On How to Choose a Spouse

Tags: 

Few SI readers are in a spouse-seeking phase of life. What follows is mostly an effort to organize some thoughts for my own kids and, likely, a future teen Bible study or Sunday School opportunity. Perhaps some readers will find these thoughts useful in their own family or ministry setting.

A brief word about prayer and the will of God. The advice here takes it as a given that the process should be conducted prayerfully. It also assumes that prayer is never a substitute for due diligence. Third, it assumes that although God has a plan for every life, it is not our role as believers to “know the plan.” Our role is to behave wisely, obediently, and worshipfully, and experience the plan as it unfolds. Last, it rejects the idea that the way we follow God’s leading is to get a feeling of peace about an option, then basically go with our gut. “What does your heart tell you?” is Disney, not doctrine.

Five questions for evaluating a potential spouse:

1. Is he or she truly a believer?

The question has two key words: “believer” and “truly.” The importance of the first term can’t be overstated. Scripture is clear that, besides “where we go after we die,” the regenerate and the unregenerate differ in many profound ways. A brief sample includes …

  • a different orientation toward God (Rom.8:7)
  • a different father (John 8:44, Gal. 4:6)
  • a different kingdom (Col. 1:13)
  • a different state of mind (2 Cor. 4:4, 1 Cor. 2:14)
  • a different inner life (Rom.8:9, John 7:38)
  • a different path to maturity (1 Pet. 2:2-3, Eph. 4:13, 2 Pet. 3:18)

Though being human makes us all a whole lot alike, there is an incompatibility between believers and nonbelievers at the deepest level—and over time, that incompatibility only grows.

The term “truly” in the question is worth a pause as well. Relationships that are moving beyond the casual friends level usually include a growing tendency toward wishful thinking. We tend to see what we want to see in the one who has stirred our affections. Getting past at least some of that fog is vital.

While only God can see the condition of a person’s heart, a reasonable level of confidence that someone has (or has not) passed from death to life is possible with time, humility, and earnest prayer for help to see things as they are rather than only as we want them to be.

2. Does he/she have the same understanding of the meaning of life?

Due to immaturity, some Christians evaluate major life choices—as well as routine daily choices—in ways that do not reflect a biblical understanding of the meaning of life.

For them, “Am I living life well?” is a question about achieving their dreams, reaching their potential, etc., rather than a question about how well they are fulfilling their responsibilities to their Maker and Master. They might never say “I have to do what makes me happy,” but that about sums up their decision-making process.

But stewardship and responsibity for the glory of God are the meaning of life for us mortals (See Thoughts on the Meaning of Life). Anyone who understands that, and habitually looks at choices through that lens, must be sure any potential life partner shares these commitments and habits of thought.

Plenty of disagreements will occur in any marriage. But fundamentally different visions of what life is all about—and therefore how options must be weighed—results in clashing priorities and a serious lack of common ground for working out differences.

3. Do we have the same view of our marital roles?

Marriage, as God designed it, assigns some responsibilities to husbands, some to wives, and some to both. The particulars are much debated, and I’ll not attempt to work through them here. For now, three brief observations:

  • The God-given responsibilities of husbands and wives are not identical. (Yes, a wife has a “place”—because a husband also has a “place”!)
  • Few things will cause more turmoil in a marriage than incompatible views of what eachother’s “place” in the home and family is.
  • Lots of marriages work pretty well with flawed views of a husband’s place and wife’s place—But only if they have essentially the same flawed views. (Other things being equal, getting roles right does work better than the alternative, but agreement on roles is indispensable.)

Young people looking for life partners should determine as well as they possibly can how their potential spouse views his/her role in the marriage and family.

If it hasn’t already been done, someone should should publish a series of common marriage-and-family conflict scenarios for courting couples to discuss. Conflicts commonly occur over approach to parenting, money management, and how disagreements will be resolved when they can’t reach agreement or compromise. If the two haven’t genuinely agreed in advance on who’s job it will be to “make the final decision,” their marriage is probably doomed.

4. Does he/she possess the essential skills of relationship?

Some people really can’t be married to anyone—at least, not happily or for very long.

The reason is that every close relationship relies on some basic skills and habits in order to survive—let alone thrive. This is a multiple-book-sized topic. For now, I offer a few top-tier examples to illustrate what I’m taking about.

  • The skill of respectful disagreement. A person who is unable, or habitually unwilling, to strongly disagree with another, while maintaining a positive view the other’s motives and character, should not be considered marriable.
  • The skill of compromise. A person who is unable, or habitually unwilling, to consider compromises when there is strong disagreement over a course of action should not be considered marriable.
  • The skill of listening. A person who fails to show a consistent hunger to understand you, and a recognition that you are the best source of the best information about you, should not be considered marriable.
  • The skill of being criticized. A person who is unable, or habitually unwilling, to receive criticism without seeing it as personal rejection should not be considered marriable.

We all fail in these areas at times. What a spouse-seeker should try to find out is if that potential life partner has a chronic or terminal lack of any of these skills. One huge clue is if the potential spouse has a history of failed friendships and highly strained family relationships. As the old saying goes, “the common denominator in all your failed relationships is you.”

If this pattern is evident, chances are good that a careful look at how this person relates to those close to him/her will reveal that he does not respectfully disagree, compromise, listen, or receive criticism.

5. Do we agree on our approach to parenting?

Assuming the relationship fundamentals are in place (1 – 4, above), couples can work through the details of how they carry out parenting tasks from day to day after the chidren are born. But given how strongly parents feel about their children and what’s best for them, young people moving toward a possible marriage should make sure they agree on some fundamentals before they wed.

Areas of agreement should include:

  • The status of chidren. Are they basically adults in small packages or do they have fundamentally different responsibilities and rights?
  • The parenting model. Aside from the obvious duties of provision, protection, and love, are parents authority figures with the right and duty to rule over their children or something more like caring friends who provide advice along the way … or something in between?
  • The maturing process. Couples should mostly agree on how children mature. Should children be protected from potentially harmful influences until they have the habits, character, and understanding to process them? Or do they become mature only by exposure? (Should they have a TV, computer, smart phone, and unfiltered Internet access in their room when they’re 6—or more like 16 … or 20?)

Choosing a spouse is not a science. But many of the worst marital disasters follow certain patterns and happen over and over again. Because the patterns are so common and predictable, they’re also not really all that hard to avoid—if we take off the rose-colored classes and honestly evaluate that potential partner.

Agreement

I would say "approach" not "approch," but otherwise I agree with what you've written in this article.  :)  As you've stated, an article like this can't be comprehensive, but the points you made are all very important.

I didn't have a discussion in this type of form with my daughter before she married, but we covered much of this territory in different conversations.

Dave Barnhart

Typo

"Approch is now approach" Smile

Often Like Their Mothers

My wife warned me before we were married that she carried some of her mother's negative traits, which she does. She gave me permission from that first year to address them when they manifested themselves. They did, I have, and it's strengthened our relationship. Her sister, who is still single, is her mother reborn. I'm thankful I chose the right one!

BTW, these check lists for choosing a spouse have always been a turn off to me. To quote John MacArthur: "Delight yourself in God and marry who you want."
 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

"Delighting"... and JMac

Delighting in God would have to include obeying Him (John 14:15), and He commends. . .

  • seeking wisdom in general (Prov. 3:13, 4:5, 7; 16:16 and many more)
  • thinking carefully about our choices (Prov. 4:26)
  • getting good advice (Prov. 15:22, 20:18, 27:9)

Indeed the entire book of Proverbs (and much of the rest of Scripture) has no reason to exist if we automatically make the right choices once our "heart is right."

Fortunately for those who follow him, JMac's point was not that have no hard thinking to do, but rather that, when we have several equally good options, we don't have to try to figure out which one is "the will of God" (For example... https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/80-24/making-the-hard-decisi...)

The checklist I'm working on is a method for eliminating options that are not good options at all. Having removed folly from our list of possibilities we're then really to "marry who we want."

Any of us? "I married the wrong woman!"

I've heard this more than once in counseling: "I married the wrong woman!"

I'm sure many a Christian wife: "I married the wrong man!"

------ Take a deep breath ----

The Christian husband's objective is to glorify God by becoming this kind of man: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her"

The wife's: Become a daughter of Sarah: "For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear" 1 Peter 3:5-7

Mr. Right

Once a couple has married, the question of whether they chose well or not is irrelevant. The consequences of their choice are not, though! In His wise and good plan, God certainly allows bad choices to accomplish His purposes. In the sense that it all works out for His glory, every choice is “right.” But what we want for our young people is to see them choose mates that will help them picture the relationship of Christ to His church, help them form godly families, help them be complete (in the “it is not good for man to be alone” sense).

So, finding “the right spouse,” is not the best way to frame the effort and could create a lot of unhelpful anxiety as well as distraction from what ought to be the focus: finding a very good, maybe even excellent, spouse.

Emotional & Mental Maturity

One principal I feel is important concerning this subject is that no person can be enough to satisfy whatever emotional and mental voids may exist in the the other spouse.  It is not one spouse's responsibility to make the other happy.  If one of the two spouses is not emotionally and mentally mature enough there will be problems especially if they are looking for the other person to fill those holes.  The other person will never, ever be good enough to satisfy the other person and from what I've seen, that can result in much constant petty nagging and out-right berating from the one spouse to the other.

Each person has to realized, and Own, that only God can fill our emotional and mental holes, that looking anywhere else other than God for that filling will always result in continued emptiness, and that personal happiness/joy is a God-based conscience choice.  I also believe we must realize that life, including our spouse, does not Owe us anything.  Except where God has promised us certain actions on his part and His chosen Grace and Mercy to us, this life owes us nothing. 

My point is that if one, or both, spouse(s) is not mature emotionally and mentally and has the idea that life and marriage is "supposed" to follow a specific path, there will be problems.

Finding yourself in God alone and giving each other grace is so important.

So true

Yes. Idea occurred to me today that a companion piece would be good--that reverses the whole thing: How to Be Choosable as Someone's Spouse... though that's a bit awkward. The idea is to evaluate one's own marriableness.

But anyone seriously deficient on #4 is probably not going to even be aware of it.

I believe I saw a book by Piper that emphasized this point--not going into it thinking your partner is going to be your dream-fulfillment machine. Not what marriage is for.

Our culture really messes people up on this point. So if parents/teachers/etc. haven't been actively deprogramming all along, they've got a big challenge in overcoming those assumptions when guiding those in their care.

"theological depth"

I think to a degree it's implicit in Aaron's list above, but it strikes me that a degree of theological depth, and an understanding of what's really important theologically, would be a great way of fleshing things out on #1.  Doesn't mean they need to be fluent in Greek and Hebrew or anything like that, but like the blurb today from Luther illustrates, have they mastered a basic catechism, or are they pretty much in the "prayed a prayer" category?   Seems to me that a big part of marital bliss is discerning blind spots and figuring out the difference between what's Biblical and what's cultural.

Great start.

Great article. I might add: Does he/she have appropriate emotional responses? Or does he/she laugh at things that are actually sad?, etc. 

Theology and responses

Thanks, Dan.

Yes, now that you mention it, one good way to tell alot about how a person is wired is what they think is funny. Complementary sense of humor is a huge plus. And I think the sense of humor often reflects values to a degree as well. On the other hand, I've met perfectly likeable and decent people who have a kind of dark sense of humor, so they'll laugh at some pretty horrible stuff even while insisting it's truly horrible. A little odd but not always serious (no pun intended)

To Bert's point, one fun way to see what a person really understands is a conversation about how you would explain the gospel to [fill in the blank]...  Options like: a 4 year old, an atheist MD, a wiccan, a person who "grew up Christian but later left the faith" etc. (If the answer to all of these is "well you ask Jesus in your heart," that's a bad sign!)

I'm thinking....

Jim wrote:

If they pick the wings off of flies ... watch out

...that somebody posted for her husband here.  :^)

We used to take one of my

We used to take one of my sister's long hairs and tie it around a fly's neck. Not easy to do, but it's neat to have a fly on a leash.


▴ Top of page

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.