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When Is It Time to Break Up?

Truth in Love 131

One of the greatest difficulties in dating is discerning whether the relationship should lead to marriage or not.

Heath Lambert: One of the most common relationships in the entire human race is the dating relationship. Whether you are a teenager, a young adult, or even an older person, many of us have been through the dating experience and many of you listening right now are dating someone. One of the unique challenges in a dating relationship is discerning whether or not the relationship is working and leading towards engagement and marriage or whether it is not working. If it’s not working, we have to know whether or not you should break up.

To help us think this matter through, I’ve invited to join us on the podcast today two guests who are each the authors of two books Letters to a Romantic, and the first book Letters to a Romantic is on engagement and the second book is Letters to a Romantic: On Dating, and the authors of those two books are here with us on Truth in Love, Sean Perron and Spencer Harmon, and we want to talk to them about this issue of how do you know when it’s time to break up? And so, Spencer, Sean, we’re glad you’re on the podcast, and for people who are listening right now and wondering whether they should break up or maybe someone listening who’s trying to help somebody think through whether they should break up, that’s the question. How do you know if it’s time to break up with your boyfriend or your girlfriend?

Sean Perron: There are a variety of reasons why a couple might feel this tension about whether or not they should end their relationship. As I’m thinking about the different reasons that would cause this dilemma, you have things that are of sin nature. So, patterns of sin, or a sin that emerges that was secret beforehand or as you get to know the person you’re having questions about their holiness, so that would be one category. Another category would be under the label of preferences and chemistry or harmony. Not everyone has to be married to everyone. There’s a lid for every pot as some people have said. And you might not enjoy spending the rest of your life with someone who’s radically different in personality than you. So, that would be under like the preference category.

Another area that I’ve thought of is difficulty in conflict between relationships outside of your relationship. So, people you love might not love that you’re together with someone and how do you interact with maybe parents who disagree and prefer one thing or the other or a church body that disagrees and prefers one thing or the other? There could be outside influences that make your relationship difficult trying to figure out whether or not you should continue going together, continue dating, or end it and listen to their advice.

Heath Lambert: Okay, so you’re giving us three really helpful categories. And so, let’s do this, let’s zero in on each of them and let’s talk first about the sin issue. Sin of the person you’re dating. What sin issues would come on the radar in your relationship that would make someone say, “You know what, it’s time to break up.”?

Sean Perron: In thinking of different categories, there’s sin that is unexpected. So, it’s secret sin that has been revealed during the relationship. So, this could be anything like pornography. It could be you find out halfway through your dating relationship or as you’re considering engagement even that someone’s been looking at pornography and you’ve not been aware of it. That’s one possibility. It could be that you’ve sinned sexually together. So, it could be that there’s a massive sin that you have partaken in with fornication with one another and then you’re having to figure out, okay, are we ready to take this relationship to the next level of engagement or should we call things off?

And then there’s other, they don’t fall in the big categories, but they are significant. They’re the sins that as you get closer to the oil painting you see the cracks in people and they’re the sins of like maybe someone’s struggling with laziness and it’s habitual and you’ve tried to work on it with them or maybe it’s eating. It could be something that’s not a 911 emergency sin, but it’s something that’s subtle and there and you’ve noticed it as you’ve continued getting to know one another. So, with each of those have to come wisdom. If we go backward from the way I just listed, you have small sins that you notice over time. Everyone sins. So, 1 John 1, “He who says he does not have sin is a liar and the truth is not in him. But if we confess our sins, He’s faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.” So, everyone sins.

I would say it’s a matter of how you respond when you sin. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” When you see your partner in a dating relationship sin, how do they respond to it? Do they have a broken heart? Do they have a contrite spirit? Are they willing to walk in the light as 1 John talks about or are they trying to cover it up? Has it been an ongoing thing that this is now coming to the surface, and it might be the tip of the iceberg? Those are elements that have to be discussed as a couple and with others involved.

Heath Lambert: Okay, so let’s talk about the chemistry issue then, I think that’s really helpful. There are some good reasons to break up that don’t have a thing to do with something wrong that somebody did. So, what about this preferential, chemistry thing?

Sean Perron: When it comes to preferences and chemistry or harmony, there’s a couple of elements. So, we’ve already talked about character. The character’s a given. It’s the thing around which everything else orbits. It’s the sun around all the planets that we need. Chemistry is there if you have a personality that meshes. So, some people, you know, if you like rock climbing and you like the outdoors and you like bungee jumping and the person you’re dating loves books all the time and they love to read and they love to go, you know, to the theater and watch plays, there might be some tension that comes in that relationship that you’re like, “Man, I don’t know if I want to spend the rest of my life and I don’t know if I would be happy doing that.” and that’s not wrong. It’s not a bad thing to say, “Hey, I don’t know if I want to spend the next 40, 50 years until I die with this person.” So, there’s the personality element in there and I would even say that falls under being like-minded, so to speak. Every person is inclined differently in different taste. God has created us in a diverse way. We have different things we value and love that are not sinful and we shouldn’t be ashamed of that and try to figure that out in dating.

When it comes to chemistry, there’s also another element that I think that gets neglected and that would be the level of attraction sexually, physically. The Bible calls us to have purity in every way and that is good, but also, we need to know the purpose of sexuality, and the purpose of sexuality and a purpose of marriage is to come together sexually. So, if you’re going on dates and all you want to do is play board games and you would say, “Hey, when I’m married, I can’t wait to only play Monopoly at night.” Then, I think we have a problem that there’s a level of attraction that’s not working in the relationship and that’s not wrong, but it certainly needs to be addressed. I would also say attraction can be cultivated and it doesn’t have to be immediate but that’s probably another podcast. So, all those things flow into chemistry, harmony, and whether or not we should stay together.

Heath Lambert: Alright, so that is sin. That is preference. Let’s also talk about this third issue that you guys are bringing up and that is disagreements with others. So, I have many stories to tell of couples who love one another a great deal and somebody significant in their life is opposed to it. What are you supposed to do there? How do we process, “We love each other, and we want to be together, but dear friends, parents, other family members are opposed to this relationship?”

Spencer, I know in the books you wrote a chapter on this, when does that opposition rise to the level of this relationship should not work anymore?

Spencer Harmon: Yeah, I think one of the main categories where this really comes up and it becomes significant is when you have a godly Christian couple with concerned parents or close friends within the church community that is opposing the relationship. Obviously, when you have unbelievers or people that aren’t thinking in biblical categories opposing your relationship, it’s pretty obvious to say, “Well, this is devoid of the truth of Scripture.” And so, it’s pretty easy to dismiss it. Even if it’s a family member that’s unsaved, they can give good wisdom, but it’s not coming from the Scriptures. And so, the real problem comes when you have people around you that love the Bible, love Christ, and are giving concerns about your relationship. And the place I would say to start is Proverbs 1:8, “Incline, your ear to your mother…” or your father, or even a friend, or a wise counselor, who’s bringing concerns. The posture should be, “You know what, I’m going to humbly incline my ear to these concerns and listen.” It’s easy when you’re in a relationship with another person and you really want to be in the relationship to assume a posture of being defensive, but the posture of the Bible is to receive those things with humility, be open to reason.

And one of the categories I think it’s really important to think through is in the category of parents because this is where I think most couples really struggle is when Christian parents are opposing the relationship. And I think one of the best things to think through is what does it mean to honor your parents when they’re raising concerns about your relationship? And I would just give three different categories very practically to think through. The first one is just to assume the best about their concerns. “Love believes all things.” 1 Corinthians 13. So, as they raise their concerns, assume that they’re not coming at you with ill motives. Assume the best about them. And then the second thing I would say is really consider their concerns, really be open to what they’re actually saying, listen to the concerns that they’re saying, make sure you understand them, and then actually consider them. Are they valid? Make sure you are seeking understanding with them. And the final thing I would say is talk well about them about others. Don’t go around gossiping about your parents and slandering them to other people. Really consider their concerns and that will be a fruit of humility is, “I’m not going to talk behind their back in a malicious way just because they’re attacking my relationship.”

The final thing I would say is to put on basically like a James 3 filter as you’re considering their advice. James describes what wisdom from above looks like and so your parents are trying to share wisdom with you. And so, ask yourself, is this advice, these concerns, coming to me, from the best I can tell, from a pure heart? Is it coming from a motive that’s seeking my best? Is this coming in a peaceful manner? Is it gentle? Is it open to reason when I try to provide them information back to them trying to fill in the gaps of their concerns? Will this result in obedience to Christ by listening to them? Is it aimed at my well-being and my good? And if you see that they are meeting all of those categories, maybe not perfectly, but in speaking the truth in love as the best as they can in line with the Scriptures, then perhaps you should really consider it. Think about it. Maybe you do need to break up if they’re raising a concern that is falling in line with the categories of wisdom.