This blog was previously published at Christian Connection
Another great question I recently got at a Dare to Date event I was speaking at. Short answer: yes you do and no you don’t. That’s very helpful, right?
The question, I imagine, comes from the healthy assumption that someone else is not going to make you happy for the rest of your life. This is one of the basic principles to embrace when dating or being in a relationship or marriage. You cannot make another person responsible for your life’s happiness.
As a side note, but an important one, you can certainly make another person responsible for not treating you the right way. When they are not loving you or respecting your boundaries, and you are dating, you should run. When you are in a marriage with someone not treating you right you should seek help, but if they don’t change, that’s when it’s time to consider leaving. Don’t stay in a relationship where you are abused, emotionally, physically or sexually. Just to be clear.
Having said that, the thing is: your ‘stuff’ will always be just that, your ‘stuff’. Whether you are dating, in a relationship or married, you are responsible for you. For the choices you make, for the feelings you feel and for the thoughts you have. I hate to break it to you, but another person cannot and will not (if they are healthy) take that responsibility from you once married. So it’s a good thing to learn how to deal with your own issues when single.
When you have a lot of issues, it can be helpful to talk them through with a counsellor. Issues like attachment issues, having had a very critical, narcissistic father or a very anxious, overprotective previous partner for example, can cause serious issues in current relationships. So dealing with those before you date someone new is a very good idea.
It is an illusion though to think you can have everything sorted out before you enter into a relationship. Because new levels of the same issue show up when you get closer connected to someone. Or new issues arise after you’ve found someone you are committed to. You lose your job, your father dies, something in the behaviour of your partner triggers a feeling you never had as a single person just because you didn’t have to deal with the intimacy of a close relationship like that before. You name it.
So even when you think you have it all figured out and are good to go, new issues can and will come up, for all of us. That’s life. Life comes with issues. That’s not the problem, the problem is how we deal with them or not deal with them. If, for example in counselling, you have learned how to distinguish your emotions from your thoughts and your actions as a single person, and to talk through them and allow another person to help you gain perspective on them, you are in a much better position when issues show up in a relationship. Because you will have practised how to solve issues, rather than how to avoid or ignore them.
That’s why it is important to sort out your issues before seriously dating to some extent. Not to go into a relationship ‘issue-free’, but to go into a relationship with the maturity of someone who knows how to face your own issues and and other peoples’. That’s what we call relationship skills.
But don’t try to solve your problems on your own. The key to dealing with issues you face is to share them. Not to place them on another person, but to learn how to resolve issues within a safe attachment relationship. Whether that’s in a friendship, with someone from your family or with a counsellor, a safe attachment relationship is a relationship in which you feel safe, loved, respected, heard and understood. This is the sort of relationship you eventually want with your partner. This is the best preparation you can do for marriage. It’s not to safe lots of money, to make yourself look perfect or tanned or toned or touched up. It is to learn how to safely become attached to people other than your parents. In order for you to be safely attached to your partner, once he or she comes along.
There’s a lot more to be said about attachment than I can do here in the word restriction of a blog. If you want to know more please read my book Dare to Date or Sue Johnson’s book Hold me tight. Sue Johnson is one of the leading couples counsellors in the world at the moment, and she has developed a model for working with couples called Emotionally Focussed Couples counselling, a model I’m trained in and apply to single people as well. Feel free to drop me an email if you want more information. But for now I wish you happy dating!