True Love Dates, pt. 2

Editing


Transcript

Chris Grace:

Welcome back to our Art of Relationships podcast and we have a guest, Debra Fileta, who has joined us all the way from Pennsylvania and we are just so grateful Debra to have you here with us. I'm Doctor Chris Grace ...

Tim Muehlhoff:

... and I'm Doctor Tim Muehlhoff.

Chris Grace:

... and we've been doing this podcast now on the Art of Relationships and Debra we came across your website True Love Dates mostly because you and I serve on a board together and have done some things together with Christian Mingle and in other places. I just been so impressed with all of the ways and all of the work and your passion for helping couples and helping people to not only date well, but to do relationships well, to do marriage well. We are just so glad that you're here to join us so welcome back to our podcast.

Debra Fileta:

Thank you. It's great to be here.

Chris Grace:

Last time we were talking some about the way in which we do relationships and we do them with health, we do them in ways that kind of reveal that we are all just humans who are growing and learning and it brings so much to relationships that we're working on and yeah, we find grace with God. Hopefully as we talk and deal with relationship issues we're able to give some advice out there for our listeners about how to navigate these things well from a Christian perspective, but just also from a health perspective. Some of the things we were talking about and I want to talk about today are related to relationships. What would you say for you are some of the most critical issues that you're finding as you're dealing with couples and people who want to know more about relationships and they turn to your book, True Love Dates, and they go to your website. What are they asking? What are they seeking the most from you?

Debra Fileta:

It's interesting because I think that people come with such personal questions. A lot of times I hear an entire life story. This person said this, that, the other thing. What do you think I should do? It's just such a personal thing, but it's so focused on a very narrow narrative on this particular situation when really I'm trying to get people to kind of back up a little. Let's zoom out, look at the big picture and ask, "Am I engaging in healthy relationships? Am I a healthy person? Do I have a healthy relationship with God?" Those are the three central questions that I'm trying to get people to zoom out and answer because I think those questions kind of inform everything that we do about with regard to dating.

 

In True Love Dates I actually kind of break it down into three sections. The first section is called Dating Inward and that's all about answering that question of, "Am I a healthy person?" It talks about the baggage you carry from your past and how those things might actually impact your current relationship. The second section is called Dating Outward and it answer the question of, "Do I have healthy interactions with the opposite sex?" It talks about things like boundaries and conflict and communication and how do yo even know what you want or what's good for you in a relationship? The third section is called Dating Upward. That is all about our relationship with God.

 

I think Christians are good at the cliché phrase of saying, "Oh Christ is the center of our relationship." What does that really mean? How do you break that down and make it a practical thing? How do you actually invite Christ to become and informant in your dating relationship? My ministry in general kind of backs up and looks at those questions from a more broad perspective and just teaches people and gives them the resources that they need to apply them to their own personal situations.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Wow Debra, that sounds great and it sounds like a lot of introspection so I'm curious to ask you this question. There's a little bit of a healthy debate I think here at Biola University when we start to talk about what's like the right age to start thinking about marriage? We have some professors who advocate getting married fairly early and I more take a look at the divorce rate has gone down in our country because people are waiting longer to get married. What would you say if you had to a ballpark in knowing that this is a gross generalization, when do you think a person is mature enough to do the three things you just talked about, which are great but that takes a certain amount of maturity to want to be that introspective.

Debra Fileta:

You're absolutely right. It does take maturity and maturity comes from different things. I've actually been asked to write articles about this and I always say I'm not comfortable writing an article about this because maturity comes from life experience, maturity comes from the people that you're exposed to, maturity comes from the Holy Spirit and the depth of your relationship with the Lord. We look at young men in the Bible. Young men and women and how mature they were because of the Holy Spirit at work in their life so I've interacted with 20 year olds that I think are extremely mature and ready for marriage and I've interacted with 60 year olds that I think are completely immature and not ready for marriage.

 

I think what it comes down to truly isn't necessarily a number. I think obviously the more life experience you have naturally with age comes more wisdom, but at the end of the day I think it's less about a number and more about where are you at with your relationship with yourself, how much do you love yourself? How much self respect do you have for yourself? Where are you at with your relationship with people? Do you have healthy relationships or do they tend to crumble? Have you burned bridges everywhere and what is your relationship like with God? Do you feel like you are living a life that you're just asking God to bless you in these areas or are you looking to live a life to serve him and a life that sacrificed to him? I think all of those things kind of really help us to get a picture of where we're at and whether or not we're ready to engage in a healthier relationship.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's good. Yeah, that's really helpful.

Chris Grace:

Debra, do you think that there are certain relationship maybe deficits or even skills that women tend to bring into the dating relationship versus men? Are there some differences that break down by gender that you say, again speaking in generalities here, if you had to speak to the men out there who are in this place, what advice would you give them as they're thinking about entering or being in a relationship or doing and doing it well? Are there just some things that they can work on and the same if you were to speak to women out there?

Debra Fileta:

I guess for me, I struggle with just pointing out the men or just pointing out the women because I really believe that we all have a responsibility to get ourselves to a better place. I remember doing an interview once with a guy who said to me, "So Debra, you're telling me that you want men to communicate. Men aren't very good at communicating, Debra. How do you expect men to communicate?" And I just said, "You know, I kind of feel like we put these negative stereotypes and we sort of make them bigger than they are." When I look at scripture, I don't see much of that going on. I see Christ calling us to the same kinds of things.

 

Really, how I look at it, we're all called to communicate. We're all called to share our feelings with one another. We're all called to confess our sins to one another. We're all called to have purity and say no to lust. We're all called to have emotional boundaries and guard our heart and so I think there's a lot of things that we need to work on, but as far as gender specific things nothing necessarily comes to mind. Although, it's not uncommon for a man to come to me with his specific set of issues he has or a woman to come to me with a specific set of issues that she has, but at the end of the day say we're are all called to health and wholeness in Christ.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Debra, Chris is laughing right now because I'm literally on the desk waving a towel as you've been speaking. I think these cultural narratives are really damaging in a way ...

Debra Fileta:

I agree with you.

Tim Muehlhoff:

... they put men and women in these boxes so you get men are from Venus, women are from Mars. You get the idea that men are all compartmental and women are all holistic. I don't doubt that there's something to this a little bit, but it gives the men the out to say, "Well, hey, I'm sorry. I'm just a bad communicator. I've heard that all my life and I get compartmentalized. I'm sorry I wasn't thinking about your needs, but I was to busy focusing on this." I think that's really hard to show scripturally that those kind of categories exist, but at the same time what would be your take let's say on roles within the marriage? Would you tip your hand if you lean towards the complementarian or egalitarian side of things? How would you kind of flush that out when we get to roles within the marriage relationship?

Debra Fileta:

You know, it's so interesting. I try to avoid the subject, but it's such a good subject. It is really a good subject. I believe that the Lord has really taken my husband and I on quite a journey as we've kind of learned what the norms are for us. So many people ask me my beliefs about things like you said, the roles in a marriage and what that looks like. You know, I'm not a theologian, but one thing that I do know is that in my relationship with my husband we do have different roles. Not necessarily because our genders, but more driven by our personalities.

 

If you even just think of the basics. I'm the one that's going to do these talks and speaking on teaching which some people would even question, but my husband is my biggest advocate. He's my biggest fan. He's the one that helps me put my ideas and make them solid. He solidifies my ideas and these concepts that we talk through so in our relationship, truly we have different roles, but those roles come more out of our personalities and the way God has wired us rather than our genders. When it comes to everything, it's my husband and I are second and the Holy Spirit is first. We sort of, kind of, play it that way.

Chris Grace:

Sure.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's good. Every couple needs to negotiate that, to have those kind of conversations even on the front end. I think is really important to say do you think there are roles and how would you define certain words that are often used within the scriptures? I think it's so important that a couple in the front end before they get married, sit down and talk about these things and say hey ...

Debra Fileta:

It is important. I think you're right. Really what it comes down to I think what's more dangerous isn't necessarily having a certain set of beliefs. I have a lot of good friends in my life who are very strict with their beliefs about leadership, submission and all those, headship, all those terms that tend to kind of get the goosebumps going because the other one's afraid to dive into them, but I think what matters more is how you and your spouse engage. How you communicate and what your expectations are regarding those things. That all comes down to communication and communication's the lifeline of a relationship. It's like, once you get married you start this conversation that's pretty much never ending until one of you dies.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yeah. That's good.

Debra Fileta:

It's really important to just put it all out there.

Chris Grace:

Yeah. Good. Debra we have a couple of more things that we really want to talk about too. One of the things is, you mentioned last time and I think Tim, you also brought this up, what is and what would you recommend when it comes to guarding your heart in a dating relationship? We know and talk about physical boundaries, but there are also emotional boundaries that each of us need to set. I know you have a heart about this and a passion for this. Tell me a little bit about how you see some of these differences and what stands out to you as ways that our listeners can set some of these to best guard their hearts?

Debra Fileta:

It's interesting. Tim mentioned a little bit before we started chatting here about this article that I'd written called Emotional Sex, How to Practically Guard Your Heart. I think a lot of times we underestimate the power of emotional intimacy and especially within Christian circles. I remember this young man coming up to me after a talk, he had his girlfriend in tow and he said, "You know, our relationship is so Christ centered. We've been trying to do it the right way. We've been dating for a month and we do devotions every day together, we pray every day together." I just kind of set back and thought to myself, "Okay, like how do I approach this here?" Because you don't want to step on toesies. These people are coming with such good intentions of wanting to please the Lord, but really what makes a Christ centered relationship is not necessarily the fact that you're doing devotions and praying together.

 

In fact, as a professional counselor who is a born again believer myself, I really think that that can kind of actually cause damage in a relationship if it's done prematurely. A lot of times we delve into spiritual intimacy, we delve into emotional intimacy, but you know as I look at my relationship with my husband, one of the most intimate times we have are not in the bedroom. They are when we are both sitting on the couch hand in hand praying. Pouring our hearts out to the Lord. Telling the Lord the struggles that we are facing. Crying out to Jesus together. I think that's a beautiful part of marriage, but I think sometimes we take that spiritual intimacy and we introduce it into a dating relationship far too early. Before trust has even been earned, before commitment has even been discussed and we end up with a broken heart and a broken spirit.

 

Something I tell couples who just started dating is to do a couple things. Number one, pray alone. Seek God alone before you seek him together early on in the relationship. There's going to be a time and place to connect your spiritual lives, but in the beginning keep it basic. Talk about what the Lord is doing in your life, but don't necessarily connect your spiritual world. I also say guard your time because we can spend so much ... I know couples we spend every waking moment with that person for months on end. They even lose sight of their other healthy, important relationships. That can be emotionally damaging.

 

It's important to have boundaries with your time and also it's important to have boundaries with your conversation. I think, if you know what I mean, a lot of people jump in and they just want to talk about the future, about marriage, about where our life is going to be look like one day, what our kids are going to be called and all these things. Sometimes we let our conversation get ahead of our commitment and I think that can cause some serious damage when things don't work out.

Tim Muehlhoff:

We call those escalators. Relational escalators and one of the reason we do what you just said is we hate ambiguity. We just hate that no mans land of of the relationship. I love what you're saying about the particularly praying together part which of course you're at a Christian university like Biola sounds heretical, but to say to couples guys this is, it's too much, too soon when you're praying with each other and almost talking to each other through prayer. You know, "Thank you for Carol's deep heart for the Lord and how she loves and thank you for Tom's passionate commitment to ... ". Wow. That's pretty heavy stuff that really propels the relationship moving perhaps too quickly.

Debra Fileta:

Absolutely and I don't know if you guys have ever heard about this, but I talk about in True Love Dates is the triangle theory. Just basic relationship theory, but really what it says is that if there's a triangle and each one of you is at the bottom corner of the triangle, the best thing you can actually do to move toward one another, which move towards the right person is to move yourself towards the Lord. Move yourself towards God and your relationship with him. Move vertically not horizontally and I think a lot of times we lose sight of that and we look at this relationship, we want to get to move as fast as possible. We want to connect as fast as we can, but nothing will ever replace your intimacy with God and that's what's going to give you more and more wisdom and more and more answers along the way.

Chris Grace:

Gosh, we so agree with this and I love the concept and even just the visual picture of getting closer to someone by heading up that triangle towards God. It's just a great reminder of where we are to find and how God has made us and designed us to be in a relationship with him and so doing our relationships with others flow out of that in such a way that we seek him and then it feels as if our relationship with others start to in essence grow and become even stronger that way. We all recognize, I think most listeners would as well, that the physical boundaries are set in a way that are designed to protect us and otherwise the same kind of thing happens that we begin and if we get too much and too quickly into a physical relationship we begin to lose perspective. It seems like that's the same thing whether it's emotional, spiritual or physical, the design is there to hold back because we are so uniquely designed to connect with each other, we seek these out, we're made for this and yet, in getting too close, too prematurely what ends up happening is we begin to misjudge and have a misperception about how much we love this person or how connected we are, how alike we are, and it begins to mask a lot of our differences doesn't it?

Tim Muehlhoff:

We call that emotional clouding. I've become so clouded that I ... All the introspection that you've been talking about, taking time to really take a look at those three stages you mentioned becomes very quickly clouded where I'm emotionally connected to a person or I'm physically connected to a person so we do this thing in premarital counselling where if the couple is physically active and we have to define what we mean by physically active, then we challenge them to go three months with no physical contact whatsoever. Just to allow the clouding ... Now again, they can date each other, they can affirm each other, they can write each other poetry, they can send each other cards, they can do whatever they want, but for three months let's remove the physical, become unclouded when it comes to the physical and then you can began to do that introspection that you've been advocating.

 

The message they receive from media when it comes to the power of the physical, a kiss is seen as nothing and they blow past things so quickly that it's really sad that we've so devalued what the physical means in such a hook up culture. We like to advocate to couples, let's just remove the physical because there are times in marriage where physical intimacy just is not possible. So Debra, let's say that a couple has emotionally connected and kind of gone too far and perhaps even physically gone too far and there is this clouding of their perspective. How do they back it up? How do you get perspective and establish these boundaries?

Debra Fileta:

I think one thing that you had mentioned earlier about how you're saying to these couples we want you to take some time without having any physical intimacy. Take three months and refrain. I think that is a great way to start because you sort of have to starve a certain part of you especially after you've kind of gotten into the routine of having a certain amount of physical intimacy in your relationship. I think you're right, it does do what you call clouding. I use the word numbing sometimes. The sexual intimacy has the power to numb you. It's like the Novocaine of a relationship. It kind of numbs you to what's really going on.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's good.

Debra Fileta:

Here's the thing about it. It's not an easy process. I'm not going to pretend that you just snap your fingers and you can go all of a sudden have these emotional boundaries, but one thing that I have found to work is for couples who are stuck in physical intimacy, to invite a trusted mentor into their situation. I know that sounds a little risky, a little scary. How do you even go there with someone? The truth is, the art of having a healthy marriage is confession. If you can't tackle and master confession before you're married, you're really going to struggle with it after you're married as well.

 

I think it's really important to bring somebody in to your struggle and invite a mentor or a mentor couple to kind of walk along side of you to help you set those boundaries, to ask you questions, to keep you accountable. Someone who's been there, done that and knows why it's worth the wait and knows why it's worth holding on to those things and unclouding yourself for the potential of what's to come. Really, you can make rules for yourself, but if you don't have someone helping you keep those rules it's going to be really hard to stick to what you want to do.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's good. That is great advice.

Chris Grace:

Debra, one of the things as we wrap this time up is we just simply have committed to working in the same area and that is helping couples and helping individuals do relationships well and that's why we even call this podcast The Art of Relationships. Just from you, where are you heading next? What's your passion, what's your heart and what do you hope to do in your ministry as you work in this? What do you see coming up for you?

Debra Fileta:

I am just following where the Lord leads to be honest. I never expected I'd even be in this world of ministry if you would have asked me five, ten, years ago, but I feel that the Lord has not given me a green light to move on from the topic of dating. I think a lot of people go though the process, they start talking about this and they get married, they talk about marriage, then they talk about parenting, especially a counselor for example who's kind of ... As you go through the stages you sort of start teaching about the stages.

 

At this point though I haven't felt like the Lord has given me a green light to move on and I find myself feeling just as passionate about this subject and so my hope is that the Lord will just continue to give me what I need to continue to write resources, to continue to put articles out there, to continue traveling and speaking and just sharing my heart with this generation. I'm really focused right now on producing courses because I'm one person and as much as I love my one-on-one time of interaction with someone, with a client, I can produce these courses now. These 21 day courses or these two week courses that people can enroll in and on their own time kind of go through this process with a workbook. It's basically like one long counselling session. I feel like God has kind of challenged me to take the information that I have and put it in digestible, teachable, bite sized chunks for people to kind of have practical resources to help them to this singleness and dating stage.

Chris Grace:

Gosh, we so relate to that. It's been one of our passions here Debra that we have just spent some time talking about marriage, relationships, dating. We work with college students, we work with couples and pastors and others. We have conferences and events here and I think one of the coolest things that Tim and I get to do is to teach a course to primarily juniors and senior undergrad students on the topic of relationships. We hit things like technology and its impact and singleness and how do you navigate healthy and unhealthy conflict, and communication patterns and it has been such a blast to do that together. Like you, we just continue to find this is just an area for us that we love to talk about and we too don't feel released yet from this and it's a great place to be because there's so much out there and there's so much need, but also such joy and passion that can be found when we do relationships well.

 

Just like you, we're just going to keep sending people your way, we're going to hope to have you come out here and see us. We're at cmr.biola.edu and we're going to have a link out there, you've got a great book True Love Dates and some other blogs and things that we think people need to see and read. No doubt they'll be contacting you. Debra thanks for spending some time with us and being here with this podcast and we're going to get you out to Biola soon and have you talk to our undergrads, get you at a chapel and bring you properly into our class.

Debra Fileta:

I'd love it. It's honestly so impressive to see, to work with a college that is so in tune to the needs of our student body and the needs of this culture. I just want to affirm you guys and what you guys are doing.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Thank you for all the investments you're making. I know you have small kids and I'm sure life must be crazy at times to add all this to your plate. These are great investments that you're making in the lives of people.

Chris Grace:

Debra thanks for joining us.

Debra Fileta:

Well, thank you so much. Thank you guys.

Chris Grace:

For the Art of Relationships at Biola University I'm Chris Grace ...

Tim Muehlhoff:

... and I'm Tim Muehlhoff

Chris Grace:

... and we're just so glad you joined us. Catch us next time and we'll see you soon. Bye bye.


The Art of Relationships Podcast

The Art of Relationships podcast, hosted by Dr. Chris Grace and Dr. Tim Muehlhoff, is centered on helping you build healthy relationships and marriages. In this podcast, Chris (director of Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and professor of psychology at Biola University) and Tim (professor of communication at Biola University and author of I Beg to Differ), weigh in on how to navigate the complexities of relationships in our culture with biblical wisdom and scholarly research. Listen to get practical insights on relationships, dating and marriage that can be applied to all relationships  — family, friends, co-workers and others.

 

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