3 Signs of Spiritual Abuse in Dating

I recently counseled a young woman about a romantic relationship she was in. She’s told me over time many red flags that all led me to believe that she was in an emotionally abusive relationship yet she wouldn’t have exactly described it that way. What she said was, “He just cares so much about my walk that he doesn’t want to see me stumble.”

Many sin-driven Christian guys twist God’s design for romantic relationships before then using it to justify controlling, emotionally abusive behavior. 

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” Ephesians 5:22-24 

Because of all the confusion about what these verses mean, Christian women I meet with who are in these situations find themselves feeling confused about what’s abuse and what’s not. A young woman can become convinced that an abusive Christian boyfriend or husband is just exercising leadership or protecting her from stumbling.

How can she tell the difference? A few signs to look for:

  1. She Feels Forced

Because I’m a young, modern guy who self-identifies as a feminist, I used to feel uncomfortable with God’s command that my wife submit to me. “That’s so outdated and archaic,” I’d think to myself anytime I came across that part of the bible, “It was specific to those times when women didn’t have the same rights as men.”

However, true biblical submission always flows freely from a woman’s spirit and is never something forced onto her by her husband:

“Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” Colossians 3:19 NIV

A Godly relationship should never comprise of a man forcing his girlfriend or wife, whether physically or through emotional manipulation, to do anything, even something good like reading the bible or coming to church. God chose to give His daughters free will. What right does a man have to take away a gift God has intentionally given?

2. She Feels Shamed

“But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” Isaiah 50:7 ESV

Jesus died on the cross so that sin would have no power over us any longer. He also died on the cross to rid us of shame. A sign of spiritual abuse in Christian dating or marriage is when a spouse shames the other person under the guise of “convicting.”

Shame is NOT from God and a Kingdom Man practicing biblical leadership exercises every drop of spiritual authority over the devil he has to chase it out of his household and away from his woman. He doesn’t summon it, plant it, or cultivate it.

3. She Feels Degraded

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” Psalm 139:14 ESV

Every single person was bought with the ultimate price, the blood of Jesus Christ. This gives us innate dignity because we are clothed in the Son’s blood and restored to perfect righteousness.A Godly man uses his headship to restore and redeem by leading his girlfriend or wife to wholeness through the Cross.  Biblical and humble headship should never diminish or devalue the worth and dignity that have been bestowed onto a child of God.


God’s perfect plan is for men to lead with love, integrity, and humility. It can be confusing when a woman finds herself feeling emotionally or spiritually unsafe with a man, but the truth is that our Lord is not a God of confusion and He has plans to prosper us, not to harm us. Anything less than loving leadership that brings His daughters to the foot of the cross is not His will. Abuse, even when packaged in a neat Christian bow, is still abuse and no one is required to suffer through it.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1.800.799.7233

Rethinking Romantic Compatibility

Note: Large portions of this piece were written by Nina Singhapakdi.

Popular online dating website, eHarmony, brags that “every day, an average of 438 singles marry a match they met” on the website. The source of the site’s matchmaking success, it claims, is the questions that members must fill out in order to be matched with compatible partners. However, this philosophy is not groundbreaking in the least. Simply type “compatibility” into Google and your browser will be faced with thousands of websites boasting the most accurate relationship compatibility matching survey on the Internet.

Society believes that compatibility is the indicator of a relationship’s lasting power. After all, just look at all of the divorce papers citing “irreconcilable differences.” However, I understand relational compatibility much differently.

Most of the things that we deem as compatibility markers are shallow and fluid. Your partner may love the same movies, books, and sports teams that you do, but people’s tastes change. You may both harbor a lifelong dream to go to Bali, but when you finally take that trip together, what happens then?

I’m not necessarily trying to say that compatibility isn’t important. I believe it is and that’s something I look for in potential girlfriends, but I also think we’ve been understanding the concept incorrectly.

There are many couples who seem to have really solid marriages in spite of not being “technically” compatible.

The kind of compatibility that’s most important is about sharing your most important Chrisitan values (i.e. being equally yoked in the desire to build your marriage around serving the Kingdom) and having a sincere appreciation and respect for the kind of person your spouse is.

Whether your spouse is similar to you matters very little in light of your actions towards them.

Ben Young and Samuel Adams wrote, “It is not necessary or even healthy to find someone with the same personality traits. The issue has to do with your ability to accept and adapt to your partner’s personality style, assuming it will not change.”

You know those couples citing irreconcilable differences? They seemed to be “compatible” on their wedding day and their personalities haven’t changed.  What changed was most likely their treatment of one another.

I’m convinced that a couple who seems incompatible on paper yet prioritizes kindness, healthy communication, and a shared walk with God will be mighty compatible in all the important ways.

This becomes even more apparent when their relationship is held up next to the compatible-on-paper couple who’ve allowed disrespect, unhealthy communication, and emotional or physical abuse to become acceptable parts of their relationship.

Too many of us hear how important compatibility is and then enter into a narcissistic quest to find a partner who is just like us.

The truth is that people are complex and fluid. Someone who appears to be a lot like us can suddenly feel like our complete opposite on other days. I can find myself really butting heads with someone who’s really compatible with me on paper but end up having a loving, God-honoring relationship with a girl no one would have guessed I’d end up with.

Here’s my challenge to you (and to myself): Take your focus away from trying to find someone who reminds you of yourself and instead place the focus on yourself and the kind of romantic partner you want to be to them.

Work on your own emotional health. Work on how you respond to conflict, how you treat other people, and how you support others in hard times. Work on being more selfless, more loving, and more compassionate. THIS is how you TRULY find someone you’re “compatible” with, and in all of the most important ways.

Brothers Speak: The Person You Date Represents You

Last night, I skyped with my friend (and our founder), Nina, and she said something that stuck out to me, “Who we date says a lot about us and where God falls on our list of priorities.”

In my first year of college, at the age of nineteen, I started dating my second girlfriend, *Becca. Becca was smart, fun, and worshipped at the same church. We were also in the same campus bible study where I could tell that we had chemistry. All systems pointed to “Go.”

But here’s where things got tricky with Becca.

Becca disagreed with me about even the most basic aspects of following Christ. I took the lead spiritually and initiated the purity talk where I told her about my commitment to save myself for my future wife. She respected that and never tried to pressure me. But to be honest, she wasn’t on the same page and if it weren’t up to me, we would have been having sex. Also, even though she went to church and we got to know each other in a bible study, if I’d been honest with myself, I would have admitted that God wasn’t a priority in her life.

Church was two hours each week. Bible study was usually the same. Outside of that small percentage of our lives, I can say that God wasn’t on her mind or high up on her list of priorities. I don’t want to demonize her. She was a nice girl and an incredible friend to me, and what we had was real. But all the red flags, such as her jokingly saying how she just wanted to “get drunk this weekend, just once,” as she bought beers or how she’d always choose to miss church if the opportunity to go out of town with her friends presented itself, weren’t all signs of problems with just her. Truth be told, they pointed to problems with ME at the end of the day.

The biggest red flag in this situation wasn’t to do with her jokingly saying that she was going to sin by getting drunk or how she pursued God very rarely outside of Sunday morning and bible study. The biggest red flag was that I heard and saw these things, and I chose to stay yoked up to it.

When I tell this story to the kids in the youth ministry I lead, they’re always shocked. They look at me and my walk today and wonder how I could have been in that situation. The answer is simple: My walk did not have the same priority then as it does today. That’s the answer for how I was in that situation. Even though I was NEVER the kind of guy who’d talk about wanting to get drunk like it was something to laugh about and I kept myself celibate, my relationship with God had taken a back seat to popularity, sports, and Harvard Medical School applications.

Becca’s worldliness was not a dealbreaker to me because God was not the true leader of my life. I may have believed that Jesus died for my sins. I may have sung the words “Christ is Lord, Lord of all” on Sunday mornings, but I didn’t have Him in his rightful place in my life. I would say that He was Lord, but faith without works is dead and actions speak louder than words. And my actions spoke loud and clear, “Jesus is NOT the Lord of my life.”

The person you date represents you and your walk with God.

Where God falls on their list of priorities accurately represents where God falls on YOUR list of priorities. I know Becca was an accurate representation of mine.

Once I put Jesus back into His rightful place as Lord and leader of my life, that was when I ended things with Becca. I knew she wouldn’t be a good partner for me in my walk. Not only that, but I also became less and less attracted to her and more frustrated. It became obvious that she was a spiritual deadweight in my life, and not a Partner-in-Christ who would represent my values and Christ’s standing in my life the way I’d want to be represented.

The person you date says a lot about your walk with God. Choose someone who’ll represent your relationship with Him well.

Brothers Speak: What Naomi Teaches Us About Faith

The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.” (Ruth 4:14-15 NIV)

Her name meant “pleasant”, yet the Book of Ruth starts out in ruin. When Naomi left Bethlehem for Moab, she had a husband and two sons and now that they were dead, she and her two daughters-in-law were left vulnerable and helpless in a foreign land of idol worship.

Discouragement became her constant companion and her faith in God’s blessings and mercy fell to its lowest. In the first chapter, she said to her daughters-in-law: “the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.” (Ruth 1:13 ESV)

Naomi’s lack of faith was so blatant that we are even tempted to look down on it. After all, did she not know our Lord’s compassion for widows (Exodus 22: 22 – 24; Deut. 10: 17 – 18)? Did she not know His love and the covenant He made with His people (Ex. 15: 1 – 21)?

It’s easy to forget the reason her faith is so shakable:

She does not know the end of the story.

She doesn’t know the part where Jesus triumphs over sin. She doesn’t know the part where Light triumphs over darkness. We have the part in our hands where the savior is born, then dies for our sin, and then rises from the dead. Perhaps remembering that fact is what allows us to feel compassion and empathy for this glitch in her faith. But what TRULY allows me to feel compassion for her is remembering this:

I have been Naomi.

I have wrestled with God in prayer when I felt like He wasn’t listening. I’ve looked upon dark times in my life as if it were all in ruin. I’ve felt as if there was no hope left, nothing good left in the cards for me. I have been Naomi. And I think you’ve been Naomi, too.

I think you’ve had those times when tragedy, despair, and setbacks hit your life one after another like waves. I think you’ve felt like you were walking through the valley of the shadow of death from Psalm 23, except you felt fear and you didn’t feel the comfort of His rod or His staff. You wondered if he even heard your prayers. But really, the glitches and struggles in our faith have the same source as Naomi’s struggles in faith:

We don’t know how the story ends.

Now, while all of you wait for me to be struck by lightning, hear me out. I’m not talking about the big story. We know how THAT story ends. We know that our Jesus will return for His bride. We know that if we’re in relationship with Him, we’ll get to spend all of eternity with our King after death.

But we don’t know how our story here on earth ends. We know that anything that happens to us, good or bad, God will use for good.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 ESV)

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20 NIV)

But we still don’t know whether it’s in His plan for us to get everything our flesh wants. We know He intends everything for good, but we just don’t know whether He will write our story the way WE want Him to.

We are just so concerned with the temporary and the earthly. We know how the eternal story ends, yet our faith waivers because we don’t know how the earthly story ends. We know on an intellectual/theological level that God’s way is perfect.

“This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 18:30 ESV)

Yet, even though we know that His ways are superior to our own, we are not content until our flesh is. We lose faith unless our earthly story is written the way we’d write it ourselves. And sometimes, our flesh is missing out in a big way. Tragedy, loss, heartbreak, sickness.

All of these things challenge our human need for reassurance. Not a reassurance that things will be okay, but a reassurance that they’ll rearrange themselves into how our earthly selves always envisioned our earthly lives turning out.

Naomi lost her faith because God dealt her a hand that she wouldn’t have chosen for herself. Who would? But in his endless grace and loving patience, God blesses Naomi by bringing her out from ruin and returning her joy. He blesses her with renewed faith, family, and security as Boaz redeems Ruth. He used her crisis and desperate trial as a means to showcase His perfect redemptive love, provision, and grace… just as he said He would!

What I take away from Naomi is this…

You don’t need to know the ending of the story to keep faith.

What you need to know is the past. Naomi should have drawn her faith from knowing that God rescued His people from famine (Ruth 1:6), that He blessed foreigners (vv. 8, 9), and that He had made a covenant with His people. She also should have drawn her faith from the blessings through which she could have seen God’s love and provision in her life. Ruth’s pledge to Naomi is boundless.

She also should have drawn her faith from the blessings through which she could have seen God’s love and provision in her life. Ruth’s pledge to Naomi is boundless (vv. 16 – 17). She makes an oath to Naomi, using Yahweh’s name, to stay with her until death. She promises to worship Naomi’s God. She even leaves her homeland, along with most likely marriage opportunities and safety, in order to be with Naomi and the people who worship our God.

Naomi teaches us that to keep faith, we don’t need to know what’s in store for us tomorrow, whether hardship is coming (it is, by the way), or whether God gives us everything our flesh wants. We simply need to know the past. What God’s already done for us, the ways He’s kept His promises, how we can look back on our past trials to see how He’s used them for His glory.

Now, when I move through difficult seasons of my life, I can hold onto faith not because I know what God’s going to do with my trial, but because God and I have a history and He has never let me down.

Brothers Speak: Girls, You Are Not “Goods”

As a college ministry leader at a small church in Boston, I get to shepherd young Christians in a transitional stage of their lives. College is an interesting age for the Christian; I learn a ton about following Jesus in today’s world just by ministering to college students. One of the most disturbing trends I’ve noticed is a common pattern of behavior in guys entrenched in purity culture.

Don’t get me wrong: I esteem and cherish purity. Purity is sacred. Purity is beautifully radical. It’s a romantic rebellion; it goes against the patterns of the world in pursuit of something holier. It honors your future spouse. It prevents you from handing out spousal privileges to boyfriends and girlfriends. And, most importantly, God commanded it.

“Choose this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15)

However, many young Christian guys take their values to the point of shaming girls who’ve fallen into sexual sin. Does the insult “damaged goods” ring a bell?

Girls, you are NOT goods.

Your purity is not a “good”. Your body and your virginity are not “goods.” You are a being who is fearfully and wonderfully made and a new creation clothed with the blood of our blameless Lord. You are worth more than rubies. You are worth the price that Jesus paid for you on the cross. So with all this being said, it’s safe to say that you are worthy of so much more in your love story than a guy who takes away your dignity and humanity by talking about you as “goods.”

Christians who are being intentional don’t get married just because they love someone.

The God-fearing bible-following Christian recognizes that marriage was created by God for a specific purpose.

The purpose and goal of a marriage for a Christ-follower is to GLORIFY God through it.

It’s to serve and strengthen the Kingdom. NOT to get companionship and spend your entire life with the person you’re in-love with (although those are all both good reasons and partly why God felt that it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone without an Eve).

The Bible is very on what it expects from husbands (and boyfriends, aka “husbands to be”!) The God-given standard to which a Godly husband/boyfriend is expected to lead His wife or girlfriend is outlined right in Ephesians.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25)

Any guy a Christian girl yokes herself with is called to love her with a love that mirrors the love Jesus has for the church. That includes viewing her in the way Jesus views her. And Jesus does not view her as goods.

Girls, you are not goods.

There is a price that you have, no doubt. But it is not defined by your sin or whether your virginity is intact. It’s defined by the price Jesus ALREADY paid for you when He died for you on the cross, all so He could have a relationship with you.

You can do so much better than a guy who views you a “goods.” You can do better than to seek the attention of a guy is not capable or even worthy of fulfilling the calling of a biblical husband and leader as outlined in that verse above.

Whatever your story is. Whatever your sexual history is. I hope you remember that Jesus wiped the slate clean for you. For all of us.

Don’t be discouraged. Don’t lose heart. There are real Godly men out there who are praying for you and wondering when they’ll get to meet you. Good men willing and able to be biblical husbands who’ll see you the way God sees you.

Redeemed by His love.

Sins wiped clean by His blood.

Fearfully and wonderfully made.

And so so beloved.


Brothers Speak: Examine What He Allows Into His Walk

I’d like to share a small story with you that took place back in 2013.

After a long day in med school filled with a messy dissection and two tests, I was stoked to head to the movies after work with a few of my classmates. Like many people, I am a huge fan of Leonardo DiCaprio. He chooses interesting roles with great directors, his acting is top-notch, and everything he touches turns to gold.

I’d been waiting excitedly for The Wolf of Wall Street to come out for months. You fellow fans out there reading this know that he doesn’t come out with a film very often; that probably added to the excitement. So, fast forward to the afternoon. Here we are, each of us finished with our last class. We get to the theater, find our seats, and soon the movie starts.

Those of you who’ve either seen the movie or read the reviews that year know that the movie is infamous for what I discovered on that opening day: It’s filled to the brim with the flesh. It’s known for its profanity, explicit sex scenes, and depictions of debauchery.

About 5 or 10 minutes into the film, I left and went home. I didn’t try and make up an excuse to them. I didn’t try and explain what my personal convictions were. I didn’t try to explain at all. I just said, “I shouldn’t be here, I’m out,” and got out of there.

In the eyes of the World, what I did was radical.

It didn’t make a lot of sense. It was extreme. And from their eye-rolling perspective, I was being uncool. But as Christians, we are called to guard ourselves against impurity and all temptation to sin.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23 NIV)

What a Christian allows into their lives – into their hearts, their minds, their eyes, their habits – is a direct reflection of what’s their heart, their values, and their character. It’s also a reflection of where their walk with God lands in their list of priorities.

I want to remind my sisters in Christ of something important:

You get to choose who you allow to pursue your heart.

You may not be the pursuers, but you get to choose whether or not you say “yes” to that date. You get to choose whether that guy gets to talk on the phone with you, or tell him that you aren’t interested in exploring a relationship with him. That’s why it’s necessary for you, as a woman who desires to honor God in her relationships, to examine what the guy allows into his heart and mind. What habits have become acceptable behavior in his life?

I have a truth bomb to drop, and this might sting a little bit:

A guy who goes online to watch videos of strangers having sex, should not be pursuing one of God’s daughters. Period.

To have respect for God requires having respect for what belongs to God. Men of God respect the things of God — His daughters, His people, and His laws and commandments.

We are called to honor our sisters. To honor them as fearfully and wonderfully made by a holy and all-powerful God. To clothe them in dignity.

“For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” (Ephesians 5:23)

God’s plan is for men to lead in relationships. As your brothers, it is His plan for us to lead our sisters to the cross. He’s given us the responsibility to make sure that the romantic relationship is Christ-centered. How is a man who lets sin into his heart and mind so casually deserving or capable of this immense privilege and responsibility?

A man won’t lead you to the cross if he’s not even concerned enough to walk in that direction. Don’t choose a leader who can’t even lead himself. If a guy can’t be trusted with his own walk, I sure wouldn’t trust him with yours.

Choose a man who guards his walk.

A man who views it as worth protecting, not something to toss in the backseat when inconvenient. Make it a priority to examine what he allows into his life, and whether he refuses to take in ungodly content and images.

If you’re on a date walking around the mall and you pass the giant Victoria’s Secret banners in front of their store, what does he do? How does he respond? Does he make an effort to avert his eyes or does he take it all in? Those five seconds tell you a lot about his heart and whether he’s made a promise to himself and to his future wife to guard his eyes, heart, and mind.

How about in the girls he passes throughout his day who are dressed more revealingly? How about in the content he chooses to habitually consume? The TV shows he loyally watches, the movies he goes to see, and the Instagram accounts he follows can all be a reflection of where his walk with the Lord falls on his list of priorities.

This is not to say that a guy has to turn down ALL secular activities to be Godly.

Not every piece of secular content is inherently sinful or vulgar. There are secular TV shows, movies, and Instagram accounts that dial down on the profanity and sexual content. Some of these can even be edifying! An example would be the Instagram accounts for travel and culture magazines.

But if a man willingly fills his mind with sin and spiritual garbage on a regular basis, that raises the following questions like (a) where does God fall on his list of priorities and (b) if God does or DID fall high on the list of priorities, what is all of this doing to his heart and mind?

I will never regret that time I walked out of the movie theater. Even though it made me look “uncool” to my secular friends; I don’t live for the opinion of man, I live for the Lord. I know that I made the decision that aligns with the faith I proclaim, and that I took steps to protect my walk that night. And that is something a child of God should NEVER have to apologize for.