What are relationships about? What did God intend or think about when giving us relationships? God’s intent for relationships is to reveal how He would like to relate with His people and to conform His people into His image. A healthy relationship should promote each person to grow into God’s likeness. Any relationship that undermines God’s attributes is dangerous. If a relationship encourages you to be less like Christ, it maybe wise to evaluate if you should be in the relationship. Respect flows out of being Christ-like in our relationship. A relationship lacking respect is not flowing from God and is not healthy.
What does it mean to be Christ-like? This can be a very abstract concept. To be “like” Christ alludes to striving to uphold and exhibit the characteristics of Christ. The fruit of the Spirit is a good example of being Christ-like and allowing the Holy Spirit to lead toward this goal. Galatians 5:22-23 states “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” (NLT) Allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to us and through us is the only way through which we can become Christ-like.
Healthy relationships are not exploitive. If you are in a relationship with someone who is healthy, they will not exploit you or the relationship for their benefit. On the other hand, you are never going to be in a healthy relationship with a man until you can be healthy without a man (Cloud & Townsend, 1999). If you do not work on yourself or your issues, you will repel healthy men and may even attract those who are unwilling to work on their own issues. Therefore, you need to work on yourself before you are able to be in a healthy relationship.
At the heart of relationship problems are usually freedom and responsibility (Cloud & Townsend, 2000). Those who have freedom make choices motivated by their values, it is the right thing to do, rather than motivated by guilt or fear (Cloud & Townsend, 2000). Responsibility is acknowledging your part in the relationship and not allowing unhealthy or hurtful actions into the relationship. “Freedom and responsibility create a safe and secure environment for a couple to love, trust, and explore, and deepen their experience of each other” (Cloud & Townsend, 2000, p. 27).
We can create a safe and secure environment for a couple to love by following God’s example of how to love. Love can be defined as recognizing a person’s value being made in the image of God and treating them in accordance with this value. Love is different from attraction in that it is not love if we do not respect the other person. There are times where you may be more attracted to characteristics of a person rather than truly being in love with this person. Your relationship history can greatly impact this attraction. For example, if your last boyfriend never complemented you, it may lead you to be very attracted to someone who makes sure to compliment you. You can tell love from attraction in that you respect the person and care about him despite his faults. He should also treat you with respect and show you love no matter the circumstances. A man who loves you and is not just attracted to you will introduce you to others as his significant other, respect your physical boundaries, and encourage you to better yourself spiritually.
1 John 4:18-19 states “Such love has no fear, because, perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced His perfect love. We love each other because He loved us first.” (NLT) In our relationship with others we need to love one another with this perfect love that expels fear. Of course, only God is perfect, but we can create a loving relationship where fear is discussed and dealt with rather than ignored and allowed to grow. When y
ou treat your significant other with the value God has for him, this is when you can truly expel fear.
Therefore, relationships are more about conforming to God’s image and treating the other person with the value God has for him. Purity and holiness in the relationship are also based more on your relationship with God than on pleasing yourself. “When your purity is based on who you are and what you do or don’t do, it’s not true purity. .. No matter how you define your purity, if it’s based on what you do instead of what Christ has done, it’s not purity at all but a cheap imitation of purity, a human attempt to do the work of the Savior” (DeMarco & DeMarco, 2013, pp. 43-44). They use the word purity interchangeably with holiness. Therefore, purity is more about working on your relationship with God and allowing him to make you more in his likeness. We cannot truly love someone else until we truly love God (DeMarco & DeMarco, 2013). So where does our part come in? Building your relationship with God, spending time with God, and following His direction on your life leads to true holiness and purity. When you go into a relationship with the goal to please God and not yourself, this allows you to listen to God’s direction.
Most people who are in a relationship with the opposite sex want boundaries or rules for how far they can go. You should really be asking yourself: “Why am I in this relationship?” If your answer is not “to please God,” then your heart may not be pure (Demarco & Demarco, 2013). As discussed earlier, the purpose of relationships is to make us more like God. Therefore, your purpose for any relationship should be to please God. Also, God did not create the physical and emotional pleasures in a relationship to be an end in and of themselves, and certainly not to take His place. You must first love God with all of yourself before you are able to be in a healthy loving relationship with someone else. When you start a relationship with the main purpose of pleasing God, it is easier to understand what is appropriate and what is not in a relationship (Demarco & Demarco, 2013).
Boundaries are a good way to maintain freedom and responsibility in a relationship. Boundaries can be defined as a “property line” (Cloud & Townsend, 2000, p. 28). Boundaries define us and protect us; their purpose is not to control others (Cloud & Townsend, 2000). In their book Boundaries in Dating, Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend (2000) state “boundaries protect and define your love, your emotions, your values, your behaviors, and your attitudes” (p. 30). More simply stated, boundaries are about you having power over what you will do. It was never God’s intention for us to be controlled or coerced into doing something that was not pleasing to Him or harmful to us in order to be “nice” to someone. Boundaries can be a way to protect yourself when you feel you are being pushed to do something that is not called by God. Boundaries are supposed to helpful to you, but also healthy for the other people involved. If you find yourself using boundaries to control others or to get out of activities that you simply don’t want to do, you are using them incorrectly.
For example: You are on your second date with a very attractive, intelligent, and charming man. You really enjoy spending time with him, and you want to get to know him more. When he asks for a third date, he leans in to give you a kiss and grabs your butt. You are surprised. You don’t feel comfortable with how he is touching you or maybe even his kiss. To set up a healthy boundary, you may state something like this: “Mike, I don’t feel comfortable when you touch my butt. I feel this may be too early in our relationship for this kind of touch. If we plan on another date, I would like to talk about our physical limits in our current relationship. If you do not respect these limits, then, I cannot go out with you again.”
Wow…this is a big confrontation! Can you see yourself doing this? While it may not sound exactly like this, you have to respect the directness of the statement. The point of this example is to help you understand how to communicate your boundary and what you will do if your boundaries are not respected in order to protect yourself.
Let us look at another example: Laurie just met Joe, whom she is very interested in dating, at her church. She finds out he is also interested in her, and they go out on a few dates. Laurie is a single mom with two children. She really enjoys spending time with Joe and would like to build the relationship, but she notices it is taking time away from her children and volunteering at church. Laurie sets a boundary with Joe: “Joe I really enjoy spending time with you, and I feel that you encourage my relationship with God. I would like to continue to get to know you, but I think we may be spending too much time together. I am not able to get my normal responsibilities done. I would like to set up time we can spend together once a week rather than multiple times per week. What are your thoughts on this?”
When setting up boundaries you have to be ready for either a positive or a negative response. Joe could be supportive of the idea or angry with the change. It would be important for Laurie to explain her reasoning behind the boundary and her desire to continue to get to know Joe. If Joe was receptive, Laurie would have to be consistent with one date per week in order to maintain her boundary. An added note is time is important to get to know one another in a relationship. If Joe or Laurie felt they needed more time together, they could agree to email or to talk on the phone briefly when Laurie’s children are in bed. If Joe was not receptive, Laurie and Joe would need to pray about their relationship and discuss the future of the relationship.
We can all probably agree dating is difficult especially when trying to please God in your dating relationships. Remember, God created relationships in order for us to become more Christ-like. Any relationship that undermines God cannot be healthy. A helpful way to maintain a relationship whose purpose is to please God is to use boundaries in order to define and lead the relationship. If you feel you need more information or help with this topic go to God in prayer and think about reading the list of books below.
References and Recommended Readings
Cloud, H. & Townsend, J. (1999). Boundaries in Marriage: Understanding the choices that make or break loving relationships. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Cloud, H. & Townsend, J. (2000). Boundaries in dating: How healthy choices grow healthy relationships. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Dimarco, H. & Dimarco M. (2013) True purity: More than just saying “no” to you-know-what. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell.
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