“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. . . .
If you have hung around the church for very long, you have probably heard that God wants people to reserve sex for marriage. If you haven’t and that is news to you, then we can understand the shock you might be feeling. For many people, both inside and outside of the church, it does not make sense. If sex feels so good, and is good for the relationship, and both people are consenting, then what is the problem?
Respect is a necessary element for any couple to grow in love. Each person needs to feel that they are respected by the person they are getting to know. This involves creating boundaries in dating where both parties have esteem or regard for all aspects of the other. Respect is different from empathy, though any relationship needs both to be hand-in-hand. Empathy is the ability to feel another’s experience, especially painful ones. Respect is the ability to value another’s experience. You may not be able to actually empathize with someone, but you can always take a position of respect for them. For example, a guy may restrain himself from pushing his girlfriend sexually for either reason. He may feel deep compassion for the dilemma he is putting her in. Or he may restrain himself because he respects her right to make her own moral decisions. Relationships develop best when both empathy and respect are in place. When respect is present, the other person feels that he can be free to be who he is. He can be honest, and still feel connected and safe. He doesn’t worry that he will be attacked, humiliated, or treated poorly. When respect is absent,... Continue Reading »
The question that many people wonder is “If I’m nice, then why do I keep attracting such jerks?” They think that something is inherently wrong with them, and sometimes they can begin to get quite hopeless over their chances of finding good friends, someone good to date, or building a great marriage. The key to remember is that the reason why nice people attract jerks is that they are too adaptive in the beginning. If that person had had boundaries, the problem never would have happened. Or if it did, the problem would have been fixed first. People who are selfish and controlling can only be that way if they are in relationship with someone who is adaptive. If someone stands up to them and is honest about his or her wants and desires, then the controlling person has to learn to share or gets frustrated and goes away. Take these steps to avoid ending up in relationships that attract unhealthy people: Be honest about your preferences and desires. Don’t act like you like things other people like just so that you will be accepted. Being liked for who you are requires that you be that person. Tell the truth... Continue Reading »
The ability to build a healthy relationship is based on the degree to which you are able to be clear and honest about everything, especially in a dating situation. Sometimes, people will deceive each other about the nature of other people in their lives. They may act like someone is “just a friend,” when in reality there is more of a history or more in the present than is being said. For example, I (Dr. Cloud) was working with a man named Frank who was trying to figure out his relationship with the woman he was dating. He had a funny feeling that something was wrong. It seemed that she was just a little too connected to her work. Frank had no problem with her loving her job, but there was something strange about her relationship with her boss. He did not think that she was dating him, or having any kind of illicit thing going on with him. But, he still got a funny feeling about her work and her connection with her boss. Finally, Frank found out that his girlfriend had once been engaged to her boss. And, there was still some sort of continuing tie between them.... Continue Reading »
If you have hung around the church for very long, you have probably heard that God wants people to reserve physical intimacy for marriage. If you haven’t and that is news to you, then we can understand the shock you might be feeling. For many people, both inside and outside of the church, it does not make sense. If it feels so good, and is good for the relationship, and both people are consenting, then what is the problem? Consider this viewpoint: When someone can say no to sex outside of marriage, their behavior is a sign that he or she is capable of delaying gratification and exhibiting self-control, which are two prerequisites of the ability to love. If someone cannot delay gratification and control himself or herself in this area, what makes you think that they can delay their own gratification in other areas of sacrifice? What is going to curb the “I want what I want now” mentality in the rest of life? If someone is able to respect the limit of hearing no for sex, then that is a character sign of someone who can say no to their own desires and hungers in order to serve a higher... Continue Reading »
To some extent, our society is afflicted by a Hollywood distortion about relationships. Don’t get me wrong—I’m (Dr. Townsend) not anti-Hollywood. I am a movie person, and my sons are in school studying film. But we need to free ourselves of a distortion embedded in the DNA of the movie culture: passion trumps everything. That is, if you deeply connect on a romantically passionate level, you have entered relational Nirvana, and your love conquers all. This is the stuff of lots of great entertainment, but it is not how real relationships actually go to the next level. For example, Sharon was dating Alex, a man to whom she was extremely attracted. He had many of the qualities she looked for: the same spiritual values, warmth, ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼lots of friends, and ambition, and it didn’t hurt that he looked like a fashion model. Plus, he was an incurable romantic, and she loved that aspect of the relationship. Alex was the king of long nights, longing glances, flowers, endearing words, and great spots to have dinner. Sharon was smitten with this guy. Then, reality reared its ugly head in the form of a tendency for Alex to be financially irresponsible. He was laid... Continue Reading »
What is your normal reaction when conflict occurs in a new relationship? Are you comfortable addressing the issue? Or, do you stuff the issue out of fear or a desire preserve the peace? Honesty is the best policy for two important reasons: Being honest helps resolve the hurt or the conflict. When you are honest, how the other person responds tells you whether a satisfactory relationship is possible. If you are hurt in some way, bring it up. Don’t harbor bitter feelings. Or, if there is something that the other person has done that you do not like, or goes against your values, or is wrong, it must be discussed. If you don’t, then you are building a relationship based on a false sense of security and closeness. And it is possible that your feelings will be confused by hurt and fear. A lot is lost in not finding out who the other person is and where the relationship could really go, if one or both people are not facing hurt and conflict directly. In reality, a conflict-free relationship is probably a shallow relationship. Second, you need to find out if the person you are with is capable of dealing... Continue Reading »
Unhealed relational wounds drive us to compulsive attempts to repair the damage. That is, without being aware of it, we seek out people we believe can “fix” what’s wrong with us or help us find a piece of ourselves we feel is missing. We function emotionally like the starving man who looks in a dumpster and sees lunch instead of garbage. His perception is so driven by his need that he is willing to eat something that might make him sick. Though we may not be aware of it, something in us wants completeness. God has “set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and we long for him and the full life he promises. But if we remain unaware of the powerful forces at work within us, such as our family dynamic and how we responded to it, we can be blind to its influence and seek out the completeness we lack by making all the wrong choices. For example, consider the following scenarios: The overly nice person lacks assertiveness and the ability to confront, so he attracts controlling and aggressive people. The overly angry person can’t allow herself to feel helpless or sad, so she finds empathic people... Continue Reading »
Romance is great. Sexuality is great. Attraction is great. But here is the key: If all of those are not built upon lasting friendship and respect for the person’s character, something is wrong. A real and lasting relationship must be built upon friendship first. You are going to spend a lot of time with that person. As one friend of mine said about picking her mate: “He was someone I knew I could grow old with. I liked spending time with him. And he made me laugh.” She also shared deep spiritual values and other commonalties with him as well, as she would with any other friend. They have been married for nearly thirty years. The best boundary that you can have in your dating life is to begin every relationship with an eye toward friendship. Do not rush into any kind of romance. Keep your boundaries, physically, emotionally, and otherwise. But, how do you do this? Spend time getting to know someone in nonromantic ways. For example: Spend time with that person in groups of other friends. How well does he or she fit in? How well do you fit in with his or her friends? Does he or... Continue Reading »