Dating can be stressful. It isn’t easy to interpret what the other person is doing or saying, what it means, or how to react. The uncertainty of when or if someone will call or do their part is painful and makes the person feel powerless. Additionally, singles fear missing the warning signs of bad, abusive, or neglectful relationships. And they fear wasting others' (or their own) time.
As a marriage and family therapist and dating coach, I know that the answer to these problems isn’t to break up but to become better educated about the opposite sex, dating, and relationships. This will empower individuals and assist them in developing valuable personal, spiritual, and dating skills.
So how can a single man or woman know when the Spirit is warning them to leave a relationship and when they are just experiencing the anxiety that comes from not knowing what to do?
There are many ways to discern the difference between anxiety and spiritual warnings.
The Spirit will speak to the mind and to the heart (D&C 8:2). Strong compelling emotions that are not backed up by solid examples, facts, or experiences are probably not of the Spirit.
For example, a client of mine had intense fears about marrying her boyfriend, but when we reviewed the warning signs of someone who would be potentially abusive or manipulative (i.e. they lack empathy, self-control, and personal responsibility), all of her experiences clearly indicated that he showed a tremendous amount of empathy, a history of self-control, and a willingness to take responsibility and work on his problems. Thus, her strong emotions did not speak to both her mind and her heart, so they would be caused by a different source than the Spirit (i.e. panic, fear, and anxiety—all of which she can develop skills to resolve).
I'm not saying any feeling you can't explain should be ignored--there can be valid reasons for them and sometimes the Spirit works in mysterious ways--but breaking up may not always be the best solution.
The truth is established by two or three witnesses (2 Corinthians 13:11). Our Father in Heaven does not expect us to make decisions based on one-time promptings or vague impressions. Instead, he sends us multiple witness of the truth and confirms this truth with multiple sources, thus ensuring that we can have confidence and clarity in the Spirit and what it is trying to say.
Relative to the client described above, we carefully reviewed her experiences, looking for consistent spiritual impressions and messages, while confirming these experiences with insights from important third parties (such as her parents, friends, and church leaders). Not only did this process reveal no evidence of significant warning signs, but it further confirmed that he was a good choice for a husband.
The Spirit enlightens the mind, fills with joy and confidence, casts out fear, and speaks by a still small voice (D&C 11:13, 2 Timothy 1:7, 3 Nephi 11:30). The Spirit encourages, inspires, warns, and prompts, but doesn’t compel. Strong emotions that are persistent and unrelenting (such as panic and anxiety) are not of God. At times we will feel warnings from the truth we discover, but these warnings do not cause doubt, powerlessness, and despair; they instead inspire knowledge, confidence, and action. Thus, when discerning between truth and error, singles can avoid being deceived by looking to the fruits of their emotions (3 Nephi 14:20). Do their thoughts and emotions inspire confidence, truth, love, knowledge, joy, and action, or do they create anxiety, panic, despair, helplessness, worthlessness, withdrawal, isolation, and inactivity?
In spite of my client's strong emotions of panic and anxiety (which can impair her ability to feel the Spirit at times), she was able to find peaceful moments in which she knew her boyfriend was a good option and marriage was appropriate, if she chose to proceed forward. She knew spiritually that her Heavenly Father wanted this choice to be hers and that he would help her find tools to manage her anxiety and increase her confidence and joy in the relationship. It was difficult at times for her to silence her doubts and lean on her faith, but she was able to marry her boyfriend and within a few months she related that her anxiety was under control and she was happily married.
The importance of dating and relationship skills
For those singles who are tempted to walk away from a dating or relationship opportunity, I would challenge you to first look at yourself and to ask:
-Do I feel anxious and don’t know how to calm this anxiety, except through withdrawing?
-Do I feel confused about what the person is thinking or what I can do to affect the situation positively?
-Do I feel uncertain about where this is going, so I want to take control and break up before they break up with me?
-Am I uncertain of the warning signs of the neglectful, abusive, or manipulative, and as such I am inclined to see warning signs everywhere (i.e. I have an overall negative view of men or women)?
If you don’t know what to do to manage your emotions, if you don’t understand dating or the opposite sex, and if you have a negative view of the opposite sex, withdrawing will not resolve these problems or help you develop the skills you need.
These fears and anxieties are normal and can be alleviated with education and support. Now is the time to develop the dating and relationship skills you need to succeed.
This article is sponsored by Alisa Goodwin Snell, a licensed marriage and family therapist and dating coach with 17 years of experience. Alisa is the author of the “It’s Not You—It’s Your Technique” dating system.