Back when we were in the first stages of building our friendship, I read a book (which The Dash lent me quite casually) called How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk by Dr. John Van Epp. It’s a secular work but, in many ways, it opened my eyes to the necessity of emotional health in a relationship, and of the use of your reason in evaluating another person and your compatibility with him or her.
I had never quantified those needs before. I assumed that if a couple were just strongly focused on the spiritual aspects of their relationship (honoring God, ensuring they were united in their understanding and practice of the Faith, and keeping their purity intact), everything else would fall into place for them.
Only, it doesn’t. Due to fallen humanity and our disordered emotions and appetites, it takes more. The Faith must be first priority for every courting couple (because the point of courtship is discerning marriage, and the point of marriage is Heaven!), but there are other priorities as well, one of which is the simple use of your reason. And honestly, this is inseparable from the Faith, which teaches that reason should guide emotion at all times.
In Jerk, Dr. Van Epp presented the Relationship Attachment Model, using a progression of “sliders.” It illustrates that, when you are seeking to build a healthy relationship, you must build it first and foremost on your knowledge of the person of interest.
Your knowledge of them should then relegate your levels of (on a decreasing scale) trust, reliance, commitment, and touch. Healthily speaking, you can’t trust a person more than you know them; you can’t rely on a person more than you trust them; you can’t commit to a person more than you rely on them; and you can’t touch a person more than you have committed to them. The “sliders” must remain in their appropriate place, or else you compromise the health of your relationship.
This resonated with me to a degree I hadn’t expected. It opened my eyes to the essential presence of rational behavior in courtship, in which your reason guides your natural emotions and you are deliberately seeking a specific end.
This concept was something The Dash and I wanted to define our courtship just as intentionally as the Faith would. Going forward, we wanted to make sure our relationship with both spiritually and emotionally healthy.
So for the first several months of our courtship, we started to build our knowledge of one another. We prudently avoided overt sweet-talking (apart from little compliments here and there 😉 ), and honed in on having intentional discussions about topics such as:
- Handling finances
- Openness to life
- Marriage/healthy family structure/traditional spousal roles
- Homeschooling styles
- Healthcare views
- The spiritual life
- Corporal punishment/raising children
- Our past experiences of family/relationships
- Our temperaments and how we react to things
- What makes us angry
- What makes us happy
- Family traditions
- Our interests
- Communication skills and weaknesses
The list went on and on. Also, as we would hit a new month of courtship, we found ourselves wanting to take the time to have a more in-depth conversation. We would discuss how we felt our courtship was progressing, and we took the opportunity to air anything out that we’d been thinking of or feeling, but hadn’t had time to communicate. These discussions continue to prove wonderfully fruitful!
Now . . . in a healthy courtship, there is going to be a natural progression of romance. Just because your reason is guiding your emotions doesn’t mean that reason is gagging your emotions altogether. If things are going well, then sweet and pure, non-physical expressions of affection are going to start trickling in after you have laid a firm foundation of rational knowledge of one another!
The Dash and I had been courting about three months when he asked if I would be comfortable with him calling me by a term of endearment. I, almost literally, melted. 🙂 By that point, we instinctively knew it had become appropriate to express our exclusivity of affection and discernment. This had happened, in great part, because our knowledge had built trust.
However, we took it slow. Another month or so went by before we began saying, “I love you.” After nine months, our affection has deepened because our knowledge, trust, reliance and commitment have all deepened as well. Every couple’s journey is different, but I wanted to share ours in this particular aspect to illustrate how a couple can take it slow, focus on reason first, and still develop a beautiful, romantic and pure relationship.