The Realities of Dating Again
About the Guest
Are you ready to date again? Christian counselor Ron Deal shares his thoughts about dating and remarriage, and encourages those who are divorced or widowed to be intentional about creating a home that is redemptive, even if remarriage never happens. Weighing in on the topic is Pastor Rob Bugh and his wife, Rhonda, who have a blended family of nine; and Sabrina Beasley, whose seven-year marriage ended in 2010 when her husband was killed in a car accident, leaving her a single mother of two.
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
Are you ready to date again?
The Realities of Dating Again
Bob: Sabrina Beasley and Rob Bugh never expected they would be single parents. Sabrina is a single parent today. Rob was a single parent for a time. He is remarried; and they both agree dating, as a single parent, can get really complicated.
Sabrina: Everything is different, the second time around. When I met my husband, I didn’t have any children. Now, I have two more lives that are completely affected by this other person I bring in. If he has children, their lives are affected by my children—by me. It’s just an entire web of situations.
Rob: Not only are there all sorts of threads or lines in this web, many of them are competing. So, there’s competing allegiances.
Bob: FamilyLife®’s blended-family expert, Ron Deal, has just written a book on this subject. He thinks single parents, who are thinking about dating, need all the help they can get.
Ron: I’m not saying there’s a right way to do this. I’m just saying, “Know what reality is and be educated about it so that you can make wise choices.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, October 16th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. There may not be just one right way to date, as a single parent; but there are some things you should be alert to. We’ll talk about those today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’ve kind of jumped in, this week, to talking about the issue of single parents reentering the dating environment—considering marriage again. We really haven’t pulled back to ask the question, “Should they be doing that in the first place?” I think it’s good to just pull back and say, “Are there some folks who—they’ve got some things they ought to take care of before they venture out into dating?”
Dennis: There are a number of issues related to that if there has been a divorce. Certainly, if one of the spouses died—that’s a separate set of issues—but we have with us a guest who knows everything about all these subjects and can answer them 100 percent accurately and biblically. [Laughter] Ron Deal joins us again on FamilyLife Today.
Bob: You have been set up, brother, right there.
Ron: Everything?! [Laughter]
Dennis: Ron is the director—the new director of FamilyLife’s Blended Family Ministries. He’s been married to Nan since 1986, has three sons, has authored five books—and the latest is called Dating and the Single Parent. He brought a ton of his friends with him into the studio.
Ron: They know everything. [Laughter]
Dennis: One of them is a senior pastor—Rob Bugh joins us, along with his wife, Rhonda. Welcome to the broadcast.
Rhonda: Thank you very much.
Rob: It’s great to be here.
Dennis: Rhonda is a pediatrician, and Rob is a senior pastor of Wheaton Bible Church in Wheaton, Illinois. Also, joining us is Sabrina Beasley, former FamilyLife employee. Good to see you again, Sabrina.
Sabrina: Thank you.
Dennis: She’s a single parent mom. Her husband was killed in a car wreck in 2010, and she’s now a freelance writer.
Let’s go to the subject that Bob was talking about. Just to—this is going to be “Stump Ron Deal” broadcast here. [Laughter]
Ron: It won’t be hard. [Laughter]
Dennis: You say that you are not an advocate of remarriage. What are you an advocate for?
Ron: I’ve got to be honest. Writing this book was the most difficult book that I’ve written. All the other books are on stepfamily living and becoming a healthy, blended family. This book was kind of the prequel to all of those—where we back up and we say: “Okay, so, you’re dating—you’re thinking about dating. How do you date well? How do you include the kids in that process?”
Somebody once said about me, during a radio interview, that I was an advocate for remarriage. It kind of caught my attention. I began to ponder that a little bit and think about it. What I realized is I’m not really sure that I’m an advocate for remarriage or not. I’m an advocate for healthy, blended family relationships and remarriages that go the distance and bring glory to God.
If love, in the form of romantic relationship, does not come to a single parent again, they need to know that they still have God’s blessing on them and their home. They can still do their kids a wonderful service in raising them in the Lord. Yes, there will be challenges. There will be realities they don’t necessarily want to live with, or would not have wished for their children; but they can do a good job! They don’t have to go out and get remarried.
Dennis: Sabrina, I’m looking down the table at you. I’m wondering, “How does that make you feel, as a single-parent mom of a four-year-old and a two-year-old?”
Sabrina: Well, it gives me hope. It also scares me a little bit. I want to get remarried. I do want my children to have a father-figure in their lives. I do want someone with them that will love them; but when I was first widowed, I was praying. I said, “Lord, I really want someone to be here.” I mean, I really had a wonderful relationship with my husband. I loved him so deeply. We were best friends. I was praying, “God, I want that again. I want that for my kids. I want that for myself.” I heard the Lord say, “Wait for Me.”
Later on, I was thinking about Abraham and Sarah—when He told Sarah that she was going to have a baby. She waited, and she waited, and she waited. Eventually, she thought, “Maybe God meant that he would have a baby and not me.” She went into her servant, Hagar, and said, “Here, I want you to sleep with my husband so we can have this promise child.” She ended up with Ishmael. Then, I said, “I don’t want an Ishmael marriage. I want an Isaac marriage.” I want the marriage that God wants me to have. I want the man that God brings to me to be a godly man—the man that God wants—His will—and not just a panic or some way of saying, “How can I fulfill this? How can I make this happen?”
The good thing is—when I read Ron’s book and when I talked to him—that took the panic away because now—God made parenting a two-person job for a reason. It’s very, very hard.
Sabrina: Very difficult to do it by yourself. Single parenting is the hardest job on the planet. There’s not someone there to help you: “Hand me that pillow,” “Go see what’s wrong.” Even at five o’clock, when a husband walks in the door, everything changes. As soon as that man walks in at five o’clock, it’s dispersed. The work is dispersed. Suddenly, there is someone else for them to talk to. There’s someone else for them to say, “Hey, Daddy, look at this. Look at what I did.”
Talking to Ron and reading his book made me realize that I don’t have to worry about it. I can do a good job. I can do this on my own.
Rob: Ron, let me illustrate this from my own experience. I was a product of single-parent home. My father and mother were divorced. Then, when I was 13, my father died. My mother was an amazingly strong-minded woman who invested the best years of her life—when she could have been out dating, when she could have been out chasing some other dreams—into her children.
She poured herself into the three of us—my brother, my sister, and myself. It was a beautiful thing to behold—especially now, after a couple decades have gone by and as a pastor—because of my experience and then, because in my adult life, I became a single parent—I really want to be an advocate for single parents, especially single moms. You are not second-class citizens.
Rob: You can do this in Jesus Christ. God will give you the grace to get through this hard spot—“Tough assignment?” To be sure. “Doable?” In Christ, all things are possible.
Ron: Always be leery of anybody who gives you a black-and-white answer to the future of your life: “You should do this.” “You should do that.” “You should get married.” “You shouldn’t get married.” I don’t do that in this book. Dating and the Single Parent is about helping people make wise choices—based on truth, based on good information about the process of becoming a couple again and becoming a family again—a very different kind of family—that is, a stepfamily. I just try to educate people as to what those challenges are so they can make good choices.
What I love about what your mother did, Rob, is that she dedicated herself to raising her children and seeing that through. For many people, they do that until the children leave home. Then, they begin to look elsewhere at dating relationships. I’m not saying there’s a right way to do this. I’m just saying, “Know what reality is, and go in with your eyes open, and be educated about it so that you can make wise choices”—not, inadvertently, harmful choices for you, especially for your kids.
Bob: Ron, following a death of a spouse, there’s a period of time—we don’t know how long that is. It’s different for different people—a period where the issue of grief and responding to grief—you kind of need to do your work before you really start to even think about—as we’ve already talked about, Sabrina, “I’ve got to get to the hardware store and get a replacement part for the one that’s gone missing here.”
Following a divorce, there are a whole myriad of other issues—
Bob: —that somebody’s got to work their way through—navigate their way through—before they ought to even begin thinking about entering the dating situation again. There are relationships that have been damaged. There is reconciliation that may need to take place. There are all kinds of things that go into this process. I’ve just watched too many people that are kind of like, “I’ve got to get fixed”—
Bob: —and that’s a dangerous path to be on.
Ron: It’s one thing to be pulled into a love relationship. It’s another thing to be pushed into it. I think the push of pain—when you’re in the pit of pain and you are hurting over death or divorce—whatever that story is—it tends to push us towards something that makes us feel better. We talk about people on the rebound. Well, that’s what that is. It is pain pushing them towards a relationship that they might not be in if they didn’t have pain, back—behind them—pushing. You do have to slow down. You do have to spend some time healing.
Let me just add a little caveat to that because I think that there’s this misnomer that, “Once you’ve healed, now, you’re ready to move forward.” Well, here’s the little reality within that—only, when you move forward and you start dating again, will you really uncover some new layers to your pain. It’s only then that you might begin to feel fearful of investing a relationship. If you’ve been through a terrible divorce, and you’ve been burned, and now you have to find yourself trusting another person again with your heart and your soul, it’s only when you get into the depth of that relationship that you uncover, “Ah, there’s still a part of me that’s afraid.”
Well, we talk about that in Dating and the Single Parent—and what do you do with that fear, and acknowledging it, rather than just being a victim of it. You have to be aware of your fears so that you can manage them.
Dennis: Rhonda, you were with your husband, Tom, for 25 years. Rob, you were with your wife, Carol, for 27 years. Rhonda, what I want to know, “Was there a lot of fear in you about venturing out into a relationship, like Ron’s talking about here?”
Rhonda: Initially, no. Both of my grandmothers were widowed at 45. I just assumed I was going to be another widow, for the rest of my life. I actually really never thought about dating, at that point. Where the fear came in was when Rob and I were courting—he was courting me—we were dating. The thought of being married to a senior pastor terrified me. I’d look at his check lists; and I’d say, “I know how to be married to a doctor. I don’t know how to be married to a senior pastor.”
Dennis: Well, now, wait a second—a doctor?
Rhonda: Yes, well, my husband—my first husband was a surgeon.
Dennis: But his schedule, I mean—
Rhonda: Yes; I got that. I know how to do that. I don’t know how to be married to a senior pastor.
Rob: Which—there were fears—now, we’re talking—this is in the area of fear—there were all sorts of fears of, “What will those expectations be, for me—that as a pediatrician, I will be unable to meet.”
Bob: You do play the piano; right?
Rhonda: I do! [Laughter]
Bob: Okay, so, that qualification was met.
Rob: I didn’t know you played the piano. [Laughter]
Ron: You know, what we’re saying here is, “Just because you know how to do marriage with one person doesn’t mean you know how to do marriage with another person.”
Ron: And just because you know how to parent your children, doesn’t mean you know how to parent their children; or that they’re going to know how to parent your children. That’s the familyness factors that are unforeseen. Really, only when you begin dating—when you begin exploring relationships and possibilities—will you come face-to-face with these realities. That’s part of what Dating and the Single Parent is about—is helping people navigate that journey.
Bob: One of the things that I want to make sure we speak to, at some level—some people are single again because of some sin patterns in their life—not just because they’ve been wounded—but because they’ve made choices that are sinful choices. There’s got to be some diving into that and addressing that before you try to start anything up again; right?
Ron: I am a huge advocate for divorce-recovery ministries, for grief-share ministries—where people take time to explore—to look in the mirror. Again, only when you start into a new relationship, are you going to have to look into that mirror again. Please don’t assume that just because you graduated from divorce-care that you are now ready, full-fledged, for diving into a new relationship. I think that’s what life is about. God uses our relationships to force us to look in the mirror. I mean, that’s discipleship at its best.
Marriage, and parenting, and dating cause us to think of ourselves, again, in light of who God is, and who we’re called to be in Christ, and recognizing our frailties so that we can continue to bring those to the cross and try to better ourselves so that we can be better for this next relationship. Or if you recognize that, “Boy, I’ve got work to do. I don’t need to be bringing me to a relationship with somebody else. That’s not fair to them. I’ve got to pull back and just really focus on who I am.”
Sabrina: That’s one of the things you talk about in your book—is the marriage amnesia—where people have a terrible marriage—then, they bring it into their next relationship. They don’t ever address what went on the first-time around. I think, in a situation like mine, where I had a wonderful marriage, I need some marriage amnesia to say, “This is not going to be the same situation. This is a different person, a different relationship, a different scenario.”
One of the things we talked about, last time, was how—when you don’t have any children, the relationship is one-on-one—but then, when you have children—if you think about it like a spider web, or a string, and you just keep attaching it, and attaching, and attaching between the different relationships—there’s a whole web to consider. Now, “How is this going to affect my children?” “How is this going to affect everything?” Everything is different, the second time around.
When I met my husband, I didn’t have any children. Now, I have two more lives that are completely affected by this other person I bring in. If he has children, their lives are affected by my children—by me. It’s just an entire web of situations.
Bob: You don’t know whether your marriage with David would have continued to be as spectacular today as it was the day he died. You think it would; right?
Bob: And you also don’t know that the next person you marry—should God bring that person into your life, at whatever phase you’re in—it may not be as spectacular as your first marriage was. That’s okay, at some level; isn’t it?
Sabrina: It is.
Rob: Yes, it’s actually worse than that because—not only are there all sorts of threads or lines in this web—many of them are competing. So, there is competing allegiances.
Dennis: So, it’s not a web; it’s cables, then? Huh?
Rob: Yes, exactly. They’ve got to be strong because you really don’t know—until you get into a remarriage—a blended family—how the anger has worked itself out, is working itself out, or will work itself out. We, I think, we tend to downplay this issue of anger—which is a reality for all of us, even as the best Christ-followers. When there has been a bitter divorce, or there’s been a death, and there’s grief, and there is anger, and there’s feelings of loss and frustration—that’s very much a process that, I think, is lifelong.
Ron: What are being illustrated in their stories are these two very important principles for dating single parents. One is, “Dating is not necessarily indicative of what real stepfamily life is going to be like;” okay? The way things go during the dating period—the way kids respond and react, the way you feel about one another’s children and about how there’s harmony between us and parenting and values and so forth—when the rubber meets the road, it gets lived-out differently—the emotions change, and the behavioral responses from children often change.
During the dating season, you just need to know, going in, that you’re never really sure how it’s going to pan out. So, time is your friend. Go slowly. Work at a pace that is conducive toward building a foundation. Then, make decisions about marriage.
Bob: I want to dial it back to, even before dating, and just ask the question, “Who is the person, whom you would say to, ‘You probably shouldn’t even be thinking about dating yet’?”
Ron: The person who has just recently gone through a loss—a tragedy.
Bob: Divorce, death—either one?
Ron: Whatever that story is—if it is recent, you don’t need to be jumping into a new relationship.
Bob: Recent as in six months, a year?
Ron: You know, I’m going to, “Yes;” but let me just say, “It’s different for everybody.” I used to try to put time frames on how long you should wait and, then, how long you should date. Let me tell you, I have been humbled; right? I am not that smart.
You’ll meet wonderful people who started dating within a month, and they’ve been married now for 50 years. There are always rule-breakers to things; but in general, I just think you need to slow down and deal with the pain. If you’re not dealing with the pain, you’re moving on to a new relationship. It’s an illusion that the pain has gone away, and it hasn’t; alright? You really have to do yourself the favor, and do your kids the favor, of doing due diligence in dealing with that pain.
Bob: So, the person who hasn’t processed all of that yet—in whatever time frame that takes, whether it takes months or years—if you haven’t processed the loss, if you haven’t processed the grief, if you haven’t dealt with the sin issues that may or may not be present there—you probably ought to set dating aside for right now and be focused on that for the time being. Is that what you’re saying?
Ron: That’s what I’m saying.
Dennis: And it’s good to say, not only to the person who has gone through the loss, but it’s good to say to their family and their friends who try to set them up. As we’ve talked today, I kept coming back to a passage I’ve quoted frequently in the past two or three years, here, on FamilyLife Today. It’s how Jesus closed the Sermon on the Mount.
He talked about two kinds of houses—one built on a rock and one built on the sand. The one built on the sand was the one who heard Christ’s teachings and ignored them, and his house fell. When the storms and the floods came, that house perished; but the house that was built on the rock—that did what Christ called that person to do, and obeyed Him—was a home that withstood the storms. It may have had some lost shingles, along the way, from the winds and maybe some paint peeling on the house because it had been in storms; but it lasted.
What I’m hearing us say, here, is that if there is ever a time in a person’s life when they need to go back to their spiritual roots—it’s when they’ve, perhaps, lost a spouse to death, divorce. You just don’t want to make a decision and leave God out. He needs to be at the center of this. You need to surround yourself with wise counselors, with godly friends—who won’t just set you up—but who will be looking for other people who fear God and who want to be obedient to Jesus Christ.
Bob: Yes, this is not a time for you to isolate yourself and think, “Okay, I’m not going to have my friends around me, my community around me, people who are speaking into my life, spiritually.” Those are the folks you need to help you walk this path and to give you wise counsel, in the process, because there is so much going on in your own heart and life that you may not be able to see through some of the fog there. A little wise counsel, along the way, can be very helpful.
I’m thinking about the book that Ron Deal has just written, called Dating and the Single Parent. I think that’s good, wise counsel. I think it’s best if it’s people who know you, and know your circumstance, and know your personality. That’s what you want to lean into first, but a book like Ron’s book—I think can really help you, as you weigh through questions like, “Am I ready to start dating again?” and, “What do I say to the kids about dating?” and, “How do I know this time?” and, “How do I deal with fears?” and, “How do I deal with emotions, and loss, and grief, and all of those things?” Ron addresses that in the book, Dating and the Single Parent, which we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on how to get a copy of Ron’s book. Let me just suggest, because I know we’ve got a lot of listeners who are happily married and not dating anybody; but I bet you know somebody at work or at church who is single, for whatever reason. Get them a copy of this book and say, “I heard about it on the radio. I was listening to a show. I thought it would be helpful for you. Wanted you to know I’m praying for you.” You may be able to open up a spiritual conversation with that person—if the person doesn’t know Christ—and it’s a great way to minister to folks who do know Christ.
So, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Get a copy of Dating and the Single Parent by Ron Deal. We have a number of resources, from Ron, available at FamilyLifeToday.com. If you’re in a blended or a remarriage and you need some help—you need some counsel—go to FamilyLifeToday.com and find out what’s available; or call us, toll-free, at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Ask about the resources from Ron Deal: 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”.
I should also mention that, this month, we’re making available resources from Ron Deal for those folks who can help us with a donation to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. Again, whether it’s for you or a friend you know, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I CARE”. Make a donation to help underwrite the costs associated with producing and syndicating this program. Let me just say, “Thanks,” in advance, for that donation. When you make a donation, you can select from either Ron’s book, The Remarriage Checkup, or some CD’s—conversations we’ve had with Ron about being a smart stepdad or being a smart stepmom. We’ll send you your choice of those resources when you make a donation to support the ministry this month.
Again, you can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I CARE”, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make an online donation. Just be sure to ask about what the blended family resources are. We’ll walk you through that as you make your donation over the phone. Again, we appreciate your support.
We want to encourage you to be back with us again tomorrow when we want to talk about online dating, and whether that’s a good idea, and how you navigate that, and a lot more to talk about as we talk about dating and being a single parent. That’s coming up 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.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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