For all of the single people out there here are a few bullet points for how to choose a mate wisely. (If anyone would like a fuller description of any of these points in a longer post, please let me know in the comments section below)
- Slow down – too many people date for too short of a time period. Slow down. Date your partner for at least 18-24 months BEFORE you decide to get engaged. I once had a woman come into my office for marriage therapy who had dated her husband for only 24 hours prior to marrying him. This is the epitome of “jumping in too quickly.” Most people who come in with marital problems, though, tell me that they dated for 12 months or less and were engaged shortly thereafter. On average, most of the couples who see me for marriage therapy report that 12-18 months is the time period that elapsed for them between the time they were introduced to the time they were married. And many of those couples report feeling like, in hindsight, that this was not enough time to get to know each other and to make an “informed decision.” Remember, most people can fake who they are for at least 6-12 months. Slow down and do your due diligence before you hire them for the job of husband/wife.
- Make a list – many things are negotiable in a relationship, but you need a list of the qualities or characteristics that are non-negotiable for you to have in a mate. LIVE by this list when dating. Do not go out with anyone who does not meet, or who breaks, the non-negotiables. For instance, it may not matter to you if your partner speaks a foreign language, but it may be non-negotiable for you to discover that they have a completely opposite stance on abortion from you, or that they have a history of cheating, or that they spend money impulsively.
- Don’t be afraid of conflict – many people stick their head in the sand when dating. They refuse to see the negative traits about their partner and refuse to show the negative sides of themselves as well. I get it. Everyone wants to make a good impression. But too much of this fakeness leads to a dating relationship that mirrors the relationship one has with a used car salesman. Be real. Allow conflict to occur. If you are going to spend the rest of your life with this person, you are going to argue. Allow yourself to see what their nasty side looks like, and let them see yours as well. This is not a bad thing. It may allow you to rule out someone you don’t need to be with. Or it may show you how to navigate through a situation with this person. Either way, you win.
- Be straightforward – Don’t beat around the bush. Use direct communication. As Christ said, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Anything else is from the devil.” This doesn’t mean you need to be hurtful, but it does mean you should never obscure or hide from the truth. Love your partner so much that you are willing to both give and receive the truth that needs to be heard.
- Explicitly establish the unwritten rules early in the relationship – Unwritten rules exist in every relationship. They determine how we handle ourselves in every aspect of our marriage, including how we argue, how we solve problems together, how we parent, how we make love, and even where/how we get our news. But few of us take the time to explicitly define these unwritten rules with our partner. Rather, we do it implicitly, nonverbally, through assumptions and deductive reasoning. This is a tricky way to go into a lifelong commitment and it often leads to confusion, arguing, feeling hurt, misunderstood, etc. Use direct communication (say what you mean and mean what you say) when outlining your expectations for the relationship. If your boyfriend/girlfriend consistently refuses to respect your boundaries, dump them. Remember, once could be an accident, twice could be coincidence, but three times or more is a pattern. And you do not need to be with someone who has the pattern of refusing to play by the rules, especially when those rules have been explicitly defined.
- Let sex be the dessert, not the main course – I know this may sound crazy, but once sex is introduced you may not know if you feel what you feel because of how good they are in bed, the effect of pheromones and neurochemicals, or because of who they are as a person. Take the relationship slow. First, develop a friendship. This is the foundation of a strong marriage and if you have this relationship before you have anything else, it will provide a safe place to retreat to in your marriage when times get tough. Think about it. When you get laid off from work, or a child dies, or a natural disaster wipes out your worldly possessions, you don’t want your lover. You want your best friend. Develop that friendship with your partner before you do anything else. Let the roots go deep into the good soil of friendship. Then, if things continue going well, you can transition into romance, followed by getting to know them on a spiritual level. Then, once respect for all aspects of their self has been developed outside of the physical relationship, we can discuss the physical part. Remember, ninety-nine percent of marriage is spent outside of the marital bedroom. You will be spending more time NOT doing it, than you will doing it. Thus, you need to fall in love with who they are more than what they can do for you.
- Remember, love is a choice, not a feeling — If you want to maintain a lifelong love for someone, you will quickly realize that you cannot do so by riding a 50 year high of oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. The neurochemical highs of love will quickly dissipate, and you will have to choose to behave in certain ways towards your spouse, if you want love to remain and to grow between you. Sometimes these choices are difficult, such as forgiveness. Sometimes they challenge us to overcome our own issues, and sometimes they force us to set/maintain/respect boundaries that are necessary, but painful, to enforce. Loving someone is difficult, but possible. 1st Corinthians 13:4-7 outlines it this way:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
All of these descriptions are behaviors that we choose to do for the sake of our loved one. They are not feelings we have, nor are they motivated by feelings we have. They are the intentional, conscious acts a lover makes for his beloved. And since love is always a choice, remember, your job is to always choose wisely.