When we are head-over-heels “in love,” our common sense seems to hibernate for a while. Have you ever felt so exhilarated with your new relationship that you glossed over issues which would normally concern you? It is important to take the time to consider not only what you are looking for in a future spouse, but with which issues you do not want to yoke yourself.
- Okay, so he spends money a little frivolously, but I love his free spirit!
- She is reluctant to talk about her faith, but I feel certain she loves Jesus, and we will be fine.
The time for deciding what you can and cannot deal with in a marriage is before you date, if possible – and certainly before engagement. When I was younger, I did not want to discuss potentially difficult topics. I wanted to have fun! I craved the butterflies and did not want anything to disrupt my feeling of “being in love.” Thank goodness Eric was on a mission. He was a bit older than me and looking for a life partner, not a few months of flirting and self-gratification. He talked to me about faith, future goals, desires for family, and several other topics. We attended a marriage conference at a local church (his idea) and he read me a book or two on relationships.
Had he focused only on fun, and had he been clueless about what he wanted (and could tolerate) in a mate, we might have made it to the altar with several stones left unturned (a terrifying thought). The honeymoon is not the time to ask, “Hey, did you want children?” The first married Christmas is not when to learn your spouse strongly opposes exchanging gifts. And, after two years of scrimping to pay off student loans, you do not want to hear your spouse say, “I am tired of this tiny apartment. Let’s just go ahead and buy a house.”
If you have not given much thought to your personal relationship deal-breakers, below are some categories to consider. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list but simply a starting point of topics to discuss. As ideas come to you, jot them down so you can explore them later.
- Pre- and Post-Marital Fidelity (physical and emotional)
- Abusive Behavior (verbal, physical, emotional, psychological, sexual)
- Temperament Concerns
- Jealous or Controlling Behavior
- Keeping You from Family or Friends
- Self-Centered Tendencies
- Compatible Eating Styles and Preferences
- Consuming Alcohol
- Smoking Cigarettes/Vaping
- Drug Abuse
- Gambling Addiction
- Political/Worldview Differences
- Peter Pan Syndrome? (Is your significant other refusing to grow up?)
- Faith Related Disagreements
- Irregular Church Attendance
- Wanting (or Not Wanting) Children
- Child-rearing Differences
- Lying or Hiding Information
- Concerning Careers
- Unwillingness to Communicate
- Conflict Avoidance
- Overly Involved In-laws
- Financial Behaviors
- Unwillingness or Inability to Hold a Job
- Hygiene Expectations
- Physical Health Problems
- Mental Health Problems
- Differences in Sexual Interest
A friend of mine is in a budding relationship, and she is being upfront with him about what is important to her and her deal-breakers. Some of their upcoming conversations may be uncomfortable, but it puts my heart at ease knowing she is being honest with him and not settling for major differences or character flaws.
What if we discover deal-breakers after we are married?
Sometimes this happens. Either addictions develop or spouses experience changes after the wedding. After a covenant is made between two people and God, most deal-breakers are no longer deal-breakers.
Biblically, divorce is permitted in two circumstances. One involves sexual infidelity (cf. Matthew 19:8-9). Even then, couples are encouraged to seek reconciliation. Divorce is not commanded in the case of sexual immorality. The other instance is when one spouse is a believer and the other spouse leaves. However, if the unbelieving spouse chooses to stay, the believing spouse is told to stay in the marriage (cf. I Corinthains 7:10-13).
Because divorce is not meant to be an option for Christ-followers, it is supremely important to give yourself time to see each other in many different situations so you can marry with your eyes wide open. Will you still encounter surprises? Yes. Everyone does. Like comedian Jim Gaffigan says, “I’m happily married; but, even in the best relationship, each person has thoughts where they go, ‘I’ve made an enormous mistake.’” I laugh every time I hear that… because it is true. Even the best marriages experience those “What have I done?!” moments.
Issues such as physical abuse need to be reported. We would never recommend a woman stay in a home with an abusive husband (or a husband in a home with an abusive wife – which happens more often than you might think). Abuse victims need a refuge along with intense counseling and safeguards.
In cases where one spouse is gambling and emptying out the bank account, it is wise to seek assistance in separating your finances. This is the only situation in which we recommend couples splitting their finances. In such cases, separation, counseling, and safeguards are necessary until such a time as rehabilitation is complete.
When abuse is present, seek help. Tell someone you trust.
Additional Deal-Breaker Considerations
In other cases, deal-breakers are not a part of the Christian marriage. He might only shower once a week. She may refuse to discipline your children while you are at work. His political outlook might change and her desire for fellowship with others in the church might evaporate. Still, God calls us to be faithful to our spouses regardless, and He gives us the strength to press on despite the struggle. If anyone knows your partner’s sinfulness, (and yours), it is God.
From the first day you date a potential mate, bathe your relationship in prayer. Ask God to reveal hidden problems which you need to know. Purposefully put yourself in situations where you can observe the real person – helping a friend move on a hot day, traveling on a bus, assembling furniture, cleaning something gross, and encountering setbacks in established plans. Talk to his or her friends and family to learn about their strengths and weaknesses. And get advice from those friends and family. As much as possible, get to know the real person, and be as transparent as you can in return so that you both can make a wise decision in whom you both should marry.
Discovering deal-breakers is not being picky or judgmental. It is knowing yourself, knowing your limits, knowing the type of family you want to create, and knowing what the Bible says God wants for your future marriage.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5, ESV)
Have you taken the time to discover your deal breakers?