So you’re dating this guy, and you’re starting to see some things you didn’t notice before. As you get to know him better, you’re noticing some “red flags.” But you were always taught that dating should lead to marriage—and to make things even more complicated, you keep hearing that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Now you feel confused and stuck. How can you tell what real love looks like in a dating relationship?
1. Real Love ≠ Obsession
Obsession is what the world depicts as normal and healthy. It may start out looking sweet, but obsession is actually a sign of an extremely unhealthy attachment. Do either you or your boyfriend talk about how the other person makes life worth living? Matthew 6:20 tells us that we are to live for the kingdom.
2. Real Love ≠ Obligation to Marry
Dating isn’t a covenant. Dating isn’t a marriage. Let me repeat that. Love in a dating relationship is not the same thing as love in a marriage relationship. The concept of modern dating isn’t actually found in the Bible, but we do know that Joseph was considered “honorable” when he initially wanted to break off his engagement with Mary after learning that she was pregnant (Matt. 1:19). He thought she had been unfaithful to him so he planned to end things, and the Bible calls this “righteous.” It was only after he learned the truth about her innocence that he changed his mind. When I found out that one of my ex-boyfriends was unfaithful, I broke things off, too, and that was the righteous thing to do.
Breaking up is not a sin. However, staying in a relationship for the wrong reasons can be!
If you’re loyal, like I am, this can be a hard concept to wrap your mind around. Still, don’t buy the lie that real love always continues to marriage. Since we look to the Bible as our source of truth, we must train ourselves to ask, “Where is that found in the Bible?”
You can love someone according to 1 Corinthians 13’s definition and still choose to break up with him. Breaking up is not a sin. However, staying in a relationship for the wrong reasons can be! Your ex-boyfriend may not be able to recognize it, but your refusal to play the role of your boyfriend’s “savior” may be the most loving thing you can do for him.
3. Real Love ≠ Manipulation
Manipulation is using words or actions to try to control someone else. Manipulation is oh-so-easy to fall for when you have a sensitive conscience. When a man lacks spiritual health and maturity, he’ll often try to convince you that he isn’t the one with the problem, you are for hesitating to commit to him. In an attempt to change your mind, he might give you lines like this:
- You only want to marry someone perfect. I’m sorry, but that doesn’t exist. If you really loved me, you’d accept me the way I am.
- Respect should be unconditional.
- Trust should be unconditional.
- You’re a sinner, too.
- But I accept you even though you don’t deserve it.
Some women do have unrealistic standards, but I actually find low standards much more common (and dangerous). So don’t be afraid to make deal-breakers, and watch out for someone who tries to make you feel guilty for having high standards. If you know that the man is bad news for your spiritual health, you should want something more.
Setting healthy standards does not mean you’re looking for perfection; it just means you’re looking for godliness.
Setting healthy standards does not mean you’re looking for perfection; it just means you’re looking for godliness. Although it’s true that no one is perfect, people have varying levels of spiritual health. Some people are verbally abusive and controlling. Some people are unrepentant sex addicts. Some people know a lot of facts about the Bible but do not show a changed life. Does that make these people worthless? No, they are still made in the image of God. But it also doesn’t mean they’re in a position where they should be seeking marriage.
4. Real Love ≠ Unconditional Acceptance, Respect, and Trust
Respect and trust actually are conditional.
To respect someone means to regard them highly. If someone does not behave in a respectable way, you are by no means required to think highly of him anyway. Trust works in a similar way. If your boyfriend has actively deceived you or broken your trust, there is no Bible verse you can find that would instruct you to take him right back. Trusting someone who has repeatedly shown himself untrustworthy actually shows poor judgment, not Christian love, and enables that person to continue in his sinful ways without consequences.
Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked; for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”
If your boyfriend sows lies, unfaithfulness, and other types of corrupt character, reaping the heartache of a breakup may help him to wake up to the seriousness of his sin. Even if it doesn’t, the breakup will still protect you from a dangerous marriage.
For the positive side of this coin, discovering what love is, check out this post: “Finding ‘the One’ and Knowing Your Deal-Breakers.” What else would you add to my list of what love isn’t? Tell me in a comment below.