(Photo: Courtesy of Zondervan Publishers)
Christian Counselor Debra Fileta says well-intentioned lies about romantic relationships hinder Christians from becoming the Mr. or Ms. Right for the sort of person they intend to marry, and the first place to start is by "dating inward."
"I think putting God first doesn't mean we neglect to know who we are," Fileta, author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, told The Christian Post in an interview on Wednesday. Fileta emphasized getting past the Christian myths that hinder true love, both in each individual life and in a couple's life together.
"There's so much more to becoming healthy than we realize," explained Fileta, who's a licensed professional counselor that specializes in dating, marriage and relationship issues. She suggests that, in order to develop healthy relationships, men and women must first "date inward," discovering their individual personalities before connecting with another person.
"A lot of people get so enmeshed in their relationship, you become one prematurely because you're not becoming who you are."
In cases where men and women are too willing to adapt to their lover at first, problems arise years down the road when their individualities start to emerge in marriage, causing new conflict and driving them apart. Even before dating, men and women need to invest in themselves to become who they are before connecting deeply with another person.
"The most influential person in your life is yourself," Fileta asserted. Her emphasis on dating inward does not obscure the importance of finding yourself in God, however. Indeed, she believes that "when you put God first, he challenges you to be the best you can be."
Many look to a romantic partner to satisfy their emotional needs, but according to Fileta, healing comes through Christ alone, and said it's wrong to rely on a partner to fill the holes in your life.
Nevertheless, Christian culture tells well-intentioned lies that end up causing great damage, the counselor asserted. She denounced the belief that "you will not find love until you are completely satisfied with Jesus," because it makes people doubt their love for God. Wondering whether God has not blessed them because they need to pray or read the Bible more, and they become frustrated and dejected.
Fileta also attacked the message of Joshua Harris' well-known book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, because it caused a "huge gap between Christian dating and non-Christian dating," which should not exist, she asserted. Following the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 10:31, she argued against the idea of "Christian dating."
"We are Christians who date, just like we are Christians who eat and live and do everything to God's glory." The Christian faith doesn't impact what you do so much as how you do it, she said.
The counselor also emphasized the difference between "majors" and "minors" – the important and less-important traits people should look for when considering whom to date. Many people know their "green list," what they're actually looking for, but they consider unhealthy and negative traits, which belong on a cautionary "yellow list" or a prohibited "red list," less often.
For those in a dating relationship, Fileta has developed a formula: the "seasons of dating."
In the spring, couples experience romantic feelings beginning to grow and enjoy the newness of their relationship. Summer brings hot and heavy physical desires and a much deeper knowledge of one another. With a closer relationship, summer turns to fall, when a couple must work out disagreements and manage conflict. Finally, the couple sets in to a day-to-day winter phase, when constant contact reveals whether or not they should proceed to engagement.
"It's not like they necessarily happen that way, and they're often intertwined together," the counselor admitted.
Nevertheless, she emphasized the importance of each.
Despite her Christian focus, Fileta didn't write the book just for Christians. She told CP that she hopes "it will benefit believers who are single, those who are in a dating relationship and non-Christians, because it starts out with getting healthy and whole," before proceeding to the explicitly God-focused chapter on "Dating Upward." Since people look for advice in relationships, this book could prove effective at spreading the Gospel as well as helping believers, she explained.