Dating isn't easy. Just ask Taylor Swift. Apparently things ended between her & Loki, which will likely result in another classic Taylor Swift song about the difficulties of relationships. Yet many of us will end up downloading her new track because we can relate. Dating is tough.
Why so? It could be that romance is just difficult to maintain. However I'd argue that a lot of our dating troubles actually come from how we date. There are things we do or don't do that would hinder any relationship regardless of who the guy or girl is. In other words, a lot of us have poor dating habits that need to change.
Therefore based on personal experience, I've found myself coming up with five pieces of advice that I usually offer to Christian couples. Of course you should pray and make sure you guys keep marriage in mind. However these are more practical things that I often tell couples to also consider.
1) Temper Your Expectations
From my experience, most dating couples place insanely unrealistic expectations on each other. What's worse is that they rarely communicate what these expectations are; they want the other person to "just know." This inevitably leads to disappointment at best and disillusionment at worst.
I remember one girl complaining to me that her boyfriend wasn't "trying" anymore. When I asked why, she mentioned how he wasn't excited about visiting the botanical gardens with her. When I explained that no man would be excited about the botanical gardens, she replied, "But he should be excited just to be with me!" This seemed like delusional-thinking based off one too many Korean dramas.
Yet we all carry unrealistic expectations of our romantic partners whether it be extravagant or subtle. How do we temper this? Talk about it. Communicate what you want from each other. And when you guys disagree on whether it's reasonable or not...
2) Find Mentors
When dating, approach your relationship with the posture of a padawan - not a Jedi master. Find your Obi Wan. I truly believe this is where most dating couples go wrong. They keep their relationship so hidden and private because they presume they know what they're doing. But most don't, which is why their relationship is so tumultuous...just like their previous ones.
Please find a mentor - an individual whom you can openly share about your dating relationship. And no, your roommates and high school friends don't count. They're too biased. Rather find an older, wiser person whom you respect and let them journey with you. They'll help you know when you're acting crazy or when your dating partner's expectations seem unreasonable.
3) Don't Touch Each Other
Generally speaking, the more you touch each other, the more you will fight. I'm not saying couples who don't touch each other are conflict free; but dating couples that are the most physical tend to also be the most volatile. Why so? Well as Cameron Diaz says in Vanilla Sky, "When you sleep with someone, your body makes a promise whether you do or not."
If I'm just "seeing" somebody, I wouldn't be bothered if the girl I'm seeing doesn't call me every day. However if we're dating and she didn't call me, then I might get bothered by her lack of calls. Why so? Well the commitment-level has changed - and with that the expectations.
If what Cameron Diaz is saying is true, then the more you touch each other the greater the commitment you're unconsciously making with one another - and with that the level of expectation you have for each other increases. And as a result, you fight more (see #1). Not only for the sake of purity, but also for the sake of your relationship - be careful how you touch each other.
4) Bring Structure Into Your Relationship
Most dating couples have terrible habits. They'll hang out "whenever they feel like it" - and when they do hang out, they'll just sit in the guy's room doing nothing. Afterwards they'll eat dinner, talk about nothing significant, make out on his bed, and then repeat. After months of this, they'll feel really comfortable with one another and yet strangely disconnected.
When I look at couples like this, I see chaos - and relationships don't work well under such conditions. My advice: Structure your relationship. Have set days when you'll hang out. Pick one of those days as a "date night" where you dress up and have fun. Have another day where you'll talk intentionally and catch up with each other.
In other words, stop "winging" it. At least not yet. If you try playing the piano without any structure, you'll just be making a bunch of noise. Yet a lot of dating relationships sound just like this: a bunch of cacophonous noise. Structure your relationship so that you guys can begin to make some music together.
5) Fear the Lord
When is a person ready to date? I'm not sure. But here's a good indicator: It's when you feel like you're not ready to date. That to me is as good of a sign as any. Why so? Well dating is a non-biblical category and therefore requires a lot of wisdom. But the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10) i.e. it's when you admit you're not wise that you begin to turn wise.
In other words, go into dating realizing that you don't really know what you're doing. Therefore move slowly, carefully, and humbly. When in doubt, listen to the opinions of others before listening to yourself. Pray. Read your Bibles even more diligently.
I'm not saying if you follow all of this that your relationship will now succeed; it may not. But based on personal experience, these tend to be the most common things I encourage dating couples to try when first entering into a relationship or before ending one.
Again I'm sure there are other better, more important advice to consider. However I can't help but find myself turning to these when I counsel dating couples.