[This post is based on my new Boycrazy seminar.]
RELATIONSHIP WARNING SIGNS:
How to know if your relationship is healthy
That’s something I’ve wondered many times over the years. Funny how I grew up hearing all the right lessons and reading all the right books, yet still ended up in a very unhealthy relationship, which led to unhealthy beliefs and expectations of relationships.
These are a few things I’ve learned through my own mistakes, as well as through studying the Scriptures.
I encourage you to go over these with a close, honest friend or trustworthy adult. Especially when we are in a relationship, sometimes another person can see things we can’t see when blinded by the brilliance love.
– – – – – – –
#1: UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
Warning Sign: He wants you to be someone else.
Healthy Sign: He helps you become the person God made you to be.
Okay, let me explain. We live in a culture that’s all about “being me.” That’s good to some extent, but when taken to an extreme it looks something like this: “I should never have to be flexible, never have to lay down my life for someone else. I should get my own way every time, be who I want to be, and never change.”
That’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about being the person God made you to be, which is more a work in progress than a destination. “Being you” is like being a green piece of playdough that is continually being rolled and prodded, shaped into the desired creation of its Maker.
If you’re in a relationship, you’ll have to “give in” on certain points; it’s unhealthy to try to win every battle. However, your significant other should not try to change the core of who you are and what you believe (i.e. faith, values, basic personality). Plus, he should love you as you are, even as you keep moving forward on the journey to who God wants you to be.
Also, a quick note here: Don’t expect a guy to become who you want him to be after you get married. From what I’ve heard, that typically won’t happen. Marry him for who he is, not for his potential.
#2: DISRESPECTFUL PHYSICALLY
Warning Sign: He pushes you to go too far physically.
Healthy Sign: He protects and respects your body.
When you get into a relationship, talk your physical relationship. Figure out what’s okay to do physically in a relationship and what’s not okay. I can’t tell you specific boundaries, as everyone is convicted about different things (i.e. some don’t kiss until their wedding day and others do), so you need to go with your conscience. However, I will tell you to study the Scripture, talk with parents and mentors, and listen to your conscience as you set these boundaries. (If you want some more ideas of what may or may not be “too far” for you, check out my mentor Pastor Mark DuPre’s article here.)
When I was dating my first boyfriend, one night as we were making out I felt in my heart that we were going to far. I just knew we shouldn’t be doing what we were doing. When I told my boyfriend that, he said, “Then we should just break up.” For a long time I expected every guy to treat me that way.
Years later I dated a guy who sat down with me and set clear boundaries and then stuck to them — even when I didn’t want to. One day he set me down and told me, “Tiffany, I feel like you’re trying to prove to me that you’re sexy enough. But you have nothing to prove! I like you for who you are, and I want to respect and treat you like a daughter of the King. I need you to help me do that.”
He exists!! Yes girls, guys really do exist who will protect and respect your body, even taking the lead in helping you both stay pure physically! So if he’s pushy, don’t put up with it; it’s a danger sign.
Well for one, if he is trustworthy with your body — if he respects marriage and purity now — how much more easily can you trust him after marriage! My friend Andrea (who’s been married for a couple decades) said that one of the reasons she trusts her husband so much now now is because he respected her body while dating. He respected marriage even before he was married.
For two, staying pure physically is simply obedience to God’s word. He tells us to stay pure because our bodies are His temples (1 Cor. 6:18-20), and He says that if we love Him we’ll obey Him (John 14:15). Plain and simple, if we love God we should strive for purity.
And besides, the pain that comes from premarital sex…it’s just not worth it. I am still a virgin though I’ve done way more than I should have physically, and though I thank God He’s kept me from myself, I know from experience that even messing around without actually having sex has caused pain.
Oh! And make sure you’re helping your boyfriend stay pure too! Guys are super visually stimulated, so the way you dress (and act…and the words you do or don’t say…) has a huge impact on helping or hurting your relationship. Respect your guy by helping him respect you.
#3: TOO FLIRTY
Warning Sign: He has wandering eyes.
Healthy Sign: He guards his eyes.
Okay, here’s the thing: It’s normal for guys to notice other girls. I know, it drives me crazy too, but I’ve learned not to get too overboard crazy.
Noticing other girls really isn’t the issue; the issue is what happens next. Does he continue to check her out, make repeated eye contact with her? Does he start commenting on her body or comparing you to her? Does he flirt with her?
(What about you? How do you act toward other guys? It can hurt your boyfriend if you’re checking out other guys just as much as it can hurt you if he’s checking out other girls.)
Proverbs 5 gives advice to guys which can also apply to us girls. It says he should stay far away from an adulterous and immoral woman, actively guarding his heart and eyes by not even going near temptation. Is that how your guy responds — by fleeing temptation (Amos 5:14-15)? Or does he run toward temptation? That’s a telling sign. How do you respond to temptation? Do you see how close you can get or do you run?
Think about this from the other perspective too: I never want another girl to feel the way I have felt — with her boyfriend checking me out. To some extent, we can’t choose how guys look at us, but on the other hand, there are ways we can carry ourselves and dress that can help guys respect us.
For example, do you flirt with guys who have girlfriends? Do you dress in a such a way that it’s extremely hard for a guy to keep his mind pure? One of my goals in life is to be a woman that my brothers in Christ can look at safely, appreciating her beauty without being tempted toward lust.
Jesus once told the disciples that it’s better for a millstone by hung around a person’s neck causing them to drown, than for them to cause a little one to stumble (Matthew 18:6-7). That verse makes me flinch, but it shows how seriously Christ calls us to love one another, even by protecting each other from sin. It makes me seriously consider my actions, words, and dress. Am I tempting guys to stumble in their minds or am I helping them guard their hearts and minds?
Warning Sign: You worship the relationship.
Healthy Sign: You surrender the relationship.
I knew I had to give up my first relationship — knew it in the depths of my core, and yet I shoved it far down into my subconscious. I wanted to be with that first boyfriend, to marry him, more than I wanted to obey the Lord.
In Scripture, God continually warned people about worshiping idols. We often think of idols as old-fashioned statues, but idols are really a heart issue. Sometimes there’s no visual portion, they’re just something you choose instead of God, something you want more than Him (Deut. 6:4-5, 14-15).
I think it’s a lifelong journey for God to tear down all the idols in our lives, but it’s something to be aware of. Relationships are one of the hardest things to surrender because they’re so emotionally connected to us. But it’s important to ask:
Is this relationship an idol in your life? Are you choosing the relationship over God?
It’s normal to want the relationship, but if God asked you to give it up, would you be willing? Is the way you treat your boyfriend honoring to him and to God?
Warning Sign: He isolates you from your friends and family.
Healthy Sign: He embraces your support system.
Your significant other needs to know how healthy it is to have other people (especially trusted adults and parents) speaking into your relationship, even if he doesn’t like what they have to say. (And the same goes for you — encourage him to build and stay close with his support system as well.)
Similarly, don’t run from your support system, run to them. So many girls disappear from their support systems once they start dating their “dream guy,” and it terrifies me. That is a dangerous place to be! Proverbs 11:14 says that in a multitude of counselors there is safety. That means that when we have trusted and wise people speaking into our lives (particularly older people, with wisdom that comes from age), there is safety for us. They can call us out on issues we can’t see, hold us accountable to godly living, and support us through each season of life.
I would strongly encourage you to find mentors and trusted adults, and give them permission to speak into your life and relationships. I know I wouldn’t be who I am today without my incredible mentors.
#6: AVOIDING COMMUNICATION
Warning Sign: You avoid communication.
Healthy Sign: You improve communication.
Studies show that communication is one of the biggest factors in how good or difficult a relationship will be. Learning how to communicate is essential.
I remember wanting a boyfriend to come to my piano recital, but he had band practice. I said, “That’s okay, it’s fine,” with this tone in my voice that meant it really wasn’t fine. I hung up and said to my dad, “If he doesn’t come, we’re over!” Dad asked, “Did you tell him that?” I said, “No. He should know.” My dad shook his head, “Tiffany, guys don’t get hints. You have to tell him straight up how much it means to you that he’s there.”
Here’s what I learned: Most guys don’t get hints. So we women need to stop hinting and start being straight-up, straight-forward, and honest with the men in our lives.
Communicate about communication (psychologists call this metacommunication). Talk through your communication blunders and learn how the other person understands, processes, and responds to the things you say.
Communication is an ongoing process and takes a lot of work. It won’t always be perfect. The key is that you both are willing to put in the effort to learn how to better communicate, and to learn from past mistakes. The important part is that you both listen to each other and seek to understand what’s important to the other person.
Warning Sign: He doesn’t listen to advice.
Healthy Sign: He has a teachable spirit.
The Bible says that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). Pride is a scary state of heart, and something we all struggle with. It’s also a telling sign in relationships.
How does your boyfriend respond to feedback given by authority figures in his life (i.e. parents, mentors, teachers, pastors)? Does he respect that feedback and take it into consideration? Or does he resent the feedback and assume the person is mad at him? Is he too prideful to listen, assuming his way is always best?
A good guy wants to learn, and is open to advice. He receives feedback and correction respectfully, and seeks to grow from it (Prov. 10:17).
I love how Proverbs 12:1 puts it: “Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.” It makes me laugh and yet cuts to my core. What kind of person am I? Am I becoming a woman of God, listening to correction and letting mentors speak into my life? Or am I being…well…stupid?
Warning Sign: He is lazy.
Healthy Sign: He is a hard worker.
The Bible says that if we don’t want to work, we also shouldn’t get to eat (2 Thess. 3:10). Whoa! That’s some hard stuff to swallow! (No pun intended.)
One telling sign in a relationship is your boyfriend’s attitude toward work. Does he sit around all day, every day, doing nothing? It’s good to know how to rest, but if that is all he does, watch out! A guy with character is hard-working and responsible — yes, even with his finances and time.
Does he have a job (if he’s at that age)? Or, if he’s in school, does he apply himself diligently to his studies? Does he show responsibility at home and at work? Is he willing to help out around his house? Is he willing to go out of his way to serve someone else, even when he’s tired or doesn’t feel like it?
#9: HALF-HEARTED ATTITUDE
Warning Sign: One or both of you are half-hearted about the relationship.
Healthy Sign: You are both invested in the relationship.
There are times in a relationship when one person cares more than the other person; that’s normal. But do you and your boyfriend both want to be together? How invested are each of you?
There are different levels of investment. When you first start dating, just getting to know each other, it’s healthy to not be as invested. But as time goes on, if you are not both invested in the relationship, if you’re not on the same page as far as your commitment goes, that’s a big warning sign.
Guys show this differently than girls, but you want to make sure you’re dating someone who really wants to date and pursue you.
In the same way, how invested are you? Are you only with the person because you think you should be, or because you’re afraid to be alone? Or are you with him because you want to be?
My friend Joel once asked me a life-changing question: “Are you dating this guy because you’re afraid no one will ever love you again? Because God has called us to walk by faith, not by fear.“
Warning Sign: You are always looking for extra-special moments (or physical/sexual interaction) to peek your interest.
Healthy Sign: You enjoy everyday moments spent together.
It’s easy to like someone when the sparks are flying or you’re in emotionally-charged situations. I mean, come on, if the guy’s playing with his band up on stage who DOESN’T want to be with him?? Plus, it’s kind of fun when everyone’s like, “YOU get to date HIM?” But that feeling doesn’t last. I’ve dated the band boy, and sometimes (even at his concerts) it was miserable. And what if things change and he’s no longer in a band?
In the simple everyday moments, do you still like him? Or do you lose interest?
The same goes for him: Does he enjoy time with you without kissing? without fireworks? without anything extra-special? Are there things you enjoy doing together that don’t involve physical intimacy — things like hobbies, concerts, service projects, etc.?
It’s good to do fun things together so you keep challenging and encouraging each other to grow as people, but there also needs to be this enjoyment or contentment with the relationship.
The best advice I’ve ever received about boys was from my Aunt Joani who said, “If you don’t enjoy everyday moments with a guy, don’t marry him.” I guess I was so busy thinking about how cool, suave, and sophisticated guys seemed that I hadn’t stopped to see if I enjoyed everyday moments with them.
– – – – – – –
I’d encourage you to read through these signs again, this time looking at the reverse side of the coin. All these warning signs go two ways and can apply to guys or girls. Let’s look at our own lives and ask God to help us see past the bias that can blind us from seeing the sin in our own lives (Matthew 7:3). As much as it’s important for us to date godly men, it’s just as important for us to become godly women.
May God bless you as you seek Him and His glory in all areas of your life! Have anything else you’d add to these warning signs? Give us a shout out in the comment section below; we’d love to hear from you!