“Just call him and tell him that it is over,” I (Dr. Cloud) said to Marsha. I had listened to her for months now about her dating relationship with Scott and how she could not stand some of his hurtful patterns. And I was getting both concerned and tired of her denial of the kind of person that he really was. I began to push her. So she decided to do it. She called him and broke it off. As expected, he went crazy and showed up at her door begging for her to not go through with it. There were all sorts of promises of change and the usual things that people in denial say when threatened with loss of love. But she held her ground. At least for a day.
Two days later, Marsha called and canceled her next appointment. I called her back and found out the truth. She had gone back to Scott and was ashamed to tell me. I told her to come in anyway so we could talk about it.
As Marsha talked, I felt for her. She described the depression and aloneness that she went into when she broke it off and held her ground. She felt as if she were in a black hole that she could not see out of, and she felt completely hopeless. It was really a dangerous state.
No one who knew Marsha would have suspected her inner agony. She was a strong person in the business world, a committed Christian, and a ministry leader in her church. Everyone loved her, and no one would have thought that she would put up with someone like Scott, or that she could be so devastated by breaking up with such a jerk. But the breakup had left her so sad that she could barely function.
As we worked on Marsha’s feelings, we found that there was a very deep part of her that felt very much alone and unloved, and breaking up with Scott was bringing out a deep aloneness that normally she did not experience. And, as we began to look at her history, she avoided experiencing this internal aloneness by dating men. Each time she would end one relationship, there would be another one, even though they would not be men that she would want to be with long-term. She just could not stand to be alone. And so, her fear of being alone kept her from having boundaries with bad relationships. She would rather give in to a bad relationship than have no relationship at all.
This is a key point about boundaries in dating. If you do any of the following, then you might be giving up boundaries because of a fear of being alone:
- Putting up with behavior that is disrespectful
- Giving in to things that are not in accord with your values
- Settling for less than you know you really desire or need
- Staying in a relationship that you know has passed its deadline
- Going back into a relationship that you know should be over
- Getting into a relationship that you know is not going anywhere
- Smothering the person you are dating with excessive needs or control
And surely there are other signs as well. But the point is, your aloneness makes you get involved in relationships that you know are not going to last. It also keeps you from being alone long enough to grow into a person who does not have to be in a relationship in order to be happy. There is a very important rule in dating and romance: To be happy in a relationship, and to pick the kind of relationship that is going to be the kind you desire, you must be able to be happy without one.
If you must be dating or married in order to be happy, you are dependent, and you will never be happy with whatever person you find. The dependency will keep you from being selective enough to find the kind of person who will be good for you, or will keep you from being able to fully realize a relationship with a healthy person. If you are afraid of aloneness and abandonment, you cannot use the love of people who are truly there until you deal with your own fears.
So, aloneness must be cured first, and this is a good boundary for dating. Here is the boundary: In order to cure your fear of being alone, you need to put a boundary around your wish for a relationship. Cure that fear first, and then find a relationship. How do you cure your aloneness without a dating relationship?
First, strengthen your relationship with God. Make him your first priority so that you are not trying to get God needs met by a relationship with a person.
Second, strengthen your relationships with safe, healthy Christians. Make sure that you are not trying to get your people needs met by a dating relationship, or by God. Yes, you need God. But you also need people.
The best boundary against giving in to bad relationships, less-than-satisfactory relationships, or bad dynamics in a good relationship is your not needing that relationship. And that is going to come from being grounded in God, grounded in a support system, working out your issues, having a full life, and pursuing wholeness. If you are doing those things, you will not be subject to saying yes when you should be saying no.