Jacqueline J. Holness
In the span of a year, seven friends revealed to me they were joining the ranks of the divorced. For better or for worse, divorce long ago ceased being a cultural taboo; it is now a cultural norm. As a Christian, I know God hates
divorce, and I’ve read statistics showing that devout, church-going, praying Christian couples are less likely to divorce. But these truths are not what I’m addressing in this column.
One of my Christian friends declared she was leaving her husband (also a devout Christian) of 10 years. Afterward, I began to wonder if Christians perpetuate certain unhealthy (perhaps even weird) dating beliefs that may contribute to divorce.
In Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships (Zondervan, 2000), Christian psychologists Henry Cloud and John Townsend point to a nationwide debate on the “biblical position on dating.” Apparently, some Christians believe dating is “sinful in and of itself.”
Many Christians favor a courtship rather than a dating model, enabling a couple get to know one another with the goal of marriage. Parents are involved in the process as well.
Much of this vigorous discussion has been fueled by Joshua Harris’s widely popular book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye (Doubleday, 2003), where Harris discusses the “negative tendencies” of dating, such as: “dating leads to intimacy but not necessarily commitment,” “dating tends to skip the ‘friendship’ stage of the relationship,” and “dating often mistakes a physical relationship for love.”
Conversely, Cloud and Townsend assert these “problem scenarios are created by people and the way they date.” They believe dating with boundaries can yield many positive results, including: “the opportunity to learn about themselves,
others, and relationships in a safe context”; “a context to work through issues”; and the building of “relationship skills.” They offered an example of one woman who failed to resolve her “issues prior to marriage” and quickly married her first boyfriend, who was very different from her overpowering father. She later discovered that marrying a passive man was not ideal for her. Had she explored her issues through dating before marrying, she may have chosen differently.
My friend had married hastily too, discovering later that she married an abusive man—like her father and stepfather. She learned this through seven years of counseling after marrying. Had she learned more about herself and healthy relationships through dating and counseling before marriage, she may have never married her husband, she said.
Common Sense and Counsel
Another unhealthy dating behavior I’ve witnessed in Christian circles is what I call the “sign and wonders” approach. Jo Lynne Pool addresses this in her book A Good Man is Hard to Find Unless You Ask God to Be Head of Your Search Committee (Thomas Nelson, 1995). She writes, “A woman announces to a man, ‘God has shown me that you are going to be my husband.’ However, instead of responding favorably, the man most often runs away.”
To a degree, I can understand why some would believe God showed them that a certain individual would be their mate. In the Bible, Abraham’s servant was given a sign that a certain woman would be right for his master’s son Isaac. But I also believe God wants us to employ common sense and seek the counsel of others (informally and professionally) before entering marriage. Not to do so would be like preferring a kerosene lamp over electricity and a light bulb.
There may be no examples of dating in the Bible, but I don’t see any mention of light bulbs either. Christians should model healthy dating and marriage principles to a watching world. For some that may mean spending time in the pews of a church and in the office of a Christian counselor.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service, and author of After the Altar Call: The Sisters’ Guide to Developing a Personal Relationship With God, (Nevaeh Publishing, 2012). afterthealtarcall.com