It always bums me out when I see singles, especially those who have been waiting a while to find a marriage partner, end up in unhealthy dating relationships, which so often lead to spiritual and moral compromise, bad marriages, and divorces. This is why, in my Defining the Relationship course (soon to be updated as a track in the Life Academy), I let couples know from the outset that my goal is to break up as many of them as I can. On average, sixty percent of couples who go through DTR part ways by the end of the course–if they even make it to the end. Most of them realize that they are not going the same direction in life and that their reasons for being together are unhealthy.
Ending an unhealthy dating relationship is painful and difficult. But it is infinitely less painful in the long run than staying in one. If you want to be a powerful person who marries a powerful person, then you need to refuse to settle for anything less than a relationship that can go the distance–a relationship in which respect, truth, and trust are flowing back and forth, and you are both working toward genuine intimacy, not false or illegitimate physical or emotional intimacy. This means you need to be able and ready to give a powerful “no” to protect the “yes” you desire to make to the right person.
Here are 7 warning signs that will tell you it is time to give a powerful “no” to an unhealthy relationship:
1. They do not respect boundaries.
Boundaries communicate value. When we don’t respect someone’s boundaries, we do not respect them. Physical boundaries are particularly healthy and important while dating. If the other person does not stop when you say stop or tries to pressure you to compromise a standard you have established, it is time to set a firm boundary. If they continue trying to test the boundary, it is time to say goodbye. (Cue Andrea Bocelli.)
2. They are not committed to personal growth.
One of the best ways to know if someone is marriage material is their commitment to personal growth. Are they teachable? Can they receive correction without getting defensive and take responsibility for poor choices instead of making excuses? Do they seek to understand and empathize with others, and allow for other perspectives? If not, you’re probably dealing with someone who is not committed to bringing his or her best to a relationship for the long haul.
3. You make excuses for them.
In a long-term relationship, it’s important to believe the best about others and not make mountains out of molehills. However, if you find yourself often dismissing behavior in the person you’re dating–“Well, nobody’s perfect,” or “They were just in a bad mood”–then you need to do a self-check and see if you are being passive and powerless. Don’t allow a romantic fantasy of the other person to blind you to their irresponsible behavior–they are showing you who they really are. And don’t settle for being irresponsible yourself. Uphold the standard of behavior you require for yourself and the other person in a relationship.
4. You pursue them, but they don’t pursue you.
In a healthy relationship, pursuit is balanced between two powerful people. One person should not be working harder than the other. Pursuit looks like investment in getting to know the other person–what they like and don’t like, what they hope for the future, and their love languages and communication style. It also means being willing to adjust and make sacrifices to serve and accommodate the other person. Someone not willing to invest while you are dating is likely going to have a hard time doing that when you are married.
5. They are angry, aggressive, manipulative, or controlling.
It should go without saying that anyone who is angry or controlling before getting married will certainly be so after getting married. Look for trigger points, even subtle ones. How do they respond when you need to change plans or something goes wrong? Sometimes someone who is manipulative can hide it for a while, but there are ways to identify it. If you find yourself feeling confused about your own feelings or events, or that you have to struggle to meet an unspoken list of expectations, you are in a manipulative relationship. These warning signs as well as any physical act of violence should be reason for immediate termination of the relationship.
6. You are “missionary dating.”
If you believe someone will change, and you are giving them “grace” and time to do so, this is a clear warning sign that you are not respecting your own boundaries. When you enter into a relationship with someone who does not currently have the same set of core values, you have started your relationship with a compromised standard. By dating them, you are actually in the contradictory position of telling them that you accept them the way they are and that you want them to change, which is not fair or respectful. This is a setup for compromising yourself and breaking their heart.
7. You are ignoring emotions instead of talking through them.
Healthy connection is built through emotional honesty. In an unhealthy relationship, the truth of what is going on inside both people stays hidden–either because they don’t know how to disclose it, or because they have discovered that it is not safe to do so. If you are hiding your feelings from the other person, it’s a sign that you either need to work on some trust issues, or you need to get away from an unsafe connection.
Please remember that you are an incredibly valuable person, and you owe it to God, yourself, and the person you marry to honor and protect that value. The right person will demonstrate that they recognize your value through their words and behavior–and that they are also committed to protecting and honoring the value of their own lives. Only two people who honor their true value can build a relationship on mutual respect and shared fruitfulness–a relationship that can go the distance.
P.S. We are about to launch a new Life Academy track called People Helping People. I am very excited to get this content out because I wish I would’ve known these things when I first started helping people. whether as a pastor, counselor or even as a friend. Sign up here to be notified when the track goes live.