Some of a single person’s darkest days fall after a breakup.
You risked your heart. You shared your life. You bought the gifts, made the memories and dreamed your dreams together—and it fell apart. Now, you’re back at square one in the quest for marriage, and it feels lonelier than square one, and further from the altar, because of all you’ve spent and lost.
No one begins dating someone hoping to break it off someday. The wiring in most of us has us longing for the wedding day. We’re looking, sometimes it feels frantically, for love, for affection and security and companionship and commitment and intimacy and help. After all, God seems to want most of us to be married (Genesis 2:18, 1 Corinthians 7.9″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>9). But that sure hasn’t made getting married easy.
The Pain of Intimacy Without Matrimony
The reality is that good, Christ-exalting relationships very often fail before the ceremony, never to be recovered romantically. The pain cuts deeper and lingers longer than most pain young people have felt in their lives. I feel it deeply even typing these words. It’s one of the hardest things for me to write or speak about: the pain of intimacy that fell short of matrimony.
Breakups in the church are painful and uncomfortable, and many of us have or will walk this dark and lonely road. So here are nine lessons for building hope and loving others when Christians end a not-yet marriage.
1. It’s OK to cry—and you probably should.
Breakups almost always hurt. Maybe you didn’t see it coming, and the other person suddenly wants out. Maybe you were convinced it needed to end, but knew how hard it would be to tell them. Maybe you’ve been together for years. Maybe you love their family and friends. Without the ceremony and covenant, it’s not a divorce, but it can feel like it.
It feels like divorce for a reason. You weren’t made for this misery. God engineered romance to express itself in fidelity and loyalty—in oneness (Genesis 2:24; 1 Corinthians 7:2–13). Because dating is only a means to marriage, God’s design for our marriages speaks to his design for our dating relationships. Dating that dives in too quickly or dumps too carelessly does not reflect God’s intention.
This doesn’t mean every dating relationship should end in marriage, but it does mean breakups will hurt. Sorrow in the midst of the severing is not only appropriate, but good. It’s nothing to hide or be ashamed of. God created you to enjoy and thrive in love that lasts, like Christ’s lasting love for his bride. So feel free to feel, and know that the pain points to something beautiful about your God and his undying love for you.
And if it doesn’t hurt, it probably should. If you can come in and out of romance without pain or remorse, something sounds out of sync. This doesn’t mean you have to be ruined by every breakup, but there should be a sense that this isn’t right—it’s not how it’s supposed to be. Hearts weren’t built to be borrowed. God needs to show some of us the gravity of failed relationships because of what they wrongly suggest about him and his love for the church.
2. Don’t try again too quickly.
Knowing and embracing God’s design for permanence in marriage and dating will help us feel appropriately, but it will also help us take healthy next steps in our pursuit of marriage. One of the worst and most popular mistakes is moving on to the next one too soon. Especially in the age of online dating and social media, we really don’t have to work very hard to find another prospect.
Affection can be an addiction. If you’ve been on dates, held hands, seen smiles, exchanged notes, experienced the sweetness of another’s attention and affirmation, you will want more. And the easiest way to find it is to rebound right away. But if we care about God, our witness, our ex and our future significant other, we’ll wait, pray, and date patiently and carefully. It’s too easy to leave a trail of wounded people behind in our pursuit of a partner.
It’s a lie to think that you’re not moving toward marriage if you’re not dating someone right now. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your future spouse is to not date. If your history looks serial, you might need to break up with dating for a while. It can be a time to regroup, grow and discover a new rhythm for your future relationship.
3. You may have failed, but God didn’t.
The relationship may be over because of a specific character flaw or failure. There are things about us—weaknesses or patterns of behavior—that may disqualify us for marriage with a particular person. But it does not nullify God’s grace to and through you.
Sin in relationships is some of the most visible and painful. As we let each other further and further into our lives and hearts, the sin is more likely to show itself and to cut the other person more deeply. In the right measure, it is the good and proper risk of all Christian fellowship. As people come closer, and we need this in true Christian community, our sin inevitably becomes more dangerous. Our mess is more likely to splash onto others, and theirs on us.
But whoever has done the failing in your breakup, it wasn’t God. Because of Jesus, his promises never to leave or forsake you are true every moment and in every relationship status. If you are trusting in Christ for the forgiveness of your sin and striving to follow him and his word, God has never abandoned you, and he will never abandon you. God didn’t take a break from loving you in your breakup—even if you’re the reason it’s over. His purposes are bigger than your blunders.
4. You are better having loved and lost.
There’s a unique shame and brokenness associated with breakups. Relationships and love may be celebrated more in the church than anywhere else because we (rightly) love marriage so much. Unfortunately, these same convictions often make breakups an uncomfortable conversation—at best embarrassing and at worst scandalous or humiliating.
You feel like damaged goods, like you’ve been ruined in God’s eyes or in the eyes of others. The hard-to-believe, but beautiful truth is that broken-up you is a better you. If in your sorrow you turn to the Lord and repent of whatever sin you brought to this relationship, you are as precious to your heavenly Father as you have ever been, and he is using every inch of your heartache, failure or regret to make you more of what he created you to be and to give you more of what he created you to enjoy—himself.
When one prize is stripped away, we can graciously be reminded of how little we have apart from Christ and the fortune he’s purchased for us with his blood. He has become for us wisdom for the foolish, righteousness for sinners, sanctification for the broken and redemption for the lost and afraid (1 Corinthians 1:30).
In Jesus, God is always and only doing good to you. There’s no circumstance facing you that he’s not engineering to give you deep and durable life and freedom and joy. He loves our lasting joy in him much more than he loves our temporary comfort today. He’ll make the trade any day, and we can be glad he does. Know that God is doing good, even when we feel worst.
5. Even if you can’t be friends now, you will be siblings forever.
For Christian relationships, breakups are never the end. Whether it sounds appealing now or not, you will be together forever (Revelation 7:9–10). Sounds too good to be true, right? So what would it mean to move on and think about our ex in light of eternity?
While you will meet again and forever in heaven, you may not be able to be friends now. And that is not necessarily sinful. In fact, in many cases, the healthiest thing emotionally and spiritually will be to create some space and boundaries. Hearts that have been given away, at whatever level, need to heal and develop new expectations again.
Reconciliation does not require closeness. It does require forgiveness and brotherly love. You could start by praying for them, even when you can’t handle talking to them. Pray that their faith would increase, that God would bring believing brothers or sisters around them, that he would heal and restore their heart, that he would make them more like Jesus.
We need to learn to live today in our relationships, old and new, in light of our eternity together. Our patience, kindness and forgiveness in breakups will shine beautifully next to the selfish, vindictive responses modeled in reality TV and adopted thoughtlessly by the rest of the world.
6. “It’s not you, it’s God” is not enough.
It might be one of the most popular Christian break-up lines. “God is leading me to do this.” “God told me we need to break up.” “I saw a vision in a bush on my way to class and we weren’t together.” All of them can probably be summed up like this: “Look, it’s not you, it’s God.”
God very well may lead you to a breakup, but don’t use him as a scapegoat. Own your own sin and ask for forgiveness where it is needed. Then be honest about how you came to this decision, how he made this direction clear to you. Sure, some things will be intangible, but find the tangible factors. This is not a license to say harmful things, but helpful things, even if they may hurt initially.
First, it’s wise not to be alone in your opinion about the need to break up. Yes, your boyfriend or girlfriend may not agree, but you need to share and confirm your perspective with someone who loves Jesus and both of you. Go to someone you know can assess your heart in wanting to get out. If it can be a married man or woman, all the better. Talk to someone who knows what it takes to persevere in marriage, and see what they think about your “deal-breaker(s)” in the relationship.
Our imagination, especially in an emotional crisis, can be a lethal weapon that Satan leverages against us for evil. When we leave everything vague and spiritual, our ex will not, and the majority of what their mind creates will be lies from the devil to destroy them. Give them enough information about how God led you to this decision without crushing them or tearing them down.
I say “enough” because there are lots of true-but-unhelpful things you could say. Again, run your talking points past a Christian brother or sister before taking them to your soon-to-be ex. In the end, they don’t have to agree with you, but it’s loving to help them toward the clarity and closure you’re feeling. It just may free them to grow and move forward sooner and with fewer questions.
7. Your Father knows your needs.
You’re probably questioning this in the wake of your breakup, but God does know what you need, and he’s never too slow to provide it. He might reveal things to you about the things you thought you needed. Or he might simply show you how much more you need him than anything or anyone else.
God feeds the unemployed birds of the air (Matthew 6:26). God grows the flowers of the field and makes them beautiful, even though they’ll be cut, stomped, eaten or frozen in a matter of days or weeks (Matt 6.28–30″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>Matthew 6:28–30). How much more will this Father care and provide for his blood-bought children?
When you ask for a husband, he won’t give you a snake. When you ask for a wife, he won’t give you a scorpion. Even when it looks like he’s done you harm, he hasn’t. He loves you. He knows what’s best for you. And all things are at his disposal. All things.
One way God provides for us through breakups is by making it clear—by whatever means and for whatever reason—this relationship was not his plan for our marriage. The heart of Christian dating is looking for clarity more than intimacy. This probably won’t taste sweet in the moment, but if you treasure clarity, breakups won’t be all bad news. We all know some of the news we need most is hardest for a time, but fruitful down the road.
Trust him to provide for you each day (or year) whether you get married or not. If you do get married, know that he will bring the imperfect man or woman you need.
8. Learn from love lost.
One of Satan’s greatest victories in a breakup is convincing a guy or girl, “It was all the other person’s fault, and I’ve already arrived as a future husband or wife.” The reality is no one—married or not—has fully arrived this side of glory. We are all flawed and filled with the Spirit, so we will all always be learning and growing as people and spouses—present or future.
After the emotional tidal wave has crashed and passed, take some time alone and then with close friends to assess where God’s carrying you—who he’s making you to be—through this. Identify an area or areas where you want to strive to be more gracious or more discerning or more faithful—more like Jesus—moving forward.
You won’t have many relational crossroads more intense, personal and specific as a breakup, so it truly is a unique time for some hopeful, healthy introspection, checked and balanced by some other believers.
9. Jesus will help you find joy in the shadows of heartbreak.
When we’re left alone and feeling abandoned, it’s really hard to believe anyone knows what we’re going through. That may even be true of the good-intentioned people around you. It is not true of Jesus.
This Jesus came and was broken to give hope to the broken. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will have hope” (Matt 12.20–21″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>Matthew 12:20–21).
The joy is not in knowing that Jesus had it hard, too. Not much comfort there. The joy is in knowing that the one who suffered in your place died and rose again to end suffering for his saints. God saved the world and defeated death through his suffering, and your suffering in the midst of your walk with Jesus—in this case, in a breakup—unites you to that victory, the greatest victory ever won. For those who hope in Jesus, all pain—unexpected cancer, unfair criticism, an unwanted break up—was given an expiration date and repurposed until then to unite us in love to our suffering Savior.
Jesus went before the broken-hearted to pave the way for joy in pain. We live, survive and thrive by looking to him, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). His joy before the wrath of God against sin is our first and greatest reason to fight for joy—not just survival—after a breakup.
If you believe that, then make the most of this breakup, knowing God has chosen this particular path to grow and gratify you in ways that last. No relationship you have in this life will last forever, but the good things that happen through them in you—even through their sorrows, yes even through their collapses—will.