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Five Steps To Determine If You Are Dating An Unwilling Participant

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Five Steps To Determine If You Are Dating An Unwilling Participant 

Being single and dating can reveal some of the most hidden and vulnerable parts of our hearts. Sometimes, in exchange for the appreciation and pride of having someone in our lives, we may unintentionally expose and sacrifice the usually guarded parts of our heart for a brief moment of false hope.

Maybe it’s out of insecurity, loneliness, or something in the past that drives these actions and feelings. You may have been in the desert so long that starvation for attention has set in, someone shows you a bit of attention and like any thirsty soul, you give of yourself. There are lots of scenarios, but whatever it may be, there are many souls out there just playing along, unwilling to fully participate in giving you what your heart really needs. I call these people, “unwilling participants” and you know when you’ve met one, when after spending time with them, you find yourself hurt, feeling more alone than ever.

Let me first say, that you are not alone. This song by Matt Redman, “Never Once,” has ministered to me in these times. I’m a great believer in “message in song” and this one sets the tone perfectly for what I want to say.

A few years ago I found myself in a new relationship. After being divorced for over a decade, I had relatively little relationship experience. You could say I took the “guard your heart” theme to a new level of not letting anyone past. I was really good at immediately ruling anyone out.

Back then, it was just about fun and having someone to hang out with when boredom or loneliness set in. Because of the wear-and-tear on my emotions due to prior events, I just didn’t feel my heart was ready for anything more. My life had been a disordered array of things I personally needed to resolve before I could truly give of myself.

That year however, it seemed everything was aligning up in my life and I found myself at the strongest place ever. I learned to live in daily joy alone, my relationship with Christ was focused, being an intentional father to my beautiful daughters was in place, and work and finances were all in order. In all my newfound contentment, I wasn’t really seeking anything relationally.

Then, approaches a green eyed blond haired young lady who seemed to express a strong interest. Because of my current mindset, I didn’t take things too seriously. We titled it a “no destination” event in our lives with two people just hanging out, getting to know one another, without intent. Because of the context of the relationship, I was compelled to share with her my heart freely.

Interestingly, I was at my best in all areas; spiritual, emotional, physical, when my guard fell. As things progressed, I kept sharing and my heart got more involved. Then the “unwilling participant” began to surface.

I ignored many red flags. Those flags even seemed to escape the radar of close friends who usually had a keen eye for deception as they stood with me in hope. Yet there was something not right. I squelched those gut feelings even at the cost of a hurt heart because I didn’t want to believe them.

As I stood at the end of the relationship and looked back, I began to unravel all of the things I chose to overlook. While I was a man with the full armor on, I realized I had neglected the piece covering/guarding my heart.

While opening your heart at the right times in relationship is beneficial, there are obvious signs you should guard it. Here are five steps that you can take to quickly determine if someone you are dating is an unwilling participant before exposing your heart:

  1. Continually pray for wisdom and truth. While my prayers didn’t stop, they weren’t specific about wisdom and truth. I was on autopilot just enjoying the feeling of being part of someone’s life rather than being intentional about looking for God to unveil the hidden truth – even if the truth hurt. God was speaking, but I chose to write it off. Don’t write it off! Pray for wisdom around the discovery of truth and direction of things.
  1. Be intentional about dating or don’t date and choose friendship. It’s great to have friends. I have many friends who are women. There is a difference in seeking friendship with the intent of potential relationship or just seeking friendship with the intent of friendship. Know the difference and establish it immediately. Men are especially notorious for playing the middle ground for an easy escape in the off chance that we may discover the woman we are with is “crazy.” But after a few dates, enough should be known to decide whether this is a potential relationship or just friendship. Choose to do this sooner as to save your heart and your partner’s heart from unnecessary pain.
  2. Listen to their words watch their actions. While her words sounded like full participation, her actions, on the other hand, did not. The question I ask myself is, “Are they engaged or are they distracted?” When they are with you, are they with you? When someone is engaged, the phone is out of site, there is eye contact, and they are responding with thoughtful conversation. A truly interested person who wants to build a lasting relationship is responsive.Note that none of this is necessarily “time” related. I have met many who consider time to be the determination of investment in a relationship. When bringing two lives closer, unless you are in college or fairly free from responsibility, the luxury of spending large amounts time is not realistic. A better gauge is the quality and attention given to the relationship that really secures a lasting commitment.
  1. Bring close friends along with you. I have a rule: On date three you meet my best friends. There is no other option. They are objective and are seeking to hold me accountable to my words and actions as well as look for things that I can’t see. They are my second set of eyes. I would suggest you have people in your life like that, that are willing to come along side you and be an objective observer. They can’t be YES friends – they have to be unafraid to tell you the truth.
  1. Confront the relationship. When you are starting to see red flags, confront it immediately in kindness. They may be entitled to a one-time “pass” but the second occurrence is cause for a conversation.
  1. Be willing to walk away and not look back. You may have a beautiful person in front of you that fits into your idealistic box of what you pictured things to be like. But the reality is that you just don’t know. The discovery phase of the relationship is the most important and it’s where many hearts get connected. It’s also the phase when it may be necessary to sever ties. Keep in mind that when you walk away, there may be some pain associated with it.Secondarily, you have to be willing to move on. This takes great control over your mind and emotions especially if they “promise to change.” It is my personal opinion that people do not change without exceptional pain applied to their lives. My friend, Pastor Gary Hay, often says that “People don’t normally change until the pain of staying the same, exceeds the pain of change.” No one changes over night or even in months. It’s a process. Don’t allow your heart to be fooled by words and their small actions as a reaction to your departure from the relationship.

We must hold ourselves fully responsible for our choices. If you are a Christian, then I suspect you hear God’s still small voice. That voice gives us the heads-up before something goes down. It’s the voice that says, “You are the only one participating in this relationship.” Too many times we ignore it and then want to assess blame on the other person. In reality, our own choices determine how long an unwilling participant stays in our life.

Scripture: Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:18 (NIV)

Photo by: Jackie

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