Monthly Archives

March 2017

3 Simple Rules For Building A Healthy Dating Church Culture

Church Dating Culture

I meet lots of people who say dating in their Christian community is a bit of a nightmare. They struggle with the pressure to get it right, and everyone is talking about them and who they date, and asking when the ring will appear. There are three simple things we can all do to take the pressure off, and help create a great dating culture where relationships can thrive. 

I was doing some training for a charity I volunteer for, and I bumped into someone I  recognised. After the initial panic, I’m happy to say I remembered where I knew him from. We asked the standard questions and I started to tell him about my new job.

He then proceeded to say that he was single, and he felt a lot of pressure when it came to dating. Specifically, the pressure to try and find someone and make it work.

He felt like he didn’t know how to get it right

I could see that he really meant it. There was a genuine look of struggle on his face. He said he had been praying about it a lot recently and just wanted God to sort it. He felt like he didn’t know how to get it right but desperately wanted to.

Too Much Pressure 

I meet other people who say similar things. They love their church, their church is great, but they sometimes feel the pressure to find someone and settle down.

They struggle because:

  • The feel like they need to figure it out on their own.
  • They feel the pressure to get married quickly.
  • They think they can’t make any mistakes.
  • Everyone is watching and waiting for the ring.

They’re not sure how to move from singleness to dating but there is pressure to do it soon and to do it seamlessly.

Life is rarely that easy.

3 Simple Rules 

There are lots of things that could be said here. There are lots of other pressures that could be mentioned. But I think as a Christian community, we can all do 3 simple things to help take the pressure off a bit.

Whether we’re single, dating or married, we can all be part of building a better dating culture by:

  • Not asking when are you getting married
  • Not treating all break-ups as a failure
  • Being honest about relationships struggles

Don’t Ask ‘Where’s The Ring?’ 

As soon as I started dating I was asked ‘So when will you get the ring?’  As soon as we got engaged, people asked, ‘What’s the date for the wedding?’

It was never-ending. All it communicated to me was that I hadn’t arrived yet. Dating isn’t good enough (let alone being single) so get married quick.

Everyone asking the new couple, or just assuming that because they look happy now they will be married next year, makes people feel like they need to make a decision quickly. Or live up to people’s expectations.

The pressure of the ring not only takes the fun away from dating, it makes the struggles and concerns each couple faces harder. As if they need to get it right and know the answer right now so they can settle down.

By being someone who doesn’t ask this question, we can help people dating by giving them the time and space to work on the relationship and give it good foundations. Rather than worrying about what may or may not happen in the future.

Break-up Is Not a Failure

What do you think the aim of dating is?

I strongly believe that it is time for two people to see if they enjoy each other’s company and are well suited. It gives them time to decide if they want to commit to each other long term.

Two people who date, treat each other well, are open and honest but realise they aren’t suited for whatever reason, and break up well, should be commended.

 Dating is a time to discern if a long-term future together could work

Obviously, all break-ups hurt and are never fun. However, dating is a time to discern if a long-term future together could work. If not, then a break-up is better than a marriage.

When couples in church break-up, they need support, they need people to help them think through why it happened and what they could do differently next time. But people assuming it’s bad because they were ‘such a happy couple’ makes them think they failed.

This pressure is unhelpful and unnecessary.

Being Honest 

No relationship is perfect. No relationship is easy.

People who say ‘we met and we just knew, we got married and it’s been so easy’, are creating an unhealthy expectation.

All couples argue and need to work through issues. I’m glad people look back on their relationship and say it’s been mainly positive. But there were still things that needed working through.

Making single people feel like when they date they need to be perfect and ‘just know’ creates a pressure no one can live up to.

We need to be honest about our struggles. Whether we’re single, dating or married, being honest can help others ask for support as they date. (Read I Want To Trust Them, But I’ve Been Hurt Before)

The first step is to take away the pressure people feel to be perfect and always get it right

Imagine If…

Imagine if the church was known for being the place where people dated and felt like they were supported. A place where they could get help and date in a way that was caring towards the other person and God-focused.

The first step is to take away the pressure people feel to be perfect and always get it right. By not asking about a ring, not assuming a break-up is a failure, and being honest, people can feel empowered to learn how to date well free themselves from some of the pressure. (Read 5 Rules To Follow When Talking To Someone You Like)

What other simple rules would you add? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 29/3/2017

5 Rules To Follow When Talking To Someone You Like

Finding A Date

It’s all very well talking about building good relationships and good dating tips, but if you like someone, how do you start talking to them? How do you go up to someone and start a conversation without it being totally awkward? There is no fool-proof plan, but there are things we can do to make it less daunting and something we can do. 

‘I wouldn’t know where to begin. If I like someone, I can’t just go up and talk to them. I don’t know what I’m doing’.

This is what a friend said to me recently. He’s single at the moment but one day he wants to start dating and eventually get married. But people he likes and notices, he avoids. He can’t talk to the people he wants to talk to.

Trying to start a conversation with someone we like can seem like the hardest thing

Ironic right? But probably something a lot of people can relate too.

Trying to start a conversation with someone we like can seem like the hardest thing in the world. I dreaded it when I was single.  I can’t offer you any guarantees, but I can try to make it seem less daunting, and offer us something to help us get over feeling like ‘I just can’t do this’.

What You Should Do

If you like someone you’ve know for a while, or just met for the first time, these bits of advice can help you start that chat. What you should remember is:

  • Eye contact
  • Smile
  • Make the opening line topical
  • Listen
  • Don’t lie

Eye contact 

Eye contact is really important. Obviously, don’t just look straight at them without ever blinking. That would be weird. But eye contact shows that you’re listening and you’re interested in them. This is important in any conversation, but especially this one.


It is simple science, if you smile, other people will feel more relaxed

This may seem like the last thing you want to do when you are nervous or worried. But it’s a very easy thing. Honest!

It’s simple science, if you smile, other people will feel more relaxed and feel warmer towards you. It’s really effective, and the one thing we can do easily, we just need to remember to do it!

So imagine, by this point you’re smiling and looking at them (but not staring). Then what, what do you say?

Make The Opening Line Topical

This is the thing that worries people the most. They think they need some slick or funny opening line, and try to come up with all sorts of things. From cheesy to the ridiculous.

The best and simplest thing you can do is try to make it topical

Yes first impressions are important, but I think the first line is better seen as a way to get the conversation started. Getting people to engage is more important than saying one ‘amazing’ sentence than having nothing to say afterward.

The best and simplest thing you can do is try to make it topical and avoid asking questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no.

For example, If you’re at a party, you don’t need to say ‘is heaven missing an angel?’. (Please don’t say that. Please!) Don’t say ‘Do you know Tim?’ They can simply say yes or no.

Rather, say ‘So how do you know Tim?’, or ‘How did you hear about this party?’. Topical, relevant, and gets the conversation going.

Take the pressure off yourself, it doesn’t need to be the best sentence ever spoken.


‘Ahh, but I’m panicking, what do I say next?!’ Sound familiar?

You may be able to think of two or three topical questions, but then what? Honestly, you need to just listen and try to let the conversation flow. Often people have a list of questions to ask in their head, and it becomes like an interview.

Don’t have a list of 10 questions your head

You need to listen to what the other person says. If they say they know Tim from work, there is no point saying ‘So what do you like to do in your spare time?’. It would be better to ask ‘So what do you do at the company? Do you enjoy it?’.

Just listen, don’t have a list of 10 questions in your head, listen and go with the flow.

Don’t Lie 

Please don’t lie. When we want to impress it can be very tempting to say something to get their attention or approval. But dating is about letting them see the real you, and vice versa, and deciding together if you want to commit to each other. (Read Dating Is A Marathon, Not A Sprint).

Lies will stop us building the relationships we want. Don’t get carried away in the moment.

Imagine If…

Conversations happen naturally all the time. Maybe because of the situation or your personality, these rules won’t be as helpful, but a lot of face to face chats with people we like can be made less awkward and feel achievable with this advice. Even if it’s still a bit nerve-wracking, we can make it less daunting. (Read about why we should be active in dating here)

Imagine if we remembered to do these things when we spoke to someone we liked. Eye contact, Smile, Make the opening line topical, Listen, and Don’t lie. We can then focus on trying to start something, rather than telling ourselves no to bother.

Also, when we see our friends getting worried, let’s resist the temptation to tease or say it’s easy. They’re nervous and probably need some practical steps and reassurance more than anything.

What helps (or helped) you when you speak to people you like? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 27/3/2017

Dating Is A Marathon, Not A Sprint

Healthy Relationship Rhythms

I believe dating is meant to be fun, but often it can fill people with anxiety, fear, and worry. Often people don’t want sympathy, but to know how to date, or how to date better. How to date from strength rather than weakness. Like with a marathon, good preparation can get the best results, and make it more enjoyable and less painful. 

I remember talking to a church leader who said that he had a single person in his church who was (in his words not mine) ‘desperate for a relationship’. And whenever a new single person walked in the church door, they would immediately go and ‘suss them out’.

This church leader said he felt bad for them and thought it was a shame; then asked me what I thought. So I told him.

It’s Complicated

Most of all, I think people are looking for help not sympathy

I said dating is complicated, and that there is nothing wrong with wanting a relationship. I also said that it can be hard for people who thought starting a relationship would be easier. It probably isn’t their fault they are in that position, it just hasn’t happened.

Most of all, I think people are looking for help not sympathy, but just aren’t finding it.

There aren’t just some ‘unlucky’ ones who can’t get a date and need sympathy

We aren’t born knowing how to date. Or how to build good relationships, romantic or otherwise. We all need to learn how to do this well. ( Read What Should We Do On A First Date?). This is important for two reasons.

  • There aren’t just some ‘unlucky’ ones who can’t get a date and need sympathy. We’re all learning about building better relationships and we can’t ‘pity’ some people.
  • We can all do with a bit of help, and reflect on how we are approaching and preparing for dating and relationships.

I always like to think of it like running a marathon. The more preparation we do, the more we can enjoy it and get to where we want.

(The following extract is taken from page 93-94 of The Dating Dilemma book, read the introduction for free.)

Strength Matters

Whether it’s emotional, physical or spiritual, the stronger we are, the more we can do. My fiancée’s dad decided to power walk the London Marathon a few years ago.

Now, by his own admission, he wasn’t in the best of shape beforehand. So for the year leading up to the race, he got up at the crack of dawn to run a few miles before work, changed his diet and invested in the correct sports gear too.

He managed to walk the distance in five hours twenty-six minutes and raised over £7,000 for charity! For a marathon runner his time was good, but for a walker who had never done anything like this before in his life, it was incredible!

Lacking Strength

Another friend also ran a marathon.

Although he wasn’t in the best of shape either, he decided not to train beforehand. He didn’t change his diet, attempt any mental preparation or put effort into raising money.

There are good lessons to learn from the parable of our two marathon runners

He finished the marathon – in over twelve hours – but couldn’t move the next day. It took him months to recover from the damage he sustained.

Dating someone is different. But there are good lessons to learn from the parable of our two marathon runners. Just as it’s a bad idea to run a marathon without first putting in the training, it’s a bad idea to start dating without first doing some preparation.

We All Need To Train 

We’re not talking about a fitness regime or changing our diet. But dating well requires us to work on our core strength. There are a whole load of skills, insights and godly expectations that lay strong foundations for relationships.

[It’s] a shame we can’t download them the moment we start fancying someone! But even if we could, what would be the point? If our strength comes from within us, we need to put the work in to get ourselves in shape. Failure to do this can result in us either starting relationships we’re not ready for, or starting them on weak foundations.

(Read the introduction of The Dating Dilemma book for free now, or buy the book here.)

Imagine If…

Everyone needs help and guidance from time to time

Imagine if we helped each other to prepare for healthy relationships, dating or otherwise. We reminded each other that there aren’t some people who can just run a marathon. Everyone needs help and guidance from time to time. We can all pass on help and guidance rather than sympathy. (Read I Dated My Way! (But Some Help Would Help)

Imagine if next time we’re talking to someone who is struggling with a (potential) relationship, we reminded them that we’re all on a learning curve, but also encourage them to think about what they are learning, or how they can do it differently.

Do you think people want sympathy or help in this area? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 22/3/2017

Why Wouldn’t God Tell Me Who To Marry?

Church Dating Culture, Healthy Relationship Rhythms

I believe that God wants us to ‘Make The One’ rather than ‘Find The One’. But some people are sure God spoke to them about who to marry. So they would say: maybe it’s rare but you can’t say God never tells people. They’re right, you can’t put God in a box and say He never does it. But I think rose-tinted glasses can lead to unhelpful advice for people still searching. 

I often say that I think God never promises us ‘The One’. Never in the Bible does God say he has made one perfect person for all of us, and we just need to bump into them. I think this belief can make relationships weaker. (Read ‘The One’ Myth Robs Us Of A Great Relationship)

I believe God wants us to be active. To be part of learning how to build a good relationship, and learn to work through the difficulties and put him first. (Read One Great Dating Tip From Ruth and Boaz. Really?)

Why Me? 

I got quite angry because he is basically saying not everyone is part of God’s mission

Moreover, I think this idea can lead to real damage. For example, someone once said to me that God will tell people who to marry if the couple are selected for His mission.

I got quite angry because he was basically saying not everyone is part of God’s mission or plan, only those who work for the church. If you are in the special group he will intervene in the area we all care about. Otherwise, go and figure it out.

It can leave people thinking they’ve done something wrong

I also know people who go around saying God told them who to marry, and he has been so gracious it’s been so easy. So all the married couples who are struggling, all the single people who want to get married but can’t, are basically being told they’ve done something wrong. It should be easy, and it’s their fault if it’s not.

I think this idea is so dangerous and unhelpful. It can leave people thinking they’ve done something wrong, or God isn’t helping them or not involved. I think God is involved in every step of our relationship highs and lows. Teaching and healing, and not just for some special people.

Never Ever? 

However, even if this is all true, is it right to then say that God never ever tells people who to marry? Maybe he does it sometimes but not all the time?

(The following extract is taken from page 188-189 of The Dating Dilemma book, read the introduction for free.)

It would be wrong for us to put God into a box and say that he never moves in this way. Take Dan, for instance. He was at a prayer night and a girl called Ruth caught his attention. He felt God telling him, ‘Dan, this is the woman you’re going to marry!’

Little did he know that earlier that year at a different prayer meeting Ruth had seen him and felt God say to her, ‘That’s your husband!’ About six months later they became good friends, and now they are happily married.

We Can Get It Wrong 

But before you get on your knees to beg God for a similar miraculous intervention, consider the following: First, we can get it wrong.

No-one is infallible, especially when feelings are involved. Our emotions and longings can cloud what we sense God is saying to us, and we can end up telling God what we want to hear, instead of listening to what he is saying.

We also tend to hear these stories only when there’s a happy ending, and not the countless others where it didn’t work out. When Elisha and Pete met, they both believed God had directly told them, through dreams and words, that he wanted them to date.

Sometimes our desires can interfere with what we think God is saying

Things had lined up amazingly, and they began to date and even serve God together. But cracks soon appeared, and after a while, the relationship that had seemed so promising at the start fizzled out. Both were left feeling let down by the other and by God.

But maybe their attraction for each other and their desire to go out had clouded what they had heard from God? Sometimes our desires can interfere with what we think God is saying. No Christian would ever say they never get it wrong.

Work Work Work

Secondly, even couples who feel God has given them clear signs still have to work at their relationship.

A word from God didn’t smooth the way for Dan and Ruth to happy-ever-after-land. God may have helped them to notice each other, but he didn’t lift all responsibility from their shoulders. They still had to learn to be selfless, to put each other first and work at strengthening their relationship.

They still had to choose to make it work, and not sit back and expect God to give them an easy ride. In our experience, it’s rare for God to tell people outright who they should date or marry. And whether or not he does, he still teaches us how to date well and makes us responsible for the decisions we make. We all have to grow in Christ, which leads to maturity.

(Read the introduction of The Dating Dilemma book for free now, or buy the book here.)

For Every Dan And Ruth 

I hear a lot about romantic joys and let downs in this job. For every Dan and Ruth, there are dozens of Elishas and Petes. Who thought they heard but ended up splitting up. It is sad.

They filter out all of the time they heard wrongly from God

Interestingly, when I meet people like Dan and Ruth and really push them, they often say ‘Well I thought God was telling me to marry this other person, but it didn’t work out. And that happened with someone else too. But this time, it was different!’

In other words, they filter out all of the times they wrongly heard from God and give the fairy tale ending.

I don’t think God does tell us who to marry, I think he has a better plan, a more exciting plan. One which involves us and includes married couples who are struggling, single people, and dating couples who are unsure.  It starts with us being real. (Read ‘The One’ Myth Robs Us Of A Great Relationship)

Imagine If…

Imagine if we were real about our relationships woes. We told people when we are struggling in marriage or working through dating issues. That we told people the ups and downs of past relationships, instead of the fairy tale version.

Imagine if we told people the truth, so that in their struggles they don’t feel as alone, and see that God is still with them and helping them in this area.

The next time someone asks you about relationships, let’s be real and tell them something God has done which is great, as well as a struggle.

What do you think about ‘the One’ myth? Comments welcome below. 

Originally posted 20/3/2017

With This One Trick, You’ll See How They Really Feel

Early Dating, Interesting Research

Often people worry about what their girlfriend or boyfriend really thinks about their relationship. They ask ‘Are they as committed as me?’, or even ‘How do I really feel?’. New Research suggests listening out for words like ‘We’ and ‘Us’ instead of ‘I’ and ‘Her/Him’ reveals more than we think. This tip, while obviously not fool-proof, is a good indicator.

Often people in relationships that are new and/or getting more serious, wonder about where it is they really stand.

Does the other person like you as much as you like them? How serious are they about making this work? How serious are you deep down about it?

There use to be a clear path from singleness to marriage…that just doesn’t exist anymore.

Others Worry Too 

These concerns are very normal. In our society, people used to have chaperones and time organised by their family to get to know their potential partner. Before that, many marriages were simply arranged between the parents.

In other words, there was a clear path from singleness to marriage/long-term relationships. That just doesn’t exist anymore. It isn’t as easy anymore.

The language we use when talking about the relationship reveals a lot

We’re now expected to not only find someone on our own, we’re meant to ‘just know’ if the relationship is going to work and what the other person is feeling. This leads to crossed wires, mixed signals, heartache, and confusion.

While I cannot give you a quick fix answer or fool-proof plan, the science suggests that the language we use when talking about the relationship reveals a lot about how we, and the person we’re dating, is really feeling.

So we need to remember to:

• Communication Comes First
• Listen for ‘I’ or ‘We’

Communication Comes First

Now let me make it clear, there is no substitute for communication. There is no mind reading app or training we can do. Learning to communicate well, sitting down and talking, is the only way to be on the same page, make a relationship good, and a good relationship great. (Read Dating Someone? Commitment Assumptions Can Cause Cracks)

Sitting down and having that (sometimes ‘awkward’) conversation about how you feel can help you both be clear about where you see the relationship going. And be respectful towards each other and not lead each other on.

But what happens if both, or one of you, is still not sure? Well, one tip is to listen to the language used when talking about the relationship.

Is It ‘I’ Or ‘We’

This research that I came across suggests that people who are committed and comfortable in their relationship use words like ‘we’ and ‘us’. This reveals that they see themselves and the person their dating as a single unit.

It shows that the person is seeing themselves as being part of a single unit

So they will say ‘The relationship is going well, we’re both enjoying it’ rather than ‘She/He seems happy and I’m enjoying it too’. Or will say things like ‘We enjoy spending time together’ instead of ‘I  like spending time with her’.

To some of us this is obvious, to some of us this may seem new. But the reason it’s important is because using words like ‘we’ and ‘us’, without realising it shows that the person is seeing themselves as being part of a single unit. Or ‘cognitively intertwined’ is the technical term (who knew). Which shows high levels of commitment.

Don’t Dump Them The Next Time They Say ‘Me’

This is obviously not a golden rule. They may be saying ‘you and me’ for a valid reason. To give an obvious example, they may say something like ‘She enjoyed the film but I didn’t’.

But this will hopefully help us think about how we describe and discuss our relationship. What words do you use when you talk to your friends about it? It may reveal more than you think.

Imagine If…

The next time you, or someone you know, are unsure about their new relationships, pay close attention to the words they use. It may help them decide whether to commit or be open and honest about ending it. (Read What Do You Do If You’re The One Who Got Dumped?). 

Do you think people find it easier or harder to know if they want to commit? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 15/3/2017