How does your boyfriend/girlfriend treat you in front of other people? Do you feel built up when you are in public together? Does he highlight your good points to his friends? Does he brag on you? Does she mention the positive things about you when you are out with other couples? Do her girlfriends hope for a man as wonderful as you after they spend time with you and your girlfriend?
It is exceedingly important that a man and woman in a relationship heading toward marriage speak to each other with respect in private; however, this is just as essential in public as well. Many people choose to not engage in arguments in public because it is in their nature or their upbringing dictates that they save conflicts for times in private. However, other people are more willing to share their personal conflicts with others out in the open. Sharing such personal conflicts is healthy in a counseling or mentoring setting when both parties are present with people who can help them; however, it will be damaging for your relationship and may be uncomfortable for your friends if you bring up personal conflicts into social settings.
We’ve all likely experienced going to a restaurant or sitting in a waiting room while trying to ignore a couple having a very loud, very public argument. Usually when I witness this, I think, “That poor couple, do they have any hope?” As witnesses for Christ, our relationships, especially with those closest to us, show the love of Christ to the world. John 13:35 says that others will know you are Christ’s disciples by the love you have one for another. If you show gentleness towards a waitress, but are harsh with your girlfriend, fiancée, or wife, what does that say to the world about the love of Christ? If you show respect to the mailman after he’s made a mistake, but scream at your boyfriend, fiancée, or husband for making a mistake, what witness are you being to the world?
Once the rose-colored glasses come off in a relationship, it becomes easier to see your significant other’s true colors. What would he do if you accidentally spilled a soda in his lap? Would you fear that he would jump up and humiliate you with scathing words – or do you take comfort in knowing that when you make a mistake he is forgiving and not belittling? What if you accidentally misread directions and make your significant other late for an important engagement? Would you expect her to glare at you with hateful eyes and tell everyone there that you were being a stupid man who refused to ask for directions? Or, would you still expect her to treat you with respect and not bring the matter up to her friends? Before marriage, people usually hold back the whole of their personalities. There are some things you just won’t know about a person until you are legally married to them and living in the same space. (Note: Cohabiting with the other person before marriage is not the same thing, there is no life-long commitment and merging of lives… and that truly does change the relational dynamic.) If he humiliates you at times, though not often, it is likely that he will increasingly humiliate you after marriage unless something significant changes in his heart. Choosing to marry someone who consistently leaves you feeling unintelligent, humiliated, or worthless is choosing a lifestyle of anger, frustration, and heartache. It is simply better to remain single than to enter into a marriage with someone who does not treat you with love and respect. On the same token, it is better for your significant other to remain single than to enter into a marriage with you if you do not treat him/her with love and respect.
If you are in a relationship where one or both of you brings conflicts out in the open publicly, I urge you to seek counsel before moving ahead in your relationship. Marriages rarely survive continuous abuse, and words, despite not breaking bones, are the most painful weapons on Earth. Don’t tell yourself, “It will get better with time.” If nothing else changes, time will not change the situation. Seek counsel immediately if this is an area of concern and you are heading towards marriage. (If so, my husband and I have helped other couples work through issues of bad communication, hurt, and pain and would love the opportunity to work with you both to help you understand each other better and heal your relationship.)
No one can tear you down and destroy your inner core with words like a family member can – especially a husband or wife. The world will not engender enough peace that will make up for abuse experienced at home; however, you can survive the hardships of the world if you know you can come home to a haven of love, peace, and rest.