Red Flags in a Relationship

By Glenn Lutjens
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When we're excited about a relationship, it's easy to overlook the red flags that at least need to be explored.

So, you’re in a relationship. It’s a pretty exciting time of life, huh?

Perhaps you recently met someone who caught your interest, and you’re hoping that with time you’ll be able to discern if the relationship should move toward marriage.

Or maybe you’ve been dating for quite some time now. You’ve identified the other person’s strengths, but have also discovered some traits that leave you scratching your head.

In either case, you have probably found that many forces push you forward in your relationship.

Time can seem more like an enemy than an ally. You may fear that you’re not getting any younger. Well-meaning friends and relatives might be inquiring about your love life, wondering when you plan on taking “the plunge.” Your own sense of loneliness and that God-given desire for connection can nudge you further in a relationship until the steps toward the altar just seem to get easier and easier. Let’s say you’re already in love. Talk about an influence that changes behavior! Few factors have more horsepower than romance. Even books on the subject of dating and marriage can convey a subtle expectation to keep moving forward: “Trust God,” “differences are good,” and “hey, nobody’s perfect.”

All of that’s true. The forces that compel you to move forward are not out to destroy you. But with so many of them urging you toward marriage, it’s wise to pause and ask yourself some questions that might prevent heartache down the road. You need to decide what to do with this relationship; no other person can make that decision for you. As a counselor, I’ve spoken with people who didn’t take the time to think through their relationship. They acted solely on their feelings and tied the knot. Once married, they wanted to be faithful to that covenant, but they experienced difficulties that could have been avoided.

I’m grateful for their commitment to marriage and the desire to be faithful “till death us do part.” Once a couple has committed at the altar – short of a few biblical exceptions – that is indeed the true path of faithfulness. But how would their lives have turned out had they taken the time to explore the red flags that were at least partially visible? Facing pain can certainly refine us, but we don’t get extra credit for walking into it, especially when it can be avoided.

Marriage is great; it’s a fantastic gift from God. My hope is that many of you do move forward and make that promise for life. But I’ve heard it said: “I’d rather be single and wish I were married, than married and wish I were single.” It’s one thing to be lonely alone, it’s an even more distressing experience to be with someone and still be lonely. Now is the time to look carefully at who you will marry – not after rings are exchanged! Even if you’re in a great relationship, asking yourself the tough questions now will only create a greater level of confidence and appreciation if you do decide to marry.

Every potential mate has a deficiency. It’s called sin. Romans 3:10 says, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” Every single romantic relationship has been impacted by the foolishness of two rebellious hearts! If you’re looking for the perfect mate, stop. You won’t find him. She doesn’t exist.

Some will say, “Since no one’s perfect, it really doesn’t matter who I chose to marry. We’re all flawed.” Some will even take it a step further and say, “It’s about being the right person, not finding the right person.” Yes, there’s some truth there, but the Bible makes distinctions between the foolish and the wise. Though we all are a mixture of both, there are some qualitative differences between people. It does matter who you marry!

When we’re excited about a relationship, it’s easy to overlook the red flags that at least need to be explored. We want to be married; this special person makes us feel wonderful (at least most of the time). We know some things about this person, but we sometimes fill in the gaps with what we want him or her to be like. Yet we often don’t fill them in accurately. As you continue to read, please do so with an open mind. You just might find that some of the red flags actually relate to you, not your significant other.

© 2011 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Glenn Lutjens

Glenn is a licensed family therapist who’s been on the Focus counseling team for 23 years. Prior to joining Focus, he spent time in church counseling and pastoral ministry. He and his wife, Elizabeth, have three young adult children. Glenn loves Jesus, has an affinity for lasagna and cheers for the Oakland Raiders.

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