This week on the blog I'm fielding advice requests. We'll talk dating, moving away from your family, and whether or not you should start a blog (plus some helpful tips if you decide blogging is for you). Let's start things off today with dating. We'll hit moving away on Tuesday and blogging on Thursday (Lord willing and schedule allowing).
A few weeks ago a friend of mine texted asking for some dating advice. She's about two months into a great relationship. The guy she's dating loves God and loves her. Both of them really want to date well. They're talking about their purpose as a couple, considering their friends and ensuring they continue to value those relationships, and they're setting up healthy patterns of communication.
Honestly, when she asked me for advice, I giggled. Because she seemed to know what she was doing. She had a plan. She was seeking wisdom from people. I did not date so well. Though I did date looong. During my five and a half years of dating my husband (beginning at the age of 13) I did the following things:
- I pitted my parents against my boyfriend and my boyfriend against my parents.
- I manipulated my boyfriend by flaunting the attention I received from other boys.
- I expected my boyfriend to pay for everything despite the fact that (for much of our relationship) I made as much or more money as he did.
- I ignored my relationship with his family.
- I encouraged my boyfriend to spend all his time with me, ignoring his friends and minimizing his outside interests.
- I did not have sex. But I did do a loooooottt of making out.
- I spent way too much time talking about our future and not enough time doing things for the glory of God in the present.
- I didn't speak up or clearly identify my concerns when my boyfriend acted in ways that seemed unhealthy or dangerous.
- I made my boyfriend (or maybe "the relationship") into an idol.
All of these things are obviously problems. Looking back, I can can see the seeds of almost all the hurdles and struggles we've faced in marriage right there in our busted approach to dating as teenagers. But we were teenagers, and so I give dating Jen and Justin a lot of grace. As we've aged and matured in Christ we've learned some things about how to love another person. We've undone our unhealthy practices and developed new habits of selflessness, honesty and partnership.
My friend asked, "Are there areas in your marriage that you wish you would have focused more on when you were dating?"
1. I wish we'd worked together more.
I wish we'd done mission work together or built a website together or mowed lawns together. I wish we'd had something outside our relationship to look at and value and work toward. It would have made us less selfish, less self-obsessed, and more purposeful. Now, 16 years married, partnership in good work is a foundation of our relationship. We lead pre-marriage counseling together. We teach Bible classes together. I help him preach better sermons. He helps me write better books. We parent our kids as partners. Even our hobbies (hiking, home maintenance) are exercises in working (and sweating) together.
Dating people need to engage in hard work together. At the very least, put together some IKEA furniture. You need to develop your getting stuff done skills. Marriage is mostly getting stuff done.
2. I wish we'd prayed together more.
I wish we'd prayed before dates. I wish we'd texted prayers to one another throughout the day. I wish we'd prayed over big decisions together, right there in the same room, each of us hearing the other person's out-loud words. I wish we'd prayed about struggles together. I wish we'd prayed for our parents together. I wish we'd praised God together.
I can't imagine what might have been if we'd simply sought God's face and will together in prayer on a daily basis.
3. I wish we'd been more honest and transparent.
It took us way too long as married people to tell each other the full, unfiltered truth. To be real, we still don't always tell each other everything. We're trying, but it's hard--especially when you developed and solidified bad habits while dating. I wish we hadn't held back. I wish we hadn't tried to hide the parts of us we weren't super proud of. I wish we'd clearly communicated our expectations. I wish we'd been quick to speak up when we were disappointed or hurt. I wish we'd made our relationship a safer place for vulnerability. I wish we'd taken more risks with our feelings, thoughts, and flaws.
If we had, we'd be in a better place. And we'd have saved ourselves so many hurts along the way.
4. I wish we'd lived in the present.
The biggest regret I have from those five and half years is all the time I spent dreaming of a day when we could get married. To me, back then, marriage was magic. One day I would get married and all the hard things wouldn't be hard anymore. For one, I'd get to have sex and that would solve all my struggles with self control. I'd move out of parents' house and into my own place, a married woman, and my parents and I would stop arguing so much. I'd finally be able to be with my boyfriend, now husband, ALL THE TIME. And because of that we would argue less.
As you can see, I was misguided--as we all are when we idealize the future. Looking back, I wish I'd embraced the season I was in. I wish I'd spent less time with my boyfriend. I wish I'd invested more in my friends and in school. I wish I'd played more and worried less. I wish I'd found more ways to live fully in the moment.
If I had, I feel like I'd have enabled myself to live more fully in the moments since then, embracing each season of our marriage with joy and purpose, instead of running from one season to the next, always looking ahead to the magic future.
5. I wish we'd invested in our relationships with each other's families.
My relationship with my husband's family was not good at the start of our marriage. The biggest reason was that for the last five and a half years (coincidentally his last five years at home) I'd eaten up all of his attention. He snuck out of the house to see me. He spent weekends with me. And even when they'd go on a family outing, I'd tag along and we'd whisper in the backseat. I made very little effort to get to know Justin's parents during that time. And every chance I could, I asked if we could hang out with my family instead of his.
I wish I'd helped his littlest sister with school projects. I wish I'd hung out with his middle sister, taken her to the movies or the beach. I wish I'd said every once in a while, "How about you go out with your family tonight instead of me?" I wish I'd tried the food his mom made but I thought was weird. I wish I'd played catch with his dad. I wish we'd asked them questions about being married and having kids. I wish we'd divided our time between our families equally.
All of that would have laid a much better foundation of family peace and unity upon which to build a marriage.
6. I wish we'd loved each other better.
I thought a lot about me when I was dating. How happy was I in the relationship? Was he meeting my expectations of what a boyfriend should be? Did I like him more than I liked the other boys around me? Unfortunately, I didn't spend much time thinking about him. I mean, I thought about him. A lot. But not so much about how I might serve him or sacrifice my wants for his or help make him a better person.
I wish I'd approached dating as an opportunity to get better at love. Looking at I Corinthians 13, I wish I'd practiced patience and kindness. I wish I'd learned how not to be jealous, how to be humble in an argument, how to forgive generously and repeatedly. I wish I'd learned to welcome the hard truth with joy. I wish I'd learned to protect someone, to trust them and believe the best about their heart.
Love is what marriage is about. And whether or not the person you're dating is the person you marry, learning to love that person will empower you to love your spouse better.
So, what did I miss? What do you wish you'd done when you were dating in preparation for marriage? Give us the good advice I know you have below in the comments!