Being married young brings a lot of curiosity.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “so, how did you know Claire was the one?” Half of the question askers were romantic at heart, just wanting to hear our story, the other half were interested observers hoping to uncover some piece of marital wisdom. As with any question you’re asked a lot, I came up with a concise and satisfactory answer that didn’t take much effort to say. It went something like, “when you know, you know.” Bologna!
I’m sure some of you have heard answers like this, and while a peaceful assurance that someone might be spouse material is nice to have, there are definite signposts that are helpful in this discernment process. Of course, these signposts aren’t talked about much.
And I think that’s a problem.
I know a lot of people, including myself at one time, can walk around in sort of a haze when it comes to love and marriage. Questions swirl around us, and with no solid footing to base our decisions off of we either make a premature choice or postpone the relationship out of fear.
How do I know if I’m ready? When is the right time? How do I know if someone is spouse material? These are all pressing questions on the minds of those who desperately want the right type of marriage.
Claire and I’s relationship started with what seemed close to infatuation. All of the checklist items we could have hoped for were there.
Common Faith – ✓
Attraction – ✓
Chemistry – ✓
Fun – ✓
Depth – ✓
The proverbial fireworks were blasting every time we hung out. It was a beautiful thing, and I thank God for this stage. If you’re in this stage, enjoy it. But I do want to warn you of an inherent danger.
NEW LOVE CAN BLIND
New love can and often does distort our view of reality and keep us from asking some REALLY important questions, especially if you see marriage in the future.
Our culture has shorthanded us on what it means to build a lasting partnership with someone. In a reaction to what seems like dead marriages, our culture has chosen to idealize romantic passion and make it the central aim of marriage. Not only does this put an enormous pressure on a potential spouse, it also lacks the wisdom needed in moving toward marriage with someone.
Take the popular reality show The Bachelor/ Bachelorette for example. The end of the show usually comes down to two to three “contestants” who the Bachelor/ Bachelorette gets to choose from to be engaged to or continue their relationship with. Part of the dilemma of the show, and perhaps why so many people keep watching it, is the Bachelor/ Bachelorette trying to discern who they have stronger “feelings” for. The problem is, they have feelings for both.
Basing a potential lifelong commitment solely on feelings is like sailing into a storm with a pair of floaties, they might keep you a float for the first wave, but they won’t hold up in the face of the challenges marriage can present.
So here are four questions that will clarify whether your relationship has the potential to lead to a healthy lifelong marriage.
1. Do you bring the best out of one another? Is your effect on one another bringing life, goodness, and a greater sense of purpose?
This is perhaps the #1 litmus test for a relationship. This question is what led me to consider committing the rest of my life to Claire. Almost every other relationship I was in BEFORE Claire created more worry than encouragement. They acted more like an emotional vacuum than a charging station.
Claire was different.
I didn’t worry constantly and wasn’t tired and discouraged every time I left her. I met someone who saw through my flawed external performance and desired to see my best self emerge.
She was honest with me about my inconsistencies without shaming me. She wanted to encourage me, the me that God designed and saw.
This is why dating is such an important part of any potential marital relationship. It is so useful for discovering 1) who the person is you are attracted to, and 2) the effect you have on one another.
What I am NOT saying is that your personalities and habits have to fit seamlessly for there to be hope for marriage. In fact, Claire and I are VERY different when it comes to our personalities.
I’m up for the spontaneous; she’s a grade A planner.
I can spend all day chilling on the couch, she needs to be active.
I’m a visionary, she’s a realist.
These are just a few examples of our differences.
The takeaway is this:
Having the right effect on one another is not based in personality; it’s based in affection and emotional maturity.
Is the person you are dating emotionally mature enough to encourage you without becoming obsessed? Are they able to call you out and up into something better, or do they just agree with everything you say?
These are all windows into the health of your relationship and whether it will last.
So I ask you again. What is the effect you have on your girlfriend/ boyfriend? Is the relationship emotionally draining, causing you to isolate? Or is it life-giving, propelling you towards maturity and wholeness?
2.What kind of environment do they create for themselves? Who do they hang out with? Are they consistent?
This was one area that immediately drew me to Claire. Let me illustrate. Freshmen orientation at Claire and I’s undergrad is known for its late night social events, hall bonding activities, and the organized chaos of finding your Alpha group (i.e. small groups for freshmen to make sure we all have friends). The extroverts were having a ball; the introverts were trying to survive.
Just imagine thousands of college freshmen swarming on huge lawns eating free In-n-Out and trying to hide their fear of being alone. The atmosphere was ripe with insecurity and in turn was full of people putting on their best selves. As you can imagine it was a little overwhelming.
As I was swimming my way through the waves of new friend groups forming I saw a couple of girls hanging out on the outskirts of the event seemingly unaffected by the swirl of insecurity around them.
You guessed it; one of those girls was Claire. This drew me to her as a friend first, just wanting to know what made this girl so different. As our relationship grew I was able to see her interact in a lot of different situations. I saw how she held herself in class, the way she introduced herself to strangers, how she cared for her roommate, and her deep love for her family.
Different contexts brought out different parts of Claire, but her core stayed consistent. She had a level of integrity and comfortability in her own skin that I found incredibly beautiful.
She desired good things for herself and the people around her. She wasn’t perfect, but she was healthy.
It’s important for you to see behind the scenes before considering marriage. This will provide a moment to step back and think about who the person is you are dating and if they are ready to step into long term commitment. This is especially important if the majority of your relationship has been spent one-on-one, either through social media or private dating.
In the same way, it is important for you to bring your boyfriend/ girlfriend around your trusted friends. Invite theses friends to speak into what they see. Don’t miss out on the resource of encouragement, support, and fresh perspective friends can bring.
Knowing if he or she has a genuine security is a crucial prerequisite before moving any deeper into the relationship. If they don’t have a firm sense of their identity outside of your relationship, then your relationship will bear the weight of that unanswered question and will often times fail because of it.
Which leads me to my third question.
3.Do you know their story? The places in their past where they experienced shame? What moments have shaped them the most, for better and worse?
Before we dive into the importance of this question we need to first consider the dangers involved with the answer. These questions require vulnerability, and vulnerability is unwise if the relationship is not safe.
The depth to which you know your boyfriend/ girlfriends story should be proportionate to your commitment level.
Why is that the case?
Because if there is a high level of sharing with a low level of commitment, insecure attachments will form and a break up will have an even deeper wounding effect. Honoring him or her means not creating attachments that aren’t backed up by your commitment.
With that being said, as you progress in commitment, pay close attention to how your boyfriend/ girlfriend experienced love, shame, and fear. The story of their heart will do wonders in revealing how they see the world and, more than that, who they really are.
Knowing their story will allow you some context to know whether the two of you will actually be good together or not. You will get to know how they view themselves, what drives them toward anger or silence, and if they have dreams that you can help come to life.
And last, but certainly not least.
4.How is the kingdom of God furthered through you two being together more than if you were apart?
I have to be honest; when Claire and I were asked this question in our pre-marital counseling we had no answer. Not because there wasn’t an answer, but because we had never thought about it before.
It is often the questions we aren’t asking that make for the biggest impact.
Up to this point in our relationship we had done a fairly decent job at answering the above three questions, but this question asked us to think in a completely different way.
It asked us to invite God and the category of calling into the conversation. It had us consider how each of us were designed individually and how those designs could come together to be a force for something greater than ourselves.
It seated our relationship firmly in the ultimate love story, the love story between God and His creation.
It took some time to think and talk about this question adequately, and we are still realizing new levels of it’s answer. There was no lack of prayer and honest reflection on either of our parts.
The process of answering this question shifted our attention away from our own relationship to how we could partner with God to bring something holy and beautiful to the world. We experienced exhilaration for our future along with a sobering awareness that our lives had a purpose beyond our individual happiness.
Our marriage, by the grace of God, was brought together not only for our own benefit, but to exude and reflect the glory of God in the world. This question brought a whole new level of purpose and mission to our relationship that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Asking this question will help you discover if God is a part of this process or if you are simply relying on wishful thinking.
How have you been designed? What are you deeply passionate about? What ticks you off in the world? Where is your sweet spot? What keeps you up at night?
These are the questions to be in prayer about both individually and together. God is good and faithful to respond to this question. He will reveal things about Himself, each of you individually, and also your relationship.
With the spring season in full swing, this could be the perfect time to reflect on the health of your relationship.
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