Marriage Talk

Marriage Talk

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 In today's Boundless classic article "What Not to Say About Marriage," Candice Watters tackles the question of how much singles (particularly women) should talk about their desires for marriage and family.

It reminds me of a chick flick from almost a decade ago called "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days." In it, Andie Anderson sets out to get a guy to stop wanting to date her so she can write about it in a magazine article. Among her tricks of moving girly items into his house, being overly emotional and calling him every hour, Andie talks about marriage and even creates composite images of their faces to see what their future children might look like. 

We laugh during that scene because it's an exaggeration of what most of us know to be one of the cardinal rules of dating: Talking too much too soon on the topic of marriage is a great way to stifle the relationship and scare a guy off.

I definitely received this message during my dating years, primarily in the advice: "Just have fun and worry about that [marriage] later." And while not jumping to Andie extremes is probably advisable in the early stages of a relationship, Watters points out it can leave the relationship with a lack of direction and even insincerity.

"Now I'll admit there are some things you shouldn't ask a guy during those first few hours of conversation. 'What color tuxedo do you prefer?' and 'How do you feel about changing diapers?' are best reserved for later, like when you have a diamond on your finger. That said, however, there's something troubling about telling women they shouldn't even be 'contemplating marriage' on the first date. Why not? What's the purpose of dating, after all? If, as has traditionally been the case, dating is for finding a mate, then shouldn't the possibility of marriage at least be forefront in your mind, if not on your tongue?"

I agree. However, there needs to be a balance. Because of our preoccupation with "intentionality," I believe Christians can put so much pressure on a new relationship that it almost dooms them to failure. If your desire for marriage is taking up so much space in your mind that it is blinding you from getting to know the individual in a natural way, that is unhealthy — and ultimately unhelpful to the formation of the relationship. 

In my own dating life, I struck a balance by deciding to make honesty a priority. Dating someone for months without ever mentioning your desire for marriage and a family (if you have such desires) is dishonest. However, similar to other areas of life, it's not always prudent to say exactly what you're thinking at every moment. It may have been true that I was evaluating a guy's "marriage-ability" on each first date, but I didn't feel the need to share that information.

Ironically, the first time I had coffee with my husband, Kevin, we discussed parenting styles! (Not within the context of a possible future together, but on the topic of how we'd been raised.) I quickly learned that my now-husband did not shy away from marriage-and-family talk. I'm grateful for that, because when the time came to talk about it (three months later), I felt free to do so without "scaring him off."

What do you think? How have you struck a balance in talking about the sensitive subject of marriage? 

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  • I think a healthy balance between openness about the desire for marriage combined with a trust in the Holy Spirit's gift of wisdom in when and how to speak about marriage is needed.  Although I completely agree that singles should talk openly about marriage, and particularly in dating relationships, I also agree with the comment from Today's Christian Woman that "Christians seem to approach dating so seriously it's immobilizing,"  It's immobilizing when we put all the weight of finding a spouse on a single date and the burden of making relationships work on our own rules and cleverness, rather than God's guidance.  I've noticed the tendency in myself to put such high pressure and expectation on every date, every encounter with singles of the opposite sex, every opportunity to meet a potential spouse, etc., that the enjoyment of friendship gets crushed.  I've been guilty of approaching dating more as an interview process than as time with a friend who may--or may not--eventually be more than a friend.  But I think that when we ask the Holy Spirit to guide our conversations, and show us when and how to discuss marriage, we can better know and enjoy the people we date.  After all, how can I focus on knowing and valuing the person sitting across the table from me, if all I think of is how to broach the topic of marriage with him ASAP?  A mad dash to the topic of marriage won't go far in helping me understand his character and walk with the Lord.

  • I agree completely with Suzanne - there's certainly a need for a healthy balance here. Also, I strongly disagree with "Getting married is part of growing up." - that's downright disparaging.

  • In the original article, I find the following line offensive: "Getting married is a part of growing up." This statement implies that the only path to true adulthood is through marriage at a young age. Yes, it is something that God calls us to do, but only a few of us can handle such a big responsibility at a tender age. Nowadays, with work hard to find and many young adults having to live with their parents, it is much wiser to wait until one has some sort of reliable employment before seeking a spouse. Also, God does not call ALL his children to marriage. There are some of us (like me) who can do fine without a spouse and are better off single. I have seen Proverbs 18:22 several times on Boundless, but the Bible does not condemn asexuality. I have no good reasons to get married and plenty of good reasons to stay single, and there are many other who feel the same way about their own lives. I have run into several friends who have tried to make me change my mind, but I prefer to bring up 1st Corinthians 7. That section of the Bible says that singleness is a good thing.

  • The "getting married is part of growing up" comment is deeply wrong. Many of us here wish it were so. The society we live in wholeheartedly disagrees with you (to our own detriment). I'd like to know what else I'm lacking to be an adult in the eyes of the church. Maintaining a steady full-time job, paying all my own bills, doing all my own house work, being actively engaged in my church, leading a class in our children's bible club, working on graduate school, maintaining (semi)regular bible study, and mentoring a fatherless boy apparently don't cut it to you.

    When I hear people like you speak like that, it strikes me as a "Look what I've done with my own hands" comment, rather than being humbly grateful to God that He has allowed you to marry (well, even) when so many of us should like to.

  • I think within the context of this article, what Candice means by "Getting married is part of growing up," is if you are dating, marriage should be on your mind as a natural next step when the right person comes along. Someone who dates and dates and dates without ever committing to marriage (or even being willing to talk about it), may be exhibiting immaturity. Obviously, the statement is not true in every case.

  • As others have noted - those last few statements in the article really underscore the attitude that drives older singles away.  I know they weren't meant to be hurtful... rather they came naturally - which to be honest, stings a little more.  

    I think it hits a little harder for me because my line of work is also thought of as childish by some... though I'm sure a lot of people would love to have the steady work.  I know we're an extreme minority at Church, and I don't expect one to spend nearly the amount of time and attention as they do families.  But I am disappointed mine cancelled the only singles group....lol there is literally no category I fit into.  It's the island of misfit toys for me!  

    Regarding talking about marriage on a date - I would love to do that.  And not just because I'm older... I've been looking forward to it since my early 20's.  But that's likely because it was modeled for me so well by my parents, who married at 20... so I've never been afraid of it.  I think a person's experiences in life will determine how they feel discussing it.... just depends on the timing I guess.

    Also I would suggest that marriage actually is pretty close to a business transaction.  That's how it's been throughout history, I don't see how someone can deny that.  There are countless people we never meet who we could have a good life with.

  • (1)" Getting Married is part of Growing Up" --> lots of ways to growing up other than marriage.  Certainly one should not aviod marriage, but I feel I was ready for marriage at a young age and it did not happen....and honestly one of the most frustrating parts of my singleness was not my longing for a husband, but the constant accusations from Christian authors and churches that I must be not married because I am immature and avoiding it.

    Sometimes life doesn't go as planned and you have to learn to serve God in your unplanned circumstances.   Thats what I have struggled to do in 7ish years of unwanted singleness.  It was a tool God used to mature me, and honestly, I think it "grew me up" more than some of my friends who met their spouses in college.

    Not to say that marriage doesn't grow you up, I am sure it does and I am sure it will for me.  But it is SO hurtful to be longing for something that others easilly found and then have those same people pat themselves on the back for being so mature while you are just remaining a child and NOT seeking marriage....salt in the wound.

    (2) I certainly didn't bring up marriage on first date. I think that Christians do put way too much pressure on a first date.  But if we continued past a few dates, it was obvious we were looking for a relationship and then I talked more freely -- not wedding colors or children's names, but referring to family and marriage in the future...IE if asked if I liked law, Id say I liked it and hoped it was something I could transition into part time work when I had kids.  SOMETIMES mentioning kids rather than marriage seems to be the way to be honest --- I think if you start talking marriage, there is pressure on that person to feel like he or she needs to KNOW TODAY if you are the right one for them.  But when you refer to a family, it makes it clear thats a life goal...and its likely a goal of his and it gives him time to think about whether he wants to keep exploring the option of that goal with you (and vice versa!)

    (3)start with GENERAL not specific...... I agree that marriage isn't and shouldnt be off limits.  But I think we all know those Christians who are so eager to get married that they are planning it out in their head before they get to know someone.  Its like the idea of marriage is more important than the idea of the person.  I think it takes more than a couple dates to start getting an idea of whether or not someone is a person you could pursue marriage with or not.  Discussions of family backgrounds, parenting, life goals (does one person want to be a missionary and one person want to live by their parents?), etc is a good way to talk about marriage IN GENERAL, not marriage specifically.  

    (4) usually when marriage does come up finally- specifically the idea of marriage to eachother- a WHOLE lot of questions follow.  We started talking marriage a couple months in, and it was something we beat around the bush with a few times but once it came up, its like everything we were both dying to talk about just spilled out.  It was kindof an exciting weekend to just get to talk openly and figure out what the other one was thinking.

    I do agree with a lot of the setiment of the author though -- no need to be asheamed of wanting to get married.  Its a good goal to have and definitely a good one to discuss! I think its a good think to be open about this in all conversations though.  I often times felt embaressed to say I wanted marriage in front of Christian married women and men because they made me feel discontent.  I think its great to discuss and be open about and to essentially say, I am choosing to serve God single, but I am praying that one day I serve him with a husband and kids.  I think my openess in general made me more open in discussing marriage with my BF.  It flowed naturally bc I was open, so it didnt come off as some pushy girl bringing it up.  I just didnt shy away from topics like marriage and family when they did come up.

  • Along the same lines, I'm curious to hear what Boundless readers/writers think about people having a real or mental "checklist" of things they're looking for in a spouse. Good idea? Too limiting? I wonder what those who are married would say about certain things they thought they were looking for in a spouse--did they marry the kind of person they thought they would? Were some things not that important? Obviously, beliefs are important, but in addition to that, I've heard some people say they're looking for someone who's an extravert, or a pastor, or plays instruments, etc. etc. Thoughts?

  • Kim - there are two types of lists you could have.

    One would be comprised of more superficial qualities - musician, pastor etc.

    One would be comprised of personal traits/quality/character - extrovert, financially wise, kind to others etc.

    I think it's good to keep in mind the second type of list, but throw away the first list.  It really doesn't matter what he does, as long as he has a heart for God and lives according to God's principles (and then everything on List 2 should naturally follow).

    As for me personally, I had the "long list" and the "short list".  The long list was written several years ago and it was mostly a character-based list.  There were a few "nice to haves" as a footnote on the list, e.g.  "Loves activities X and Y."  But I never expected to find a guy with all of these various interests that meshed with mine.  It was a list of Ideals, not Expectations.

    My short list can be summarised as :  Single, Christian, Male, Breathing.

    And the short list was what I used when saying yes or no to a first date.

    The crazy thing is, the man I am dating now actually has 95% of the things from the Long List.  It was ridiculous when I showed him the list and we realised that he got check-marks on almost everything.  I didn't think a person like him could actually exist.  

    Back to the original topic - my Long List had items re: marriage and children, which meant that he and I have broached the topic of marriage as a future possibility for us.  And now that we know that, we don't have to dodge around the topic as the "elephant in the room", nor do we have to discuss it any more right now. It's still early days but we're heading on the same path and that is AWESOME.  

    In Summary:  Make a list if you want to, but don't let it hold you back from dating anyone who's a good man.  And if you find someone you really click with, it can be helpful to look at the qualities you desired in a spouse before you even met him.  

  • My list was even shorter than Kelly-1's!  Single, Christian, Male!  I didn't specify the breathing part!  (Okay, everyone has a longer list than that, I mean, I wouldn't have dated a 12-year-old and I probably wouldn't have gone for an 80-year-old and I probably wouldn't have dated a death row inmate).

    I used to have a longer list - 21 things.  Then one day, I looked at that list and realized that I wanted a Savior in human flesh that would make me into the kind of person that I maybe wanted to be, but wasn't.  (i.e.; working out, financially discliplined).  So I scrapped that and went back to the basics.

    Forgo-ing the discussion about the part of "getting married is part of growing up", I do think there takes some balance.  There was a gal that I knew who (it seemed) would say "When I get married..." as a part of every single conversation. She was 26.  Single.  Never been on a date.  And her life was on hold until that happened and it seemed her singular goal.  And like she had no inkling what God might be asking her to do 1) if she never got married or 2) until she got married.  Even I got annoyed.  I can imagine how men felt - like she just wanted them for their last name!

    But there's also something to be said for never mentioning it either -- that's a bad deal.  I think people appreciate honesty and upfrontness.  Before we were dating, my husband did say a couple of times that how he approached his career was with the mindset that someday he hoped to be married and planned accordingly.  That meant, partly, a job that could support a family and not setting an expectation that he'll work crazy overtime (he's salaried and not in a career like medicine/law that demands overtime) on a regular basis.  That was good for me to hear - that he desired marriage and planned for it without being overbearing or in-your-face.

  • I think it's rather sad "Christian" couples have to verbally confirm the purpose of their dating relationship--of course, Christians shouldn't be dating recreationally! But I guess realistically you have to ask to make sure he's not a faker.

    With my boyfriend and I, he didn't say on the first date, "I'm planning to marry YOU", which would have been creepy, he said, "I want to get married someday, and I don't just date for fun. I want to get to know you more." Then the subject was dropped (at least directly--indirectly we talked a lot about our backgrounds, families, dreams for the future, etc.) until 6 months later...when he said "This isn't a proposal, but I think I want to marry you. Can we talk more concretely about stuff?" and we have been doing that for about a year now, approaching engagement^^

    About lists, I never made one. Or it had only a few items, the most important was a man with LIVING faith. Not just a guy who goes to church but lives no different than a non-Christian other days of the week, but someone who's actually applying Christ's love with daily acts of repentance and growth in his life. Those kinds of quality men are surprisingly difficult to find. I left the U.S. to find one :P

  • I do have a list of character traits that I want my husband to have. There's obvious things like "honest" but there's also less obvious things that take time to come out. I've found that a lot of my "must-have-attributes" (I promise that's not a long list!! :P) can be determined outside a dating relationship which is helpful sometimes. For one, I want someone who's going to be respectful of me and my parents. Of course, any dude wanting a relationship with me is going to act respectful, but I've found that the way he talks about his own parents is a good judge. After all, if he doesn't respect his own parents, how is he going to respect mine?

    Anyway, this is all to say that I believe that Christians shouldn't date recreationally. Also I think that both girls and guys can have standards (like the parent thing) that can be determined outside a dating relationship. I think it's easier to find someone you're more likely to marry if you have a few pre-determiners.

  • Joy-sadly, all parents are not worthy of respect. So unless you are going to add "has wonderful, Christian, supportive parents" to your list (which I'm sure many people do), it's worth some grace to explore the issue.

  • Hmmm... marriage traits list.  I think there is a danger here in becoming too demanding, entitled, etc.  When I was in high school, I had a list. I totally bought into this mindset of "don't settle", hold out for someone who meets this list of qualities... My original list included traits like super athletic, public leader, spotless history with regards to issues like sex, drinking, etc -- my fiance does not have all these traits!

    Then I went to the other extreme and followed the belief of single,male, believer.....

    But that's probably too encompassing.  I continued to follow that rule for first dates.  Heck, I even would go on a date if I wasn't 100 percent sure of his faith -- because its a date, not a marriage proposal (Usually I would know their faith, but there are always those dates that occur because you met them at a tailgate or friend's birthday party, etc... coffee with a possible nonbeliever won't kill you)

    I begin to realize some things were essential (not to everyone, but to me) -- IE, he must want to be a father.  There are probably some wonderful Christian men who want to live on the mission field and not have babies, but I want to have a family so that was essential.  He must be a hardworking.  He must be growing in his faith and willing to try to lead a family.  (My more narrow list from high school included "the type of man that would be an elder" - because my dad was an elder and thats all I ever knew, but an article from Boundless helped me realize that men lead in different ways and that men in their 20s are still growing)

    sidenote: there are other areas we still don't 100 percent agree on (a couple minor theological differences, whether or not we will adopt and how many kids we adopt, etc    I think as long as we agreed and our life was compatable on MAJOR issues, we can both comprimise on other issues.  I think its hard to find someone if you think that person has to match your life goals and beliefs 100 percent.

    I wanted a man that was growing in all areas-- and encouraged me to grow. Simply, I want someone who, most of the time, encouraged me to be better, could call me out on flaws, and vice versa...as well as love me through mistakes.

    I don't include lists like honesty, compassion, faithfulness,  etc - because I asume the broad term "growing Christian" categorizes these essential fruit.

    And finally, there had to be some attraction.  Not initially. But eventually, I had to be emotionally and physically attracted to someone (and I think a lot of times this takes a few dates)  After all, this is about to be my best friend and sidekick and coparent and lover for hopefully 50 years!  I had to actually enjoy him and like who he was coming and also, like the idea of living life and having babies with him.  If the thought of spending the evening with him wasn't exciting or if the thouught of kissing him wasn't exciting (at a certain point) then clearly this would be hard.

    As for whether I am marrying a man who has my list of qualities, He has some, but not all. I am a rule follower, somewhat self rightous at time (a sin the Lord is constantly working to improve in me)-- and I am marrying a boy who is a reformed bad boy (and I use the term bad loosely since he was never a drug addict, player, etc, but he is wild compared to me) I think that the Lord worked in my heart for YEARS to break down my pride to where I didn't expect a certain type of man.  I am very much still the one encouraging us to follow rules and encouraging others to obey, and he reminds me of grace and a God that forgives and changes us.  I think it will be good to have both personalities in parenting!  I think we both probably wouldn't have picked eachother out bc we are different (im black and white and hes artsy, etc) but we are very glad to find eachother.  I think God provided the heart of what I was looking for while reminding me that some of my original requests from 18 years old were demanding and unecessary.  And a lot of my wants, he gave in a different way: IE, I wanted a leader, I have a quiet servant hearted leader, not an "in front of the church" leader.

    I am so glad I got rid of my long list or I never would have found this man!  My suggestion is throw away your lists, come up with the essentials for all beleivers (opposite sex, single, growing Christian) and come up with the essentials for you (family aspirations, willingness to challenge me) and then be open to see who God brings your way.  

  • I'm not even gonna touch "marriage is a part of growing up" other than to say: Try to grow up as much as you're able before you're married, if you plan on getting married. It'll make the transition MUCH easier.

    Yeah, we talked about marriage on our first date. I mean, we didn't name our kids or anything, and we still had to have that clarifying conversation at the make it or break it point, but I let the cat out of the bag in no uncertain terms that I was not dating "for funsies," and that if that's what he was looking for that I just didn't have time.  (and fwiw, evey relationship has that make-or-break clarifying moment, which is never fun and is always neccessary.)

    I think that there are some guys that that would have scared away, but I was right over being coy at that point, and I really liked the future Mr. A(tof) and I was DONE being toyed with and led along on a merry chase. Sometimes you just gotta say what you mean and mean what you say. Thankfully, he had come to the same place in life and things just sort of fit hand in glove.

    So basically: There is no "perfect" time to talk about marriage (or to not talk about it). It's different for every couple. But if you're seeing someone who tenses up at the very thought of commitment and gets all weirded out and defensive at the idea of spending their life with another person, you might want to decide what YOU have time for in your life.  

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