Q: I'm dating a man who is five years younger than I am. He's very mature and seems to have a grasp on where he's going in life. I believe he's more mature than some men in their 30s. I'm reluctant to get too involved because of his age. Should I continue to pursue our relationship, or will his age be an issue as we get older?
Juli: As you get older, an age difference like the five years between you becomes less and less important. As you mentioned, maturity is far more critical than age. Maturity is gained not just by how long a person has lived, but by their experiences, character and upbringing. There are certainly some 20-year-old men who are more mature than 30-year-olds.
As your relationship progresses, take your time to evaluate whether or not this younger man has true maturity. Here are a few ways to identify this:
-- Integrity. Is he a person of his word on little things and big things? Is he trustworthy?
-- Responsibility. This means more than just showing up for work on time. It means the willingness to take responsibility for his own choices and actions rather than blaming others or avoiding consequences.
-- Delayed gratification. Is he willing to experience discomfort today so that he can have a greater future benefit? For example, does he resist buying something on credit so that he doesn't go into debt?
-- Willingness to grow. One of the most important characteristics of the person you marry is whether or not he's open to learning and changing. When confronted with a shortcoming, is he defensive or does he want to know how to improve?
One more note as you evaluate the maturity of this younger man: Remember to keep striving toward maturity in your own character!
Q: My husband recently returned from a two-year deployment, and he's a different person. He's verbally abusive toward me and our kids, and there have even been threats of physical violence. He's likely suffering from PTSD, but I'm nervous to suggest that he seek help.
Jim: I'm sorry to learn of your difficult situation. Unfortunately, mental health professionals report that many combat veterans return home and find it difficult to share their emotional pain, assuming that only those who've actually engaged in combat can understand their internal struggles. They bury their emotions inside, and sometimes those feelings rise to the surface in the form of domestic abuse.
To put it bluntly, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may explain your husband's behavior, but it does not excuse it -- especially when the emotional and physical safety of your family may be at stake. It's vital that your husband receive professional help as soon as possible. According to our counseling team at Focus on the Family, abusive behavior isn't the only potential problem associated with PTSD. Deep psychological pain can express itself in the shape of flashbacks, nightmares, and physical or psychosomatic symptoms. It's possible that some of the issues he's dealing with can be effectively treated with medication.
Where your own safety is concerned, you need to be prepared to take decisive action. If your husband becomes physically violent, call 911. If it's a question of emotional oppression and verbal put-downs, let him know that this behavior is unacceptable and insist that he seek professional assistance. If he refuses, or if you're afraid of jeopardizing his career by reporting him, find out what options are available to servicemen in his situation. Because PTSD is so prevalent, the military is now providing private, confidential counseling for those struggling with the fallout of combat service.
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