How to discern when you are already in a relationship

In the Catholic world, we often talk about discernment. Discernment of vocations, careers, different life choices, etc. It’s a hot topic that can sometimes feel over-discussed, especially when it comes to discerning marriage and religious life.

There are retreats, talks and books on how to discern these things well, but what happens when you’ve chosen a path? If you discern religious life, there’s a clear path ahead of you to continue to prepare and more seriously discern. But when you have discerned that marriage is your vocation, no defined path lies ahead. It seems like you’re thrown haphazardly into the dating world and told “good luck.’’

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In this secular world, it can seem overwhelming and impossible to find a guy who shares your faith and morals. However, even once you’ve finally found a guy that checks the boxes, there’s the confusing world of talking, dating, pursuit and relationship. No dating scripts exist, and it just seems to be surrounded by such confusion and chaos. The struggle of finding a good, holy, virtuous relationship while being wise and discerning can feel like an impossible and hopeless task. While we have both practical resources and formation opportunities as well as prayers such as novenas to St. Anne and St. Joseph to help us as we search for our person, there seems to be absolutely nothing for discernment during the actual dating process.

I was single for three years during college, watching all my friends find their person and live in good and holy relationships while I waited, single and aching. During this time, I devoted myself to continue seeking the Lord and running toward him, trying to become the best person I could be — for myself and for my future relationship. I wanted whatever relationship I entered into next to be good and pleasing to God.

Now, after years of waiting, the Lord has blessed me abundantly, letting me find my person in the most unexpected of places. Jesus has made the wait so worth it, for I feel ready and prepared to be in this relationship because of all the information and guidance I had while being single. Now that I’m in this relationship, I want even more than I did before for this relationship to be good and pleasing to the Lord. I want our relationship to be an example of the way that Christ loves the Church — not in a prideful way but in the way of humility, letting the Holy Spirit work through us.

However, now that I am in this season of dating, I’ve realized that my discernment has not ended; in fact, it has just begun. While there is always the aspect of the honeymoon phase and the excitement of a new relationship, we have been diligent in having serious conversations about important topics. And yet, there is still the question: “Am I dating the right person?” Obviously this is a question that will be answered in time, but it also requires communication with the Lord. Yet, as I’ve experienced this new stage of discernment, I’ve felt as if there are no resources on discernment once you’re in the relationship.

I cannot sit here and say I have an answer to this dilemma; if I did, I wouldn’t still be struggling to figure out how to discern well. However, I believe there are a few key concepts about discernment in general that can be applied when in a dating relationship.

1. Prayer

I am fully aware that this is obvious. However, I think we often forget about the true power of prayer, especially contemplative prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament. We need to talk to the Lord about the relationship and the person whom we are discerning a relationship with; but it is also necessary to sit in silence and receive counsel from the Lord. There is also the importance of praying individually but also with the person you are dating. If you are pursuing a good and holy relationship, prayer must be an element of that relationship.

2. Community

Obviously your relationship is between you and your partner, but it should not be done in solitude. Discernment should always be done in community. Especially a community that knows you well, like your family and friends. How do they feel about your boyfriend and relationship? Be with the people that know you and your heart the best. Their opinion cannot and should not mean everything, but alarm bells should be ringing if they have serious concerns about the relationship.

3. Time

This is my least favorite part. Obviously, time with the person will help you discern, because discernment of every type requires time. The Lord is not going to have a neon sign blinking above their head telling you if that person is your future spouse. Time and depth of the relationship should either lead to greater peace as confirmation of the relationship or bring anxiety as a sign that there may be deeper issues at hand.

Obviously, none of these things are revolutionary or the magic key to discernment in a relationship. But if a magic key existed, it wouldn’t really be discernment, would it? Discernment is a process that can be tasking, but it can also be exciting and joy-filled as we grow closer to the Lord and one another as we discern his will for our lives.

The Church needs more holy marriages to be a light of Christ’s love to the world, so let’s journey through this process of discerning and seeking the Lord together.

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