After my last post I needed something lighter to write about. Here comes my first public book review: Boundaries in Dating, by Cloud and Townsend. I chose this because I liked topic, it was simple to read, and was cheap for my Kindle. And, as a single guy in his mid-thirties, I could certainly use the advice.
For those of you who don’t know, I am very passionate about relationships. I know, that sounds funny when it’s said like that but it’s true. Topics like communication, conflict resolution, and dating have intrigued me for a while now. It probably stems from all the meetings with my mentor, Dr. Tim Nelson, over the last decade. He and his wife are both marriage and family therapists and he’s been mentoring me for the last twelve years. Honestly, “mentoring” is a huge understatement, and probably just a euphemism he uses so I feel better about all the free counseling I’ve been receiving. Therapists like him can cost a lot of money, and for all the time we’ve spent together, I probably owe him at least twenty thousand dollars. No joke.
Before I begin, one thing I need to remind myself is that a book about relationships is not the same as personal counseling in relationships. I’ve been infused with dating advice from a professional for many years, and it’s been personalized to my needs by a friend who truly knows me. A book about dating is not personal, and written to the masses, filled with mainly general truths we must translate to our own unique situations. When I think about this approach, and it only being ten bucks on Amazon, I feel better about buying it.
Let’s dive in…
The premise, which is the same as in other Cloud and Townsend books, is that of proper boundaries. In this case, it’s healthy dating boundaries. I don’t remember them ever actually providing the definition of a boundary, but I deduced it through many of their practical examples. My best description is that boundaries are more or less practical ways of defining what you value, so that you can find someone worth dating (and marrying). Once in a relationship, good boundaries would be used to protect your level emotional attachment and sexual intimacy, and guard against any number of potential mates with “red flag” character flaws such lying, immaturity, outbursts, etc.
The authors also discussed the topic of engaging in healthy conflict, and normalized it, to my liking. They spent a good deal of time advocating for the reader’s own personal growth and “pulling the plank out of your own eye” before asking your partner to do so. They were also quick to point out that if you could see potential problems in your “datee”, it was better to bring them up sooner than later. Easy enough.
And that’s how I’d sum up the book: “easy enough”. If I could rename the book, I’d call it Christian Dating 101, and the subtitle would be: “Don’t date anyone who is isn’t a Christian, someone who lies, or someone who just wants your body.” I know that’s a long subtitle but I think that pretty much sums up all 280 pages.
But don’t get me wrong, Cloud and Townsend did a solid job laying a foundation for relationships. To know your values, to grow yourself emotionally and spiritually, to have a partner who wants to grow, are all helpful things to remember when dating or looking for a mate. Whatever I didn’t like about the book, I liked the fact that they mentioned several times the healthiness of finding someone who wants to learn how to resolve conflict well.
Now, let me share what I wish the authors would have said about boundaries. Boundaries, as I will define them, are simply implicit or explicit “yes’s” and “no’s” that guide us in our own lives and in relationships. Our values establish our boundaries, or vice versa, because many times we don’t know what we value until a boundary has been crossed.
For example, you might not know how much you value a clean house until you marry someone who’s not as tidy as you are. This person would inadvertently cross your boundary by leaving socks on the bedroom floor which is a “no-no” to you. But because values change in duration and intensity over time, the spotless house you once valued might take a back seat after having two or three children. Again, this is normal.
On a side note, I think its helpful to point out the obvious fact that just because we value something or find it “worthy”, doesn’t mean God does. It is normal and healthy, at any given point in time, to be moving toward or away certain values (a.k.a. sanctification).
Throughout any dating relationship, therefore, the values we hold (or those in process) will create internal and external decisions that will guide you into into saying “yes” to some people and “no” to others, “yes” to some behaviors and “no” to other behaviors. Relationships that fit with your and God’s value system will be healthy, and both of you will grow. They will produce godly character in you and others will eat your relationship fruit. They will be a guide to help you find this person, even if your current boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t turn out to be “the one”.
My other beef with this book was that a few times they labeled people as “lonely” and said to be wary of “lonely people”. (Take it away, Beatles!). Blanket statements like this that use one adjective to describe another person bother me. It probably stems from my family therapy classes where we didn’t uses phrases like this, but described people as “struggling with loneliness”. I just don’t see people only through one lense. We’re all dynamic and colorful. Most of us, can be quite happy one day and down the next. Or, maybe it’s just me.
But seriously, who is never lonely? I like the sound of talking about people where their struggles are just a part of them, but not defined by it. For me, I look for someone who is moving toward being like Christ, instead of creating the impossible expectation to find someone who has already “arrived”.
As I alluded to earlier, I wish they would have specifically defined boundaries as values, but then the title would have been Values in Dating. If this was true, then the title would be extremely boring and no one would buy it except Puritans. Or, people would think the book was really just filled with coupons and tips to save money while dating. I believe the authors had to stick with the “boundaries” theme because of its past popularity in their previous works. Whatever the reasoning, the book was really about values in dating.
The authors mainly write from their own experiences and from their client’s experiences. But that’s not all bad because they have their PhD’s which is assuring to me. It contains a lot of “how-to’s” but not a lot of quoted research. Basically, it’s a very pragmatic book, but lacks an overarching continuity or an interesting running story. There were several nuggets of truth in there, but the lack of a narrative made it more of an encyclopedia of dating anecdotes and maxims than a deeper theology of self and relationships
For Relationships 201, I’d recommend The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller. I will review this book in the near future.
Here are a few tasty tidbits from C & T: (all direct quotes)
- Dating involves risks, and boundaries help you navigate those risks
- Remember that you will have a good relationship to the degree that you are able to be clear and honest about everything
- The Bible and all relationship research is very clear on this issue: people who can handle confrontation and feedback are the ones who can make relationships work
- But make sure that you are scrutinizing yourself harder than you are your date (James 4:6)
- To be happy in a relationship, and to pick the kind of relationship that is going to be the kind you desire, you must be able to be happy without one
- Dating was never meant to cure aloneness. It was meant to fulfill adult needs for male-female romantic relationship on the way toward marriage. Aloneness is to be cured by relationships with God and other people
- Know your tastes and what is important to you, but stay open and flexible in dating, for you never know what might happen.
- The best test is always your experience of the person.
- Be yourself from the beginning
- Relationships grow in a healthy manner only as they undergo experiences, and there is no shortcut to experiences
- Solving conflict in ways that do not involve leaving the relationship
- Remember to use gradual, well-paced dating to not only seek love, but also to become loving: “Love is patient” (1 Corinthians 13:4).
- Loneliness is one of the most painful yet necessary experiences in life
- Good relationship helps us to become more of who God made us to be, not less
- Keep your phone line open until you are sure who you are dealing with and that you really want to cut yourself off from other dating relationships.
- You cannot demand for the other person to change without changing yourself as well.
- The irony is that Christians should be the least blaming people in the world
- Your date needs to hear the truth about his failings. But he also needs to first hear about yours.
- “What do you call two people who have conflict with each other? A relationship.”
- Find someone who loves God and who you can grow with. Then enjoy the journey together!