Relationship Difficulties

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


‘Disagreement Doesn’t Equal Divorce’, Why Successful Couples Remember This

Marriage, Relationship Difficulties

Couples don’t always agree, and that’s okay. Sometimes there are big arguments, and lots of respectful discussions, some compromise, and time to think about things afresh. But in any successful relationship where there is mutual love and respect, people will have disagreements. We don’t need to have the same opinion all the time, and remembering this is good. 

I need to start this by saying that I know there are many couples out there who are facing really big arguments. They’re feeling overwhelmed and may need outside help, like couples counselling to get through it.

But there are people who worry that every small disagreement will result in divorce or breaking-up. This belief isn’t correct and can cause problems.

I Always Used To Worry 

I was having dinner with some friends, and most of us were fairly recently married. We were talking about the advice we would like to give our ‘unmarried selves’ if we could travel back in time.

One of my friends said ‘I would tell myself that disagreement doesn’t equal divorce. I thought if we disagreed, even over something small, there was a problem. But I have learned to see it as a healthy thing.’

My wife and I still don’t see eye to eye on everything

This comment reminded me about an important relationship dynamic.

My wife and I do agree on the things we feel are important to us, like faith, the importance of friends and family, and values, for example. We wouldn’t be married otherwise. However, my wife and I still don’t see eye to eye on everything.

My Wife and I Disagree

Let me put it like this; we disagree on how to decorate our home. Our interior design ideas aren’t a million miles away from each other, but there are disagreements. Sometimes this results in compromise, sometimes one of us needs to let our idea go. (Read Why Compromise Can Sometimes Be The Worst Decision)

I could also say that we have different views on how to play sports with friends. I want to go all out, everyone tries their best, and some win and some lose, (I lose more than I care to admit). She wants it to be a bit more fun and less competitive. This has caused some problems, and we both seem unable to back down on this point.

We sometimes see things differently

When we read the Bible together, we don’t always agree. Thankfully, we often do on the ‘big’ issues, but we don’t always on every individual passage. We sometimes see things differently.

These examples, as well as others, can cause some tension. But disagreeing well, and not letting it become an argument as much as possible, is healthy.

Why Is Disagreeing Healthy? 

Just to make it clear and say again, I’m not talking about arguments where hurtful and unhelpful things are said. (Read How To Have A Good Argument) But learning to appreciate disagreements can be good because it shows:

  • An appreciation that no relationship is easy
  • You feel safe sharing your opinion
  • You respect each other.

No Relationship Is Easy

No romantic relationship, no friendship, no family relationship, no work relationship, or any relationship, is always easy. There are times when you feel let down, get annoyed at each other, and don’t get on.

If we tried to stop all disagreements, then we would just be trying to get people to do what we want, or be forcing them to agree with us all the time. That isn’t the sign of a healthy relationship, but signals control or fear.

Realising there will be disagreements signals that we accept relationships aren’t always easy and take a bit of work. People are different, and no long-lasting couples experience smooth sailing all the time.

You Feel Safe Sharing Your Opinion

If people share their opinion and feelings with you, it means they trust you enough to do it.

In romantic relationships, trust is so important. When we feel scared or unable to share, then there’s a problem. It may be that we fear a disagreement will lead to a break-up. But if you trust each other and know you’re willing to keep putting the work in, you will feel safe to share, even if you disagree.

You Respect Each Other 

It’s easy to get on with people who agree with you. It’s easy to have a good time with someone that says ‘yes’ to all the things you say. But it’s hard when people disagree with you, unless there is mutual respect.

Our aim can’t be to forget these differences, but to respect each other

In dating relationships, and even more so in marriage, you will see eye to eye on lots of things and enjoy spending time together. It’s the reason why you’re a couple. But you’re still two different people, with different personalities, and different views.

Our aim can’t be to forget these differences, but to respect each other, even when there is a disagreement. Respect means that disagreements will not lead to disaster because you’re drawn to each other and appreciate each other because of who you are. It’s not just because you always agree or never argue. (Read After Your Arguments, You Don’t Walk Out)

Imagine If…

Imagine if we remembered that disagreements don’t mean disaster or divorce. Remembering that relationships aren’t easy but take work, feeling safe, and having mutual respect, means that disagreements can be put into the right perspective without them evolving into a big argument or fear.

Do you think disagreements are a good thing? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 30/7/2018

Church Dating Culture: Is Yours Helpful Or Hindering?

Church Dating Culture, Relationship Difficulties

Many single Christians want to date, do it well, and eventually get married. Many churches want to help and enable people to do it well too. Yet in the busyness, cultures can just spring up around us and start influencing us before we know it. So it’s always worth pausing to reflect on helpful and unhelpful dynamics, as we move forward together.    

I was talking to a friend the other day who recently got engaged. I was very happy and excited for him, and pleased they decided to take this step.

It’s such an important decision, and when I did it, I appreciated close friends asking some tough questions to make sure it was something I had thought about and was preparing for properly. So with close friends, I often ask some probing questions too, to help them think it all through.

I always say no one is perfect and no couple is perfect, but being intentional and thoughtful means we can enjoy more highs and experience fewer lows in our relationships.

‘My Church Culture Really Helped’ 

Now, this friend is very mature, but nevertheless fairly young. And I was asking him about why they wanted to get married, his expectations for marriage, if he and his fiancée have talked about X, Y, and Z.

They had clearly thought a lot of things through, and discussed the very hard questions and were very open and honest with each other. Then he said something that really stuck with me:

‘Even though I’m young, my church culture really helped me to approach relationships intentionally. The culture is making me ask “What are you doing and why?” and “What happens next?” It made me approach this relationship in the right way’.

He went on to explain that his church culture of ‘intentionality’ wasn’t just helping his relationship but in every area of his life. It was a culture that asked ‘How can we press into God more?’ and ‘How can we make sure we are heading in the right direction?’.

He developed a long-term and thoughtful mindset

Obviously, taken to the extreme, these questions can mean people forget to just enjoy the moment. Or feel like they need to reach the next step before they are worth something. And in regards to romantic relationships, people can feel like they need to be married soon.

However, it can help when it’s not taken to the extreme and kept in perspective. And my friend said this context help him a lot. It helped him to take God seriously and take his romantic relationship more seriously. He developed a long-term and thoughtful mindset, rather than a short-term and inward-looking one.

Am I Wrong?

I had this conversation the very same week I heard an upsetting story.

There was a woman who started dating someone in her church. She was in her mid-twenties, been a Christian for less than two years, so was still working out what her faith and new relationship should look like. She decided to join the same mid-week Bible study group as her boyfriend.

Some people in the group told her that was a bad idea, and they shouldn’t be in the same groups or be praying together while dating (Read Should We Be Praying Together?). Others said it was a great idea and they should be in the same group.

No matter what people think about this, for me, the problem is that people were telling this couple what to do, but not why. They were not discussing it with this couple and trying to enable them to think things through. They just set hard and fast rules with no explanation.

The culture we build around us matters

The way it was done was upsetting for this woman. She was hurt and confused. Whereas my friend felt enabled by the culture around him when it came to relationships.

The culture we build around us matters.

Creating Culture 

As I reflected on these stories, I was thinking about what lessons there were to learn for creating healthy church dating cultures. I want to highlight two key questions:

  • How are we demonstrating intentionality?
  • What are our guiding principles?

Demonstrating Intentionality 

I think it’s important to ask ourselves how we are building a culture of being intentional in all our relationships, and not just in romantic ones.

How are we spurring each other on to be better friends? Are we challenging each other and ourselves when we cancel last minute on a friend because a better offer came up? Are we making time to do things we don’t enjoy because it will really help someone out?

How are we helping each other to have better church relationships? Are we being flexible with our time or skill, or gracious with each other? Are we intentionally going out of our way to encourage each other?

We need to be demonstrating intentionality, thoughtfulness, and selflessness in all relationships. This will naturally begin to help and influence people in church as they build romantic relationships.

Guiding Principles

I think it’s so important to remember that no two people are the same, and no two couples are the same. Helping people to date well is more about enabling them to apply good principles to their context, because setting hard and fast rules often end up hurting people.

So we need to decide what our principles are for dating, what we think God is saying, and then help people/couples to apply them instead of just barking orders at them.

Take the above story about the couple in the same study group. The principles for their church may be that they don’t want dating couples to do all their ‘spiritual stuff’ together as they could become too dependent on each other in this area, rather than seeking God first.

Same principle, different application

The couple may then decide being in the same group isn’t a good idea because it’s getting too intense. Or they may decide to be in the same group, but have friends they meet up regularly to pray with so that they don’t depend on each other too much.

Same principle, different application. And a couple has been empowered instead of just being told they’re doing something wrong. (Read Top Dating Tip For When Your Relationship Become Official)

Imagine If…

Imagine if we, as a community who want to support new couples, asked ‘How are we demonstrating intentionality?’ and ‘What are our guiding principles?’ as we helped and enabled people like my friend to build healthy relationship dynamics. (Read What On Earth Is Dating Anyway?)

What is the one thing we can do this week, to demonstrate intentionality more? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 14/5/2018

Warning: A Relationship Should Change Us, But Can’t Cure Us

Church Dating Culture, Relationship Difficulties

After only recently talking to someone about a break-up they just went through, it was clear that knowing the difference between change and a cure was vital. She said she learned valuable lessons along the way, and she said these were worth sharing. 

So there I was, giving a talk on dating and relationships to a group of students, and it really felt like they were taking in what I had to say. You never know how it’s going to go, and I’m always a bit worried because I just want to help people and get it right. But they were definitely responding.

We had a great Q&A, some people opened up about their own situations and it felt like God was really connecting with people in this important area. It was great.

She had just broken up with her boyfriend

At the end though, a young woman came up to me and said she had just broken up with her boyfriend, and she was still processing it all.

She asked if we could meet up to discuss it more in depth, so my wife and I invited her round to help her think through what happened and offer some support.

Now I wouldn’t usually write about what was shared in a situation like this, but this person involved actually asked me to write something. She wanted me to because she wanted to help others in a similar position.

He Wanted Me To Just Know  

She said that this relationship had started with him saying to her that he is very emotional. Nothing wrong with that, men can show emotions. But then he said he expected her to just read his emotions instantly, and that she should react in the right way.

She thought it was strange, but they began a relationship.

Unfortunately, over time, she realised that he was very, very emotional. His mood could change very quickly, it was always very intense, and she found it hard to keep up.

He wanted her to cure him

Now I always say no one is perfect. A relationship is about two imperfect people committing to each other, making it work and making sure they enjoy it along the way. But he expected her to always know how to react, to say the right thing, and to sort him out.

Above all else, he just wanted it to happen without any conflict. He didn’t want there to be any tension, but for what he needed to just happen.

He wanted her to sort out his issues. He wanted her to cure him. (Read more of her story in her own words here)

Change Vs Cure

I’ve written before about how relationships will change us. We cannot build a healthy relationship without compromise, seeing the world a bit differently, and changing as we journey together. Knowing what we are willing to change is key. (Read If A Relationship Doesn’t Change Me, Then It’s Not A Relationship).

We will change each other in a relationship, but expecting someone to cure us, to deal with all of our problems is unfair on us and them.

Both people need to be willing to work through the lows and navigate their relationship dynamics so that they can enjoy the highs and thrive in their relationship. Expecting a cure won’t allow that to happen, and can become toxic.

What We Can Expect

My wife and I explained to this young women that you cannot just know, to be expected to say the right thing all the time. In your relationship you need to talk, communicate, and express how you’re feeling, especially when there is tension. (Read How To Communicate Well When We’re Annoyed).

We told her that people in relationships talk, and offer grace because there are no instant fixes

My wife and I can’t always know what each other are thinking. We can’t read each other’s emotions all the time. We still have conflict. Two people in a relationship will have disagreements and arguments, that’s just what happens.

We told her that people in relationships talk, and offer grace because there are no instant fixes, and change a bit along the way.

We told her that we can have this expectation, but we can’t expect a cure.

She seemed to understand, and she said later that it really helped her to discover which expectations were not right, and what dynamics she wanted to build next time. She learned something along the way, and I hope this guy, who I never met, did too.

Imagine If…

Imagine if we remembered that we can’t expect people to cure us. We don’t need to be perfect, but we do need to be honest and realistic. You can expect your partner to support you, and work through the issues, and they can expect you to do the same, so that you build an enjoyable relationship together.

We need to be ready to spot it when people want cures, and remember that a better perspective will bring better relationships. (Read Unhealthy Relationship Expectations We Should All Know.)

What are the other differences between change and a cure? Comment welcomed below. 

Originally posted 5/3/2018

4 Reasons Why ‘Micro-Cheating’ Can Cause Problems

Relationship Difficulties

Being friends with, and contacting our exes or people we have a ‘connection’ with, whilst in a romantic relationship isn’t necessarily bad. Like with all things, context is key. But justifying bad behaviours or playing them down will only lead to hurt and pain. This post directly shines a spotlight on 4 behaviours that weaken our relationships.

The word micro-cheating has been receiving a lot of attention recently.

The psychologist Melanie Schilling says that micro-cheating is ‘a series of seemingly small actions that indicate a person is emotionally or physically focused on someone outside their relationship.’

For me, this definition means we shouldn’t be doing it

For me, this definition means we shouldn’t be doing it. It breaks trust and causes someone to look outside of their romantic relationship to gain things that should come from within.

However, the debate has opened up the discussion as to whether being friends with an ex is a good idea at all. If people should even be messaging or texting close friends they ‘connect’ with.

Does Context Matter?

I do think context is key. Sometimes people justify bad actions or worry about innocent ones, but context can reveal our real motives.

For example, if someone is friends with an ex, it may seem dodgy. But if that ex hangs out with the person and their partner, everyone is aware of the history and open about the communication, and the communication isn’t excessive, that would be okay if everyone feels comfortable with it.

How do we know when these relationships start to negatively impact our romantic relationship?

However, if someone is hiding the communication from their partner, wondering if the grass is greener, sharing things with their ex or ‘friend’ that they hide from their partner, that’s totally different. This person may make excuses to make it seem like the first scenario, but it isn’t okay.

Where’s The Line?

Having friendships and talking to people outside of our romantic relationship is important. No one person can be the source of all our fulfilment and happiness. But how do we know when these relationships start to negatively impact our romantic relationship?

Being friends with people we connect with isn’t necessarily wrong, but it can be. I think both sides of the coin need to be acknowledged. But I think there are 4 things we should think about when we evaluate our actions:

  • Our Rule, Not My Rule
  • Little Steps Lead To Big Breaks
  • Secrecy Is Serious
  • What’s The Real Motivation

1. Our Rule, Not My Rule

It seems obvious, but a relationship is about two people. It’s not about ‘me’ and ‘my needs’, but ‘us’ and ‘our’ needs.

So we may think it’s okay to text an ex, or that friend because there is genuinely nothing happening, but our partner may feel uncomfortable.

We may be used to sharing things with lots of people, but our partner might not like it.

What may have been okay when we were single, changes when we start dating or get married.

Sitting down, and being clear on what your rules and expectations are for your relationship is key. It may mean compromise or not doing something because a relationship is about ‘our needs’ not ‘my needs’.  (Read How Pausing To Reflect Could Save Your Dating Life)

2. Little Steps Lead To Big Breaks

No-one just wakes up and has an affair. It’s usually one little step, one more little step, until eventually, they have an affair and/or break up with their partner.

What starts as messaging a little bit, then leads to messaging every day, then it gets more intense, and then….

Cutting out all the things that can cause trouble later

The reason I think some people, rightfully, got upset with this whole micro-cheating debate is because they realised where little steps lead. Maintaining a truly mutually enjoyable, mutually fulfilling romantic relationship takes work, and cutting out all the little things that can cause big trouble later.

Being aware of this may mean some of us need to cut down on who or how often we message others, so we can protect the relationship we have.

3. Secrecy Is Serious 

For me, nothing should be hidden in relationships. If someone isn’t telling their partner about the person they’re messaging, or hiding it, or changing the name of this ‘friend’ on their phone so their partner doesn’t know, there is something going on.

Something is going on that isn’t right, which is why they’re hiding it.

This behaviour cannot be justified. Going outside of the relationship to gain intimacy or excitement that should be coming from our partner, then hiding it, will only make the relationship weak. (Read Should I Be The Source Of All Their Romance?)

4. What’s The Real Motivation

This point may be the hardest one to process for some. It requires looking at ourselves and being very honest.

We need to ask ourselves ‘What is the real motivation?’

Am I contacting them because we’re friends that get on? Or is it because I like to reminisce and fantasise about what life would be like with them?

Do I like the ‘escape’ they offer?

Am I just texting them once in a while because we’re friends, or am I texting them every day because I like the ‘escape’ they offer?

If the motivation is anything other than a genuine friendship, it’s heading somewhere that will cause pain and harm, and needs to stop. (Read Texting An Ex Is Always A Bad Idea, But There’s One Exception)

Imagine if…

Imagine if we realised being friends with people outside of our romantic relationship is healthy. No one person can be the source of our fulfilment. But this cannot be used to justify behaviours that cause us to take our eyes off of our romantic partner.

Our Rule, Not My Rule; Little Steps Lead To Big Breaks; Secrecy Is Serious; What’s The Real Motivation. This can cause us to stop and make sure we’re protecting our romantic relationship, and relating appropriately.

What other behaviours would you shine a spotlight on? Comments welcomed below

Originally posted 12/2/2018