So you’ve finally found someone. Congratulations! No more dinners for one or Friday nights alone. All is well. Or is it?
In all that lovebird excitement, you may have unknowingly stumbled into one of the Five C’s—unhealthy dating pitfalls common to all couples. If you avoid them, you and your sweetie will have a better shot at success. But if you find yourself stuck in a C, you might be in an unhealthy relationship headed for the rocks. Read on to see if any of the Five C’s describe you.
When Bonnie met Clyde, something sparked, and the two became inseparable. Perhaps their infamous lives of crime could have been avoided if they had taken some time for themselves rather than falling into one of the most classic dating blunders—too much togetherness. New relationships typically thrive on that magnetic draw, but it’s important to maintain your identity. If not, other parts of your life—such as friendships, career focus, and your walk with God—may begin to suffer, not to mention the relationship itself.
Blake, a 30-something banker from Indianapolis says, “When you’re around someone [who] you really like all the time, you tend to leave the analytical side of your brain at home and become sort of deaf and blind to their faults. It may seem great, but over time, I think you get on each other’s nerves more quickly because there’s not any distance. Plus, being together 24/7 can take you to a place of intensity and intimacy that really isn’t very healthy at all.”
If people have begun to merge you and your sweetie into one, dubbing you something like “Bennifer” or “TomKat,” take this as a sign that you’re together too much. Be sure to make time to invest in yourself, which will actually make you a better person and therefore improve your relationship.
If you’ve been dating for months or even years, your significant other probably plays an important role in your life, but is it the right role? Boyfriends and girlfriends are not the same as husbands and wives, but they often get stuck with that level of expectation. Maybe you count on him to make all the decisions in your life; maybe you look to her for laundry duty. And while occasional help in those areas isn’t necessarily a bad thing, you still need to concentrate on getting your own life in order rather than relying on someone else to do it for you.
Usually, the independent mindset changes gradually—that’s what happened to 20-something designer Stella from New York. “I never noticed it happening over the course of the three years we dated, but my friends and family kept trying to tell me we were in way too deep,” she says of her former boyfriend. “I counted on him for too many things, and I ended up at his place a couple of times a week to cook and clean, like it was my job or something. We completely ruined what started as a good thing because we treated it like a marriage rather than a dating relationship.”
According to Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, founders of RealRelationships.com, not all relational expectations are bad. “They are present whether we want them to be or not,” says Les. “We all enter and maintain a relationship with expectations about how we should be treated, what kinds of conversations we will have, and so on. The key is to make your expectations intentional. That is, be conscious about what you want from the relationship.”
As you begin walking hand in hand with that special someone, it’s easy to drift off the path you were walking with the Lord. Little by little, priorities can change as your world starts to revolve around that person and not God. All your attention is poured into pleasing your suitor until everything else begins to suffer. And if the romance ends, you crash hard.
Stephen, a 30-something landscape developer from Fayetteville, Tenn., saw his world crumble when his longtime girlfriend abruptly broke things off. In the aftermath he realized he had dedicated all of his energy and focus to making her happy. Nothing else had mattered, and so after the breakup, he was left with nothing—a mistake he does not want to repeat.
As tempting as it is to dote on your partner, keep this realization in mind: There is only One who will never let you down. Spending time with Him and growing closer to His heart is the only surefire way to ignite your life with renewed purpose whether you’re in or out of love with another person.
With hearts a’fire and hormones raging, dating boundaries often get blurred or banished, but they are the hallmark of successful pairings, say Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, authors of Boundaries in Dating. “Healthy boundaries are the to key to preserving freedom, responsibility, and ultimately love in your dating life. Establishing and keeping good limits can do a great deal to not only cure a bad relationship, but make a good one better,” they write.
Marie and Edwin, both divorced and in their early 50s, have been dating for three years and intentionally put boundaries into practice. “She was very upfront about her situation and about things that would and would not happen between us, like about how much time she needed for herself and for other commitments,” Edwin shares. “It was great! It took the pressure off of us so we could really get to know each other.”
“We follow the guidelines we set for our relationship in the beginning, based on God’s will and plan for our lives,” Marie adds. “We had to decide our stand on things like moving in together or sharing finances. Even when the lines are firmly set, we have to decide to follow them; otherwise, what’s the point in even having them?”
While treaties and truces often save the day, compromising isn’t always the best tactic. When it comes to giving in to his craving for Italian food over yours for Thai, all is well, but when it concerns deeper issues or becomes an all-the-time part of your togetherness, there’s a problem.
Maybe you love to go to the movies, and she can’t stand the theater. After three months without catching a flick, it’s time to evaluate the situation. Ask yourself, Am I losing my identity or a part of myself that I value? Even if you’re madly in love, you shouldn’t give up your interests just because the other person doesn’t happen to share them. Take a stand, and see how your sweetie reacts. Healthy couples are OK with letting each other pursue their own passions.
James, a 40-something dentist from Decatur, Ala., says that while he was dating his now-wife, they agreed to try some of the other’s hobbies but also maintained singular interests like golf for him and knitting for her. “I love her for many reasons, and they include her extensive “I Love Lucy” collection as well as her interest in folk art,” he says. “I may not like those things, but they are part of what makes her wonderful.”
Now that you’ve assessed your relationship according to the Five C’s, you’re better equipped to see the signs of encroaching dysfunction and also to maintain a healthy romance. Be honest with yourself and take action to improve the areas of your relationship that need work, or as difficult as it may be, move on. No matter what, always strive for individual health as much as you focus on your relationship. “The most important thing you can do in any relationship is work on who you are in the context of it,” Les says. “The healthier you are, the more likely you are to have a growing relationship.”