Q: My daughter is starting to go through puberty. As a dad, I'm suddenly paranoid about how I interact with her. We've always been close and "huggy," but now I wonder how/if I can show her affection appropriately. What's your take?
Jim: This question strikes close to home because of what my wife experienced. When Jean and I first got married, she struggled with physical touch, like holding hands and hugging. We talked about it on several occasions; one day, she finally realized why touch was so difficult for her. Jean's father started withdrawing physical affection from her when she was 12 or 13. She remembers her mother telling her father, "Honey, your girls are blossoming. It's not appropriate for you to touch them or hug them."
That happens in a lot of households. Dads stop showing affection to their daughters because they believe -- or they've been told -- that it's not appropriate. As well-meaning as that idea may be, withdrawing your affection sends your daughters a confusing message. They'll wonder, "What's wrong with me? Why doesn't Dad want to be close to me? Why doesn't Dad love me?"
Your daughter might feel like you're turning your back on her, or that you aren't interested in being around her anymore. That can inflict a deep emotional wound that she will carry with her for the rest of her life. It could even affect her ability to enjoy her marriage with her husband someday.
Dads, if you or your daughter feels self-conscious about the way she's developing, then find ways to communicate your affection that you both find acceptable. You certainly want your daughter to feel comfortable, but don't withhold your affection entirely. Your daughter needs you.
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Q: My boyfriend and I are starting to think pretty seriously about our future together. Presuming we continue to move toward marriage, we want to do everything we can to strengthen our relationship. I've heard people talk about premarital counseling. When should we do that?
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: Many people will tell you that one of the most important things you and your fiance can do before getting married is to get premarital counseling -- and I agree. But what about pre-engagement counseling?
Believe it or not, getting counseling before you're engaged might be one of the most important things you can do to ensure the future health of your relationship. Think about it: By the time a couple actually gets engaged, they're far less inclined to take an in-depth, honest look at their relationship. In many cases, they've already bought the rings, reserved the church and sent out the invitations. Because they've already invested so much, and because there's often a social stigma associated with breaking off an engagement, many engaged couples would rather just coast along than take an honest look at one another's character flaws and other issues that could cause trouble down the road.
Here's my suggestion: If you've been dating someone for more than six months and feel that your relationship might be headed toward engagement and marriage, it would be a great idea to set up a few counseling sessions with a good marriage and family therapist.
This is not an admission that there's something seriously wrong with your relationship. Rather, it's a commitment on both of your parts to make your relationship the best it can possibly be before taking the next step. Look at it this way: Investing in pre-engagement counseling now could save you the pain and expense of a divorce later on.
We have loads of resources (including a counseling referral network) to help couples at any stage -- dating, engaged and married -- at FocusOnTheFamily.com.