Christian dating relationships aren’t foolproof.
They don’t depend on saying the right words in your prayer time, on not kissing or doing devotions together.
Christian dating relationships are (hopefully) more pure, more loving, more centered on truths of grace and sacrificial love than secular dating relationships but, at the end, beginning or middle of the day, they are still relationships between two people. Two human beings who struggle deeply with themselves, their desires and understanding their identity.
Sometimes, when Christians date, Christians break up.
It shouldn’t shock us but often it does. Well-meaning Christians pour over The Right Books looking for clues to make their relationship work (I know I did!). I had lists, flow-charts (overkill, Charissa, overkill – there were better uses for your fall break) and a lot of genuinely heartfelt prayers for the “success” (read: diamond ring and promise of forever) of my relationships.
Yet, I still wound up with one mutual breakup and one un-mutual breakup before I met my husband and began to live realistically ever after.
I’ve talked about some of the things I learned from my relationships in this post: When Christians Date.
The reality is though, we’re held to the same standard of Christ-like love whether our relationship moves to marriage or…ends with a tear-filled cup of coffee (ice cream never worked for me). There is no treat-your-ex-like-a-useless-human-being option (because, there are NO useless human beings).
Here’s what I know now and wish I knew then. As with the first post on dating, I write this with a lot of humility – if there is one thing I am NOT it’s a relationship expert. Yet, I hope it blesses you; whatever relational stage of life you’re at.
1) Don’t forget what your learned in your relationship.
(assuming your relationship WAS a genuine relationship and not a…distraction from homework).
It’s easy to do this.
In trying to move on, forget the pain and try again we can leave all the truths learned about ourselves in no-man’s land – somewhere between an ex and a new dating relationship.
Take the time between relationships to dig deep into the truths God revealed to you through the process. Are you emotionally dependent? Controlling? Angry? Do you struggle to communicate? Have a tendency towards blaming others for your problems (including your most recent ex)? Are you crippled by insecurity?
Typically the time after a break-up is emotional and filled with a lot of questions (yes, even for guys). Don’t spend it stalking your ex-boyfriend or girl-friend (you know how you ”just happened to sign up for all the same classes” ) allow these days and months to be a rich season of growth and deeper intimacy with Christ – the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).
The rewards of pouring your broken heart out to God will last for an eternity – far longer than anger or hurt from your relationship. As you heal and move forward take the lessons with you; don’t assume your boyfriend was crazy when he mentioned you were demanding - examine your heart, pray about it, learn from it.
Ignoring painful feedback about yourself is easier in the short-term but foolish in the long-run as it will only keep you repeating un-healthy behavior patterns. Don’t stay trapped; do the difficult but liberating work it takes to grow.
I was single for nearly two years between my college boyfriend and the start of my relationship with Tom.
Those years held a lot of formative moments that moved me to the next level of intimacy with Christ and readiness for a dating relationship. If I hadn’t taken the time to do a lot of praying, thinking and reading my life now would be very different – God put some wonderful people in my path who helped me focus on what mattered. There were many lonely days as I re-adjusted to all the empty space a breakup creates (i.e. Friday night is no longer “date night” etc.) but loneliness is NOT a bad thing.
In short – don’t waste this valuable time on bitterness and don’t mute the things God is saying to you by immediately starting a new relationship (all the butterflies of a new dating relationship tend to drown out the extremely important lessons you should be applying from the previous one).
2) Be considerate of your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend.
When you’re busy pretending someone doesn’t exist it’s easy to forget they still have feelings.
This will look different for each ex-couple but it’s an important conversation to have. Some people are content to never speak again (which may not be the healthiest choice) others tend to linger in a place of psuedo-emotional intimacy for a loooonnngg time; they’re not together but you wouldn’t know they broke up (again, not healthy).
There’s a better middle ground.
Yes, you have to reduce the level of intimacy with your ex. That is an absolute MUST. Space does that, it allows someone to become unfamiliar to you. You have to emotionally and physically get to a place where your first instinct is not grabbing their hand or pouring out your heart but you also need to finish the relationship well. You will spend an eternity in heaven together which means you should probably take a little extra time to bring closure, to have the conversations that need to be had.
It brings up that oft-asked question: can you break up and still be friends? The realistic answer is…probably not. Not close friends anyway, it makes a mess of proper boundaries. When your dating relationship has crossed the friendship line it’s really hard (impossible?) to forget it.
However, you can break up and be civil to each other. Polite, warm, kind.
Have some ground rules: will you greet each other if you pass on the sidewalk? Will you stop attending the same social events (at least for a little while)? Will you wait to date other people for a little while (if you make this promise, do your ex a favor and keep it)?
If it seems awkward to talk about these things when you’re breaking up try talking about them after 2-3 weeks of pretending you just didn’t see each other…sitting at the same table in the library.
The difficult part of this point is that is requires a level maturity that both people may not have. If your ex (or yourself) refuses to or perhaps is genuinely not able to have these conversations…let it go. In that case, not talking about it IS the most considerate thing.
3) Don’t get lost in the blame game. Don’t make your friends take sides.
We love this one don’t we?
Whose fault was it? Who said what? Who did what?
It’s easy to get stuck in asking why. Especially if you are the blindsided recipient of the “I think we need to end things” conversation and especially when it’s because “God said so” (but you haven’t yet heard the same thing).
That, that right there, is a painful place to be. When you feel temporarily abandoned by God and your ex.
I’m not trying to be melodramatic about this point but The Right Books don’t really address it. What to do when it feels like God has stopped talking to you but apparently is still communicating with your (now) ex? It doesn’t have an easy answer.
When you did everything you knew to do to make it work, when you thought you said all the correct things, when you tried and still the relationship crumbles around you – that aches in a unique way.
What’s not helpful is desperately trying to make the relationship work again, changing everything you are to become what they said they “needed”, placing or taking ALL responsibility for the relationship ending.
Relationships start between two people and they end because of two people.
You have to process the pain. I can’t stress that enough. Grief that stays trapped inside becomes bitterness. A breakup IS a loss and it needs to be treated that way.
However, the reality is that people will always remember what you say about your ex. Even if you’re not feeling fond of them do them the courtesy of speaking with integrity.
You don’t need to deny the wrong or painful things that happened but you do need to include the wrong or painful things you did and you do not need to tell the campus, all your Facebook friends or the church how you were “wronged”. Choose your special few and talk through things with them, let them pray for you, let them bring your flowers, let them cry with you. Choose them well.
4) Continue on with YOUR life.
One of the most painful things (especially for girls) is the loss of a future plan along with the relationship.
When my longer-term dating relationship ended I lost my boyfriend, primary source of affirmation and touch (my love languages) and the entire life I’d been headed towards for the past year.
The months afterward were a rich time of self-discovery. I was not good at boundaries until I was about 22 years old. Prior to that I would literally emotionally scan people around me and morph into what I thought they wanted.
Really helpful (NOT) for a healthy dating relationship.
My boyfriend at the time felt like he wasn’t dating a whole person (a fair statement) what he didn’t realize (because I didn’t) was that I didn’t know how to be a whole person.
I didn’t know who I was.
I was single for almost two years between that relationship and when I started dating Tom and, that time and the lessons learned from my relationships, are what God used to grow me into some new places of maturity (some crucially important places of maturity). Those years are when I became myself.
By the grace of God, I pressed on with MY life. I chose to begin my Master’s, I chose to travel to California and Honduras. I chose to keep living.
When I met Tom I didn’t just melt into him and forget my dreams (and, to his credit, he never once pressured me to). He is he and I am me. We have many dreams in common (which is why we work so well) but we are two people who chose to become one.
My life carried on and I emotionally carried on with it. It’s hard, it’s easy to want to stay with what has become familiar but it’s crucial to press forward, with much prayer for healing, and keep living.
Don’t allow what should be the past to become your permanent present.
5) Remember, your heart will heal.
In the moment it feels like it won’t.
That you won’t be able to move on, that you’ll spend the next thirty years thinking about a relationship that once was.
Believe me, you won’t IF you take the time to healthily address and heal from the hurt. Remember, if you were broken up with your ex has already begun moving on emotionally. Don’t be surprised by that (even though it will hurt too).
Do the hard work.
Refuse to run from the pain, refuse to jump into another dating relationship before you learn from the last one. Refuse to demean or speak ill of your ex. If you initiated the break-up (which IS hard too – I’ve been on both sides of it) do with love and compassion. Be honest with yourself, cry your tears, apologize where needed and let God mold you into a better reflection of Himself.
At the end of the day love in a broken world brings with it the risk and reality of pain.
There will come a day though, when the wounds turn to scars and you just might be grateful for them.
Right now, I can’t imagine my life being any different then it is and I can’t imagine getting here on any other road. I regret the way I handled and the way some things were handled in parts of my past dating relationships but I don’t regret the relationships or the breakups.
They were part of my journey and some of the tools God used to prepare me for my husband and life now. They are part of my story but have long ceased to define me.
Relationships are a gift.
We shouldn’t run from them in fear but we shouldn’t pursue them at the cost of everything else or be so absorbed in them we lose ourselves.
As I said in my first post on dating, I’ve prayed for the people reading this.
I’m not sure what your story is or where on the road of healing or self-awareness you are but I hope something in this post is comforting or helpful for you as you walk the road of truth and grace in your relationships.