Christian Book Reviews, Author Interviews, Excerpts

Love Is a Decision – Make the Right One

  • Whitney Von Lake Hopler Contributing Writer
  • 2003 4 Jun
Love Is a Decision – Make the Right One

People often look to their hearts when deciding whom to marry.  But, too often, they don’t also use their heads when choosing a mate.  Decisions about romantic relationships are some of the most significant decisions people can make, says author and longtime marriage therapist Donald Harvey.  And those decisions are so crucial, he says, that people need to think them through very carefully as they seek God’s best for their lives.

Harvey’s new book, "Lovedecisions: A Dad Talks with His Daughter About Lasting Relationships," helps young women navigate the sometimes bumpy road of romantic relationships and gives them the tools they need to make wise decisions about potential spouses.

Between Father and Daughter

Harvey, who earned his Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy and has practiced for more than 25 years, wrote this book for his daughter Paige and other young women in her same season of life.  He conceived the idea for the book while Paige was in her first year of college.  “There were things that I wanted her to know about love and relationships -- and I thought she was at a prime time to learn them,” he recalls.

Each chapter of "Lovedecisions" opens with a fictional e-mail from Harvey to Paige that represents actual conversations they’ve had about relationships.  Over the course of several years, the book project drew father and daughter closer together.  “Nothing was taboo as we worked through several relationships over a span of several years of college.  We continued to talk as Paige finished college and began her career.  In that she hadn’t settled down with any one guy, I jokingly accused her of keeping me 'in content,'” he says.

The process of helping her father with "Lovedecisions" was a blessing, says Paige.  “Until he started writing 'Lovedecisions,' I had always seen my dad as being an expert at counseling married couples -- dealing with other people’s relationships. But as I read the first few chapters of the manuscript, I realized that his expertise in dealing with marriages made him even more equipped to handle issues with dating couples -- in other words, my relationships. It made our bond that much deeper as I went to him with my own dating problems and questions -- he offered the wisdom of a therapist, from the heart of a father.”

Through the book, Harvey says, he hopes to reach many more young women who are facing important decisions about love.  “After seeing the way it affected [Paige’s] life, I felt it could impact the lives of other ‘daughters’ as well,” he said.  “I want readers to get a feel for what relational health is, what it isn’t, and a resolve to settle for nothing less than God’s best in their lives.  I want readers to be able to recognize when someone is good for them, when he isn’t, and to be able to assess the direction of their relationship.  Compatibility doesn’t have to be left to guesswork.  There are indicators that let us know if this is a relationship pleasing to God or not.  And I want readers to understand the spiritual side of love and the purity that God desires for their relationships.”

A Father's Invaluable Role

The fatherly advice in "Lovedecisions" could help fill in the gap for the many young women today who don’t have close relationships with their own fathers.  Time pressures, distractions, and divorce are some of the factors that are unfortunately “getting in the way of good father-daughter relationships” for many families, says Harvey.

Yet father-daughter relationships are just as vital as ever, he says.  “There is so much that daughters can get from their dads.  They learn about marriage by watching their parents; they learn about men by watching their dad; and they get a sense of self-esteem by how their dad treats them.  Most of this influence occurs before they get to the 'love decisions' stage of life.  But things can become even more important at this later time.  It’s now, when no matter how the guy in their life is making them feel, that dad is there to reaffirm their worth, answer their questions about guys, and shed some light on how men and women are different.  It is now that dad becomes a great relationship coach pointing out when she’s being treated well or poorly, what to do in either circumstance, and is just there when she needs to be comforted as she cries.  Dads have an invaluable role with their daughters – one that no one else can fill.”

Relationships for the Better

In "Lovedecisions," Harvey advocates a way of evaluating relationships that differs sharply from the process many women use.  Rather than considering how happy they think they could feel with another person, women should consider how each relationship is drawing them either closer to or farther away from God.  “One thing is certain,” he says.  “You will be influenced by the significant people in your life.  This influence may be for good.  Or it may be for bad.  The question that every young woman in a significant romantic relationship needs to ask is whether being in this relationship is making her a better person or not.…  The relationship ought to be influencing you for good.”

Women who are looking for godly men to share their lives should first strive to become godly themselves, says Harvey.  “What interest will a man who genuinely has a hunger and heart for God have in someone who does not?  So if you want to enhance the potential health level of any future relationship, you better deal with yourself first.  You need to be what you want to find.”

Sometimes, Harvey says, women would rather try to change men who aren’t right for them than accept the principle that “what is will be” – the situation that exists now won’t necessarily change in the future.  Moving on from a relationship that isn’t working is often painful, he acknowledges, but doing so opens the door for God to usher in new and potentially better relationships.

And even if a particular dating relationship doesn’t work out, the time and energy that the couple invested in it wasn’t wasted, says Harvey.  “We learn a lot from relationships – even relationships that do not end well.  Relationships teach us about ourselves – our strengths and weaknesses, sensitivities and insensitivities, willingness to sacrifice and forgive, ability to trust, to share, to love.  And relationships teach us about relationships – what we want and don’t want (learning what you don’t want is valuable information), what we really need, and what we are absolutely not willing to live without.  All of this is essential for us to know and much of it can only be learned through being in a relationship with a significant other.”

A Heavenly Father's Best

God always desires the best for people, says Harvey.  “God’s design is for intimate marriages – emotionally close and bonded relationships.  This requires that they be based on mutuality – mutual giving, mutual selflessness and sacrifice, and mutual prioritization.  Knowing that you’re #1 allows you to trust and give yourself to another person.  It is in this context of love that we feel secure and fulfilled.  Anything short of this misses God’s design – and missing God’s design always brings heartache.

"As a practicing marital therapist for nearly 30 years, I have come to realize that there are few things more painful than being in a relationship where you do not feel loved, honored and cherished.  And if that’s not enough motivation to not settle for less than God’s best, I don’t know what else is.”