We live in a day and age where dating has become more of a sport than a mature interaction between two adults in search of a relationship that is raw, real, and lasting. As a 32 year old unmarried woman living in LA, I’ve experienced my fair share of dating games, but I’ve also experienced some real, honest relationships that were marked by some pretty clear red flags that I struggled from time to time to see and ultimately walk away from. My guess is that most single adults out there reading this are not strangers to these experiences. I think personally, after one too many years of this, I had come to the point where I had begun to question if my standards for men and the relationship I desired were too high. There were things that I held onto dearly and that I stood for my entire life in relationships such as purity, strength, mutual support, honor, and partnership that I began to ever so reluctantly let got of once I hit my 30’s. And it broke my heart.
And then about nine months ago I met someone who quite honestly redeemed my view of relationships and men. And who proved to me that in fact my standards were never too high. It just was a matter of meeting the right person. And that is why I am writing today. To remind any of you single women (and men) out there who need the encouragement that you are worthy of someone who will be an example to you of love, honor, faithfulness, self-control, support, and belief. For you ladies, you are worthy of a man who will pursue you for you and not just what he can get from you. A man who doesn’t have time for games but communicates his feelings and pursues you intentionally. Those men do exist, even though they are rare. I’ve heard one too many stories recently from friends who have found themselves lost in a relationship where they feel anxious, troubled, broken, unsupported, fearful, used, and under-valued. If you find yourself in a relationship like that, it might be time to walk away. The right kind of relationship will never make you feel that way. A healthy relationship, albeit imperfect, is marked by an overarching sense of peace, joy, security, and ultimately the sense that God is the foundation of it all. I am by no means an expert on the topic but what I do have is experience and one too many years of some far from ideal dating relationships to know a good one when I finally find it. So, here are my two cents on some signs of a healthy dating relationship.
I would argue that this is the true foundation of any good relationship. Whereas, I think culture puts all of the emphasis on chemistry; romance, physical attraction, and ultimately sex. There is this idea in our culture that says that unless you have the kind of chemistry with someone that immediately floods your life with magic and fireworks from the moment your eyes meet, then that someone must not be the right one for you. The trend is people dating and eventually marrying ultimately for physical chemistry, shallow connections, looks, and status. But what happens when the fireworks die down, the looks fade, and the thrill wears off? You are left with a shaky foundation at best. And at worst, another divorce statistic to add to the ever increasing number.
I had experienced several relationships before meeting my current boyfriend that were marked by this kind of passion and chemistry but lacked a solid foundation. I was always left having this feeling in the midst of it like, “this is exciting now but it isn’t sustainable.” And I was right. It never was. Honestly when my current boyfriend came along…I almost let him pass me by because quite honestly we didn’t have that crazy chemistry or romance right away that I had been conditioned to believe was necessary and that I had experienced in other relationships more immediately. But what we did have from our very first date was an honest and genuine relational connection/compatibility. We had a friendship. And that is what stood out to me. It might have taken a few months for us to experience the romance and chemistry (mostly due to timing for both of us). But it did come and I can assure you now that that is something that can be built and can even become incredibly powerful as the relationship grows and deepens. Of course every relationship is different and of course many successful relationships have started with a really strong romantic connection and it works out great in the end. But my whole point is this. What if, instead of building relationships on chemistry, passion, and physicality, individuals in our culture chose to build their relationships on the virtues of respect, honor, self-less love, and ultimately friendship? I wonder how that would impact the relational success and divorce rate in our nation. Then the chemistry, the romance, the butterflies are nothing more or nothing less than a beautiful cherry on top of the immovable foundation that is already built.
I think most everyone knows that communication is a key component to any healthy relationship. But perhaps some of us don’t realize just how important it is. My boyfriend was recently telling me about how psychologists can often predict a couple’s future relational success solely based on the tone of voice they use to speak to each other. And then upon further research I found one study which proved exactly that by using a new computer algorithm which measures vocal tone and can predict relationship success with nearly 79 percent accuracy. You can read more about that study at this link. I found it incredibly intriguing and eye opening.
So the way you communicate with your significant other is absolutely something to take note of. But I believe the depth and honesty of your communication takes it a step further. Any good relationship is built off of honesty, trust, and respect. And all of those qualities are directly influenced by how you communicate. We live in a day and age where it seems people are afraid to feel anything genuine, or at the very least are afraid to express anything genuine. So if you’ve found a man who is able to express his intentions, feelings, fears, struggles, hopes, and dreams to you. That is gold and something to hold onto.
3. Mutual support
This is pretty personal for me because I have been through more than one relationship that lacked this. I would often try to ignore it and shove it off as not being important if the man I was with seemed like a catch in every other way. But I will say now with absolute certainty. Don’t ignore this one ladies! If you are with a man who isn’t able to support you in your gifting, calling, career, etc, that might be a significant red flag. Support in a relationship needs to be mutual exactly because marriage is a partnership. The person closest to you needs to be someone who can speak life and encouragement into you, as much as you do him. Thomas Merton says,“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”
I was on the phone with my boyfriend the other night as he was trying to encourage me to get back to my writing and blogging, considering I am a writer who hasn’t written anything in around seven months. To put it plainly, he kicked my butt into gear. And in that moment I realized how vital it is to be with someone who believes in you and encourages you to be your best self. I had quite honestly gotten to the point in my past dating relationships where I wondered if I was just better off single and assumed if I really wanted to be who God created me to be and pursue my gifting and calling, that would mean I would have to do it alone. So to have met a man who literally changed the game for me, who believes in me and is my biggest encourager is an incredible gift. And I truly believe it is vital for the health of any relationship.
As we all know, you simply can’t have a healthy relationship without trust. And I truly believe that trust is earned, not given. A persons track record tells a lot about them. And if you’re with someone who consistently breaks your trust, lies, cheats, or doesn’t respect your boundaries, that is a significant red flag. I will say, there is a new degree of trust in my current relationship that surpasses anything I’ve experienced before. And my boyfriend earned that trust by respecting me physically, by not pushing my boundaries, by honoring me, and by taking the time to really pursue me for me and not just an idea of me. When you fall for someones soul, rather than simply their exterior (and visa versa) it brings an entirely new depth to the relationship and establishes a foundation of trust that is vital for the health and progression of the relationship.
5. Individual Identity
One of the single most damaging things to a relationship can be when one or both individuals are looking to their significant other and/or their relationship for the whole of their identity and validation. If you and your significant don’t have your identity secure apart from one another, you will never have a secure and healthy identity as a unit. When it comes to relationships, two halves don’t make a whole. Two wholes make a whole. There is not one person in the world who can complete you. God completes you. End of story. If you can enter a relationship having your identity, security, and validation rooted in that truth, with someone who has done the same, it frees you both from the impossible task of having to be each other’s savior.
Last but most definitely not least, love. Of course we all know that love should be at the foundation of any relationship but I think it is important to distinguish here the kind of love I am referring to. I am not talking about the kind of love that is most often confused in our culture for lust; the kind that lives in the moment and changes with the ups and downs of each day. Nor am I talking about the feeling of love that is fleeting, temporal, unreliable, and that seeks its’ own good above the good of the other. I am talking about the kind of love that is a daily choice. The kind of love that is self-sacrificial, selfless, patient, faithful, consistent, and always seeks the other’s good above its’ own. Just as we see in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” This kind of love is a rare gift. If you find it, never let it go.
Of course as humans, we love imperfectly. No one can live out all of these qualities without error. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try or we shouldn’t set our standards high when it comes to the men we date and the one we ultimately will marry. Personally, I’d rather spend my life lonely and single, than lonely and married to the wrong man. If I’m going to set my standards high for something, I’d do good to make it this. So my prayer for any of you ladies reading this is that you will have the strength to not settle when it comes to the men you date and ultimately the man that you will marry. God’s plan is good and perfect, even if it doesn’t line up with our preference for timing. And even if it doesn’t look exactly like we always envisioned it would look like. I can assure you, it will be worth the wait. God cares about your love story. And so do I. You are loved and valued and worthy of God’s absolute best.