Should You Move-in Together, or Not? (Psychology Today)

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Should You Move-in Together, or Not?

Surprising Facts about relationship quality and pre-marital cohabitation

By Theresa E. DiDonato, Ph.D.

(Posted by Psychology Today, July 25, 2014)

Should couples live together before they get married? If you ask people this question, they often have strong beliefs, one way or the other. Religious views aside, what can relationship science tell us about the pros and cons of pre-marital cohabitation?

decisionFirst the Facts: How Common is Cohabitation?

Cohabitation (i.e., living together in a sexual relationship before marriage) is an increasingly common trend in United States. Today, most heterosexual couples live together before marriage. A survey of over 12,000 heterosexual women aged 15-44 between 2006 and 2010 showed that approximately half (48 percent) of women cohabitate prior to their first marriage (Copen, Daniels, & Mosher, 2013). This number is up from 34 percent in 1995.

In addition to frequency, the average cohabitation duration has increased. These days, the typical length of cohabitation has grown from 13 months in 1995 to an average of 22 months. Tracking cohabitating couples revealed that three years out, 32 percent were still cohabiting, 40 percent had transitioned to marriage, and 27 percent had dissolved (Copen et al., 2013).

Relationship Outcomes

Concerns about pre-marital cohabitation may be legit. Substantial evidence associates cohabitation with negative relationship outcomes. Pre-marital cohabitation is viewed as a risk factor for divorce as it predicts later marital instability, poorer marriage quality, and less relationship satisfaction (Kamp, Dush, Cohan, & Amato, 2003; Stanley et al., 2004). Compared to married couples, cohabiting couples argue more, have more trouble resolving conflicts, are more insecure about their partners’ feelings, and have more problems related to their future goals (Hsueh, Rhabar, Morrison, & Doss, 2009). These findings are concerning for couples considering pre-marital cohabitation, but a closer look shows a much more complicated picture.

Why Do People Cohabitate before Marriage?

First, why do people cohabitate? Turns out, unmarried couples have very different motivations for living together. For most people (61.2 percent), the number one reason to cohabitate is quite positive: they want to spend more time with the person they’re dating(Rhoades, Stanley, & Markman, 2009a). Others cite that cohabitation makes financial sense (18.5 percent), that they want to test out the relationship (14.3 percent), or that they don’t believe in the institute of marriage (6 percent).

Cohabitating out of convenience (i.e., expired leases; financial sense) or to test a relationship can lead to problems down the road. In the former case, women tend to perceive the couple as having less relationship confidence and less dedication. In the testing situation, both men and women report more negative interactions, more psychological aggression, and less relationship confidence, adjustment, and dedication (Rhoades et al., 2009a). Such evidence suggests that differences in why people are cohabiting may be driving some of the associations between cohabitation and poorer relationship outcomes.

The Inertia Effect

Cohabitation is recognized as a strong predictor of marriage, in part because of the inertia effect (Stanley, Rhoades, & Markman, 2006). Once a couple cohabitates, a momentum towards marriage begins and it’s more difficult to break up because of the greater investment. The inertia effect is problematic when it drives a couple that would otherwise not have married, to become married.

Maybe this is why married men who cohabited before marriage are less dedicated to their wives than married men who did not first cohabitate (Stanley, Whitton, & Markman, 2004).

The inertia effect is only relevant to cohabiters who are not already engaged prior to cohabitation. Compared to those who are engaged before living together, those who aren’t are less satisfied in the relationships, report less relationship dedication, and less relationship confidence (Rhoades et al., 2009b). Interestingly, both engaged and non-engaged cohabiting couples tend to report less relationship dedication, less relationship confidence, and more negative communication compared to those who wait to live together until marriage.

Types of Cohabiting Couples

It’s hard to imagine that the relationship troubles associated with living together before marriage are universal for all cohabitating couples. So how to do we make sense of the patterns? Willoughby and colleagues (2012) chose to examine differences among cohabitating couples. They sorted couples into types based on 1) whether the couples were engaged or not, and 2) whether couple members agreed on their trajectory towards marriage.

The resulting categories of cohabiters were:

  1. Incongruent engaged cohabiters (47 percent). This category describes couples who are engaged but in disagreement over how quickly they’re moving towards marriage.
  2. Engaged cohabiters moving fast (13 percent). These cohabiters are engaged and in agreement that they are on the fast track towards marriage.
  3. Engaged cohabiters moving slow (12 percent). They may be engaged, but they agree they are not moving quickly towards a wedding day.
  4. Incongruent non-engaged cohabiters (20 percent). These individuals are not engaged and they differ in their views on the relationship’s future, i.e., if and when they will get married.
  5. Nonengaged cohabiters without marital plans (6 percent). As the name suggests, this group of cohabiters are in agreement that they have no plans in the work for marriage and do not necessary view cohabitation as a path towards marriage.

How happy and successful are the relationships defined by these categories? In general, being a fast or slow moving engaged couple predicted the highest relationship satisfaction. The couples with the least happiness and satisfaction were the incongruent engaged cohabiters and the incongruent non-engaged cohabiters.

Further, the non-engaged cohabiters without plans for marriage had the most doubts about their relationship stability, but it was the incongruent groups (engaged or non-engaged) that seemed to have the most relationship problems. Meanwhile, Incongruent non-engaged cohabiters as well as the non-engaged cohabiters without marital plans tended to report less positive communication patterns. Finally, the engaged cohabiters moving fast and the engaged cohabiters moving slow reported the least relationship conflict, not surprising since they also reported a high degree of relationship satisfaction (Willoughby et al., 2012).

In Sum

So, in sum, what do we know about cohabitation? Is it a good idea?

As in most cases, the answer depends on the couple, but evidence points to a few patterns. First, we need to consider couples’ motivations for living together before marriage. Are they wanting to spend more time together, or are they unsure of the relationship and want to test it? Second, couples who cohabitate seem to be most successful when they’ve already committed to each other. Engaged couples who live together before marriage are not subject to the slippery slope of the inertia effect, which pushes two people who might otherwise not marry, to marry. The inertia effect may explain the heightened divorce rates associated with premarital cohabitation.

 

References

Copen, C. E., Daniels, K. & Mosher, W. D. (April 4, 2013). First premarital cohabitation in the United States 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth. National Health Statistics Report, 64, 1-15.

Kamp Dush, C. M. K., Cohan, C. L., & Amato, P. R. (2003). The relationship between cohabitation and marital quality and stability: Change across cohorts? Journal of Marriage and Family, 65(3), 539-549.

Hsueh, A. C., Morrison, K. R., & Doss, B. D. (2009). Qualitative reports of problems in cohabiting relationships: comparisons to married and dating relationships. Journal of Family Psychology, 23(2), 236-246.

Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (2009a). Couples’ reasons for cohabitation associations with individual well-being and relationship quality. Journal of Family Issues, 30(2), 233-258.

Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (2009b). The pre-engagement cohabitation effect: a replication and extension of previous findings. Journal of Family Psychology, 23(1), 107-111.

Stanley, S. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2006). Sliding versus deciding: Inertia and the premarital cohabitation effect*. Family Relations, 55(4), 499-509.

Stanley, S. M., Whitton, S. W., & Markman, H. J. (2004). Maybe i do interpersonal commitment and premarital or nonmarital cohabitation. Journal of Family Issues, 25(4), 496-519.

Willoughby, B. J., Carroll, J. S., & Busby, D. M. (2011). The different effects of “living together”: Determining and comparing types of cohabiting couples. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 27, 397-419.

Is it Wrong to Live Together Before Marriage?

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Is it Wrong to Live Together Before Marriage?

By Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, PhD

Q:  I have been in a live-in relationship for a number of years. We have recently been following your love and respect advice because of a crisis, but we are not married and have no marriage plans (due to a lack of trust issue regarding a one-night stand that my boyfriend recently committed). I am a New Believer and am wondering from a spiritual standpoint as to how my relationship is viewed by God’s Word. My boyfriend feels that splitting up is not necessary, but I am not sure. Can you shed any light on this for us?

Is-it-Wrong-to-Live-Together-Before-760x609

Dr. E says:  Thank you for honestly sharing your situation and your heart.

I’m glad you asked about how this is viewed by God’s Word. Jesus said in Matthew 4:4, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”

Jesus is saying that Abba Father is there and He has spoken.

What does God say?

The question is simple. If God is there and He has spoken, has He revealed His heart on your situation?

Note what God is saying in His revelation to His people in the book of Hebrews:

“Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4).

Notice the two words: fornicators and adulterers.

Adultery is understood to be sex between two people who are married to someone else.

Fornicators are those who are not married and are having sexual relationships, which includes those living together and having sex. That is not approved by Abba Father and He will discipline according to Hebrews 13:4.

This does not touch God’s heart in a positive way.

Research supports the Bible.

Not surprisingly, research supports what the Bible says. God, in his infinite wisdom, gives us commands not to burden us, but to help us. He wants what is best for us. When God says “No” he means, “Don’t hurt yourself.” He is not saying no out of meanness or a desire to punish. He is saying no because it is for your own good and for the good of your relationship.

So what does the research say? According to a new report from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, individuals who have multiple sexual partners and those who live together before marriage report poorer marriage quality. The study suggests that “a relationship based on immediate sexual gratification may hinder people’s ability to assess the quality of that relationship.”

Additional research studies also support this conclusion. Researcher Jason S. Carroll, Ph.D. writes an informative article on Slow But Sure: Does the Timing of Sex During Dating Matter? He refers to his study published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Family Psychology.They found that couples “who wait until marriageto have sex report higher relationship satisfaction (20% higher), better communication patterns (12% better), less consideration of divorce (22% lower), and better sexual quality (15% better) than those who started having sex early in their dating.”

These percentages are significant! Yet, more people live together before marriage than those who don’t.

Is anyone listening?

The National Marriage Project report also reveals that “couples who did not make a clear commitment to marriage prior to moving in together were less likely to report high marital quality. This may be because cohabitors are more likely to ‘slide’ into marriage, rather than making a firm decision to wed.” The longer a couple lives together, sharing housing, belongings, pets and friends, the more daunting a break-up can be, “sliding” them into a marriage that is more one of convenience than one of real commitment.

The culture changes but God doesn’t.

Many of these studies cite trust as being an issue in cohabitation. That’s not surprising. If a couple is not willing to commit to one another in marriage yet can have sex, why should they be faithful to one another? This could be playing out in your situation since your boyfriend has had a “one night stand.” Women especially think that they can love a man into wanting them exclusively. But if the commitment isn’t there before sex, what is the likelihood it will develop after sex?

The research is not in your favor.

God, in His infinite wisdom, has warned us. When there is conscious and willful sin, the Spirit of Christ is quenched and grieved which results in God’s loving discipline.

Yes, we live in a culture that treats marriage lightly and even laughs at holy matrimony. But, God has not changed His mind.

God loves you and wants to bless you!

God loves you just as you are – don’t doubt that. But God loves you so much He refuses to be indifferent to your present condition.

He intends to speak to you about changing.

I recommend you seek out a group of believers in Christ who can mentor you and come alongside you as you grow in your new faith. God wants to bless you!

Emerson

How Do You Say “No” To Your Child?

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How Do You Say “No” to Your Child?

By Emerson Eggerichs

How do you say “no” when your child asks for something she or he does not need?

Here are some of my thoughts:

How to say no

1. Say “no” with firm but gentle resolve.

2. Say “no” with a careful tone of voice.

3. Say “no” by redirecting.

4. Help the child see that sometimes “no” means “wait.”

5. Say “no” by negotiating.

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For an expansion on the above points and to watch the video, go to the author’s blog post

If you would like to speak with a life-coach or a counselor about your struggles as a parent, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003.

Friday Funday

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Here’s a little humor for your Friday to make it a funday.

Pig Latin Humor

Watching 5 Hours of TV a Day Could Kill You

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Watching 5 Hours of TV a Day Could Kill You in a Very Specific Way

By Michael Harthorne

Here’s a study to make you get off the couch. Researchers from Japan’s Osaka University found that watching more than five hours of TV a day can make you six times more likely to suffer a fatal blood clot, the Telegraph reports.

The study, presented to the European Society of Cardiology, shows men and women between the ages of 40 and 79 who watch more than five hours of TV a day are twice as likely to suffer a possibly fatal pulmonary embolism from blood clots than someone who watches less than 2.5 hours of TV a day.

But that goes up to six times more likely when looking at people younger than 60.

“Leg immobility during television viewing may in part explain the finding,“ says one of the researchers, whose study tracked 86,000 in Japan over 18 years. The danger is that blood clots can form in a leg vein and prevent the flow of blood to the heart. This was the first study to look at prolonged TV watching as it relates to blood clots — important in the age of binge watching, notes theIndependent — but researchers say a similar connection is likely with playing video or computer games.

In a press release, researchers said binge watchers should follow the same guidelines given to those on long airplane flights: stand up, walk around, and drink plenty of water.

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For help with motivation to get up and get moving, contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to schedule and appointment with a coach or a counselor.

5 Ways to Talk to Your Children About Death

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5 Ways to Talk to Your Children About Death

By Jeff Robinson

It wasn’t the first thing to enter my mind, but it might have been the second: How am I going to tell the kids?

The doctor had just laid out the cold, hard truth: “Your friend, Ken, has passed.” Ken was a dear family friend, a man my kids adored. A longtime staff member at the church I served as pastor, he died suddenly—at the church building, in the midst of his work. A heart attack ushered him into the arms of his Savior in an instant on that overcast fall morning. I was stunned. Our staff was stunned. The congregation was stunned. My children, who “helped him” regularly at the church while I sat in meetings, counseled members, or worked on sermon prep, would be most stunned of all. I planned my talk with them carefully and broke the sad news that evening.

Death Visits Again

Our family faced death again last week with the sudden departure of my stepfather. Like Ken, he clearly loved Jesus and sought to please him. Gratefully, we don’t grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). When the news came, my wife and I were again faced with delivering the sad news to our four children who range in age from 7 to 13.

As a pastor, I always found serving as the messenger of ill tidings particularly difficult. It’s even more tricky, though, when you’re telling young hearts whose ability to grasp death and all its implications is limited. Do we soft-pedal death, referring to it in vague, non-threatening terms? Or do we speak of it straightforwardly as we might with another adult?

My wife and I have found neither approach to be helpful. Obviously, how much and precisely what you say will be much different for a younger child than for a 12-year-old. Still, there are basic biblical realities they should all know.

Here are five fundamental truths we’ve explained to our kids when death has visited closely.

1. Death and judgment are coming to us all.

Sadly, death is part of our fallen world, and the Bible doesn’t shrink back from this truth. Psalm 139 tells us God has numbered our days. Since the Word doesn’t dismiss this truth as “overly negative,” neither should we.

Our family once had friends who never spoke to their kids about negative news items, such as natural disasters or 9/11. They made it a rule never to discuss death. I believe this is unwise. By avoiding bad news, parents set up their children for unreasonable expectations and stark disappointment. This approach subtly, even if unintentionally, communicates that life on earth is ultimate. Worst of all, it fails to provide a rationale for why the gospel is such good news. Every day brings us one step closer to that final day, and our children should be aware of that fact.

There is also a judgment awaiting every one of us (Heb. 9:27). I want my children to know that, as the great Southern Baptist pulpiteer R. G. Lee (1886–1978) put it, there is coming a “payday someday” for the way we have lived on earth (2 Cor. 5:10).

2. Death is not the way it is supposed to be.

This biblical truth is what makes death particularly sad. Tell your kids that death is an intruder in this world, that the first Adam’s sin opened the door through which the curse of death entered. Cornelius Plantinga’s book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Eerdmans, 1994) is a compelling resource (for adults) to help you put more biblical meat on the bones of this doctrine.

Further, explain to your children that this is why we are sad when someone dies. In our mourning, through our tears, we are admitting there’s really no such thing as death from natural causes.

3. Death for the Christian is to be with Jesus.

In Philippians 1, the apostle Paul toggles back and forth between whether it’s better for him to leave this world to be with Jesus or remain in it to advance the gospel. He then writes: “To live for me is Christ, to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). In a culture that does all it can to stave off any hint that humans will grow old and die, this is a deeply countercultural truth. But for the believer, crossing the chilly river of death is the pathway to paradise and pleasures that defy the descriptive ability of human language.

4. Death will one day die.

Give your children the unfathomably good news of 1 Corinthians 15:26: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” When the “already” collapses into the “not yet,” death will be history, and this is cause for rejoicing. This is a choice opportunity to commend Christ to your children, to urge them to flee to the cross where death was defeated and mercy is found.

5. Death is something we must all think about.

I don’t want my kids to obsess or become paralyzed in fear over the specter of eternity. That said, 18th-century pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards provides an excellent example of the necessity of ruminating on death, even at a young age. Granted, Edwards was much older than my young children when he wrote his famous resolutions, the seventh of which reads: “Resolved, to think much on the brevity and how short one’s life is (Ps. 90:17).”

Edwards understood that life is a vapor, and that death should motivate us to live for another world. Tell your children that for those in Christ, our best life is later.

What About the Death of Unbelievers?

What do we say to our children about those who seem to have died in unbelief? This is even trickier but presents a key opportunity to discuss eternity, both heaven and hell. We should be no less clear about hell than was our Lord, who spoke far more in the Gospels about judgment than about paradise.

Whether I’m speaking to adults or children, I always avoid weighing in on the eternal destiny of one who appears to have died in unbelief. Of course, I make clear that anyone who would be saved must come to God through faith in Jesus. But we’ve told our children (and I’ve told family members of unbelievers) that the deceased person is in God’s hands—a righteous and just judge who always does the right thing. I don’t put it this way to avoid or minimize the reality of God’s wrath; it simply keeps me from the seat of eternal judge.

Though there’s certainly much more that could be said about death, our kids need to be prepared—in age-appropriate ways—for life in a world captive to sin and death. And they need to be shown why the good news of God’s rescue mission in Christ, and his victorious war with death on Calvary’s tree, is good news indeed.

3 Tactics to Avoid Being Controlled by Your Emotions

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3 Tactics to Avoid Being Controlled by Your Emotions

Feelings Are Not Meant to Define You

By Brent Flory

Each of us have been through a painful situation where we have heard a sentence that takes our breath away. A moment that emotionally tore you apart.

Young man with migraine

“I think we should stop seeing each other.”

“You’re fired.”

“I’m leaving you.”

“Why are you so stupid?”

It took me about thirty years to admit that I’m an emotional guy. I’ve had to work hard to learn how to deal with my feelings well, and that is an ongoing process for me. Especially as a person who likes to take risks, I have to keep a grip on my emotional life or I can get overwhelmed quickly.

Hopefully you do well handling stressful circumstances and the emotions that arise during them. However, you may battle to not let your feelings get the best of you. No person is fully in one camp or the other, we each fall somewhere on a spectrum in how skillfully we handle our emotions. And if you’re like my toddler, where you fall on that spectrum may vary significantly depending upon when you last ate something.

To become a person who processes their emotions effectively, you must know that you are much more than your feelings. You can learn to gain mastery over them.

3 Tactics to Dealing with Feelings More Effectively

1. Learn to pause when something triggers you emotionally.

When something hits us deeply on an emotional level, we can react immediately without thinking through the possible consequences. Training yourself to pause creates space to consider your options when you’re in an emotionally difficult scenario.

If your significant other hurts your feelings and you pause before responding, you have the opportunity to choose to relate to them in a way that won’t make the situation worse. You can ask them to clarify what they said, share your interpretation of what they told you, or say that you need to go on a walk before you talk further.

Creating space to process your options instead of responding out of sheer emotion can make a world of difference in your relationships.

2) Identify the emotion you’re feeling.

There is a tremendous difference between being overcome by anxiety and being able to say, “I’m feeling anxious right now.” If you can accurately pinpoint what feeling you are experiencing, you now have a choice in where you go from here. When you understand what is happening inside of you, you have the power to make a decision that can lead to a better outcome than allowing yourself to be driven by your emotions.

3. Question your interpretation of situations.

When your boss says, “great job on the project,” you can beam with pleasure at her assessment of your performance. Or you can burn with anger at her insult. It’s all in how you choose to interpret what she says.

Your beliefs about yourself and your boss will shape how you think about what she says to you, and how you choose to reply to her. Our interpretations can be inaccurate, and can lead to gross misunderstandings in our relationships. Stopping to question your interpretation of an interaction can lead to a very different result than automatically trusting your initial take on it.

Everyone can get better at handling their feelings with some work. Learning to pause, identifying your emotions, and questioning your initial interpretation of situations will grow your ability to effectively process your feelings. These are skills that will pay you dividends in every area of life, so start working on them today.

Identity and Work

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identity and work

Are you struggling with your priorities and are finding your work identity is going to your head or heart?  Contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to set up an appointment with a counselor or coach.

Friday Funday

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Do you love this post, too?  

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Want to add some more joy into your life, give CornerStone Family Services a call at 614-459-3003 to talk with a coach or a counselor.

Dating Advice You Actually Need

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Dating Advice You Actually Need

By Derek Rishmawy

I’ve been working in youth ministry in some capacity for roughly eight years, and this is one of the most common questions I’ve fielded from young Christians: “How can (insert boyfriend/girlfriend) and I have a Christian dating relationship? How do we keep it centered on Christ?” As often I’ve heard it, I still love the the heart behind the question. A couple of youngins’ get to dating, and they want to “do it right.” They realize that God is concerned with every aspect of our lives, including our romantic involvements, so they’ve resolved to have a “Christian” dating relationship and sought guidance.

Realizing that practical steps matter, most often they want tips or steps they can take to build their relationship in Christ. “Should we call each other and pray daily? What about a devotional? Should we buy a devotional and go through it together? Maybe have a weekly Bible study?” If the young man’s of a theological bent, he shows up with a potential 10-week preaching series already outlined. (Protip: this last one is definitely not a winning approach.)

At that point, one of the first things I usually tell them is that there’s really no “biblical theology” of dating tucked away the book of Relationships 4:5-20. There are some rather obvious tips like praying for each other in your daily devotions, encouraging each other to read the Scriptures, setting appropriate boundaries (emotional, spiritual, and so on), and pursuing sexual holiness. But aside from that, there’s no real, hard-and-fast rules about this sort of thing.

Still, over the years I’ve come to see that there is one key mark of a maturing relationship centered and continually centering itself on Christ: both of you are absolutely committed to each other’s involvement in the local church.

4 Reasons to Be in the Pews

“Go to church? Really? This is your big dating tip?” Yup.

For some this point might seem counter-intuitive. As I already mentioned, couples often get this idea that to be truly “spiritual” they should start interweaving their spiritual lives into one. This can actually become a problem, especially because you’re not actually married. These devotions together can develop into a couple-centered spirituality that begins to replace the church-centered relationship with God that the New Testament actually prescribes.

No, if you want your significant other to actually grow with Christ you will encourage each other to regularly worship because you want them to:

1. Sit under Real Preaching. I don’t have the kind of space necessary to speak of the manifold benefits of sitting under regular preaching, but I’ll list a few. First, it convicts of sin and humbles us before Christ. A heart that doesn’t submit to listening to the law will be hardened against any call to repentance—that’s the death-knell of any godly relationship. Second, it reminds us of the gospel. Unless regularly reminded of the grace of Christ, the heart will begin to sink into sin, go into hiding, and find its deepest affirmation in things other than Christ—like an idolatrous focus on your relationship, for instance. Third, the Word of God truly preached brings us by the power of the Spirit into the presence of Christ. Finally, we need to hear an outside word that we can’t quickly rationalize, twist, distort, or ignore.

2. Meet with Other Believers. You also want your significant other to have communion with the body of Christ outside of your own relationship. If your relationship becomes the center of their faith, the main and only encouragement they have in Christ, something has gone wrong. Who is there to support and encourage when you’re having a bad day, or when your relationship needs a check because it’s gone off the rails into sin? What happens if you break up? Even the best married couples need other, godly voices speaking wisdom, conviction, comfort, and healing grace into their lives. Indeed, I don’t know a single godly couple who would tell you otherwise.

3. Receive the Lord’s Supper. Whether you’re a Baptist, Anglican, or Presbyterian, you want to be regularly reminded that Christ alone is the source of spiritual life—he died, rose again, and our union with him is the only true food for your soul. We need to feast on this truth regularly, or we will be tempted to draw strength from other, lesser sources, like your own relationship.

4. Worship God Alone. Our souls need worship. Yes, everything we do under the sun is worship. Work is worship. Play is worship. Sleep is worship. At the same time, it’s important to recognize that the corporate gathering of the people of God, in receiving the supper and lifting our voices in song, prepares and shapes the desires of our hearts to focus on God throughout the whole week. If for no other reason than avoiding the danger of your significant other turning your own relationship (or you!) into an idol, you want them weekly pouring out their hearts in praise to their true Redeemer and Savior.

Did you note the developing trend in the four points above? All four stand on their own as solid reasons to be committed to gathering (and being a member of) a local body. Yet all four play an important function with respect to your relationship to each other. First, they do the negative work of preventing the greatest danger in any “Christian” dating relationship—no, not sexual sin, but the human tendency to make an idol out of the beloved. Usually this idolatry justifies sexual sin and so many other relational pathologies. Second, they do the positive work of setting your eyes on Christ and his completed work in your life. In fact, you avoid relational idolatry by setting your eyes on Christ in practices and relationships in the local body.

Warning and Encouragement

To cap off my dating advice, I’d like to offer a warning and an encouragement. First the warning: If you enter the relationship and suddenly stop going to church, pray less, and read less, that’s probably a sign it’s not heading in a godly direction. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that if your relationship is a serious drag on your commitment to obeying Christ’s commands to gather with the body, this is actually killing your relationship with Jesus, and is therefore, by definition, not a “Christian” relationship.

Does this mean you should break up immediately? Maybe. Maybe not. It does mean you have grounds for thinking it through with care. Certainly there’s room for some repentance.

Finally, the encouragement: Men, make it your aim to be the first to encourage your sweetheart to be involved in fellowship with other believers, and the last to feed any desire to cut off from corporate worship. Be as diligent about carving out time for corporate worship as you are in carving “alone time” (the benefits of which should probably also be up for debate). Women, you want a man who has solid, healthy relationships with other men in the body of Christ. Be as jealous for his time with body as you are about his time with you.

Ultimately, remember, you’re not the point of the relationship—Jesus is. Point each other to Christ and let Christ knit you together as he sees fit.