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Is Your Dating Relationship Healthy?

Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace pose for the cover of The Art of Relationships Podcast.

Maybe you're dating someone and you want to know, is this going well? In today's episode, Chris and Alisa Grace dive into five signs of healthy dating and give helpful tips to assess whether the person you're dating is right for you.

Speaker 1: Welcome to another Art of Relationships Podcast, we are grateful for listeners like you, let's get right into it.

Alisa Grace: Hey, welcome to another episode of The Art of Relationships. I'm Alisa Grace, co-director of the center of Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships. And my wonderful hunky co-host over there is my wonderful husband, Dr. Chris Grace.

Chris Grace: Hey Alisa, it's good to be here with you. This is so fun to talk about, I think in the last couple of podcasts, we've been talking about dating, dating and marriage, and then as you prepare to date as a second podcast. And I think we get requests to talk about relationships in general but we get a lot of requests and a lot of students stopping by saying, I'm in this date or I'm going on a date or I've been on a few and here are some things, is this good or is this bad? How do I interpret that?

Alisa Grace: Well, I love it because students really want to do it well, they want to love well, they want to treat each other well, they want to date in a way that is really honoring to the Lord as well as the other person and themselves, and that's so encouraging, I really love that.

Chris Grace: Yeah, I do too. A lot of people have figured out that this is a very, I don't know, transformative moment in their lives, it could lead down a certain path and they take it very seriously. I think unfortunately, there are a lot of people that don't have someone they can turn to for advice or maybe there's not a healthy person, maybe their parents aren't the best people to help them with their-

Alisa Grace: Or their friends, their friends are worse off than they are.

Chris Grace: Right. And so we have this center we developed it in part because students get to come by and we have free relationship advice and we have probably two, 300 students every year that come by. In fact, we have people listening to this podcast from whatever state, Kentucky, Connecticut, Wisconsin, that call up and say, hey, I heard that you offer free relationship advice, I just got a question for you. And we talked to them and give them some thoughts, mostly listen, and then share some ideas. And so listen to that as you're doing this, think about people out there and how lucky I think some of us are when we found that person that's a healthy model and we're able to use that.

So, Alisa, what would you say, let's start with some of these really healthy things that if you're on a date and you see these things or feel these things, you're probably heading down the right path. We've talked in some previous podcasts about setting up boundaries and you've done all of that and you've thought through how far you want to go, how slow you want to take this and what dating means to you. And so now you're in this, maybe you're shipped, right? You're in a relationship and your friends have shipped you, what are the good signs? What would you say are marks of a emotionally or whatever, healthy dating relationship?

Alisa Grace: Well, I think we've identified five really key areas to look at that are signs of healthy dating. And I think one of the first ones is that it's mutually enjoyable and ongoing as the relationship progresses. A lot of times you get to the point where one person can really be all in and enjoying it and the other one is like, not so much. And so that might be a key that maybe that relationship needs to start but Chris, what do you think about that?

Chris Grace: No, I love that. Mutually enjoyable, it's that idea that there are more smiles and fun and delight than disappointment, right? You would say it's more mutually enjoyable when there's more giving, right? Than taking. You get someone to talk to you but they listen to you and if that's happening, you feel comfortable, maybe even a little bit vulnerable, you laugh easily. I mean, laughing and having a mutual enjoyment over something that you do together, that laughing is really fun. And I guess maybe it's enjoyable because the other person kind of gets you, right?

Alisa Grace: Yeah. It's that element of a friendship that you enjoy even in the midst of the romance. And I think that's what a lot of people miss that are dating today, is that they miss the key importance that friendship plays. And you think about what makes a healthy friendship and one is that, you just enjoy hanging out with that person. You like them as you get to know them more and more, you enjoy being around them, you laugh together, you share core values-

Chris Grace: Accomplishments, successes.

Alisa Grace: Yeah. And it's such a basis that here we've been married for 38 years and I can still honestly look over at you and say, you know what? I would rather hang out with you more than anybody else in this world. And you're laying the foundation of that in a dating relationship, it should be there when you're dating, if it's not, that's a red flag.

Chris Grace: No, that's good. Mutually enjoyable, man, you treat each other with respect and fondness and there's just more smiles and fun and laugh. All right, so Alisa, mutually enjoyable. I mean, probably it goes without saying but there are some who struggle with spiritual compatibility. And I think what I mean by it goes without saying is, there really should be a foundation of a shared worldview value and spiritual compatibility has got to be high on that list. In fact people will ask, I'm dating this person and they're not a Christian, I am, or even vice versa. We've had people call and say, I'm not a Christian but I'm dating someone that is, what do I do? Or is that okay? I really like them, we really like each other, what are your thoughts? Mutual compatibility, man, is going to be huge especially if this gets more serious.

Alisa Grace: Well, it really, really is because spiritual issues go to the heart of who the person is, it's the foundation that their values grow out of. And when there's an incompatibility spiritually, that means that there's probably some pretty significant incompatibilities with your values, with those core issues that make you who you are. I think another danger of spiritual incompatibility is later on down the road, yeah, it could be while you're dating or if you get married, that you are going to have some tough, tough times that you go through. And whether it's circumstances, like one of you is diagnosed with cancer and you're going through a year of chemotherapy and surgeries and, man, that just kicks your butt. And how you process that, how you endure that really has a lot to do with your spiritual inclinations, do you think Chris?

Chris Grace: Yeah, it does, it has such a huge impact. So you're unemployed and you keep looking for work and you question, what do I do? And that other person comes alongside and if they have that same value, you can talk and pray and share your heart, if they don't, sometimes you view the world differently. And so now all of a sudden you're in like you said, a difficult situation, maybe a loss, a trauma that you experienced. And now that core, that thing that you hold onto is something you're not sharing with the other person and pretty soon you see as great divide, in fact, you have to go to somebody else for some of the spiritual nourishment and then it affects things like children and church attendance, all of those things. So.

Alisa Grace: What if you have two Christians, they're both believers, but they have some key theological differences?

Chris Grace: Yeah. No. We get that a little bit too. I think it all depends on what the theology doctrine is at this point. I mean, if it's about baptism, that you should be baptized as an adult not as a child, let's say. Well, I really don't think that that should stop you from dating and getting married and it's just something you can live and work with, you take your children and you do both maybe or whatever you want to do, so there are some theological doctrines that aren't that important. But if there is one, anything related to your solid core beliefs, if you had to narrow down what's important to you and for Christians, they would say what's critical to me is my view of Jesus, my view of God's word, my view of who God's nature is.

And so if Jesus in your mind was the son of God, is the son of God, died for our sins, rose again and we call him savior Lord, let's say. And another person maybe has a little bit of doctrine issue that, oh, you don't have to really make that kind of a commitment, a belief about Jesus, there are lots of ways that God listens to us and gets to us. Well, I think you've got a core theological doctrinal issue that can and will have an impact probably on your relationship.

Alisa Grace: That's a good point.

Chris Grace: What do you think?

Alisa Grace: Really good point. Okay. And then I think another key issue to think about is emotional safety. So when you think about emotional safety, what comes to mind for you on that Chris?

Chris Grace: Yeah, I think this is where you could be vulnerable with your feelings and you feel accepted for example, so I might tell a person on a date. So I remember going on a date and it was a time in my college career, baseball was starting to not turn out the way I thought it would turn out. And I remember feeling so like, oh man, this is hard. The other person that I was dating at the time really kind of didn't hear it, I felt like they were kind of dismissive of it like, oh, well, whatever, it's not that big of a deal and I'm thinking, well, maybe it's not that big of a deal but it seemed like a big deal to me. And I remember thinking, I just didn't walk away feeling heard and that influence I don't think that was what I would call emotionally safe, I think people in an emotionally safe relationship can make a mistake and not fear being judged, right? I can speak openly about my thoughts or emotions.

In essence Alisa, I think it means that you can be yourself and you feel heard when expressing your feelings and that is emotionally safe. If you have this warmth or delight or there's a lot of compassion or sympathy and there's not a lot of negative interactions, it's safe. But here's where it's not safe, right? If there's jealousy, criticism, contempt, defensiveness, harsh startups, those are not emotionally safe. So we've talked to some students who've said, I'm in this relationship and they really kind of dismiss me a lot or they kind of say critical things about my friends, they're really mean about my friends and they just say, gosh, your friend is stupid, blah, blah, blah. Well, I'm going to tell you that to me is not usually emotionally safe because they are doing a pretty strong negative feeling back of this criticism that is probably going to be turned on you one day. And so emotionally safe I think, Alisa, is that.

Alisa Grace: Yeah. Another aspect of emotional safety would be, how do they treat you when you mess up? Do they explode? Do they just hammer you about it? Do they keep bringing it up and they just can't let it go? And they can't forgive you? Well, and depending how big it is, the mess up. But we're talking about just ordinary little things like, oh man, I was supposed to pick that up, I told you I'd stop by the store and pick that up and I absolutely forgot, gosh, I'm sorry, something like that. Are you able to make a mistake and not be beat up about it?

Chris Grace: Yeah, that's good. So we talked about, it's mutually enjoyable, there's a lot of spiritual compatibility, a good dating sign for us when we see this happening Alisa, if you're in a relationship in which there's also not just emotional safety but there's a lot of trust, right? I mean, that ideally is I think trust is I can share something with you, it may not even be the deepest secret, but it is actually kept by you, you don't go share that with all your friends or you don't post it. Or there are certain pictures that some people don't want posted or certain events that other people rush and they put it out there and all of a sudden you begin to feel in something that is not marked by trust relationship where you don't know what's coming next and you don't know which picture they're going to post or what they're going to say and you're like-

Alisa Grace: So they're predictable in a positive way.

Chris Grace: Yeah. So I think there's this, not just a mutual care but, here's another one that's trust, if they don't want you to spend time with your friends and family, if they are-

Alisa Grace: They're jealous.

Chris Grace: ... Yeah. There's this expectation that, no, you just hang out with me versus there's trust in that they should be able to invest in other relationships because I trust that our relationship has a foundation that's good and strong.

Alisa Grace: You say the opposite of trust might be insecurity?

Chris Grace: Yeah, I do.

Alisa Grace: Is that an element of it in your mind?

Chris Grace: Yeah. I think insecurity, maybe even this inability to accept the other person in a way as who they are, and I think that is a little bit of insecurity. And you have to be really careful if you're dating somebody like that or if you're struggling with insecurity because you could say and do things that are pretty mean and wrong. I just heard about-

Alisa Grace: Like why didn't you text me back right away? Who were you with? What were you doing?

Chris Grace: Yeah, I think that's a good one.

Alisa Grace: Did I interrupt you?

Chris Grace: No, I think that's exactly right. Yeah.

Alisa Grace: I think an aspect of this that a healthy relationship is marked by trust, is not only thinking about the person that you're dating but also a time to do some self evaluation. Am I that kind of person? Am I dependable? Do I follow through with what I say I'm going to do on a regular basis? Do I keep confidences when someone entrusts a deep thought or deep secret to me? Do I do what I say I'm going to do? That's pretty big, trust is a big one.

Chris Grace: I think it really is. So we talked about, you're in probably a good healthy dating relationship. If it's mutually enjoyable, there's a lot of spiritual compatibility, right? You feel emotionally safe with this person accepted and then it's marked by a lot of trust. So those are four, I think another one Alisa is there are not a lot of, which we're going to talk about on another podcast, not a lot of yellow flags or red flags or potential things that are maybe not so good, there's just not a lot of those. I think when we first started dating, we were just surprised that we not only got along so well, we had all of these things in common, we just didn't see a whole lot of yellow flags and we'll talk about what those are. So Alisa, I mean, I think those are five things you can start to look for in a healthy relationship.

They did this great study, I think it was, Alisa, maybe out of the Journal of Personality, I can't remember where it was, but they did a cool little study on the compatibility list of what people like and dislike and traits that are most valued in a potential mate, do you remember that? And I was interested because here's the question, do you think men value potential traits in a date at a different level than women do or are we more alike in what we want in another person? What do you think?

Alisa Grace: I think overall we're more alike than we are different, I think we have much more in common. I think where we might differ would be how we rank order them, what do you think?

Chris Grace: Oh yeah. So give me an example of something that you think both men and women would rate highly on a list of somebody that they want in a date, I think they're going to say, well, one of the big words in social psychology and personality is the word warm, right? Warm, and people say, I want somebody that's warm.

Alisa Grace: Does that mean friendly?

Chris Grace: Yeah, friendly. There's a sense to them. I mean, the word kind is a subset of that word, right? In fact, you could almost substitute kind with warm, but it's a little bit broader or bigger. And in fact, this study, I think, found that the word warm was high on the list of people. Now, they were just given words and told to rank order them and they put warm way up there, they put reliable way up there, what else do you remember?

Alisa Grace: One that was interesting is that they both rated equally the same the idea of fairness, that the other person is fair. That's interesting because I would not have considered that particular word, I don't think, that's not what would come to mind.

Chris Grace: Yeah. I guess if you're given a list and that word fair is on there, what it seems to me Alisa is if maybe you're dating somebody and you see a quality in them in which they're unfair, it almost feels like fairness is a bigger thing that points to a deeper characteristic like they're not kind or they don't look out for others or they're not as sociable. I mean, to be unfair, better yet the positive, somebody that's not just warm and not just reliable, let's say, but they're fair and I think that's like, they just seem to take on, they have a higher standard maybe of morality and that says I think fairness is a big deal for a lot of people.

Alisa Grace: That's really interesting, I like that. I like that word, I wouldn't have thought of that. But another one that came up almost equally on both for men and women was knowledgeable, intelligent and knowledgeable. Now that's interesting that they differentiated in this study between being intelligent and being knowledgeable, what do you think is the difference?

Chris Grace: Yeah. Well, I think what happens is somebody who at least shows an awareness to me when I think somebody is knowledgeable in a healthy way, there's unhealthy ways of being knowledgeable, they know it all. But I think why people put that word up there higher on the list, both men and women is that they just seem to be aware of things, they've lived a little bit, they just haven't been in this COVID induced cave and they never get out, but instead they're knowledgeable about things of the world or there's more to them than just playing video games, let's say. A guy on a video game all day long, and pretty soon you don't have a whole lot to talk about with them and the conversations run out quickly because they just don't have a knowledge of the broader world, they're always invested in something else. But someone who's knowledgeable has a breadth I think.

Alisa Grace: Yeah. I think that's a great point. And it makes me think of one of our children who shall remain nameless, who was dating another person, one of our daughters. And one of the reasons that she ended up breaking it off after just a couple of months, I think they'd been dating three or four months, was because I think her having been raised in a very academic environment where we are, we have a lot of academicians that are friends, at the dinner table we talk about deep ideas, we love to unpack things like that, we read a lot, she's been exposed a lot and traveled a lot. And so for someone her age, she has a breadth that maybe a lot of her friends or other kids her age don't have and that was a hard one for her, that's why she ended up breaking up is that honestly, she just got a little bored. So. Which is too bad because we really liked him.

Chris Grace: Yeah, he's a good kid.

Alisa Grace: He's nice but she's a little bored.

Chris Grace: Yeah, he is nice, continues to be nice, but he just wasn't the right person for them. And I think those are the kinds of things that in a healthy relationship, you figure out, you share that. And I think what we would call deal makers, things that are a go traits in the other person that we want and they meet them, they make us laugh of course, and they make us feel loved, all of the lists that we gave before. And in addition to that there's a bunch of other things on this list, if you want to go look at it I think it's these personality, characteristics and mate preferences as they called it and it's the Journal of Personality back in 2006. So Alisa, let's kind of start thinking about wrapping this up. You're dating somebody, you want to know is this going well? It sure feels like it, do you trust your gut when you go, man, this just feels right, it just feels good. I think a lot of people need to trust their gut.

Alisa Grace: I think so too. And I think there's a question that when we have students come in that want to ask our opinion, should I be dating this guy? What do you think about this issue? What about this girl? I'm not sure if this is a big deal or not. One of the questions that we ask them is that, if nothing ever got any better or any worse about this particular issue in your relationship, could you live with it for the next 60 years and be happy? When you put it in that context of longevity, you can put up with a lot just short term but when you start thinking, could I live with this for 60 years if it never got any better and never got any worse? And one of the key phrases that we teach our students that I just love is that you marry patterns not potential, you marry patterns.

And in terms of identifying patterns, you just have to give yourself and your relationship the gift of time. It just takes time seeing them in different situations over a period of a year or two years, you want to see how they interact with their families, how do they deal with their finances? How do they deal with big disappointments or hurts or when they get angry? And that just takes time, you can't rush that. And so you want to keep in mind, marry patterns not potential.

Chris Grace: Oh man, that's tweetable right there, that's real good. I remember dating in college and there was a girl, that whole idea of patterns at least and seasoned, so for the first semester, the season was really fun, right? I mean, I guess that would be the spring season, right? And it's just-

Alisa Grace: The infatuation.

Chris Grace: ... Yeah, infatuation. And then right toward the end of that semester we were dating and it was during finals and we're studying together and I remember I'm just kind of playful, messing around, trying to, I don't know, get rid of the boredom, or having to study for finals and just the stress and doing something like, I just threw a piece of paper at her direction and she turned and was really snippy mad and she kind of went, "Stop it, I'm trying to study."

And I remember thinking, ah, I couldn't tell really if that was joking, but she seemed really serious. And I get it, I probably shouldn't have thrown the paper and I know now I shouldn't have thrown it a second time because she was like, oh my God, wow. And it really took me back and I remember, okay, don't throw paper anymore during finals week and somebody to bid for attention to have fun. And I remember at that moment going, there is absolutely no way I can do this, that was an eye-opener kind of shock, we simply didn't date much after that. We kind of broke it off slowly over the next couple of weeks.

Alisa Grace: And you even had a girlfriend where you all didn't really necessarily share the same sense of humor. Which is interesting because I don't see that on this list from the Journal of Personality up to 20 characteristics, a sense of humor, that would be way up there for me. But you had a girlfriend that didn't share the same sense of humor.

Chris Grace: No. I would laugh at for example, something like a Far Side it's an old comic strip that some of you might be familiar with, if you're not familiar-

Alisa Grace: Gary Larson.

Chris Grace: ... Yeah, just Google Gary Larson's Far Side. So I'm just dying laughing because he brought the original comic strips into a museum in some state, I won't tell you where. And I took someone on a date and we were walking around and I'm dying laughing at all these things where there's an animal like a deer and it had a birthmark right on its heart and the birthmark looked exactly like a target. And all the friends would tease the other deer and say, wow, that's a bummer of a birthmark Hal, I'm saying it was Hal but whatever. And they all would tease him, bummer of a birthmark, but it was this target right on.

Alisa Grace: Air spear. The woolly mammoth.

Chris Grace: Yeah. If they threw the spear and missed the other hunters would yell, air spear, and I'm dying laughing, man, I'm walking around going, oh my God. And people on all the museum, different places, are dying laughing at these original works by Gary Larson. And she just sits there kind of like, yeah well, I don't really get that whole target thing. I'm like, it's like a target, and so a hunter doesn't, and she goes, oh yeah, okay, air spear, what does that mean? Like, well, you go to a basketball game, a guy misses a shot and he doesn't hit the rim, everybody else, air ball.

Alisa Grace: It's like if you have to explain it, it's not funny anymore.

Chris Grace: So yeah, that one didn't last very long, I'll be honest with you.

Alisa Grace: I didn't even know that about you until we were married. That first year we were married, do you remember I bought you just as a little a gift? I showed up at your office at school with a Gary Larson, comic book, a collection of them and gave it to you just as a little gift and then I think that's when you told me about that old girlfriend.

Chris Grace: Yeah. Well, you and I sit there and laugh over Gary Larson and it's just absolutely fun.

Alisa Grace: We still laugh at everything.

Chris Grace: Yeah. I think you're right Alisa, I think that's high on the list. So those are really good signs, good qualities, right? And I think that when we talked about healthy dating, that mutual enjoyable, that's where the humor comes in. So if you're in a good relationship you all, that's the signs of healthy and that's what we see, right? They're mutually enjoyable, there's some spiritual compatibility, other things Alisa.

Alisa Grace: Emotional safety.

Chris Grace: Yeah. There's trust and marked by trust and then there's just not a lot of red flags. So, well, I'll tell you what, that's fun, that's a great way. I think what's going to be interesting is you and I need to have the next podcast on what are the signs and what do you do when there are yellow flags.

Alisa Grace: And deal breakers. Those are the red lights we want to talk about.

Chris Grace: Yeah. Yellow lights and red lights because they're borderline. What do you do for example, if somebody is following inappropriate posts or making inappropriate posts? Well, what do you think, you're on talking about that next time?

Alisa Grace: Yeah, we'll do that next, sounds great.

Chris Grace: All right. So go check out our website and-

Alisa Grace:

Chris Grace: Yeah. All kinds of resources there. And a big shout out and thanks to those that have made this podcast possible here at Biola and-

Alisa Grace: Yeah. Whatever platform you're on, if you would go on and go hit those stars, give us a five-star rating, we would love that. And also any comments, if you have some questions, occasionally we'll do question and answers Q&A time. And if you have a question or issue you want us to address during this podcast, send it in, we'll be happy to take a look at it and maybe cover it on the program.

Chris Grace: Yeah, we will man. Fun stuff. Bummer of a birthmark Hal. Okay, buddy, hey, good to talk with you.

Alisa Grace: Bye bye.

Speaker 1: Thanks for listening to The Art of Relationships. This podcast is only made possible through generous donations from listeners just like you. If you like it and want to help keep the podcast going, visit our website at and make a donation today.