Suppose after dating for a couple of months, everything seems good, but a lingering doubt hovers regarding the relationship. It seems almost inexplicable, but it remains. What should be done about it? You might find it fruitful to evaluate the relationship’s health with the following three insights.
Most people say that relationships require work. That’s true. There must be a genuine investment of time and energy for something to be meaningful. On the other hand, a relationship shouldn’t feel laborious all the time. There should be a sense of ease, fit or compatibility with the other person. This may sound like a contradiction, but it’s not.
Let me offer an analogy to better explain this. Recently, my third son started playing baseball. After years of playing basketball, football and soccer, he looks much more natural on the baseball diamond. I don’t know how to explain it, but baseball just fits him. There is an ease with the game that he didn’t have with other sports.
This is what it means to have an ease in a romantic relationship. It just fits. Trust that you’ll know it when you experience it. There shouldn’t be a constant heaviness or sense of dread when seeing your boyfriend/girlfriend. Yes, you’ll be a bonehead at times, or you’ll have moments of intense disagreement, but those shouldn’t be the dominant experiences of the relationship. It should be a good fit.
Second, personal growth.
Another measure of the quality of a relationship is your own personal growth. After being in a relationship for a few months, ask yourself: am I a better person because of it? Is this relationship bringing the best out of me? Am I increasingly growing further into the person God created me to be? Or less?
These questions are important to consider occasionally, because a relationship is part of God’s plan to help you grow. If things are moving toward marriage, the evidence of personal growth is a telltale sign to help determine if the relationship is good. Jesus said to judge by the fruits (see Mt 7:16). So what fruits are you seeing? Are you growing closer to God? Are you becoming more loving, patient and understanding? Are you overcoming personal vices? Are you living more virtuously?
This is not something to obsess about, but it is important to be aware whether or not your relationship is contributing to your personal growth and development.
Friendship is at the foundation of every great romantic relationship. It doesn’t matter if you have been dating for 6 months or married for 60 years, friendship is the key. After a few months of dating, ask yourself, do you enjoy his or her company? Are there hobbies and activities that you enjoy doing together? Do you respect each other’s differences in perspective, personality and opinion? Is the love between you growing?
When you discern spending the rest of your life with a person, then you should enjoy being in their company. There should be growth in trust, where you feel like you can share more about who you are, including your past. There should be an increased desire to share all aspects of life together, even the seemingly insignificant moments, even if it’s geeking out over the latest Marvel movie trailer. As companionship grows, there is an increased desire to stand up for each other and be each other’s cheerleader in pursuit of dreams.
Finally, everyone has a type, or a list of things they are attracted to and expecting in marriage. No single person is going to meet that full list, so conflict will inevitably arise between your expectations and the actual person in front of you. This is good because it forces you to rethink certain values or ideals you had about relationships. In some relationships, a break up comes because personal values don’t align properly. But there are also times when you learn to choose the person in front of you rather than an idealized version of a spouse. This is all a reminder that dating is discernment and God’s will must be sought above all.
Dr. Mario Sacasa is a marriage and family counselor and associate director for the Willwoods Faith and Marriage apostolate. He hosts the Always Hope podcast. Read more on the Catholic Dating 101 series here.