About 4 years ago, I posted two articles on my thoughts of dating relationships (part 1 and part 2). They were written 2 years before I actually started dating, and were a reflection of my thoughts and attitudes towards dating at the time. Now that I’m standing at about 2 years into a dating relationship, I wanted to look back and see if my thoughts back then were any different to today. I had forgotten that I had written up more generic thoughts and ideas about the topics, rather than specific ideas I was thinking through at the time. Nevertheless, there are 5 things I’ve learned whilst dating which I feel augment my understanding of dating and marriage from back then. Disclaimer: I am not married, so listen to my experience as you may; as always, discern all things through God’s Word.
1. You Are Never “Ready”
Part of what motivated me to write those 2 articles about 4 years ago, was that I wanted to prepare myself for a dating relationship by getting my thoughts and understanding correct. There are many Christian books we can read (some aren’t as good as others), sermons we can listen to, Bible Studies we can go through, and friends and family we can gain Biblical wisdom from – these are all great sources of knowledge and do help equip us for life ahead. But these things will never be “enough”, in the sense that once you start dating (or start anything new), you will begin to encounter and experience first-hand the things you merely read about in a book or heard about in a sermon. You don’t truly begin to understand and grasp the complexity of relationships (and the way God calls us to conduct these relationships) until you actually start experiencing one. Things can happen which are beyond what you are familiar with. Perhaps you will experience conflict on issues you hadn’t thought about before. Perhaps you and your partner will face challenges that you didn’t think would ever be an issue. Life is unpredictable and there is no way for us to cover all our bases.
There are two implications that stem from this. The first is that we ought not to wait too long before jumping into a dating relationship, because you will never be “ready”. It’s great to do as much research and thinking as you can to adequately equip yourself, but you can never be completely ready beforehand – I certainly was not ready when I started dating 2 years ago. The same can be applied to marriage. There also isn’t really a point in a dating relationship where you would be able to say that you are “ready” for marriage. Again, you can adequately equip yourself and your future spouse via marriage courses and the like, but there are also just as many unknown factors which might occur during marriage which you just won’t be able to anticipate. So rather than be anxious about the things we don’t feel prepared for yet, we should remember that we won’t ever be “ready”.
The other implication is that we ought not to jump headlong into dating and marriage either. Knowing that we can never be truly “ready” can tempt us to not care at all, and just jump headlong into the unknown. We are still called to the wise in the way we live out our lives and being ignorant to the potential dangers and temptations which may arise in dating and marriage is an unwise approach. Have you put adequate time into educating yourself from the Bible and from other resources about how God wants your dating relationship and marriage to look like? Have you spoken with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to get their opinion as to whether this relationship will be good for you? Have you prayed extensively to God, asking for clarity and wisdom in the matter, and also putting His agenda first in your life? These are all things we ought to do to help ensure we’ve put enough thought into such an important decision/commitment.
2. You Don’t Know Your Temptations Until You Experience Them
This point relates to the above, about not being “ready” in everything. One particular area that is easy to write off is the area of temptation and sin (and I mean all forms of temptation and sin which can occur in a dating relationship). It’s easy to identify and talk about what potential temptations a Christian may face when they hypothetically enter into a dating relationship (some of you may have done several Bible Studies around these topics), but again it is on a completely different level to when you actually face your own temptations first hand. I honestly do speak from experience that I think there are two types of people when it comes to dating – those who struggle with temptation, and those who lie about it.
Each person struggles from temptation (physical, sexual, spiritual, emotional, etc) to different degrees and we should be ready to humble ourselves and realise we are not stronger than who we think we are before we start dating. Whilst we’re living in this broken world (and await for our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to return), we need to give our attention to the sin that pervades our lives; to recognise the reality of its harmful effects on us; to gradually work through our temptations and learning to say ‘no’ to sin; and also to remember that Jesus frees us from slavery to sin, so that in Him we do have hope of being able to conquer our temptations. We mustn’t downplay the seriousness of sin, and think it is a mere myth, because that is one of Satan’s biggest lies, and dating relationships can be an area where we are subtly fed these lies. Love conquers all in a relationship, but it is “God’s love” which does that, not our own definition of love.
3. You Hurt the Most When You Love the Most
Love isn’t easy. If it were, the whole world would be a loving place. Love isn’t just a feeling either. Love is a choice we constantly make, and we need to learn to express via action as well. A dating relationship is a good opportunity to practise loving in ways which you may not have experienced with your other friends. You practise showing patience beyond what you may normally have to bear with other people. You practise giving sacrificially in ways which you otherwise wouldn’t have considered.
But all of this can be a struggle. It is hard to be patient with your partner all the time; you may have seasons of life where you’re just really tired, or hampered down by your job. It can be hard to sacrifice time, energy and money when they become scarce resources to you. And as such, choosing to lovingly serve your partner can hurt because of how much a struggle it is to give. But we should take heart at this, because I am confident this is a way God grows us to increase our capacity to love – not only our partner but also other people around us. If we can love our partner to the degree that we are able to, then surely we could also do that to our friends, strangers, or even our enemies.
At the same time, if you hold back love, then you won’t get hurt as much. But you lose out on growing in your capacity to love, and also losing out on living out God’s command to love everyone. If we want to understand love, especially in a dating relationship, it goes without saying that we should look to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins:
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:12-13
4. Let Your Feelings Flourish, But Learn to Keep Them in Check
My partner used to often tell me that I was bad with emotions and the like, and I probably still am today. As a guy, I take precautions against feelings because there can be a chance they lead you to make irrational decisions, or even fall into temptation (see above). So whilst some may think that the approach to relationships is to be wary of our emotions and feelings, instead we should readily embrace them. Why? Simply because God made us as relational beings after His own image. We have feelings because God has feelings. It just wouldn’t work to try and embrace relationships of any sort if we didn’t incorporate the emotional side which God has created in all of us.
A healthy way to proceed in a relationship is continually to understand who God has made you to be. Do you understand your personality, and how your thoughts and feelings work? Do you know what things help you function in a godly way, and what things may cause you temptations? We need to become comfortable with who God made us to be, and understand how we work, especially our emotions, because without them we wouldn’t be able to put our entire being into the relationship.
At the same time (yes by now you probably will have noticed I generally present a flip side to everything I bring up), we do need to learn to keep our feelings in check. This does come back to having a cautious attitude towards possible temptations that may arise from feelings running rampant. At the end of the day we are sinful human beings, and our emotional sides are also stained by sin; but we also have received forgiveness in Christ, and also the Holy Spirit, which heaps us guide our thoughts and feelings back to God’s Word.
5. Pray Continually
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
The command for us to pray continually in our lives matters a lot in the dating context too. Prayer is a helpful way to bring God into the centre of the relationship, hopefully reminding you and your partner why you are in this relationship at all. It is also a good way to continually recognise that both of you will continue failing to do everything right in the relationship (eg: all the things I mentioned above), and that you need God’s forgiveness for daily sin and His help to continue growing in the relationship.
It’s easy to park God on the side in our dating relationships; we could be enjoying all the wonderful emotions that we experience, or even think that our partner is a suitable replacement for God (if they’re with us all the time, then do we really need to rely on God anymore?) But no, keeping God in the centre of the relationship (and of our individual lives) is most important and prayer is one particular way to help us do just that.
I’ve said a lot here in this article, with varying levels of articulation. But I hope it has been of some insight to you; feel free to comment down below or privately message me to let me know what you think. God bless!