By Adrienne Kather, LPC

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about dating and relationships. Not only because I have just re-entered dating/relationship world after years of not being in it (even during years of being single), but also because many people in my life are in various stages in dating/relationship world as well. It seems to me that it’s an often confusing and difficult place to be because there are hardly any easy, black-and-white answers to the questions that come up. I don’t have the answers, but I’d like to share the things I’ve learned/decided for myself and the things I’m wondering about.

Healing after the end of a relationship
The first thing I learned is what it meant to heal after the ending of a relationship. Up until the ending of my long term relationship that I thought was nearing marriage, I had always dreamed that I would marry my first boyfriend. That may have been unrealistic, but that was my dream. Obviously, it didn’t happen.

That in itself was a loss I had to do a grieving process over. There were other losses I had to grieve as well. To name a few… The loss of the dream of the relationship working if that person could have been willing to become aware and do his own healing and growth work. The loss of who I wanted to be my best friend (at the time of grieving it was simply the loss of my best friend, but looking back the reality is that I was very much disillusioned about the state of our relationship).

That was the other part of the healing process – getting out of my disillusionment. To be fair, there was good in the relationship and in the person. No matter how unhealthy or bad the relationship, there always is some good. Otherwise we wouldn’t stay; we wouldn’t hold on to the dream of what we know that person could be and of what the relationship could be. But I had denied and justified red flags and hurt for so long, I convinced myself that the good was bigger than the unhealthy – even that the unhealthy was my own stuff not his. But the reality was that we both had unhealthy stuff that mirrored each other and was triggering each other. The reality was that I was trying to work on healing from my unhealthy and growing into healthy, and he didn’t know how to come alongside me in that or how to do that work in himself or how to let me come alongside him. The reality was that I didn’t only need to own my part; I also needed to disown the parts that were not mine. I needed to acknowledge the ways he had done wrong to and hurt me and the ways I had done that to him. Then I needed to do the grieving/forgiveness process regarding those things. Undoing disillusionment came in layers.

Looking for patterns. I was determined not to repeat this relationship, so I needed to find out how I ended up there. I looked at the people in the past I had been drawn to and looked for any patterns I could find. What things was I attracted to in them? What things irritated me about them? What things were struggles shared by those individuals? How did they interact with me? What feelings did I have when interacting with them? What role was I taking in relating with them? And finally, when was the first time I remember feeling those things, taking on those roles, etc. Then asking myself if all that is healthy and doing some healing work in those areas, which meant…

Looking at what I believed about myself and relationships. Somewhere along the line I had swallowed the lie that I needed a relationship to have worth and value and be loved and be whole. Which isn’t really surprising since that is the message we hear in society – in some ways through media and some ways even through the church. Somewhere in me I believed I was un-loveable, un-wantable, and unworthy. That might not be what you’re believing, but what is it that you are believing about yourself and relationships? Once I figured out that, I had to figure out where it came from (ask the question, when do I first remember feeling/thinking these things). In addition to messages from society, it usually gets rooted because of some wounding experience we had, usually when we were growing up.

Then I had to start experiencing real love. Not the shallow, unsustainable, incomplete love that was in my past relationship, but real love. I realized all my life the lie that I was un-loveable and un-wantable had largely kept me from receiving love (which is part of what drew me to someone who didn’t know how to love completely while the fear of losing what love was there kept me in the unhealthy relationship), even from completely receiving it from God. I would receive some love sometimes, and probably mostly from God, but even His love I was not letting in completely. This was the hardest part of healing (and in reality, this wasn’t just healing from the relationship, but also finishing healing childhood woundedness) because it meant I had to allow myself to be vulnerable. Every time I felt my protection walls going up for no reason with safe people in my life, I had to make a conscious effort to keep the walls down, to talk myself through it so the child in me would know she was safe – that we could receive the good and reject what wasn’t (since no one is perfect). So I started receiving love from my family members, from friends, etc., and through them from God, as well as from God directly.

Figuring out what I wanted in a relationship
I had always known what I didn’t want in a person and relationship, but I never really knew what it was I wanted. I thought I did, but it was really just the opposites of what I didn’t want and said in a way that made it out that the person would practically be perfect which went along perfectly with me thinking I had to be perfect. Too bad no one is perfect.

For me, finding what I wanted meant asking “What am I scared of?” I remember being in my counselor’s office saying how I was just never going to be in a relationship again; I was terrified of ending up in a relationship like my past one. I had all these what-ifs of worst things that could happen and my counselor just kept saying, “That could happen”. I thought to myself, this is the worst counseling session ever! But by the end of the session, I wasn’t terrified anymore…I finally heard the second part of what she was saying, “That could happen. The question is, if it happens how will you work through it together?” At the end she said I wouldn’t end up with someone the same because now I know the red flags and am not going to deny or justify them anymore. And as I realized over time it was okay that I wasn’t perfect, I started realizing for the other person to be safe doesn’t mean they have to be perfect either. I’m looking for safe, not perfect.

What does safe look like? If safe isn’t perfect, what is does it look like? The following is what I’ve come to for me:
  • Desires continual growth and there is evidence he knows how to do growth work.
  • Knows how to and does come alongside me in my growth and knows how and does let me come alongside him in his.
  • Can own his stuff and can acknowledge it. This means more than “I’m sorry I hurt you”, but rather truly owning what was hurtful and/or wrong and looks for what is needed to change.
  • Doesn’t hold my stuff against me or use it against me.
  • Handles the vulnerable stuff I share with care and can share at the same level of vulnerability.
I need to be all of me…back to core beliefs. There was something I wanted that I didn’t think was possible. Because of some experiences growing up, I believed I couldn’t have both my dreams and a relationship. I believed I couldn’t be all of me – particularly not the strong, independent, serious, perceptive-gifted part of me if I wanted a relationship. Also, because of for so long feeling the need to protect, was scared to let the more vulnerable, wanting to know and be known, love and be loved, celebrate and be celebrated part of me be there…which obviously gets in the way of having a relationship. I need both parts, because I’m not really me if one of the parts is missing. So, I need someone who values both parts. Then God started opening my eyes to people in my life who did value both parts and I started believing maybe it was possible to have a relationship with someone who values both parts.

Entering the dating scene
Okay, now I was ready to do enter dating world (online) and had to find a practical way to weed people out…or, I mean, a practical way to see red flags quickly. This is the part that might be more specifically applicable to me, but hopefully it will prompt you to think about what it looks like for you. The following are some test points for me:
  • Don’t compliment something physical in the first correspondence. And don’t feed me lines. This is a yellow flag. I want to know you want to get to know me, which means you need to care about more than just the physical.
  • Don’t tell me what we’re doing for our first date without asking if it’s okay with me. In fact, I’d really like it if you asked me what I want to do and we can figure it out together.
  • Don’t try to sweep me off my feet. I don’t need a whirlwind romance. I want a sustainable relationship, which means I need to know I can build a solid friendship with you. It’s the friendship that will sustain the relationship. Romance within building a friendship is fine, the point is the speed and being in reality.
  • If you can’t handle a delay in response, I’ll wonder if you can’t handle me having a life. Also, once we’re texting/talking… after the first time texting/talking, don’t text/call me again the very next day. After that whether it becomes daily or not depends on how it’s going.
  • If I see in your profile that you need to feel chemistry by the second date, I’ll probably delete you. What is chemistry? Sometimes I can tell you mean simply connection, but often it seems like you mean sexual attraction. Not that sexual attraction is bad, but is that really what you’re primarily concerned about on a first or second date? Again, can I build a sustainable friendship with you? If I can do that, sexual attraction can build over time.
  • Of course, I’ll be monitoring how I feel about the things in the “what is safe” section.
  • Ultimately, I’ll be looking for things that let me know we’re the best fit. Not that either of us is perfect, but that we’re the best fit for each other.
I feel the need to apologize for the length of this blog article…I guess I had more to say than I realized! Thanks for letting me process with you and I hope it gets you thinking about what is important to you in a relationship. In summary, the things that seem important to me are taking time to heal after a relationship ends, taking time to figure out what you want, and be able to take the next steps in moving forward. Even apart from a significant other relationship, taking time to heal from our past wounds, being committed to growing into who God created us to be, and living life in relationship with others are core factors in the journey of sanctification.