By Lavern Nissley
I’ve been reading with great interest the recent series of Teen Talk articles by Preston Yoder about his relationship beginnings and journey with Elizabeth, now his wife. Love stories pull us in, especially when they keep us wondering whether the ending will be “happily ever after” or “adios”.
Ronda and I have been married since December 29, 1978 (over 35 years) and working together in marriage strengthening initiatives since March, 1990.
You probably think we are experts. You’re right! Experts on failure and how NOT to navigate relationships. I marvel at how many not-so-smart things we have said and done that ended up hurting our relationship. Thankfully we have learned from our many failures.
More importantly, we have experienced the wisdom and guidance of Scripture, which, by the way, has a lot to say about romantic relationships and meshes remarkably well with social research.
So, let’s talk about foundations for smart relationships leading to a marriage that lasts. Any building, large or small, needs a good foundation. Where would you NOT build a house or structure? What kind of ground has disaster written all over it? Sand. Swamp. Flood Plain.
What about relationships? Are there any “disaster foundations” that come to mind? What about appearance and physical attractiveness? Those are pretty important for romance and love, right? Are they good foundations to build upon?
Here is what we’ve observed – many, many times. An attractive young couple contacts us because they are having relationship issues, often surrounding communication and conflict resolution. What started out as “falling in love with someone attractive” or “being in love with being in love” has somehow worn out. Want to know why?
Scientific research has shown that between 3-6 months of a couple “falling in love” their levels of two mind-altering chemicals, dopamine and oxytocin, are very high. In fact, brain scans of such couples are very close to those of people who are high on drugs! How rational is decision-making when high on drugs? Not so much.
So a first healthy foundation to build upon is TIME. Realize that there will be that initial phase where your partner “can do no wrong”. Couples in budding romances do well to wait at least 3-6 months or longer before making lasting decisions. Perhaps this is why the most explicitly romantic book of the Bible states three times: “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” Song of Solomon 2:7, 3:5, 8:4 NIV.
It is actually good to make it to (and past) the second phase where your partner “can do no right”! That usually means your dopamine and oxytocin levels are dropping, and you are getting your right mind back! It also guards against letting your heart and mind being influenced primarily by physical attractiveness.
So, let’s say you have been an exclusive couple for more than six months. You are wondering whether you have a future together. Is there anything you can do to discern this question, determining whether to move forward or not?
Glad you asked. If you have Godly parents or adults you respect and trust, inviting their input is a really SMART thing to do. What are their thoughts about this relationship? Any red flags? “. . . in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” Proverbs 11:14 KJV.
Another SMART action is to take a very reliable online inventory called The Couple Checkup at www.couplecheckup.com. For $35 you can gain some incredible insights into your relationship: strengths, growth edges, satisfaction, expectations, personality profile and more. The inventory was developed by PREPARE-ENRICH and has remarkable validity in predicting whether a couple will still be together in five years.
To summarize, two necessary foundations for smart relationships and marriages that last are TIME and INSIGHT. Every couple benefits from giving their relationship time to get past the “romantic high” and in seeking feedback from trusted adults and assessments. In other words, DECIDE, don’t SLIDE.