Compatibility. Common goals. Chemistry.
If you’re dating, or single and looking to date, these are probably high on the list of things you’re hoping to discover about the person you’re getting to know. While all of those are valid, there’s something deeper, yet just as important, that you need to be paying attention to as you date, and that is this:
Is this person healthy and capable of building a healthy relationship?
And since it takes one to know one, how do I answer the same question about myself?
Similar personalities, common goals and dreams, and sexual attraction do not add up to the ability to build and sustain a healthy relational connection, and without that ability, no couple is going to be able to go the distance.
In Keep Your Love On, I describe 7 qualities that need to be strong for a relationship to be healthy. These 7 pillars of healthy relationships are universal truths that you should be applying to every relationship in your life. Let’s look at how they should be showing up as you date.
The Foundation: Unconditional Acceptance
Unconditional acceptance simply says, “You get to be you, and I get to be me in this relationship.” At the foundation of every healthy relationship must be an agreement that you will not try to control or change each other. As you get to know someone, pay attention to your thoughts and the messages you’re picking up from them. If you find yourself imagining how you might groom this person into the perfect spouse, or feeling like you need to become someone else to make this person happy, then you are building on the wrong foundation.
1. The Pillar of Love
The pillar of love is based on the commitment to value and care for the well-being of another person in a way that makes them feel safe, connected, and understood. This commitment doesn’t depend on romantic feelings—you can keep it whether you decide that you want to pursue a romantic connection with someone or not. The important thing to pay attention to as the relationship develops is that you are both contributing to a mutual experience where you feel safe to share your thoughts, feelings, and needs, and are gradually stepping into the dance of giving and receiving that builds interdependence. The moment one or both of you are operating primarily as a consumer in the relationship is the moment when you start chasing love away.
2. The Pillar of Honor
Honor is the practice of two powerful people putting one another before themselves, empowering one another, and calling out and believing the best in one another. Honor is put to the test in romantic relationships when we discover how the person we’re dating is different from us. Unhealthy people need others to be like them to feel safe, and will put dishonoring pressure on people to agree with them or do things their way. Healthy people work to lower anxiety around one another’s differences by seeking to understand and adjust to them.
3. The Pillar of Self-Control
Healthy relationships are built by powerful people who can manage themselves toward their goals and core values. In dating, powerful people demonstrate self-control in many ways—not only by honoring sexual boundaries, but also by doing what they say they’re going to do, communicating assertively to give feedback or let the other person know what they need, and taking responsibility to respond to feedback from the other person. In contrast, tolerating powerless behavior in your relationship—blaming others for feelings or behavior, trying to control or manipulate others, communicating in passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive ways, etc.—is always unhealthy.
4. The Pillar of Responsibility
Responsibility means taking ownership for your half of a relationship. You aren’t responsible for the other person’s choices or responses, but you are responsible for how your actions affect them and how you are responding to them. One of the areas where responsibility is most critical in relationships is in resolving conflicts and cleaning up our messes. Scary and painful things are going to happen in every relationship. It’s what you do about it that builds responsibility or irresponsibility into a relationship. Many people today simply run away when a dating relationship gets uncomfortable, either offering vague reasons for why they want to breakup, or worse, “ghosting” someone by dropping all communication. Even if it is right for you to end a relationship, do it in a responsible way.
5. The Pillar of Truth
Telling the truth inside—your thoughts, feelings, needs, and how you are experiencing the other person—is what builds trust in any relationship, while withholding the truth builds mistrust. Building a strong pillar of truth in a dating relationship means not giving into the temptation to downplay the things you don’t really like about a person or to hide the truth of what you are experiencing and needing in the relationship. Many times when an unhealthy relationship falls apart, it feels like a betrayal because the breakup is when all the hidden truths start to spill out. People say, “This would have been so much easier if he had just been on honest with me when we broke up.” Or, “I had no idea she felt that way, but I could have changed my behavior if I knew. Maybe we would still be together if she had just told me.” If you want to experience genuine trust and intimacy, you must be courageous in telling the truth.
6. The Pillar of Faith
For many people, their faith is more like paint on a wall than a pillar holding up their house. As you’re getting to know someone in a dating relationship, pay attention to see if the person is truly relying on God to meet his or her core needs. People with a strong pillar of faith will trust Him to meet their relational needs, and won’t fall into pursuing relationships that do not have long-term potential in order to meet short-term needs. They will also demonstrate the ability to keep their love on when they feel afraid, repent for their sin, and forgive when they are hurt.
7. The Pillar of Vision
Vision encompasses the core values you live by, your dreams, and your calling/mission in life. The healthiest relationships are built by people who are already running after a clear vision for their lives, and whose goal in dating is to discover whether their visions can be aligned with each other to create a shared vision. In unhealthy relationships, however, you always find people either living in survival mode with no clear purpose, or trying to live off someone else’s vision. Long-term relationships only work with a long-term vision.
If you recognize that any of these pillars are weak in your own life and relationships, don’t be discouraged. Growing in these areas is a process—one that is vulnerable, messy, but ultimately glorious and absolutely worth it! Invite the Lord and trusted friends and leaders into your dating journey and ask for their support and strength in these areas. You are not alone.
P.S. If you are dating and considering marriage, don’t forget to check out Defining the Relationship on Life Academy! This course will equip you with the tools to build a healthy, strong, romantic relationship that will go the distance.