I’m inviting you to rethink your entire approach to dating, courting, and approaching marriage. When you see some red flags, please pay attention instead of minimizing and rationalizing them. Look to your family and friends and listen. Everyone else can likely see the danger signs, while the people actually in danger (the two of you) are stuck in denial.
Let me suggest a basic premise about love: Your heart needs a pacemaker. It is true that you fall in love with your heart. It is true that you grow in love with your heart. But it is also true that your heart can mislead you if you do not pace the developing bonds of your love.
Here lies one of the most important keys to building a healthy relationship: Keep the bonds of your relationship in balance with each other (see the picture of the RAM for the five dynamic bonds of relationships on http://www.lovethinks.com/PICK/PICK_Overview_). In other words, never go further in one bonding area than you have gone in the others. Whenever your relationship shifts out of balance, you will feel unsafe and experience feelings of hurt, betrayal, mistrust, unfairness, anger, loneliness, or some other insecure emotion. Feeling confident in your relationship is based on the logic of staying within the safe zone. For example:
- What you KNOW should set the limits of what you TRUST
- Your RELYing on your partner should never exceed the ways that your partner has proven to be TRUSTworthy
- Your COMMITment or investment in this relationship should be restricted by what you truly KNOW, TRUST, and have found dependable in your partner
- What you KNOW, TRUST, RELY on, and are COMMITted to should set the ceiling of how far you take TOUCH and your sexual relationship
Pacing your relationship means you work to get to know the most important areas of each other, while being careful to not “fill in all of the gaps” of what you don’t know with fantasy or blind trust. As you work to pace your trust, you limit what you fully believe about your partner until you see evidence of their trustworthiness. As you share what you would like from each other, your relationship becomes a proving ground for what you trust and expect, increasing your feelings of reliance and confidence in each other’s dependability and commitment. And your relationship will mature in more healthy ways when you develop these four areas of bonding before you go too far in your sexual relationship.
Some of you may be thinking, “Let’s see—I didn’t do that right…nor that…been there, done that wrong too.” If your relationship is out of balance, use the RAM to talk about where you are and what each of you needs. Setting some goals to balance any imbalances will definitely help your relationship become stronger and healthier. The RAM is a tool that provides a picture of how to pace what is happening in the invisible dynamics of your relationship so you can visualize it, talk about it, and make concrete plans to improve it. The RAM will help you to untangle the complex and mixed feelings that often occur in an intimate relationship.
John Van Epp, PhD, President/Founder of loveThinks, LCC is the author of How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk, published by McGraw-Hill, which blends in-depth research with humorous stories to provide a map for making healthy relationship choices. His twenty-five years of clinical experience and extensive research in premarital, marital and family relations have paved the way for his teach-out-of-the-box courses, PICK (How to Avoid Falling for a Jerk) and Marriage LINKS to be taught in thousands of churches, singles organizations, educational settings and social agencies in all fifty states, ten countries and by more than 5,000 military personnel. Van Epp and his innovative Relationship Attachment Model, book and relationship courses were awarded the Smart Marriage Impact Award (2008) and have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, Psychology Today, O Magazine, and Cosmopolitan; and he has appeared on the CBS Early Show, the O’Reilly Factor, Fox News, and Focus on the Family. He has been happily married for over thirty years and is the proud father of two daughters www.lovethinks.com
John Van Epp, PhD
Love Thinks, LLC