Early Dating

How Do I Tell My New Date About My Past?

Early Dating, Relationship Difficulties

It’s so important to make sure honesty is the foundation of our romantic relationships. Lies stop us from building trust and healthy relationships. But what if there’s something from the past you know you need to share and talk about, but saying it straight away can be off-putting. Do you wait? For how long? Is it lying? This is a real issue that needs real wisdom.

Someone recently came up to me after a recent talk I did and was clearly wanting to say something that was troubling him. 

He proceeded to tell me that he had been in a relationship with someone, it had ended very badly, and he was partly to blame. He wanted to know when he should tell his next potential girlfriend about what happened. 

Not A Unique Question

Even though he was the latest person to ask me, he was not the first. 

Obviously, we’ve all done things in our past we regret, but when it comes to exes and breakups, these regrets can be the source of a lot of worry and anxiety in our next relationship. 

Relationship breakdowns are rarely caused by just one person (unless there has been abuse, manipulation and/or infidelity involved). When break-ups happen it can make us less trusting, or realise a trait about ourselves that we dislike, or cause us to carry feelings of anger or even pain.

Whatever the issue, we know that it could be something that the next person we like will need to know about. Maybe so they understand why we act like we do, or because they need to know about something we regret and don’t want to do again, or for another reason. 

I always respond by giving 3 guidelines

Many people ask me what they should do in this situation. Should they say something straight away? Or should they wait until the person they like knows them a bit better so there is some context? Or do they just say nothing and hope it will be okay?  

I always respond by giving 3 guidelines, which will hopefully help them:  

  • Trust Isn’t Instant 
  • Give Headlines Early, Detail To Follow 
  • Why Is It An Issue? 

Trust Isn’t Instant

I think people inherently know that if they want to build a sustainable intimate relationship, then trust and honesty is part of it. Being vulnerable with someone, knowing they will stick around no matter what, only happens when a couple trust each other.

But trust isn’t instant. 

Trust and commitment build over time. As we get to know someone more and more, and they get to know us, commitment grows. Trust also grows. When we rush this process we can think the relationship is stronger than it is, which will lead to problems later on.

The point is, you can’t just say everything about yourself from the start. And naturally, you do want to discuss common interests and things you enjoy and not just dwell on the past.  

If you feel the pressure to reveal something, then you may need to take some pressure off your shoulders. It’s good you’re concerned about dating well and being honest, but trust grows. It’s okay to realise you need to protect yourself too, and not reveal your deepest darkest secrets after the first ‘hello’. (Read I Want To Trust Them, But I’ve Been Hurt Before)

Give Headlines Early, Detail To Follow

Having said that, I’m always struck by the fact that people in this situation feel like it is all or nothing. 

You can mention the issue early on so that it’s been raised, but you’re still allowed to say you don’t want to talk more about it until you’re further on in your relationship. You can give the ‘headlines’ and say you will give more details later on. 

This advice can’t be used as an excuse to avoid the issue later on or justify a half-truth

Now, this advice can’t be used as an excuse to avoid the issue later on or justify a half-truth. Rather, it’s acknowledging the fact that being respectful to the person you like and trying to fostering honesty, while protecting yourself, means that some things need to be talked about in line with the trust and commitment that’s growing. 

Mentioning your ex or the past situation near the start, means you’re showing you want to be honest and bring things up that need to be spoken about.

Now I know sharing a ‘headline’ may not be enough for some people, or it may put some people off, meaning they don’t wait around to build a relationship. This may be hard. But at least you will know if it won’t work early on, rather than after months or years of investing in each other.  (Read The Best Advice For Getting Over A Break-Up)

Why Is It An Issue?

It’s also important to ask ourselves why we think it’s an issue in the first place. Is it something we were hurt by? Are we embarrassed? Do we feel guilty? Are we worried it will happen again? 

The answers to these questions don’t make us bad people

I always say we don’t need to be perfect or ‘sort ourselves out’ before we date. No one is perfect, dating isn’t about finding perfect people, because they don’t exist. But it’s worth thinking about why we are worried. Is it something we can address now? How might it affect a potential relationship? 

The answers to these questions don’t make us bad people, or unworthy of a relationship, but they just may help us think about how we approach romantic relationships moving forward.

Imagine If…

Dating is hard, but it’s meant to be enjoyable. Our baggage and past mistakes can sometimes get in the way of this. 

Imagine if we remembered Trust Isn’t Instant, that we are allowed to Give Headlines Early, Detail To Follow, and we ask Why Is It An Issue? It will help us to foster honesty from the start while protecting ourselves, as well as take some pressure off so we can enjoy the dating experience. (Read 15 Questions for Building Mutually Enjoyable Fulfilling Relationships)

What other guidelines have you heard which may help? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 21/1/2019

How To Make Your New Dating Relationship Last

Early Dating, Finding A Date

We all want to enjoy dating, but we also want to do it in a way that gives our new relationship the best chance of success. We want to find someone we can build a long-term relationship with. A key element which is often underrated is commitment. But it’s important to think about what this looks like when a relationship is still in its unclear early stages. 

(The following extract is taken from page 114-116 of The Dating Dilemma book, read the introduction for free.)

All Relationships Need Commitment 

Spending quality time with people we love requires exclusivity. We can’t be texting people or taking calls if we want them to feel valued by us. 

The Bible constantly encourages us to live deep lives by being mindful of others. It celebrates committed and loyal friendships where the friend comes first, like David and Jonathan in 1 Samuel, and Ruth and Naomi in the book of Ruth. Ecclesiastes 4:9–10 says:

It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. And if one falls down, the other helps, But if there’s no one to help, tough!
(The Message)

Dating Needs Commitment

Before you start seeing someone, it’s possible to demonstrate a level of exclusivity that will build a good foundation. 

As you read this, some of you are probably thinking this is a bit extreme. It’s not like you’ve said vows in front of a vicar. The person you fancy may not even like you and may be pursuing someone else. But we’re not saying that if you ever fancy someone, you have to ask them out and gear yourselves up to get married!

It’s only when we know that the person we’re with is not seeing anyone else that we feel safe enough to open up

What we are encouraging you to do is to start as you mean to go on.

If you’re planning on building a boat, why begin by sticking up tent poles? If you’re planning on building a happy relationship, it’s got to be a committed one. It’s only when we know that the person we’re with is not seeing anyone else that we feel safe enough to open up and share our lives. 

We all want this, so let’s start as we mean to go on. After sharing a bit about yourselves, you may discover you‘re not right for each other, you may break up. But starting deeply will give you that insight early on.

Building Commitment 

So here are some of our top tips to help you start reaping the benefits of being exclusive:

  • Watch The Flirting
  • Be Ready To Put In The Work
  • Stop Shopping
  • End It Early
  • Don’t Give Up
  • Be Wise

Watch The Flirting
If you’re about to start a new relationship, or you fancy someone, don’t flirt with other people. Going after several people doesn’t signal a desire for commitment. 

Flirting and being friendly are not the same thing, but if you’re in doubt, ask a friend to give you some honest feedback about whether your friendliness might be leading someone on.

Be Ready To Put In The Work
So many new relationships start and then burn out just as quickly because one or both of you hadn’t considered whether you have time to invest in a relationship. 

Being committed means being prepared to give this new relationship space and room to grow. We can’t just fall into relationships without thinking. (Read Quick Guide: Discover What All Good Dating Relationship Have In Common)

Stop Shopping
Don’t worry, we don’t mean literal shopping, but once you have found someone who you are keen to date, stop looking around for someone ‘better’!

End It Early
If you’ve been investing time in getting to know each other and then discover that you’re not right together, it’s better to end the relationship earlier. Dragging out a relationship that is slowly dying makes it too easy for you to start looking for someone else before you’re free to do so.

Don’t Give Up
Sometimes relationships end against our will. This can be really painful. Pursuing love comes with a fair number of disappointments. It doesn’t mean that, if it doesn’t work out with that person, you will never find love. (Read The Best Advice For Getting Over A Break-Up)

Be Wise
Remember, our commitment to being exclusive doesn’t mean we are to stay trapped in a relationship that’s abusive or damaging. 

Choosing God’s best for us sometimes means walking away from someone if we are not able to be in a healthy relationship with them.

Building Enjoyment Too

In case all of this commitment talk is putting you off asking someone out because it feels way too serious, relax! 

Forming a new relationship is supposed to be enjoyable, because it’s full of lots of exciting firsts: the first time you have a deep and meaningful chat, the first time you pray together, the first time you refer to each other as your boy/girlfriend, the first time you hold hands, the first blazing row, the first kiss. 

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

Imagine If…

It will help to reduce the confusion and concerns many new relationships struggle with

Imagine if we remembered that if we build commitment from the start, it will help to reduce the confusion and concerns many new relationships struggle with and enable us to build a relationship we can enjoy. 

Thinking about commitment is crucial if we want our relationship to thrive and survive, even in the early stages when we are figuring each other out. (Read Why You Should Remember That ‘Romance’ On Its Own is Rubbish)

What do you think of these pieces of advice? Why? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 10/12/2018


Being Committed Vs Knowing When To Walk Away, 3 Key Rules

Early Dating, Relationship Difficulties

For a dating relationship to be enjoyed, for it to thrive, for it to last, we need commitment. But what if it isn’t working, what if one person becomes selfish, how long do you wait and try to change things before it’s over? I think there are 3 rules which can help us to process some of the tricky situations we face. 

You know when you’re chatting to a group of friends and there’s nothing in particular you’re talking about, then one of them says something and you think, ‘hu, interesting.’

Well, this happened when one of my friends said, ‘I think you need to know when to walk away in a relationship for it to work.’

I was taken aback a bit and started to think about if this was true or not.

Part of me was thinking, well yeah. If a dating couple are making each other miserable, or if there is an extreme case like manipulation or abuse, then it needs to end.

I really think both of these principles are true

But the other part of me was like, but relationships take hard work, we can’t just walk away when it gets a bit tough or at the first argument or over something that requires some compromise.

Opposite, But Both True(?) 

I really think both of these principles are true.

We need to commit and work through the hard times and know dating isn’t always easy, it can be hard and confusing. When we remember that two imperfect people are coming together, it can help us to know that it won’t always be fun every single second. Compromise and hard work is part of it.

Having said that, if it isn’t working, and if two people just aren’t suited long-term, or the dating dynamics become toxic, then we need to be able to spot that it’s time to walk away.

What About Me?

But how do we apply these principles? Every situation is different. So how can we spot when it’s time to walk away in the best way possible? And how do we spot when the tough bits are just part of building an overall healthy and good relationship?

I want to offer three principles that can help us begin to process our unique situations, as individuals and as couples. Namely:

  • Drop The Transaction Mindset
  • Drain Vs Gain
  • Commitment Needs More

Drop The Transaction Mindset 

A transaction mindset sees the relationship like a vending machine. It says ‘I will put in “X” amount of time, energy, etc., and I want to get “X” in return’.

But relationships that thrive are about both being committed and selfless. When both people are putting each other’s needs first, and thinking about how to make it work, rather than what they are ‘owed’, it creates mutual flourishing, care, and enjoyment.

It’s easy to begin a relationship and think ‘what am I getting from this?’ rather than ‘what are we getting from this?’. But transaction mindsets lead to dating relationships that are selfish rather than selfless.

If they can’t see the problem, it may be a red flag

If the person we’re with is approaching the relationship like a transaction, and not evolving their thinking and being selfish, then the relationship can’t thrive. If they can’t see the problem, it may be a red flag. However, if you are both dropping the transaction mindset, then you have a better chance of working through issues together with this approach.  (Read What No One Tells You About Saying Sorry)

Drain Vs Gain

My friend also talked about the drain versus gain theory. ‘If we aren’t gaining from a relationship then we need to drop it’.

That worried me because I have had times in my life when I needed a lot of support from my friends, and/or wife, because I was having a tough time. They probably think I was very draining to them for long periods of time.

But there are times where the role has been reversed. Where I’m the one that is supporting and feels drained.

If we decided in that snapshot, in that precise moment, that we weren’t gaining enough then the relationship would end. Which is ridiculous. Any romantic or strong friendship involves up and downs. So we can’t just think short-term gain and drain.

Together we are able to work through the hard times

However, when we take a step back and reflect on our overall dating relationship, do we think we are gaining? Do we enjoy lots of joint victories and celebrate each other’s achievements? If it’s yes, then we probably should be committing more, realising together we are able to work through the hard times.

But when it’s draining overall, and it takes away too much over time, with constant setbacks in the relational dynamics, it may be a red flag. Relationships take hard work, but they should be enjoyable, respectful, and breed trust and faithfulness. If these things aren’t there, there is a problem.  (Read Warning: A Relationship Should Change Us, But Can’t Cure Us)

Commitment Needs More

Our culture says we can change our phone when we get bored, change our clothes and hairstyle, our social media pic, anything, easily and quickly. As a result, commitment is undervalued because it’s all about being new and getting the initial buzz.

A relationship may not work for many reasons, but without commitment it definitely won’t work

Commitment is often forgotten. If we go into a dating relationship thinking we will just leave as soon as this gets hard and go to something new then it will never work. It needs commitment and we need to chose to invest. Sadly, a relationship may not work for many reasons, but without commitment it definitely won’t work.

Knowing when we will walk away is key. But we need to go in knowing that commitment is vital in a culture that undermines it constantly. (Read 2 Strategies for Surviving The Changing World Of Dating).

Imagine If… 

Imagine if we had some principles to help guide us in the highs and lows of dating. To help us to be wise and spot when something is hard but is just a rough patch, or when something is hard because it may be time to walk away.

I hope remembering: Drop The Transaction Mindset, Drain Vs Gain, Commitment Needs More, will be able to help you.

Are these principles enough? Comments welcomed below.

Originally posted 17/9/2018


15 Questions for Building Mutually Enjoyable Fulfilling Relationships

Early Dating, Interesting Research

Making decisions are hard. We have more access to information and statistics to help us make decisions, but picking romantic partners isn’t just about science. It’s about connection, love, and committing to building something together. So how do we work out if we can make it work? These 15 questions will help bring some clarity. 

If you’ve ever read anything else on this website, you’ll know that I’m really passionate about us all being intentional in our relationships and relationship choices. Relationships are meant to be enjoyed, but I believe thinking things through and being purposeful is part of creating the enjoyment.

My friend asked me the other day how my marriage was going. Thankfully, I could say it was really good and we are really happy. The only time we were struggling a bit was when we stopped being intentional, started taking it for granted, and we had to re-focus on our intentionality.

15 Tried and Tested Questions

After chatting to my friend, I came across these 15 questions in a great article by Dr. Gary Lewandowski Jr., the renowned psychology professor and relationship scientist.

These questions can help us to focus on what’s important

He listed 15 questions based on his and other people’s research on love and healthy relationships. He acknowledges relationships aren’t based purely on science, but these questions can help us to focus on what is important, and help us decide if there is a real and authentic connection there.

So here are the questions worth asking ourselves and each other, to see if our relationship is healthy, and on the path to being mutually fulfilling:

1) Does your partner make you a better person, and do you do the same for them?
2) Are you and your partner both comfortable with sharing feelings, relying on each other, being close, and able to avoid worrying about the other person leaving?
3) Do you and your partner accept each other for who you are, without trying to change each other?
4) When disagreements arise, do you and your partner communicate respectfully and without contempt or negativity?
5) Do you and your partner share decision-making, power, and influence in the relationship?
6) Is your partner your best friend, and are you theirs?
7) Do you and your partner think more in terms of “we” and “us,” rather than “you” and “I”?
8) Would you and your partner trust each other with the passwords to social media and bank accounts?
9) Do you and your partner have good opinions of each other – without having an overinflated positive view?
10) Do your close friends, as well as your partner’s, think you have a great relationship that will stand the test of time?
11) Is your relationship free of red flags like cheating, jealousy and controlling behaviour?
12) Do you and your partner share the same values when it comes to politics, religion, the importance of marriage, the desire to have kids (or not) and how to parent?
13) Are you and your partner willing to sacrifice your own needs, desires, and goals for each other (without being a doormat)?
14) Do you and your partner both have agreeable and emotionally stable personalities?
15) What are you and your partner’s views on sex, and are you thinking about it in a healthy way?

I think this list is really helpful because it’s focused on couples building something together, rather than on ‘What can I get out of this?’. But there are some questions I think need to be tweaked or explained slightly.

Sexually Compatibility

As a Christian, I believe that God created sex and wants to bless us with it in the right context. (Read God Created Sex and Sexual Desire, Honest!).

Originally, the last question on the list said: ‘Are you and your partner sexually compatible?’ But for me, who thinks committing/ re-committing to waiting until marriage ’til sex is God’s best for us, this important question wasn’t framed quite right.

Sexual compatibility and satisfaction is more to do with how we view sex

I say this because people often think ‘sexual satisfaction’ means sex with lots of people, which then means they’ll be happy. However, research suggests sexual compatibility and satisfaction is more to do with how we view sex, rather than what experiences we’ve had. (Read I’m Getting Married, I’ll Be Having Sex Soon….Help!)

So I believe discussing views and values around sex is more important when thinking about building healthy relationships, and will be more beneficial.

Best Friend, Not Only Friend

I also think it’s worth emphasising that question 6 says ‘Is your partner your best friend?’, rather than ’your only friend’. Often we can ignore other friendships and expect our romantic relationships to be the source of all our comfort and worth. Which it can never be.

Maintaining and investing in our friendships is important, and also makes our romantic relationship stronger. (Read I Can’t Come, I’m With My Girlfriend, Again!)

Emotionally Stable

Number 14 says ‘Do you and your partner both have agreeable and emotionally stable personalities?’. Now, in a world where mental health is still often taboo but affects so many people, this question can be misinterpreted.

Being willing to support each other

I would emphasise that it doesn’t mean we need to be perfect, or never struggle emotionally, or have personalities that are totally complimentary or identical. It’s more about being willing to support each other and deciding to be purposeful about learning to do that better.

Perfection isn’t needed, but a commitment to making it work is. (Read Quick Guide: Discover What All Good Dating Relationship Have In Common)

Imagine If…

You may be dating, engaged, looking for love, or married. You may have some concerns, be keen to make a good relationship great, or just want to keep building something worth having.

Imagine if we used these questions to help us make sure we were building something together, in a selfless, mutually enjoyable, and fulfilling way. How amazing would it be, if we took practical steps, to make sure we could answer ‘yes’ to all of these questions?

What is the first thing you need to do after reading these questions? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 6/8/2018

Quick Guide: Discover What All Good Dating Relationships Have In Common

Early Dating, Healthy Relationship Rhythms

Mutually enjoyable relationships which have strong foundations don’t just happen, and sometimes people can focus on one element too much. I find that people can focus on what they are getting from the relationship and don’t dwell on vital responsibilities. Or they focus on what they need to give and forget to enjoy the benefits. So this quick checklist will help us to remember everything we need to build a good relationship.  

(The following extract is taken from page 153-155 of The Dating Dilemma book, read the introduction for free.)

Dating With Responsibility

When you’re in a dating relationship, you have areas of responsibility, not just to yourself and whoever you’re dating, but also to your friends and family and their friends and family. Taking on these responsibilities means that you will:

  • Be honest and truthful to your girl/boyfriend
  • Treat them with respect in public and in private
  • Develop your own character, interests, and friendships
  • Not pursue anyone else while you are in a relationship with them
  • Pray for your girl/boyfriend and your relationship
  • Give them space to grow
  • Seek God first in every area of your life

The flip side of taking responsibility in a relationship is that you are also entitled to be on the receiving end of the other person being responsible too:

  • You can expect them not to cheat on you
  • You can expect a level of openness and honesty from each other, which will grow the longer you are together
  • You should treat each other with respect and care
  • You should have your own mind and keep up with your passions, interests and wider friendships, and encourage your boy/girlfriend to explore theirs too
  • You should spend quality time together, as well as apart

The Dating Benefits

When you’re in a dating relationship, there are a whole load of benefits for both of you:

  • Increased confidence from knowing that someone has your back
  • Sustained emotional intimacy
  • A level of physical intimacy that you are both comfortable with and that honours God
  • Someone to share some of your inner world with
  • Being trusted and loved
  • Planning a future together
  • Being forgiven when you make a mistake
  • Growing closer to God
  • Having fun
  • Enjoying romance

The flip side of enjoying the benefits of dating well is that there must be some no-go areas that both people respect. Every relationship requires boundaries. They are there for either our safety or our success.

We could ‘break the rules’ and overstep the boundaries, but we need to realise that the consequences of doing so will impact on the very things we love about our relationship, such as trust.

If you cheat on someone and your partner still takes you back (and they don’t have to), you can’t expect the same level of openness and trust as before. You will need to earn it again. So, to protect our relationships, there are things that we know we can’t do:

  • Deliberately flirt with anyone else
  • Develop an emotional understanding with someone else that you should be developing with your girl/boyfriend
  • Explore a physically intimate relationship with anyone else
  • Use any controlling, abusive or violent behaviour
  • Continue down the path of sexually intimate activity that makes it difficult for one or both of you to walk away
  • Prevent each other from nurturing your relationship with Jesus
  • Prevent each other from seeing family or friends
  • Hold anything your boy/girlfriend has done wrong against them, rather than forgiving it

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

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I do think these elements are really important to remember. And I hope it can help us to remember that all romantic relationships involve give and take, responsibility and benefits. (Read How Pausing To Reflect Could Save Your Dating Life)

Imagine If…

Healthy relationship expectations are vital. Without them, we can end up getting hurt and hurting others. With them, we can build relationships that are enjoyable and long-lasting.

Imagine if, despite our personalities, past relationships and current situation, we enabled ourselves and others to think about what a good relationship looks like. We’re able to think through what we can expect from it, and what we need to give to make it work. (Read Unhealthy Relationship Expectations We Should All Know)

What other bullet points would you add to the above lists? Comments welcomed below.

Originally posted 11/6/2018