Dating, Marriage and Relationships - A Communal Endeavour!
“Wah! Got new girlfriend ah? Since when?” Was a text from a church mentor I remember receiving during my early twenties. After a few congratulatory texts from him and polite replies from me, the conversation between me and that mentor of mine ended. There were no deep conversations about emotional readiness, partner suitability or life planning. Conversations with those around me regarding my relationships remained superficial. When we think about dating and marriage in the modern context, we often think of it as a private affair. In that we do not involve the community of faith in the process of how we choose our partners, courtship and moving from courtship to marriage and beyond. These are generally viewed to revolve solely around the couple. Very rarely do we involve others in our discernment process for a life partner, in our relationships or married life.
And while we may share about our relationships to friends or on social media, many a times we only share the “good stuff”. Pictures of us in loving embrace, sweet moments and celebrations, the struggles and conflicts are often hidden and remain hidden. A relationship whether dating or in marriage is between two sinful and imperfect persons. Conflict and struggles, while they are bound to occur, are an essential part of character growth. When kept as a private affair, a relationship can become burdensome and lonely built on unhealthy expectations.
“No one should tell me who or how to love.”
Whilst growing up, there is a common plot I have seen in movies, videos and story books that tells of a young couple — Boy meets girl and falls in love, but society tells them that they shouldn’t be together. The boy is poor status and the girl from a rich well standing family. Many opposed their relationship and sought to tear them apart, but against all odds, they pursue true love and lived happily ever after. The general message that I got from these movies, videos and stories was that “no one should tell you who or how to love. Follow your heart, that is true love”.
This message played a huge role in shaping my view on relationships and how I thought they should be. True love is this mystical connection between a man and a woman and you just have to find the perfect one, your soul mate. When you find her, you will know it, no one else will be able to tell, only you. As a consequence, my mentors or close friends in my community of faith or my family was not involved in my discernment for a life partner, and in my relationships in the early part of my adulthood. Its not that they didn’t want to be, but it was because I did not allow them to be. Looking back, its no wonder, many of my early relationships failed. There was a great deal of obstinance in me.
“It takes a kampong to raise a godly couple!”
What I have missed and failed to see is that within the body of Christ there are great pools of wisdom. Fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters in faith who have trod the path I was walking on, who could guide couples, point out areas in their characters that needed attention and development, mediate conflicts or journey alongside them in their frustrations. Mentors and friends that could encourage, provide guidance and hold them accountable. There exists a great resource in the body of Christ, we only need reach out and use it.
Hollywood and mainstream media are not great teachers about love and relationships. For in their lessons, lie great pitfalls such as individualism and self-fulfillment— what your partner, wife or husband can do or achieve for you — do they satisfy a need of companionship, sustain the ability to live a certain type of lifestyle etc. The danger is then to look for a partner that can “make you whole”. This leaves us never fully satisfied in a relationship, for the only one who can truly satisfy us is God (Psalm 16:11).
The model how our relationship should be, as many in the body of Christ would point out, is Christ. How he came to serve, not to be served. Paul in Ephesians 5:22-33 tells us of how an ideal relationship between a husband and wife should be. Dating couples should critically think if they can truly achieve the roles that God calls them to achieve with each other. And married couples should strive ceaselessly in pursuit of this. Yet if we are to embark on this endeavor alone, we make this pursuit needlessly burdensome and lonely.
Looking back to my late twenties, to when my now-wife and I were dating, it is only with the help of the community around us and our families that provided the safety nets, encouragement and guidance that we needed to critically think about our relationship and progress towards preparing ourselves for marriage. It is a resource that we still rely on after. There is an old saying “It takes a kampong to raise a child” in that it is a communal effort to raise up a child properly. I and my now-wife would argue that it takes a kampong to raise a godly couple!
What is a communal endeavour?
Another old saying that we may have heard time and again is “don’t air your dirty laundry!” And what it means to say is that we should keep conflicts, struggles and unhappiness private. This comes from the innate want within ourselves to present to others a good image of ourselves. We want others to think that we have got it all together, that we are in perfect control over our lives and our relationships. However, in reality this could be further from the truth and having people to share with would give us great emotional, mental and spiritual support. Yet, this saying is not entirely false, in that we should be discerning and wise to who we disclose intimate struggles with. It would be unwise to let the whole church and world know! Making our relationships communal could take the form of having close friends and mentors that you can trust to be impartial towards both of you and to be critical minded as well as open and direct, whilst you remain open to advice and instruction.