Really, it can’t be said enough that before you decide to jump the broom with someone, you really should get into some sort of premarital counseling. I’m not talking about watching a few popular relationship coaching videos online or seeing your pastor twice before your big day. Engaged couples who work with me know that they’re going to be in for about six months of some intense digging in — that’s how serious I think that marriage is and how prepared I believe that people should be going into it. But hey, don’t take my word for it. There are also stats to prove that you actually have a 30 percent greater success rate if you get into some sessions prior to saying “I do.”
And what does this even remotely have to do with today’s topic? Well, it’s super fascinating that a lot of people I know who are divorced say that they basically knew the day before their wedding that they should’ve called it off. Whenever I investigate even further, many of them go on to say that they saw some, at the very least, yellow or even pink flags waving during the early stages of dating that, for whatever reason, they chose to ignore.
Y’all, it’s Benjamin Franklin who once said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So, for the sake of sparing you becoming the statistic of a failed marriage — or even just some heartbreak or realizing that you totally wasted your time — here are seven things that I definitely think should be taken more seriously when people are first getting to know someone during the initial dating process.
1. How Someone Values Time
You know how they say that the only people who have a problem with you setting boundaries are the ones who plan on violating them once you do? I think something similar when it comes to time. What I mean by that is, the people who think that I’m being “over the top” about expecting my time to be valued are typically the ones who like to show up late, break engagements at the last minute, or not do what they said they were gonna do (which is also wasting people’s time).
And here’s the thing — a lot of these folks are good people…in other ways. They’re smart. They’re fun to be around. They offer some compelling insights. However, the older that I get, the more I cosign on the Chinese proverb, “It’s later than you think” because time literally is of the essence to me. And so, if I state that my time is important to me and you Elmo shrug it off, it translates as a form of disrespect — not just because you were dismissive of my feelings but because time is literally something that none of us can ever get back.
Someone showing up late on a date with a really good reason (and still, they should call or text to give you a heads up) is one thing. Someone who is constantly not on time or makes commitments and breaks them is already showing you that they don’t value time — your time or time, in general, really — as much as they should.
And like I once heard a married pastor say in some premarital classes for singles that I once took, “If they don’t show up on time while you’re dating, what makes you think they will come home on time after marriage?”
Who’s gonna pass the plate for him first?
2. How Someone Listens
Whew y’all, these podcasters that be on YouTube. I’m not speaking of one gender either because there are some in both who totally wear me out. One reason why is that, whenever it’s a panel of people (especially if men and women are sharing the mic or stage), very rarely do I see folks give each other the common courtesy of allowing others to complete their thought or finish their sentences.
Growing up, I knew a family who used to sit around the dinner table and yell and overtalk each other the entire time. It was kind of remarkable to observe because, somehow, they were able to catch at least 75 percent of what other people were saying even if they were in their own conversation with someone else. Yet, peep what I just said — they were able to hear most of what else was going on…not all. And ironically, one of the things that some of them complain about to this day is not feeling truly heard by their family members (shocking, right?).
That said, it never fails that any time a list of why divorces happen comes out, poor communication is on the top of it. And there’s no way that you and someone else can communicate effectively if one or both of you don’t know how to listen.
So, what are some signs of being a good listener?
- You don’t speak when others are;
- You pause to process what was said before responding/reacting;
- You are conscious that your body language conveys being attentive and not ignoring someone else;
- If they asked you to repeat what they just said, you could do it, almost verbatim;
- You try to understand more than be heard;
- You ask questions rather than make statements if you’re trying to seek clarity;
- You’re patient.
And here’s the thing — listening is a two-way street, so just like you should expect others to be this way with you, you should also extend the same courtesy and intention.
To be fair, this one might take a bit of doing in the sense of, so many of us absolutely suck at actively listening that you, the person you’re dating, or both of you may need to do some “practice runs” in order to get this right. All I’m saying is, if listening gets worse instead of better over time, don’t expect a long-term commitment to improve it.
Author Paul Tillich once said that the first duty of love is to listen. I venture to say that a building block for respect in a relationship is learning how to listen as well. I’m telling you, if you don’t hear anything else in this piece…please literally listen to this point. It’s a relational qualifier like no other.
They Are on the Same Page with the Other Person About Dating and Romance
There are a billion-and-one things that I don’t care for when it comes to social media (which is why I’m still not on it). When it comes to relationships, one of them is the fact that many people forget that, just like many pics have filters on them, many relationships do as well.
What I mean by that is, more times than not, folks only show you what they want you to see — their “highlight reel” so to speak. Unfortunately, far too many individuals forget (or is it ignore?) that. And so, many of them turn around and expect every single day of their own dating life to be like the peak pics on someone’s Instagram Story. Yeah, not only is that unrealistic, but it’s also setting yourself up to be disillusioned and disappointed. I mean, just think about it — how ridiculous would it be to expect every date to be like a scene out of (would they please pull these from the air now?) The Bachelor/The Bachelorette franchise?
So, before even getting into discussing with the person you’re seeing what you expect dating and romance to look like, the first thing you should do is ponder if your own desires are based in reality. Because it really can’t be said enough that “living for the fairy tale” literally means you are living for stories that are told to children that are usually improbable and untrue (by the definition of a fairy tale).
At the same time, if you like spontaneity — say that. If holidays are a big deal to you — say that. If your love language being expressed means a lot — say that. If “Good Morning” and “Goodnight” texts mean a lot to you — say that. If nice tokens for no “reason” is important — say that.
For the record, “saying it” doesn’t mean that someone has to automatically agree or even comply. However, what it does is keep you from expecting someone to read your mind or make them feel bad because their idea of dating and romance is very different from yours.
Trust me, I counsel several married couples who struggle quite a bit because they didn’t take this seriously when they were dating. While one couldn’t care less about birthdays and anniversaries, the other was on-10 — and both thought the other was wrong for feeling the way that they did.
So many things in relationships aren’t about what’s right or who’s wrong; some things are just different. The earlier you make peace with that and then decide if the incompatibilities are deal-breakers or not, the easier it will be on everyone — whether you choose to stay together or…not.
4. Do They Do Daily Life Well with the Other Person?
Dating with intention. Dating to marry. I personally don’t have a problem with either of these things. Well…come to think of it, I kind of take issue with the second one because if your goal is ONLY to hurry up and get down somebody’s aisle, you could find yourself rushing relationships, overlooking red flags, and not really considering if someone is actually right for youeven if they are a good person (some of y’all will catch that later). Sadly, because a lot of people profess that they “date to marry,” all that does is put pressure on the dynamic — and a relationship that is under a pressure cooker is never a good thing.
That’s why I think it’s best to focus on short-term relational goals: Are the two of you compatible? Do they complement your lifestyle (check out “If He’s Right For You, He Will COMPLEMENT Your Life”)? Do they feel more like a blessing than a burden? Can they say the same thing about you (you have to ask them in order to know…)?
My point is this: If you were to look at your wedding day as reaching the top of a mountain, the day-to-day short-term things are the stones/rocks that the mountain is built out of. Because so many people don’t look at it this way, they find themselves only focusing on engagement rings, bridal dresses, and rom-com love when a successful relationship is actually far more about if you and someone can do life — simple, ordinary, everyday life — together.
So yes, when you first start dating someone, pay attention to how you gel in the basic things. Those are what will help you to know if you’ll truly be able to live in harmony should things continue to progress.
5. If They’re Talking Themselves into (or Out of) Something
There is someone I know right now who has semi-recently reunited with her first love after basically two decades. Sweet right? Eh. It depends on what day you ask because, although she and her current boo thang are definitely caught up in the nostalgia of being back together again, there are already some huge red flags that both of them are choosing to ignore.
One of them is the fact that although she has children and has already undergone a procedure to not have any more, he has never had any and still wants some. She’s so caught up in him that she’s thinking about overlooking the fact that she was very clear and sober-minded when she said she didn’t want more children (never mind the fact that she’s much later in years and it would require thousands of dollars to even try to conceive) while he’s so into her that he’s been trying to convince her that being a stepfather to the children that she already has would be enough.
Listen, I know a married couple who divorced after over 20 years of marriage, and a huge part of it was because the wife never wanted children, the husband did, and yet he told himself that he wanted her more. Sadly, he then ended up seriously resenting her because he missed out on his opportunity to become a father.
Unfortunately, our culture is so self-absorbed that all people think love is, is someone sacrificing for them when the reality is, if you truly love someone, you will make the sacrifice to let them go to get what they want that you may not be able to (or want to) provide.
Some of y’all may read about the dating couple and think that their love is beautiful while I see a trainwreck waiting to happen. If she even wanted more kids a little bit, she could’ve put an IUD in and called it a day (we talked about it beforehand; she absolutely was not interested). She said she was done. She shouldn’t have to push past her better mind for him. She should love him enough to release him so that he can find someone who wants kids as badly as he does. That’s love.
Bottom line, definitely something that a lot of folks don’t take seriously enough when they first start dating someone is what is negotiable and what absolutely isn’t. And if you don’t make that decision for yourself, preferably before you start a new journey with someone, the feelings that develop for the other individual can cause you to violate your own boundaries, wants, and needs — and that could lead to some extreme bitterness and resentment up the road.
Now, am I saying that there is no room for compromise? Of course not. What I AM saying, though, is if you’re compromising past common sense, logic, and what’s ultimately best for you, you are risking more than you should. I will forever die on that hill too.
6. If They Are Already Settling
Speaking of dying hills (LOL), another one that I have actually shared in a couple of articles for this platform before is what can be considered compromising in marriage can actually be settling when you’re dating someone. Why? Because a boyfriend is not a husband and a girlfriend is not a wife (no matter how much people want to pretend otherwise). Once you make a covenant with someone, that needs to be taken VERY SERIOUSLY and yes, all stops should be implemented in order to try and make things work and last.
Dating, though? Dating is about seeing if someone is worthy of receiving that kind of loyalty and devotion from you — and it really is okay if you decide that someone isn’t.
So, what are some clear indications that you’re already settling more than you should?
- You’re not attracted to them but you’re convincing yourself that it doesn’t matter;
- You’re ignoring your values because you like them otherwise;
- You already see signs that it will require more work than maintenance to keep things going (and yes, there is a HUGE difference between the two);
- You’re already telling yourself that things will change in time;
- Your communication styles trigger each other instead of producing peace, clarity, and harmony;
- You are negotiating far too many deal-breakers;
- You are starting to lose your own voice (or self).
These seven points are honestly just the tip of the iceberg yet still valid enough that, if even just one or two resonate with you, you are already setting yourself on a path of getting less than you should. So, if you just saw yourself in any of this and you’re looking for a sign that you need to step back if not totally tap out…DING, DING, DING.
7. If There Is Reciprocity in Action
An author by the name of R.P. Heaven once said, “Your soulmate never makes you chase them; they might challenge your idleness and lack of initiative, but they never play games with you. You never really count who contributes more in a soulmate relationship. The giving process happens naturally and intuitively, balanced on both sides. This creates abundance and there is never any scarcity in the relationship. True love means reciprocity.”
True love is about reciprocity.Reciprocity is about doing things that will mutually benefit the individuals involved in a way where they both are satisfied. It’s not about you doing all of the giving. It’s also not about you being the only one on the receiving end.
A good example of where reciprocity lacks (take a deep breath for this one) is holidays. I can’t tell you how many men have told me that they are SO OVER being expected to max out credit cards for birthdays and yet what they end up getting, time and time again, is sex when theirs rolls around. I get their frustration too because there is both an arrogance and laziness in giving someone something that both of you already benefit from. I mean, if he’s the only one receiving pleasure from sex and that’s why you treat it like a present on special occasions, that’s something that the two of you should talk about because sexual fulfillment should NEVER be a one-way street.
My point? If you wouldn’t want him to wrap a bow around his penis and call it a day on Valentine’s Day, Christmas, or your anniversary, why should you think that putting on a lace robe and laying across the bed should suffice for him? The flip to this is if you find that you are so excited about the possibilities of what could happen with someone new that you’re doing most of the work to keep the relationship going (whether that comes to initiating communication, planning events, or expressing feelings) — well, you’ve heard the saying that how things begin is often how they end, right? Humans are creatures of habit, so if either person allows a lack of reciprocity to transpire, it’s going to be hard to get some balance into the dynamic up the pike.
Shellie, is it really that deep when it’s only the second or third date? Again, if you value your time and yourself, it absolutely is. The sooner that you’re able to see these things for what they are and be real with yourself about them, the easier it will be to either move forward in confidence — or cut your losses before you end up risking too much.
Hey, don’t say that I never warned you. It’s wild out here. So please proceed, not with barbed wire walls (that benefits absolutely no one) yet definitely with self-love and caution.
Feel me? Amen.
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