After 23 years of pastoring and 10 years of full-time counseling, it has been my privilege to help many people who are preparing to get married. Marriage is not something to be entered into lightly. I once heard a preacher say the two most important decisions one makes in life are whether or not to accept Jesus as your Savior, and who to marry.
One decides whether you live in heaven or hell after death, and the other decides whether you will live in heaven or hell here on earth. Clearly, choosing a life partner is a big step. If you are planning to get married how can this be done successfully?
Many movies have made it appear that one falls in love and this culminates in a marriage where couples naturally live happily ever after. Most movies don’t follow the couple into wedded bliss. The fact is that many marriages often don’t last and half of them end in divorce.
The statistics show that this happens in Christian marriages as much as ones that are not Christian. My purpose for writing this article is to give some advice and wisdom and direction for those who are seeking a life partner and contemplating marriage.
There are no guarantees that insures one picks the right partner, but there are principles that can lend some wisdom to such a monumental life choice. If you are planning to get married soon, I hope this article on pre-marriage counseling topics will help guide you in your decisions.
How to Find the Right Partner
First, let’s consider those who are looking for a good partner and want to make the right choice. How do you find the right person? How do you know this is the person you want to spend the rest of your life with? My best advice is to be patient and walk slowly.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 7, Paul talks about singleness as a gift. He suggests that some should not marry. This is not an edict for he also states that many will and should get married. Now it may well be that you will at some point get married but don’t miss out on a season of singleness which can be a gift from God.
When you only have to take care of yourself, there are things you can do that you probably won’t be able to do once married. If you are currently single look at this time as a gift from God. You will be able to learn more about yourself. This is your time to work, travel, or go to school if that is what you want to do. You also have the ability to devote more time to God if you are feeling a call.
The self-discovery time will be invaluable as to what you have to offer to a future spouse. I do believe the Lord orders our steps. Nothing is lost in God. Each phase of life can impact us for the next phase that is coming.
If you feel you have been single long enough don’t panic. I know a lady who remained single into her forties. Eventually, she met a man who was a widower and they were married. This man lived into his nineties and they had a long marriage for more than forty years. I am sure there were times she doubted she would ever marry, but I am also sure she was glad that she waited for the right one.
Is this “The One”?
Second, there is no tried and true practice to know that you have met the right person to marry. My father used to tell a story about his own life. “When I met your mother, I had been single well into my twenties. I began to think I would never get married.
After dating her for 6 months, I asked your grandmother if 6 months was long enough to know someone and get married?”
My grandmother answered him and said, “I am not sure, but after 6 months you will probably not get to know her any better without living with her.”
It can be difficult to know for sure you have the right person. Moving into marriage always involves some faith. However, there are some principles that can be helpful when choosing a life mate. Once again, I would suggest that you take your time getting to know this person you may spend your life with.
Don’t be in a hurry. Find out what the partner’s family is like. It has been said when one marries it is to the whole family. I believe this is true. A partner’s family has had influence over your future spouse and the influence does not just go away when you arrive on the scene. Make sure you get along with the whole family or at least take this into account.
If your future spouse is a female, how does she interact with her father? If your future spouse is a male, how does he interact with his mother? This question can give clues as to how your future spouse will treat you. People often treat the opposite sex the way it has been modeled for them while growing up.
If a parent is absent, what happened? Many people grow up with one parent, some with no parents at all. How has this affected the person in question? How a person is raised as a child will impact a marriage. There are clues available to a discerning person as to whether the person in question will be a good match. It is important to count the cost.
Is Love Enough?
Third, single Christians sometimes fall in love with non-Christians. I have heard young people say it will work out the spouse will come to God eventually. Sadly, in my observation, the opposite is more often true. The non-Christian influences the Christian partner and his/her relationship with the Lord suffers.
I have known many Christians who fell in love and thought this would be enough to have a happy marriage. When I was young this was called missionary dating. “If I love him/her enough they will eventually come to God.” “I will be able to convince them of my faith.”
In 23 years of pastoring, I only met one person that missionary dating worked for. There were many years of going to church by herself and trying to raise children to believe in God. Not all the children are serving the Lord today.
The husband did eventually come to faith. I have seen many more marriages where the spouse never comes to faith and it impacts the marriage strongly throughout its existence. I do not know how many marriages like this last.
“Is love enough?” I once heard a sermon with this title. It was based on the story of Samson and Delilah. Samson saw this girl and he was in love from the start. Delilah was probably very beautiful and clearly, Samson was smitten. The Bible does not tell all the background but one thing for sure is Delilah was from a completely different culture and belief system than Samson.
She came from the enemy’s camp. To make a long story short, Samson went all out to win her and apparently accomplished the feat. What he didn’t account for were her hidden motives. Delilah, coerced and drafted by her own people, planned to trap Samson and deliver him to the Philistines.
Delilah was a Philistine, Samson’s enemy, and this didn’t change because of his love for her. The story is not clear about what Samson thought. It does become evident that Delilah is attempting to do Samson harm. Samson appears to remain unconcerned about this situation.
It even seems as if Samson at times is toying with Delilah. He is either arrogant, believing she can do him no harm, or his love for her blinds him to her nefarious intent. I have always wondered what Samson was thinking. In the end, Delilah did betray Samson which culminated in his eventual death.
Samson compromised many of his beliefs and broke his vows to God for the love of a woman. Read the rest of the story. In the end, Samson does win a great victory over his enemies but at a tremendous personal cost. Clearly, in this strange story of love, Samson’s love was not enough.
Let God Lead
Fourth, I believe if we put God first, He will lead us to the right spouse. I remember when I was in college, I had a few relationships that ended poorly. I was pretty discouraged about this and I remember praying, “Lord, I am just going to concentrate on my studies and it will be me and you.” I decided I was not going to try so hard to find a companion.
In fact, I determined if it was not to be, then so be it. I don’t remember how long after I prayed this, but it wasn’t more than a semester that I went out with the girl I eventually married. I had thought I would meet a girl at school which was far away from where I grew up.
It turns out I had known this girl since I was 4. We had grown up in the same church and had many mutual friends. The Lord opened our eyes and we saw each other for the first time in a romantic way. I married that girl and am happy to say that while I am writing this article, we are celebrating our 37th wedding anniversary.
I am blessed! My point in sharing this personal anecdote is this: Once I surrendered my desire to find a partner and decided to concentrate on my relationship with God, He gave me the girl I had been looking for. The interesting and intriguing part is she was there all the time.
If you feel hopeless about finding a life partner, I encourage you to give up completely. Stand upon the following promise of God. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). I firmly believe when we surrender our desires to God, He begins to move in our life. When we put Him first, He gives us the desires of our heart. He works through surrender.
Fifth, I have done pre-marriage counseling with many couples. I usually give the couple a lengthy questionnaire that has different categories that are appropriate subjects to go over for a couple getting married. In the first session, each person answers random questions about marriage.
Then in the second session, these questions are categorized under common topics of marriage so that each person discovers what the other one answered. This is when it gets interesting. Some people get nervous like it is a test and they might fail.
I tell them no one fails; we are just gathering information for comparison, to make sure they have communicated about important subjects that will become evident after they are married. I have been surprised how often the couple planning to get married has never talked about how many children they want to have or how they should handle their finances.
Other categories may include in-laws, sex, use of drugs and alcohol, even categories about house décor and furnishings. It is often interesting what new couples have not talked about. This inventory helps them to discuss topics that should be communicated with each other before they say, “I do.”
Communication is vital before the marriage takes place. A spouse can’t read the other person’s mind. I have counseled couples who assume they know what the other one is thinking but they are often mistaken. Once a couple is married, the assumptions left undiscussed come to light, and often cause difficulties in the relationship. For good communication to take place one has to listen more than one talks. It is also helpful to ask questions rather than assuming a person thinks a certain way.
Keeping God First
Sixth, perhaps the best advice to give people contemplating marriage is to make sure your relationship with the Lord is good. It is curious how many things in this life can side-track one from seeking God. Good things like careers and school can take up so much time that there is little left over for the Lord.
Some people think there will be time to seek God once achievements like school and career are out of the way. When careers take up most of life, people rarely change their habits and suddenly seek God more. A relationship with God has to remain the top priority. There are no shortcuts, time spent in the Word and in prayer will help.
Being active in a church and sharing and serving with other believers is also important. Even a future spouse should not get to take precedence over our relationship with the Lord. Remember, God will have no other gods before Him. This includes one’s relationship.
I love my wife more than anyone on this planet, but I love Jesus more. She says the same thing to me. When faith is at the foundation of a marriage it will go better. This will not exempt anyone from trials, troubles, and tribulations. The difference will be that the Lord is always there to help as we cooperate with Him.
I have experienced difficulties in my marriage that I would not have wanted to go through without the Lord. He has helped us through every trial, financial problem, illness, and many other difficulties. My father used to say, “Son, keep God first, family second, and the church third.” “If you do there will be nothing you and God can’t handle.”
I have found this to be true and I realize that I must choose to stay close to God. If I stray then I need to come back. God is full of grace, slow to be angry, and willing to take 3 steps toward me for every step I take towards him. If you put God first in marriage the partnership can be a real blessing in life.
As you contemplate finding a life partner, I trust some of this advice will be helpful to you. Put God first and all these things will be added to you. If you have decided to get married, or soon will, perhaps you should consider pre-marriage counseling. You can take inventory and make sure you have communicated with your partner the important things concerning your relationship. Don’t wait. I look forward to hearing from you.
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