to Rob and Rhonda about that. Did you guys talk about it; or, because you know Ron Deal, did he put you on the spot and force you to talk about it?
Rob: We read Ron’s book, in the dating process. I don’t remember exactly, but Rhonda and I talked about this from the get-go because our kids had grown up together because our families were such good friends. Truth be told, we were much more focused on the chemistry between us, which, I think, is sort of the default you go to when you’re dating or re-dating than the chemistry of that dynamic with our kids. It was there, but it wasn’t the focal point. The focal point was Rob and Rhonda.
Bob: What do you remember about those days, Rhonda? Do you remember thinking—
Rhonda: No! [Laughter]
Ron: That’s well-said
Rhonda: That was the problem! [Laughter]
Bob: I think the thing is, at some level, you’ve got to be asking the question, “Okay, we get along. How is this going to work for everybody else?” Did you have that conversation at all?
Rhonda: We had many conversations about that. It was difficult for our children to understand, especially how you could love somebody else, when I had been married 25 years; Rob had been married 27 years. If we loved each other, where did that leave our previous spouses?
Bob: There was a betrayal issue going on?
Rhonda: Exactly. Certainly, I don’t even think they were thinking of their place, at that point, other than Rob’s younger child—maybe was wondering what was going to happen. In spite of both of us being very knowledgeable, raising our families, and being married for as long as we were, we really focused on the coupleness. We had counseling with other people to help address stepfamily issues. We had read Ron’s book, The Smart Stepfamily.
Rob: —which was awesome.
Rhonda: We really thought we were prepared for remarriage; but we still—
Rob: But we were naïve.
Dennis: Now, wait a second, Rob. You are a pastor—a senior pastor of a large church in Chicago. You’ve done how many years of marriage preparation? How many hundreds of couples, undoubtedly?
Rob: Are you rubbing this in, Dennis? [Laughter]
Dennis: You knew there were going to be stars in the eyes; but when they came, they overwhelmed all of the logic and all of the experience of past history; right?
Rob: Exactly. And, with my kids—three of them were in their 20s when Rhonda and I were starting to consider dating. I was very upfront with them, from the beginning, and their initial response was really, really positive. That set us in a certain trajectory; but all of that—as sort of outsiders—looking down the road and thinking, “Yes, this makes sense. You sort of add two and two and get four.” But when Rhonda and I got married and we began to live together, you begin to figure out, “How are we going to do Christmas?”
Rob: “You mean we’re not going to have that traditional Christmas Eve meal?” All sorts of reality settle in—it’s a whole different animal. Rhonda and I would both say we were really surprised about—we were not prepared for—in hindsight, it would have been better for everybody if we had gone more slowly.
Dennis: Ron, is it safe to say that maybe a couple, who are in a remarried situation, should not only go through marriage preparation for them but, also, perhaps, their children should go through some kind of marriage preparation?
Ron: Yes; ideally, that’s exactly the case. I talk about pre-stepfamily counseling—not just premarital counseling—where the kids are involved and they are engaged in conversation and a counselor does get to invite them to talk about their different thoughts and feelings.
By the way, let me just comment on something that Rob and Rhonda said—the hot/cold is a very common response from the kids. They got an initial hot, “Hey, yes. Go for it, Dad! This seems to make sense.” That’s a very common feeling for some kids to have and yet, when reality begins to set in, even during the dating season—it usually hits really hard after the wedding, but even during that dating—there can be a “Hey, wait a minute! This means a lot of change for me. This means Dad is not as available. Mom is not as available to me as she was when it was just about us. Now, she’s giving time and energies to somebody else.”
Those are all very hard realities, and that’s usually when kids pull back and go cold on this whole idea of you dating. Just because you hear, “Hey, whatever makes you happy, Mom (or Dad),” doesn’t necessarily mean you really have their permission or that you really have their blessing. Pre-stepfamily counseling allows everybody to process those things slowly—in a way that helps the family—as the entire family date—the entire family move forward in assessing whether there is a familyness fit—not just a coupleness fit.
Bob: Well, I heard Rob say it would have been better if they had gone slower.
Bob: But I’m wondering if, in this pre-stepfamily counseling, this man and woman who are now very drawn to one another and very much in love with one another—they find out that there are things in the family dynamic that are going to be problematic. Is it right— “We love each other, but we’re not going to get married because the kids aren’t going to buy-in?”
Ron: Let’s cut to the chase, here—in my opinion, “Yes.” I think familyness ought to be as much a factor in a decision about marriage as is coupleness. One of the mantras I tell couples, all of the time, is that, “Time is your friend. Time is you friend. Time is helping you to assess the fit—not only as a couple—but as a family. Time is helping you heal from whatever brought you to this place in your life. Time is going to help you get out of your infatuation and get to some reasonable assessment of your relationship and how well you’ll do together.”
But if you rush it—if you ignore fears from a child and just move forward anyway—then, oftentimes, that’s the death. A quick illustration of that: I can’t tell you how many families I’ve counseled where one of the children—oftentimes, even an adult child in their 30s—it could be a 12-year-old, but it could also be a 35-year-old—who is watching a parent date rapidly. During that rapid dating period, the child makes a judgment. They say to themselves, “There’s no way this is right. Mom (or Dad) is just moving on too fast. They’re ignoring the warning signs. They’re out of their head. They wouldn’t let me date anybody that way. So, this can’t be right.”
When they make that judgment, let me tell you, that has detrimental effects because when that kid says, “This is not good,” then, they tend to hold onto that judgment, even years into the marriage. They tend to say, “Nope, this is not good;” and they don’t give it a chance. So, slowing down and letting time be your friend—pacing the dating in a way that is sensitive to where the children are is very important to the longevity of the marriage.
Dennis: I can understand when there is a child old enough to be able to articulate the fear and maybe some question about the relationship; but I’m looking across the table here, at Sabrina, who has a four-year-old and a two-year-old—who can’t begin to articulate at that level. In fact, the way they may deal with it is—they may spin off into an emotional fit—they may act out their fear in a number of ways.
Sabrina, you’ve now been a single parent and—obviously, not since the very beginning of the death of your husband—but in the past few months, have thought about dating. Have you noticed your son and your daughter doing anything kind of irregular when a guy shows up, who is kind of interested in you?
Sabrina: Well, you know, Dennis, from the very beginning, I was most concerned about the fact that there was a hole in their life—that they didn’t have a father. Whenever I would have grief for them and grief they didn’t have a father in their life, I would hear the Lord saying to me, “I am their Father. I am their Father.” I don’t have to be fearful that they’re somehow going to miss out on something; but at first, it was scary to me.
Bob: You were thinking, “I’ve got to get down to the hardware store and get a replacement part for the one that’s gone missing.”
Bob: It may sound crass, but—
Dennis: Well, there was a reason for that. Your husband’s dad died when he was a little boy.
Sabrina: When he was two-and-a-half—the same age as my son. He wanted him to have a father. He wanted him to have a father. He felt like he wanted a dad, his whole life, and didn’t have one. He said, “If anything ever happens to me, I want you to get married again because I want my children to have a father.” I felt I needed to honor that.
Dennis: So, you looked for the hardware store.
Sabrina: So, I went down and started looking, “Who do I have? What are my choices?”
Sabrina: I met a man, who—and we just got into a conversation. He said, “Well, my mother was widowed when I was a little boy. My earliest memories of her were her going off on dates.” I said, “Well, how did that make you feel?” He said, “I didn’t feel badly about it. It was just part of life.” Right then, I determined that, just because my children were small, didn’t mean they didn’t know what was going on. They knew what was going on, and I had to be very sensitive to what they saw during that time. Even then, I decided that I wouldn’t meet dates at my house—that the men that I let be in their lives would have to be good people. I had to make sure that they were good people. They had to come through that filter another way—other than dating.
So, to answer your question, “Yes; when they are around men, they do act differently.” What’s amazing to me—at two- and four-years-old, they know they don’t have a dad. They know. They recognize it. When they see other men, they call them “Daddy.” I’ll say, “Yes, that’s so and so’s daddy” or, “That’s a daddy in the home.” They realize that they don’t have that, but they’re not missing something. It doesn’t hurt them emotionally in the way that I think it might.
In other words, I don’t have to hurry to fill that hole because God is their Father, and they do have father-figures in their lives, and they love being around men. It’s amazing to see that when the men come, they do have fun with them—they throw them up in the air—they do the things I can’t do.
Sabrina: They need that! But they are getting it. They are getting men in their lives—godly men—men that I know through friendships—who can be a father-figure to them without, “Mommy dating all of the time.”
The other thing I’ve done, too, is I’ve restricted myself to one or two nights a week to be away from them. I try not to spend too much time going out and letting babysitters watch them because I want them to know they’re important to me and that the dating part of it is secondary, not primary in my life.
Dennis: Sabrina, as you were talking, I couldn’t help but think about a quote by Martin Lloyd Jones that I usually share with single women, all the time; but it would relate to a single man or a single woman, especially in a remarriage situation. I’m thinking about Ron’s advice here—that time is your friend. “Faith is the refusal to panic.” Faith is the refusal to panic. The reason he could say that is there is a God who is sovereignly in control of this world. He knows our dilemma, He knows our needs, and He knows each person by name. He’s got a plan. You don’t have to panic and run to the hardware store to go get a guy.
Bob: I think it’s good to realize, too, that you don’t want to be driven in this process by your loneliness, by your losses, or by the emptiness you may be feeling. You want to be prayerful, be thoughtful, be wise, and get some counsel. Get a copy of Ron Deal’s book, Dating and the Single Parent—that has just come out. Ron offers good, solid, wise, practical counsel about things like: “How to determine if you’re ready to date?” “How do you talk with your kids about dating?” “How do you avoid making big mistakes?” I think it helps to have that kind of input as you start to consider this process.
You know, there may be a lot of our listeners who aren’t in this situation themselves; but they know a single parent who is thinking about dating or already there. Get a copy of Ron’s book, and give it to them as a gift. In fact, this would be a great way to begin a conversation with them, and to serve them, and maybe open the door to a conversation about where they are spiritually.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Look for information on Ron Deal’s book, Dating and the Single Parent. It’s one of the many resources that we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center that Ron has written. Ron is, as Dennis mentioned, the blended and stepfamily expert for us, here, at FamilyLife Today. You can find out more about the resources he has available for blended and stepfamilies, along with this new book, Dating and the Single Parent. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call, toll-free, at 1-800-FL-TODAY to get more information about the resources that we have available.
I should also mention that, this month, we are making some of Ron’s resources available for those of you who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We are listener-supported. Your donations make this program possible. They help cover both the production and the syndication costs to keep FamilyLife Today on the air on our network of stations, all across the country. This month, if you can make a donation to help support FamilyLife Today, we’ll give you your choice of Ron Deal’s book, The Remarriage Checkup,or you can get a couple of CDs, where we talk with Ron about stepdads and stepmoms and what they need to think about—how they can be the most effective stepdads and stepmoms they can possibly be.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on the “I CARE” button to make an online donation. You can take your pick of resources that are listed there as our thank-you gift to you, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make a donation over the phone, and be sure to ask about the blended family resources we have available. We’ll let you know what’s available and make arrangements to send one of those resources out to you. Again, it’s as a way of saying, “Thank you for your support of the ministry.” We do appreciate your partnership with us.
We want to encourage you to be back with us again tomorrow when we’re going to talk again with Rob and Rhonda Bugh, and Sabrina Beasley, and Ron Deal about dating again, as a single-parent. We’ll talk about that tomorrow. Hope you can join us.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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