My boyfriend has a lot of problems. I’m scared of him sometimes and my friends say that he is bad news. We have been pretty physical, but I want to stay in the relationship to help him. What should I do?

No offense, but scientists recently discovered that feelings of romantic love tend to deactivate certain parts of the brain. For example, brain scans of people experiencing romantic emotions showed deactivations in the parts of the brain that make moral judgments (mesial prefrontal cortex, the parietotemporal junction, and the temporal poles). Other areas of the brain that were deactivated are responsible for judgment of negative emotions.

The scientists said that romantic love leads to “the suppression of activity in the neural machineries associated with the critical social assessment of other people and with negative emotions. . . . These findings therefore bring us closer to explaining in neurological terms why ‘love makes [us] blind.”’[1] In other words, when you’re in love with a guy, your brain is handicapped when it comes to judging the value (and morality) of a relationship. That’s one reason why it’s important to date only guys who have strong values.

The purpose of dating is to find a worthy spouse, not to rehabilitate a troubled guy. So it sounds as if you need to step back from this relationship. Many young women with good hearts want to play the role of therapist for a guy who has a rough life, but they end up wounded, and the guy is not much better off. A girl might stay in the relationship because she does not want to hurt the guy by leaving. But it will harm the guy (and her) more if she does not take a step back. Until he can deal with his problems in a way that is not destructive to him or to others, he is not ready to be in an intimate relationship.

According to God’s word, “The man of violent temper pays the penalty; even if you rescue him, you will have it to do again” (Prov. 19:19, NAB). It is not your job to save this guy from all of his problems. Let him know that you are praying for him but that you need space for yourself and stability in your life. This is not selfishness. It shows a healthy respect for yourself, and that is the foundation for any good future relationship.

If he tries to lay a guilt trip on you or intimidate you, it is all the more evidence that you need to back away. If he hurts you, then the sooner this ends the better. In the meantime do not use physical pleasure to cover up the pain of the relationship. Instead listen to your friends. They are there to look out for you, and I do not think you will regret following their advice. Because they aren’t emotionally invested in the relationship, they can look at the situation with greater clarity. Therefore, do not dismiss their advice.

A recent study showed that when it comes to predicting the success or failure of a relationship, few people know better than the friends of the girl. Not the couple themselves, not the guy’s friends, but the girl’s friends are often the most reliable judges of how strong a relationship is and how long it will last.[2] As Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” This means that although their advice may be painful to receive, it will be best in the long run to follow it.

As difficult as it may seem to walk away, it will only be more difficult later to patch up the hurt that has been caused by staying in the relationship too long. Two factors should influence this decision: You are worth more, and he needs this time to mature. If you do not understand your value in God’s eyes, then it is easy to seek your worth in relationships, even unhealthy ones. Even an unhealthy relationship makes you feel desired, and so you settle for it.

Right now, while he is still single, the most loving thing you can do is to show him that he cannot deal with his hurt by hurting others. He needs to know that his behavior is unacceptable. Using a little child psychology may be helpful here. According to Drs. Cloud and Townsend in their book Boundaries with Kids, “Setting boundaries without setting consequences is a form of nagging. The disrespecter learns that his greatest problem is not the hurtfulness of his behavior, but only the annoyance of your complaining.”[3] As long as you stay in the relationship and take the abuse, it sends him the message that his behavior is fine.

Therefore, don’t spend your time trying to change your boyfriend. Instead, imagine what it would be like to be cherished by a man who would protect your purity and make you feel safe. Such men do exist, but they’re only found by the women who refuse to settle for less.

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[1]. Andreas Bartels and Semir Zeki, “The Neural Correlates of Maternal and Romantic Love,” NeuroImage 21 (2004), 1164.
[2]. “Break-up Predictors,” Reader’s Digest, April 2002, 185.
[3]. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, Boundaries in Dating (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2000), 228.

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