There was a time in my life where I wondered if I was crazy.

I couldn’t seem to stick to a relationship with the opposite sex. I was on again, off again in my desire to be in a long-term relationship. I didn’t have the sense of peace I was looking for, and no one seemed to fit into my life.

What I didn’t know then that I know now was that the reason I didn’t know who fit into my life was because I didn’t know who I was.

I write about the process of finding myself, and in turn, finding the man who finally fit into my story, in my book True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life.

I learned a lot of lessons during my time as a single woman, lessons that brought so much healing and growth. But I also learned a lot during the season of dating. As I think back on that incredible year of dating John (my now husband), I can say without a doubt that there is a huge difference between healthy relationships and those that aren’t so good. And the truth is, I’ve been in both. Here are some things healthy couples do:

Get to know one another, yet remain themselves.

There can be a tendency to get so caught up in finding the right person that we end up losing ourselves. One thing I loved about my relationship with John is that we encouraged each other to remain our true selves, even as we were getting to know each other. We were honest with who we were, our likes and dislikes, our thoughts and feelings—even when we didn’t always disagree. We learned to let our guard down because our relationship was a safe place where we could remain ourselves.

Healthy couples understand that their true identity is rooted in nothing less than who God has made them to be.

Realize that time is on their side.

I have never met someone who regretted “taking their time” in a relationship. Time is always on your side, because a person’s true colors will always shine brighter with each and every passing day. Healthy couples don’t rush their relationship, but they see the dating stage as an important time to learn, connect, prepare and build a strong foundation for their relationship.

And the truth is, if you’re really going to be with this person forever, you have all the time in the world. Good things come to those who wisely wait. (Read more about the 4 Seasons of Dating).

Invite each other into their respective worlds.

The more I got to know John, the more I allowed him into my world, and vice versa.

Little by little, healthy couples open their hearts and open their worlds to one another. His friends slowly became my friends, I began to connect more and more with his family, and take interest in the things that intrigued him. I even remember staying up late one night to read his latest research study (and let’s be honest, ophthalmic research hardly floats my boat), just so I could connect with him about it the next day.

He invited me into his world, and I invited him into mine, because each piece was just another string that tied us together—and still does to this day.

Spend time together, and spend time apart.

Healthy couples have a healthy understanding of who they are alone. In Chapter 7 of True Love Dates, I write about emotional boundaries and what it means to “practically guard your heart.” One thing I reflect on in that chapter is the importance of guarding your time, and making sure to reserve pockets of time during dating to spend some time apart, rather than moving too fast by being together all day, all the time. Being long distance, John and I had these boundaries already set for us, being that we lived 1,000 miles away. But often, I find couples too immersed in one another’s lives far too quickly, losing their ability to stand alone. Becoming “one” is a beautiful part of marriage—but until then, continue developing your identity and guarding your heart by practicing the art of time apart.

Seek God alone before seeking Him together.

They say that couples who pray together, stay together. While that may be true in marriage, I find that couples who pray together far too early on in their dating relationship end up feeling confused.

There is something really intimate about it that should be reserved for those couples who are definitely headed in the direction of marriage. Far more intimate than a kiss or an embrace is the bearing of your heart and soul before God as a couple. It’s a vulnerable, intimate moment that can be emotionally binding in many ways. Wait to do this until you’ve committed to moving toward marriage. But until then, continue to diligently seek God on your own.

Dating can be an effective time of learning to grow, and connect. Healthy couples realize the importance of making the most of this stage of life by keeping the big picture in mind.

This article was originally posted at truelovedates.com.

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