7 Signs Your Relationship Isn’t Marriage Material


marriage material

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.  Here are seven 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 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.  (You won’t be truly fulfilled, either.)

#2 One person won’t submit to Christ in some area of life

This may be pretty clear, 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 like a lack of respect in their girlfriend because she’s physically attractive. Women, on the other hand, can 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 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 alcohol consumption, 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 spiritual intimacy 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’ for discussion.  If you sense an area is sensitive, handle it with care, but make sure you handle it.  

#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.  If you find yourself hiding or downplaying the relationship, it’s important to figure out why. 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 fiancee 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.  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 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 getting married.

  • ‘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)

Can another person ever do that?

No matter what lies ahead, you’ll never be disappointed if you put Christ first.  You’ll be ready for marriage, and attract the kind of person you’d like to marry.

Questions for reflection:

  1. If you’re in a relationship, which of the warning signs are present in your own relationship?
  2. If you’re not in a relationship, which ones are you most susceptible to?
  3. What would help to protect you from entering, or continuing in, a relationship of spiritual inequality?


  • Bryan,
    These are great recommendations for people who aren’t yet married. If more people considered the things you wrote, they probably wouldn’t end up pushing forward to the altar when in fact that was the wrong decision.

    • Hey Scott, thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Since you’re a pastor too, I know you’ve probably seen more than a few examples of this (both good and bad)!

  • This was such a helpful, thought provoking article. I am currently in this situation now and this has helped me start to gain some clarity.

    • Hi Colleen, I’m so glad this article was timely for you. God is so good in giving us just what we need when we need it. I am praying that God gives you wisdom for your situation.

    • Yes, it’s definitely something that comes up in ‘real life’. Thanks for taking the time to read and leave a comment, Peter!

  • Great article. I’m in a relationship right now with item #1: spiritual maturity. She’s a new believer. What words do I say to break up? I can’t just say “hey I’m more spiritually mature than you so see you later”. How do I break up in a loving way/manner that honors Christ?

    • Hey Philip, thanks for reading and a really thoughtful question. Here are a few questions that may help.

      1) What role did you play in starting the relationship? I.e., looking back, do you wish you had put the brakes on starting the relationship? What led you to move forward despite the gap in spiritual maturity?

      2) What led you to see the need to break up over this issue? Perhaps it was this article, and/or some other things. Or, perhaps she came to Christ through you after you started dating.

      Of course, affirming her and all the good you see in her is really important. More important than the actual words you say.

      But given that, why you started dating her and what led you to reconsider (i.e., break up) can shape your approach. For example, if you started dating her before she knew the Lord, you could admit you should not have moved forward in the relationship, and apologize for that. And if God used the article to convict you, you could share how it challenged you to do what’s right.

      The point is that you can take responsibility for your part, and make the break-up about you, not so much about any deficiencies in her. If you do that, affirm her, and let her know you hope you can reset as friends in Christ, that may help it go as well as possible. (I realize that the ‘reset as friends’ part may be complicated, and perhaps not even possible for some time.)

      I think it’s also important to really let her respond, even if it’s messy. Let her share how this is impacting her.

      So much of what you say will be shaped by the details of your relationship, but I think this general approach can help you love her and Christ well in a difficult situation.

      Feel free to write back with any questions, comments, etc. These are just initial thoughts.

      PS I’m sure you will, but praying about what to say/not say, and asking some friends to join you in that, is also critical.

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