Broken relationships and divorce are at an all-time high. Popular movies and television shows such as How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days and Friends do little to help couples strengthen their interactions with one another or make solid, well-informed premarital decisions. It appears society has yet to understand the correlation between substandard dating tactics/attitudes and failed marriages and skyrocketing divorce rates. Sadly, even the traditional nuclear family (original father and mother rearing children under one roof) is rapidly disintegrating and is near extinction. Why?
Modern dating tactics and attitudes
In a children’s survey, a 10-year-old boy named Martin was asked, “What do most people do on a date?” He replied, “On the first date, they just tell each other lies, and that usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date.”
While humorous, this quote provides insight into the nonsensical dating approaches used today. The authors of Boundaries in Dating: Making Dating Work assert that truthfulness is an essential boundary and need in dating relationships. “You should have an absolute zero-tolerance policy when it comes to deception... [and] lying should have no place in your life” as it is a serious character flaw and should be treated as a “deal-breaker” (Henry Cloud and John Townsend, 2000, pp. 45-46).
Regarding today’s prevailing dating attitudes, a 35-year-old woman recently observed, “Girls do not look at a guy closely when making the choice to date. They consider the guys’ looks, the car they drive, [and] if a girl doesn’t have a boyfriend... she feels insecure and unsafe... [displaying] her insecurity in a variety of ways, usually in the way [she] dresses. Men will entertain a pretty girl, but he will be looking for that ‘special’ one who is perfectly not so perfect” (T. Jaynes, emphasis added).
“Deepening intimacy without defining a level of commitment,” wrote Joshua Harris, “is plainly dangerous. It’s like going mountain climbing with a partner who isn’t sure that she wants the responsibility of holding your rope.”
It is important to note that not all relationship books are created equal. Guerrilla Dating Tactics, for example, advises singles to learn tactics such as flirting maneuvers and pickup lines and to have a bag of tricks ready to use on that unsuspecting someone. The author talks about the importance of having (using) friends as a means of meeting “the one,” but doesn’t discuss the importance of developing a friendship with a potential mate (Sharyn Wolf, 1998, pp. 10, 68, 43-78). This book was written from the viewpoint of “what can I get” (self-gratification) from the other person, rather than “what can I give” to enrich another person’s life. In the Bible, wise King Solomon wrote, “A friend loves at all times” (Proverbs 17:17 Proverbs 17:17A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
American King James Version×).
As a refreshing contrast, there are several books that offer a more selfless and respectful approach to dating while strongly cautioning the reader to avoid the faulty reasoning and the problematic areas so prevalent today. As Joshua Harris correctly identified, “Dating is a product of our entertainment-driven, ‘disposable-everything’ American culture. Shifting attitudes in culture and the arrival of the automobile brought radical changes... and new “rules”... [allowing] people to indulge in all the thrills of romantic love without having any intention of marriage. Love and romance became things people could enjoy solely for their recreational value.”
He further pointed out that dating at the turn of the 20th century was very different. At that time families were very much a part of the whole courtship ritual, thus enabling a couple to steer clear of the hormonal pitfalls (I Kissed Dating Goodbye, 1997, p. 33).
Importance of premarital purity
Never before in American history have lifestyles and sexual attitudes changed at such a rapid rate. Thanks to the permissive era beginning with the 1960s, we now live in a sex-saturated society devoid of the deep love and commitment that once made marriages and families stronger and more stable. Gone are the social stigmas attached to living together before marriage or having multiple partners.
“We are in a kind of sexual wilderness, lacking right directions and guidelines... and people have tried to redefine the family in all kinds of ways” yet without success, as the bitter fruits clearly show (Noel Hornor, “God’s Purpose for Sex and Marriage,” The Good News, July-August 2002, pp. 4-5). Solomon warned, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12 Proverbs 14:12There is a way which seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
American King James Version×).
It is so important to take the time to get to know the opposite sex—how they think, operate and work to achieve their individual goals.
Many use the excuse: “Everybody’s doing it, and besides, how can it be so wrong if it feels so right?” Sounds plausible, right? But we need not look very far to see that sexual promiscuity comes with a very heavy price. According to a recent Good News magazine article, the physical/emotional results of “swimming downstream” speak for themselves: AIDS, genital herpes, chlamydia, venereal wart virus, cervical cancer, illegitimate children, abortion, sterility, not to mention the destruction of one’s self-esteem, obliteration of trust and feelings of abandonment, guilt and rejection (Noel Hornor, “Sex Outside of Marriage: What’s the Big Deal?,” July-August 2002, pp. 10-13).
Sharyn Wolf even admits that reality bites when she cautions, “Beware of believing yourself to be safe because of serial monogamy, that is, sleeping with one person at a time in sequential relationships. You can end up with four or five serial monogamies per year, leaving yourself completely unprotected.” While she admits that remaining celibate is the safest way to date, she does nothing to discourage couples from engaging in such premarital acts of fornication, in essence saying, “Let’s see how far we can cross over the line without getting caught.”
However, the Bible is very clear about this subject when it says, “For this is the will of God... that you should abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 1 Thessalonians 4:3For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that you should abstain from fornication:
American King James Version×). In fact, many scriptures show that fornication is listed among many other destructive human behaviors (Galatians 5:19-21 Galatians 5:19-21  Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,  Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, jealousies, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,  Contentions, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
American King James Version×).
“Deepening intimacy without defining a level of commitment,” wrote Joshua Harris, “is plainly dangerous. It’s like going mountain climbing with a partner who isn’t sure that she wants the responsibility of holding your rope.” Premarital sex is like fraud, “ripping someone off by raising expectations but not delivering on the promise” (I Kissed Dating Goodbye, pp. 32, 34).
Psychologist Neil Clark Warren explains it this way:
“I believe in sexual abstinence prior to marriage. Sexual intercourse before marriage is a clear act of commitment! Once you have become sexually involved with a potential mate, your ability to think clearly and objectively becomes impossible. If we want to have strong families that emerge from wise selections... we need to overhaul our reasoning. If we continue telling single persons that sexual intimacy is healthy at whatever stage of their relationship, they will continue getting married for all the wrong reasons” (Finding the Love of Your Life, 1992, pp. 84-85).
According to noted, outspoken psychologist Dr. Laura Schlessinger, real courtship is gone. She poignantly remarks, “Hook-ups and shack-ups have no depth, no promise, no attachment, no contentment, no meaning” (Ten Stupid Things Couples Do to Mess Up Their Relationships, 2001, p. 5).
I think it is safe to say that the accepted input from society is not creating the kind of happiness and fulfillment couples are seeking—rather, it is creating an inability to maintain healthy attachments later on within marriage.
Asking the hard questions of yourself and a potential mate
As the book Understanding Family Communication (1998) points out, “The decision to marry is a prediction about how one person’s life with another person will evolve in the future based largely on how it has evolved in the past” (p. 89). This is why it is so important to clearly understand the dynamics that have evolved within one’s own family system and how those attitudes and ways of thinking will affect a future marital partner. The old adage, “The apple does not fall far from the tree,” certainly applies here.
Wholesome relationships do not just happen. Informed choices based upon the Word of God are smart choices. “Real love,” wrote Gary Chapman, “is intentional... not obsessional.”
Before we can understand and fulfill someone else’s needs, we must first have clearly defined who and what we are. “People are different from each other... in fundamental ways... [however], first it is necessary to study yourself. If you don’t have yourself accurately portrayed, no way can you portray anyone else accurately, [and] the best way to do this is to take a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test” (David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates, Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types, 1978, pp. 2-4).
Here the authors are referring to our ability to successfully connect, communicate and get along with others different from ourselves. As an aside, http://www.keirsey.com offers a similar shortened version of the MBTI, which can also give a helpful picture of our communicative style. Other helpful tests such as the DiSC, may be found via the Internet by going to http://www.discprofile.com. “DiSC (2003) provides a nonjudgmental language for exploring behavioral issues across 4 primary dimensions: dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness.”
As Neil Clark Warren noted, “Young people can’t select a marriage partner very effectively if they don’t know themselves well. Identity formation is incomplete until individuals have emotionally separated from their parents and discovered... their own uniqueness... and life goals” (pp. 12-13).
It is so important to take the time to get to know the opposite sex—how they think, operate and work to achieve their individual goals. Deborah Tannen explains, “Women tend to focus on intimacy while men’s primary focus is on independence.” These differences give “differing views of the same situation” (You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, 1990, p. 26).
There are some very different basic needs that are mutually exclusive to men and women. With well over 30 years counseling experience, psychologist Willard F. Harley identified, in order of importance, the five most basic needs of a husband and wife. The husband needs sexual fulfillment, recreational companionship, attractive spouse, domestic support and admiration. The wife needs affection, conversation, honesty and openness, financial support and family commitment (His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage, 1986, p. 10).
A breech of any one of these basic needs can spell trouble in marriage, so a wise couple should make every effort to please one another in these areas. Additional information about Dr. Harley’s work may be found at http://www.marriagebuilders.com.
Another excellent tool that is an absolute must for couples is the Minnesota-based Prepare/Enrich program created by Dr. David H. Olson. Further details may be obtained at http://www.prepare-enrich.com. Prepare, for couples planning to marry, is a 165-question survey designed to ask the “hard questions” about the strengths and weaknesses of their relationship. Areas examined are marital expectations, personality issues, communication, conflict resolution, financial management, sexual expectations and child rearing, just to name a few. Enrich is designed to aid married couples with their specific needs.
Wholesome relationships do not just happen. Informed choices based upon the Word of God are smart choices. “Real love,” wrote Gary Chapman, “is intentional... not obsessional” (The Five Love Languages, 1995, pp. 35-36).
Real love is a verb. It’s not what we get, but what we give. The entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 enumerates our responsibilities as potential mates (as well as in every other relationship in life), and if followed, will create a solid future not only for our children but also for generations to come. We create our own reality—it is all about responsible choices and behaviors. After all, marriage is for grownups.