Finding the love of our life is a huge deal. When we’re dating, it’s all about meeting that person who is going to make us happy. We want to marry our best friend, and we romanticize it, and we want nothing less than perfection. All it takes is one little flaw, and we rule that person out as a compatible mate. It’s all about what they do for us. Eventually we find someone who we can picture a life together, so we decide to get married! How does a relationship that starts so selfishly turn into a loving and giving marriage?

I’m excited to write about dating and marriage. I’ve been married nearly 12 years, so I’m definitely not a newlywed. Some things have changed since I last dated. Texting wasn’t a very big deal yet, and the social media world was in its infancy. There was no swiping left or right, and I proudly don’t know what either direction means. While some of the ways in which people navigate dating has changed, I don’t think any of the truly meaningful parts have.

From a first date, to being a couple, to getting engaged and married, there are some profound changes that should happen during the course of a relationship. One important change is to progress from selfishness to selflessness.

The Beginning (Dating)

Women are known for having checklists to help them identify Mr. Right. Men don’t do that as much. For most guys, and especially when we’re younger, our list isn’t very long. When I was in high school, my list had one check box: a pretty face.

As I got older, that list grew to include different values and qualities that were important to me. Physical attraction is only a starting point. We look for similar interests, a good personality, and career goals, but it’s interesting how self-centered the beginning of a relationship starts. Yes, we usually try to impress the other with fun dates and we dress our best, but the decision to continue dating is 100% selfish. If your date is boring, has some weird quirks, or doesn’t check enough boxes on your list, we deem them not good enough. We move on and keep looking.

That sounds harsh, but when your goal is to commit yourself to another person for the rest of your life, looking out for yourself is perfectly reasonable. If your date is driving you crazy, and you don’t want to spend another minute with them, then spending the rest of your life with them is certainly out of the question.

But if your date checks a lot of boxes, or there’s actually a good personality to accompany that pretty face, what happens next?

The End (Marriage)

Before we talk about the middle, I want to jump to the end, because that will tell us where the middle needs to go.

When it comes to marriage, there’s one thing I’m absolutely certain of: successful marriages consist of two people whose number one priority is the other person. It’s a committed relationship where two people declare that they are willing to stop living life solely for themselves, and start living it with and for someone else. When we say those vows on our wedding day, we’re making a promise to the other person about how we want to love and treat them.

The newlywed phase ends pretty quick, and most of us realize we’re still pretty selfish. Great marriages consist of people who realize this, and work towards selflessness. Marriages go through lots of changes. There’s before kids and after kids. We move, start new jobs, and deal with health issues. If both people aren’t committed to putting the other first, the marriage will suffer.

In a lopsided marriage, one person pours in and the other pulls away. Or there are marriages where both people feel wronged. They’ve been hurt so badly by the other, their feelings are of paramount concern, and forgiving the other is out of the question. Whether the marriage ends in divorce, or continues on for decades of unhappiness, what we find is a relationship that has fallen far short of the vows made years before.

Selfishness is the enemy of a good marriage, and at some point, a dating relationship needs to transition from being about what you’re getting, and move to what you’re giving. How does that change happen?

The Middle (In a Relationship)

If the first couple dates go well, and both people continue to want more dates, then eventually a relationship forms. Maybe that’s obvious, but I think it changes in a way that I wasn’t fully aware of when my wife and I were dating.

Think about the first time you told your significant other I Love You. That was a huge deal, because if you found yourself wanting to make that declaration, you were openly committing to the next stage of your relationship. Saying those words means you appreciate what the other person has to offer you (your selfishness is satisfied), and you’re ready to make the relationship about more than just what you want. It’s no longer just about what you’re getting. You are committing to the relationship, and elevating it above what simply makes you happy.

If marriage is the target we’re aiming for, this is the moment we start behaving in a way that reflects being married. Our concerns start to lessen, and we truly start to care for the other person. The time between I Love You and Will You Marry Me? is a trial run at marriage. If the other person is committed, caring, and willing to work and grow with you, then engagement makes sense.

The marriage rehearsal doesn’t always go well. Maybe the other person puts you first with their words, but not with their actions. Perhaps as you open yourself up to growing as a couple and working together, you find the other person is actually stubborn and unwilling to change. Setting aside selfishness is a priority for you, but sadly it’s a slow realization that they have no intention of doing the same.

It’s a Journey…Know Where You’re Going

Dating can lead to engagement, and sometimes to heartache. When you know where a relationship should go, there will be expectations along the way. As you travel down the road of dating, always keep in mind what you want the relationship to look like miles down the road. The landmarks along the way will affirm you’re headed in the right direction.

Dating starts with selfish motives, but the end goal is a beautiful relationship where each person puts the other first. The relationship should move towards that ideal, with couples aware of how their relationship is growing. Getting married and being ready for that stage of life is often overwhelming. If people were more aware of what should happen in the middle, then maybe they’d be more confident about what will happen in the end.

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