6 Steps for Avoiding Toxic Dating Relationships

If you desire marriage but always find yourself broken hearted from a continual trend of poor dating experiences, it might be time to dig a little deeper into the problem. As a counselor, a common sequence I have seen played out is someone starts a dating relationship and everything seems to be perfect, then very soon the relationship accelerates and becomes very vulnerable and physical, and then it spirals into a negative direction towards a bitter and broken end. That might sound extreme but if you are reading this article because toxic dating relationships are a struggle of yours I am pretty confident you can relate.

With this in mind, consider these six steps for avoiding toxic dating relationships.

Be picky

Don’t compromise on whom you decide to date in the areas that matter most. As a Christian, this means dating other Christians. This is one of the most important decisions you can make in dating. First of all, God calls us to date other believers, and if we are living a life of obedience to God we need to take this seriously. “Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14). A dating relationship is a very vulnerable relationship, and, if you are not dating someone who is trying to please God, there is no accountability in striving to have your relationship honor him. Being in a relationship with someone who isn’t a Christian also makes it easy to give into the temptation to compromise your faith and spiral in a negative direction. “Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for 'bad company corrupts good character'” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

Choose honesty

Be honest with yourself about the relationship. None of us are perfect. There is a temptation to convince yourself in the moment that you are dating Mr. or Ms. perfect, but I promise you that isn’t the case. Don’t put them on a pedestal, but instead be honest with yourself and them about issues, concerns, or red flags you see in the relationship. It’s so easy to get swept up into the excitement, but this will only have you put Band-Aids over broken pieces of the relationship instead of facing them head on. These broken pieces will eventually be seen, but if you haven’t established good communication and honesty in the relationship early on it will be harder to instill later on.

Recognize red flags

When considering who to enter into a relationship with look out for red flags while you are in the dating process. Is the person controlling, do you constantly have to keep tabs on you, or tell you who you can or can’t see, do, wear, ect? If someone isn’t giving you room to be your own individual this is a red flag. Is the person manipulative? Do you tell them no to something and find yourself doing it anyways because they have guilted you into it? Do you constantly feel like you are being swayed by them to fit into their agenda? If you see manipulative behaviors this is a red flag. Is the person abusive? Do they belittle and demean you? If so they are emotionally and verbally abusive. Has this person shown physical aggression towards you, hit you, thrown things at you, grabbed your wrist? If so they are physically abusive and you need to end things now. You should be looking for red flags, and be open with others you seek advice from about red flags so they can help guide you from an unbiased perspective.

Set emotional boundaries

Do whatever you can to slow yourself down emotionally. The Bible tells us that genuine love is sacrificial and that kind of love doesn't happen overnight. “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). You can’t fall in love with someone you don’t actually know, so slow yourself down and get to know them. Go for walks, talk for hours on the phone, take your time getting to them before letting your emotions grow. Let it be a process. Your closest friendships in which you feel most vulnerable didn’t happen overnight, and your dating relationships will be the same way. It’s important to give it time to build trust and safety in the person before letting them all in emotionally.

Set physically boundaries

When deciding to date someone, be upfront about all of your physical boundaries right away. I remember someone once said to me, “If I tell them I don’t want to have sex before marriage they won’t stay with me.” If we are honest, if someone won’t stay with you because you are waiting to have sex until marriage, then they don’t really care about you or have an investment in the relationship. God commands us to wait to have sex until marriage, and as a Christian we are called to obey this command. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Yet there is so much more beyond obedience here. God isn’t trying to keep you from enjoyment, instead he loves you so much that he is trying to protect you from those who want to use you. Build a strong foundation in the relationship, and give yourself the beautiful gift of intimacy in marriage. Marriage is hard, and there will be plenty of times when the physical drive won’t be the focus. How reassuring is it to know that your relationship isn’t built on your physical relationship, but a solid foundation of love for exactly who you are.

Allow independence

It’s so important to make sure the dating relationship you are building is an interdependent relationship. An interdependent relationship means that both of you know who you are, and have your own independence in the relationship. This means there will be plenty of times you will do your own thing, and they will do their own, and then you come back together as a couple. You will have your own friends, different interests, and give each other the space to be your own person. This means you have a respect for each other's goals, dreams, and desires, and encourage each other to work towards them.

If you find yourself stuck in a trend of toxic relationships take the time to think through your past relationships and what the pitfalls there have been before entering into a new one. I have this saying “relationships are only worth it if they are worth it.” Relationships are a lot of work, energy, and communication so it’s important not to settle. If you find yourself compromising your values, faith, and happiness to be with someone, you will never find peace. Pray and seek God’s wisdom and guidance as you are on your dating journey.

About the author — Laura Goossens, MSW, LCSW

Laura is an Illinois Clinical Social Worker at Chicago Christian Counseling Center and has spent several years working with a variety of different age ranges in the medical and counseling fields. She believes in the importance of counseling, and having an outside source of encouragement, empowerment, and support through the trials and transitions of life. She also believes that God never gives up, works good in all situations, and can change our lives in ways that are far beyond what we can imagine. Her experience and interests include helping individuals with anxiety, depression, spiritual issues, relationship and marital issues, grief, women’s issues, low self-esteem, stress, chronic disease, and life transitions and conflicts. Chicago Christian Counseling Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and has provided professional Christian counseling in Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana since 1973. For more information, call (708) 845-5500 or visit www.chicagochristiancounseling.org.

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