January 10, 2017

The Dangers of Acting Like You Are Married

by Jordan Standridge

holding-handsI still remember the hike I was on when I was confronted. A couple from our church noticed that my relationship with my girlfriend was unhealthy. We were not sinning sexually, but they thought that we were being unwise. We were spending far too much time together. I arrived at the Masters College with a desire to serve the Lord for the rest of my life, I had never dated before and was not prepared to enter into a relationship. Little did I know that on the first day of school I would meet the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. We began hanging out, and very soon we were studying together, having meals together, and pretty much spending hours a day together. And despite the fact that we were being pure, we were risking a great amount.

Looking around today it is quite difficult to find a couple who is dating wisely. Many people sleep together (even some within the church), and those who don’t, seem to get to the point where they are acting married soon after they begin their relationship. Some spend far more time together than most married couples do. They text each other dozens of times a day, they have most meals together and they spend full days together. They may call each other names of endearment, and talk about the kind of furniture they want to buy for their home together. Maybe they refer to each other as “my guy” or “my girl” before there is any real commitment. And even if they are staying sexually pure there can still be areas that need to be re-evaluated within their relationship. Of course, there must be time spent together in order for them to get to know each other to determine whether they ought to marry. I don’t know your heart or situation, nor am I the Holy Spirit, all people in a relationship must look to their own heart in order to determine whether they’re acting married in any way. Following are five dangers to consider when in a dating relationship that looks like a marriage.

  • You’re not using your spiritual gifts on the Church

A simple reading of the New Testament would lead someone to understand that all of the spiritual gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit were given to be used on the Church. Not for ourselves, but for others. And what is important to understand is that the “others” is plural. If you’re spending most of your day with one person, you are neglecting the rest of the Church. This is more problematic when the dating couple attends the same church. They tend to spend most of their time together while there, and not encouraging the other believers around them. Paul spends a whole chapter (1 Corinthians 7) elevating singleness. Single people are freed up to serve the church like no one else can. Paul says this knowing that most people will eventually marry. And whether you have the life-long “gift” of singleness or not, one thing is for certain, everyone will be single for many years, and these are precious years that the Lord can use to bring much glory to himself through our service to Him. Marriage is a huge blessing, but it does have its “worldly troubles” (1 Cor 7:28). Singles must do their best to serve the Lord and His church with all their might until they are married. We must remember that, while dating, until this person is their spouse, they should be seen as belonging to someone else; we must be balanced in how we use the gifts God has entrusted us with.

  • You set yourself up to fall sexually

When God designed marriage, He expected a man and a woman to leave their parents and to cleave to one another and become one. This is ultimate intimacy. So many young people, attracted to each other, spend countless amounts of time together. With marriage a long ways away (because of finances, age, or maturity level), they still spend as much time together as married couples if not more. With all their time together, their intimacy is growing exponentially and their desire to be together sexually grows as well. A wise couple will allow the intimacy to grow slowly over time and only grow as the level of commitment grows, finding its way to completion on the wedding day.

  •  You set yourself up to break hearts

Over the years, I’ve seen many men break off a relationship with their girlfriends without losing an ounce of respect from the girl and her family. Sadly, and more often, I’ve seen young men break off their relationships, leaving girls’ hearts broken, as well as whole families. So many young men in relationships are unwise in what they say. Perhaps maliciously, but more often naively, they make promises to their girlfriends that they ought not to. Their commitment level is zero, but yet they continually speak as if they plan to marry their girlfriend, and they treat them as if they already are. Perhaps some guys don’t care, in which case, none of these dangers will matter to them, but many young men, perhaps unintentionally, are setting the girlfriend up for a heartbreak that will feel like getting a divorce. They must honor a woman as someone else’s (future) wife and must treat them with respect by allowing the relationship to grow slowly in an upward trajectory towards the wedding day.

  •  You’re hurting your future spouse

There aren’t many people who married the first person they dated. In America, in this day and age, that is simply unheard of.  It seems as if young men and women experience many relationships over their young lives. And, while this is not an anti-dating post, it must be pointed out that so many of these relationships seem to be initiated without really thinking about marriage as the ultimate goal, but simply for the purpose of fun and wanting to receive some type of personal validation through the relationship. While sexual immorality is certainly going to hurt your future spouse (of course I must say that you can receive forgiveness for this through Christ, and that is the purpose of why He came to save us), even relationships where the couple acts as if they are married while dating can hurt their future spouse. The fact of the matter is that we don’t know God’s plan for us. So many people have lost their fiancées to death.  Despite the belief that they will last forever, most dating relationships end up in a break-up. We must have eyes only for our wives and husbands (Job 31:1). The question is if your future spouse asks you about this past relationship will you gladly speak about it or will you be ashamed?  Most people who read this still believe that their relationship is the exception.  Even so, going too fast in the relationship will hurt your future spouse even if your future spouse is the one you are currently dating.

  • You’re a bad example to others watching

Perhaps you haven’t considered this, but many in the church are watching you. Many are younger than you, and either in a dating relationship or will be in one in the not too distant future. Of course, everyone is responsible for their own actions, but we can play a big part in helping the younger eyes around us to learn how to glorify God. The young men and women around me who dated “the right way” were a huge encouragement to me. Not only was I able to emulate them and treat Jenny the same way, but, in turn, I was able to encourage others who were watching our relationship.

Having that conversation early on during our own dating relationship made a huge difference. We had an opportunity to re-evaluate how much time we spent together and to please the Lord more in our relationship. We both began serving more in our church and focusing on others, as well. It was convicting to realize that just because we were staying pure it didn’t mean that we were being wise or without sin. It was critical for us to understand–and I believe for you, as well–that it is never too late to set the reset button, repent, and begin to date the right way. God will forgive you and has provided a way to help you to date wisely in order to serve the local Church and obey His Word.

Jordan Standridge

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Jordan is a pastoral associate at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA, where he leads the college ministry. He is the founder of The Foundry Bible Immersion.
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  • James

    Hi Jordan, thanks for the article. I agree with a lot of what you say here, but it does lead to some questions that come as a result of the advice you are giving. Not for me personally (I am married), but for young men and women who are single. I know many men who are still looking for a wife, and I have these kinds of conversations with one of them quite a bit. And I want to be able to give good advice. So……a few questions here, if you don’t mind clarifying a bit……..

    If you are in a “dating” relationship, but there is no “real” commitment (as you state in the opening paragraph), then what exactly is it? Is it merely a friendship? Is there any exclusivity at all? And if there is no ‘commitment,’ does this mean that both are free to “date” someone else? It would seem odd to be dating many people as a Christian. It doesn’t square Biblically for obvious reasons. And I know you are not condoning that. But it does raise the question of how much commitment is necessary to before someone is considered to be a girlfriend or boyfriend? In other words, if a guy likes a girl from his church, and they spend some time together and enjoy each others’ company, and are attracted to one another, is she not HIS girl at this point? And is he not HER guy? And if not, at what point does she ‘become’ his girl, or does he ‘become’ her guy? Do they have to get engaged for that to happen? This is unclear from the post. Any thoughts would be appreciated?

    • Jordan Standridge

      Hey James, thanks for the questions. First of all I’d say that this young man seems to be seeking wisdom from you, which is a good sign and tells me that he wants to please the Lord in his relationship. I am less concerned for a young couple who seeks accountability and talks to mentors throughout. Obviously this is a grey area. So I would answer your first question by saying no you should not be dating several people at once. At the same time I’d answer your second one by saying that you don’t become one until you become married, therefore you don’t belong to someone else until that day. It really is to be looked at on a case to case basis and that’s why every young person needs to involve their parents and their spiritual leaders throughout the relationship.

      • Nicki Ann

        Jordan, In my generation (a long time ago) we were encouraged to date many people in part to avoid exactly what you’re writing about here. It was also thought wise to know a variety of people before deciding any given person was “the one.” When dating was not exclusive, it also avoided the broken heart syndrome we see so often today.

        I am aware the present “courtship” paradigm is quite different. I am fine with that but take exception with those who call it the biblical model. It seems like if we’re to claim a biblical model of courtship then we also have a biblical model for adultery and attempting to cover it with murder. Many things in scripture are historical narratives and are not necessarily a biblical standard.

        My question is what is your biblical basis for stating one should date only one person at a time? Do you take the position that one should not date until they are mature enough and otherwise ready to marry within a short period of time? If yes, based upon what scripture?

        • Jordan Standridge

          Hey Nicki Ann,

          I think we might have different thoughts of what dating is. My definition of “dating” is probably closer to what you would call “seriously dating”. I think you would agree that someone shouldn’t be “seriously dating” two or more different people. Going on a couple dates with someone is different than “dating” someone in my mind. So to answer your first question according to my definition of dating I think that a young man who aspires to be godly, and perhaps even aspires to be a leader in the church one day, would strive to have the “one woman man” mindset (1 timothy 3:2). To answer your second question, if you would grant me my definition of “seriously dating” then someone who isn’t ready or almost ready to marry, probably should be in a relationship with someone. Third the purpose and function of dating would be to get to know someone better to see if you want to spend the rest of your life with this person. Marriage should be the purpose and the goal of dating. But I would not consider going on a few dates with someone as “dating”, nor would I discourage people from going on dates.

          • Nicki Ann

            Jordan: “I think you would agree that someone shouldn’t be “seriously dating” two or more different people.” – – Correct!

            “But I would not consider going on a few dates with someone as “dating”, nor would I discourage people from going on dates.” – – Thanks for clarifying. I find that interesting and would never have guessed that from your blog.

            I was part of a church for about a decade that was committed to the “short courtship” paradigm and it was sold as the biblical model to which there was to be no deviation. Some beautiful marriages resulted and there were also some heartbreaking disasters. The broken marriages left people especially disillusioned because they believed that “doing it God’s way” came with a promise. In the end legalism seldom (maybe never) produces good fruit. I believe it’s a matter of liberty and that dating, courtship, and even fully arranged marriages can be joyful or difficult. I appreciate your emphasis on the counsel of parents, elders, and mentors.

            “To answer your second question, if you would grant me my definition of “seriously dating” then someone who isn’t ready or almost ready to
            marry, probably should (NOT?) be in a relationship with someone.” – – Is this possibly a typo?

          • Jordan Standridge

            Yes that was a typo sorry!

  • Jane Hildebrand

    A young man interested in our daughter actually asked my husband and myself for permission to being “courting” our daughter. He explained that his intention was to marry her, not to date her. Needless to say, he won our hearts and our daughter!

    • John Byde

      Lovely story!

  • Eduardo Barbi

    Thank you, Jordan!

    Would you say memorizing the Bible and reading books together is (or could lead to) “acting like you are married” situation?

    Could you apply your concept of “going too fast” to your answer?

    • Jordan Standridge

      First of all I would encourage the two to ask their elders and mentors. Obviously this is a wisdom issue and not directly addressed in the Bible. Since you asked I would just ask you in return, why do you want to do it? Why not just wait till you’re married? You’re not called to shepherd your girlfriend that is her future husbands role. So if you need accountability to read books and memorize scripture I would encourage each person to meet with a mentor of the same sex who can provide that for them. That’s my extra-biblical opinion you are welcome to disagree, I would just encourage you to ask your pastor.

  • Childof1TrueGod

    I’m so glad you have written this article. My son has done this- acting like he is married and it has put way too much stress on him. I’m so proud of him for being a responsible young man, but he took on the role of caring for his girlfriend in ways he should not. My husband and I tried to explain this to him several times, but he just didn’t get it. It wasn’t until another adult talked with him about it that he realized what he was doing and stepped back. The result of stepping back his responsibilities is that his girlfriend now has a chance to mature and take up responsibility for the things she needs to learn to do to be an adult. It also causes her and my son to learn to rely on God instead of each other all the time. It has also caused my son to realize his need to step out of his comfort box and make an effort to make and hang out with new friends apart from his girlfriend.

    Commitment is commendable, but acting married takes commitment to a level it should not be at in a dating relationship. The reasons you mentioned are great examples of why it is important for dating couples to have boundaries in place with the idea of protecting their girlfriend’s or boyfriend’s heart in case a break up happens in the future.

    Thanks again for bringing this issue to the forefront.

    • Nicki Ann

      “It also causes her and my son to learn to rely on God instead of each other all the time,” so important!

  • Emma

    “They must honor a woman as someone else’s (future) wife…”

    Shouldn’t women be respected as human beings themselves, and not because they might someday be the property of another man?

    • Jordan Standridge

      Of course. But kind of irrelevant to the point of this blog post. Women must honor a man as someone else’s future husband as well. I just haven’t met many women who go around from guy to guy without a concern or a thought of breaking their hearts. I’m sure there are some out there, but typically it is the guy who does it.
      Thanks for your comment and reading the blog!

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  • NG

    Thanks for adressing the issue of commitment phobic men in the churches, that’s the sad reality many sincere and committed Christian woman of all ages have experienced…! and often, those who look very pious and godly, are the ones with cruelest hearts.
    Disagree strongly about the often-heard advice that singles should just go out and serve more – ALL need to do that, in ways the LORD opens, not in order to gain approval and validation from other people! The article rightly says that for many dating is just a way of getting validation.. well, the same applies to ministry and church activities. Soooo many folks serve out of fear instead of genuine love.
    Singles or married, our focus needs to be on the Lord, and that surprise surprise, also includes healthy relationships with brothers and sisters…