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If there's one thing we know about dating from Scripture, it's that Christians should marry other Christians. So when we meet someone who knows and loves God, how do we figure out if they possess characteristics that make them marriable — not just in general, but for us personally?
I wrote last week about how differences in dating relationships can be positive. We are all sinners, and no one is absolutely perfect. We have to learn to deal with differences gracefully. But how different is too different?
I was recently on the fence about whether or not I wanted to enter an exclusive dating relationship with a man who was pursuing me. I knew he took dating seriously and dated with the intention of marriage. We spent a lot of time talking and went out on several dates, but I was still unsure.
When it came time to make a decision and I didn’t have an answer, I asked him this question: "What do you picture your household being like when you're married?" His answer was a revealing one. (Keep in mind there is an appropriate time to ask this question, and that is when there is mutual interest and after the other person has made their intentions clear.)
If the ultimate goal of dating is marriage, then we should at least have an idea of what kind of marriage we desire when we begin dating. If someone we’re dating does not share that vision, it might be a good sign to pursue a different relationship.
I thought about how I would answer my question before I asked him, and I had to find out if his answer coincided with mine. Unfortunately, his did not. He mentioned none of the things that are crucial for me in marriage.
I realized through that experience that my vision defines the characteristics I'm looking for in a husband. And that vision I have for marriage should set my guidelines in dating as I attempt to discern the character of each man who pursues me.
I know I desire a home filled first and foremost with the peace and love of God, followed closely by joy and laughter. I want it to be continually filled with the praises and worship of God. I want my home to be a haven for those who need rest, guidance or simply a friend. I want a marriage and home atmosphere where imperfection might be obvious, yet shines with evidence of the Holy Spirit at work.
In order to make this vision a reality, my potential spouse should be a spiritual leader and a man in pursuit of holiness and goodness. He should be someone who can lead children by example in the Lord and not just by authority. The right man will be humble and hospitable so people feel welcome in our home and not as though they'll be judged for sharing their struggles.
Once we know what we desire in marriage, we should strive to date people who not only share our vision but display the characteristics needed to fulfill it.
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--"I know I desire a home filled first and foremost with the peace and love of God, followed closely by joy and laughter. I want it to be continually filled with the praises and worship of God. I want my home to be a haven for those who need rest, guidance or simply a friend. I want a marriage and home atmosphere where imperfection might be obvious, yet shines with evidence of the Holy Spirit at work.
In order to make this vision a reality, my potential spouse should be a spiritual leader and a man in pursuit of holiness and goodness. He should be someone who can lead children by example in the Lord and not just by authority. The right man will be humble and hospitable so people feel welcome in our home and not as though they'll be judged for sharing their struggles."
Beautifully stated, Amy! I couldn't have said it better myself.
--So I can't help but be curious - what kind of answer, from a Christian, was SO OPPOSITE to the vision you described? Your vision is the default expectation, isn't it?
--"What do you picture your household being like when you're married?"
My first thoughts - a healthy spousal relationship, a couple of kids (God willing) and some pets.. regular Church attendance, etc. Of course I want it to be filled with laughter and peace (goes without saying I think). Healthy living, camping, movie/game nights, etc.
If that doesn't sufficiently answer the question, than I guess I don't really understand what's being asked. I assume by the time this question is posed we would know each others beliefs, Church experience, etc.
--The list making tendency is an ex post facto justification for your initial desire to call it off; it would probably be better to have just called it off, otherwise it starts to look like a fitness test and you really were looking for him to come up with an answer you hadn't gamed out.
How would answers like these have gone over?
* It will be hardscrabble, there will be much privation, as life is difficult, and all things worth having require lots of hard work and sacrifice.
* We'll be moving a lot, because my calling is such that we'll be like Abraham in Canaan, so don't expect to have anything beyond a tent. I hope you like a pop-up camper.
* It will be whatever we can find, as we will be promptly taking up our crosses after the honeymoon and you will be assisting me with my evangelism.
* Since I'll be ministering to the terminally ill, it's going to be sad, as you'll be called upon to be supportive up people in mourning most of the time.
* It will be messy and you will be harried as the commandment "Be Fruitful and Multiply" will be given utmost consideration.
None are your same vision, but who wants to marry himself?
The risk you (the editorial you) run into is that you create these visions to fit your perfect image, and you're going to wait on perfection forever because the vision isn't from God, it's from you. If you have a gut feeling that it won't work, and you can't take the plunge, end it amicably rather than seeking some rationalization of your gut feeling.
I remember when I had to drive a stake in my first car, I had a list of the options at the dealership. I had a vision for what the replacement car would be like. I test drove a bunch of cars. I found one that was so much better than the ones on my list. I only test drove it after the sales guy (a family friend) suggested it as being considerably better for what I needed than what I wanted, and I was disabused of my previous assumptions.
What's funny about list making is that it always grows more elaborate with time, and the picture more defined down to the details, which also means you create your own barriers that would prevent the Holy Spirit from opening up a possibility you had not considered.
--"I know I desire a home filled first and foremost with the peace and love of God, followed closely by joy and laughter. I want it to be continually filled with the praises and worship of God. I want my home to be a haven for those who need rest, guidance or simply a friend. I want a marriage and home atmosphere where imperfection might be obvious, yet shines with evidence of the Holy Spirit at work."
Well, what did he say when you first posed the question to him, and what about his answer did not make it compatible with this vision you had here? If he (or she) doesn't know what kind of household you want, should you reject him solely based upon whether his vision matched up with yours? Most of our visions we have about the future are rarely identical to another's. Part of a good marriage is "give an take", as well as possibly following a spiritual leader in a direction you may be hesitant about.
I'm not saying you should go along with anyone who doesn't share your dealbreakers, nor that you reveal them all right away. But simply that often our notion of an ideal marriage rarely matches up with reality, and there is the factor of "faith for the man he'll become" (www.boundless.org/.../faith-for-the-man-hell-become)
--Yeah, I have to admit I'm curious about what he said too. It seems like a question that would require some thought; for example I want the peace and joy and so on that you listed, but I'm pretty sure that if put on the spot I'd say something much more vague and less spiritual sounding. You went into the conversation with your answer planned out, so I hope you weren't expecting him to come up with something equally eloquent off the top of his head.
To be honest I expect you have good reasons for believing your visions don't match up, but it's difficult to ascertain that from your post. So I would just add the above as a caveat: sure, it's a really good question to bring up, but I'd be careful about making it a make-or-break thing as it is. It's something to discuss rather than to test someone on.
--That is an interesting question, and could lead to any number of important discussions. Before reading your answer, I thought of it more in terms of "When you imagine us working as a team to fulfill our parental, financial, and domestic responsibilities, what does that look like?" than in terms of "What are your top values?" But of course there is plenty of overlap between the three questions.
--@James79, what does a healthy spousal relationship and healthy living look like to you? I'm not trying to be nit-picky, but sincerely asking since there could be a variety of definitions. It is tricky to make a list without being too vague or too rigid, but I think it is good to have a general idea of what we are looking for. Maybe one short list of non-negotiables, and another list of things that are important to us, but not a deal-breaker.
--Kelly_1 and MikeTime: Don't get me wrong, he had a great answer. On the surface, we were looking for the same things. But on a deeper level, there were things missing. He believes in God, but he wasn't at the same place spiritually where he was striving for closer communion with Him. I know those things can change, but we also had a lot of lifestyle differences. Asking him that question was kind of just a matter of confirming whether or not things that are very important to me are things that even mattered to him without me in the picture.
In answering my question, he didn't mention anything about leading a family spiritually or God being central in the marriage. He might not have opposed those things, but they didn't seem to be on his radar either. The fact that he didn't hold faith in God and serving God as important as I do is something I foresaw leading to a lot of problems. I didn't want to go into a relationship that was dependent on him working toward those things because of me instead of naturally wanting them himself. He was making a genuine effort, but that was just for me and while he was with me, not the rest of the time.
jaybees: For me, it's really not so much a matter of having a list and finding a guy who fits it exactly. It's much more a matter of the heart for me. Obviously, no one is going to match my vision perfectly, but to even share part of it is a big deal for me. I think what I'm trying to get at here is the importance of godly character that is backed up by convictions. If you ask someone about what kind of marriage they want and they mention nothing about God, that's a problem because that's the first thing out of my mouth.
I've dated people who have told me that their career will involve late nights and long hours away from home. That's not ideal for me, but that's something I can learn to handle. I've had guys tell me they will have to travel a lot because of their career and wouldn't be able to settle down in one place for a long time. Again, not ideal, but that's where compromise comes in to play. But with this certain individual, there were certain things in his life he found acceptable that I could not compromise on. And when God wasn't central to his vision for marriage, that's when it was confirmed for me that I needed to end things. Everyone is going to answer that question differently. I guess it's just a matter of finding someone who might not be saying all the same things, but answers it in the same way.
--Alyson - Good communication, being loving and supportive through ups and downs, etc. Healthy living in terms of nutritional and spiritual - leads to better enjoyment and quality of life imo.
My mind first went to practical, day to day things.... and it sort of sounds like like the author was looking for a very spiritual sounding answer. But I'm (along with others) confused because he was a Christian and I assumed they knew each others spiritual views at that point. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me to put an entire possible future with someone on the line with a set-up question like this... hopefully there was at least further discussion that took place afterwords.
--Amy, you may have been too oblique. I'm not doubting your call here and would not urge you to make any decision apart from what you did, but I would not want someone to take away "the fifty questions they should ask" and just have this one in the hopper without thinking about what the question is asking.
Considering I lack the details to know how warmed up the guy was, there are three obvious possibilities:
A) He was a bad egg and good that you passed.
B) He sought to say something he thought you might want to here and wound up being a schlub who just kept putting his foot in his mouth.
C) The question seemed so out of left field that he had no idea what you were driving at and made a number of bad assumptions.
Although a demure demeanor and roundabout approach to thing is absolutely delightfully feminine and attractive, one would wonder what would have come from more direct questions:
* So what are you going to do in your role as husband, father, and head of household to make this happy Christian marriage work, and what is that going to tangibly look like on a day-to-day basis?
* Explain what your vision is for how you will balance God, marriage, children, work, and everything else, and what that is going to look like in our married life.
Advice worth what you have paid for it - assuming B or C is possible above, something slightly more directly worded would cut through either the obsequiousness or the reptilian flight-or-fight filter so you could know A with more certainty.
--JosieJo: You're right, I did know how I would answer the question before I asked it. At the same time, he consistently talked about dating to move toward marriage and how he took dating seriously. So while he might not have known his precise wording, he must have had some idea. What I wrote in my post about my vision for my marriage, those were my first thoughts. If someone asked me the same question without any notice, I would spit out some form of the same answer. I think you can tell a lot about a person by their first reaction as opposed to being given time to plan. I think we can still get our point across without much time to plan, even if it does involve a lot of rambling or pauses to think.
--jaybees: In context, my question wasn't too far out in left field. We were nearing the end of a discussion based on whether or not we should move forward in a dating relationship or end things as they were. He was revealing more things about himself and who he is when he is not with me, and he had recently revealed there was a side of him he kept from me because he knew I wouldn't like it. It was a side that wasn't too Christian. When he was with me, he made an effort to talk about God and went with me to church because those things are important to me, but I started to realize those were just things he was doing for me. And as someone who views pursuing God and Christlike character as important, I could not reconcile the man he was around me with this other side of him that was not godly, but that he found no shame in. And so I think asking him what kind of marriage he pictured having was kind of my last defense. When his answer didn't have anything to do with God, I knew it wouldn't work.
--Then I commend your making the decision and also for providing this additional context that will help others to understand your piece more fully.
--@jaybees, I agree it's important to ask direct, specific questions, but those questions could also be too leading because they assume the man wants to be the head of the household and pursue God daily. I think Amy is right that sometimes you get a more revealing answer if you ask neutral questions. Not that people always mean to deceive, but they may be people-pleasers and compromise internally instead of being blunt.
@James79, I agree with everything you said, and my mind also immediately went to practical and every-day, but I can also understand a very spiritual person wanting a more spiritual answer, because that is practical and every-day to them.
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