You may think the most difficult decision on the first date is deciding on a location. But the truth is that successful relationships are established early-on and involve more than simply picking a romantic place to spend time with someone. (By the way, in case you don’t know, the most popular L.A. dating spots are Santa Monica Pier, Griffith Observatory, and LA County Museum of Art.) Dating is hard and requires a fair amount of forethought and risk.
As a Christian Counselor for over 20 years, I have come to understand that all relationships involve finding the right balance between freedom and responsibility. This is true especially of dating. You know you have reached that balance when the choices made within the relationship are based on values not fear, and when your ability to love the other person also involves your ability to say no.
First John 4:18 says it this way, “ There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
But, you say, what exactly does that mean? And how do I let the person I am dating know that I am afraid? Or that I feel the inability to say no? When do I bring this up? Is it too early to talk about these things? Is it too late? After all, it isn’t the easiest thing to talk about when I am sitting at the Getty Museum with a glass of wine in my hand looking at my date over a pizza.
Healthy relationships begin on the very first date. You are clear from the beginning about what you value, your preferences, and your morals. Doing this will help you keep in the good and keep out the bad. If your boundaries are not clear you expose yourself to danger and hurt.
Here are some very practical examples for maintaining your values:
1. Words – saying no.
“If you continue to make me uncomfortable by advancing in the area of physical intimacy, I just don’t see how this is going to work out.”
Or, “I can be very sensitive at times and get hurt easily, so I just wanted to be upfront about that. But at the same time, let me reassure you that if I get hurt I will always, in time, be willing to process it with you.”
2. Truth – just bringing reality into a situation. Many times in a relationship there is a white elephant in the room that everyone agrees not to talk about and not to address. Reality addresses the white elephant.
“I know you have told me you are going through a divorce. But where are you in the process? Does your wife seek a divorce too? I suspect the calls you are getting every time we go out are from her. Is that true?”
3. Distance – allowing time and space to happen for protection.
“The conversation we had the other night really hurt me. You said some things that were significant and had implications about our future (or how you see me, or what your values are). I want to get past it. I am committed to trying but I am going to need some time alone to sort out my feelings. I don’t know how long I will need but I promise to let you know when I am ready to process it with you.”
4. Other People – bringing other people into situations to be supportive and to help limit.
“Look, we have always ended up in a morally compromising situation when we have traveled together. Why don’t we invite my brother and his girlfriend to go with us this weekend? It would be fun.”
Being clear about your values and preferences is a good start, but there are some areas of responsibility you have to monitor about yourself as well. While you can not control the other person or their responses, you must accept your ability to bridle your own emotions, behaviors, attitudes and values.
If you allow someone else to be in control of any of these things, they are not the problem. The problem is your inability to set and maintain healthy limits.
Here are some common signs that you have had a poor beginning in the dating process:
1. Loss of freedom to be oneself: Feeling that you have to be a certain way to keep the relationship.
2. Being with the wrong person: Suddenly becoming aware that you are with a nut job.
3. Dating from inner hurts rather than from values: For instance, if you have controlling parents you may be attracted to controlling men or you may be attracted to overly compliant men for fear of being controlled.
4. Doing too much in the relationship: Many people overstep and don’t know when to stop giving of themselves. These people put their entire lives on hold and never stop giving until they realize that the other person is willing to continue to receive without ever being ready to commit. It is your responsibility to know how much to give and when to stop.
5. Freedom without responsibility: When someone enjoys all the benefits of dating but doesn’t take responsibility, conflicts arise.
6. Control issues: Inevitably one person is ready to commit before the other. Sometimes this results in manipulation, guilt, domination, and intimidation. Love has become secondary, and control has become primary.
7. Not taking responsibility to say “No”: Being the nice guy or the nice gal when you are being mistreated and not saying no to the behavior. Again, no one should have to take care of you, it is your responsibility to stop the behavior.
Healthy relationships are only the result healthy people being in them. Decide to be healthy, look to God for guidance, find a community of like-minded believers and have fun!
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