No, you don’t.
Exploring your feelings is sort of like checking out the tide—it changes throughout the day, and what it is now, isn’t what it’ll be twelve hours from now and certainly isn’t what it’ll be twelve years from now.
The more I study marriage, talk to couples, and read about marriage, the more convinced I am that far more important than your feelings is your boyfriend or girlfriend’s ability to manage conflict. (This is relevant for married couples too; if you’re married, please keep reading.)
I’m not overstating this.
Your future partner’s ability to handle conflict will have far more impact on your satisfaction in marriage than your current level of feelings. I’m not suggesting that you should marry someone for whom you feel nothing; I am suggesting that it’s foolish to marry someone who is immature about handling conflict even if your feelings are “through the roof” positive. If you marry such a person, those feelings will turn negative faster than you can believe.
Conflict can be a wonderful thing or a destructive thing. It’s not the case that the best couples have no conflict. That’s foolish. No conflict probably means someone is burying who they really are. That’s not healthy and it eventually leads to feelings of resentment, bitterness, or feeling dominated and controlled.
No, the “best” couples are those who come out of conflict closer together rather than more estranged. It’s not whether they enter the fight, but how they come out of it that determines the strength of their relationship.
You can’t get to intimacy without going through conflict. If unhealthy patterns of conflict keep pushing you back, you’ll never arrive at a satisfying relationship. Your feelings could be 12 on a scale of one to ten, but if either one of you is immature with conflict, that “12” is quickly going to become “1/2”. That’s within months of being married, by the way, not years.
Two major concerns related to conflict are stonewalling (the silent treatment) and violence. If someone can’t handle heated emotions without getting physical, they’re simply not ready for marriage, period. And if they don’t want to engage in conflict and respond with stonewalling, they’re not ready for marriage. They can date and have friends, but they shouldn’t get married. It’s not what they really want—being vulnerable and accepted, knowing and accepting in return. At least, not yet.
A third concern, however, is spiritual myopia—entering conflict to win and prove the other person wrong rather than exploring the sin in your own heart. A healthy Christian asks himself or herself, “Which one of my buttons are being pushed right now? What deep-seated insecurities is this conflict spot-lighting?” If a person won’t go there and explore this, conflict will tear you apart as a couple. If you will go there, it will build you up as a Christian and as a couple.
Two key biblical passages are essential for this approach:
Matthew 7:3-5: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
James 4:1-2 “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.”
If I was single, rather than “exploring my feelings” for someone, I’d explore how they handle conflict. Will they go to Matthew 7 and James 4? Or do they want to just sit and fight it out? Arguing when passions are high is stupid and rarely productive. Your brain is in an entirely wrong mode for reflection and spiritual growth. Get away from each other, force yourself to personally and prayerfully go through Matthew 7 and James 4 and then come back together and talk it out.
If a person won’t do that, then I’d say, “Okay, I need to find someone else.” If I know conflict is inevitable, and this person doesn’t have a commitment to scriptural living in the face of conflict, that tells me they think Scripture is irrelevant, out of date, or of no concern to them. I’d prefer to base the future of my marriage on Scripture being true and helpful. I wouldn’t want to marry someone who disagrees with that.
Singles, there are only a few issues for which I’d be this rigid. I’ve seen couples overcome pasts of sexual promiscuity and still have intimate marriages and a very satisfying time in the bedroom. I’ve seen couples who seem like exact opposites still enjoy each other and have fun with each other. I’ve seen couples from two entirely different backgrounds mix two different pasts with great passion to create a great future. But I’ve never seen—and don’t think I ever will—a couple who can’t handle conflict have a decent marriage, much less an intimate, satisfying one.