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Seven Common Mistakes in Relating to the Opposite Sex

Mary Whelchel
Courtesy of New Life Ministries

CBN.comMistake 1: We misinterpret the attentions of the opposite sex.

As an outgrowth of the frustration and desperation sometimes experienced when we want to be married, many singles overreact to any attention from someone of the opposite sex, especially if that someone is attractive to them. If a man looks at us twice, we women can read all kinds of things into it. If a woman happens to sit by a man at a social function, he thinks she’s sending him come-ons.

This misinterpretation of attentions is one of the major reasons it’s difficult for a single man and woman to have a platonic relationship. Both are on their guard, worried about signals, instead of allowing that two people can actually have a friendly conversation and enjoy each other’s company without a romantic attraction.

I also observe too often that many singles – yes, Christian singles – enjoy sending signals and then disowning them. After all, it’s an ego trip to think that one or two people are “on your string,” hoping you’ll come their way sooner or later, even if you’re not attracted to them. They disguise their maneuvers (perhaps even to themselves) by telling everyone, “We’re just friends.” They even say that to the other person right up front, laying the groundwork for a quick exit when necessary, and then proceed to give attentions and signals that are truly misleading. Anyone would misinterpret them. And they break not a few hearts in the process of feeding their egos.

Mistake 2: We put up with too much in a relationship and hang on too long.

Do yourself a favor: Admit you have an emotional dependency you’re calling “love” – or even admit that you really love the person if you think you do – but acknowledge that it’s a wrong relationship and get out.

How do you get out? By taking drastic steps. Jesus said, If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell (Matthew 5:29-30).

If you’re in a relationship and you’re being treated with disrespect, thoughtlessness, or unkindness, that’s a good sign you’ve hung on too long and put up with too much. If you’re hoping he or she will change, you don’t know too much about human nature. The one thing that might make a person like this change is having to live with the consequences of his or her behavior – namely, losing the relationship. As long as he or she can get by with treating you shabbily, there’s not likely to be much change in behavior.

If you’re not happy with the treatment you’re receiving from a person before you marry, you can be sure the treatment you would get after marriage would be much more of the same and worse.

Mistake 3: We’re not always very good at reading danger signals in a relationship.

I often see single people in relationships that have poor choice written all over them, but somehow they never seem to see the danger signals. The truth is, most of the time they just don’t want to see them.

Remember that when our emotions get involved in a situation, it’s very easy to lose perspective. Someone once told me, “Emotions and feelings have zero IQ,” and I think that’s a good thing to remember. You cannot trust your emotions. Those juices get flowing, those romantic notions start whirling around in your head, and you can lose perspective in an instant.

Let’s list a few of the danger signals:

Significant age difference. This will vary depending on individuals and depending on the ages involved. I’m not saying that age difference is always a problem, but it certainly is one thing you should consider carefully.

Different family upbringing. It’s a fact that no two families are alike, but look at the basics: Were both families Christian? What values were taught by the families? What kind of relationships exist among the family members? Some families are very close and some are not.

Priority of spiritual life. If one person in the relationship puts a higher priority on spiritual life than the other, it’s a real danger signal and should not be ignored. Usually when you are involved with someone whose spiritual temperature is below your own, you don’t bring them up to your level, you go down to theirs. I’ve seen it time and again.

Mistake 4: We get physically involved much too soon and go too far.

Here again we Christians have allowed the world system and philosophy to infiltrate our thinking about the physical aspects of a relationship. Romans 12:1-2 says we are not to be conformed to this world, but transformed by a renewed mind. The Phillips translation says, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.” When we become casual about having sex before marriage, we’ve been shoved into the world’s mold.

If you truly want to remain pure in your sexual life and keep yourself for the one person God has for you, or keep yourself for Christ if you remain single, you most certainly can do that. There is nothing impossible about it.

However, in order to do that, you will need a discipline that I don’t see in many singles, a discipline to go the extra mile in keeping the physical contact down to a minimum. You simply cannot trust the chemistry of your body. It is very powerful, and once it gets going, finding the discipline to keep it under control is extremely difficult. So the secret is to keep the electricity down to low levels by controlling the physical contact.

Mistake 5: We think that the only necessary requirement for a date or mate is that he or she is a Christian.

I don’t believe that there is only one person in this whole world whom God intends for us to marry, and if we miss that person, we’ve missed our perfect mate. (Of course, I don’t believe that it’s necessarily true that each of us is intended by God to be married. But that’s another subject!) I think it’s possible to find more than one person with whom you can be compatible and have a good lifelong relationship.

It’s very smart to put yourself though intensive soul-searching when you consider marrying someone. Keeping in mind that your emotions are involved and therefore your perspective may be off center, ask for advice from trusted people. Get them to play devil’s advocate and throw every question they can at you. Take every compatibility test you can find. Do all you can do to know what you’re getting into before you jump. You’ll never be totally prepared for marriage, but it’s a good idea to try to find out before you walk down the aisle whether this match is likely to work well.

Mistake 6: We carry our list of requirements for a relationship with us and judge others too quickly and selfishly.

I used to have a list of the things I wanted in a man. The list was divided into “Essential” and “Nonessential.” Now, that’s not an altogether bad idea.

My “Essential” list now has one thing on it: “Must be someone who would enhance my walk with God and allow us to have a more effective ministry together than we have separately.”

Isn’t it great that our God is big enough to deal with all our differences and idiosyncrasies? He isn’t looking for cookie-cutter Christians, all of us looking and acting just alike in every way. We certainly all have the same biblical principles to apply to our lives, but within those principles, there’s much room for individuality and personality. Amen to that!

Many singles, however, seem to have a long list of requirements for their potential date or mate, and they’ve gotten a bit carried away with it, probably as a reaction to the many failed marriages around us. It’s as though they’re checking you out, making sure you meet their needs. They approach this area of their lives as they might approach buying a car: What features do you have and what are the benefits of those features to me?

Having certain important guidelines in mind as we meet and date people is helpful in keeping us from making totally emotional decisions. But checking people out for selfish reasons is going too far.

Mistake 7: We think that anything is better than being alone.

While it’s true that we have basic needs for companionship, it’s not true that aloneness is the worst condition in the whole world. Note that I said aloneness, not loneliness. There’s a big difference, you know.

Most people fear aloneness because to them it represents loneliness. They haven’t learned to fill their time so that aloneness is valuable and refreshing for them. I have learned to love my aloneness, but it has not always been that way. It has come as I’ve learned to enjoy the presence of God and stopped equating aloneness with loneliness.

Loneliness is a feeling, an attitude. We don’t get through this life without experiencing it to some degree. But to settle for anything as a substitute for loneliness is a big mistake. There are worse things than loneliness, and by God’s grace we do not have to be overcome and defeated by loneliness. He can take our aloneness and turn it into beautiful, fruitful, productive time with Him.

Recognize that being alone doesn’t mean you’re a social misfit. Don’t buy into the lies of our enemy, who wants you to feel desperate. When we feel desperate, we act in irrational and unprincipled ways. When we feel an overpowering need to have someone near, we’ll settle for anything.

Also recognize your need for social interaction and plan good things. But you don’t have to have a date to have company; reach out to others and share your time. Not with the idea that it’s second best – you’d rather have a date but since you can’t you’ll be with friends – enjoy those people for who they are, and you’ll discover that the loneliness goes away.

Excerpted from Common Mistakes Singles Make by Mary Whelchel.

Used by permission of New Life Ministries. New Life Ministries has a variety of resources on men, women, and relationships. Call 1-800-NEW-LIFE or visit

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