11 Tips for Living Chastely When You’re in a Serious Relationship
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Embracing chastity and starting to foster it is not always an easy task. If you come from a Catholic background and you have heard it since you were young then perhaps it’s more simple. It gets complicated when, like St. Augustine, conversion happens as an adult and it’s only then you begin to understand what chastity is and the importance of purity in your life. From the same saint and Doctor of the Church, then, we learn how difficult it was for him to conquer this virtue, and how he would often pray, “Lord, give me chastity… but not yet” (God gave it to him, in the moment that God appointed and Saint Augustine embraced it wholeheartedly.)
Today St. Augustine’s famous prayer still makes a lot of sense, when talking about chastity can sound insane. Who wants to confront the world on matters of sexuality – what it most stands for and most “enjoys” today? Our confused, pleasure-maximizing world doesn’t want to see that chastity is a beautiful virtue that allows us to discover who we are and what we are called to. It is not simply waiting until we are married before we have sex and abstaining while you’re single. No way! Chastity is so much more; it is a virtue that incorporates the whole of human sexuality and allows us to live it correctly. Explaining this in a secular world is a mammoth task, almost impossible. So imagine what a girl must go through, and even more so a guy, who has chosen to embrace and foster this virtue as an adult. Who’s “only” going to want to hold my hand when I’m almost 30? As crazy as that question might sound, in a world as sexualised as the one we live in, it’s completely valid.
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I’ve heard so many girls and quite a few guys say that going out with someone these days is almost an exercise in survival. They say the options are limited to only going out with Catholics and that the available dating pool is, to make matters more difficult, either very slim or fraught with other faith-based conflicts. It’s exhausting to constantly feel like the odd one out, or to have to defend your lifestyle a thousand and one times. The prejudice that people have against you is enormous and it limits your options.
What we have in common as human beings is that we are all looking for love, that is, to love and to be loved, and it is here that we Christians have a massive advantage: We know Him who is Love itself. Having said this, I’m daring to offer some advice that someone gave me a while ago about relationships in the world today and chastity. I have kept this advice safe in my heart and today I share it with you:
1. Friendship is really important.
A good relationship begins with a good friendship. How can you say you love someone if you don’t know them? You may find someone very attractive but beyond that attraction, who is that person? Friendship is a beautiful path to walk along. Learn to be a good friend first. I heard Jason Evert say something along the lines of, “How many movies do you remember where true friendship is shown between a man and a woman without them having had a sexual relationship?” And it’s true, we’re buying into the idea that friendship between a man and a woman must at some point involve a sexual relationship. And that just isn’t true.
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2. Know yourself and establish what it is that you want.
Before being with someone, you have to know what is it is you want for yourself and what you expect from the other person. If you don’t know what you want then it is better not to start any kind of relationship. It’s important that you know yourself, that you have asked yourself at least some sort of question about your vocation, and whether or not marriage is really for you. It could be that you are not too sure about why you are going out with someone: Just for something to do? So that you don’t feel alone? Be responsible and don’t play with other people’s feelings. Ask yourself what you want, and above all ask yourself what sort of person you are looking for. Failing to do this is to run the risk that more than one of you will end up getting hurt.
3. Don’t bombard someone with arguments they wont understand. Use your initiative.
It can seem like you’ve got to be on the defensive from the first date – and you don’t even know the other person’s last name… Instead of making a scene, or worse still finding yourself in an uncomfortable situation where you can only defend yourself by saying that you’re Catholic and that you believe in chastity and blah, blah, blah… you’ve got to be more astute. Chastity makes sense with God in the picture. If you know that the other person is not Catholic (or is only nominally so), then trying to explain to them straight away what chastity is is going to be a waste of time or even provocative for some. You can’t discuss your personal life with someone you don’t know. If you don’t want the other person to touch you or if they suggest something immoral, avoid it, change the subject, and don’t be left alone together. In other words, would you get into a stranger’s car by yourself? No. Go back to the first point: before going out with someone, be friends first!
4. Share your values and come to an agreement together.
Being Catholic implies living a life of chastity. Living chastely is not just abstaining from sex, but truly knowing who you are as a man or as a woman. Chastity is using your sexuality in the right way. Commit yourself to understanding what chastity means for you in your life, take some time to learn about it, receive the Sacraments often and make a lifelong commitment between you and God. He is the One who will give you the strength that you need to overcome your challenges. What’s more, He will overcome them with you.
5. Raise the bar.
I must’ve heard it said so many times, “that’s just what men are like.” I have a little boy, he’s still really young, but each time I hear that expression I think of him: never, and I mean never would I want anyone to give into his weaknesses and to not challenge him to be a better person, to give the best of himself. We women are able to transform any old geezer into a gentleman in as much as we can raise the bar. So be specific and set the limit. People are afraid, and I believe that it’s partly due to peer pressure to having to go out with someone, just for the sake of it, and on the other hand and significantly it’s due to a lack of faith. Raise the bar, demand respect.
6. Use humour and your intelligence
Humour is always a good ally. You don’t have to argue over your religion or your position with someone with whom you are supposed to be in a potentially serious relationship. If you are together it is because there is love and affection between you. Use your sense of humour and intelligence. If that person doesn’t know about God, challenge him or her to investigate, to talk to other people. You don’t have to come up with all the answers (you might not know all of them, or maybe you’ve got weak arguments). This is a challenge for you too, to educate yourself and reinforce your faith and your decision to follow Christ. There is no better evangelisation than your own testimony and joy. Take your partner’s arguments with good humour and challenge him to do his own investigation.
7. Get to know their family and their friends (and vice-versa). Spend time together with other people.
For this, refer again to the first point: be friends. Often when a relationship starts and especially when the physical side enters in, the couple tend to isolate themselves and they begin to live in a world of their own illusions. In this way you lose objectivity, you only know one side of things, and it is obviously insincere for someone who lives chastely to always be alone with their boyfriend or girlfriend. Get to know how he or she gets on with his or her friends, with his or her family. Other people are witnesses of the existence of each of us and are good reference points, especially when you are getting to know someone.
8. Learn to communicate. Listen. Speak. Listen.
And in that order. How can you get to know someone if you’re the only one who speaks and makes yourself known and you only ever speak about yourself? (This is more frequent in girls than in guys. It is in our nature.) Learn to listen, however few or however many words someone has to say to you, don’t be afraid to ask and don’t be afraid to answer. The questions and answers that we receive will reveal to us who that someone is.
9. If you are unsure about something, you have every right to ask for clarity, and you can always say no.
“I don’t know if we’re going out, if we’re just friends or if we’re already a couple.” I’ve heard it so many times! Ask! It’s your life! You have the right to ask and to say no, to set a limit on what you don’t like. If you’re close to someone, you know each other well and your relationship is a bit more intimate than just friendship and suddenly they say, “I don’t want anything serious,” well the only thing left to say is that you’ve got to get out of there on the double or clear things up. No one has the right to play games with your life, nor you with anyone else’s.
10. Don’t keep going out with someone just because one day you hope they’ll change.
“I know he’ll change, he is good deep down.” Going out with someone with the hope that they’ll change for you is fairly arrogant and quite insincere. You’re not only putting yourself at risk, but perhaps all you’re doing is going out with someone imaginary, and the reality is quite different to what you believe. The process of change is something personal, it is a decision one makes on one’s own enlightened by God’s grace. I know breaking up with someone you find attractive is really hard. Look for advice and help.
11. Trust in God. Don’t forget your spiritual life.
© Marc Brüneke/Flickr
The virtue of chastity is lived from the hand of God. Receive the Sacraments often, build a relationship with God. Make your life a prayer. It’s true these are stock phrases and you’ve heard them before. It’s time to put them into action. Have a look at our resources that can teach you how to pray, how to make a good examination of conscience and how to let Jesus become a great friend of yours.
Chastity is a road worth walking. A chaste marriage, in which the couple were able to wait so that they could give of themselves completely and for the rest of their lives is a really beautiful gift. The wounds of a disordered life cause real pain and risks to a future marriage, and although God will have indeed forgiven you and even given you the grace of having a chaste marriage, there are many things which don’t disappear – memories which may wound you, impede your receptivity to your spouse, and weigh you down. It’s not worth it. Chastity will always be the best option for true love between a man and a woman. Remember: there are many people just like you, perhaps they don’t say it because gosh is it difficult to say out loud, and furthermore a little discretion never hurt when it comes to your private life.
Just remember that there are many others who like you are longing for true love.
“Such is the fight that you must sustain: a continuous struggle against the flesh, the devil and the world. But do not fear; because He who is sending us out to do battle is not an indifferent spectator, neither has He said that you should rely on your own strength alone.” ( – St. Augustine of Hippo).
Written by Silvana Ramos for Catholic-Link Spanish; translated from the original by Edward de Serpa Pimental.