July 6, 2017

Should You Marry Someone Who Embarrasses You?

Gary Thomas — 

I received the following email (edited for length and taking out any identifying information) from a reader:


I am so grateful a friend recommended your book, Sacred Search.  I’m currently on my fourth reading!  I’ve found it so helpful in evaluating my dating relationships….as well as realigning my beliefs & hopes about marriage with Scripture (& confirmation of the Holy Spirit).  I can’t thank you enough.

Still, I have a lingering question.  Is it wise to marry someone if deep down you’re not as proud of them as they deserve?  Or worded another way…What do you do if your only hang-ups about a potential spouse are superficial traits (like physical appearance or position/profession) you wish didn’t matter to you at all, but in reality, still bother you?

I believe marriage is a choice, and I want to make a wise choice based off qualities God values.  With that in mind, if I don’t want to be a superficial person, do I just ignore the fact that I’m bothered or embarrassed by my boyfriend’s appearance, profession/position, etc?  Or should I trust that if a man’s character isn’t enough to make traits I don’t want to value in the first place seem unimportant, then he just might not be the wisest match, after all?


Here’s how I’d respond:

The marital choice is a lot about preference. We should definitely marry a believer (1 Cor. 7:39). We should marry a person of high character (Prov. 31:10ff.). But on issues of preference—appearance, personality, vocation, there isn’t any absolute “this is the right or wrong thing to decide.” It’s more “What are you willing to live with?”

I think the greatest weakness of The Sacred Search is that it may set the bar a little too high. Some have written to me that the kind of person I’m describing in that book doesn’t really exist–everyone must make compromises. I agree to a certain extent; it’s just that I’ve seen what happens when people compromise too much, and I want to help people avoid that, so maybe I went too far in the other direction.

Having said that, to answer this person’s question: I, personally, wouldn’t marry someone who embarrasses me. “Embarrassment” is a strong word and respect is the backbone of a solid marriage. Both husbands (1 Peter 3:7) and wives (1 Peter 3:1) are biblically commanded to respect their spouse, which is difficult to do if you’re embarrassed by them.

It’s impossible to “fake respect” someone for very long; eventually, he or she will catch on, and that will launch a number of negative things into your marriage.

When a guy doesn’t feel respected, he’ll feel like a “project,” as it will be difficult for you not to keep needling him about the issue(s) you hope will change. He may get discouraged that you don’t respect him and, as a defense mechanism, stop trying to earn your respect and worse, seek to be respected somewhere else. There are plenty of other ways a disrespected guy might respond and none of them, frankly, are good.

If you’re embarrassed by your wife, how is she ever going to feel cherished? How can a man tell his wife, “My dove, my perfect one, is the only one” (Song of Songs 6:9) when he wishes she looked more like someone else, acted more like someone else, or had another woman’s personality or job? And if you don’t cherish your wife, no one else is biblically allowed to, at least not in that way, so you are choosing to keep your wife from ever experiencing a marriage as God designed it.

We all have to compromise somewhat as no one gets to marry the fourth member of the Trinity. But in general, I want to see premarital couples feeling proud of each other, eager to show each other off, and each feeling like they got the best end of the deal.

When a couple is meeting with me and the woman can’t wait to tell me, “He’s not the kind of guy I’m usually attracted to,” that’s a bad sign, in my view. She’s apologizing for him before he’s even opened his mouth. Why does she want me to know that, anyway? Why should it matter to me how he looks? That’s a statement of pure embarrassment, and since I’m not much of a judge when it comes to masculine appearance, it’s a wasted observation anyway.

Making a reasonable compromise or two is a necessity in a fallen world when you’re marrying an imperfect man or woman. Accepting something that embarrasses you is, in my opinion, too big of a compromise. 

The writer’s last sentence sums it up well: “Should I trust that if a man’s character isn’t enough to make traits I don’t want to value in the first place seem unimportant, then he just might not be the wisest match, after all?” To that I’d say, “Probably so.”

What do you think? Let’s get a conversation going.

This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.

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44 responses to Should You Marry Someone Who Embarrasses You?

  1. ” Embarrassed about a spouse’s jokes, or ” quirky clothes,” or habits like interrupting or talking smack about a 3rd party or mother in law, or bragging, sharing personal unlikeable habits, or things that are fixable through constructive sharing of views and received in a manner of truth and love should be clearly known, practiced, and mediated before ” I do.”
    After ” I do,” it is wise to learn to extrapolate truths frim the Gospel and interface them into the Gift of Marriage. One example: marriage is about a number of things; but Gospel-wise, it is very much about serving the other.

  2. I do feel like the happiest marriages are those where each spouse feels like they were lucky to find and marry the other!

  3. Hi everyone,
    I learned this the hard way a long time ago. I would love to save someone from the heartache and devastation of going down that road with all good intentions to avoid being “superficial”, as did I. *God cares about our preferences, because it is He who has put them there. The proof of that statement, for me, is something like this – my best friend and I will be attracted to totally different types of men. Why? How is that possible? It is our Lord’s hand that has made each of us differently. One of the reasons for this kind of difference, I believe, is for Him to steer us to the person He is choosing for us. The other non-compromisable issues of faith and character have to be there, #1 in importance, but we are supposed be attracted to and highly value the person we choose to marry! It is for life, and there will be plenty of opportunity to take undesirable issues and traits of our spouse to God so that He can help us love sacrificially. But going into it, you want to be excited and overjoyed about as much of that person as possible.

    God bless you all!

  4. Ok, people, can we talk about what embarrassment is and whether THAT is a good thing? My story is from the other side, where my former spouse was uncomfortable with my personality and felt embarrassed by some things I did – probably more than she ever told me! I am outgoing and expressive and typically say what I think. You might think something is embarrassing, just because you are a very reserved person, maybe you are insecure or just quiet by nature, or maybe you have a certain idea of what it means to be dignified, etc. So in the interest of getting along with your mate, I suggest that when you feel embarrassment, you might look deeper at yourself and ask if this reflects on issues that you need to deal with. Also ponder whether the thing about another person that embarrasses you is actually sourced in a good character trait. I was at an event the other day where people were dancing at a park (there was a band) and there was this one person who was very dramatic, so much so that my teens were giggling at him. But that person was very engaged (and had a partner who was enjoying them as well). I choose to see that as strength. Here is a person who is self-confident and expressive. Maybe they don’t fit the “normal” mode, but why does that matter? We should all be more like that. In my opinion, we live in a very stuffy and reserved culture. We could all take ourselves a little less seriously. And, additionally, in my experience people who are easily embarrassed tend to also be very judgmental of others. These go hand in hand, because we all expect that other people are looking at us the way we look at them. So if you are always judging people, you will think people are always judging you. Therefore, you will be easily embarrassed. Doesn’t this all tie back into being graceful?

    • I love what you just said!!! I dated and married a man with a very loud unusual laugh. When we were dating I cringed when I heard it. But I was tremendously self conscious and marrying him was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!! Now I’ve learned to loosen up and I’m much more expressive and open. Now I love my husbands laugh because he is such a good man and because it is his own unique expression.

    • Beautifully put Rob!. I have often felt that the things that bother me most about other people are the very things that I have some issue with about myself to some degree. It may be completely unconscious, perhaps its a person who’s just to persistent or to confident or to optimistic or to direct or to comfortable with themselves etc. Whatever it is, there is something within me that desires more peace, understanding or balance in that area.
      My wife and I teach a marriage class and its funny how the very things that attracted couples to come together for example the confident outspoken man attracts the shy reserved women, and all is good for a while, each seeing traits in the other they’d like to understand and explore but if each desires to live out life solely through their personality ( your preference for experiencing life) those very traits that attracted you will be the very ones that drive you apart. That’s why the Holy Spirit is so valuable to us. We give the Spirit permission to dial up or down aspects of our personality so we can learn to grow in unity with each other. The Holy Spirit brings our God given personalities into balance. All personality types have their strengths weakness’s but God desires to use them all for His purposes and Glory. Your personality can conduct itself in a manner worthy of the Gospel with the help of the Holy Spirit.

  5. Embarrassment that comes from the person making fun of you in front of others and laughing at your expense is a huge red flag. On the other hand embarrassment from the other person not meeting your expectations of what they should look like, act like, or their type of work is not them, but the embarrassed person. They are not proud of their spouse. Embarrassment leads to disappointment, disappointment to disrespect and disrespect to distain. What embarrasses you now will be what you hate in them later.
    If the embarrassment comes from fearing what others think, that has more to do with you then them. Being more concerned about your reputation or status then your spouse is something YOU need to work on. Because, if it is you, then later you will hurt your children if they don’t live up to your expectations and you’ll be embarrassed by them.
    I believe an honest self examination is needed to know where the root of this is coming from. Why are you embarrassed? What triggers these emotions? If he is happy, content, and confident in himself you will only hurt him if not dealt with correctly and honestly before moving forward.

  6. much needed discussion. As a counsellor I see couples who fall into idealistic distortion, being overly positive and denies or minimizes problems. We live in an age where couples marry later, there are more single women approaching 40. Meeting anyone that meets minimum requirements can cause compromises they may regret. I would say hiding the feeling of “embarrassed” is one of them. You can distort your relationship in a positive direction only so much. At times one needs to be realistic.

  7. I guess I encourage caution on both sides. Physical appearance changes, and I hope this woman has a healthy view of her own appearance, or else pregnancy and motherhood are going to wreck havoc on her self-esteem. Jobs also change. I married my husband in college, and for the first several years he worked a series of “embarrassing” jobs, but he did whatever he had to do to pay the bills during that time even if they were “below” him, and I am incredibly proud of his hard work during that time. He has a more “respectable” job now, but I have so much admiration for him during that early time in our marriage. In any case, all of these things she is embarrassed by are subject to change, and I am concerned that she herself is not in the healthiest of places to be a good wife. (I hope that isn’t too harsh.)

    But yes, there are some things that may be deal breakers. I was occasionally embarrassed by my husband (dating and after) in social situations because he often would take a joke too far. Not inappropriate, by any means, just one step too far where it got awkward. But that isn’t a deal breaker for me. I still think his character and heart shine through. No one is perfect, and I think there are going to be things about every spouse that are embarrassing to the other; I really do. It’s okay. The question is when is it a deal breaker. I don’t know anyone can answer that for anyone else.

    In this instance, I lean toward no, she should not marry him, but more so because of HER own heart. It doesn’t sound like she will be able to give him the love and respect that he deserves without a great deal of potential resentment on her part. I don’t want to do that to HIM.

  8. I think what rips couples apart is reactivity – a strong physical reaction that presents itself in disgust, embarrassment, desire, fear, etc… and rarely our frontal lobe, and so I’d go with the most positive natural reactivity possible, and then after marriage deal with the new reactivity that shows up. Many of us felt no embarrassment at all of the one we married and once marriage hit, we felt disgusted.

    In addition, we view things through our own lenses. If we have our own shame, that skews the way we see another. The more love/grace/empathety I am able to offer myself, the less embarrassed I am of you.

    • “The more love/ grace/ empathy I am able to offer myself, the less embarrassed I am of you.”
      -You put this realization so beautifully 🙂 thank you.

  9. Shari Nightingale July 6, 2017 at 9:36 am

    Gary, I totally agree with you. Physical appearance changes over the years. Beauty fades and jobs/professions can come and go. If those embarrass you before the wedding, it’s almost a given that the embarrassment will turn to resentment and bitterness. You can’t respect someone that you resent. That is a deal breaker for marriage. In addition, sometimes the things that we love the most about someone are the exact things that end up driving us crazy about them. I believe it all comes down to having realistic expectations of our spouse. Too often we have higher expectations of them than we do for ourselves. We should extend grace in as much as we want grace extended to us. Marriage is a holy covenant. Bringing negative emotions and unrealistic expectations into it at the onset is a recipe for heartache.

  10. At the risk of sounding harsh, in my experience the question reveals more about the character if the person asking. Embarrassed by his job? If he’s a stalwart provider, has high moral and ethical standards and does his best – THAT is what I’d be impressed with.

    But I’d say to the person asking, please do not marry the person if they ’embarrass’ you – doesn’t sound like you’re good enough for them.

    On the softer side, I guess I would reframe the question back to them – ‘Is there anything in your partner’s character that disqualifies them from being a good parent and spouse?’
    For me, in the end, marrying someone I respect and trust has saved our marriage more than once.

  11. Hmm. I have a slightly different take on this. I believe it’s wise to examine yourself to figure out *why* you’re embarrassed by your potential spouse. Is it because you have ungodly, unbiblical criteria for what makes a good spouse, like attractiveness or profession/position? Is it actually because you have ungodly pride about your own attractiveness/profession and feel you need someone who “matches” you in these ways so you can feel ungodly pride about them in a worldly sense?

    These are the questions I had to ask myself when considering whether to marry my husband. He is someone who was of a different (lower) economic status and educational level. While he’s not ugly, he wasn’t someone I looked at and thought, “Wow, that’s a good-looking guy”. In the end, I realized that his character and his love for God were actually the important factors to consider in God’s eyes. His physical attractiveness and worldly “status” were not only meaningless in a Kingdom sense, I came to believe those were sinful, prideful ways of evaluating him.

    Without knowing the person who asks this question or her boyfriend, I have no way of knowing if that’s their case. But I would seriously urge her to consider this and pray about it. I would have missed out on a great blessing and a wonderful husband if I had allowed worldly pride or embarrassment to stop me marrying my spouse. On the other hand, if it’s genuinely the case that his character doesn’t outweigh these considerations (and she’s not holding him to unrealistically high standards), she probably shouldn’t marry him.

    I recently read that in the early church, there were so many high-status women and so few men that the church sought to allow the women to marry slaves or freedmen, something Roman society didn’t allow. I think there’s a good parallel in today’s church with the overabundance of women and few qualified men. Maybe we women need to reconsider the qualifications we thought essential, and be willing to lower our standards in areas that don’t matter in God’s eyes (without letting go of those that do).

  12. I absolutely agree with everything said…

  13. Your spouse deserves the right to be loved and respected. Your relationship should be a safe place. When they know you are embarrassed by them, it triggers the shame and “not enough” cycle which eats away at their own self-respect and their soul.

    I did and it only got worse after we got married. I thought I could “get used to it” or that he would change. He tried but it drove a wedge between us that became a chasm of him feeling “less than”. At the time, I convinced myself that I was being loving by choosing to overlook his quirks, but in the end, the most loving thing I could have done was broken up with him before we got married. My case was extreme in that my disrespect in those things tapped into a place of deep shame in him that he lashed out from in what turned to abuse.

    • I love an honest authentic answer. Thank you.

    • I agree with you completely. I married men I didn’t respect twice! Each time it turned into misery. My first husband verbally absed me and it ended in divorce. My second marriage lasted 23 years and because neither of us believed in divorce we lived in misery, trying in vain to be content. There was adultery and the feeling of never being loved. The worst part was our son was taught not to respect and honor me. Although my husband never verbally said the words, his actions were loud and clear. He died in a tragic accident leaving me with a ton of unresolved issues. Please heed the WORD of GOD and Gary’s advice.
      “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church. . . Wives see to it that you respect your husbands.” You can’t keep this charge if you are embarrassed by your spouse.

  14. “No one gets to marry the fourth member of the Trinity.” Wow! I’m adding that to my list of prolific quotes! As a marriage counselor, I will often share with couples the teaching from Romans 15 on “bearing reproach.” To me, it is akin to sharing in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. A weakness or shortcoming in your spouse is a calling to come alongside of them and be a part of the healing process no matter how long it takes. Hence, the opportunity to grow in holiness (Sacred Marriage a must read). And yet, on the front end of the relationship, the scales need to register predominantly on the side of admiration and matching strengths. This accumulates the equity needed to absorb the issues that will undoubtedly arise from two disciples living in close proximity, and a zealous God, intent on conforming us to His likeness.

  15. Hosea 1:2-3

    When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the Lord.”
    So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

    A couple comments:
    1) I’m always amazed reading acts of extreme obedience in the Bible that we don’t get to read about any internal reservations.

    2) Further, I can’t imagine a modern wife enjoying the fact that her husband chose her to use her and her children as a metaphorical prophesy.

    What if marriage is more about making you holy than making you happy?

    Of course, this is an extreme example; however, I have to wonder if God would use the writer’s relationship to mature her in the areas that she is describing. Assuming, that this relationship was not divinely commanded by God as it was for Hosea, perhaps honesty is in order. I agree, Gary; embarrassment is strong and if not clearly communicated to him now will most likely manifest later. Be honest, with yourself and your mate. Pray, and if the answer is not “I need to let go of embarrassment” then there is the tough work of ending the romantic relationship. A challenge either way.

  16. This is a question that hits my core- when I recently remarried, I believed it was for all the right reasons- he was a previous pastor, had been married for 30 years, was on his own for another 7, held a steady job for 30 years, was a good listener and very attentive to my every whim, even to the point of “smothering”, which I mistakenly took as a positive until I realized he didn’t really have his own identity. During our quick courtship, he kind of “zeroed in” on me and within 6 months we were married, during a time when i was mourning a recent breakup. (not good). But I am truly struggling with his severe passivity, low self-esteem and lack of direction, focus and leadership ability. After 2 years, he finally will make a suggestion as to where we might go to eat! I get irritated easily at his need for constant instruction as to what to do, even in the smallest areas, and feel that I have been put into the role that should be his. It is a constant struggle for me to keep my attention on the positives. As to the question you put out there about being embarrassed, I don’t see him as physically attractive, mentally or spiritually attractive (as he had initially presented). Our sex life is in the tank. The financial burdens are on me. At age 62, and with the effort i have put forth so far, I’m not seeing much change taking place. You know that point somewhere between clueless and stubborn? So I am relying on the Lord to show me my weaknesses and teach me His heart so i can love my husband the way i should. I will not get another divorce and will stay with him till the end. I know he loves me and will be faithful. I have chosen to become as close to Jesus as possible, depending on him for my needs to be met. But my advice is to get to know someone better than I am accustomed to doing before deciding to marry them because they appear to have great qualities at the onset. Those little foxes can make life miserable!

    • I’m dealing with something similar. Figuring out that my husband is not all that I thought he was before I married him. Or in the case of some of his spiritual beliefs, more extreme than I realized. He too presented well, and I was swept off my feet. Now I’m seeing things that make me wish maybe I’d made a different decision. Still, I do love him, and am seeking God on what I need to do, where I need to change, how to become closer to Him so I can love my husband the right way. I know better than to pray that God changes him. I need to “be the change” I want to see. All I pray for my husband is a continued close relationship with God, for wisdom, discernment, and for our hearts to stay open to God, and to each other. In our courtship I started a list of all the things I loved about him, the times he touched my heart when he did or said something special. I look at that list often now, to remind myself that in spite of traits that embarrass me, or that I see we are not a good match on, he is still a good man. Maybe I should have made a different choice, but there is nothing here worth divorcing over by any means.

  17. Allison McIntosh July 6, 2017 at 6:35 am

    Whew! This is a tough one! For starters, Gary, I’m grateful for your ministry and l try to soak up your wisdom in all that you write and I am privileged to read every word, so thank you!

    I’m pretty sure there’s not enough room here for all the words to share our story, but this post resonates with my heart in a plethora of ways. My hubs and I have been married 13+ years. We are blessed with two precious kiddos (our son is 7 and our daughter is almost 3). I wish I could tell you that our life together has been a bed of roses, but we have certainly weathered many storms together, and we are still a work in process!

    When I met my hubby in 2003, I was honestly at my worst…I was “stuck” in a ministry that I knew The Lord really had not called me to (dangerous place to be)…I was in a horrible state of depression…physically, emotionally and spiritually I felt like a big mess…my hubby was trying at the time to do what he felt The Lord had called him to do…we have a pretty decent age gap…I’m 37 and he will be 46 in December…when we met I was 23 and he was 32…I was the typical, ” hey I just graduated from college and now I need a husband ASAP” girl, and he was the “hey I’m in my 30’s trying to find a good Christian girl” guy, and if we are both honest, we both dove into a relationship and got married before we barely knew each other. We met in march of 2003, were engaged by November, and were married by the next March. Two separations, many ups and downs, two precious children, and 13 years later, by God’s endless grace and mercy, we are in it, to win it…but our journey has certainly had its fair share of heartache…

    All that to say, I wish I could go back (hindsight is always 20/20) and tell my immature 23 year old, desperate to find a husband and have tons of kids self, to breathe…to stop thinking that once I’m married with a home full of kids, that I would be complete…that sex would be perfect every time (I was a 24 year old virgin…not bragging please hear my heart)…that we would always be on the same team in our marriage and in our parenting…whew! After all that my hubby and I have been through together, we honestly both agree now, and looking back that truly, we really were not very compatible at all…they say opposites attract and that if two people are too much alike, one becomes unnecessary…but there has to be common ground (and don’t get me wrong…there are certain nonnegotiables obviously…being unequally yoked has its consequences so I’m not referring to that here)…but even though we have struggled to find things we enjoy together, and even though our personalities and communication styles can clash horribly, I would do it all over again…hurts and all…bc it has cemented our hearts together in ways I can’t properly articulate…

    So what’s my point? Well, I would say when it comes to dating someone and then that friendship growing into love (bc love is friendship set on fire…lol), always remember that love is a choice. Sure, it’s full of feelings of all kinds…but I choose to love my husband, despite our differences and hurts and hangups…and I’m eternally blessed that he chooses to love me…has it been easy? Hardly…and we are blessed far greater than each of us deserve…but I would say, clearly, put God first, in ALL things big and small…seek His face, most certainly when it comes to dating and then deciding to marry…there’s no perfect spouse and no perfect marriage…seek wise counsel from family and friends that put God first in their own lives…but at the end of the day, if you find yourself back from the honeymoon and the reality comes and that nasty voice whispers, “you made a mistake…” Fear not! God knows our stories…from beginning, middle to end, and only He can take something so very broken, and prayerfully make it beautiful…we are a living testimony!

    Love to you and yours from NC,


    • Thank you. I agree that there is a connection which goes deeper than compatibility. Glad to see that expressed here.

  18. Well put Gary. I would say “embarrass” is too strong an emotion to be ignored. We all want to feel proud of the person we are relating with, more so to others. Anything short of this, then you’ve surrendered to some unsustainable position. In as much as we do not marry superficial being, there must be stronger roots in your being comfortable with and around the person.

  19. At the risk of sounding shaming, I would have to argue that it’s the person that we are to love, not necessarily what they do for a living. There are people in other countries and in other cultures who do far better with far less. We live in a superficial society, and seeing people get married for superficial reasons, or worse-turn down great people for superficial reasons- as believers is disheartening.
    Are those things really going to matter to you in 20 years, 30 years, and 50? What if you got passed over for those same reasons-is that acceptable then?

    • Unfortunately yes.
      Embarrassment never goes away and leads to devastating results. Of course there are people living in worse conditions than we are. That’s why we give and pray. Jesus said ” the poor you will always have with you.” We can only account for who we are as individuals and allow The Holy Spirit to work out the bad. The Holy purpose of marriage is to come along the side of your spouse and help fulfill God’s purpose for our lives. It is very difficult to concentrate on His purpose if you don’t respect your spouse. Superficial? Probably. Should it be ignored? Absolutely not.

  20. I would never want to be with someone who embarrassed me in front of others. With that said, playful call-outs on my quirky/out of the ordinary traits or behaviors in front of friends can be funny (and as long as each of us may do it without fear of hurting each other’s feelings). Also, I feel like job profession is not “superficial”. That encompasses a lot of hours of each day – it also serves as the financial welfare for families (whether it is for the female or male). Job professions are very important! We have to be attracted to our mates, so if the physical trait is something that deters from that, well, it to cannot be considered superficial. But, let’s say someone is not fashion-conscious…perhaps that can be over-looked or it can be changed overtime…that to me, is what could be considered superficial.