May 17, 2019

If a Potential Spouse Doesn’t Have This, Please Think Twice About Marrying Him/Her

Gary Thomas — 

One of the most important qualities in a spouse for a successful life and marriage is something I never even considered when I was single.

I’m not talking about faith in God—I certainly considered that. Physical attraction mattered a lot to me, and I’m not saying that physical appearance doesn’t matter at all. But there’s another quality that wasn’t even on my radar. Since Lisa excels at it, I’ve probably taken it for granted because I had “it” when I chose her. But when I see other people marry someone who doesn’t have this it reminds me that this quality should be near the top of any single person’s “list.”

What is it that’s so important for singles to consider in a future mate?

A strong work-ethic.

The older I get the more I realize that life is a lot of work; if you marry someone without a strong work ethic, you’re sentencing yourself to a lifetime of picking up the slack.

In his book A Passion for Faithfulness, Dr. J.I. Packer points out how “In the Bible, work as such means any exertion of effort that aims at producing a new state of affairs.” So, for example, you might have to work at finding a job. If someone is the kind of person who just gives up and feels sorry for himself or herself, they won’t do the work of finding employment and they won’t produce “a new state of affairs.” They’ll just wait for someone to help them out.

If a child becomes addicted, they may just give up and say, “Kids will be kids.” If the responsibilities of keeping up a house become too overwhelming or caring for an ill spouse (that would be you, of course) becomes too wearisome, they may seek refuge in an escape type of addiction. Rather than confront life and work to improve their current situation, they collapse, feel sorry for themselves, and make things worse with “self-medication.”

If you marry someone who isn’t prone to work, who in fact abhors work and is lazy, things will tend to go from bad to worse. Staying in shape as you get older is a lot of work. Reading books and listening to sermons to gain wisdom is a lot of work. Growing in prayer is a lot of work. Saving responsibly for retirement is a lot of work. Raising kids is a ton of work. At certain points in your marriage, even cultivating a fulfilling sex life may take a good bit of work. The best things in life are dependent on someone who is willing to work to lay hold of them. If you marry someone who resents work, you’re marrying someone who will never lay hold of the best this world has to offer. 

Packer stresses that “God made us all for work” (Gen. 2:15) and that God “has ordained work to be our destiny, both here and hereafter.” Jesus reflects this aspect of deity when he said,  “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working” (John 5:17). If you marry someone who despises work, you’re marrying someone who ultimately resists God’s design for our lives. God wants us to work on our character, our marriage, our children, our future, our wisdom, our prayer life and our vocation. A lazy person won’t ever live the life God created them to live.

The benefits of work are enormous. Because God made us for work, work causes us to spontaneously praise God. If you’ve ever finished a productive day of meaningful work, you know exactly what I’m talking about; when you work hard at something and succeed, there’s a thrill of fulfillment that few things can match. Work matures us as we learn to say “no” to our worst tendencies and “yes” to the best. Work deepens our relationships with others as work requires us to understand and serve others and it often builds a sense of teamwork and cooperation. Work stretches us to become the kind of people who depend on God, who keep on learning, and who refine latent skills that need to be perfected.

Now that my son and his wife have a new baby, I’m newly reminded of the exhausting work raising a child involves. Fortunately, both my son and his wife are extremely hard workers; I can’t imagine what it would be like for either of them to have to do this on their own. I know—single parents do this all the time, and I stand in awe of how so many single parents rise to such a challenge. But in God’s best timing, we won’t choose to become single parents if we can avoid it. If you marry a lazy person, it may feel like you’re a single parent even if you’re married.

So, as you consider who to marry, I hope you’ll put a strong work ethic near the top of your list. Care about yourself and your calling enough to say “goodbye” to a potential suitor who is lazy. One of the greatest dangers of laziness as a sin is that it prevents us from experiencing so much good. It is thus a foundational sin that negatively impacts virtually every arena of life.

For more advice on making a wise marital choice, check out Gary’s best-selling book The Sacred Search: What if It’s Not Who You Marry, but Why?

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20 responses to If a Potential Spouse Doesn’t Have This, Please Think Twice About Marrying Him/Her

  1. Our motto: Good marriages are hard work; bad marriages are just plain “hard;” work makes the difference.

  2. Great article, Gary. Very much the truth. If they are lazy, walk away before making a commitment.

  3. Oh, Gary. My heart just fell as I read this post. Sometimes the truth hurts, and this is a very painful truth for me to face. Both my husband and I have struggled throughout our marriage with laziness. My husband works a very stressful job that often leaves little for the family at the end of the day. And I struggle with binding perfectionism. Often I don’t work unless I can see the value in my work, and if the work is likely to be undermined or undone any time soon, many times I simply won’t even bother. I am ashamed of the person I am and have allowed myself to become. In the early years of our marriage, I had hoped that my husband and I would learn to work together and bring out the best in each other, but that has often not been the case, though my husband is good-willed man who wants to do what is right. Neither of us grew up equipped well to succeed, though we have managed to survive, and at work, at least, my husband is thriving. What hope is there for someone like me who wants to do better but is easily discouraged and thrown off track?

    • Well, are you dead?
      If not, there is always hope.

      Perfectionism is truly evil. You need to kill it. Unfortunately, it’s quite a persistent little bugger.
      I find the mantra, Done is better than Perfect, super helpful. As well as the Perfect is the enemy of the Good. It sounds dumb, but it helps.

      Make a list with small achievable things to do. An example for just day to day domestic things would be
      – make bed
      – wash dishes
      – make grocery list
      – get groceries
      – do load of laundry
      – fold laundry
      – sweep floor

      Tick off the things you did allow yourself to feel proud of what you did do. Instead of beating yourself up for what you didn’t do. It’s hard, but beating yourself up is counter-productive. Baby steps.

      If you really think about it, nothing in life is ever accomplished in one heroic effort. It all takes time. How do you read a book? One page at a time. Usually over several days. How do you write a book? One word/ sentence/ paragraph at a time. No-one just pops out the finished product in one day. How do you learn an instrument/ martial art/ any skill? Applied,daily practice. Usually over several years. How do you get fit and healthy? You must make healthy choices every day. That’s just the nature of things. So you must learn to reward yourself for making consistent good choices. Or for consistent effort. Otherwise, you will always get overwhelmed.

    • Ashamed,

      Humility is the foundation of all true spiritual growth, and your contrite reaction reveals deep conviction. God will build on that to grow a new life. You might consider getting a copy of J.I. Packer’s “A Passion for Faithfulness” to give you biblical instruction and inspiration to embrace a life that values the right kind of work. Because of Jesus’ forgiveness and the promise of the Holy Spirit, we know the past can be forgiven and in the present we can be empowered. Let this conviction make you ever more dependent on God to affirm you and encourage you even as He remakes you.

  4. Thank you so much for this affirming message! Using this as a critical criteria would’ve likely saved me from marrying (and divorcing) and also dating (in the years after) men who were anything but God’s man for me. As someone with examples of strong work ethic all around me, instilling in me a work ethic that I seek to grow stronger everyday, it’s amazing to me that I minimized it so much but now realize it’s a vulnerability God doesn’t intend for me to take on or try to “fix”…a man after God’s heart will have this as a part of his soul as natural as breathing.

  5. Thanks, Pastor. This blog just opened my understanding to the importance of work to living a fulfilling and successful life that God intends for us. God bless you sir.

  6. My husband has been and still is a work alcoholic. He is a lazy person in all the other ways addressed in this article.

    I believed that his self worth to him was in his career.

    After reading this, it dawned on me that he is also lazy in his job and that is why it takes him,10 to 12 hours every day, 6 days a week to complete his work.

    • Holly,

      The way Packer defines work (and it’s biblical) means that a guy who works at his vocation twelve hours a day but doesn’t work on his family or faith or health or wisdom is actually lazy. Someone who eats healthy except for one hour a day when they consume an entire cake and a pint of ice cream can’t be considered a healthy eater. “Spot” application isn’t true application. A biblical worker, in God’s view, is consistent with his or her priorities.

      • Gary,

        I agree with what you wrote in your article and in your reply to me.

        Thank you for having this blog.

        It wasn’t my intention to imply that I was doing a spot application about his hours at work. I wasn’t commending my husband for the hours he is at work. His position does not require the hours he is at work.

        His career is his life and only priority.

        I realized a couple of years ago that I am the only one in this marriage of 27 years. We are roommates.

        My husband is not a biblical worker.

  7. So true! I just forwarded this to my son who is prayerfully considering a dating relationship with someone. Thanks for the joy of being able to forward it to him to read.

  8. At first when revealed that special quality, I said huh, there are so many other things that are important such as discipline, commitment, honesty, integrity and I could go on. However, as you developed your point in the blog, I get it and it makes sense and it was exactly what I needed to read today! So thank you!!

    I recently heard retirement does not me you stop working, it just redirects where you apply your God given gifts.

    • Thanks Bruce. I tend to think the best blog points make one point, so I can’t deny that everything you mention (discipline, commitment, honesty and integrity) aren’t worthy of similar attention. It’s just I didn’t see as many singles talking about a strong work ethic so I thought I’d emphasize that one quality for this post.

      And I love your comment about retirement!

  9. This is such a good article! I am going to share it with many people. It is so true! Thank you! This really helped me gain the right perspective of an issue I was struggling with! I’m currently reading your book “Loving Him Well” and it has ministered to me greatly!

  10. Pernevlyn Coggins May 17, 2019 at 6:42 am

    Great article!

  11. This blog perfectly describes how I knew my husband was “the one”. He was a cop with a take-home vehicle. This vehicle was allowed to go anywhere within the county in which we lived and for personal use. We went to a mall to do some shopping and there was a place reserved for Police Vehicles. I asked him why he wasn’t parking there, it was so close to the stores. He said because it would be better for a marked vehicle to be parked there to deter crime. His unmarked vehicle could have legally parked there. How many times have you seen a cop speeding down the road, riding someone’s bumper until they got out of the fast lane, so that he could pass them? No lights and siren emergency, just a guy wanting to get somewhere in a hurry. My husband never did that. He demonstrated his work ethic to me many times and I was so impressed with his integrity. I should also add that he was and is a perfect gentleman always opening my car door, etc. He has a million other qualities that I love, but his work ethic really grabbed my attention. We have now been happily married for 25 plus years.

    • Thank you for this beautiful tribute Pam. I hope you make sure your husband reads it for himself. Or at least copy it and give it to him on Father’s Day! We hear so many horror stories about husbands on this blog (for understandable reasons) that I’m particularly grateful you’ve given us a beautiful portrait of one of the unsung good ones.

  12. Well, I agree most of your part but my ex has strong work ethics but he only focused on his work, when he comes to house, he put it away everything and I had to do my own even family matters. Basically one of the articles mentioned and describe him as a narcissistic personality. He chose to younger woman and we have been married 26 years. Pride and lust!

    I do love your blog and I am learning a lot from it.