Dating can often be confusing, heart-breaking, and sometimes scary. So, how do we date with confidence and purpose? What are the keys to building a healthy, lasting, Christ-centerted relationship? Let’s begin by looking at these three main points:
- Laying the foundation for a healthy relationship – building your house on rock
- God’s purpose for dating – blueprints found in Scripture & the Church
- Do’s and Don’ts in Building a Christ-centered relationship – the building process
As we discuss building a healthy, Christ-centered relationship we have to look to Christ himself. Christ gives us a framework, a model, of how to form ourselves, our faith, and our relationships. We can look at Christ’s call for us to build our faith and bring this foundation into our most important relationships. So what does Christ say about building a strong foundation of faith?
Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the houses. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.” When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. – Matthew 7: 24-27
Christ’s words are our framework for our faith and also how we love and live in relationship with others.
Being Single – Laying a Foundation on Rock
Although many have mixed emotions about being single, this time is a gift to be able to set your foundation on rock. Being single is time to encounter God and to see who you are in His eyes. It is also an amazing opportunity for self-reflection and spiritual growth. Young adults especially can fall into a trap of fear or finding the “one”, but really are missing the opportunity to encounter the One, our Father. When we don’t know our creator, ourselves, and what we are made for, things become complicated quickly, and dating and relationships can become a fearful and anxiety-provoking experience.
Being single means having the opportunity to build the right foundation with healthy habits and real virtue while we discern God’s call. We begin to do this by seriously looking at ourselves. To know ourselves we must look at where we are, where we are coming from, and where we want to go. Why do we do the things we do? This question is the beginning to a process of having a relationship with ourselves, to make the unconscious conscious. It is often a strange concept to people, what does it mean to have a relationship with yourself? If we look around, we can see that often people don’t even like themselves. It is difficult to love others in a healthy way when we don’t even love ourselves! We often don’t like to be alone with our thoughts, and silence can become difficult or avoided at all costs. Yet, God works in silence to reveal his plan for us. Having a relationship with yourself means understanding your own values, interests, ideas and what is important to you. Understanding and examining these ideals and wants helps us in making healthier and better decisions. Sadly, people run from themselves. It is so clear to see the use of substances, alcohol, and anything else under the sun that people will use as an escape rather than look at who they are, their past trauma, their beliefs, and goals.
Being single is great time for building a strong prayer life and striving to live a life of virtue. This self-reflection entails putting our expectations, definitions of love, marriage, and even ourselves into check and building healthy expectations, habits, and virtues. This is no easy task, and as Catholic speaker Chris Stefanick says “your mind is like a bad neighborhood, don’t go in it alone”, individual and family therapy can be a priceless resource. This time of building a relationship with yourself is important because while pursuing a relationship things will surface. Emotional “baggage” is a thing and will surface in dating and serious relationships. We all have it. This could be trauma and issues from past relationship. Misconceptions of love/relationships will be brought up and challenged while dating and it is good to ask “how do my views compare to Christ’s plan for us? In working with perpetrators of domestic violence, I see clearly how early family patterns and behaviors shape adult expectations and behaviors in relationships. Unhealthy self-image will surface in dating. Lastly, addictions & struggles with chastity will eventually come out. Don’t hide it, don’t be ashamed of it. There is always hope and instead of running from our sin and shame it is best to run to our parish communities, support groups, therapy, and friends to have support and accountability along the way. Chastity is a struggle, but it is worth it. Building a foundation on virtue, authentic love, is what we are made for and is the best beginning to a healthy relationship. If you struggle with chastity or addiction, have hope and don’t go it alone.
God’s Plan for Relationships – The Blue Prints
In building the foundation we also have to begin to look at the blue prints. To truly see God’s plan for relationships and marriage we can turn to Scripture and the Church. Christ and his Church show us what healthy relationships are – what authentic love is. Our faith, Scripture, and the Church tell us a story of our Father pursuing us in an epic love story. From the beginning God makes clear the purpose of marriage, and ultimately dating. God made us male and female, and He made us very good. Through marriage, the end goal of dating, we share in being co-creators with God. As Catholics, the Holy Mass is a wedding feast where we commune with God. We kneel to him as a proposal of our love in genuflection, we walk up the isle to the bridegroom as his bride the Church and become one. Scripture and the writings of the Saints (like St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body) are an overwhelming resource for understanding and witnessing true authentic and healthy love. Our faith echoes the endless pursuit of a lover and beloved and the real love poured out. Through the lens of faith, dating is an exciting, joyous thing and it reflects God. Ephesians Chapter 5 is one of my favorite verses that reflects God’s blue print for love, and it is often so misunderstood.
“Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So [also] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave [his] father and [his] mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church. In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband.– Ephesians 5: 21-33
Was St. Paul a sexist? No. St. Paul gives us the model for God’s plan. He even describes that he speaks of all these things in reference to Christ and the church. Subordination, and also “sub” “mission”, being under the same goal, means wives are called to be under the same mission as their husband. That mission is to love and serve God with everything and to walk with the other towards heaven, sainthood. This mutual mission, ultimately begins in dating. Women are called to be subordinate in living like Christ. While to many the word “subordinate” is a demeaning label, we also must realize that the real task is on the men. St. Paul says husbands, love your wife as Christ loves the Church. How did Christ love the Church? He died for it. St. Paul shows us the true love of Christ that we are all called to imitate. Each person called to marriage is called to imitate Christ in dying to themselves for their beloved.
While sometimes we get lost in the words, St. Paul’s description creates clear examples of how we can continue to build healthy relationships. Whether single, dating, or already engaged, we can practice self-giving acts and grow in prayer and virtue. Catholic chastity speaker Jason Evert talks about habits as simple as men opening the door for their dates, committing to stay off of cell phones, and putting their back to televisions while out to dinner. In my own marriage I have seen that the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony has transformed the smallest chores of making the bed, doing laundry, cooking, and going to bed on time a grace-filled gift to my wife in helping her lead and live a healthy life. We can reflect St. Paul’s words in looking to constantly will the best for those we care about and practice the virtues while dating.
Christ is calling us all to true, authentic love. Within this analogy of building a house on rock, we have discussed the foundation, looked briefly on the blue prints and now can take a look at how to build the house.
Do’s and Don’ts – How to Build a Christ-centered Relationship
This list is by no means exclusive and I am sure we can come up with many more. I have compiled these “do’s and don’ts” from personal experiences in my life, friends, and clients in therapy.
- Don’t build a relationship on sparks alone. Research shows that while opposites attract, similarities last. We want to find someone who shares our values and faith to have a solid Christ-centered relationship.
- Don’t wait too long to discuss your values, faith, and goals. If you are dating someone make sure to talk about what is important to you. Don’t be afraid to share your values. Discussing them early on can help you decide if these values are shared. While now a days the term is “emotional chastitiy”, it is also important to be prudent in not emotionally “dumping” on the other person. We can understand this more by praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and for the virtue of prudence.
- Don’t put the opposite sex on a pedestal. It’s simple, a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, won’t make you happy. God alone is our source of true peace and joy. Marriage will not suddenly fulfill us, which leads us to the next one.
- Don’t look at marriage as an end – marriage is the beginning. Marriage is helping your spouse get to heaven and is meant to last a life time. Through Marriage you become a living Sacrament to the world as a testimony of God’s love. We can begin to practice this by tackling the little things in building healthy habits and a strong prayer life.
- Don’t settle. If someone doesn’t share your values, respect your body, and your faith, move on. Bringing us to the next one.
- Don’t try to fix someone. Dating is not for trying to change someone else into your ideal partner. You cannot change anyone – only they can decide to change. While we can help and encourage others to build healthy habits, goals, etc., we can’t make them make the change. They have to commit to change themselves. Jesus is their savior, not you!
- Don’t be afraid to date! Embrace rejection, it is a part of life. If you have a healthy relationship with yourself, a simple no won’t destroy you – it can even help in pursuing the person God is truly calling you to marry. Do not be afraid!
- Do focus and begin with friendship. If you aren’t friends with someone why would you want to marry them? Focus on being friends with them and discover similarities, differences, and their values. Focus on getting to know the person, not just looking for “spouse-material”.
- Do be creative. (I will pick on guys here) Men be chivalrous, open doors, sit with distractions to your back, and don’t always do the same thing! If your dates consist of burgers and a movie every week, go to someplace to talk. Know your date’s interests and have fun! Go find things you both enjoy. Mix it up with the dates!
- Do DTR. I have been in trouble saying this one to my friends, but after a handful of dates a conversation needs to be had about where the relationship is going. Both people need to define their intentions and be honest about whether or not there is a future. If the answer is “no” be honest and loving. True strength is in being able to have the hard conversations, being vulnerable, and being real. If the answer is yes, great! But if the answer is no, be honest and don’t lead the other person on or be lead on.
- Do pray for and with each other. Invite God into your dates and your relationship. Women pray for men, they are struggling! Men pray for women, they are struggling!
- Do Avoid the Horsemen of the Apocalypse at all Costs. Dr. John Gottman coined the “4 horsemen of the apocalypse” for marriage. Gottman can meet and work with a couple and predict divorce within a 90% accuracy. The 4 Horsemen are 1)Criticism – attacking another’s character (opposite is use of ‘I –Statements’ during conflict). 2) Contempt – sarcasm, name-calling, hostile humor (the greatest predictor failure – opposite is mutual respect and attitude of appreciation). 3) Defensiveness – self-protection, playing the victim (opposite is taking accountability where you can) and 4) Stone walling – withdrawing without resolving (opposite is taking time-outs and utilizing healthy communication skills). Gottman’s horsemen are something to look for within your own expectations, communication, and conflict resolution skills. We all do these things at some point but we can practice the healthy, loving alternatives.
- Do plan with marriage in mind. Marriage really is under attack and needs to be taken seriously. 50% of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. Catholics are no exception. Plan for marriage and take the necessary steps to have a healthy marriage. This involves owning your stuff and seeking help where necessary. Don’t be ashamed and don’t be too prideful either. If you are already dating someone and in a serious relationship, look for engagement programs, Engaged Encounter Retreats, Couple Bible Studies and start looking into Natural Family Planning!
In beginning to build a Christ-centered relationship we need to: lay the foundation on rock by taking a good look at ourselves, look seriously at God’s blueprints, purpose and plan for dating, and finally, know the do’s and don’ts in dating with purpose. While marriage is no lite task, it is an amazingly beautiful thing. Through my own marriage I have seen God’s love through my wife in being an amazing source of support, love, and hope. Through marriage I am able to walk with my best friend to our Father as we share the same mission and call through our faith in Christ. It is a process of continuous learning, growth, and sanctification. It is beautiful. To end, here is a prayer attributed to St. Anthony of Padua that I found extremely helpful while I was single and discerning God’s plan for my life. I hope you read it, believe it, and be satisfied.
Everyone longs to give themselves completely to someone,
To have a deep soul relationship with another,
To be loved thoroughly and exclusively.
But God, to a Christian, says,
”No, not until you are satisfied, fulfilled and content
With being loved by Me alone,
With giving yourself totally and unreservedly to Me,
With having an intensely personal and unique relationship
With Me alone.
Discovering that only in Me is your satisfaction to be found,
Will you be capable of the perfect human relationship
That I have planned for you.
You will never be united with another until you are united
With Me alone,
Exclusive of anyone or anything else,
Exclusive of any other desires or longings.
I want you to stop planning,
And allow Me to give you the most thrilling plan existing,
One that you cannot imagine.
Please allow Me to bring it to you.
You just keep watching Me, expecting the greatest things.
Keep experiencing the satisfaction that I Am.
Keep listening and learning the things I tell you.
You just wait.
Don’t be anxious.
Don’t look at the things you think you want;
You just keep looking off and away up to Me,
Or you’ll miss what I want to show you.
And then when you are ready,
I’ll surprise you with a love far more wonderful than any
You could dream of.
You see, until you are ready and until
The one I have for you is ready
(I am working even at this moment to have you both ready at the same time),
Until you are both satisfied exclusively with Me
And the life I prepared for you,
You won’t be able to experience the love that
Exemplified your relationship with Me.
And this is the perfect love.
And dear one, I want you to have this most wonderful love,
I want you to see in the flesh a picture of your
Relationship with Me,
And to enjoy materially and concretely
The everlasting union of beauty, perfection and love
That I offer you with Myself.
Know that I love utterly.
I Am God.
Believe it and be satisfied.
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