“I want a man with brown hair and brown eyes. I want him to be a few years older than me. I want him to like Indianapolis Colts football, UNC basketball, and Atlanta Braves baseball. He needs to love my family and be a good dad.” My childhood list of “must haves” in a spouse were a bit on the superficial side! If only it was so easy to choose a mate based on eye color and professional sport preferences.
Like everyone, I grew up and realized there is so much more to picking a lifetime mate than age and hobbies. There are cultural differences. Two Americans from different sides of the country do not come from the same culture. I dated a guy who lived twenty minutes away from me and we did not even come from the same culture! There are belief systems. Two people may appear to believe the same way on the surface, but a little digging can expose some major differences. There are energy levels. “He is always on the go and I just want to sit down and watch a movie once in a while!” There are family dynamics. “Her mom calls her every single day and she thinks it is normal! I cannot have an uninterrupted dinner with my own wife!”
Before putting on those rings and diving into the matrimonial pool, we recommend spending some serious time in the questioning/getting to know you phase of your relationship which can and should be fun! Once you know this person is someone you would consider marrying, start asking deeper questions. The closer you become, the more you ask.
For starters, here are twenty questions you can ask and answer before getting engaged. Hopefully, this list will be a springboard into many more questions and conversations!
- Am I willing to follow this person to new places and adventures? “I love him, but I am not going on the mission field.” “I love her, but I am not moving to be near her family.”
- What do I look forward to most about marriage? Why do I want to be married, in general? Write your answers out and exchange them. How do they compare?
- What do our friends say about us? Though we do not advocate making your marital decision based solely on others’ opinions, it is wise to ask those you trust for their observations. Talk to several people who love you and know you well. Ask them for the pros and cons they see in your relationship and then notice if any themes emerge. If so, tackle those concerns. If you cannot come to a workable solution, it might be time to think about dissolving the relationship.
- Am I lonely/desperate? This question is two-fold. Am I lonely in this relationship? And, am I lonely in general and, thus, clinging to this relationship? Loneliness should never be the main reason to choose a mate. Desperation kills objectivity.
- Do we have the same moral standards? You get to the car at the grocery store and realize they gave you too much change. What do you do? Your friend tells you something in confidence. What do you do? A cop pulls you over and asks you a question. Do you lie or tell the truth? Talk through some scenarios and observe each other in various circumstances.
- Do we have similar goals for our lives or are we heading down different paths? Are we a good fit for each other? Remember, if you are not a good match for this person, you can be an incredible match for someone else. Breaking up does not equal failure. If marrying your significant other requires you to become someone you are not, is it worth it?
- How does he or she act in different situations? What is he like when his boss yells at him? How does she act when she is running late? How does he communicate disappointment? How does she react to angry friends? Does he yell at other drivers? Does she give the silent treatment when she is hurt? Never let a new experience go to waste. Keep your eyes open for patterns.
- Do I trust him or her? Sometimes a lack of trust is warranted. Maybe he or she hurt you and you are working to rebuild trust. In some cases, a lack of trust is due to fear or pain from a past relationship. But occasionally, a lack of trust comes from a gut feeling or a nudge from the Holy Spirit. This happened to me in college. I felt like something was off with my boyfriend, but I could not put my finger on it. I asked the Lord to reveal it to me, and He did! This man was hiding a rather large secret. If you are struggling with trust, do some soul searching and try to determine the root of your uneasiness.
- Which fears or insecurities do I need to overcome before getting married? Do I have baggage from previous relationships I have yet to unpack? Did I grow up without ideal role models? Do I have a tendency to overthink and get in my own way? Do my friends and family comment on recurring themes in my life such as self-deprecating humor or control issues? Few of us get through life without picking up some fears or insecurities, but holding onto them can cause unnecessary stress in marriage (or in friendships and family relationships). Be willing to dig, uncover, and confront lies which negatively affect your relationship.
- Are we more mature now than we were when we started dating? Immaturity and selfishness go hand-in-hand; and, if anything can kill a marriage, it is selfishness. In fact, self-centeredness is at the root of all divorces. Healthy relationships inspire growth. Am I more mature now than I was at the beginning of our relationship? Am I emotionally healthier?
- How does my significant other handle money? Will we live on a budget once we are married? What about investments? Is vacation a necessity or an occasional reward? Will we buy new or used cars? Will we save for a down payment on a home? Will we tithe? Will we have one joint account? Will we loan money to family and friends? Will we co-sign loans? How do we feel about the phrase, “I deserve…?”
- Are we equally passionate about our faith or is one of us much more invested? It is important to be running in the same direction, but also important to be running at a similar pace.
- Am I willing to “marry” his or her family? Whether you see them once a year for Thanksgiving, or every other day, your spouse’s family will be a part of your family. If the relationship is good, it will affect you. If the relationship is poor, it will affect you. If the relationship is complicated, it will affect you. I once dated a man whose mother absolutely hated me. She never could give a reason as to why, but she treated me like I was the bane of her existence. Though her son cared for me, our relationship was destined to end because he was not going to defy her.
- Am I proud to be with this person? Is this someone I can brag about to my friends or am I frequently changing the subject when his or her name comes up in conversation? If I am ashamed of him or her, it is based on something real or on my insecurities?
- What are my expectations of marriage? What are my expectations of my partner? What are my partner’s expectations of me? What are my expectations of myself in marriage?
- Do we treat each other well? Do people start drifting away from you due to public squabbles? Do you take your frustrations out on each other?
- Do I want this person to be a parent to my children? Do you have any family or friends you would not ask to babysit your children? Not everyone is training to be mother- or father-of-the-year. If you want to have children and you have a vision for how you want to raise them, ask yourself, “Is this person on board with my parental desires and mission?”
- Do we have compatible energy and ambition levels? Do we work well together? A bunny may love a tortoise, but when would they ever see each other? Some people are built to run hard and run fast. Other people are built to keep a slow and steady pace. Both types of people are highly valuable and accomplish great feats, but they do so in completely different ways. Is your boyfriend or girlfriend’s energy level going to drive you crazy? Is your energy level going to frustrate him or her? When you work on a project together, how does it go?
- Is it easy to be together? Some relationships “make sense” on paper, but the couple struggles. It is like trying to match puzzle pieces together which look like they should fit but clearly do not. When I was sixteen, I was in a relationship with someone who appeared to be a good match for me and vice versa. Other people liked us, but we did not like us. Now, we are married to other people and most definitely for the best! Being together was not easy for us – it was forced. If your relationship feels forced, it does not matter how highly you score on a compatibility quiz.
- If we suddenly came into ten million dollars, how would we spend it? This is both a fun and informative question. Make separate lists of how you would allocate every dollar and then show them to each other. Next, make a joint 10-million-dollar allocation list. Keep it fun but notice patterns and what is important to each other.
Bonus question: Do I battle a constant uneasy feeling about him or her? If so, spend some time unearthing that. Pray. Seek wise counsel. Look squarely at the uncomfortable truths you would rather ignore.
My great grandmother told my grandma and, years later, my dad, “Marriage is a lifetime business. It is not together today and separated tomorrow.” When I was eighteen, my great uncle said, “Be careful who you marry, because the only thing worse than being lonely is wishing you were.” ~smile~ Wise people. Marriage is a big deal and worth taking time to ask the tough questions – and the fun questions, and the silly questions.
One of our former couples instituted The Question Game when they were dating, and sometimes still play it fourteen years later. Interested? Check out the rules in their hindsight interview!
Are you avoiding certain topics with your significant other?