Some people get married too soon.
After love at first sight and a whirlwind romance, they quickly plan a wedding, exchange rings, and settle into a marriage that soon turns sour. So much pain can be avoided by working through issues before that wedding day. While courtship and engagement is, of course, the time to plan a wedding, it is also the time to plan a marriage. Here, drawn from the work of Jim Newheiser (Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage), is a list of issues to work through before you get married.
Are you both in love with the Gospel, and is it impacting your lives? This is, of course, the most foundational question of all. Are you a Christian? And is your future spouse a Christian? Are you both confessing your sins before God and one another? Are you both extending and receiving forgiveness? Do not marry anyone until you are convinced he or she is a Christian; do not marry a Christian until you are convinced that you, too, are a believer.
Do you respect each other’s character? Having been convinced that your future spouse is a believer, are you also able to respect their character? Does that person have the kind of character that will be a blessing to you throughout your marriage? These will be issues of leadership and submission as well as issues of parenting, working, temper, and much else. In short, is this person displaying mature and maturing Christian character?
Do you have compatible life goals? Do you and your future spouse have similar goals for the future? Are you both committed to foreign missions, for example, or just one of you? Are you both eager to begin a family, or just one? Do you know how many children you each want to have and when you’d like to begin having them? How about the type and level of your commitment to the local church? Do not assume that you both have the same or even similar life goals. Talk!
How do you function together in group settings? While much of married life will be lived in relative isolation, much will also be lived in community. For this reason it is important to consider how your future spouse behaves in public and how the two of you behave together. How do the two of you work together in public? Are you both meeting people and making friends? Is one of you content to be alone and isolated? Does your future spouse have close friendships or have many of his or her former friends become isolated?
Have you been able to work through the past? It is rare that a couple enters marriage without a romantic and sexual history (with one another or with others) and these issues can be very difficult to discuss resolve. They can put an immense weight on a young marriage. Have you spoken to your future spouse about their sexual history in sufficient detail that you know enough? Have you asked and extended forgiveness for whatever sexual history you have accumulated? Also, is your future spouse chaste now or content to look at pornography and masturbate? Be sure to work through issues of sexuality.
Are you able to be honest with each other about sins and faults? By the time you are engaged, the “best foot forward” stage of dating has passed and you have learned many of the flaws and foibles of your future bride or groom. The stress of engagement and marriage planning will all but guarantee you will have a couple of good fights, and these will give you the opportunity to see if and how you can resolve them. Is he or she quick to forgive? Quick to ask forgiveness? Long to hold onto sins? Is that person beginning to be like Christ in forgiving those who sin against him or her?
Can you love and accept each other as you are? Some people enter marriage with the idea that their spouse is a project and that a little TLC will be all that person needs to be changed. While that may be the case, old patterns die hard. While you of course hope that God will continue that work of grace, the fact is there may not be as much change as you’d like. Don’t expect that your spouse will some day be a completely different (and better) person.
Why do you want to marry each other? Couples don’t always pursue marriage for the best of reasons. Sometimes the reasons go no deeper than physical attraction. Sometimes it’s an inordinate desire for companionship. Sometimes it’s that they are feeling guilt for sexual involvement. No matter the case, couples must be clear on why they want to marry one another. Be sure to prioritize godly character over looks, friendship, and everything else!
What are your expectations of marriage? You’ve probably heard it said that a woman gets married expecting that her husband will change while a man gets married expecting that his wife will never change. The fact is, in some ways both partners will change and in some ways they probably will not. Are you prepared to stick it out for the long-haul with your future spouse as he or she is now? Are you willing to endure all kinds of trials with that person by your side?
How well do you know each other and yourself? Do you know yourself? Do you know your future spouse? A little pre-marriage counseling and planning can go a long way. Before you marry, ensure your pastor or a godly older couple has spent some time with you, whether formally or informally. Talk through these issues and any others that come to mind. A little knowledge can go a long way.
Tim Challies is a pastor, author and book reviewer. Find more of his work at www.challies.com.