Preface: My cool boyfriend Spencer edited/added some input into this post. (you will see it in bold) We were reflecting on our relationship and realized we’d learned a lot in the past few years, so I decided to write it all out and put it on the world wide web. Fasten your seat belts everyone. Here we go…
1. THERE ARE NO RULES TO DATING. (SIDE NOTE: what I really mean to say here is that aside from things the bible is very clear about, there are no rules to dating) Please, hear me out on this one. I love rules. I am a rule follower. For a long time I wanted to follow “healthy relationship rules.” What are those, you ask? Let me tell you. These rules are things like “you can kiss after _______ long.” “You can talk about your past once you get to _____ point (or maybe never).” ” ______ is something you should only tell to the man you are going to marry.” You should only say “I love you” when ________.” The list goes on and on. My natural tendency is to want to figure out all these rules then follow them to a T. But in reality, these are control mechanisms we use to try to make our relationship perfect.
Good news: there are no perfectly healthy relationships. Two broken people are trying to love each other – why do we expect perfection? Better news: God is a redeemer. All the wrong steps you take, he redeems. All the “right” steps you take in your relationship, he still redeems. Best news: whether you break-up or get married, God is still in control, he still loves you, and he is still good. So we’ve been able to relax, trust Jesus and the Holy Spirit to guide us into what a healthy relationship looks like for us.
2. I JUST WANNA HAVE FUN. This is pretty self-explanatory. But dating is supposed to be fun, so we do fun things together while we can. Exhibit A: on Good Friday Spencer and I went to get pizookie (our favorite dessert) at a sit-down nice-restaurant in Gainesville, and then went to McDonald’s for dinner. In that order. It was weird. It was fun. That’s what dating is for! (Or maybe the restaurant was too expensive for my tight college budget to buy the main course there….no one will ever know!)
3. MY FUTURE HUSBAND CHECKLIST IS A PIECE OF CRAP. Pardon my language, but this is an extremely valid point. I made one in a Bible study when I was 12. I’m pretty sure it included items like “Bill-Cosby sense of humor” and “brown hair and tan skin.” This is ironic because Spencer is funny, but not Bill Cosby funny. He also has blonde hair/pale skin. So 12 year old self, you nailed it.
In all seriousness, let me be clear: I’m not saying that it’s bad to have standards. It’s definitely important to know what qualities work well with you and what you like and don’t like, but the only standard that really matters is this: is the person I’m dating repenting and believing the gospel? If so, everything else is secondary. (People sometimes worry about their significant other “changing” over time, but the way I see it, as long as the person believes the gospel and is actively repenting of their sin, they will become more like Christ. I’ll take that change any day of the week. You can read this article from Tim Keller to see where I’m coming from: You Never Marry The Right Person)
4. THERE IS JOY IN OBEDIENCE. Real talk: dating for a long time is hard because trying to honor and glorify God with your bodies while you are dating is challenging. If this is easy for you, maybe you are some superhuman (please tell me your secrets). BUT the most helpful thing is this: Christ satisfies. We are given commandments in the Bible for a reason, and there is JOY that comes from obedience. That joy is worth pursuing far more than temporary physical pleasure. By reminding each other of this truth, it helps turn to Jesus and learn to be satisfied in Him.
5. COUNSELING IS THE BEST EVER. (Amen, sista.) I wish there was a way to double capitalize something, because I’m practically yelling this one here. The most helpful thing in my relationship with Spencer is that we have both gone to (and are currently going to) counseling individually. We have been working through our own crap and it has been incredibly helpful in learning how we are wired individually. As a result, it’s helped us communicate way better. (More on counseling later)
6. WE CAN’T IGNORE “RED FLAGS.” Let me introduce you to what we call a “red flag.” A red flag is something that that you observe in the person you’re dating, whether it be personality quirks, sin patterns, or just weird things about them that you don’t like. Basically, you want to know if these things are deal breakers. Spencer and I try to talk about these things once a month (if we have any). Are they hard conversations? HECK TO THE YES. Are they great conversations? HECK TO THE YES x 2. Talking about red-flags gives us the opportunity to voice concerns and then help each-other understand why we feel/think/act that way. So far, this has been really helpful in understanding our differences and but also in learning why we work well together.
8. IDOLATRY IS SERIOUS, BUT IT’S A HEART ISSUE. John Calvin said that our hearts are idol factories. Which means we naturally find things to worship other than Jesus. It is particularly easy to make a significant other an idol because they give you lots of attention, affirmation, and love. (All great things, I might add.) In almost every Christian dating relationship I’ve known, this is a struggle. However, I think people sometimes take the wrong tactic. They think “Hey, I’m idolizing this relationship. Let’s break-up.” Obviously, if a relationship is unhealthy, breaking up may be the answer. But it also may not be. (there’s a great article in Relevant magazine if you want to read more about this)
Your idolatry is a HEART issue. If you just break up instead of working through it, then guess what will happen in your next relationship? Yep, you guessed it. Same thing. The pattern just continues to repeat until you understand what you are looking for in that relationship to satisfy you, and then repent about it. Spencer and I realized pretty early on that our hearts look for ways our relationship can satisfy us. As these things come up, we do examine our relationship to see if we need to change anything. But we always look at our hearts as well, and have learned that in repenting of our idolatry and believing that Jesus died for us, satisfies us, and is making us new, we can continue our relationship and continue repenting and believing. (Here’s an interesting idea: just because we have made a good thing into a God thing, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good thing anymore. We need to strip it back down off of the throne of our hearts and back to the basic, good thing it is.)
7. GOOD FIGHTING SKILLS = BEING REAL WITH EACH-OTHER. The verse “don’t let the sun go down on your anger” is a great verse, and has helped us learn to resolve conflicts as they arise instead of suppressing little issues until they blow up into big issues. However, sometimes you need a little space to think before you apply your good (ninja) fighting skills. For example: when I’m just SO ANGRY that Spencer didn’t park in that exact parking space I wanted him to, it’s probably not the best to talk about it right then. When I have some time to think about what’s really going on I either realize: a) I’m an idiot for being angry about that. b) what’s really hurting me is something else going on (see below).
We have had our fair share of fights over the years and learned a whole heap (I will virtually “high-five” to whoever gets this reference) about how to fight well. The key ingredient to a great fighting skills is getting to the heart of the issue. In all of our conflicts, one person did something to hurt the other person or frustrate them and that started the conflict. But identifying the heart behind the issue, what the underlying transgression was, starts the healing process. It sometimes hurts to be real, to let down your guard and let the other person in to how you are really feeling, but it works.
8. WE LOVE OUR GIRL/GUY FRIENDS. (AND LOVE HANGING WITH THEM). We have found that being intentional in our friendships has been so helpful for our relationship. Whether it’s small groups, people we live with, whatever. We love and value that time together, and make it a rule not to “blow off” our friends to spend time with each other. (Speaking of guy friends, they’re awesome. And girl friends, even though I have admittedly much fewer of those. The community of guys I have at school, and the older male mentors I have in my life are great for my heart.)
Closing Remarks: We are not experts. Far from it. These are just some things we’ve learned over the course of our relationship that may be helpful for you (or this may be the worst advice you’ve ever read and you disagree with every. single. word. That’s okay too!!)
Actual closing remarks: thanks for reading the worlds longest blog post with an unnecessary amount of capitalization. You’re welcome.