I just got out of a destructive relationship and am still facing the consequences of hurt, pain, distrust, abuse and more. I kept trying to be ‘forgiving’ when things would happen, hoping he would keep his promises to change, but he didn’t. I guess my question is, what are some of the ‘red flags’ that I should not put up with and how can I have the courage to leave when I recognize these things?
Thank you dear sister for this challenging question. I know it is not always ‘black and white’ when we are in the midst of something, especially when your heart is involved. So the first thing I would say, is don’t beat yourself up. We can be thankful that God gave you the strength to leave when you did, which spared you from future hurt down the road. I would advise seeking professional counseling if there is deeper healing that needs to take place. As you do this, take Paul’s words of advice of “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…pressing on toward the goal to win the prize” for which God has called you heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14). Press forward, asking God to heal you and show you what you can learn about yourself and His design for relationships. Ask Him to make you whole in Him so that you will never again choose to endure another abusive relationship like the one you just got out of.
Now to your question about what are some practical attributes in a person that may serve as RED FLAGS to watch out for. The ones that go beyond the typical ‘minor imperfection’ category and into the ‘watch out’ category. Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend in their book Boundaries in Dating (which I have highly recommended for the last three weeks!), point to David’s Psalm 101 for some clues:
I will be careful to lead a blameless life— when will you come to me? I will conduct the affairs of my house with a blameless heart. I will not look with approval on anything that is vile. I hate what faithless people do; I will have no part in it. The perverse of heart shall be far from me; I will have nothing to do with what is evil. Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret, I will put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, I will not tolerate. My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; the one whose walk is blameless will minister to me. No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence.
First, David implies the importance of character, beginning with a look at yourself and the way you lead your own life. That is absolutely crucial to be honest with ourselves first, before we can slap any expectations on anyone else!
From there, he says he avoids:
- Vile things
- Deceit and/or lying
These things can take many shapes and forms in real life, but most would agree that David’s list involves qualities that are likely to cause more harm than good in people and relationships. Dr. Townsend and Cloud say, “If you encounter such things in a person you are dating, then they are weighty indeed and you should be very, very careful.”
Other RED LIGHTS they list as traits that are destructive in relationships are:
- Acts like he has it all together, instead of admitting weakness or imperfection
- Religious instead of spiritual
- Defensive instead of open to feedback
- Apologizes more than changes
- Avoids facing problems
- Refuses to work on problems
- Has visible addictions
- Avoids closeness
- Jealous or suspicious
If there are some of these patterns showing up in a person you are with, consider asking them to seek counsel from someone you trust. If they are unwilling to face issues and problems and/or get help, as the Doc’s say, “Watch out!” These are patterns that could persist and cause great harm to you in the long run.
We must remember that God’s command to us all is to ‘bear fruit’ in all we do, even in our relationships. Jesus says everything is known by the fruit it produces–good or bad (Matthew 12:33). So it is good to ask ourselves, “Is this relationship bearing mostly good fruit or bad fruit?” Good fruit in a relationship would be making each other feel loved, respected and valued, laughing and having fun together, dealing with problems in a healthy manner, encouraging each other in their faith and their calling in Christ, and challenging each other to grow in Christ likeness, exhibiting and growing in the ‘fruits’ of the Holy Spirit, like peace, love, joy, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
To the contrary, if you are with a person who uses abusive or harsh language, puts you down, leaves you feeling bad about yourself, or fearful about his actions and reactions, then that would be considered ‘bad fruit’ in the eyes of God and He never intended you to have to put up with those things.
I understand it can be difficult to leave a person when you feel an emotional attachment to them. Here are some tips that can help give you strength to do the right thing when you are in a destructive relationship:
Pray Continually. The most important thing is that we stay connected to God. The Bible instructs us to “pray continually…” (1 Thess. 5:17). Pour your heart out to God and ask Him for wisdom, guidance and strength to navigate through the situation by the power of His Holy Spirit.
Soak in His Truth. Often times when we are involved in destructive or abusive relationship, it rubs off on us and permeates our thoughts, attitudes and perspectives about ourselves and life. We must re-align our thinking with the TRUTH of God’s Word and His character. As we let the Word soak back into our hearts, we will be reminded that we are fearfully and wonderfully made in His image, holy vessels made for His noble purposes! Getting our thinking and self-worth back on track can help in navigating us back to healthy lifestyle and relationship choices.
Share Your Burden. God never intended us to bear life’s burdens on our own. He instructs us to share our burden with Him first and foremost (Matthew 11:28, 1 Peter 5:7) AND with our community. When we are feeling down and out during or after a relationship, have the courage to let your loved ones in and lean on them for strength, love and wisdom. To refuse help from others is to refuse love that God could be pouring through someone directly to you. Learn to receive it and then give it back when you are strong and another person is in need!
Seek Professional Help. Enduring an abusive relationship may cause deeper harm than you can handle on your own. Pray to God alone and with others to see where He may direct you to get some professional help. God tells us in His Word, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). Be sure not to enter into another relationship until deep wounds from your past relationship are dealt with.
Sorry this post got a bit long! But this topic of how to avoid RED FLAGS and how to have the strength to walk away is a prevalent one, even in the church. I pray dear sister (or brother) that you got something out of this series of ‘What to Look for in a Mate” and that it might help in making wise and Spirit-led decisions in the future. It has helped me, as I learn and grow along with you.
Have comments or thoughts to add? Do it right here and join in the conversation! Also post questions or topics you would like to see addressed on this blog in the upcoming weeks and months ahead. Thanks for stopping by and having a wonderful weekend!
I walked to the front of the room, my heart beating a little faster than normal. Okay, a lot faster–like it was going to beat out of my chest. I usually held back from asking for prayer at these kinds of events. Surely there were people who needed it more than me. But something that day propelled me to the front. I had just made a major decision that would steer my life in an entirely new and unknown direction. I was terrified, confused, and in desperate need of some prayer. Even if it was from a complete stranger.
Finally it was my turn and I stepped forward to receive prayer from a woman who looked kind and caring. Immediately my nerves melted away as I saw the love and compassion of Christ in her bright blue eyes staring directly into mine. I expected her to ask what I needed prayer for. But she didn’t. She just smiled, put her soft hands over mine and began to pray:
“I see you swinging on a trapeze.” She said. “You just let go of the bar…and you are flying through the air…waiting for the next bar to come.”
Admittedly, the imagery seemed a little far-fetched at first, a little ‘out there.’ But never before had a person so accurately described how I felt in that moment: swinging on a trapeze…flying through the air… waiting for the next bar. The words danced around in my head like an elegant ballerina gliding across the stage. I stood there in awe and wonder of how the Holy Spirit was moving through this woman I had never even met.
When she was finished, she opened her eyes and told me to go home and do some research on what trapeze artists do in the ‘hang time’ of going from one bar to the next. Fully aware of how silly and random this whole circus metaphor seemed, I somehow felt moved to follow through. Interestingly enough, what I discovered was that there were three key things that kept trapeze artists from falling flat on their faces:
3. Holding their position.
Wow. Immediately I knew there were some spiritual insights from which to draw here. God seemed to be speaking directly to me through the visual imagery of circus acrobatics. As strange as it may sound, something about it was powerful and it pierced somewhere deep in my heart and soul. It was as if God was saying, “I see you Ali, I know you feel as if you are flying and flailing through the air like an out-of-control acrobat…you are uncertain of what is next and wondering if that next bar will ever come…but I have you right where you are…just stay there and trust Me and know My timing is perfect…the bar will come.”
This may be a Word from the Lord for you too. Maybe you just left a job… made a career change… moved churches… left a ministry position… walked away from a relationship. Whatever it was, you did it because you felt it was what God was calling you to do. And when you finally took the step of faith, when you officially let go of that bar, you found yourself flailing through the air, unsure of exactly where God was leading you. You thought the other bar would be there, visible and ready for a smooth transition to the next thing. But the bar didn’t show up right away. Suddenly you wondered if there even was another bar or if you might have missed it all together. Maybe, you wonder, I should have never left the old bar. At least it was safe. Secure. Comfortable…
If this describes you–in transition–right now, take heed my friend. You are not alone. Embrace the ‘hang time’ and become the master trapeze artist that God is calling you to be. It’s all about trust… it’s all about timing…and it’s all about holding your position until God chooses to reveal that next bar for the taking. But be encouraged, it is this transition time that will lead to transformation.
A friend of mine shared with me a quote she heard from Andy Stanley at the Catalyst Conference a few weeks ago. He said,
“Sometimes we are tempted to stay somewhere because it would be easy. But if we are willing to step out in faith and leave, God can do something He’s been longing to do in our lives.”
God is longing to do something in your life. Something new, something great, something that will lead you to the next phase of your destiny in Him. But He needs you to let go of one bar before you can grab onto the next…
Are you willing?
Food for Thought:
1. Are you doing what you are doing out of comfort or calling?
2. When’s the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone and tried something new?
3. Prayerfully ask God what steps of faith you can take to bring about the fullness of His purposes in and through your life.
I have a friend in her late thirties who really wants to get married. There are men who have expressed interest in her, but she is convinced that the ‘right one’ hasn’t come along yet according to the list of traits she has listed out. Honestly, some of these men she turns down are great, godly men and I wonder: At what point is she just being too picky?
Great question. I think this is a very common dilemma that comes up in the Christian dating world. On one hand, we serve a God who can do “…immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). And on the other hand, we are commanded to pray in Matthew 6:10, “let thy will be done.” So the question is, how do we strike a balance between asking God for the desires of our hearts while remaining open to His will, which may be different than our own?
I had a friend who once shared with me her “list” of traits and characteristics she hoped and prayed for in a life partner. I was shocked as I listened to what she had written down. Everything from personality type to income bracket to ethnic background was on there! She also had a lot of physical requirements that seemed nothing less than a male super model. In that instance I honestly wondered if her stringency may have been keeping her from meeting completely suitable men.
I am not saying we shouldn’t pray specifically. Or that we shouldn’t believe that God can do the impossible. I’ve experienced myself and witnessed in others prayers being answered specifically. But while our specific dreams, desires and preferences are important and heard by God, I do think we need to maintain some level of openness and flexibility to what God’s will may look like.
I have a friend who married a man she never thought in a million years she would marry. He looked the exact opposite of the kinds of men she was usually attracted to, he came from a church background that was entirely different from hers, and his personality was totally different that anyone she had encountered before. But they ended up being in an ecumenical (mixed denominational) fellowship group together and after several weeks of hanging out in the group, realized they really connected on so many different levels. She told me it took her a while to let go of her own expectations of what she thought she needed in a man. But in time, as she asked God to open her eyes to see this man the way He saw Him, she began to see him in a new light. She said, “I thought I knew what I needed in a man, and that’s what I had based my original ‘list’ on. But once I allowed God to show me what I needed, He gave me the willingness to consider a man who I wouldn’t have normally considered. Now we are married and sometimes I laugh at how well God knew what we both needed. My husband challenges me, supports me and loves me in ways I could have never imagined! I am so thankful I let God show me what and who was best for me.”
Gosh, such wisdom in that testimony. Sometimes our own tastes and preferences can really limit what God wants to do in our lives. Sometimes they can even be from our own selfish nature or from our own brokenness. Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend speak of this in their book called Boundaries in Dating. They say our preferences cannot always be trusted in the first place because they can come out of an unhealthy place. The examples they give are:
- Fears of intimacy can attract you to detached people
- Fears of autonomy can attract you to controlling people
- Fears of being real can attract you to perfectionistic people
- Fears of your own sinfulness can attract you to “bad” people
- Fears of your own neediness can attract you to weak, passive people
- Unresolved family issues can attract you to someone who is like a parent you had trouble with
So the point is to be aware of your preferences and value them, but be open to the fact that may they may not be the very best for you after all. Here are some practical tips I have tried to live by that have helped me stick to my standards, but also keep a level of openness to God when it comes to deciding whether to engage with someone who may be showing interest:
Seek God First at all Times. When we are consistently seeking God through prayer, studying His Word and having fellowship with other believers, we can be sure that God will mold and hold our heart’s desires. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” It is my understanding and experience that when we truly delight in Him, He actually gives us the very desires of our hearts. As we seek Him for wisdom regarding a life partner, He will lay upon our hearts the important things to look for and consider in the process of getting to know someone. It is absolutely crucial that we keep close communion and fellowship with God’s Spirit as much as we can through this process.
Ask Him for His Eyes. I have often prayed, “Lord, please give me Your eyes to see this person as You do.” This is a powerful prayer because it helps us get beyond our human and often superficial perceptions and judgments of people to see into the crevices of their heart and soul–the very soil from which fruits of the Spirit and maturity grow. Sometimes we may not be attracted to someone right off the bat so we write them off and move on. But we should be careful not to be so quick to judge. Asking God to show us if we are missing anything will help us give everyone a fair chance.
Be Open to Getting to Know Anyone with Good Character. You never know what surprises God may throw your way. Even if a person is not someone we would normally consider or be interested in, but he/she has exceptional character, be open to getting to know that person. You never know what may develop and how God may change your heart towards that person over time.
Don’t Overlook People in Front of Your Nose. God leads us to engage and serve in different environments and settings for all sorts of reasons. Don’t discount that one of them my be to meet your future spouse! Make a conscious effort this week to consider various friends and acquaintances in your various networks and associations. Ask God to lay upon your heart anyone who He may want you to get to know on a deeper level. You never know, the person He has for you could be right in front of your nose and you’re just not aware of it!
Strive to Become the Person on Your “list.” Sometimes we can get too caught up in the type of person we want to be with and forget about the person we are becoming. Take a look at the list of traits and qualities you hope for in a mate. Now ask yourself if you embody those things. We are instructed to strive for holiness in all we do (1 Peter 1:15). So perhaps you can remove some of your focus from what kind of person you will be with to what kind of person you are becoming. Ask God to help you see what you can work on that will help you reflect His holiness and prepare you to be a better spouse.
I hope some of these tips may help in steering us away from having unrealistic expectations or being too picky. Next week, we will discuss what preferences are good to have that can help steer us on the path to a healthy and godly relationship.
So tune in right here as we explore, discover and discuss together how we can honor God in the way we wait, date and pursue a marriage relationship the way He intended. Don’t miss it! And please send in more questions if you have them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
It was just days after I had just made a huge decision regarding my career path. I made the decision based on what I had perceived to be God’s leading. Then a friend through me for a loop when he said, “Well Ali, don’t worry about it…God would have blessed your decision either way.”
Now wait a minute, hold on right there bud. Did I hear him correctly? I sat there like a stone-faced statue unable to move a muscle. Could what he was saying be true? Anger and confusion suddenly welled up inside of me like a giant tidal wave. I had just spent the past few weeks fasting and praying and seeking and praying some more…about what God would have me do in my situation. I pursued Him with a sense of holy desperation. I wanted to do His will, not my own. And I wasn’t willing to move until I got an answer.
But now I felt as if I was tossed into a pool of bewilderment wondering whether my sincere efforts were in vain. What was the point if our life of faith was reduced to a God who will ‘bless whatever decision you make anyway?’ I knew we had free will, but is this what God had in mind?
These are the burning questions that have been rattling around in my heart ever since. Whether it relates to career path, finding a spouse, or making decisions about life and future in general…I’ve often wondered whether God is sitting up in heaven wearing a director’s hat, orchestrating the details of how our ‘dramas’ will unfold saying, “Do this…do that…turn this way…no that way…stop…now go!” Or…
Whether He is more like a spectator at a basketball game, giving us the freedom to make our own moves, at our own expense, saying something more along the lines of, “It’s up to you champ whether you make a move to the left or to the right, forward or backward…just decide and I will be with you wherever you go!”
Honestly, I prefer the former. I hope for the former. I pray for the former. But it occurred to me in the conversation with my friend that day and in other recent conversations with other Christians, that we often (too easily) accept the latter.
Is this the role God intended for Himself?
If we look to the life of Jesus, it seems pretty obvious that the answer to that question is no. God the Father had the story of His Son all written out even before it came to be and carefully directed Jesus each step of the way. There is no record of Him saying to Jesus, “Son, just decide whether or not you go to the cross… it’s up to you pal and I’ll bless whatever you decide!”
Quite the contrary if you ask me. God had His plans set in place–the what, the where, the when, the who–and there was no turning back. We even see Jesus plead for mercy, begging God to change His mind regarding the destiny that was already written for him,
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
What follows is Jesus ‘in anguish’ and praying even ‘more earnestly’ to His father (Luke 22:44), for he knew it wasn’t going to be an easy road to the cross. God’s plan for Him was already written, within the context of a larger story of redemption. It is no different for us. Job alluded to this when he said:
“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2)
If we accept that no plan of God’s can be thwarted, the question still remains: are there multiple ways of getting there? In other words, are their different routes (based on our own decisions) that will bring us to the same destination, or God’s ultimate plan for us?
Again, looking at the life of Jesus, we are not told directly if this is so. We don’t know if there was a ‘plan B’ in how the story on the cross would play out. But what we can do is observe Jesus and what we see is this: rather than seeing God as a ‘Blesser’ of his own decisions, Jesus fervently, consistently and persistently sought the Father’s will and adjusted his life accordingly. Jesus is recorded as saying:
“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19)
This implies intimate union with the Father at all times. We must follow Jesus’ example and settle for nothing less. I think sometimes when we are afraid or uncertain about the future or a decision that is beckoning an answer, the easier way out is to say, “Well, God will be with me either way anyway.” And we choose according to our own will, not His.
This is not to say God doesn’t sometimes lead His people in this way. We all know the story of Joshua, when he had to step in and lead after Moses died. God said to him, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). In this instance God was giving Joshua the freedom to step out and move forward knowing that He was with him. But one detail we cannot overlook here is that God TOLD Him. He still spoke. He let Joshua in on what He was doing at that time and gave Him the courage to act.
It won’t always be black and white. Sometimes we won’t know which way to go and we still have to make a decision. Mistakes are part of it and God can redeem all things. But even so, we must never stop striving for one thing: to adjust our lives to His plans, not the other way around. He is a God who guides, directs, speaks and leads His people according to His plans and purposes. Just as Jesus earnestly took time out (often in the early morning hours or in quiet places) to seek the Father’s will, we must do the same. He asked His father what He was doing and I am convinced he STAYED there, refusing to move, until he heard from Him.
God’s Word says all the days ordained for us were written in His book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16). Do you believe this in your heart of hearts? If so, we must not allow ourselves to settle for a directionless, voiceless, spectator-like “Do it yourself” God! Both the Old and New Testament are chock full of instances of God’s radical way of leading His people. He is fully capable of directing, leading, speaking, stopping and starting. He can tell us specifically where and when and how to go…and not go.
The question is, are we imitating the intimate and intentional communion Jesus had with the Father? Are we living a lifestyle of seeking, asking, listening, pausing and waiting expectantly until we get an answer?
Receive these words from God Himself today, who says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” (Isaiah 30:21)
Friend, open the ears of your spirit and listen for His voice. It may not come in loud thunders or bolts of lightning, but it will surely come!
Action Plan: Read the book of Matthew and study how Jesus sought to be led by His father in all things, each step of the way. Make note of little things He did to connect with the Father and what it was that resulted in getting answers. Write these things down and follow them with wild abandon! Refuse to accept anything less than God’s voice and be determined to follow it at all costs!
I’m greatly encouraged that I’m not alone in all the crazy thoughts about ‘potentials’. My question is regarding ‘the list.’ Should I be checking off traits from a ‘list’ or allow God to bring me someone totally unexpected but complementary?
Thank you so much for this question. It is one I get a lot and one I have asked God a lot about myself! I do cover this topic from my own experience on pages 31-36 in by book, but I want to share some words of wisdom from another source called Boundaries in Dating, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend (http://www.amazon.com/Boundaries-Dating-Making-Work/dp/0310200342).
Dr. Cloud shares about an experience when he was asked to speak to a Christian college group on the topic on how to pick someone to date or marry. He opened by asking them, “What do you look for in a person to seriously date or marry?” These were some of the responses:
- Deep spiritual commitment to God
- Person who loves God’s Word
- Someone with ambition
- Someone fun
- Leader in their field
- Like sports
“Great list,” he said. “ I like people like that too. But in all the years I have done marriage counseling, I have yet to meet a couple who was ready to divorce or having significant problems because one wasn’t witty enough or did not read their Bible as much as the other wished, or was not a leader in their field.”
He went onto say however, that he did meet hundreds of couples who were about to end their relationships over things like:
- She’s so controlling, I feel smothered all the time
- He doesn’t listen to me
- He is so critical, I feel like I am never doing anything right
- He is so irresponsible. I never know it the bills are being paid or if he has taken care of the things he promised to do.
- She over-spends all the time
- He can’t connect emotionally. He doesn’t understand how I feel.
- His anger scares me
- After his affair I can’t trust anything he does or says
Interesting isn’t it? All of the things Dr. Cloud listed above have little to do with the list of ideals, characteristics and accomplishments we often use to judge the level of ‘potential’ in a person with whom we might consider for the long-term. The point he is trying to make is this: character is the main issue. Dr. Cloud says,
“Initially you are attracted to a persons outsides, but over time you will have to deal with his insides. His character is what you will experience long-term and be in relationship with over time.”
Does that mean we have to toss our natural tastes and preferences out the window? Not at all. Some of us prefer athletic types, while others prefer more musical or artsy types. That’s fine. Having our own personal tastes in what attracts us to another person is a God-given healthy thing and is what makes the process of getting to know someone interesting and engaging.
But with that said, we should be careful not over-value these tastes so they become a substitute for the things that really matter over the long haul. Dr. Cloud says he is shocked at how under-valued things having to do with character, maturity, etc. are in the Christian dating world and he has witnessed the disastrous consequences that follow.
So what are some examples of preferences we should have on ‘the list’ when it comes to considering a relationship with another person? What are others that we should avoid? How do we hold to a standard without being too rigid, unrealistic or picky? It is possible to remain open and flexible without ‘settling’? How can we enjoy romantic sparks without being completely blinded by them?
These are all great questions and one’s which I will address more in detail over the next few weeks. I hope Dr. Cloud’s example helped to kick-start your thinking on the kinds of things you should consider in a mate. Until we meet again next week, ask yourself:
- What is my current approach in deciding if I am compatible with another person?
- What is on my ‘list’ of traits, qualities and characteristics I hope to find in a mate? (If you don’t have one, make one!)
- Why are these things important to me?
- Are the majority of them outer or inner qualities of a person? Do I need to make some adjustments?
Be as honest and real as you can as you write it out. Have it handy as we tackle this topic in more depth and be ready to re-work it as we discover together what we should look for in a life partner, from God’s perspective.
Tune in same place, same time next week!