It's good to make plans, especially when it comes to relationships.
I still remember the day Kevin told me what he had in mind for our two-week old relationship. I was sitting on the couch. He was standing. "So, I've been thinking ..." he said. What followed were my new boyfriend's thoughts on how he would like us to conduct our relationship.
As someone who hadn't dated much, I was a little surprised by Kevin's proactive approach; but I admired it. His purpose was to make a plan for how our relationship would proceed.
We hadn't even held hands yet, but during that time we established some specific physical boundaries. Only a handful of our friends knew we had begun dating, but Kevin talked about his desire that our relationship would be a godly example to others. We even discussed problems we'd had with earlier relationships and how we planned to do things differently this time.
Eye on the Prize
The Winter Olympics recently passed. I loved watching the athletes compete. I also loved hearing their stories. Theirs are tales of extreme discipline, willing sacrifice and unswerving focus. Olympic athletes do not end up on the podium by chance. They set a goal — to win a gold medal — and they dedicate their entire lives to achieving that objective.
Think of what would happen if relationships were treated in the same way. Most of us set goals in other areas of life — education, finances, fitness, career, athletics — so why not do the same with relationships? You're probably familiar with the timeworn saying, "If you aim for nothing, you'll hit it every time." That's what can happen when you go into a relationship without setting any goals.
Some of my friends have found themselves in bad relationship situations that could have been avoided had they just made a plan. Here are four important areas in which couples can chart their relationships:
Physical. The best time to plan physical boundaries is at the very start of relationship, before a physical relationship has even begun. Not only is sexual purity something God commands; it is the absolute best foundation for a godly relationship.
Talk with your significant other about what level of physical relationship you want to maintain and then strategize on how to make that happen. This may require setting a curfew, pulling in others for accountability or avoiding time alone.
Be specific in your plans, especially if you have struggled in this area in the past. Like a diet where you lose weight by cutting calories, make a plan for how you are going to abstain from situations and actions that might lead to sinful or unhealthy habits.
A friend of mine urges, "Don't be afraid to change your plan if it's not working." For example, you may find some boundaries are not strict enough or that you and your significant other have difficulty keeping them. At that point, reevaluate the boundaries you have established and adjust where needed to continue on the path of purity. The extra effort is worth the benefits of a godly relationship.
Spiritual. Many new couples struggle to figure out the balance when it comes to forming a spiritual connection. I have often heard warnings against participating in spiritual activities together. Praying together, some say, can be too intimate.
In my experience, the level of spiritual bonding a couple can handle varies by relationship. If a couple is spending hours alone together in Bible study and prayer, this may lead to temptation. But for two people exploring the possibility of marriage, establishing a spiritual connection is crucial.
When Kevin and I started premarital counseling, our pastor encouraged us to pray together every day. He said, "Now is the time to make spiritual disciplines part of your relationship. Otherwise, they will feel unnatural later."
He makes a good point. If you don't make spiritual activities a central part of your relationship, you may miss out on key aspect of the other person — how he or she responds to the Lord.
Like any potentially bonding activity, you must decide as a couple how and when to include spiritual elements in your relationship. Study a book of the Bible together. Attend a small group. Pray about your relationship. Choose a ministry you can do together.
Shortly after Kevin and I began dating, I started serving with him in second through fourth grade Sunday school. Not only did we delight in our shared passion for children's ministry, we also discovered how well we worked together.
Always keep in mind how you can best serve the other person. At the start of a relationship, you do not know for sure if this will be the person you marry. Ask the Lord how you can be a good steward of the other person.
Emotional. One of the most important aspects of a relationship can also be its most volatile — emotional intimacy. One of my friends began dating her now-boyfriend just as she was nearing the most intense part of the counseling she was undergoing. "I just had to tell him I couldn't share everything I was going through with him," she says. "Our relationship was too new."
I believe my friend made a discerning choice. Sharing too much too soon can lead to big problems, including codependency and physical temptation. As a couple, you should talk about what emotional boundaries you plan to uphold. For example, the first few weeks of a relationship may not be the best time to reveal all your deep, dark secrets. Such sharing creates a false sense of intimacy before you even really know the person.
This brings up a related issue: How and when do you share past indiscretions? Honesty is crucial; however, there are ways to keep the truth at the forefront without sharing every emotional detail. A person can allude to the fact that they have made some mistakes without pouring out the whole tearful story. This may be appropriate as the relationship shows signs of heading toward marriage; but agree with your significant other to reserve emotional exchanges for their proper time.
While I've mainly touched on the potential pitfalls, building an emotional connection is important. If the two of you are busy, set aside a few times each week to just talk and connect emotionally. Seek to learn what is close to the other person's heart. And as the relationship grows, be willing to reveal thoughts and opinions that go beneath the surface.
One of the most beautiful moments I recall with Kevin occurred while we were dating. As he was talking about his nieces and nephew and how he wanted to be a good example for them, his eyes welled up. I think I fell in love with him at that moment.
Intellectual. A friend recently told me how one of her mentors encouraged her and her now-husband to continue learning throughout their relationship. "If we are each drawing from different wells of knowledge," she says, "we bring more to the relationship."
There is truth to that statement. If you and your significant other are crazy about one another, there can be a tendency for the relationship to become ingrown. Maintaining other friendships and seeking out opportunities to learn can add to the life of your relationship.
That said, learning something together can be fun as well. One couple I know took a theology class while they were dating. It was an hour drive to and from the seminary where they took the class, which also provided ample time for them to discuss.
As a couple, talk about some ways you might want to increase your intellectual connection while you are dating. Some ideas may include attending the same Sunday school class, reading a book together or going to a conference as a couple.
Plan to Succeed
I realize there are other aspects of relationships that are not covered here, but these four provide a place to start. As you navigate a new relationship, don't be afraid to set goals. At the same time, realize that each relationship unfolds differently and the only "rules" are to honor Christ with your relationship and exercise the wisdom that comes from fearing God.
I'm thankful that Kevin had the foresight to chart our relationship before we wandered down any thorny paths. It wasn't always easy following through on what we had planned, but with God's help we were able to keep our eyes on the goal. And I owe that to the fact that we planned to succeed.
Copyright 2010 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.