3 useful dating tips from Venerable Fulton Sheen

One of the best things my husband and I ever did together while dating was read “Three to Get Married” by Fulton Sheen. We started dating in September of 2019. Some of you probably realize the problem with that. Right as we were turning the corner of six months as a couple, we found ourselves abruptly separated by a pandemic; I was in New Hampshire and he was in Florida. Tragic.

I vividly recall expressing my concerns about the trials of long-distance relationships to Gabe, my eternal optimist of a partner. “Long distance is never easy,” I solemnly remarked. “We need to make a plan.”

But Gabe, always cheerful, brushed it off with unwavering confidence. “Oh please. I love you! What’s stronger than love?” he quipped.

“I don’t know … COVID?”

Soon enough, the reality of our situation sank in, and we realized that maintaining and nurturing our relationship across 1500 miles would require intentionality and effort. It was then that we turned to “Three to Get Married” for guidance. We found reading on our own, annotating and then discussing over the phone was a wonderful way to feel connected. It compelled us to delve into topics we might have otherwise skirted around and encouraged us to view each other and our roles in the relationship with fresh eyes.

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When I hear of a Catholic couple that recently got engaged, I send them this book. I would encourage all of you to consider reading it, whether you’re currently in a relationship or not. While some themes may be weighty and the text dense, taking it slow and addressing what resonates with your relationship’s current stage can foster important conversations.

Here are three dating tips Fulton Sheen offers in his book that helped me and Gabe:

1. Love takes effort

Sheen says at one point, “the art of painting is cultivated by painting, and speaking is learned by speaking, and study is learned by studying, so love is learned by loving.” In other words, the will to love makes us lovers. Love is not a fleeting emotion but a deliberate choice — an ongoing commitment to selflessly give of oneself. I’m sorry to all you love-at-first-sight believers out there (I’m fairly certain my husband is one of you), but that isn’t how love works.

The concept of falling in love against your will has been heavily romanticized in our culture. I challenge you to rethink the romance in that. If someone just “couldn’t help” but fall in love, then that suggests it was against his will. It sounds like he has no control over himself, and who is to say it won’t just happen again with the next girl who walks through the door? Jesus chose to die for us. I would not feel all that special if he had been crucified against his will. That is not love.

How much more romantic to actually be chosen by someone! For a man to pick you out in a crowd, adore you at your best, and then love you still at your worst is the most romantic thing I can think of. Jesus did just that. Love takes effort.

Sheen says that love is “possessed only by giving it to others.” Giving that love is work. It means dying to yourself, and selfless love takes great effort to live out each day. Sometimes it’s easy, but other times it isn’t. Authentic love is cultivated through conscious effort, fueled by the desire to see, understand and serve the beloved.

2. Build your relationship on prayer

Sheen says, “There are perhaps few more touchingly beautiful spectacles in all the world than that of a husband and wife saying their prayers together.” While he is citing married couples here, prayer is necessary in dating, too. Couples should pray together regularly, seeking God’s guidance, strength and blessings for their relationship.

Dating is fun and beautiful, but at the end of the day, it is a very serious thing. You are discerning your vocation, and you’re attempting to determine if this is the person you are to spend the rest of your life with. Do not take that lightly! And do not do this on your own. Ground the relationship in spiritual intimacy, and seek divine guidance in discerning its course.

Sheen says that in authentic love, the one you love should be seen not as a god but as a gift of God. You should be thanking God for this person he has blessed your life with. Pray together as a couple, and have your own prayer lives outside of each other, too. Do not lose your relationship with God while in this relationship with another person. When that happens, it is a clear sign that something is imbalanced. Building your relationship on prayer ensures clarity throughout your time together.

3. Practice good communication and understanding

Sheen says, “Man and woman marry to make one another happy, but they never can do this until they have agreed on what is happiness.” Dating merges personalities, backgrounds and ideas. To know if you share the same faith and values about things, Sheen says couples need to establish good communication. This involves listening attentively to each other, expressing feelings openly and honestly, and seeking to understand the other perspective. Burying feelings and hiding important past struggles will only fuel confusion, distrust and chaos. Effective communication forms the bedrock of any successful relationship.

One of the best pieces of dating advice I ever received from someone is to always initially give your significant other the benefit of the doubt. Do not assume bad intentions. Assume your boyfriend means well. When he says he is sorry, assume he truly is. Try to understand the situation before forming an opinion about it. Cultivating empathy and assuming goodwill fosters growth and unity, aligning hearts and minds on the path toward greater love and understanding. Sheen says that God intends that there should be a “growing-together” in relationships. This means starting with shared values and walking together along the path toward greater faith. The merging of personalities is actually a beautiful opportunity to grow in an area you have previously neglected.

While Fulton Sheen offers plenty more wisdom in his book than just these simple tips, it’s a good place to start. You don’t have to be in a long-distance relationship to read this book together. This was a wonderful way for Gabe and I to grow together, learn more about each other, and prepare for what we hoped would be a future together.

As I wrote this article, I couldn’t find my copy of “Three to Get Married,” so I used Gabe’s instead. Reading through his annotations and seeing what passages he marked and highlighted has been a beautiful reminder of the effort we put in, the prayer we build our time around, and the communication the book fostered. We are going to read it again together, this time as husband and wife.

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