Dating, Jealousy, & Expectations: 5 Ways To Grow Your Relationship
Hannah Ellenwood - September 10, 2019
Picture this scenario: You’ve been getting to know a guy and you find yourself spending more time together.
You both really like what you see and know of each other, so you decide to move into an exclusive dating relationship. You are both excited and everyone is happy for you! You go on dates together, you begin to let each other into more of your lives, you visit some of your favorite places and meet each other’s close friends. As you do, you notice something: There is a girl in his close circle of friends who he seems to be really close with. You trust him, but you wonder what to do because it seems like this could become an issue.
While this isn't something I face in my current relationship, I've had to deal with this question in the past and I've had the opportunity to sit and listen to quite a few friends (both guys and girls) who have been in this position. And, what gets me most excited is the opportunity to engage with conflict. So, this blog post is for everyone who finds themselves in this particular scenario, or who simply wants to learn to engage conflict in a healthier way.
I know for some, conflict can feel like a dirty word. But it is actually really good when we engage it in a healthy way. It’s the real, beautiful work of relationship. Though we may not feel excited about it in the moment, it provides couples an opportunity to navigate new territory together and come out on the other side with a greater understanding that leads to more intentional care and a deeper sense of closeness.
So, look at this as your opportunity to build. Your opportunity to move toward and move through. In order to deal with external conflict in a way that builds though, we must first face those that are internal. And this takes true courage.
Here are a couple of things you might practice to move toward and move through in this context. And, actually, I think they apply to most relationship conflict - not just the question at hand. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but I’ve found these to be really helpful in my own relationship. I’ll be the first to say I don’t do them perfectly. I still shut down and get so stuck in my feelings that they become hard to shake. But, as I’ve learned to turn to God and allow Him into those places, He’s proven faithful every time.
1) Identify your expectations.
We all have expectations. Some are very obvious and we may be really clear on what we want and what we desire in a relationship. However, a lot of our expectations live below the surface and can surprise us in a moment where our reality conflicts with an expectation we didn’t even know we held. This is a really normal occurrence when two individuals with different backgrounds, different stories, different perspectives and different beliefs come together in a relationship.
So, in this circumstance, learn to identify what expectations you held for both your significant other and yourself in engaging friendships with the opposite sex. Maybe your boyfriend having a really close friend who is a girl isn’t what you thought or hoped would be a part of your relationship. The reality is frustrating your expectations and creating conflict. Maybe the conflict is just internal - you see what’s happening, you want to be the girlfriend who’s cool with it, because he’s proven to be trustworthy and you “shouldn’t” be upset by this. Or maybe the conflict has moved into your actions - you notice yourself shut down when she’s around and your body language changes when he mentions her name. What were you hoping your relationship would look like? What experiences or stories have informed that expectation? What do you believe healthy friendships with the opposite sex outside of your relationship should look like? Identifying those expectations will set you up to communicate clearly and help you move through it together.
2) Acknowledge your feelings…and allow God to care for you in them.
When our reality clashes with our expectations, we can have a couple of different responses. Sometimes we are ashamed of our emotions or don’t want to feel them so we shove them down and tell ourselves we “shouldn’t feel that way.” Other times we allow our feelings to take control and we react too quickly or too strongly. What if, instead, you chose to pause and acknowledge what you are feeling when he spends time with his friend? Do you feel jealous? Do you feel insecure? Do you feel hurt? Just be honest with yourself. Feelings aren’t all bad if they are channeled to the right place to receive care. Whatever you are feeling, the work can’t begin in you or in your relationship if you don’t acknowledge it as real and allow God to care for that part of you.
"Feelings aren’t all bad if they are channeled to the right place to receive care. Whatever you are feeling, the work can’t begin in you or in your relationship if you don’t acknowledge it as real and allow God to care for that part of you."
If you don’t work through your expectations and feelings with God, they will just continue to bubble up in other places. You will work so hard to not place expectations on your boyfriend, to not feel jealous, to tell yourself it’s fine and be the girlfriend you believe you should be. But without heart transformation, healing from past hurt and allowing God to speak and reframe past experiences, you’re just playing in the dirt rather than pulling the weeds out by the root.
Without God healing you and quieting your fears with His love, it’s impossible to love, care for and communicate with your significant other in a way that builds.
Good communication starts with believing the best in the other. Give your boyfriend the benefit of the doubt and trust that he cares for you. This will help you move into the conversation from the perspective that you are overcoming a new obstacle and figuring out a solution together, rather than sitting on opposite sides of a table negotiating a deal. This can help you prevent this issue from pitting you against each other.
Then, engage your boyfriend seeking to understand rather than be understood. The only way you’ll be able to do this is if you have allowed God to enter into your feelings and trust Him to care for you.
4) Make a plan.
The reality of being in an exclusive dating relationship is that it does impact your relationships with others. If you are dating with the goal of marriage, then as you grow in your relationship your outside friendships with the opposite sex will have to change. This doesn’t mean you end them all. It just means they shift.
How friendships shift is up to you as a couple. The important thing is that you decide together what that will look like for you. Once you have done the work of identifying your expectations, acknowledging your feelings and opening up healthy dialogue with your boyfriend, it would be great to make a plan for how you’d like to approach friendships moving forward. Invite couples who are older and wiser to speak into it. Ask God to show you how you can honor each other and your friends. Then, make a plan.
5) Check back in.
This isn’t a one and done conversation. Once you’ve made a plan together, see how it plays out in reality and be intentional about checking back in. Keep the lines of communication open. If the plan you decided on isn’t working, be honest and have a conversation about what you could do differently. View it as an experiment and learn and adjust as you go. But remember to do this together!
Now, as I mentioned earlier - all of these things are really helpful in engaging in conflict that builds. Knowing the right thing to do is one thing; in theory, these practices will help you move in and through conflict together. In reality, a relationship involves two people and you are not in full control of how the other person will respond. So, it’s key to go in understanding it may not go as planned. Posture yourself to care for the other person, stay humble and trust God will keep things right side up. Don’t pretend, don’t push and don’t presume. You’ll be pretty hard-pressed to come out wrong. God will be your anchor. He promises that.
*Special thanks to Joey for living, teaching and helping me articulate a lot of what I’ve shared here; for moving toward, moving through, and engaging conflict in a way that builds.
Hannah is a global citizen - born in the Northwoods of America and raised in the heart of Europe. Upon graduating from Biola in 2015 she has worked in the world of marketing and branding and is now pursuing work in vocational ministry. She believes that story has the power to create positive impact and rich cultural experiences. So, through her work she hopes to empower individuals, teams, and brands to tell their stories, make meaning out of them, and connect to a greater narrative.