There’s no shortage of dating and courtship opinions in the church. The principles I’m going to discuss with you are by no means unique or the only possible way to approach dating relationships. They are what makes sense to me after doing 10,000+ hours of therapy and seeing what seems to work out for couples and what doesn’t.
It Takes Two to Become One
If you’re not healthy and happy single, a relationship will just multiply your problems. Sure, you’ll be elated initially as the “high tide” of hormones from the new relationship hide your problems. As the relationship normalizes though, the problems will remerge, worse. Looking for another person to “complete” you is a bad idea.
Make use of your time as a single person to find healing for your wounds and to grow in maturity. This is your best protection against a terrible marriage. The healthier and more mature you are, the greater unhealthy/immature characteristics will stand out as warning flags to you in others. You will also increase your attractiveness to healthy/mature members of the opposite sex.
Personal growth is the best way to attract healthy mature spouse potentials and repel unhealthy/immature candidates.
Do They Come From a “Good” Family?
Perhaps this phrase sounds cliché or even offensive, “Do they come from a “good” family?” That may be because of how culture defines “good” in this question. Usually it refers to social and/or financial success. That’s not how I’m using it.
I’m going to suggest to you that healthy relationship skills are better caught than taught. That doesn’t mean they can’t be taught. It just means that if you (or your prospect) haven’t had healthy relationship skills modeled for you as you grew up, there are going to be deficits in your skill set.
If on the other hand your (or their) parents are madly in love with each other, handle conflict well, have a healthy sex life, enjoy life together, and have a great relationship with their kids—there’s a good chance you learned a thing or two about that growing up around them.
If not, it’s not terminal. Here’s what to do:
- Surround yourself with mentor couples in the church who are old enough to be your parents but are not. Couples who display all the characteristics stated above (love Jesus, madly in love with each other, handle conflict well, have a healthy sex life, enjoy life together, and have a great relationship with their kids). Spend as much time around them as you can.
- Learn from others through books, podcast, videos. Be a student of healthy relationships.
- Get counseling to identify the ways your parents dysfunctional relationship has impacted you, so you can head off repeating the patterns in your own relationships.
Considering having a rule that you don’t date anyone exclusively until you’ve been friends with them for a year. You can totally date them and others as friends. Hang out with each other’s friends. Get to know each other beyond the initial infatuation.
Doing so will help you really get to know them in a variety of different settings before making the relational waters muddied with the emotions of a more intimate dynamic. When you date someone exclusively it gets too emotionally intimate too quickly, sabotaging your judgement and ability to evaluate the person objectively.
Serial dating monogamy, where you date someone exclusively, get too close too quick, crash and burn, then repeat is not a helpful pattern.
Dating more than one person concurrently as friends helps you:
- keep the relationships emotionally and physically at a friend level;
- forces you to deal with your fears and jealousies;
- teaches you to trust God; If they’re the “right one” the Lord will lead them to the conclusion that you are the right one for them;
- Keeps you from using people as emotional props. If you can’t be OK with being single you’re in no condition to be in a serious relationship.
Short Exclusive Dating & Engagement
While I encourage friend dating for a year plus, I would suggest the opposite once you are ready to go to the next level. From your year or more of being friends, you should have a pretty good idea of who this person is, and they you.
Monogamous/exclusive dating, or what they used to call “going steady,” then only serves to:
1) confirm what you believe about them from your friendship,
2) better get to know each other’s families,
3) clarify the direction of the other’s feelings about God’s direction for your life (e.g. vocational plans, where they want to live, future family size, etc.).
I would recommend this season be short, around 3 months. It really shouldn’t take that long to confirm what you’ve been observing over the last year or more. Then put ring on it!
The current generation seems to struggle with commitment more than any I’ve known. There’s no benefit to belaboring things once you know.
Engagements should also be short, just long enough to plan a wedding, 3-6 months. Long drawn out engagements when your hearts and bodies long to be one are not helpful.
Pre-marital counseling serves 3 purposes:
- Make sure you understand what marriage is from God’s perspective before you commit to it,
- Identify and gain direction on how to address areas you are likely to struggle in during your unique marriage,
- Have a good “sex talk” (most people don’t get very useful information from other sources).
Modesty vs Seduction
Modesty, in a sexual context, means recognizing the sexy seductive nature of our bodies is given to us for the mutual enjoyment between ourselves and our spouse, not the world in general. It’s part of the flirtatious, romantic, playful, fun, dynamic between passionate lovers that reveals the kind of relationship God wants to have with people.
Seduction is the intentional enticing of erotic sexual attention and the provocation of sexual thoughts and feelings in the other person. Erotic dress, suggestive sexual comments, and fantasy provoking body language, is all part of healthy marital fore-play to erotic sexual experiences. It is not, however, a healthy way of relating to just any man or woman we find attractive.
When it comes to string bikinis, one piece swim suits, no “mixed bathing” whatsoever, cleavage, no cleavage, 1,2, or 3 fingers from the neck line, ankles, calves, mid thigh or short-shorts, form fitting or loose shirts or shirtless at the beach — I can’t say…because the Bible doesn’t.
Since the Bible does not give specific instruction on modesty, in terms of what to wear or how to wear it, neither do I believe it is appropriate to go beyond the Bible to create our own rules.
I do believe the Scriptures give us principles to judge our heart by. It is out of the heart that we dress and use our body. When it comes to how we dress, body movements/language we communicate, looks we give, words and tone we use, when being seen or interacting with the opposite sex — We have to ask the Holy Spirit, who lives in every Christian, to help us see ourselves through God’s eyes and act in a manner pleasing to Him. It is the conviction (strong belief) brought by the Holy Spirit that guides us, not man-made rules.
There is no “Biblical” dress code that is applicable to every person in every culture the same way. Though, that sure would make it easier to follow the letter of the law without engaging the Holy Spirit in an honest discussion about our heart.
Certainly parents have the responsibility to establish standards for themselves as well as their children, according to their convictions. It’s also legitimate for groups of people, communities, institutions, etc. to establish legally acceptable norms for public decency. It must be recognized though that these are social constructs based on the collective conviction of the group, not a moral imperative handed down from God. They don’t carry the same weight and authority over every human’s life, nor do they define sin vs. holiness.
When a person knows in their heart what God would have them do, and they choose not to do it, this is sin (James 4:17).
The take away is two-fold:
1) Since we are not the Holy Spirit, we are not in a position to judge another; we can only observe whether or not a style or presentation would be appropriate for us, based on our convictions.
2) We are compelled to have an honest conversation with the Holy Spirit about our heart as it pertains to these matters and whether or not we are pleasing to Him or need to change.
Sexual Seduction vs Gender Affirmation
Let’s differentiate between sexual seduction and gender affirmation. The former is only appropriate between married couples, while the latter is something that should be practiced by and towards all people.
Affirmation is building up a fellow sister o r brother in Christ in a way that helps them feel good about themselves as a man or woman. It is about encouraging them, not about us feeling sexually aroused or us getting an emotional “jolt” from arousing them.
Using our words to build up one another is honoring to our King and completely consistent with His heart. Enticing erotic sexual attention with sexual comments, dress, or body language from someone other than our spouse is an effort to provoke lust (coveting sexually what’s not theirs to have) in the heart of the other. It is self-serving instead of benefiting the other.
|Empowering to them.||Arousing for you.|
|Helps them feel good as a man / woman.||Treats them as a sexual object.|
|Promotes their modesty.||Provokes lust.|
|Appropriate between people not married to each other.||Only appropriate between husband and wife.
How Far is Too Far Physically?
I don’t really like that question because it’s pointed in the wrong direction. It seems to ponder, “What can I get away with?” instead of, “What’s in my and their best interest?” But, if you must have an answer, the only Bible passage I have to point you to is Paul’s instructions to the young single minister, Timothy.
“Treat the young women who are your peers with all purity, like you would your own sister” (1 Tim 5:2). Are you married to them? No? Then treat them like your sibling. Would you do it with your sister or brother? No? Then you probably shouldn’t do it with your date.
It’s a pretty good “YUCK” test. I don’t know of any friendships or marriages that have been made better by following less of a standard.
“But we’re going to get married!” I hear all the time. Ok, here’s my question for you: Are you married? If you’re not sure check your left hand. No wedding band? Then treat them like they could be someone else’s spouse.