Some of the most challenging questions posed to me as a college pastor have to do with romantic relationships. Students often wonder if the problems in their relationship are simply bumps in the road, or if they ought to break off the relationship entirely. While the answer is sometimes clear, it isn’t always. Every person is different, as is every relationship. The complexities of human interactions make it impossible to set down absolute principles (for the most part).

However, over the years I’ve noticed some patterns and I’m going to try to list a few general principles for when it might be wise to break off a dating relationship. Please note that when I suggest youconsider breaking up, it’s not because the other person is bad, or because I’m urging you to condemn them, or to treat them without grace. All I’m saying is that marriage is a major commitment, and there are some red flags that need to be taken very seriously. Here, then, are some issues that should strongly make you consider breaking up:

If there is a significant spiritual mismatch. I do think the Bible is clear that a Christian ought to marry another person who is a Christian (2 Corinthians 6:14, assuming marriage is a “yoke”; 1 Corinthians 7:39). This is non-negotiable.

However, I think there are also situations in which both are Christians, but it might be unwise for them to pursue a dating or marriage relationship. For example, if they have sharp and serious theological differences (e.g. one is Catholic and one is staunchly Presbyterian), they are likely to have a tough time agreeing on the spiritual training of their children. Or if one is very serious about his or her faith and the other is somewhat indifferent, then the spiritual atmosphere of the home can become a constant source of friction. These feel like minor concerns until two people are living under one roof and trying to agree on how to raise a houseful of kiddos.

If one person already shows a tendency to cheat or engage in deceptive behavior. I’ve had numerous students and young adults ask me how to handle it when their boyfriend or girlfriend is sneaking around, cheating on them with a third party. My answer: Break it off yesterday! It’s not that I lack compassion or think people can never change, but a pattern of cheating before marriage will generally not get better after rings are exchanged. Trust is the foundation of a marriage, and if a person handles it lightly while dating or engaged, beware!

If significant sexual immorality is present in the relationship. This one is tricky. I’ve known many people who have struggled with sexual sin while dating or engaged who have gone on to have wonderful marriages. That being said, it’s tough to be objective about a person when you are already sexually entangled. Sex clouds our objectivity. In my opinion, it’s best to at least take a hiatus from the relationship and perhaps return to it at a later time. Once the immorality is removed, people tend to make better decisions about whether to marry.

If the relationship seems like more trouble than it’s worth. This might sound harsh, and again there are exceptions to the rule. However, if you find yourself spending more time arguing with the person than enjoying them, that’s a red flag. If you talk more about the person’s flaws than what you love about them, that’s a red flag (the problem might be you or it might be the other party — either way, it’s a red flag). If you consistently find yourself wanting to get away from the person, it’s probably wiser to break it off. Everybody has doubts and fears in the dating process, but I’m talking about those situations in which the worries and concerns overwhelm your enjoyment of the relationship. To put it simply, if you don’t like the person or think your relationship is in constant trouble, why would you get married?

Needless to say, these principles are based on general wisdom (for the most part) and not on clear Scriptural commands. It’s just what I’ve observed and come to believe after a number of years working with students and young adults.

Question: Do you agree with the above principles? Are there any you would add?

[Image via http://awesomedc.com/2010/06/24/breaking-up-old-fashion-way-or-the-social-media-way/]

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