“Don’t let your relationship become an island.” This is a phrase that I’ve heard so many speakers use at different conferences and retreats over the course of my faith journey. For many years, however, I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. I’d think to myself, “I see my family and friends every day. What’s wrong with wanting to spend a little extra time with my girlfriend?”
Little did I know that, by asking this question, I had already missed the point entirely. My failure to grasp this inevitably led to one of the most difficult lessons I have ever had to learn. I’m grateful for it now; however, I hope that by sharing this, you can learn from my experience instead of having to go through it yourself.
What Does It Mean?
That opening phrase is referring to the tendency we have to isolate ourselves within our relationships. The idea is that we create a small island solely for our romantic relationship that is disconnected from other parts of our life. We then choose to spend the vast majority of our time on that island instead of the larger continent that contains our other relationships and responsibilities.
If you’re unsure about where your relationship stands, here are some helpful questions to reflect on:
- Is my relationship inviting? When a relationship veers towards isolation, some of the first things affected are ties to family and friends. It starts by simply walling them out; however, in extreme cases, they can be perceived as a threat and cut out entirely.
- How do I feel when I’m away from my significant other? A healthy longing is good, but not to the point where we abandon virtue. In my experience, anxiety or depression were a common side effect of my unregulated impatience.
- What are my priorities? This is another place where we are called to pursue virtue. Putting effort into a relationship isn’t a bad thing; however, if we prioritize it over other important aspects of our lives (faith, family, commitments, etc.) then we could run the risk of making our relationship an idol.
This reflection may reveal a lot. Maybe one area is more affected than another. Maybe one person in the relationship is responsible for creating the island. In any case, make sure to address it appropriately.
How Do I Escape the Island?
A simple answer to this question is integration. In order to avoid these pitfalls we have to undergo the process of integrating this new relationship into our existing world. While, yes, there are aspects of a romantic relationship that should remain private, it should never get to the point where we abandon everything else.
In fact, a healthy relationship should actually strengthen our other connections. Why? Because the closer we get to this other person, the closer we should be getting to God and the closer we get to God, the more our love for every one of these people will be perfected.
So what are some practical things you can do to properly integrate our romantic relationships?
- Organize and communicate your priorities. God should always be the first. Make sure that is clearly communicated and agreed upon.
- Invite friends along for group dates. It’s a great opportunity to share someone you love with others that love you!
- Practice Chastity. Chastity is what teaches us to love authentically by empowering us to take control of our desires. Without that control, fleeing to that island becomes so much more tempting.
Armed with this information, I just want to offer one final piece of encouragement. You do not have to stay trapped on that island! With the proper steps, it’s possible to leave it behind and allow your relationship to truly flourish! This flourishing should be something that both you and your significant other can get behind.