Written by Evi Idoghor
Reliving my relationship experience through the recently concluded short story series - twists and thorns - revealed some of the mistakes I made in previous relationships. I had some destructive dating habits and was simply a bad picker because I wasn't looking for good characteristics or qualities that could reveal a lot about a person. All it took for me was a man to express interest, and I ran to the ends of the earth with that.
I was unable to manage my expectations or even set boundaries. My desire to marry at a young age drove me into the hands of people I had no business being with. So, today, I've decided to share some of the lessons I've learned from all of those relationships (some of which were dysfunctional).
Pay attention to what makes you uneasy: God has equipped us with intuition. However, I always pushed mine to the back burner because I desperately wanted to be in a relationship. Believe a person when they tell/show you who they are. Someone told me early on that he could be controlling, and he also revealed how he had broken up with his ex by telling her to get out of his house.
That which he had revealed to me, along with other factors, played out in my relationship with him. When Maya Angelou said, "when people show you who they are, believe them," I don't think she was out of her mind. She didn't say believe the best in them; she simply said believe them. When it comes to romantic relationships, believing for the "best" in people can be deceptive. People stay in abusive situations for much longer than they should, because they believe their abuser will have an epiphany and turn a new leaf.
Be led by the Spirit of God, and not your flesh: The Bible is God's way of teaching and demonstrating how we should live our lives as Christians. But we tend to ignore this and believe that everything will work out in the end. Most of the time in my relationships, this was me. All I knew to be true about God's word went out the window the moment a man approached me. When it came to relationships, I was frequently led by my flesh. It made no difference whether the person believed in God or not. If they wanted me and I was attracted to them, I wanted them back - he'll change, I told myself all the time.
If you are a Christian, it is beneficial to be led by the Holy Spirit - God will never lead you astray. If something doesn't feel right about the person who is interested in you, it's because something isn't right. Pay attention; even if everything appears to be in order, God may be trying to warn you about something that could be harmful. God desires that you be in a relationship that honors him. If he is alerting you, you should leave the situation.
Pay close attention to the red flags: Red flags frequently appear early in dating. The signs are obvious; we're just too preoccupied to acknowledge them. At the very least, I know I was. One guy I used to talk to a few years ago claimed to be a Christian, but whenever he mentioned God, it was as if he had a problem with him. Nonetheless, I persisted with him because we had interesting conversations.
I could talk to him on the phone for hours - in fact, 1-2-hour conversations were very short for us. He'd fill my ears with sweet nothings, and my heart would skip beats in response. The way he talked about God, on the other hand, bothered me. Then one day he declared, "I hate God." I was taken aback. "Are you an atheist?" I inquired. "Yes," he replied. I struggled for a while before I let him go.
Red flags are there for a reason. They reveal a person's true heart and intentions. If you see a red flag, don't try to explain, or rationalize it away. Take it for what it is: that man (or woman) is not a Christian, that person is controlling, and that person is stingy; you are not delusional, insane, or irrational.
Establish and stick to boundaries: As a Christian who was dating, I had no boundaries. Men could easily spend the night at my house, and vice versa. Even though I deceived myself each time, saying "nothing will happen," because I neither set nor respected boundaries, I always did what I said I wouldn't do. I easily gave myself to men, and as a result, it undermined my value.
Boundaries exist to protect you and your relationship's integrity. Set boundaries that will honor God. Communicate those boundaries as soon as possible to ensure that you and your partner are on the same page. It may not be the best idea to stay with someone who is attempting to push the boundaries. Sometimes you may be the one pushing the boundaries (I have been there many times); in such cases, if you and your partner truly want to honor Christ with your relationship, it is best to seek accountability. Someone who is full of God's wisdom and can guide you through the relationship in a way that honors Christ.
Stop desecrating God’s temple: the bible teaches that we were bought with a price, and that price is Jesus' precious blood. As a result, we must honor him with our bodies. Most of the time, we delude ourselves into thinking that if we aren't "going all the way," we are still honoring God.
According to Matthew 5:28, anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. How much more touching, groping, and stealing away things that should be sacred? There were times when I felt bad for "not going all the way," and I would ask God for forgiveness afterward; however, when another opportunity presented itself, I seized it.
God has called us to a higher standard of living apart from the world. This is because he paid a high price for us; therefore, honor God with your body. If your right hand is causing you to sin, it is better to cut it off than to stay in a relationship that dishonors Christ.
Stop compromising: If that man isn't displaying any signs of being a true Christian, or at the very least of being interested in growing in his walk with God, it's best not to entertain him. I'm not saying we all should or will be perfect at the time of marriage, but compromising on your fundamental Christian beliefs may not lead you down the path of honoring God - in fact, it may destroy you if care isn't taken. If you begin to compromise on your boundaries, standards, and what the Bible teaches, there is a good chance that you will compromise on other aspects of the relationship.
Do your due diligence: I ended up in hot water (most of the time) because I simply refused to do my research. You'll be surprised at how much you can learn about someone if you ask the right questions, ask the right people, the right questions about who you might be interested in, and listen carefully to their answers. Take note of how this person treats others, particularly those who are not as privileged as they are.
Watch their social media activity, pay attention to what they post, who they follow, and what they comment on. Don't get carried away by the attention they lavish on you. Some people aren't ready for a committed relationship, and some don't even understand what it is. As such, conducting research can assist you in eliminating those who are ineligible. You'll see that it's better to keep some of the men (or women) on a hi-hello basis rather than pursue a full-fledged relationship with them.
Fornication can lead to self-image issues: We do a lot of harm to ourselves when we disobey God by having sex outside of marriage. I developed a lot of insecurities and self-image issues because of toxic situations and relationships in the past. I was harming myself by simply engaging in acts that God forbade. Thus, I suffered from low self-esteem.
When you watch all these documentaries about women with anorexia or bulimia, you wonder why these women can't see themselves for who they are. Many people in those situations have stated that when they look in the mirror, they see a fat person. They are, however, extremely thin.
Men, especially young men, communicating to me that I wasn't good enough - when they left me for other women, when they called me fat, when they reprimanded me for not wanting to go to the gym - all these things chipped away at my self-image. As such, I didn't think I was attractive enough. I disliked myself, so I stayed in relationships for longer than I should have because I had no standards and didn't believe I deserved better.
I remember crying the entire night after an ex said something insensitive to me about the way he saw me. I called one of my good friends in America, and she stayed on the phone with me. I expressed my despair to her. She reassured me as she listened to my sobs: you are beautiful, intelligent, wise, and God loves you. Her words attempted to ease my pain at the time, but it wasn't until I decided to fight back with God's word that I regained my confidence.
Psalm 139: 13-14 says, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
I kept saying these words to myself, reminding myself that it is the God who created me, who gives me value, beauty, and worth. It is his word that takes precedence over every other vile word spoken to me.
The bible has a lot to say about outward appearance. God said to the prophet Samuel in 1 Samuel 16:6-7, not to choose David’s older brother as king, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
1 Peter 3: 3-4 says, “Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair, and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear – but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”
God's ways are always antithetical to popular culture. What we see has completely engulfed us. Social media has helped to redefine and expand the definition of beauty. As such, if you do not have an hourglass figure as a woman, or if you do not expose certain intimate parts of your body, you are not attractive to men. Young women have spent a fortune on risky procedures to improve their bodies - it is not worth it. The truth is found in what God says about us.
“Charm is deceitful, beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” – Proverbs 31:30 (ESV)
Don’t lead with fear: According to the Bible, the spirit that God gives us does not make us fearful or timid. Women are often afraid to speak up in relationships for fear of losing the individual. Fear played a significant role in the majority of my relationships. I was too afraid to speak up, to confront situations, to let go of situations that were not ideal for me. I brushed a lot of things under the rug. Even when I noticed signs of infidelity and inappropriate behavior, I avoided confronting them. Because I was afraid of losing my partner or being alone.
So, I prayed to God on multiple occasions to change them, than for him to change me to value myself. Of course, those prayers were ineffective, and the relationships eventually ended, leaving me heartbroken. If you see something inappropriate, it is best to address it. If it means the end of the relationship, so be it.
Do not date in isolation: This one was also significant for me. I kept my sinful behavior hidden from others, especially my Christian community. I didn't want them to find out so they wouldn't suggest for me to end the relationship. Furthermore, the danger of dating in isolation is that if you are so blind to red flags or bad behaviors, others will be unable to spot them for you because they are simply unaware of what is happening.
However, if you have trusted people in your corner, they can warn you when you are heading down a bad path or encourage you to stay in a good relationship when you are acting irrationally.
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