Dr. James Dobson offers 16 "tough love" suggestions to help singles in matters of the heart.
Let me get very specific with those of you who are single but wish not to be. (No insult is intended to those who are single by design and wish to remain unmarried. That is a legitimate choice which should be respected by friends and family alike.) I have listed 16 suggestions that will help you conform to the principles of loving toughness in matters of the heart.
1. Don’t let the relationship move too fast in its infancy. The phrase “too hot not to cool down” has validity. Take it one step at a time.
2. Don’t discuss your personal inadequacies and flaws in great detail when the relationship is new. No matter how warm and accepting your friend may be, any great revelation of low self-esteem or embarrassing weaknesses can be fatal when interpersonal “valleys” occur. And they will occur.
3. Remember that respect precedes love. Build it stone upon stone.
4. Don’t call too often on the phone or give the other person an opportunity to get tired of you.
5. Don’t be too quick to reveal your desire to get married—or that you think you’ve just found Mr. Wonderful or Miss Marvelous. If your partner has not arrived at the same conclusion, you’ll throw him or her into panic.
6. Most important: Relationships are constantly being “tested” by cautious lovers who like to nibble at the bait before swallowing the hook. This testing procedure takes many forms, but it usually involves pulling backward from the other person to see what will happen. Perhaps a foolish fight is initiated. Maybe two weeks will pass without a phone call. Or sometimes flirtation occurs with a rival. In each instance, the question being asked is, “How important am I to you and what would you do if you lost me?” An even more basic issue lies below that one. It wants to know, “How free am I to leave if I want to?” It is incredibly important in these instances to appear poised, secure and equally independent. Do not grasp the other person and beg for mercy. Some people remain single throughout life because they cannot resist the temptation to grovel when the test occurs.
7. Extending the same concept, keep in mind that virtually every dating relationship that continues for a year or more and seems to be moving toward marriage will be given the ultimate test. A breakup will occur, motivated by one of the partners. The rejected individual should know that their future together depends on the skill with which he/she handles that crisis. If the hurting individual can remain calm, the next two steps may be reconciliation and marriage. If not, then no amount of pleading will change anything.
8. Do not expect anyone to meet all your emotional needs. Maintain interest and activities outside the romantic relationship, even after marriage.
9. Guard against selfishness in the relationship. Neither the man nor the woman should do all the giving. I once broke up with a girl because she let me take her to nice places, bring her flowers, buy her lunch, etc. I wanted to do these things, but expected her to reciprocate in some way. She didn’t.
10. Beware of blindness to obvious warning signs that tell you that your potential husband or wife is basically disloyal, hateful, spiritually uncommitted, hooked on drugs or alcohol, given to selfishness, etc. Believe me, a bad marriage is far worse than the most lonely instance of singleness.
11. Don’t marry the person you think you can live with; marry only the individual you think you can’t live without.
12. Be careful to defend the “line of respect” even during a dating relationship. A man should open doors for a woman on a formal evening; a woman should speak respectfully of her escort when in public, etc. If you don’t preserve this delicate line when the foundations of marriage are being laid, it will be virtually impossible to construct them later.
13. Do not equate human worth with flawless beauty or handsomeness! If you require physical perfection in your mate, he or she may make the same demands of you. Don’t let love escape you because of the false values of your culture. In the same vein, be careful not to compare yourself with others—which is the root of all inferiority.
14. If genuine love has escaped you thus far, don’t begin believing “no one would ever want me.” That is a deadly trap that can destroy you emotionally! Millions of people are looking for someone to love. The problem is finding one another!
15. Regardless of how brilliant the dating relationship has been, take time to “check your assumptions” with your partner before committing yourself to marriage. It is surprising how often men and women plunge into matrimony without ever becoming aware of major differences in expectation between them.
- Do you want to have children? How soon? How many?
- Where will you live?
- Will the wife work? How soon? How about after children are born?
- Who will lead in the relationship? What does that really mean?
- How will you relate to your in-laws?
- How will money be spent?
- Where will you attend church?
These and dozens of other “assumptions” should be discussed item-by-item, perhaps with the help of a premarital counselor. Many future struggles can be avoided by coming to terms with potential areas of disagreement. If the differences are great enough, it is even possible that the marriage should never occur.
Finally, sexual familiarity can be deadly to a relationship. In addition to the many moral, spiritual and physical reasons for remaining virgins until marriage, there are numerous psychological and interpersonal advantages to the exercise of self-control and discipline. Though it’s an old-fashioned notion, perhaps, it is still true that men do not respect “easy” women and often become bored with those who have held nothing in reserve. Likewise, women often disrespect men who have only one thing on their minds. Both sexes need to remember how to use a very ancient word. It’s pronounced “No!”
This material is excerpted from Dr. Dobson’s book Love Must Be Tough (copyright © 1983, 1996 by James Dobson, Inc.), published by Tyndale House Publishers, and is used by permission.