“We need to talk,” I said tentatively on my new friend’s answering machine. After a few days of interacting with a new love interest, I felt strongly in my spirit that I was not to get into a relationship with this person. When the weekend came, he and I went out to a quiet area to talk. I was going to make it clear that I did not think we should pursue a romantic connection, but the day did not end as I planned. He whined a little. He worked his charms. He was clearly practiced in the art of persuasion. Before the day was over, I was completely intertwined in his life like a juicy fly in a spider’s web.
The next few months were kind of a blur; but, I do remember stress, tears, grades dropping, friends showing deep concern, controlling behaviors, and feeling powerless in his presence. He contacted me first thing in the morning with poetic verse, and then expected to be by my side the second he was done with his classes for the day. It was as if my life was no longer my own. My heart cried out for freedom, but I could not get away. It took me getting away from him (going home for Christmas break) to have the strength and courage to cut the cord.
Not long after that relationship ended, my friend Eric and I started dating. This relationship felt so different. There was an inner-peace and freedom I could not fabricate. I did not worry about him smothering me, or keeping me from studying, or questioning my every move. It was liberty and that made all the difference to me.
As we kick off this year of exploring freedom, do you feel free in your current relationship? Do any of the following scenarios resonate with you?
- You spend a lot of time worrying about how your significant other will react to you. Did I dress well enough? Is he going to be annoyed that I did not fill this form out properly? Is she going to sigh and roll her eyes when I tell her I could not get to the store before it closed? Living in perpetual dread of how your partner is going to react to your decisions, ideas, or shortcomings is exhausting to say the least. Will your boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse occasionally get frustrated or say something unkind? Sure. We are all human. However, if you are frequently met with hostility, verbal put downs, or general aggravation when you do not meet his or her expectations, you are not experiencing freedom in your relationship.
- Your comings and goings are overly monitored. When Eric and I were first married, he often asked me (and still does), “What time do you think you will be home?” To be honest, it bugged me back then. I was going out to Cracker Barrel with my friend, not gambling with strange men. Finally, I said something to him about it. “Why are you always asking me when I am going to be home?” His response eased my concerns, “I just need to know when I should start to worry.” He was not attempting to control my schedule. He just wanted the spousal courtesy of being informed so he would know when to check on me for safety purposes. In many relationships, however, this is not the case. The friendship starts out fun with a lot of laughter. After a few weeks, it grows a bit more serious. Sometimes the terms boyfriend and girlfriend are thrown around in conversation. Then, interactions become more tense. Questions are frequent. Where are you going? Who is going to be there? When will you be home? Does your ex ever show up? Sometimes the questions are accompanied by demands. Do not wear that. If he shows up, you better leave. Call me the minute you get home. If your partner frequently shows up to events to which he or she was not invited, follows you around stealthily, or badgers you for information about your day, he or she is seeking control. Maybe it is due to fear or abandonment issues. Maybe it is due to modeling by a parent or older sibling. Regardless of the reason, if someone tries to control your life, he or she is not loving you. Restraining freedom is not love. Likewise, abusing freedom is not love either.
- You feel like you must sacrifice your true self to stay in the relationship. Whether you hold back who you truly are out of fear of being rejected, or because your partner requires you to act a certain way to be “worthy” of him or her, pretending to be someone you are not is captivity. From the moment I heard an ex-boyfriend say, “Wear a dress to this event because you are a reflection of me,” I should have known I was not in the right relationship. It was not his request for me to dress up which bothered me. It was his suggestion that to represent him, I must look a certain way – a way which did not reflect the real me. Staying in that relationship would have required a fundamental change on my part, and I knew deep down I could not be who he desired me to be. Sometimes relationships contain two people who work hard, are terrific members of society, and love God with their whole beings, but still do not fit together. That is okay. If you cannot be you – enjoying the unique personality and gifts God gave you – and be accepted for who you are by your partner, then you are in the wrong relationship.
- You are afraid of your partner. This point may seem cut and dry, but there are multiple ways to be afraid of someone. Fearing physical pain is cut and dry. If your partner is physically abusive, seek help immediately. Find a strong and resolute support group (and even a place to stay if need be) and get away. Stressfully anticipating someone’s disappointment or verbal daggers is a different kind of fear. If you cower in your heart after every mistake, see someone – professionally, if possible – to discuss your concerns. Talk to trusted family and friends. Have them observe your relationship, closely and from a distance. Often others can objectively define what is unacceptable behavior since their heartstrings are not attached.
- He or she drives wedges between you and your friends and family. If your significant other pushes you away from your support system, he or she is restricting your freedom and attempting to control your life. If there is a specific person who hurts you or brings drama into your life, it makes sense for your partner to step in and make suggestions; but, if he or she subtly separates you from multiple people in your life, take notice and step back! Isolation is one large step towards total domination.
- You are not at ease talking to your partner about sensitive subjects – or even some mundane subjects. Do you hold back conversations you had with friends, observations from your day, or news you heard because you dread your partner’s response? Do you struggle to tell him or her your heart because you do not believe he or she will respect you or keep it private? Are these concerns due to behaviors you have witnessed in him or her or based on issues from past relationships? Communication is key. The sweet talk and intense physical attraction will wane. When the dust settles, you will hope to meaningfully interact with your significant other. If you do not feel at ease talking to him or her, get to the bottom of why. If the why is due to something you cannot control (and he or she is not willing to correct), it is time to set yourself free.
- You daydream about getting out of the relationship. If you lie in bed at night, thinking longingly about getting away from your “sweetheart” then it is probably a good sign that he or she is not truly your sweetheart. Wanting to spare someone’s feelings is not a good reason to continue in a relationship. I am the first to admit that I detest any situation where I feel forced to hurt someone, but the idea of staying in the relationship, getting married, becoming bitter, and eventually blurting out, “I did not want to be with you in the first place!” is considerably more loathsome. If you are not completely committed, heart and soul, spare your partner and spare yourself before the rings and the I dos.
Our verse for this year is 2 Corinthians 3:17, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (ESV). If you are bound, smothered, or fearful in your relationship, seek the truth. If you are bringing in unrealistic expectations or irrational fears, look first to God and then to professionals who can help you; but, if you are being controlled or intimidated by your partner: Run. Go Now. This is not the relationship for you. Controlling and abusive partners become more controlling once you are married.
My mom used to quote this verse to me a lot when I was young and battling fear: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7, KJV). Fear and bondage are not spirits which come from our Heavenly Father but from the prince of darkness. Ask the Lord for the courage to break out of any dating relationship which is not from Him.
I thank God for delivering me out of unhealthy relationships. He cares about these details of our lives!
Are you free in your current relationship?