With any person that I have a close relationship with, I enjoy carrying on deep conversations about my faith and theirs and various issues involved in living out the Christian life. I guess I’ve always thought it was important to do with the person you are dating; I want the person I marry to be deeply in love with Jesus (as I try to be).
I’ve wondered lately if I went too deep too quickly with my ex. Do you think there is a timeline for how fast to get into the “deeper” conversations? I wonder if I scared my ex off, and I don’t want to make that mistake again.
Thank you for writing. I’m sorry for your heartache and know how disruptive breakups can be. They are never fun because they are the end of something that at one point, you (and hopefully the man involved) thought had the potential to result in marriage. But too often breakups are more painful than necessary precisely for the reason you suspect: We go deeper than we should, prematurely embracing intimacy and even acting married before the wedding. All this is possible even where sexual sin is absent.
And all this is probable for the woman, who is by God’s design eager to follow a man’s lead. The challenge we as women face is to wait until marriage to submit. Though women are literally cursed with a desire within marriage to usurp the authority of their husbands and resist submitting to them in marriage (see Genesis 3), they are equally tempted to submit to men generally outside of marriage. As I’ve written before in this space, the only man you are called to submit to is your husband. Ephesians 5:22-24, NIV says it this way,
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
The church is to submit fully and only to Christ; so too, the wife to her husband. When women submit prematurely to men whom they may, or may not, marry, there’s trouble. And as you’ve seen, it takes the form of premature intimacy. You must guard your heart from giving it to a man who has not made a commitment to you in marriage. You must not give him what he hasn’t the right to have. This is as true in the emotional and spiritual realm as it is in the physical one.
Of course there must be some getting-to-know-you conversation early on in order to know if you are a good match for marriage. And there must be a deepening of the relationship as you move through friendship, courtship and engagement. There is no list of “approved questions” or topics of conversation in the Bible. As easy as that might make things, we must stretch, striving for wisdom and discernment. We get wisdom by asking God for it; by studying His Word; by practicing the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, discipleship and church membership. In short, what you must strive for in your own heart and life is spiritual maturity, allowing the fruit of the Spirit to overflow into every area of your life, including dating.
A few rules of thumb: The conversations you have before you’re married should be of the sort you’d be willing to have with your dad or your pastor sitting beside you. That doesn’t mean they’ll all be happy-go-lucky or even without tension, but that the way you talk about things, especially difficult things, is discreet, always striving to be holy and doing all things as unto the Lord.
For example, you will need to talk at some point about how you are crucifying sexual sin in your lives and what measures you are taking to make it impossible. That’s a lot different than asking him about his past, fishing for details about whom he’s sinned with, and what they did (and vice versa). What matters is not if he/you sinned (we all sin and fall short of the glory of God), but how you’ve responded to your sin (and he to his) and how you’re warring against it.
When you date biblically — for the purpose of finding a mate — it seems justifiable to go deep, and the sooner the better. The challenge though is to hold the relationship, and the man, at arms’ length during the courtship so as to retain your perspective and the ability to think clearly about your choice. It’s precisely because this decision is so important — the marriage relationship will be your primary relationship for the rest of your life — that you must remain objective and as much as possible, undistracted by the surge of emotions and hormones that so often take on a life of their own.
This is also why it’s essential to have the input and help of your church community (and where possible, your family) during the dating season. Your boyfriend’s abrupt ending of the relationship without explanation would have been virtually impossible if you had been dating in the context of the body of Christ. Where Christian couples invite input and guidance from older, wiser believers (Titus 2), they make great strides toward keeping the relationship moving toward marriage, all the while helping minimize the possibility of sin and heartache.
Contrary to what our culture and even many of our churches say, marriage isn’t private or something between just husband and wife. Christian marriage is communal; it’s a covenant between husband and wife, before God and witnessed by the body of Christ. Should there be trouble in the future, it is the responsibility of the church body that witnessed the wedding vows to step in and defend the marriage, applying church discipline if necessary, in order to prevent divorce.
All of this makes sense where a covenant exists. What’s difficult is when it doesn’t. If you’re just dating, and especially if you’re dating culturally, there’s no framework for holding either one of you accountable for bad behavior. There was no one to question the level of your conversational intimacy and no one to ask him about his intentions along the way or why he ended things without an explanation.
Mercifully, there are things about your situation to be thankful for. For starters, if his exit from the relationship, as you described it, was the result of a lack of character, it’s better that it ended. If it was the result of you pushing him away with premature emotional intimacy, I’d say again that it’s a blessing that it ended. I suspect it was a bit of both. You have an opportunity to ask what went wrong and learn from it going forward. That’s a gift. Of course we all have the opportunity to learn from our mistakes. Too often we don’t take it.
But if you are being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29), then you can be confident that God will use this difficult experience for your good and His glory (Romans 8:28). Going forward, I would encourage you to read Scott Croft’s Biblical Dating Series on Boundless for more details about the pace of intimacy and what’s appropriate to each stage of courtship/dating. I’d also exhort you to not date again apart from your church body but to walk out any potentially romantic relationship in the context of the body. Get the input of older, wiser women. And as a couple, seek out the help of well-married, mature couples.
May the Lord guide your steps.
Copyright 2011 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.