Q: I recently became a single parent when my husband left me and moved in with another woman. My children are confused because their dad has been lying to them about where he's living and the reasons for our separation. What should I tell them?
Jim: We're sorry to hear about this painful situation. While your desire to protect your kids' innocence is admirable, it's important to be honest with them about what's going on -- as honest and as forthright as you can be while taking their age and maturity into account.
Our counselors recommend that you sit down with your kids and, using age-appropriate language, tell them that Mommy and Daddy haven't been getting along, and that Daddy has made some bad choices that are hurting the family. Resist the temptation to badmouth your spouse -- you don't want to alienate him even further from the kids. If they ask about the other woman, give them a straightforward answer and explain that it makes you very sad that their father has moved in with her.
Most importantly, reassure them of your love and make it clear that you understand how painful this situation is for them. Encourage them to be open about their sadness and anger, but don't permit them to engage in aggressive or destructive behavior. Writing and journaling are good emotional outlets for older kids. Younger children sometimes find it helpful to express their feelings by drawing pictures.
Don't hesitate to contact our counselors here at Focus for insights specific to your situation. They will offer a free consultation, and can also refer you to a qualified professional in your area who can help you and your kids navigate this difficult time.
Q: Is living together before marriage a good test of marital compatibility? My boyfriend and I both come from broken homes, and want to make sure we don't end up divorced like our parents.
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: There are many well-intentioned couples who believe that living together before marrying is a good way to find out whether they have what it takes to build a strong marriage. Intuitively speaking, it seems to make sense that a "test drive" will provide all the information needed to predict marital success or failure. Unfortunately, when stacked against the facts, the exact opposite is true. The best research indicates that couples who live together before marriage have a 50 percent higher divorce rate than those who don't. These couples also have higher rates of domestic violence and are more likely to become involved in sexual affairs. If a cohabiting couple gets pregnant, there is a high probability that the man will abandon the relationship within two years, leaving a single mom to raise a fatherless child.
A far better alternative to the one you're considering is premarital counseling. The very best way to test your compatibility for marriage is to date for at least one year before engagement while participating in a structured counseling program that includes psychological testing.
Pre-marriage assessment tools, such as The Couple Checkup available through the Focus on the Family website, can also be helpful. This assessment is an in-depth set of questions that will identify the areas where you shine as a couple, as well as help you target spots that could use a little improvement.
For referrals to qualified Christian marriage and family counselors in your area, feel free to contact Focus on the Family's Counseling Services and Referrals department.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program.