SEVEN STEPS TO FOSTER EXCELLENT RELATIONSHIPS FOR DATING COUPLES
I strongly believe that the bedrock of strong marriage relationships should start before the tying the knots. One could call it building the foundation for being happily married. I find that when marriages go wrong, it is usually a consequence of other more fundamental issues. Not addressing the issues from their roots amounts to giving a painkiller for a headache, which is just a symptom, rather than probing further to discover the real problem. The problem could get worse, if you consider that the headache could be a symptom of stress, malaria, a brain tumor, high blood pressure etc. What can a pain-killer do when any of these could be the problem?
That is the same way it works with marriage. I constantly interact with young people, especially those of faith, who are dating to be married or are actually in the early years of marriage, who need counsel to succeed in their relationships. I am of the very strong opinion that the best time to start building is before marriage, not after a few months or years of frustration. These are the tips I give them.
GIVE GOD THE REINS
For people of faith, it makes sense to start with God. He loves us. He has the full picture. He has the blue print of our lives. He has good plans for us. He is totally committed to us. He gives the cutting edge. He makes all the difference. Why would anyone want to start a relationship without Him? That would be folly.
I would suggest praying from the first day as well as spending a lot of time in His word. Let Him take control, let Him lead in the relationship. It would be wise to decide to glorify Him in the relationship from the beginning. This would be the ultimate core of any relationship. It will keep coming up in this discuss.
BEING CONTENT AND HAPPY WHILE SINGLE
Being single is a gift from God. When I say this to the single girl who wants to get married, she would sigh. They usually would say, ‘You don’t understand’. But it is. How a person regards his or her single state is what determines how they react to this. There are so many single people who want to get married as a way of escape. They see themselves as inferior because they are single. Being married is a status symbol, a get away from the lower place, a fulfillment of societal expectations- all the wrong reasons to get married. When such singles get into relationships, they suck out the life of the other party. Marriage becomes an anti-climax of sorts. The question becomes ‘what have I done?’
What does it mean to be a content and happy single? It means that if for any reason under the sun, one does not get married; he or she will still live a happy fulfilled life. They would not see themselves as failures because they are not married. They see themselves beyond being married. Marriage is not a crutch for them. They look forward to getting married but it is not a lifeline.
It means they appreciate their uniqueness and love themselves for it. They appreciate the fact that they have been separated unto the Lord and find wholeness in Him. It means they find total fulfilment in being who they are.
One of the privileges of being single is the opportunity to discover God’s perfect plan for their lives. They are not distracted and have the time to devote to making this discovery. Their lives are driven by an understanding that is eternal. They understand the signs of their lives because they know the plan. They have thriving personal walks with God and are not intimidated by life.
Content and happy singles are able to manage their excesses because of their walk with God. They understand their weaknesses and strengths. They have control over their emotions. They conduct themselves in a way that pleases God. They are not excessive. They are not afraid to live for God. They have settled within themselves the values they want to live by. They are not embarrassed by the Godly choices they have made. They have committed themselves to living for the Lord Jesus Christ.
God did not intend that getting married should be a burden to the couple. It is supposed to be a union between two people, who are whole and self-satisfied and comfortable in themselves. That is the only way they can willingly make the adjustments that are required to be happily married. It takes time for people to transit from normal insecure singles to happy, content ones. Single people ought to take the time to do get to this place of wholeness and contentment before they t into relationships that could lead to marriage. Otherwise, they are incapable of being the people they should be as well as playing the roles they should in marriage. That is the formula for disaster.
LOVE LIKE GOD DOES
Love is celebrated internationally. No matter the culture, race or location, love is a big thing. However, when people say, ‘I love you’ they don’t necessarily mean the same thing. For one person, he may find a woman attractive and this generates strong feelings he refers to as ‘love’. A girl may feel very good when she’s with a particular man and she feels she is in love. When people are with family members, they have a strong sense of well-being and they love their family members. So we can conclude that love can mean so many things to people at different times of their lives.
With all these love perceptions, there is one that is eternal and true- God is love. Love epitomizes who God is. As people take on His nature in their relationship with Him, they are able to truly love like He does. This type of love is generally known as ‘agape’ love.
Is it possible to love like God does? It is difficult but gets easier with time, practice and intimacy with Him. What are the attributes of this type of love? The Message Bible puts it this way in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13.”Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always “me first,” doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end. Love never dies”.
Why is it necessary to love like this? It is the only way one can survive living with a second person, in a close, everyday relationship like marriage, without killing him or her. It is born out of a decision to place value on the other person, not feelings and emotions. It is not a function of things going according to plan or expectation. This type of love is ignited by a force far greater than any known to humanity. God honours and watches over it when in operation. That is why it works. It never fails.
Anyone, man or woman, who adopts this type of love-life can never have long-term relationship problems. That is why it comes highly recommended.
BECOME REAL FRIENDS
Two people can only get along well in marriage if they have a good friendship. In my experience, I find that every time I see an old married couple that have had a good marriage, they always claim to have had a good friendship from the beginning. Most courting couples agree with the need to build a friendship- that is not in question. The problem is how they go about creating this friendship. In lots of cases they put the cart before the horse and are in confusion long before they get to the altar.
Friendship, especially for people of faith, should start with spiritual compatibility. They should believe the same things about God, preferably with the same level of passion. If a young man is the kind of person who loves the Lord, is serving in different voluntary capacities in his local assembly and he wants to marry a girl who also loves the Lord, but would rather be at home watching TV, that would mean they are not exactly on the same page about spiritually compatibility, even though they are both people of faith. In building a friendship, they would need to build that area up to where they both want to do the same things to express their love for God, before they can say they are ‘spiritually’ friendly. This is very crucial to eventual success in marriage. It amounts to building a strong foundation in their relationship.
Then they can push the friendship to the level of being compatible in their minds, intellects and emotions. They enjoy being together because they enjoy the same things. I have heard people say opposites attract, but often times, the same differences become the focal point for trouble later in the marriage relationship, so I don’t agree with that opinion.
This is the stage of friendship when the man and woman discover each other. They get to meet each others’ families and friends to allow bonding on those levels. They get to know about each others’ work. They get to know each others’ response mechanisms to life-money, work, family, the opposite sex, friends, children, in-laws, food, forgiveness, offences, etc. These things may seem so ordinary but they can become hot spots’ in marriage. That is how to build a friendship. It does not happen overnight, it takes time.
It is not a time to try to impress one another, but really get to know each other. That is why couples should take time to build this friendship before marriage, not in the first few months or years of marriage. ‘I just knew we were right for each other’, ‘It was love at first sight’ are just emotional out bursts that eventually fall apart a lot of the time. One cannot ‘know’ without a friendship. It cannot be ‘love’ without a friendship. They should even surprise one another and show up at unexpected times in unexpected places. That is the test of true friendship.
There can be attraction without a friendship. That is why a man and woman will notice each other. But that is what it is-an attraction. That is not a friendship. It is not possible to build anything strong on attraction except in the movies. It starts there but the friendship journey is still a long way from there. They would be called social contacts. They are ‘hot’ for each other but don’t know each other.
Then they get to meet each other, they are moving on the friendship scale but cannot make any serious decisions about each other at this stage. Then they get closer, as they get to spend more time together before they become intimate or close friends. One would ask, how would it take to get here? I wish I could say, six months or one year, but I really cannot. It differs for many couples. However one thing is sure, they would have gotten to know one another and that is very crucial. This makes them comfortable in each others’ space. That is what I believe should be called ‘chemistry’ between a man and woman, not flying ‘sparks’ that fizzle into nothing after a while.
AGREE ON THE THINGS THAT MATTER
One of the advantages of becoming really good friends is that you can agree on issues as you discover one another. Couples should build their friendship purposefully, to enable them thrash out issues while the process is on. There could be fights, near break-ups- but this is the time to test the relationship, not when it has graduated into marriage.
A woman who dates a man who still lives with his mother needs to raise the issue with him because it could lead to mother-in-law problems when they get married. A man who is dating a fashion-conscious girlfriend should raise the issue because it could become a money issue in marriage. It would be wrong to discover one another and not discuss the discoveries. That would amount to leaving things to chance. If they create problems later, it would become, ‘but you knew all along’. Yes they did, but it was not discussed.
What are some of the issues that couples should agree about? I believe the foundation of every relationship should be God’s word, especially for people of faith. That is one thing both parties should agree about. Other issues, are finances, children, their education and the forms of discipline to be used to train them, extended family( especially in societies where they play a major role), spiritual matters, prosperity, where to live, type of work for both spouses, to mention a few.
Not bringing these things into the open amount to wasting the courtship period and not making the best of the friendship. Of course, I must say, this does not make it full-proof, but it minimises the possibility of things going irrevocably wrong. Marriage has its pressures and surprises, but like has been emphasized severally, building a strong relationship helps to make it work.
I must sound a note of warning here. When a couple realizes they don’t agree on a lot of vital issues, it is a clear sign, they should separate ways. It is folly to assume things will align after marriage, they never do. It is always better to let the relationship go, than to go ahead and end up in the divorce courts. No relationship is worth all the trouble. There is too much devastation down that road to bother with it. It is better to agree to disagree and free one another for future relationships that will work better.
KEEP AWAY FROM SEX TILL AFTER MARRIAGE
Sex was borne out of marriage. God did not intend for sex to be an indulgence. It was serious business meant for married people. It is not part of the friendship building process. No matter how close a couple gets before marriage, sex should not be part of the picture. Unfortunately, that is not the case, even for men and women of faith. It is not surprising that the marriage statistics are so alarming when people treat the issue of sex so casually.
Sex started with God. It was His idea. ‘God put the Man into a deep sleep. As he slept he removed one of his ribs and replaced it with flesh. God then used the rib that He had taken from the Man to make Woman and presented her to the Man. The Man said, “Finally! Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh! Name her Woman for she was made from Man.” Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife. They become one flesh. The two of them, the Man and his Wife, were naked, but they felt no shame’ (The Message Bible, Genesis 2:21-23). By that pronouncement the institution of marriage was born.
When the bible says ”one flesh”, what does it mean? Paul tries to explain it, ‘There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much a spiritual mystery as a physical fact. As written in scripture, ‘the two become one’. Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever-the kind of sex that can never ‘become one’ (The Message Bible 1 Corinthians 6:16). The Bible compares purely sexual relationship to that which a man has with his wife. It includes sex but is not based only on sex.
One could conclude that ‘one flesh’ is expressed in sex, but is not limited to sex. Sex is only an expression of a higher thing-their union in marriage, which is a spiritual one fashioned after the union of Christ and the Church. However, in the soul realm they are two separate people. But as they keep living in the reality of their spiritual union, their souls begin to knit together and their oneness in the spirit begins to manifest in the soul realm. The Sex act facilitates the process. Sex helps to bring their spiritual union to more reality. They act and think more alike. Whatever they agree on must happen. So ‘one flesh’ means a knitting together of souls that have already been knit together in the spirit by marriage.
When sex takes place before the spiritual union of marriage, the souls begin to knit together but there is no spiritual basis for this knitting together. Confusion sets in and where there is confusion there is every evil work. It opens up the people to all kinds of negative and wicked spiritual intelligences that now find expression in the lives of the people involved. It is a known fact that sexually promiscuous communities have more cases of violence and death in them. God’s hands are tied because His laws are being violated.
Because sex before or outside of marriage has become the norm, most dating couples start their relationship with sex. When they decide to date, they seal it with sex. That is not the plan of God. When the friendship cycle starts with sex, it becomes difficult to really know one another and get comfortable. There is a lot of insecurity, pretense and deception. Most of it is not intentional, but that is the way it works out. As long as a couple is indulging in sex, their vision of each other is colored.
Once again Paul puts it like this, ‘ In sexual sin, we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love for ‘becoming one’ with one another’ (The Message Bible 1 Corinthians 6:18). When couples get into sex before marriage, they sin against themselves. It is the height of foolishness, because Ephesians 5:29 says, ‘No one abuses his own body does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That is how Christ treats us, since we are part of His body’.
Having sex without marriage amounts to affliction and not pleasure. Whatever delight they enjoy is so minimal compared to the pain and evil unleashed by the enemy. He uses sexual sin to put people in all sorts of chains that transcend generations. They suffer loss in areas of their lives that truly matter to them beyond the sex act, both the men and the women. Then ultimately, they deny themselves the ability to build a true and Godly friendship that can stand the test of time.
Sex before marriage is one of the major reasons, marriages end in divorce. Many couples end up married, who should have broken up while dating. They were knit together in what could be called ‘soul ties’, to make the call because they are sexually involved. It is more difficult to walk away when there is sexual involvement, especially for the women. They hold on even when they have discovered things that will cause problems later. I don’t believe that is how God planned it. Doing things His way is what guarantees success, particularly in marriage.
APPRECIATE THE ROLES YOU ARE ABOUT TO GET INTO
As much as becoming friends is very fundamental, understanding what one is getting into is even more important. Understanding what is expected of each party is very crucial. The roles are clearly defined in the Bible for both parties- the husband and wife. Every couple must do whatever it takes to understand and imbibe what the Bible says about each role.
As a husband, a man is expected to love his wife like Christ loves the Church. As a wife, a woman is expected to submit to her husband. The Bible puts it like this, ‘Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another. Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands. Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church-a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor-since they’re already “one” in marriage.
No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband’ (The Message Bible Ephesians 5: 21-33).
Most people of faith know these verses but are not able to translate them in their personal experience in marriage. Why is that so? They did not to understand what God meant. People need to read, meditate, ask questions and pray about their roles in marriage. If they place priority on it, they would. At the back of most couples’ minds’ is the way of escape if things don’t work out-divorce. That is why they don’t give it what it takes. They never know ahead of time how traumatic the experience can be, until they get there.
That is why it is very important to understand exactly God expects, so everyone can align themselves to His methods. It is a rude shock to discover after marriage. It is much more difficult to adjust then. It is important to understand that for the man, God has given him a gift to cherish for the rest of his life. He should not let Him down. She is His daughter and should be handled her with care. For the woman, there are things about him that will come to light as they get along in marriage, no matter how close they are. Some of them he does not know at the point of getting married. When they come up, submitting to and flowing with him, is her way out of the tunnel.
I really think marriage is a great idea-the way God planned it. But I see the pain, something He intended to be a gift, can bring into people’s lives. It need not be so, if people embark on the journey with enough preparation and insight, they would be lot happier for it. That is what I believe these steps would help them to do. I see them in most of the successful relationships I have come across with very few exceptions. Even when there is crisis, they are able to weather fierce storms. That is my hope and expectation for every intending couple as they put these into practice. Ck