The only thing that hurts more than a broken heart is having your heart broken again. In the aftermath of breakups we often feel we are simply at the hands of forces beyond our control.
Why does God allow us to experience something that feels perfect only to have it fall apart? How does a relationship that starts so great end up so bad?
Most relationships are destined for breakup even before they begin because of how we approach love. In fact, how we love is just as important as who we love.
Based on my own experience and a decade as a minister to students and young adults I contend that our how is broken. Here are four common mistakes we make early on in relationships that often set them up for failure:
1. Start a Relationship Because of Physical Attraction
Not that physical attraction shouldn’t be a reason we date someone; it just shouldn’t be the reason. Often we begin a relationship assuming that if we are madly attracted to someone, then it’s worth the gamble for the chance to be with them.
Larger issues of compatibility are set aside for later examination because we are too consumed with sexual fervor to consider the weightier issues.
This is not to say this attraction always leads straight to sex, but we tend to think the first kiss has told us all we need to know about whether or not this was worth pursuing.
2. Read Into Everything
“Ignorance is bliss” was probably a phrase coined to describe a new relationship floating on the clouds of physical chemistry. Everything seems amazing.
In such an ecstatic haze, every commonality we share seems divine:
“You like coffee, too? With milk!? Unbelievable.”
“You watch The Walking Dead!? I’m so into that show! WE ARE THE SAME PERSON.”
Issues fundamental to lasting relationships may not have even been discussed at this point: faith, worldview, beliefs about family, etc.
This can cause huge problems later.
3. Ignore the Advice of Loved Ones
This stage is about introducing your significant newbie to the people that matter most to you—your close family and friends. Unfortunately, at this stage of the game, we often could care less what they think because, in our opinion, anyone who loves us should love this person as much as we do.
Lord forbid a parent or a well-meaning friend try to point out something for our consideration; If they do, we turn on them like a tiger grabbed by the proverbial tail.
“You don’t know him like I do,” we say.
But that’s not what this is about at all. This is about allowing the same people who have always been there for you in the past to be there for you now, even if their input isn’t what you want to hear.
Let’s face it; we’ve all had that friend who just wouldn’t listen. Sometimes we need to see that we are being that friend.
But if we are doing things this way, we shut our ears to the advice of good friends and family members. We feel too much is at stake to let them stop us now.
What do they know anyway, right?
4. Ignore the Warning Signs
Now we begin asking major questions and dealing with tough issues, usually for the first time. This stage can bring about some realizations that are tough to deal with, not the least of which may be the disorienting disapproval of those we love.
We begin asking each other and ourselves some tough questions:
“What do you mean you don’t want kids?”
“Jesus isn’t a big deal to you? When were you going to tell me that?
“Why does she have such a temper? Since when does she yell at me?”
In this phase the relationship becomes strained and we become anguished. Our relationship, once the primary source of joy in our days has become confusing.
“Are they the one?” we ask ourselves. “What is happening to our relationship?”
This is high-stakes territory. To break up at this point would be to break up with an assumed future that we’ll never see: it’s more than just letting go of a person—it’s letting go of a whole life you may have planned out in your head.
At this point, crazy as it might sound, getting married can sound easier than breaking up.
Some people plunge headlong into marriage, thinking a wedding will somehow validate and heal a relationship on the rocks. In reality, marriage only makes this broken relationship permanent. Or, worse, it assures a short-lived marriage.
For most, though, this is the stage where things blow up, leaving us with lost months or years and a shattered heart to mend. It has been my observation as a minister that many people lash out at God:
“Why are you doing this to me? I prayed that this would be the one I was with forever!”
These breakups are devastating. And though God, through His grace and wisdom, can help us recover and heal from heartache, it’s best if we don’t try to heal by finding someone else right away. Our tendency can be to rush into another relationship and start this “cycle of romantic insanity” all over again.
But there is a better way. There is a way to recognize these signs of a relationship headed for failure early on, to pay attention to the very real doubts we may be having and move on to healthier relationships.
Even if failed relationships are all you’ve had to this point, here is a helpful perspective: You can’t change your past, but you can change your current direction.
Lennon Noland is a chaplain at Duke University. He lives in Durham, NC with his bride Christal, their three children and their German Shepherd, Bonhoeffer. He blogs a LennonNoland.com and tweets @lennonnoland.