Four Tips For a God-Centered Relationship
I'm going to start this article with the preface that I personally have not dated (I'm a firm believer of dating to marry so I'm waiting on God's timing). In high school and college, marriage was not on my radar, but in the last three years, God began doing His work on my heart in the area of romance and marriage. Through a lot of Bible study and prayer, He has been molding my heart and preparing me for my future husband. Part of this journey has included studying what Biblical relationships look like. I've talked with my married friends about it, read books on the topic, and most importantly, spent a lot of time on my knees and in the pages of my Bible conversing with God about it. Unfortunately, dating as we know it today, is not memorialized in the Bible, so there is no quick guide or reference for a topic that is crucial to young people today. However, here is what all of this has led me to:
Know and enforce your boundaries.
For this is the will of God, your sanctification that you should abstain from sexual immortality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God. -1 Thessalonians 4:3-5
Love does strange things to people. A lot of us hate to admit this, but it's true. People change when they fall "in love." In chapter three of his book, The Sacred Search, Gary Thomas talks about the scientific data and psychological theories explaining what happens with the human body and brain when you become smitten with someone. For example, common neurological symptoms of infatuation include: extreme energy, hyperactivity, sleeplessness, impulsivity, euphoria, obsessive thinking about their beloved, possessiveness, emotional dependency on one person, and sexual desires become intensified. Frankly, you stop thinking clearly and all logic flies out the window when it comes to your beloved. So, when you tell yourself (or your parents/guardians/youth pastor) that you can keep your hands to yourself and keep things under control, realistically, the odds are stacked against you. Like, way against.
Allow me to put it this way: if you have an obsession with chocolate and decide to limit your sugar intake, then keeping a drawer full of sweets in your house is bound to end in disaster, no matter how much self-discipline you have. A moment will come when you're sad/vulnerable/lonely and it always starts with just one piece of chocolate. But in those moments of vulnerability, one chocolate is never enough. So, you let go and binge. It happens to all of us with our vices. That's why almost every diet plan will tell you to purge all junk food from your house before you even start the diet. It's the same with boundaries in relationships: you need to draw them in black and white and enforce them physically, not just with your words.
Some examples of boundaries that help:
- No texting/phone calls/Face-timing after 10:30 pm. Yes, I know, most young people are not even in bed by this time, but late night conversations behind screens raise two immediate red flags. First, studies show that we are more vulnerable at night. Second, there is something about being behind a screen that makes people feel protected and invincible. Combine these two things and we are more likely to let our guard down at night (especially when you're in bed and tired after a long day), and we then feel an extra layer of security since you can't cross any boundaries if you're in different places, right? But, friend, it's not just about physical boundaries. Emotional boundaries are just as important. From a neurological standpoint, it's easier to say no to physical sexual passion than it is to regulate the rush of emotional infatuation.
- Limit your alone time. For centuries, young unmarried people were not allowed to spend any time alone before marriage. There was always a chaperone, and that's probably for good reason. As we discussed above, rational thought and boundaries seem to fly out the window when hormones and passion get involved. Girl, I know that you think you can handle it. That you'll say no or that he's a Godly gentleman. But, it's one of the oldest stories in the world. Things happen, emotions spark, hormones flare up, and one kiss turns into another which turns into sex. It happens, so guard yourself against it. Hang out in groups, go on double dates, spend time in public places, or have a curfew for alone time. The same goes for emotions: sharing all your hopes, dreams, fears, and every waking thought with one person can bind you to that person on a deep emotional level that can have damaging effects on a young woman!
- Until it's official before God, that man might as well be another woman's husband. This is a standard I've tried to establish in my life. I remind myself that the men I interact with - whether they're single or not - are someone's husbands and therefore I need to treat him accordingly. Similarly, you can ask yourself if you would say something or do something in a certain way if that person's wife was in the room or your husband was in the room with you two. Yes, that's a really stringent and lofty standard. But, I have heard of so many stories where a couple was 100 percent positive they would get married, especially during the engagement phase (I mean, you're practically married, right?), only to have the relationship fall apart before the wedding. Nothing is guaranteed until it's official before God (even then, marriage still takes work). So, don't weaken your boundaries and relationships rules just because you're now engaged or absolutely positive he's the one.
- If the sexual temptation is too much, get married sooner rather than later.Apostle Paul totally gets the credit for this one: see chapter 7 of 1 Corinthians.