In my experience as a mental health therapist, I have dealt with many individuals who were currently in an unhealthy relationship or had been in one in the past. I saw these people either in a one on one or couples’ counseling session. During these sessions, I would hear many stories about how a boyfriend or girlfriend was abusive or neglectful. In most of the sessions I led with couples, I had cases where both parties in a relationship were abusive. Most of the cases I’ve seen of unhealthy relationships involved married spouses and boyfriend/girlfriend relationships. I have also seen unhealthy relationships within the family unit as well. There are several characteristics of an unhealthy relationship that can be applied to any relationships, be it romantic, family, or friendship. Today, however, I am going to address four of the most common signs of an unhealthy romantic relationship and then talk about what God expects of us in a romantic relationship (i.e. marriage or dating relationship).
1. Verbal or physical abuse is a sign of an unhealthy romantic relationship. This is an obvious. If a man or woman hits, smacks, pinches, chokes, etc. their spouse then that person does not love their spouse. I can remember clients (usually female) telling me that their husbands “really do love” them because the husbands are very apologetic and nice after the physical abuse. This is the normal cycle of abuse and the “niceness” of the abuser doesn’t mean that the relationship has suddenly changed from unhealthy to healthy. Ephesians 4:32 states: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.”
2. One person calling the other names or demeaning him or her is a sign of an unhealthy romantic relationship. If a boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse calls the other partner demeaning names or makes the other feel worthless, then that is an unhealthy relationship. I had one client say that his wife called him names and demeaned him by making mean comments about him. When he confronted her about this she said she was “just joking.” There is a good way to joke, and a bad way to joke. If a spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend frequently tells “jokes” at your expense, then that is a sign of an unhealthy relationship. “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36).
3. Sex in the relationship BEFORE marriage is a sign of an unhealthy romantic relationship. God never intended a man and woman to engage in sexual relations before marriage. Some people who become romantically involved face the temptation to engage in sexual intercourse before entering into marriage. Any sexual relations between two people who are not married is fornication and a sin. 1 Corinthians 7:9 proves this by saying “But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.” This shows that sex is only reserved for marriage. I have talked to clients (mostly female) whose romantic relationships fell apart after engaging in sex. I had one woman tell me that she had four children by four different men and she didn’t know if any of them really loved her. She then asked me how she could know if a man she was dating really loved her. I told her to not have sex with a man she is dating and if he still wants to be with her, then he most likely loves her. Anyone who really loves the person he or she is dating will wait until marriage to have sex. That makes the wedding night that much more special!
4. Living together before marriage is a sign of an unhealthy romantic relationship. This is a definite sign of an unhealthy relationship! Hebrews 13:4 states, "Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge." If the person you are dating wants you to play the role of a husband or wife without caring enough about you to marry you, then that person does not love you. If a man wants to marry a woman but wants to wait a year or so to do so, that is fine, but the two cannot live together. I cannot tell you how many clients I have had who lived with their boyfriends or girlfriends and I honestly cannot think of any of these clients whose relationships ended in marriage. It is more common for two people who live together to break up than stay together permanently. Marriage is usually not in the near future because both parties are already getting some of the benefits of marriage without loving each other enough to make the actual commitment. True, divorce is very common, but it’s harder to get out of a marriage than it is to get out of a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. Living together is wrong because it means that the couple is engaging in fornication which has been addressed in point #3. Also, even if a boyfriend and girlfriend live together but do not have sex, the act is still wrong because it hurts the couples’ influence in front of others. We influence so many people in our lives and if we cause another person to sin due to our influence, then we are in the wrong.1 Corinthians 8:13 makes this clear by saying “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”
Finally, if you or someone you know is in a relationship which involves any of the scenarios above, please try to do what you can to stop the abusive behavior and always seek help from others. The best romantic relationship to be in is a loving and caring one where both partners in the relationship would never do anything to intentionally harm the other, or cause the other to sin. I will address the cycle of abuse in another post at another time.