As he described the pain and frustration in his marriage, it tore me apart. Although his wife identified with Christ, her lack of spiritual interest had only grown worse over the years, leaving him lonely and unfulfilled. At this point, all he could do is pray.
In my first post in this series, I wrote about whether Christians should date people outside of the faith. That certainly happens, but most Christians find themselves in a much murkier situation: wondering whether the Christian they’re dating (or thinking about dating) is really marriage material.
As this short story from my friend shows, getting this decision right is absolutely critical.
So let’s take a look at 7 warning signs that your relationship may not be marriage material.
7 Warning Signs That Your Relationship Needs A Break
#1 Big differences in levels of spiritual maturity or passion for the Lord
There are many different possible reasons for this. In some cases, one person has simply been a Christian much longer. In other cases, issues of obedience or willingness to spend dedicated time with the Lord may be involved.
While we all bring major (and often different) deficits to the table, when you look at your lives as a whole there should be a pretty good spiritual equivalence between you. If there isn’t, your ability to showcase the gospel will be greatly compromised. After all, that’s what marriage is all about. (Oh, and you won’t be truly fulfilled, either.)
#2 One person won’t submit to Christ in some area of life
This may be pretty straightforward, or, it may only become obvious as you get to know someone well. For example, one woman was so focused on her career that she pretty much neglected her fiance. It’s not that her career was bad, but her unwillingness to truly consider making adjustments was an indication of a deeper spiritual problem.
#3 One person excuses major sin in the other person for some ‘benefit’
For example, men, who are visually-oriented, are prone to excusing sin patterns in their girlfriend because she’s physically attractive. Women, on the other hand, are prone to overlook clear problems if a guy treats them well and doesn’t challenge them – even if he’s much less mature spiritually. In either case, one person is excusing sin and neglecting something God says is important. This leads to increasing blindness, and an inability to help each other reflect the holiness that will honor God and set us free (see John 8:32).
#4 You haven’t (really) explored your theological beliefs and convictions
I’m not suggesting that you pin down your views on the millennium on your first date. (It’s probably okay to let that one go forever, actually.) But Christians can vary with respect to their theology in ways that practically make marriage difficult. For example, if one of you places a huge emphasis on God’s sovereignty in all of life while the other stresses our responsibility and choice, that can lead to real conflict down the line, especially when life gets tough. Similar if one of you is very particular about theology and doctrine while the other is rather laissez-faire.
#5 You avoid touchy topics out of fear they could come between you
It might be politics, ethical issues like abortion, issues of Christian freedom like cursing, who will find a new job so you can live in the same city or [fill-in-the-blank]. When we were dating, discussing how we would cultivate our joint spiritual life was really hard for us. For a number of complex reasons, it was a touchy topic that we steered away from, but should have pursued more. It’s not that we have to see eye-to-eye on everything, but it is important that everything be ‘on the table’. If it isn’t, it might suggest idolatry that will make important conversations harder down the line.
#6 You don’t feel comfortable letting others know you’re dating
If one (or both) of you isn’t proud about telling the world you’re dating the other person, that’s a problem. I’m not talking about your parents’ concern because your boyfriend isn’t from their ethnic background. I mean fear and hesitation on your part because of something in the relationship you’re not at peace with. Paul says that ‘whatever does not proceed from faith is sin‘ (Romans 14:23), so a lack of faith that your relationship is honoring to God is worthy of closer inspection.
#7 One person has ‘no real opinions’ or just does whatever the other person wants
On the surface, this can seem honorable and Christ-like. It’s good to be flexible, but it needs to go both ways. For example, a guy might decide to move to be near his fiance as she pursues grad school. That can be a great way to ‘in humility count others more significant than yourselves’ (Philippians 2:3) and put her first. But if he’s always deferring to her and she’s effectively directing all their major decisions, it’s a sign that something’s off. In healthy relationships, both persons are trying to ‘outdo one another in showing honor’ and love (Romans 12:10).
I’m sure these aren’t exhaustive. What other warning signs would you include?
Finding Your Spiritual Equal
So how can we avoid falling into these traps that will lead to an ultimately unhappy marriage that falls short of God’s purposes?
If you see some of these warning signs in your own relationship, be honest, re-evaluate, and take a break
If you’ve been in the relationship for awhile, it can feel like you have to keep moving ahead. But until you say ‘I do’, you have the freedom to step back. Don’t be afraid to bring up your concerns and take a break so you can think clearly. And if the relationship is clearly unhealthy, have the courage to end it with conviction.
Ask trusted friends and mentors for their opinion and prayers
Because ‘the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick’ (Jeremiah 17:9), we need others to help us see what we can’t. (Like the time someone told me that I had a hard time standing up to my wife.) If you feel uneasy about the relationship, you’re probably onto something and this is the time to involve others.
Trust that God can provide a godly spouse for you
One of the things that tempts people to enter a relationship with someone who’s Christian, but less mature, is the fear that that there’s no one better. Totally understandable, but God encourages us that ‘I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?’ (Jeremiah 32:27) He can easily provide the right person for you.
Pursue Christ and become the kind of person you’d like to marry
I can’t tell you that, if you just put God first, he’ll give you a godly spouse. But, on the authority of God’s Word, I can promise you that making Christ your treasure will satisfy you more than anything else in the world.
- ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’ (John 6:35)
- ‘For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.’ (Psalm 107:9)
- ‘In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.’ (Psalm 16:11)
No matter lies ahead, you’ll never be disappointed if you put Christ first. And you’ll become, and attract, the kind of person you’d like to marry.
Questions for reflection:
If you’re in a relationship, which one of the warning signs are present in your own relationship?
If you’re not in a relationship, which ones are you most susceptible to?
What would help to protect you from entering, or continuing in, a relationship of spiritual inequality?