Setting wise boundaries in dating becomes more important as two people feel more attracted to one another, especially when they’re opposites in personality. However, one reason people are initially drawn to an individual with opposite traits is a pretty healthy one. It is that we are drawn to those who possess what we do not, so that we can internalize and own that trait for ourselves. This is a good thing, as that is how God designed the growth process. However, dating is not a good arena in which to develop oneself in a specific and important aspect of growth.
Take for example Lindsey and Alex. Lindsey was more of a lover than a fighter. She was good at caring and connecting with others, but she had a hard time with assertiveness and conflict. It seemed she often ended up having to put up with maltreatment or inconsiderateness from others.
Lindsey started dating Alex, who was her opposite in this area. Alex was strong, confident, and had no problems entering into conflict for what he believed was right. He had clear moral and spiritual values, was successful in his career, and took initiative to solve his problems. Lindsey was attracted to Alex’s strength. She was even more smitten when it helped her own life. For example, Lindsey’s apartment manager neglected to have an electrical wiring problem repaired after she had made several requests. She mentioned the problem to Alex over dinner.
The next day, he had called her manager, and the wiring was fixed within twenty-four hours. She was elated, grateful, and even more attracted to Alex. He certainly had other good qualities, such as being caring, responsible, and funny. But she felt a lot of relief when she encountered conflicts that Alex would handle for her.
With Lindsey and Alex the relationship continued to grow and deepen. However, Lindsey began relying more and more on Alex to enter into conflict that she felt ill-equipped to deal with. He negotiated with her garage mechanic over problems with her car. He talked to her boss about her weekend work hours. He even confronted her mother on how she used guilt to get Lindsey to make inopportune visits.
Finally, the confrontational Alex sat Lindsey down for their own confrontation. He explained, “I really love you, but I’m starting to feel some resentment. I don’t mind helping you; it makes me feel useful. But with some of these relationships you are afraid of dealing with, I’m feeling more used than useful.”
Lindsey understood what Alex was saying. She had been utilizing the “opposite-thinking” mentality to keep from working on her own growth—specifically, her fear of conflict, anger, and arguments. She agreed that she had been using Alex without realizing it, and she began working on assertiveness. She told him, “Let me know the next time I ask you to do my dirty work for me.” Alex appreciated her attitude, and the ability for setting boundaries in dating to improve their relationship.
We should use and appreciate the abilities of those who have what we don’t. However, the danger occurs when we make opposing styles or abilities a basis for relating to one another. At the outset of the relationship, this may seem like a good thing. You are complementing each other. You each provide what the other needs. You are stimulated by the other’s different point of view.
However, the danger of going for an opposite-type person is this: opposite-driven relationships often confuse dependency with true love. That is, people may feel intense longings and attractions for an “opposite” person. They may appreciate the “completion” they feel with that person. But they run the risk of simply needing that person for those functions, and never giving the true loving feelings any relationship needs to grow and flourish. Dependency is only part of love. It is not the full expression of love. The full expression of love is to give back from a full heart.
The story of Lindsey and Alex ends well, as the two eventually married and are happy together. But, without boundaries in dating, the problem could have resolved in very different ways, which we see in countless new relationships and marriages. For instance:
- Alex could have quietly resented Lindsey, and the relationship could have disintegrated.
- Lindsey could have disagreed with Alex, thinking it was his job in the relationship to solve these problems.
- Alex could have used his confrontation abilities to control and manipulate her in the relationship.
- Lindsey could have despaired at her inability to stand up for herself.
- Lindsey could have resented Alex’s abilities, and seen him as domineering instead of working on becoming more assertive herself.
Resentment. Loss of Freedom. Confusion of Responsibilities. Parent-Child Struggles. These are not the hallmarks of a great relationship. Yet, these are the dangers that can happen when oppositeness rules. Had Lindsey not been a growing-type person, she may have remained conflict-avoidant, always looking to Alex to do that which she was afraid or unwilling to do.
While we are to go to others for help in areas, exhibiting boundaries in dating means we are still to take ownership of our lives. If you find yourself continually needing to go to your dates for things you should be doing yourself, you may be refusing to take ownership and grow in your own life. It is much better to go to non-dating relationships in order to mature and grow with the tutelage of others who have what you are working on possessing.
What does a relationship look like in which two people are opposite, but both are taking ownership of their lives? These are a few indications:
1. Each person is dealing with his own problems as his. They aren’t the other’s. It isn’t the other’s failure if we fail in an area that we aren’t strong in.
2. Both members love and appreciate the gifts and abilities of the other person. However, they see each other’s abilities as gifts, not as necessities to the relationship.
3. Each member is actively involved in pursuing spiritual completion and growth in his areas of weakness, not content to let the other do the work in that area.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be dependent on each other. God created us to be dependent on himself and others. But, dependency has an ultimate purpose: growth. We are to take in the love, comfort, and instruction of others in order to grow. Opposites often depend on each other. That is not a problem, as long as that dependency spurs each member on to spiritual and emotional maturity and completeness.
Learn more about how to build the best dating relationship with Boundaries in Dating.