Lest you’ve read the last two posts and become discouraged at the number of foolish things men and women do in relationships, let me emphasize the fact that nobody is perfect. Learning to be in a relationship is like learning to dance. You wouldn’t (I hope) beat yourself up for not being a professional dancer after just a few basic lessons. In the same way, you shouldn’t beat yourself up for making mistakes as you learn (yes, learn) to be in a relationship. There is a misconception out there that love comes naturally, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Love, as in the twitterpated feelings of love, comes naturally; however, daily, sacrificial love is far more complicated. It requires being a student of love.
What’s important in relationships is that you are moving forward and striving to be the godly man or woman your boyfriend or girlfriend needs. Everything goes back to God’s glory, so commit your relationship to Him, follow His example (e.g., sacrificial love, commitment, etc.), and learn from your mistakes. Even the godliest couple you know has made their share of foolish relationship decisions.
So, what are five common foolish mistakes couples make in relationships?
- Failing to Prioritize. This is a mistake that follows a dating couple into marriage. In fact, this is a lot easier to do once you’re married than it is in the courting stage of your romance. The saying “A failure to plan is a plan for failure” is every bit as true in relationships as it is anywhere else. If we don’t make quality time together a priority, it won’t happen. There are far too many other tasks out there vying for our time. Successful couples don’t settle for life happening to them. They decide what is important, they make those important tasks a priority, and everything else finds its place in the time remaining. It may not sound romantic, but sometimes spending time together requires planning, especially after marriage. When couples fail to prioritize their relationship, negative repercussions don’t always follow immediately. Sometimes these couples go for months or years and then realize they’ve grown apart and become strangers. Unfortunately, this is when a lot of married couples say “I don’t know you anymore” and pairs it with “I want a divorce.” But, even after a couple has failed in this area, they can still take steps to rekindle their love for each other and to prioritize their relationship properly.
- Lying. If you want a happy dating experience and future marriage, do not let lies infiltrate your relationship. Lying becomes easier and easier the more you do it, but lying rots your connection. Each time you lie to your boyfriend or girlfriend, you cut your bond a little bit more (and depending on the trust style of a person, that cut can be a sliver or a hacking). In the beginning you may not feel a difference (“That little lie won’t hurt us. She doesn’t need to know I talked to my ex-girlfriend on the phone last night. It’s safe for her to think I was with the guys. Besides, it didn’t mean anything.”), but after lying for a while, not only will you have a bothered conscience, but you will become suspicious of your boyfriend or girlfriend. When we make a habit of lying, we expect that others are lying to us as well. Once you are caught in a lie, your boyfriend or girlfriend immediately loses trust. After all, if you lied about one phone conversation with your ex-girlfriend or boyfriend, how does your current boyfriend or girlfriend know you won’t lie about something else? Answering your sweetie’s questions honestly, even if it hurts at times, brings peace to a relationship. It’s comforting to know that your sweetheart will always be honest with you. It’s exhausting to constantly wonder if your boyfriend or girlfriend is doing right by you. The quickest way to kill a relationship is to fill it with lies.
- Ignoring Counsel. Before I was married, I was a “marriage expert.” I can remember rolling my eyes and scoffing at my mom one time because I didn’t like something she said to my dad. Aside from their conversation being none of my business, I had a lot of nerve to respond to the situation so disrespectfully. Mom did note that I had never been married, and at the time, that fact seemed unimportant. In my limited experience, I could not understand why couples couldn’t just get along. If you were kind a respectful to each other, wouldn’t marriage be an awesome experience? Though I was right in thinking that kindness and respect are important, I had an incomplete picture of marriage. However, I didn’t discover how little I knew about marriage, or how unprepared I was (we all are) until I was already married. A common foolish mistake many couples make is in ignoring counsel. Eric and I have seen such tremendous growth in the couples we’ve worked with through pre-engagement and premarital counseling. We firmly believe that if couples take some serious effort before marriage to clear out the weeds and debris from their relationship, they will save themselves so much work, time, and heartache after marriage. It’s easier to plant a garden and take a few minutes each day to weed and water it than it is to try to repair an unattended garden later. In the same way, it is much harder to work through problems after resentment builds than it is to tackle them early before they’ve had a chance to grow and fester.
- Sweeping Conflicts under the Rug. Conflict is not fun. Okay, maybe a few people enjoy it, but the majority of us could just as soon do without it. If conflicts could be worked through as easily as they were on The Brady Bunch, we wouldn’t have problems. But conflict often involves hurt feelings, resentments, and the battling of wills. Working through conflicts is just that – work. It is far easier to pretend the screaming match never happened and move on with life. “Sure we called each other a lot of hurtful names, but if we never bring it up again, it won’t hurt us, right? Every time we talk about where to go for Christmas, we get in a fight; so, we just won’t talk about it anymore.” Couples can sweep a few conflicts under the rug without noticing a problem, but after the conflicts pile up under the rug, you’re going to trip over the rug. Soon your relationship will be affected by the mountain of conflicts that can no longer be hidden beneath the surface. It takes a few minutes to clean up a spill (i.e., a conflict), but it takes much longer to clean up multiple spills that have been left for months or years. If they are not dealt with immediately, it will take more than a little time to clean them up. It will take a lot of time, money, and aggravation to correct the damage. What’s easier? Cleaning up spills as they happen, or leaving spills all over the floor and eventually having to rip up the floor and put in a new one? The easier decision in the moment often leads to more headache and heartache in the long run.
- Moving Too Fast. When you start dating someone with whom you share a strong connection, it is easy to go from zero to sixty in a matter of weeks. “We have this in common… and this… and this… I think I’ve found my soul mate!” Sometimes it’s so hard to take a step back and approach new relationships rationally. “This feeling is so wonderful. I’m on top of the world! I don’t want to think about anything but how wonderful he (or she) is. I’ve never felt so alive!” The problem with moving too fast is this – if you and your new sweetheart begin to declare undying love for each other before you really know each other, you will have a rude awakening when the butterflies wear off and you are faced with a fallible human being. Too often, couples feel so amazing that they throw caution to the wind and begin making forever plans too soon, thinking that this amazing “love” will last forever. But it’s important to realize that feelings of infatuation diminish while real, sacrificial love grows. When I was younger, I remember thinking that all my relationships started with a mountaintop experience, but there was nowhere to go but down. It was frustrating because I didn’t understand how love really works. When Eric and I met, became friends, and eventually became a couple, I was able to experience the joy (albeit less exhilarating than the fly-by-night romances I had before) of growing to love someone. And, we are still growing to love each other more today! ~smile~
Again, all relationships make some foolish choices. What matters is what you do with those experiences. Do you immediately forget them and repeat them later, or do you learn from them and turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones? I heard a story once about a donkey that fell into an empty well. After hours of trying to figure out what to do, the farmer decided he would have to bury the donkey. As he began to throw dirt into the well, he noticed that his donkey would shake off the dirt and step up. Before long, the well was filled with dirt and the donkey jumped out. You and your sweetie will go through some hard times – we all do. But, if you choose to take shake off the dirt, look at how you can benefit from it, and then use it to propel you forward, you can grow from your trials. As uncomfortable as they are at the time, it is the trials we face that strengthen us.
So, don’t hang onto the guilt of foolish mistakes. Repent, move forward, and be determined to learn from each experience!
What foolish things have you and your honey done in your relationship? How can you help others learn from your mistakes?