Many serious dating relationships face a stage that I’ll call the “doldrums.” The definition of the doldrums is, “a state or period of inactivity and stagnation." You’ve been dating for maybe a year or more. You like each other, but you’re not quite sure where you’re heading as a couple. You’re no longer in high school when it’s normal for relationships to stay stagnant. As a young adult, you feel the need to either step toward commitment or cut things off. But which should you choose? And which will he choose if you force the question?
If your mind works like mine, you probably change your mind every few days. At times you can convince yourself that this guy is “marriage potential.” But then something prompts you to reconsider. Can you really see yourself spending the rest of your life with him? What if there is someone better out there?
Many couples in this situation stay in the doldrums refusing to move forward or call it quits. You might even have decided to move in together as a quasi-commitment that seems to buy you some time. If this is the case, please check out this article, which addresses why that’s probably the wrong move.
It was a long time ago, but I can remember being in the doldrums with my husband before we got married. I liked him . . . really liked him. But he was nothing like the guy I thought I would marry. I had concerns about how different our backgrounds and personalities were, and I was terrified of making a mistake. In fact, during that season I often had nightmares that I had married the “wrong guy” and was stuck for life!
Some women say, “I just knew he was the one.” Honestly, I didn’t feel that way until Mike became “the one” the moment I said “I do.”
As an adult woman, a stagnant dating relationship is also not healthy. Yet, how do you discern whether to move things forward or backward? If this describes your relationship, here are three things you can do to answer that question.
1. Identify the “Red Flags”
In the doldrums, you probably have some hesitations about the guy you are dating. Instead of a vague sense of concern, it is key for you to pinpoint exactly what gives you pause. Over the course of a few days spend time thinking and praying, and then write down specifically why the relationship feels stuck.
Your list may look something like this:
- My friends aren’t crazy about him.
- I’m not super attracted to him, but he’s a nice guy.
- He’s ten years older than me. Is that weird?
- He has a job but hasn’t settled into a career, and that makes me nervous.
Maybe the issue has more to do with the relationship than with the guy. For example, you know you like him, but you live in different states and hardly get to see each other.
Identifying your concerns helps you know specifically what to pray about, what to look for, and what to proactively work on resolving. (You can read more about red flags in dating here.)
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Take a Break
While time together tells you a lot about each other, time apart might tell you even more. “Taking a break” isn’t always the same thing as breaking up. You might still affirm some commitment to each other like agreeing that neither of you will begin a dating relationship with someone else. It means spending time apart to seek the Lord for a few months or more. This can be helpful for a few reasons.
First, time apart allows both of you to determine whether the relationship has become a safety net. A lot of young adults stay in stagnant relationships because they just want to “have someone.” They don’t want to face the weekend alone or re-enter the dating game. Taking a break allows you to ask the Lord, “Am I hanging onto this relationship for the wrong reasons? Am I willing to surrender it to you?”
Secondly, it gives you a taste of what life would be like without him in it. Are you attracted to other guys, or do you miss him? As you reflect on your relationship, do your concerns become greater or less?
Finally, it gives you a chance to see how you both handle the adversity of being apart. Do you turn on each other in anger at the suggestion of time apart? Is there jealousy? Or can each of you demonstrate the spiritual maturity to trust God for the outcome of your relationship?
Mike and I had a few “breaks” throughout our dating relationship. At one point, we broke up and had no contact with each other for a year. Then one day, I randomly bumped into him while visiting my parents before heading off to graduate school. When we had coffee, I couldn’t believe how much Mike had grown and matured during our time apart. He felt the same way about me. It was our time apart that played a significant role in bringing clarity when we got back together. As they say, the rest is history.
3. Consider Pre-engagement Counseling
I’m all for pre-marital counseling, but I think pre-engagement counseling can be even more valuable. Once the ring is on the finger and wedding plans are in the works, it is extremely difficult to openly address issues about your relationship. The thought of stumbling on an “irreconcilable difference” after you are engaged is terrifying. I know a few couples who have cancelled or postponed weddings, but I know more couples who barreled heedlessly into marriage, in spite of serious concerns, because of the humiliation and pain of ending an engagement.
While pre-marital counseling helps you prepare for marriage, pre-engagement counseling helps you discern whether or not you should pursue marriage. If he has struggled with porn, will this potentially be a problem in marriage? If you come from a broken family, are your fears about marriage because of what you witnessed growing up or because this guy doesn’t make you feel emotionally safe? If you both have very different thoughts on money, having children, and a woman’s role in marriage, are those “show stoppers,” or could you work through these kinds of disagreements? Pre-engagement counseling can help you articulate and work through questions and concerns such as these.
God designed human relationships to be in motion. Nothing about us thrives in ambiguity or while we are standing still. Yes, there are times to wait up on the Lord, but even those seasons require intentionally pursuing God in patience and surrender.