Take control of your dating life
An explosive world of pain and passion! The incredible highs of meeting someone who is attractive, engaging and seems to be interested – and the dreadful lows of hurtful arguments, unanswered phone calls and perhaps most insulting of all – being ghosted. Is there any way we can protect ourselves from the heartache - and even perhaps the elation too – which can so easily distract us from other parts of our lives we could be focusing on?
As someone who has been counselling people in relationships for many years, and indeed being in a relationship myself, I believe that there are some strategies we can adopt that can help to keep control of our lives so that our dating life is safe and healthy.
Not too much, too fast
You meet someone you are very attracted to – they have everything you have wanted, looks, personality, charm, even money perhaps – they could be your dream date and you haven't dated for a while, and guess what? They feel the same way about you. So what do you want to do? Spend all your spare time with them of course!
So there are a lot of really intense feelings going on and two people are spending a lot of time together; other friends and activities seem to be suspended. Everything else becomes background and this is the only thing that matters. But is it? The problem with this is that you can make decisions very quickly that you can come to regret. Everything is going very fast. Perhaps the couple decide to get married really quickly or move in together - or make some other life changing activity - perhaps even having a child. This can seem romantic and passionate at the time, but in the long term can lead to huge pain and sometimes even a lifetime of consequences.
Time is your friend
Basically, time is seen as the enemy to some couples who want to go straight to the big events - and yet relationships will not tolerate any kind of short cuts. We only really "know" a person through time. Relationships need to develop and this is time consuming and sometimes even very personally sacrificial.
Time is needed to:
- Enter each other's worlds.
- Develop good communication.
- Meet each other's friends.
- Get to know what is important to the other person.
- Learn how to deal with conflict management and problems.
- Take spaces from the relationship to be with others and to be alone.
But people avoid spending time because
- They aren't secure away from the person and don't really trust them.
- Are very lonely and want the other person to fill the gap.
- Need the relationship to feel complete.
Warning signs in a relationship: yellow and red lights
In their book “Boundaries In Dating”, Cloud and Townsend talk about red lights and yellow lights, and why we need to be aware of these when we are dating.
All of us have imperfections - things that we need to work on - and so will our dates. These are "yellow lights" and will include things like being messy, being late or perhaps being a bit moody. We will never find anyone who is totally sorted. These are things in relationships (any relationships) we will come across and have to deal with. If you are with a healthy mate and you confront them and talk about their lateness or messiness or whatever - they should recognize or own what you say, or at least begin to look at it.
However, there are other imperfections that are not minor but major, and these are "red lights". When you see a red light in your partner, you need to stop and seriously consider whether the relationship is worth carrying on with.
Red Lights mean danger and are major character flaws, and include cheating, controlling behaviour, addictive problems - drink or drugs - possessiveness, jealousy, negating any damage they are doing to you or others. These all mean STOP!
If you see any of these start to emerge in your date then (if you really really want to continue with the relationship):
1. Confront them.
2. Watch their response - do they own it?
3. See if there is any change or search for change – e.g counselling, joining AA.
4. Only begin to restore the relationship when you see problem fading.
You need to walk away from this relationship if you don't see any of the above happening. Learn the difference between human imperfections we all have and damaging character problems you should not tolerate in a dating relationship.
Keep your new partner close – but keep your friends closer
If you are dating, don't even attempt to start dating when you have no friends around you! For example, if you have just moved into a new town or started a course at a new college. Always date when you are in a community and have established some of your own personal life and contacts. Dating without a support system leaves you extremely vulnerable.
Once you have started a relationship, it is always wise to introduce your new partner to your friends. Also, you need to meet his or her friends – if he or she has no friends that is not a good sign – they could become very dependent on you.
- Be open to everything your friends have to say, even if you don't like it.
- Keep in close touch with all your friends when you are dating.
- Don’t be swept out of your own life, hobbies and interests by your new date.
- If you don't introduce your date to your friends - ask yourself why.
Going out in a group of friends before you make any commitments is a good plan as there is less pressure and it is good to see if you can fit into each other’s lives. There have to be some differences but if you are close to your friends and your new date doesn’t like them - that is going to be a big area of conflict. You need to think carefully before proceeding further. If you sense your relationship is in trouble don’t keep it to yourself – get support.
Dating won’t cure loneliness
People think a relationship will be a cure for personal loneliness, but the cure for loneliness is creating a community around us of friendship and support. Lonely people often get terribly devastated investing so so much in a dating relationship because the rest of their life is empty. Perhaps the real problems lie for them not in dating but in sustaining friendships. So it may not be the time to date if you don't have good friends. Focus on building your friendships first and then dating can come later, when you are secure in your friendships.
One step at a time
Remember a relationship is like a pack of cards - you give one away at a time not the whole deck in the first meeting. Take your time - treat time as your friend, not your enemy, and you will build a strong foundation for your relationship on trust, intimacy and shared experiences rather than a shaky one built on desperation and an escape from inner loneliness.
Coming from a place of being in community and having good friends is a strong healthy place to start dating. Remember, the healthier you are the healthier the people you let into your life will be – and the more satisfying and happy your dating will be!
Source: 'Boundaries In Dating' by Henry Cloud and John Townsend (published by Zondervan).