Over the years, I’ve had many married couples end up in my office who are living in disconnection. Throughout the course of our conversation, we often discover that there has been a long-standing reality that neither of them really understands: basically, in their relationship only one person is allowed to show up.
There are a few ways this happens. One is the classic matchup between a dominant personality and a submissive personality. The expectation in this relationship is that the submissive person will become whoever the dominant person wants them to be.
Another way is that two highly compatible people enter marriage naïve to the reality of how different they actually are. When those differences inevitably show up and create some tension, there’s a reaction—“Wait, that’s what you think? That’s what you feel? That’s what you need? I can’t relate to that at all! I thought you were like me! Be like me!” Then they end up in a wrestling match where they show one another that it’s not safe for both of them to show up fully in their relationship. This is a setup for disrespect and disconnection to tear them apart.
The road to all these scenarios begins in dating. Unfortunately, many of common expectations people have in dating reflect the lack of a plan for a relationship with two powerful people. People talk about “looking for their other half” or someone who will “complete” them. If we think getting married will complete us, then “two becoming one flesh” turns out to be recipe for “and we’ll spend the next twenty years (if we even make it that long) arguing over which one we’ll be.”
A healthy marriage is not made up of two halves, but of two wholes—two beautifully different yet equally powerful people who get to happen fully in the context of a safe, loving connection.
Here are three keys to making sure that your dating relationship is laying the foundation for this kind of marriage:
1) Each person is committed to their values and has a clear vision for their life.
So many dating relationships go something like this:
You arrive at the airport, preparing to fly to Texas. While waiting, you plop down next to another person who is also apparently flying somewhere and start making small talk to pass the time. When you discover that this person is flying to China, you say, “Oh, I love China! I will go to China too!” You’ve never been to China, nor care to go to China, yet because this person likes you, you decided to make a complete change of plans and fly to China with them.
This may seem like a silly picture, but I see this all the time when counseling dating couples. One person is willing to completely forget who they are in order to make the other person happy. This works for exactly as long as it takes for the passive person to realize they actually have different opinions and values. Often, the more dominant person goes along with this because they are looking for a victim in need of rescuing. This is a recipe for codependency.
Powerful people have a healthy definition, awareness, and momentum around their calling in life—who they are called to be and what they are called to do. They recognize whether or not another person has a similar level of maturity and integrity in running after their calling, and whether their callings and visions line up with each other. They actually aren’t attracted to someone who is ready to jump flights to be with them.
2. Each person refuses to act like a victim.
“Falling in love” can never be the foundation for a powerful relationship, because falling is a powerless experience. It implies that you have no control or responsibility. Unfortunately, many people fall into marriage like they fall in a hole. So when things get hard, they go from being happy victims to being unhappy victims. Victims (powerless people) are incapable of creating a safe place where love can grow because they refuse to take responsibility for their lives. All they can do is try to shift responsibility on to others through blame and control.
Genuine love is not a powerless experience. Love is a choice that you control and take responsibility for. This is why powerful people are the only ones who can talk about love with any kind of believability. They alone know what love is, what it requires, and how to do it. They alone know how to take responsibility to manage their side of a relationship.
Remember, one of the quickest ways to recognize a powerful person is by the language they use. If you are unsure if you are being powerful, listen to the way you talk about demands, challenges, or requirements. If you find yourself saying things like, “I’ll try,” “I can’t,” or I have to,” shift to powerful statements that express clear ownership of your choices: “I will,” “I am,” “I won’t,” etc. Listen for the same language in the person you’re dating.
3. Each person has a plan for handling disagreements with respect and resolving conflict.
When a couple tells me, “We never disagree on anything,” my first response is this: “Then which one of you is afraid to show up?”
Disagreements are commonplace when there are two powerful people. This is because both people show who they are, and shockingly, they are different people! I have yet to meet a powerful couple who don’t have regular disagreements. However, powerful couples handle disagreements differently than victims.
First, powerful couples have a specific goal that they cling to in the midst of disagreement. They are not trying to move from disagreement to agreement, but from disagreement to greater understanding so they can meet one another’s needs more effectively and strengthen their connection.
Next, in order to pursue this goal, they have certain expectations and boundaries for their conversations:
1) There must always be a speaker and a listener in the conversation. Two people speaking or waiting to speak are not having a conversation.
2) The speaker’s job is to communicate what is happening inside them—their thoughts, feelings, and needs—in an honest, vulnerable, and respectful way.
3) The listener’s job is to help the speaker clearly identify what they need and then to do what they can to meet that need.
If you want to have a powerful dating relationship, then learning to disagree respectfully has to be a priority.
Powerful people change the world around them, and in turn have life-changing marriages that influence others around them. Remain powerful, choose to love, and use powerful language. This will propel you from glory to glory in your dating relationship, and then in your marriage.
P.S. The Defining the Relationship e-course is coming out in February!
P.S.S We are so excited about our upcoming conferences: the LOP Summits! Our sessions will cover topics in each of the three primary focus areas of Loving on Purpose—Leadership, Relationship, and Parenting—and I’ll get to introduce you to some of my favorite people, who will be speaking from their rich experience and expertise on these topics. Please join this powerful team and me at a conference nearest you! Blessings!