By Morgan Ingle
Growing up in a conservative Southern Baptist Church will really shape the way you view dating. I heard a lot about saving yourself for “the one” but not a lot about becoming the one or dating in a healthy way. I could have avoided a lot of confusion, heartache, and compromise if someone would have given me some simple tools in how to steward my heart and do relationship well.
First and foremost, a pivotal perspective change. Relationships that move into marriage are obviously awesome, but not everyone that dates should get married. Whether we find we want to get married or we don’t, we’ve succeeded. The goal of dating is to get to know the person and see if we are “meant to be,” not to get married. This means no more crazy expectations or pressure and it makes way for us to genuinely connect. In my life, I built up this idea in my head that I (and God) had chosen someone and because of that, I ended up ignoring so many of the red flags and compromises because he was “the one.” We need to stay present. Remember, you’re not married until you’re married and you are allowed to make decisions that may end in breaking the relationship up, because in the long run, it will be better for both of you.
Ironically, bold communication was a foreign concept to me before I got into a relationship. There were so many times I wanted to say something and didn’t because I was too afraid or I devalued its significance. In those moments, I realized I was choosing to value avoiding fear more than I valued what my heart was saying. My heart’s voice became quieted to the point that I didn’t even know what it was saying half the time, until tiny things became so big that I’d end up hurt. All because I didn’t speak up for the little things. When we open up, the response we get can either build or break trust. A perfect response is not necessary, but one that doesn’t push back, get defensive, or close up is how we can open up more and more and thus become closer and closer. Being bold and voicing your thoughts and feelings, is such a huge key in developing a healthy and full relationship.
In that same vein, I had to realize that the goal of a conversation is not to agree. The goal is to understand. You are not dating yourself, so you will not agree on everything. If you can communicate with a goal to understand why and how you each feel, you can begin to move toward loving each other better and growing closer with vulnerability. Use “I messages” to communicate what you are feeling and what you need. “I felt (blank) when this happened, and I need to feel (blank).” They don’t assume or project anything onto the other person, but allow the person to respond to how you are feeling and you both have the opportunity to figure out how to do it differently next time.
In my life, I have learned the value of boundaries as more than just making sure we don’t have sex before getting married. When we keep boundaries, we are communicating that we can keep our word, can operate in self-control, and desire to protect each other’s hearts. If you’ve ever broken boundaries, you know how that can affect your heart and how it can begin to allow other things slide. If a boundary is broken though, it is an opportunity to debrief, reset the standard, and try again. Mistakes do happen and that’s okay. How you work through those times speaks volumes on how you will work through future issues and problems.
A final check in every relationship is the role of community in your pursuit of each other. Good friends can call out red flags and help you process what you’re feeling in the relationship. If you notice you’re starting to isolate or hide things, reach out. We need community. Looking back to one relationship in particular, I hung out with friends just enough, but I needed them so much more than I was actually getting them. It’s great you want to hang out all the time and they’re your new favorite person, but don’t forget that our needs shouldn’t be met by just one person. Sometimes you will spend more time with friends, and other times, you may need more time with him/her. There’s no formula, but we should be self-aware enough to notice if we are lacking time with community, and we should listen to good friends if they start to mention never seeing us anymore.