Should We Get Married?
by William P. Smith
How do you decide if your relationship is ready to move toward marriage? How do you help others decide? You know you're in love—you always want to be together, and you think about each other all the time—but does that mean you're ready to get married? William P. Smith gives a series of questions based on biblical principles that you can use to assess your relationship's strengths and weaknesses. Answering these questions about your vision, goals, and potential conflicts will help you decide together whether you should slow your relationship down or move forward towards marriage. This article is a great resource for pastors and others to use during pre-marital counseling or classes.
Alex and Melissa smiled at me and asked, “How does pre-marital counseling work? When will you tell us that it's okay for us to get married?”
I smiled back and answered, “Never.”
I knew they were puzzled, so I explained, “It would be impossible for me, after talking with you for only a few hours, to know enough about you to say, ‘I think you should get married.' So what can I do? I can help you think about how to strengthen your relationship, so you will have the foundation for a good marriage. I can help you work on parts of your relationship that are weak. And I can alert you to issues that are potentially dangerous or destructive. I'll be glad to give you a yellow light to slow down or a red light to stop, but I'll never give you a green light to go ahead. That final light is between you and God, as you assess your relationship.”
Although you aren't sitting down with me for face-to-face premarital counseling like Alex and Melissa, we can still evaluate your relationship together. Use this article to assess your relationship in the different areas discussed. If your relationship is weak in one or more of them, then that's a yellow light—slow your relationship down and work on strengthening it. If you see patterns that are the opposite of what they should be, then that's a red light, and you should seriously question the health of your relationship. You shouldn't consider marriage until those patterns are reversed.
On the other hand, if your relationship is growing in each area, then keep moving forward. Don't look for perfection—even the best human relationships are marred by sin and need to grow in maturity. But you should be able to list concrete examples that show how your relationship has grown in each area.
SHARE A COMMON VISION
It's crucial that you share a common vision. Are you both followers of Jesus Christ? Are you both committed to living for him? If you don't share a mutual love for Jesus, you will be pulled in opposite directions at the most important, foundational level of your lives. This will keep you from true intimacy with your partner, threaten the long-term stability of your relationship, and tempt you to compromise your faith (Mark 3:25; 2 Corinthians 6:14).
If you are both followers of Jesus and share a common vision, how does your love for Jesus and your desire to follow him express itself in your relationship on a day-to-day basis?
- Do you appeal to the Bible for help when you have conflicts or confusing decisions to make?
- Is God involved in your relationship? Do his thoughts, values, goals, and attitudes shape you on a daily basis?
- Do you pray together?
- Do you share what God is teaching you from his Word with each other?
- When was the last time God's plans, purposes, and concerns made a difference to what you thought, said, or did as a couple?
With Jesus as your foundation, consider to what extent your dreams for the future are shared.
- Are your desires for lifestyle, family size, occupation, and geographical location similar?
- If you started with different goals in any of these areas, are you able to work toward agreement?
Another way to tell if your relationship is centered on Jesus is by how you (as a couple) deal with difficulties.
- Do you point each other to Christ as you experience problems?
- When you're struggling with feeling anxious, angry, discouraged, confused, or overwhelmed, does your partner listen well, and help you see how Jesus meets the need you have?
- Do you respond well when you are pointed to Christ?
TRACK RECORD OF HANDLING CONFLICTS
When Tom and Nancy proudly told me that in ten years of marriage they had never had a fight, I cringed. How can two sinners completely mesh their lives and not have a conflict or disagreement? They can't. Tom and Nancy avoided conflict by ignoring problems in their relationship. They threw themselves into their careers, took trips, and had fun … until the baby came. Life wasn't fun or glamorous anymore, and their marriage crumbled.
They hadn't learned how to handle conflict and grow under the pressures that produce conflict. They wasted the time before their marriage and their first ten years of married life by not addressing the conflicts that came with the pressures in their life. Pressure often builds to explosive strength around the common marital flashpoints of money, sex, and children.
Your relationship faces these same pressures now, but you experience them in different ways because you're not married yet. Learning to deal with pressure before you get married will give you a foundation for handling them within marriage. Now is the time to learn when to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), when to overlook a fault (Proverbs 19:11), and when to submit to one another in love (Ephesians 5:21).
How do you handle money? Every family has a limited amount of resources—time, money, space, etc. As a single person you are relatively free to spend each in the way you choose, but as part of a couple you have to work together to decide how to use the finite quantity of the time, money, and space that God has given you. Making those decisions exposes the values and goals of you and your partner. As you might have already noticed, sometimes you disagree.
The way you handle such agenda-clashes now—compromise, manipulate, whine, give in—is the way you'll handle them later.
- Do you sense a mutual concern for each other's interests in your present sharing of resources as you plan activities, decide whose parents and friends to visit, and what to do with your “down-time”?
- Do you both look to the other's interests? Or only to your own? (Philippians 2:4)
Think about potential trouble spots in the future by noticing differences in the ways you go about acquiring things. Look around at the things your friend surrounds himself with—his furniture, tools, kitchen appliances, car, electronics, etc.
- Does he always want the best?
- Make do with what he has?
- Does he not really care at all?
- Do you approach material things in the same way or differently?
How do you handle sex? Sex within marriage is a very vivid marker that lets you see the quality of your care for each other. Healthy couples mutually concern themselves with each other's comfort—sleep, relaxation, healthy eating, and exercise—without wrongly indulging each other.
The opposite of mutual concern is taking advantage of each other. One or both of you may ask for too much from the other, give too little, or oddly enough, give too much (and allow the other person to mistakenly believe it's okay to live for his own pleasure).
Before you are married, it's easy to think that you have fulfilled your responsibility to care for your partner if you avoid sexual intimacy. This is an important and necessary way for you to care for one another now. Please realize, however, that caring for one another goes far beyond not sinning sexually with your partner. The opposite of taking advantage of each other is not only restraint, but active concern for the other's best physical interests.
- Do you end a date when you see he's tired and needs to sleep, but neither of you wants to go home?
- Does it matter to you that she regularly dines on popcorn and brownies after work?
- Are you willing to make an issue of his unwillingness to get an annual physical?
- Do you plan dates that tempt both of you physically?
How do you handle children? Children introduce new dynamics into a relationship. They require you to work together, to give up your own desires, and to serve in new ways. But serving other people should not be a new element of your relationship. Serving should already characterize your relationship with each other. Remember, Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life for us (Matthew 20:28). Jesus calls us to follow in his steps and express our faith in love and service (Galatians 5:13).
Asses whether or not you lay down your own interests to serve each other.
- With what attitudes do you serve?
- Do you serve joyfully, quickly, and thankfully?
- Or do you complain and serve grudgingly, slowly, or not at all?
- Where, as a couple, do you give to others?
Dangers can come from too much serving as well as too little.
- Does giving to others substitute for knowing each other?
- Does your giving come from joy or duty?
- Do you give only as a way to feel good about yourself?
We have gone through a lot of tough questions in a short period of time. Don't be overwhelmed. Instead, take the time now to go through these questions slowly and thoughtfully, and don't do it alone—ask the person you are thinking about marrying to go through these questions with you. Then take some time to look at your relationships strengths and weaknesses, and prayerfully decide together whether your relationship should get the green light towards marriage, a yellow light to slow down, or a red light that means you need to reassess your relationship.*
William P. Smith, M.Div., Ph.D., is the director of counseling at Chelten Baptist Church, Dresher, Pa., and author of the book Caught Off Guard: Encounters with the Unexpected God. In addition to Should We Get Married?, he wrote the booklets: How Do I Stop Losing It with My Children? and How to Love Difficult People.
* This article is adapted from the first half of the booklet, Should We Get Married?, copyright ©2008 by the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation. Used by permission of New Growth Press and may not be downloaded and/or reproduced without prior written permission of New Growth Press.
The complete booklet, Should We Get Married?, including the section “Practical Strategies for Change” may be purchased from New Growth Press at newgrowthpress.com
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.