* What were the most helpful tips to building your relationship (trust, safety, friendship, communication)?
Building trust: This is a long story that I won’t get into, but I felt that the most trust was built when Stefan shared some really hard things for anyone to share. I could tell that he didn’t want to hide anything from me – even if that meant me ending the relationship. Because he valued the truth even above the relationship made me realize that he wanted to listen to the Holy Spirit more than anything. He had a humble, teachable heart. I felt the freedom to ask him hard questions and I gave him permission to do the same with me. It took time and experiences to build more and more trust, but it steadily grew like a thriving plant. You water it and give it sunshine and it will surely shoot up!
Building safety: We tried to be who we really were with one another. The more we were ourselves in front of each other, the more we felt truly accepted and embraced … and not for who we were trying to be, but who we were. I mention later that as our relationship matured and progressed, the more we opened our hearts to one another. We confided in each other our pasts, struggles, ugly areas that we don’t normally show anyone but God, and we were able to love one another in those places of ugliness. It’s actually super healing and beautiful to be loved in the areas you feel most unlovable. We talked through these things with our pre-engagement counselor and he helped facilitate some of these conversations and healthy responses. Knowing that we are for one another, not against each other helped us to feel safe. As a girl, I felt safest when I didn’t feel rushed or pressured to share or move forward. I felt respected even though I also felt pursued. At times I had higher physical and emotional boundaries and I never, ever felt that Stefan pressured me to back down from my convictions. This isn’t to say that we didn’t struggle together, but he didn’t ever say or act in a way that made me feel stupid for aiming for the conviction that I had (ie not kissing till my wedding day). I felt that he was fighting for us to uphold it as much as I was (we made it! Praise God ).
Building friendship: My mentor would tell me that every relationship needs a childhood. She is so right! Early in the relationship we simply “played” together. We went for walks, picnics, ice-skating, movies, coffee shops, etc. After a little while, we began to mature in our interactions and started to serve in ministry together: praying for others, dental missions in Mexico, etc. Through that progression, our friendship blossomed as we confided in one another and grew to anticipate each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Our friendship deepened as our communities began to merge and his friends became my friends and vice versa. The more time, experiences, and joys/sorrows we shared the more our hearts grew in friendship. I think the 2 biggest things that helped us deepen our friendship was 1. being rooting in Christ. 2. not being physically involved. The less we were able to do physically the more we felt the urge to show one another love and affection through other means: actions, service, words, activities, etc.
Building communication: we went through the book 101 Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged and it was a fun way to engage in meaningful conversation. We also stuck to the honesty policy – even when it was hard. We didn’t want to play any guessing games or be passive/aggressive so we made it a point to resolve conflicts – not avoid them. We agreed to keep short accounts. We agreed to share how we truly felt about something even if it didn’t seem like the other person was going to like what they heard. When a conversation didn’t go so well we tried to remember to ask for a “do over” so that we could learn to improve our communication. I am someone who gets emotional and can’t think in the moment so I need to take a moment and calm down before trying to resolve something. Stefan had to learn that I wasn’t avoiding, I just needed about 10-20 minutes usually to gain composure otherwise, I couldn’t engage in productive, helpful conversation. Another helpful tip was that we tried not to rush anything. If we weren’t sure how to proceed, one of us would usually ask to stop and pray to ask God for wisdom on how to handle a situation. We try not to ever see the other person as an enemy, but as a teammate. This helps in communication. We also talked through the details of our days that way we had a good context for the bigger picture. Another HUGE thing was that we talked about everything – especially in engagement. We agreed to not keep any secrets (except presents we were giving to one another). He knows all my deep, dark secrets and I know his. We gave each other permission to ask questions and, mostly, tried to focus on being good listeners for one another. The best listening tip that helped us was to repeat back to one another what we heard the other person say. This was key to making sure we understood before we responded. That’s all of can think of for now.
* What were the most helpful tips to avoid temptation to sexual sin, or to crossing your physical/touch boundaries?
Don’t be alone in a private place. This may sound elementary or extreme, but it was the number 1 most helpful tip that helped us through the course of our relationship. I also had this rule with previous relationships and am so grateful because I believed this was probably the most helpful boundary that keep things rated “G.” It’s much more difficult to slip up in public than it is in private. Of course, it’s possible to fall into temptation anywhere, but this is a helpful hedge. When we got to our hotel room on our wedding night and closed the door, we were simply excited to be in an absolutely private place with each other. We still hold on to this boundary- obviously not with one another- but with others so that we are never alone with someone of the opposite gender. We want to live above reproach and protect ourselves from any potential temptation or even false accusations.
The second most helpful thing was to not think of sex or sexual desire as a bad, dirty thing, but to think of it as a precious gift to be guarded. You probably already hold this view, but something that helped us a lot was to say to one another (when attraction felt almost irresistible): “This is hug (or whatever) is starting to feel too good for right now.” This approach didn’t make the other person feel bad or condemned or like a stumbling block. It simply communicated that we needed help to stop the momentum. It also reminded each of us what we really wanted for ourselves and one another: free expression in the context of beautiful married love.
I’m hopeful that these words will be an encouragement to you. Stay the course! Keep your eyes on Jesus. You can do it in His strength!