By Cindi McMenamin, Crosswalk.com
After 30 years of ministering to women who have been in and out of difficult relationships, I’ve compiled a list of warning signs they wish they’d acted upon in time to save themselves from a heartbreaking marriage and divorce.
While some claimed they had no indication of the type of man they were marrying, others saw red flags but didn’t feel strongly enough to break things off because “We were already engaged and planning a wedding” or “I’d already invested so much time in the relationship” or even, “I would have rather been with someone who didn’t treat me well than have no one at all.”
Dating is all about getting to know a person, and if that person isn’t meeting your level of expectation early-on, it may be time to let the relationship go and start over with someone much better suited for you. It’s also empowering, as a man or a woman, to be able to say “We are not better together, so in this case, you and I are better off apart.”
Whether you’re just starting out or have been dating for years, here are 10 red flags that should prompt you to examine the health of your relationship.
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1. Different Spiritual Directions
Scripture is clear on the warning to not be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14). That command applies to any close relationship, including a business partnership, dating relationship, or marriage. And “equally yoked” doesn’t just mean the other person should believe in the same God you do. It means you should both be equally passionate about your relationship with God and on the same spiritual page.
Many women I’ve counseled through the years readily admit that at the time they married, “it wasn’t that important” that their husband share their faith. It became increasingly important, however, as they grew in their faith, faced struggles in their marriage, and desired to instill spiritual values in their children. Don’t play with fire. If your significant other is not a believer or is not at the same spiritual-interest level that you are, the two of you may very well find yourselves going in opposite directions.
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2. No Fear of Authority
I can’t stress this one enough: a person who doesn’t fear authority will not fear the law, the consequences of being dishonest, or the judgment of God. Proverbs 1:7 tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
A proper fear—not just respect, but fear—of authority is healthy: fear motivated by love and respect for those in authority over us. It is what makes us humble, wise, and surrendered to God. To fear God is to have a wholesome dread of ever displeasing the Lord.
Does your significant other properly respect their parents? What about their boss or a police officer? If you want children who one day fear and respect their parents (as well as teachers, supervisors, and law-givers), they will need to see a fear of authority modeled for them in both of you.
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3. Different Priorities
My husband once counseled a couple who was engaged to be married (that is often too late for the counseling; start it when you’re dating, not after you’ve set a wedding date). He asked them to list their top three priorities. Hers were God, marriage, and family. His were marriage, physical health/fitness, and work.
The fact that he listed marriage and family first was apparently out of obligation or merely to impress his fiancé because just a few short years into the marriage he had a child with another woman and deserted his family. The real problem was that his fiancé’s top priority didn’t even make his list years earlier during their marriage counseling, and thus he had no fear of God or the consequences of his selfish behavior.
If your top priority is not the same, the two of you will eventually head in different directions.
If you desire a Christ-centered marriage, don’t just marry a Christian. (Everyone has their own definition today of what they consider a Christian.) Marry a Christ-centered, Jesus follower who will add marriage and family to an already firm commitment to Christ.
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4. Lack of Communication
Communication is key to any close relationship. While your partner might be a stellar communicator as a teacher, public relations officer, or administrator, how they communicate with you on issues close to the heart may be an entirely different story.
How does your partner handle conflict? Does he fall silent and require you to pull words out of him? Does she overreact or verbally explode and not say anything constructive about the issue at hand?
How the two of you communicate with one another and attempt conflict resolution is essential to the relationship. Your partner might be a good listener when something is bothering you, but if they can’t communicate when something is bothering them, it is a serious issue. If the two of you don’t know how to talk now, it’s possible you never will. Either get help addressing the problem—or end the relationship.
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5. Signs of Abuse or Manipulation
Statistics show that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men are in an abusive relationship or have been abused. Many of them either saw the signs ahead of time and ignored them or married their partner quickly before seeing their true colors.
Why would anyone stay in a relationship with an abusive individual? Because they are repeatedly told by the abuser that it will never happen again. Or they become convinced they deserve the abuse and believe that if they leave the relationship, no one else will ever love them.
There are many types of abuse—physical, sexual, verbal, and emotional. We don’t want to believe that someone who claims to love us would abuse us. But relationships can be manipulative. And abuse can be subtle.
If you have reservations about the abusive tendencies of your relationship partner, don’t just consider breaking it off. Run. Anyone who repeatedly hurts you physically or emotionally needs professional help, not a relationship that enables them to continue their abusive or manipulative behavior.
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6. (For Women) No Respect for His Mom
Observe how a man treats his mother, and that’s a good indication of how he’ll one day treat his wife. Does he roll his eyes when she talks to him or ignore her because of her “nagging”? If so, chances are he’ll do the same once he’s tired of your voice too. Does he keep secrets from her? Chances are he’ll keep them from you.
Find a man who is respectful toward his mother, opens doors for her, and remembers her birthday, and you have found a gem who will likely do the same for you.
But beware: biblically, he is to leave his parents (emotionally, as well as physically) and become united to his wife (Genesis 2:24). If you can’t see this happening because he has depended on his mother all his life to do everything for him, chances are he will either keep clinging to Mom or start depending on you to take her place.
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7. Opposite Personalities
I know you’ve heard for years that opposites attract. And when you’re in love, you tell yourself that the other person balances you out. Sometimes, we're attracted to personalities that are different from our own because we think they make up for what we feel is lacking in ourselves.
For instance, he is quiet but attracted to her outgoing, confident personality. She is a talker but admires the fact that he is a deep thinker. When he does finally say something, she believes it’s quite profound. Those are “falling in love” sentiments, but having two completely different personalities can cause problems further down the road.
There are enough differences between a man and a woman without adding severe personality variations to the mix. A few dissimilarities may be fine, but beware of drastic differences in how you each were raised, what your core values are, and how each of you prefers to spend your free time.
You’ll have a more difficult time understanding and being gracious toward one another the more unalike you are. And when one or both of you find someone of the opposite sex with a lot more in common, they may suddenly decide that opposites aren’t so attractive after all.
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8. Emotional Baggage
If you are a compassionate person or a caretaker by nature, you might be attracted to someone who is deeply hurting. But teaming up with someone who carries unresolved emotional pain and attempting to be the one who brings that person to a place of healing is a risky venture. People coming out of painful relationships need time to heal from those relationships before carrying their baggage into a new one. And you aren’t the healer; only God is.
We are all broken. We all have wounds. And we can certainly support and help each other. But if your partner is looking to you only for healing, or you are determined to be that “loving source of healing” in their life, you both will be disappointed. Only God (and sometimes a lot of therapy) can heal deep-seated wounds that existed before you found each other.
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Does your man avoid or deflect questions about himself? Does your girlfriend say “I don’t want to talk about it” when you ask about her parents or a past relationship?
If you believe there’s a lot you don’t know about your special someone, it’s quite possible they want to keep it that way. And it’s quite possible there’s a reason for it. A woman with something to hide is a woman not completely honest. A man who doesn’t want you to meet his family or close friends may be trying to keep you from seeing his true colors.
Someone who doesn’t have a relationship with their family can say it’s because their family is dysfunctional. But it could be that they have a forgiveness problem or are unable to work through an issue and reconcile a relationship.
If you must, talk to parents, or past girlfriends or boyfriends, and ask them what went wrong. There are two sides to every story. Find out your partner’s in case it’s a cause for concern.
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10. Extreme Dependence
If your partner says they can’t live without you, that might sound like the sweetest thing you’ve ever heard. But those words are loaded. That kind of dependence can lead to possessiveness, intense jealousy, and even depression when you stop being their “everything” because the feelings have faded. Anyone who makes their relationship their entire world will soon have their world shattered when you, like any human, disappoint them, don’t meet their expectations, or don’t share their clinging affections. You can’t be another person’s everything, and vice versa. God must be your all-in-all and your reason for living, or the relationship will be in trouble.
In my book, Letting God Meet Your Emotional Needs, I point out that only God can fulfill our deepest longings and satisfy our need to be loved, cherished, fulfilled, and complete. The minute the person you are dating tells you that you are all they need to be complete and fulfilled, consider it a warning. That is a task you will never be able to accomplish. Instead, find a person who says, “God is my everything” and you’ve found a keeper.
Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker and award-winning writer who helps women and couples strengthen their relationship with God and with others. She has authored more than a dozen books including When Women Walk Alone (more than 130,000 copies sold), When God Sees Your Tears, When a Woman Overcomes Life’s Hurts, Drama Free, and her newest book, 12 Ways to Experience More with Your Husband. She and her husband, a pastor, co-authored the book, When Couples Walk Together: 31 Days to a Closer Connection. For more on her resources to help strengthen your walk with God, your dating relationship, your marriage, or your parenting, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.
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