During a recent sermon, I got a few laughs of recognition when I described what I see as a huge difference between Christian women and men who are looking to get married. Of course there are many exceptions, but quite often I see this:
A Christian woman is in a serious relationship with a man when she recognizes some warning signs and red flags. Her first instinct isn’t to “run,” it’s “How can I make this relationship work?”
When I talk to Christian guys, however, it’s often comically the reverse. They are dating an attractive, healthy, personable, funny, intelligent, godly and wise woman who earns more money than they do. When I ask when they plan to pop the question, their response is often, “I can see all those qualities, but what if there’s someone even better out there?”
I don’t know if this discrepancy results from the perceived lack of available, thoughtful, and gainfully employed Christian men, but both Lisa and I have seen it far too often. We knew a couple that had us a bit concerned, wondering if the woman was making too many concessions. As gently as possible, both of us tried to point out what she was going to accept for the rest of her life (many of the things we didn’t think would ever change), but she moved forward.
My heart broke when Lisa explained to me, “Gary, if I could have convinced her that she’d find another solid, decent Christian guy to marry in the next five years, I think she would have broken off this relationship. But she doesn’t think there’s anyone better out there. She thinks it’s either make this relationship work or be single for the rest of her life.”
However it breaks down by gender (again, I’m admitting this is a stereotype with numerous exceptions), these are the two tendencies:
“How can I make this relationship work?”
“What if there’s someone even better out there?”
The danger of the first tendency, “How can I make this relationship work,” prior to marriage, is that it may excuse many things that shouldn’t be excused. It’s one thing to help a spouse with whom you have children confront and overcome an addiction. It’s another thing to willingly go into marriage and plan to conceive children with someone you know is going to be fighting (or worse, not fighting) an addiction for perhaps the rest of their life.
It’s one thing to figure out how to deal with more of a temper than you thought your partner had once the honeymoon is over; it’s another thing to go into a marriage fully aware that one misstep can set this person off for a fifteen minute rant. I’ve said this many times: if your significant other seems a little too angry as a boyfriend or girlfriend, he or she will seem much too angry as a husband or wife.
If your natural default position is “How can I make this relationship work?” just be aware of your tendency: are you excusing something you shouldn’t? If so, guard against it. Bring others into your relationship to gain perspective and objectivity.
Those whose tendency is to ask, “But what if there’s someone even better out there?” often have a distorted view of marriage. They tend to be a little more selfish, and they frequently fail to understand that a great marriage is about building something more than it’s about finding someone. Making a wise choice is the starting line, not the finish line. You’ve got to add intention, purpose, chosen intimacy, etc.
In fact, there are likely hundreds of people with whom you could build a God-honoring and even happy marriage if you’re willing to work at it. Some choices are certainly wiser than others, but no person is the “complete” package, in the sense that for the rest of your life you risk finding someone with a set of strengths that look very attractive in comparison to your current partner’s. Comparing a new infatuation (which launches neurological blindness) with a more mature relationship isn’t fair, though. It goes back to thinking marriage is about finding someone instead of building something together.
By the way, if your hesitancy is based on thinking you need to choose the “right one” so that you can have an “easy” marriage, just talk to some married people. No marriage is ultimately “easy.” Two sinners living in one house creates sparks: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17).
Instead of wondering whether there’s “someone even better,” spend your time considering whether you’re with a person of faith whom you respect, are reasonably attracted to, are compatible with in the most important areas (read The Sacred Search for what these are) and possesses the necessary relational skills to keep growing a marriage. If those qualities are present and growing, you’re well on your way to a wonderful marriage and a wonderful life. You’ve found a perfect God, so you don’t need to find a perfect mate. The key to happiness is learning to embrace a life of worshipping Jesus rather than desperately pursuing another human being.
Knowing your tendencies is helpful so that you can guard against the natural weaknesses all of us carry. It may sound contradictory to put these two against each other because they seem like opposites—one is too quick to pull the trigger, the other is frozen and can’t move their finger if their life depended on it. But notice the difference: one woman moves forward even though there are numerous red flags. One man won’t move forward even though there is much reason to do so. One can’t say “no” and one can’t say “yes.”
The first group needs to pay more attention to the red flags, and the second group needs to give more consideration to the positive qualities. An abundance of problems should cause you to pull back or at least pause, and an abundance of positive qualities shouldn’t be ignored by the off chance that somewhere out there, someone even better is just waiting to meet you. Think of all you’re missing out on by not beginning to build a life together right away.
I’d love to hear from all the singles out there if you think this stereotype holds true, or whether I’ve just gotten a skewed view of what’s happening in the world of singles these days.