by Ron Jones, D.D. ©The Titus Institute of California, http://www.titusinstitute.com.
Considering Marriage and Preparing For Engagement
After a you and the person you are dating have had enough time and opportunity to come to a solid knowledge of each other, you may begin to seriously consider the possibility of marrying each other. This begins a process whereby you both individually come to a personal commitment to marry each other. It transitions into engagement when the man verbalizes his commitment to marry the woman by asking her to marry him. As each of you begin considering in your own mind and heart the possibility of marriage, you need to follow several important principles according to the Scriptures which are given below.
Principle #1 Become a Christian who is mature enough to marry and seek a Christian who is mature enough to marry
In Eph.5:25 and Prov.31:10 the Scriptures talk about the qualities of a Christian husband and wife. A Christian man should be seeking to develop the qualities of a Christian husband who will love his wife as Christ loved the church and he should be seeking a Christian woman who is developing the qualities of becoming a Biblically excellent wife. A Christian woman should be seeking to develop the qualities of becoming a Biblically excellent wife and should be seeking a Christian man who is developing the qualities of a Christian husband who will love his wife as Christ loved the church. This should be done before you consider marriage with someone.
You should not consider marrying anyone if you are not spiritually mature enough to fulfill your God-given responsibilities in marriage. You should also be mature enough in age and life to be able to fulfill these responsibilities. This does not mean becoming spiritually perfect or finding someone who is spiritually perfect. Only Jesus was this way; we are not. Maturity means that certain qualities of maturity are a regular pattern of one’s life.
While you are in friendships with others, before you express any romantic feelings toward someone, you should be focusing your attention on becoming this kind of person. Ask yourself, “What do I have to offer another Christian for a lifetime with me? Would the Lord want to lead one of his children to marry me?” You should not consider or seek to marry another believer until you are ready to take on the responsibility of a godly marriage. You are not ready until you have developed certain qualities and abilities in your relationships with others as a regular pattern of life.
This is important to consider because a person can be powerfully motivated by his or her romantic feelings. This can cause him or her to make temporary changes in behavior without actually growing in maturity. These temporary changes are just that, temporary. Soon after marriage, he or she returns to his or her real behavior. This may not be hypocrisy as much as it is the power of emotions to motivate human beings temporarily. Although, people can mask themselves intentionally and thus, hypocritically also.
How a person treats others in the relationships they are currently in, friendships, family, other brothers and sisters in Christ, co-workers, is the chief indicator of how he or she will treat you when the romantic feelings change. Personal maturity is part of who a person is in all relationships, not one or two.
Characteristics of a person who is mature enough to be a godly husband/wife
1. A real commitment to love Jesus Christ – Mat.22:37-40 that is, obvious to you and to others.
2. A commitment to follow God’s plan for a godly marriage which includes expressing romantic and sexual intimacy only in marriage.
3. An ability to change and adapt personal habits, perspectives, attitudes and the like in order to show love and concern to others
Caution! A relational characteristic in a persons’ life that destroys relationships is being rigid. A person who is unable to be flexible and adapt himself or herself according to the needs and concerns of the other person is simply unable to have a healthy marriage relationship without significant change in this area. Many people are rigid in one or two areas, but a “rigid” person is that way in many areas with no desire to compromise (in non-moral areas).
4. Sensitivity and empathy toward the needs, hurts, and desires of others, the ability to see them from someone else’s perspective
5. The ability to work through problems (problem solving desires and skills) with others rather than seeing oneself as the victim and the other person as the perpetrator.
The ability to come to a compromise (a decision that reflects both persons’ concerns) and come to a consensus with another person in decision-making.
6. The ability to control your emotions (emotional stability) and direct them according to what is Biblically appropriate.
7. The ability to communicate honestly and openly about your thoughts, attitudes, feelings, etc.
8. The ability to come to a wise decision, make a commitment and take the responsibility necessary to fulfill that commitment.
9. The ability to lay aside your desires and wants and seek to fulfill the desires and wants of another (humility and sacrifice) when it is for their benefit.
10. The ability to have joy in the Lord and general happiness apart from your relationships with others. You are not regularly dependent on others to be joyful and happy.
Develop these characteristics in yourself and look for them in any potential life partners. All these abilities can be seen in the friendships that you have with others. When you are considering marriage, you should be seeking to develop the qualities you already possess to have a successful marriage not seeking to develop them from scratch. Your potential mate should be doing the same.
Do not move ahead toward marriage until you have developed these qualities in your life, not perfectly, but enough so that you possess them and exercise them on a regular basis in your relationships with others.
“Considering marriage” is a time to solidify in your mind and heart that you are mature enough to marry or not mature enough to marry. It is the time to develop greater maturity in a specific relationship possibly headed toward marriage. It is not the time to begin the maturity process.
Principle #2 Make sure that you are interested in marriage for Biblical reasons.
Remember, it is wise not to verbalize your romantic feelings or desires until you are ready to make the commitment to marry. You become ready for marriage not only by developing the qualities of a godly husband/wife, but by making sure that the reasons you are interested in marriage are Biblical. This is also part of being mature enough to get married. Mature people have mature reasons for doing things, like getting married.
Non-Biblical Reasons To Get Married:
1. To escape “deep loneliness” so that you are willing to marry “anyone within reason” that will have you
2. To escape an unhappy home life or get back at your parents
3. To make you feel good about yourself and/or make you happy
4. To help your fiancée straighten our his/her life or rescue him/her from a bad situation
5. Fear of being left out when everyone else is getting married
6. Fear of independence, of being on your own
7. Fear of hurting the other person if you break up
8. Pregnancy or premarital sex. Sex or pregnancy does not form or demand a marriage bond
9. Fear of all the negative consequences that you would endure if you call off the wedding (once you are engaged).
Biblical Reasons For a Christian Man and Woman To Marry:
1. To give, receive, and enjoy self-sacrificial love in fulfilling each other’s needs in a lifelong relationship as husband and wife Eph.5:22
2. Be companions and share your life with each other Gen.2:18-24
3. To give, receive and enjoy romantic and physical intimacy with each other Gen.2: 24 Song of Songs
4. Be partners in fulfilling God’s plan for each other together Gen.2: 24
5. Be partners in providing the needs of a stable and godly family Gen.1:28 Deut.6:4-7
In order to follow the Lord’s will, you must want to do all five when you get married. Many people marry to experience love, but they don’t want to be married. They never commit themselves to all the responsibilities that marriage demands. Later, this comes back to haunt them as they feel trapped and then want to get out.
Principle #3 Develop a Biblically healthy relationship which will act as the foundation for marriage.
The time when you are considering marriage is the time to attempt to develop this kind of relationship, not engagement. Engagement is the time to prepare for the details of your wedding ceremony and marriage (life together), not to see if you should get married. If you are unable to develop this kind of relationship together, then this is one sign that you should not marry that person or possibly anyone until there is a change in one or both of you.
Some Characteristics of a Biblically Healthy Relationship:
1. You have a solid knowledge of each other in a variety of life situations and relationships
2. You comfortably move in each other’s worlds and relate to each other’s friends.
3. Your relationship is making you both better Christians and better people.
4. Your general values, goals, and outlook on life is coming together.
5. You understand and are committed to the “career” roles of husband and wife as set forth in the Scriptures
6. You have some common tastes, interests, preferences in which you can enjoy some things together.
7. Your personality traits, characteristics and personal habits are expressed in a complimentary manner, not a contradictory one.
8. You are able to resolve conflict honestly, openly, and with compromise.
9. You are able to confess and forgive each other.
10. You are developing the Biblical marriage roles of leadership and submission according to the Scriptures.
Look at the above characteristics and ask yourself if these characterize your relationship. If not, then work on developing them in your relationship. If you are deficient in your relationship in one of these areas, it does not mean that you cannot develop it. It just means that if you want to have a healthy relationship you need to develop it. However, an inability to develop your relationship in one of these areas is a warning sign that there is trouble ahead. It would be wise to see a pastor or counselor about the area you are unable to develop to see if it is something you can develop or something that cannot be developed at this point in your relationship.
The main reasons that a couple cannot develop one of these areas are often either because one or both of you are immature in this area or unwilling to make the changes necessary to develop it. If this is the case, ending the relationship is better than moving on into an unhealthy marriage. Again, being perfect in these areas is neither necessary nor possible. Understanding these qualities and committing yourselves to developing them is both necessary and possible!
Principle #4 Once you have begun considering marriage in your mind and heart, it is wise to give your relationship time to develop further.
Once you begin to consider marrying that person, there will be an initial euphoria possibly mixed with fear of commitment and other emotions. This consideration is a highly emotional issue in anyone’s life, and should be handled slowly and with caution. There is usually an initial phase of “He or she is perfect for me! He or she is the one!” This can often lead people to begin to drive the relationship by emotion and to move way too quickly into romantic and physical intimacy and/or engagement. Wait until the initial euphoria clams down so that you can think clearly about the person and the quality of your relationship.
This consideration toward marriage that each person is thinking about should not be verbalized to the other person, but kept in the mind and heart.
It is wise not to tell the other person that you are considering marriage until you have had some time to think about it.
The initial desire to marry another person is usually an emotional desire that arises based on one’s romantic feelings for the other person. It usually arises earlier than the relationship has had time to progress. Either of you may have an emotional desire to marry the other person, but not the readiness to make a real commitment to marry.
There may be many reasons why you may desire to marry the other person, but not be ready to make the commitment. You may feel that the other person has some emotional, financial, or other issue in his or her life that you are not sure that you to deal with or maybe you have issues in your own life that needs to be dealt with. You may not want to give up the time and independence to be with friends or to focus on your career and the like. You may not be sure that you are ready to love that person for a lifetime. Also, the desire to marry often arises before people have had enough time to really get to know each other so their desire and commitment is based on an accurate and in-depth knowledge of each other and a healthy relationship together.
Whatever the reason, the emotional desire can be there without the most important factor, the commitment to take on the responsibility of marriage or the commitment based on knowledge. This is, of course, assuming that both individuals are in the life situation where they could marry. Those who are not in the life situation where they could marry within a reasonable amount of time (i.e. a year and a half or so) should turn away from any thoughts of marrying that person until they are in that life situation.
Since, the desire to marry someone comes before the commitment to marry that person, it is wise not to verbalize your desire to marry the other person or even bring up the subject of marriage until your are actually ready to marry that person. It is wise not to verbalize this desire until you have made a commitment in your mind and heart to actually marry that person. Remember, considering marriage is not a relationship or a bond, it is a transition that takes place in the heart and mind of each individual person as each begins to desire to marry the other person. It is the transition time that takes place before preparation (engagement) for the next kind of relationship (marriage) can begin.
While you are considering marriage, you need time to allow your relationship to develop while you are thinking about these issues. If you are serious, this consideration will cause your perception of the other person to change. You need time to continue to get to know each other with these new perceptions and time to make sure that your care and concern and commitment to the other person is growing along with your desire and consideration to marry.
If, at this point, you tell the other person that you are thinking about marriage you will create an emotional dynamic in your relationship from which you will have difficulty backing up if you were to decide that you did not want to marry this person or that you are simply not ready to get married. You will feel trapped and pressured to keep moving down that path toward marriage and you may wish you never mentioned it. This is especially true if the other person wants to marry you.
I have seen this in counseling young couples, especially with the men. They verbalized their consideration of marriage before they had made a commitment in their minds and hearts. The women were desirous of marrying them. Once they had verbalized this, they felt incredible pressure to make a decision to marry these young women. It created a state of conflict and confusion that was eating them up as they struggled with making a decision which should be a natural outgrowth of their growing love for these women. The “marriage possibility” almost took on a life of its own and they were struggling.
The women, on the other hand couldn’t understand what was happening. These young men had verbalized their desire before they had made a commitment in their hearts. Also, after some initial time to allow your emotions to calm down, you should begin exploring what marriage is all about through some books or videos or talking with others (without verbalizing this to the other person).
Do not allow yourself to become totally focused on marriage and whether you want to marry this person. This is not something that can be answered in a few days. It is a desire that grows into a commitment as your relationship with that person progresses.
Principle #5 Drive your relationship by your growing care and concern for that person, not by your romantic feelings.
Focus on seeing whether you have a growing commitment to care for this person as opposed to just a growing in “romantic and sexual affection/attraction.” Your romantic feelings are important in that they act as a catalyst for you to become interested in a particular person. If not for these feelings we might never get married. Also, your feelings are part of your desire to marry that person. When you stand in front of the minister you should definitely want to marry that person and you should want to partake of the marriage covenant with that person. However, your romantic feelings should not drive the relationship or be the only basis of your desire to marry that person. When you are married for awhile, your romantic desires which are very strong before marriage will calm down and your care and concern and commitment to your husband or wife will take center stage in facing the many challenges of living together as husband and wife. When your romantic feelings for that person calm down, if you do not have a strong care and concern for each other and a strong commitment to love that other person as God intends, there won’t be anything left to keep your marriage going.
“Being In Love” is a combination of three factors:
1. Romantic and sexual affection/attraction
2. Care, concern, and self-sacrificial giving to meet the needs of your spouse
3. Commitment to fulfill your marriage responsibility to your wife or husband.
Ancient people simply had no “romantic dating” (dating in order to build romantic intimacy) and thus they avoided the problem of romantic passion that can lead to sexual passion. When you are married, your romantic and sexual affection/attraction feelings will calm down and not remain at the intense level it is when you are first married. This is perfectly normal.
The intensity that comes from the deepening of a husband and wife’s care and concern for each other (which is Biblical love) will replace some of that intensity. If you drive your relationship by your romantic and sexual feelings or lay that as a foundation, your marriage will fall apart once the feelings are gone. God did not make us as human beings to be able to sustain white-hot romantic and sexual affection/attraction for a long period of time.
Principle # 6 It is wise to say “I love you” only when you are ready to make the commitment to marry that person.
The words “I love you” should verbalize that a man is ready to love a woman and that a woman is ready to love a man in the way that God has defined “love” in the Scriptures. The only Biblically recognized relationship that involves this kind of love between a man and woman is marriage and its transition engagement/betrothal. To use the words “I love you” without making the marriage commitment that goes along with it is to speak of a kind of love the Lord does not recognize in His Word. Romantic affection/attraction feelings without the care, concern and commitment to marry that person is simply not love. It is a feeling that is all.
Verbalizing your feelings when true Biblical love does not exist (because there is no marriage commitment) creates a romantic and emotional bond between the two of you which does not have any real lifelong commitment attached to it. It is temporary and can be dissolved at any time. In fact, it is a bond that does not exist at all, but seems to.
Marriage is the only bond of love that exists between a man and woman. When this emotional false bond is made, both develop great confidence in it and begin to change their whole lives according to it. However, that bond does not really exist and can easily be dissolved simply by someone changing their minds or being attracted to someone else.
God did not intend for there to be a love relationship between a man and a woman without the bond of marriage.
It is because “loving someone” involves the most fragile part of our being, our hearts. Once our feelings are expressed and shared, the deepest part of us becomes vulnerable to another. Without the deep and lifelong commitment and consequent security of marriage, our hearts can easily be crushed. See Song of Solomon 4:9-10.
Further, I believe that it is wise to express your love and desire to marry at the same time with the ultimate question “Will you marry me?” True Biblical love does not exist without a commitment to marry and a commitment to marry does not exist without the woman being asked by the man “Will you marry me?” However, if you choose to express your love before the commitment is formalized by the question, “Will you marry me?” make sure that you have made a genuine commitment to marry this woman before you say “I love you.”
Not only is “I love you” without Biblical meaning when expressed without a commitment to fulfill one’s responsibility to marry the “one you love,” but it also sets up the possibility that one or both of you will find yourselves feeling trapped when you are attracted to someone else, or with a broken heart when the other person breaks up if the relationship does not progress to marriage.
How can I express my feelings for this person if I am not ready to marry her?
Telling the other person that you care about him or her is a good way to express your care and concern for him or her without saying that you love him or her.
It also keeps you focused on the real heart issue of your relationship which is a deepening care and concern not romantic feelings.
Principle #7 The man must take the responsibility to seek a wife and express his love, desire, and commitment to marry her first.
Biblically, it is men that must take the responsibility to ask a woman to marry him. Prov.18:22 says, “He who finds a wife finds what is good.” In Gen.24:1-4 Abraham helped aid his son in seeking a wife. In Gen. 28: Isaac did the same for his son Jacob. In ancient times, people found marriage partners by “networking.” Fathers networked with other fathers to help their children find life partners.
Notice that in those passages, the sons and wives wanted to marry the ones selected. These fathers wanted their sons to find good marriage partners. Although we do not do that today, it was an efficient and effective method. God has given to the man the responsibility to lead in the marriage relationship with his wife and it begins right here. If he must be pushed because he cannot make a decision and take responsibility for the relationship and step out in faith at this point, then he cannot or will not lead in a way that will develop a healthy relationship for marriage. If they marry, the wife will be pushing her husband every step of the way.
However, men must take this responsibility seriously. Also, a man may make a temporary commitment based on “feeling pushed,” but if he does not truly want to do it before he makes the commitment, he very likely may reject that commitment later.
Never talk about marriage or let the other person talk about marriage if you or the other person is not ready and willing to make a commitment to marry that person.
To introduce the topic of marriage in a relationship when you are not ready or not willing to make a commitment to marry the person is irresponsible and unfair. If the other person does that, simply say “I would rather not talk about the issue of marriage until you are ready and willing to ask me to marry you.”
In other words, “don’t talk the talk with me, if you’re not willing or ready to walk the walk with me.” If a man says, “I love you and want to marry you,” that is not a commitment to marry you, that is a verbal expression of desire. Respond by asking, “What does that mean?” This is an important question. A man may want to marry you, but that is not a commitment. He needs to ask you to marry him. “Will you marry me?” is a commitment. Until a man asks you to marry him he has not made a commitment to marry you.
This is important to remember; expressing a desire and making a commitment is not the same. When a man asks a woman to marry him, he is making a commitment to a lifetime of self-sacrificial care and concern and a lifetime of fulfilling his responsibility God has given him as a husband.
Principle #8 If you both have followed Biblical principles and are trusting and obeying the Lord, you can assume it is within the Lord’s will for you to marry.
If you both have asked the Lord for guidance and submitted to His Will, are trusting and obeying the Lord, have become the kind of Christians mature enough to marry responsibly, have a healthy relationship, and want to marry each other, assume it is the Lord’s w ill for you to do so.
The Lord has not promised to give direct revelation to us in finding a husband or wife or anything else. The issue is not finding the “right person,” but being the right kind of person and finding the right kind of person with whom you want to and are able to build a life together. This is talked about further in “How Do I Know Who To Marry?”
Principle #9 Be engaged long enough to prepare properly for the details of the wedding ceremony and your marriage, but short enough to stand against your natural desires to become romantically and physically intimate.
Engagement should be long enough to prepare properly for the details of the wedding ceremony and your marriage. There are wedding details to be worked out that take some time. There are issues that need to be worked out involving conflict resolution, finances, in-laws, careers, roles, and the like. These issues are built upon the foundation you have already built with each other.
Engagement is not a relationship, it is a transition. Once you decide to marry each other, your natural desires to become romantically and physically intimate will become stronger. Take your time to get to know each other and to develop a godly and healthy relationship before you get engaged.
Remember: “Sexual purity” is more important to God than a well-planned, elaborate wedding ceremony.