Focus on the Family

Red Flags in a Relationship

by Glenn Lutjens

So, you're in a relationship. It's a pretty exciting time of life, huh?

Perhaps you recently met someone who caught your interest, and you're hoping that with time you'll be able to discern if the relationship should move toward marriage.

Or maybe you've been dating for quite some time now. You've identified the other person's strengths, but have also discovered some traits that leave you scratching your head.

In either case, you have probably found that many forces push you forward in your relationship.

Time can seem more like an enemy than an ally. You may fear that you're not getting any younger. Well-meaning friends and relatives might be inquiring about your love life, wondering when you plan on taking "the plunge." Your own sense of loneliness and that God-given desire for connection can nudge you further in a relationship until the steps toward the altar just seem to get easier and easier. Let's say you're already in love. Talk about an influence that changes behavior! Few factors have more horse power than romance. Even books on the subject of dating and marriage can convey a subtle expectation to keep moving forward: "Trust God," "differences are good," and "hey, nobody's perfect."

All of that's true. The forces that compel you to move forward are not out to destroy you. But with so many of them urging you toward marriage, it's wise to pause and ask yourself some questions that might prevent heartache down the road. You need to decide what to do with this relationship; no other person can make that decision for you. As a counselor, I've spoken with people who didn't take the time to think through their relationship. They acted solely on their feelings and tied the knot. Once married, they wanted to be faithful to that covenant, but they experienced difficulties that could have been avoided.

I'm grateful for their commitment to marriage and the desire to be faithful "till death us do part." Once a couple has committed at the altar – short of a few biblical exceptions – that is indeed the true path of faithfulness. But how would their lives have turned out had they taken the time to explore the red flags that were at least partially visible? Facing pain can certainly refine us, but we don't get extra credit for walking into it, especially when it can be avoided.

Marriage is great; it's a fantastic gift from God. My hope is that many of you do move forward and make that promise for life. But I've heard it said: "I'd rather be single and wish I were married, than married and wish I were single." It's one thing to be lonely alone, it's an even more distressing experience to be with someone and still be lonely. Now is the time to look carefully at who you will marry – not after rings are exchanged! Even if you're in a great relationship, asking yourself the tough questions now will only create a greater level of confidence and appreciation if you do decide to marry.

Every potential mate has a deficiency. It's called sin. Romans 3:10 says, "There is no one righteous, not even one." Every single romantic relationship has been impacted by the foolishness of two rebellious hearts! If you're looking for the perfect mate, stop. You won't find him. She doesn't exist.

Some will say, "Since no one's perfect, it really doesn't matter who I chose to marry. We're all flawed." Some will even take it a step further and say, "It's about being the right person, not finding the right person." Yes, there's some truth there, but the Bible makes distinctions between the foolish and the wise. Though we all are a mixture of both, there are some qualitative differences between people. It does matter who you marry!

When we're excited about a relationship, it's easy to overlook the red flags that at least need to be explored. We want to be married; this special person makes us feel wonderful (at least most of the time). We know some things about this person, but we sometimes fill in the gaps with what we want him or her to be like. Yet we often don't fill them in accurately. As you continue to read, please do so with an open mind. You just might find that some of the red flags actually relate to you, not your significant other.


How Content Are You As a Single?

by Glenn Lutjens

An important dynamic in any relationship is one's general level of contentment in life.

As a single, you are somewhere on the range of contentment. You might be extremely content or very discontented, or anywhere in between.

When people marry, their range of contentment can shift in either direction, or it can stay relatively the same as it was when both parties were single.1 If it's higher post-marriage, then you've found the goldmine. If it's lower, you've unfortunately found the landmine! Before marriage, most anticipate that exchanging rings will lead to the goldmine.

Many factors play into which mine you are likely to strike after marriage. If you experienced a low level of contentment as a single, expecting marriage to propel you to marital bliss probably won't happen. On the other hand, if you are already highly content as a single, you very well may find marriage to be the goldmine. Wherever you're at right now, if you're not content, don't count on marriage to make everything better!

Often there are spiritual and emotional issues that we need to address. If you've encountered pain in your life that hasn't been faced, please take the time to work through it now before marriage. I'm not saying a person who's struggled in life can't be a good spouse, but it often takes more work to get there. Wishing away the hurt isn't going to resolve it. God can help you face the circumstances that were not the way you would have written life's script. God's power, your openness, and often the support of a counselor and community, are key in your move toward wholeness. Jesus said in Matthew 5:4, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." Burying our pain only delays the inevitable.

It's OK to expect your friend to deal with his/her pain before getting married! Imagine two construction workers standing next to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. How silly would it be for one to say to the other, "So when do we start the addition?" The structure needs to be shored up before you can add to it and expect it to survive and thrive over time. Wounds in life happen, often without our vote, but each one of us has a choice about what we do with those pains. If you or your friend needs to work through past pains, do it now before moving forward in your relationship. Needs that either of you have now may look very different after you've addressed those emotional wounds.


1Singles can certainly experience great contentment in their lives, especially if they are seeking God's heart. (I Corinthians 7:32-35) Yet marriage can amplify the level of contentment or the lack of it. (Proverbs 12:4)

Spiritual Red Flags

by Glenn Lutjens

Divorce

If your friend was married before, it's vital to consider what happened in that former relationship and what factors were involved that caused the commitment to be broken. Society views remarriage as a given, but the Bible speaks to this important issue. Focus on the Family believes that Scripture addresses three specific situations in which a person does have freedom to remarry:

  1. The previous marriage ended as the result of sexual unfaithfulness by the person's spouse. (Matthew 19:9).
  2. The person was divorced by an unbelieving spouse who was not willing to stay married (I Corinthians 7:15,16).
  3. The divorce took place prior to a person coming to faith in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17).

No matter what circumstances are given as the reason for the divorce, however, it's crucial to get wise counsel before moving forward with a relationship. Pastoral care, professional counseling, and advice from mature Christians can be extremely valuable and help a person avoid unnecessary heartache.

And an additional word of caution: Typically, an individual will learn the details of a previous marriage from the person of interest. The problems that led to the demise of the relationship may be accurately portrayed, or they might be one-sided. It's a temptation for a person to present themselves in a favorable light (Proverbs 18:17). It would be beneficial to speak to family and friends of the person you're seeing in order to get a fuller, more objective picture of what took place and the dynamics that may have been involved. Becoming aware of potential unhealthy patterns can enable you to put steps in place to avoid their duplication, and the best time to tackle such issues is before the romance takes off.

Spiritually Distant

For the person who has come to faith in Jesus Christ, finding a mate who shares a similar commitment and spiritual walk is vitally important!  Since II Corinthians 6:14 says, "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers," some have concluded that if a person is a Christian, he/she should only marry another Christian. It does mean that, but I think it runs deeper. If Paul simply wanted to convey that two people were heaven bound, he could have used a different word-picture. He could have used a corral or field of oxen- creatures in proximity with each other. Instead, he uses an agricultural picture of a yoke, one that would have been placed upon the necks of two oxen as they pulled a plow or agricultural tool. The yoke would require two things of the oxen. 1- That they walk in the same direction. 2- That they walk at a similar pace. What happens when two yoked oxen walk at different speeds? It's not pretty!

"He believes in a higher power." "Oh, she'll come to faith after we marry." "He says he'll come to church with me." Those things may happen, but they are not guaranteed. Marrying someone who doesn't share your faith in Christ is saying, "God, I think I can handle this one on my own, thanks." But even if your friend knows Christ, is there a hunger to grow spiritually?

You first need to understand your own spiritual walk to see if being yoked together is going to work. Is God my delight? Am I growing in my understanding of His infinite love for me? Have I committed to follow Him daily? Do I believe and trust in His Word? Notice, I didn't ask if you are perfect, all of us fall short. But yearning for a deeper walk with God will enhance a marriage, not hinder it.

Has your friend received God's free gift of forgiveness through faith in Christ? If so, what impact does it have upon his/her daily life? Does he believe what the Bible says, or is there a more culturally correct worldview that's held? Does she have a tendency to compromise when it's convenient? Is he like the seed that fell among the rocks in Matthew 13: 20, 21- quick growth, but no deep root system?

Time and again, I've spoken with people, who thought they were marrying a Christian, but once wedding rings were exchanged, spiritual interests fell like a rock. That's why it's so difficult to start a relationship with someone who subsequently receives Christ. You don't know if the interest expressed thereafter is really about the Lord, or about one's interest in you. You may need to see what your friend's relationship with God would look like if you were not in the picture. Would the person attend church without your presence or prompting? Would the person walk with the Lord, or walk from the Lord if you were no longer involved?


Emotional Red Flags

by Glenn Lutjens

Angry

I'm not talking about one's ability to experience the feeling of anger; all of us should be able to identify that God-given emotion in our lives. I'm talking primarily about frozen anger- resentment. When we hold on to anger and don't address it, bad things often happen. There may be issues about unforgiveness in the person's life. Often, underlying anger is fear, hurt, or both. Metaphorically, the clenched fist feels a whole lot safer than the more vulnerable open palm.

It can also relate to the frequency and intensity of how anger is expressed. Proverbs 22:24 says, "Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered." Is it really stretching this verse to say, don't marry a hot-tempered person?  I don't think so. "But he's got a good reason to be angry!" "You don't know what she's been through!" There are a lot of legitimate reasons people may struggle with anger, but marrying into it is like walking into a hornet's nest.

Men tend to have a tougher challenge facing their anger. They may either ignore it, denying its there, or they may explode. Ladies, seeing how he resolves his anger will be the difference between a red flag and a green light in your relationship. 

There is no place for physical control or violence in a relationship! It is a major red flag that needs swift action like ending the relationship! Could someone get help for their violent ways? Yes, but you would need strong evidence that it has been thoroughly dealt with spiritually, emotionally, and with a significant time of violence-free living. Your friend getting help while remaining in the relationship runs the risk of pseudo recovery.

Lack of Self Control

If a person is merely the pursuer of one's latest desire or emotional experience, life will be interesting, to say the least. Does your friend follow through on commitments and plans? Does he lack the initiative to find and hold a job? Has she gotten into debt because of impulse spending? Have you looked at each other's credit histories? Does he lack control of his passions?

When a person's emotional state rides like a rollercoaster, there may be bio-chemical issues involved which may need to be evaluated by a doctor or psychiatrist. If that's the case, what changes will proper medication produce? How likely is the person to stay on the medication over time? There may be a legitimate explanation for one's actions, but those actions still need to be lived with if two marry. And if the behavior persists you have to decide if you can deal with that for a lifetime.

Self-Absorbed

How much of your friend's life revolves around himself? Does she have a very narrow flexibility quotient- is there only a thin range of your behaviors that are acceptable in her thinking? Does she need to get what she wants even when it inconveniences others? When the pursuit of a relationship is in full gear, it's easy to think we could live blissfully seeking our friend's interests into the sunset. If that doesn't wear off before marriage, you can count on it doing so after the vows have been exchanged.

You might think that you are acting selfishly when you want your friend to meet your needs. Look for balance. Philippians 2:4 says, "Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others." It's a good thing to want your friend to show interest in your needs as well as those of others. We often get an accurate sense of a person's ability to sacrifice not by their response to a romantic relationship, but by one's reaction to others in need. Are you willing to be the tag along to your friend's self indulgence? I hope not.

What amount of energy does your friend give to appearance? I'm not saying there's anything wrong with working out or dying your hair. Some need to give more attention to their appearance. But is it in balance? Does it keep a person from serving others? Does it communicate a narcissistic tendency? Sometimes it's difficult to see because we're attracted to the results. Yet over time, the downside of self absorption will become more negatively evident and destructive to the relationship. Does your friend have a humble heart?

Victim Perspective

When a person struggles with distrust, one is only a step away from playing the role of the victim. We can call it by different names- hyper-sensitivity, self pity, critical, or martyrdom. The thread that connects these is a person's difficulty resolving pain and moving forward. Life is a series of whirlwinds that just don't seem to end. Other people or circumstances are perceived as the cause of undesirable events, and one is likely to blame just about every problem on just about everyone else. A person will take little responsibility for life's struggles. When married, it becomes very easy for a spouse to be blamed for one's lack of contentment.

Is there any truth to the person's perspective? Yes, probably a little. But when someone may not want to get past the pain, there's a good chance that they won't. And who ends up with the bull's eye on their chest? You do. In extreme cases, there may be a personality disorder that is involved that is pretty resistant to change. Does your friend own his shortcomings? Does she have a narrow band of acceptable behaviors for you? You may be able to put up with that for a while when the romantic feelings are sky high, but what happens when they're not?

It's easy to think that we can rescue the victim. That if we're able to express true love, godly love, that things will change. It's tempting, but it's a trap.


Character Red Flags

by Glenn Lutjens

Controlling

Your friend can manipulate in many ways: guilt-inducement, threats of abandoning you, threats of self-harm, yelling, physical aggression, isolating you, pouting, interrogating you, etc. It may be obvious; it may be much more subtle. You might be told that it's really love, but deep down you know that's not the truth. If you see glimpses of controlling actions now, it's fair to say they will likely increase after marriage.

Christian men can hide their control behind headship. Yes, the Bible does speak to the place of headship in a husband (Eph. 5:23), but it's not about domination or manipulation. Jesus is given as the model for headship, the one who came not to be served, but to give his life for you and me. Headship has more to do with servanthood than with being "in charge." It's more about his responsibility before God to encourage the relationship positively than about him demanding his own way. The mutual submission that is stated in Ephesians 5:21 provide a safeguard against marital headship from being used as a club.

Is she able to submit to a husband, or does life simply need to go her way? When a woman has experienced over-control, abuse, or harshness in her years growing up, submission may not come easily. Even when headship is carried out in a loving balanced fashion, she may fear that it will turn into domination. There may still be some wounds that need to be addressed.

Dishonest

"I'm sure she was just stretching the facts a little bit." "He lied to me so that I wouldn't be hurt." It's easy to minimize or overlook instances of dishonesty in a relationship. But lying is often a pattern that pulls the rug out from under a marriage. If you can't trust a person's words, what can you trust about them? Lies that we're aware of are often the tip of the iceberg. We want to trust our friend. But when we find an instance of dishonesty, it causes us to wonder what else has been stretched or distorted

"Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment." Proverbs 12:19. What greater picture of the outcome of honesty can we find? Like most sin, lying has momentary purpose, but it leads to destruction. Does your friend have a reputation that his/her words can be trusted? Is truth compromised for gain, impact, or convenience?

Addiction Issues

"She doesn't drink like that too often." "Oh, he told me he's not going to look at pornography anymore." When we want a relationship to work, it's easy for us to rationalize away the red flags. Chemical dependency, sexual addictions, food addictions, etc. will gnaw at the very fabric of a marriage. If you're seeing the problem now, don't simply accept good intentions; the addiction will likely intensify. Your friend likely needs help physically, emotionally, and spiritually to experience sobriety in whatever arena of struggle. People can often "white knuckle" an addiction for a period of time, but when stress, frustration, hurts, and fatigue set in, it's easy to return to old patterns. In most instances, the addiction is not primarily about the "substance," whatever that may be, but about the pain underneath that needs to be addressed.

There's no guarantee that a person will not return to a former addiction, but if there is at least a year of consistent sobriety, chances diminish significantly. Again, the difficult question remains; if I were not saying that something needs to be done about this addiction, would my friend be pursuing help?

Inability to Apologize

We all mess up, no one is exempt. How does your friend admit when wrong? Or should I ask, does your friend acknowledge his/her mistakes? We don't want to be wrong, but dealing with it when we are goes a long way towards establishing a healthy marriage.

People may tend to struggle more with admitting mistakes when they've grown up around critical people. For some, Paul's words in II Corinthians 12: 10, "For when I am weak then I am strong," is experienced as, "For when I am weak then I am worthless."

Writing out an apology may be easier than saying it. Practicing with a small matter may make it easier when the offense has a greater emotional impact. But saying "I'm sorry" needs to happen for a relationship to thrive.

Unwilling to Get Help

If your friend is not willing to go to counseling if you marry and can't resolve an issue together, don't marry him/her. I know it may sound self serving since I'm a marriage and family therapist, but it's true. It's not merely about one's willingness to meet with a counselor or pastor; it's about one's willingness to grow, to be open, and to learn. A person might agree to it now, but conveniently has a change of mind after the "I do's."

There are often two reasons why people will avoid counseling. One, they know at a deeper level that the way they are approaching life and the relationship is not healthy. If it stays an issue just between the couple, one may succeed at convincing the other that there really are no problems, or if there is, the problem is the partner's. On the other hand, if they meet with an objective counselor, it's going to be a lot tougher to keep an unhealthy perspective alive. Secondly, a person may know that there's pain that needs to be faced, but it may scare the person half to death to do so. "If I meet with a counselor, I'll probably have to face some pains I've successfully avoided until now." Of course the price of not facing the pain is a lot more costly than facing it.

What current evidence would lead you to believe that your friend would be willing to get help when married? Is he open to learn from others, or does he know it all?  Does she have a humble attitude, or is there arrogance in her tone and words?


Interpersonal Red Flags

by Glenn Lutjens

Non-Affectionate

This is not the problem for most couples. Often there's a need to restrain the passions that run so strong at this point in a relationship. Setting the flames of romance aside for a moment, is your friend comfortable with giving and receiving affection? Does he/she show appropriate affection to friends, parents, siblings, etc? If two people are less inclined toward affection, maybe neither will miss it. But affection is a part of the way our Creator wired us. Will your friend be able to show affection to your children? Is it uncomfortable for your friend because affection was never received growing up? The affectionate-resistant person would be wise to explore the reasons that touch is so uncomfortable.

Avoids Conflict

Some people just don't want to deal with conflict of any size, shape, or variety. When tension is present, withdrawal or denial serve to gloss over the problem allowing it to be avoided for another day. Obviously, the problem gets bigger with every effort to sweep things under the rug.  How does your friend deal with conflict? Does the problem get avoided or minimized?

Conflict is inevitable because we're human. Whether you realize it or not, there's conflict in your relationship even this side of marriage. You might ask your friend the question, "If I have a concern, how can I bring it up in a way that you'll be able to hear me?" Your friend might say, "I don't want to hear it." That should be a pretty obvious red flag for you. Right now your conflicts might be fairly small, but marriage will change that, there's more at stake. If you don't develop a healthy pattern now, it won't get any better in marriage.

Fears Commitment

We might presume that if the person we would like to commit to isn't quite as interested, it must be a fear of commitment. That's not always the case. Since marriage is such an important decision, getting to know a person well makes a lot of sense. And there's no substitute for time.

Yet there are times when a person sends mixed messages, or struggles to commit due to a fear of intimacy. "When you find out who I really am, will you still accept me?"  It seems like she's interested, then it doesn't. He appears to want to move forward in the relationship, but then he pulls back. This hot and cold pattern can go on for years.  And even if one makes it to the altar, if the issue isn't resolved, it can still cause chaos and insecurity in a marriage. Do you see a pattern of consistency in your friend's commitments in general? Without the ability to commit, marriage is like the sands of an hourglass just waiting to run out.

Isolated from Family and Friends

Does your friend interact with family and friends? How healthy are those relationships? Though we have no control over our family members, family interactions tell us a lot about a person. That doesn't mean our friend will always end up like Mom or Dad, but it doesn't mean one will necessarily end up differently either. If we don't have the ability to pick our family, we do when it comes to our friendships.

Has your friend kept you away from her family? Does he avoid introducing you to his friends? If so, what's the reason? Are there some issues that are being kept from you? Sometimes those boundaries may be necessary, but interacting with a partner's family and friends will provide valuable information for your decisions about the relationship.

Emotionally Stuck at Home

Has your friend been able to leave home emotionally? I'm not saying she shouldn't love her parents, or that he shouldn't respect his folks. Honoring one's parents is a lifetime responsibility. But honoring them is not about obeying them now that you are an adult.

Genesis 2:24 states, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." When a man or woman doesn't leave home emotionally, heartache invariably results. I've talked with countless couples who've experienced this betrayal from a spouse. People may still be seeking parental approval that they didn't receive as a child. A man may still be controlled by his mother, but anything that even hints of control by his wife will be viewed as such. Can your friend set boundaries and say "no" to his parents when needed? Can your friend tell her parents when she disagrees with them?

Distrusting

No matter what someone does, including yourself, does your friend always second-guess the motivation? If you give your friend a gift, does the question reverberate, "What does he/she want?" Granted, our motivations aren't as pure as the driven snow, but with time one's constant questioning will drive a wedge into any relationship.

Distrust often develops as a self protective measure when people were not trustworthy in one's life. "I can be fooled once, but I won't be fooled anymore," may be the mindset. Again, hurt and pain likely exist behind the wall; and without help, the distrust will likely creep into every crevasse of the relationship. Can people be too trusting? Yes, absolutely, and that's a problem of a different kind. But without trust, marriage becomes a daily witness stand. Over time, the distrust will likely increase.

Dependent

It may be hard to imagine, but some people get married so that they can have someone else tell them what to do. They may fear making mistakes, lack self confidence, or want a "parent" to direct or blame their lives upon. It can look a lot like submission, but it's not.

You may see it in the amount of time a friend wants to spend with you. Who could argue against a couple sharing quality time? Every counselor knows the importance of that! But when your friend wants to spend every waking moment together, you'll likely feel suffocated before very long. It can feel flattering at first, but be careful of anything that tends to get out of balance!


Addressing Red Flags in a Relationship

by Glenn Lutjens

At this point you might be wondering, like the disciples did in Matthew 19:10, "If this is the case, maybe it's better not to marry."

That is an important decision. Depending on the severity of the red flag, a friend may be able to address them while remaining in the relationship. And not every red flag mentioned here is of equal importance. For example, a friend's alcoholism or another friend's tendency to avoid conflict don't necessarily hold the same weight. It's not about looking for the perfect mate; if it were, we would be disqualified ourselves.

Raising a concern in the relationship needs to occur with honesty, humility, and kindness. You might voice qualities about your friend that you do appreciate before sharing your red flag. For example, "I find your kindness and compassion to be great qualities in your life, and I greatly appreciate them. Recently I've been struggling with the amount of time we spend together. I know it's important that we have the opportunity to share time, but I'm feeling suffocated in some ways." The focus is your experience and the behavior itself, not the trait. "You're too dependent," may or may not be accurate, but it's going to be difficult to receive.

It may help to ask your friend to think or pray about it; maybe we're the first person who has ever had the courage to voice the concern and it may take some time for it to register. Your friend may disagree with you, but one's willingness to consider the concern will shed considerable light upon your subsequent decisions.

Remember that you're not there to fix your friend. Several years ago, a psychiatrist named Dr. Negri tried to do that and failed miserably. He "fixed" his younger patient of thirty years and subsequently married her. Their marriage ended in divorce. When asked why it didn't work out, he said that he had forgotten to do therapy on himself.

In some cases, you may be wise to take a step back in the relationship, at least waiting until a situation is addressed before moving forward. Keep in mind that a person can white knuckle a problem at least for a period of time; using sheer determination to change behaviors. That type of change is not likely to last, and may lead you back into deeper problems some time down the road. If a relationship needs to slow down or not move forward, you may need to identify the reason, discuss what steps each may take to address the concern, and agree upon the needed boundaries. Communicate clearly: Is the relationship exclusive at this point or not? Is there freedom to see other people? It will be important for you to know what changes will need to happen in order to move forward.


When You May Need to End a Relationship

by Glenn Lutjens

Even if we've confronted a concern in the best possible way, if we stay in the relationship, it's hard to tell if change has occurred and for what reason. It's like trying to repair a car while driving down the highway. You don't owe it to your friend to stay in the relationship. Either of you, short of the altar, may decide against the relationship. It's better to end the relationship now than to keep going and suffer for it!

If you end a relationship, do so with kindness and respect. Let your friend know that you have concerns, that you've given it thought, and that you believe it's the right decision for you. Share the concerns if your friend would like to know, but address them as behaviors, not traits.

Be prepared for a number of different reactions. You might get promises, begging, or anger from your friend. If you end the relationship now, it doesn't necessarily mean that reconciliation may not happen down the road. Be careful of setting up the other person or yourself with that expectation. The inevitable question arrives, "Can we still be friends?" This question is often an attempt by one to stay in the relationship. Many people slide back into their relationship because they were trying to be friendly; like trying to drill a new screw hole 1/8th of an inch from the original. Many times, the end of a relationship will need to be firm and decisive. You are not a terrible Christian if you decide to end the relationship with your friend!

If you do break off the relationship, give yourself the opportunity to grieve. You very well may be in love with that person, and even though ending the relationship may be the smartest thing you've ever done, it still hurts! Journal, identify your losses, and don't try to meet someone else too quickly.

Some of you might be on the doorstep of marriage- a month, a week, or even a day away from that lifetime promise. It would be easy to let potential disappointment from a fiancée, a parent, or the loss of a reception hall down payment keep you from doing what you know you need to do. My goal is not to break couples apart, but for couples to have a greater confidence in their decision to marry. If that confidence is not there, it might be the wisest choice you ever make to delay the wedding date or end the relationship.

Seek God's Heart

Pray for God's wisdom and direction in your relationship. I hesitate to mention it, not because I don't believe in it, but because it's so easy to distort. Time after time, I've seen people continue past clear and obvious relational red flags because "God was leading them." God does lead and guide, but praying about it doesn't become a trump card that no one can question. Ask the Lord for His leading, but see if there are important red flags. Many times God's leading will be affirmed by the people around us who are also seeking His heart, but maybe with a tad more objectivity since they are not in the relationship.


What to Look For in a Relationship

by Glenn Lutjens

Sometimes when it comes to addressing red flags, it can be equally as important to know what you are looking for; to identify the green lights. Government officials responsible for uncovering counterfeit money spend a lot more time looking at the real stuff than the fake.

Several behaviors will be important in a healthy marriage. A person needs to be balanced. It's often easy to get imbalanced in one direction or the other; to be too carefree or too serious, too flexible or too structured, too strict or too lenient. It will be important to find someone who is forgiving, responsible, encouraging, honest, admits mistakes, sets boundaries, and can confront you constructively.

These behaviors will likely reflect hearts that feel loved and safe. They will come from people who understand their imperfections, have experienced true forgiveness, and are committed to growth in their own lives. From people who have a deep sense of connection, who understand why God placed them here on planet earth, and want to carry that out. Remember, no one's perfect, but looking for character and godliness may end up being more important allies to you than the goose bumps from romance felt right now.

The Types of Love

Think of marital love as a house. Psalm 127:1 says, "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain." Homes are made up of different parts in much the same way that marriage is made up of different loves. The Greeks used different words to describe love.

All four loves are needed in marriage. Eliminate any and the relationship will suffer. But without the foundation (agape love), the rest of the house will crumble. If you have a leak in the roof (eros love), its not pleasant, but you don't need to junk the house. Make sure that you have the foundation, frame, and roof complete before marriage, so that you can move the furniture in after the closing.


Ask the Tough Questions About Your Relationship

by Glenn Lutjens

Questions to Ask Yourself

Give that last question some thought.

The True Value of a Relationship

"Earlier, you mentioned 18 red flags; my friend only has two of them, so most don't apply to us." That may be true, but even one red flag could make the difference between a wise choice and a disaster when it comes to marriage. With no disrespect to premarital surveys (I believe in their value), it would be nice if you could simply take a test, identify red flags and green lights, give them a number value, and calculate if you should move forward or not. It's not that simple.

Many people get married because of a fear of loneliness, of not having anymore chances in life to find love. The thought that my friend is the last "fish in the sea" will tend to create desperation.  It's tough to keep in mind, but if you do end the relationship, over time you will likely find more opportunities. And even if you don't, your worth isn't based upon finding someone who will marry you. Other than Christ, no one on earth determines your worth. Like the moon reflecting the sun's rays, spouses can reflect the truth about their mates, but they don't make them valuable!

Is it possible that there might not be any red flags in your relationship now, yet issues arise later in your spouse? Yes, absolutely. There are no guarantees that a spouse might not walk away from you, God, or emotional health. What I've talked about here relates to red flags, some clear, some more obscure, which can be detected now. Don't rationalize, excuse, or ignore them. Find the goldmine, not the landmine.

If you're still concerned about your relationship, talk to someone. Feel free to give us a call here at the Focus on the Family Counseling department. Call us at 1-800-A-FAMILY (800-232-6459). Our licensed counselors or chaplains would love to speak with you and, if you would like, can direct you toward local Christian counselors.


Next Steps and Related Information

Additional resources addressing preparation for marriage

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