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Focus on the Family Broadcast

How to Find a Good and Godly Spouse

How to Find a Good and Godly Spouse

Author Gary Thomas outlines some important, biblically-based character attributes which singles should look for in a future spouse.
Original Air Date: October 17, 2016


Gary Thomas: Just image what it would be like to marry somebody who is motivated and filled with love. They love God. They love you. They love on others. That’s just their motivation. How that would inspire you, how that would bless you, how it would … would encourage you to grow in love yourself.

End of Excerpt

John Fuller: Today we’re sharing encouragement for both singles and married couples from Gary Thomas. And your host on Focus on the Family is Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, we don’t have to tell single people that dating is tough…. they know it is! And many Christian young adults today are not dating at all because they’re afraid of making a bad decision. They’re stuck in fear. And that’s why I’m so glad we have this wonderful message to share from Gary Thomas today. As a pastor, Gary has counseled dozens of married couples, giving him a window into their inner lives. And he’s using that insight to encourage singles to use the BEST criteria – from the Scripture — as they’re dating. As we all know, people tend to put their ‘best foot forward,’ so when a relationship gets serious, it’s very important to take a step back and be a bit more analytical about the potential spouse.

And if you’re married, don’t tune out!! You can share this information with your children as they begin dating, too! And definitely use this criteria for anyone that they’ve considered marrying.

Also, Gary says that if you work to improve in some of the attributes he’s gonna explore, you can improve the quality of your marriage.

John: It really is applicable for pretty much everybody in our listening audience. Here now is Gary Thomas speaking at a Focus on the Family staff chapel. And we’re gonna pick up right after his opening remarks.

Gary: For those of you who are single, you have no idea what the future holds. I’ve seen couples torn apart through success, through failure, through poverty, through abundance, through not being able to have children, having rebellious children, having children die. You really don’t know what you’re gonna face. But here’s what’s so key. You do get to choose who you face that future with. God does let you make that choice. And I can’t overstress how important that decision is.

A wise marital choice is like a gift that keeps on giving. I am blessed literally every day of my life because of one decision I made 31 years ago to ask Lisa to be my wife. And a foolish marital choice is like a bad investment that you never get to pay off. And the consequences couldn’t be greater. In fact, I believe the consequences of a poor marital choice can be so long-lasting. I don’t want a single person here or anybody listening on the radio to ever have to bear ‘em.

And … and that’s why I wrote The Sacred Search, because what was bothering me as a pastor was seeing that Christians were getting married for virtually the same reasons as non-Christians. And none of them predict future marital happiness or even fulfillment.

When you look at why most people get married today, you can look at three things. And if these three things are present, most people think it’s gonna be a fantastic marriage.

The first one is infatuation. They feel something they’ve never felt before, almost this transcendent connection.

The second one is sexual chemistry. There’s just electricity when they touch. They … they can’t wait to get together that way. And then they have such a good time on dates, they seem so compatible and … and they’re so happy together and if those three things are present, most people think, “we’ve found our match. We’re gonna get married…” and they rush forward, but none of those three or even all of them in aggregate predict future marital happiness.

Let me just run through those to explain that, ‘cause I know it’s gonna seem surprising to some. We could look at infatuation. We know from neurologists, those that study our brains, that infatuation lasts about 12 to 18 months. That’s it. Literally, unless you’re neurologically brain damaged, it can’t last longer than that.

And when something doesn’t even last long enough for you to potty-train your first child, I don’t know how relevant it is to make a life-long decision. In fact, it can even lead you astray. Neurologists talk about a stage of idealization. When we become infatuated with someone, we idealize who they are. We give ‘em strengths they don’t really have. We miss the weaknesses that everybody else sees.

Imagine an infatuated couple at a college campus. The girlfriend’s walking behind the boyfriend. He’s carrying his tray. A napkin falls off the tray. He bends down and he picks it up and his girlfriend is so overcome at this amazing act of character and piety. She runs to her friends and tries to get him nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Did you see what he did? He picked up the napkin! He cares about the wait staff. Obviously he’s concerned about the environment. “I picked up the napkin,” but … and she misses the weaknesses. “He … he seems kinda angry to us.” “No … he’s just passionate. That’s what I love about him so much. He’s so passionate.”

I don’t know, it seemed to me like he was cussing that guy out. Actually, I think he was speaking in tongues, you know. He’s got a (Laughter) a very spiritual side. And so, she goes ahead and marries him and here’s what every pastor, every counselor and a lot of you parents have heard after they go forward with that. “He’s not who I thought he was.” And that’s a true statement.

And sexual chemistry’s the same thing. That electricity won’t sustain life-long satisfaction, even in the sexual relationship. I’m telling you, where sexual relationships start to break down in marriage, it’s always having to do with character, not initial sexual chemistry. It comes and goes. But what sustains it is when you have two people of character who know how to forgive, who can live by the Gospel and live by grace, so they still care about each other and can still feel affectionate toward each other, even with the hurts that are involved in marriage. It’s character that sustains sexual satisfaction in marriage.

Now I’m not saying sexual attraction doesn’t matter at all. It’s an important part of marriage. In fact, I’ll make it a little stronger. If the thought of seeing this person naked makes you want to vomit, please don’t marry them, all right? That’s (Laughter) gonna have issues later on in your marriage. But it won’t be sustained by that initial sexual chemistry.

And compatibility on dates, it … it’s … you know, two people get alone, and they think, “Man, who would’ve believed it? We both like Star Wars! I mean, how odd is…? And we both like pepperoni pizza! Have you ever seen two more perfectly matched people in the world? (Laughter)

The only thing date compatibility tells you is how well you’ll get along when you’re on vacation. (Laughter) All right? Ask married people how many weeks of vacation they get a year and that tells you what you’re making that choice for.

And so, if we want to have marriages that honor God and that are more successful, we have to realize that there are things that are more important than what the culture looks at. And there are many things the Bible urges us to consider that are far more appropriate and applicable for how we can make a wise marital choice.

So, let me just try to quickly run through a quick six, if I can get that far in discussing. These are better things to base this all-important choice on. And if you’re married, you can still listen, because as you improve in each one of these areas, you can improve the quality of your marriage.

The first one is something that I don’t see singles thinking about very much, but it is essential that you marry somebody who knows how to handle conflict. Do you know what marriage makes you? It makes you angry. (Laughter) It … it is impossible to share close living quarters without stepping on each other’s toes.

It … it shocked me as a new husband when I would wake up and my wife would be furious with me for how I treated her in her dream the night before. (Laughter) I was like, but honey, you were just … it doesn’t matter. You were such a jerk! I’m like, I’m sorry. I mean, I …

But here’s the thing, conflict doesn’t bother me in this sense. Conflict is how you understand what each one really cares about. Conflict reveals values and feelings and it can do wonderful things to help you grow in understanding each other. So, conflict can be very helpful if it’s handled in a mature and godly way.

If conflict isn’t handled in a healthy way, it will tear the two of you apart. It will rip that infatuation apart faster than you can believe. And two real concerns when it comes to conflict are those that completely avoid conflict. It’s sort of like saying, you feel a lump in your throat, but if you don’t go to the doctor, they can’t diagnose it and you won’t be in trouble, right? Well, we know that’s not the case. Actually, it can become worse.

The other problem is when somebody is just not mature enough to handle their anger without getting physical. Now I know this will seem extreme to some of the single women out there, but when it comes to dating and a guy’s getting a little bit physical, rough, here’s my advice. One strike and he’s out. If he’s a little too angry when you’re dating, he will be much too angry when you’re married. He’s simply not ready or she’s simply not ready to be married if they can’t handle frustration without getting violent. It has brought so many marriages down.

The second thing that’s so important is that you marry someone who will be a spectacular parent. You’re not just choosing your kid … your husband or wife. You’re choosing your kids’ mom or dad. And when your kids are theoretical, you don’t realize how much they’re going to grip your heart and never let go.

I … I was a pacifist when my first child was born. I’d written on it. I’d talked about it. It all changed that day my first daughter was born. All that happened, I didn’t read any new books, didn’t exegete any new Scriptures. They just lifted that girl, put her on my wife’s chest. I looked at that baby girl. I said, anybody touches her, I’m doin’ prison ministry from the inside, all right. (Laughter) I’m just … completely changed the course of my life. And it’s hard to imagine what that’s gonna be like. But the day will come when you will say, I … “out of all the things I’ve done in this life, what I am most grateful for is, I gave you the best father, I gave you the best mother that I could find.”

I had a woman come up to me one time. “Gary, would you please talk to my daughter.” And the woman was concerned because her daughter was about to marry an atheist whose parents were Buddhist.

And so, I talked to the young woman. I said, uh … “Do you want to have children?” She goes, “Oh, absolutely.” “How important is it to you that your kids become believers in Christ?” “It’s more important to me than anything in the world!” I said, “I think you’ll agree, I … I’m sure that’s true and you’ll feel that way when your kids get a little bit older. So, let me paint a scenario when your boy is 6- or 7-years-old, really identifying with his dad. He … you’re taken him to church every weekend because it’s so important to you and you love him, and you want him to connect with Christ. But he’s just becoming aware and he notices dad never comes along.

And so, he goes to his father and he says, “Dad, how come you never go to church?” and (he) makes fun of it or says it’s for women or, “who do you think Cain went off and married anyway?” I mean, you just have some little thing.” And then he goes and spends the weekend with his grandparents. And he sees this colorful little shrine in the living room, and he says, “Grandma, Grandpa, what’s that?” And they say, “Oh, grandson, that’s where we pray. Can we teach you how to pray?” A very natural thing for grandparents to suggest. I said, “If … if the most important thing for you is that your kids become believers, is raising ‘em in an environment where one mom takes him to church and the dad undercuts that, and then grandparents speak of an entirely different concept of God, is that the surest way to help your child embrace the eternal truth?

John: You’re listening to Gary Thomas on Focus on the Family. And you can get his book, The Sacred Search, and today’s broadcast CD when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Or donate and request those at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Let’s go ahead and return now to more from Gary Thomas.

Gary: The third thing that is so important and it doesn’t sound so exciting, but it is so key, is that you want to marry somebody who knows how to pray. It is so much more important than six-pack abs. It might be hard for some people to believe.

Here’s the thing. Here’s what one wife told my wife and I at a conference. She said, “I just feel so much safer when my husband is praying.” Now catch this — “And I don’t have to ask him. I can tell from his attitude. I can tell from how he handles tension, how he deals with stress, the way he treats us. There is just a fundamental difference in the way my husband operates when he’s praying and in the Word and when he’s not.”

And if I could say somethin’ to the single women there, I would tell you, 90 percent of the changes I have made in my marriage haven’t come about because my wife has challenged me or confronted me. They’ve come about when I’ve been praying to my heavenly Father with my own agenda. God interrupts my agenda and says, “Gary, before you get to that, I want to talk about how you’ve been treating My daughter or ignoring My daughter or speaking to My daughter.” And now it’s not between me and my wife, it’s between me and my God. And women, why would you not? And men, why would you not want to have God as your strongest ally in marriage? You will have no truer friend in the difficulties of marriage.

And if you marry someone who doesn’t listen to God, who isn’t open to the conviction of God, your only tool that you have left is nagging. Ask any wife how successful nagging is to change a marriage and you’ll know why it’s so important to marry somebody who prays. Now how do you know that? I like to say this for Christians because sometimes I believe when somebody sees the security and joy and sometimes just the confidence of a believer, they’ll act like they’re in God because you’re really into God and they’re really into you, so they act like they’re into God.

If I had a close friend, it is beyond belief that my wife would never have heard about him; he never came up in a conversation, if she never saw me spending time with him. So, if your boyfriend or girlfriend never talks about God, they’re never talking to God. If you never hear this sense of “God is laying this on my heart or He’s convicting me of this or He’s given me a vision for that,” God is not silent. He’s dynamic in a person’s life, so find someone who prays.

And then fourth, this is so key. You want to marry somebody who’s humble. Humility is so underrated when it comes to marriage, but I believe humility is the preserver of happiness in marriage and the foundation for growth in marriage, so that you can grow every closer.

James 3:2 says, “We all stumble in many ways.” So, nobody gets to marry a perfect person. Nobody gets to marry the fourth member of the Trinity, ‘cause that person doesn’t exist. But the only thing more difficult than being married to somebody who isn’t perfect is being married to somebody who isn’t perfect, but who thinks they are. Because then every issue in marriage will be resolved when you get your act together. It’s not about how they’re being confronted or how they’re being convicted or how they can grow. It always comes back to, “if you will change, our marriage will improve.”

Three times in Scripture, twice in the New Testament and once in the Old, we’re told that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Why would you marry somebody that becomes a declared enemy of God because they’re acting with pride? Humility is so key. And so, you want to say, do they want to grow every bit as much as they want you to change?

Now here’s the challenge because often you’ll go on those five-hour first dates and you’ll share all of your stuff and all of your past, which I don’t recommend, but it’s very common. That’s not an act of humility. It doesn’t take a lot of humility to confess something that you did 10 years ago.

If you want to know if somebody’s humble, what are they sharing with you that God is convicting them about today? ‘Cause the Bible tells you they stumble in many ways and if they can’t think of one way that they stumble now, they either think God is a liar or they’re completely numb to the conviction of God.

And so, if you marry somebody who’s not humble, they can’t change because they don’t think they need to change. So, you better really, really like ‘em, ‘cause they’re not gonna grow and they’re not gonna improve through life without being humble.

Number five, and this will be so hard for some of you to embrace, but it is so key. Just as you can divide the world up into dog people and cat people, you can divide the world into givers and takers. Some people get joy out of giving. Some people get their highest joy out of taking. And the problem is, when the couples start dating, you have a giver who’s dating a taker. The giver gets to give. The taker gets to take. They feel like it’s a match made in heaven.

But marriage is a long-term relationship. It is a life-long marathon and the time is gonna come when the giver needs to receive, and the taker needs to give. And often, rather than having empathy for you, they’ll feel sorry for themselves because their whole world is oriented toward themselves.

And I know it sounds so selfish for you givers and I love you because you’re givers for thinking that you … we even want to think about that. It sounds selfish to think about that but let me put it in a new light. Your ability to give to build God’s kingdom, to do God’s work, will be halved if you marry a taker. When you put two givers together, you inspire each other. You encourage each other. You support each other. You release each other and you’re able to give twice, three, 10 times as much as you would be as an individual.

But when a giver marries a taker, their ability to give is often cut in half because it’s sucked out by the person they’re married to. I could not have had the life I’ve had, I could not have had the ministry I’ve had if I had married a taker. So, if you want to give, increase your ability to give by marrying a giver. And the other way to look at this is this. You’re not just choosing a husband or wife. Like I said, you’re choosing your kid’s mom or dad. Do you want your kids to be raised by someone who looks at their kids’ needs as an encumbrance and as an inconvenience and who resents it? Your kids will feel like projects if their mom or dad acts that way. Or do you want your kids to be raised by someone who gets great joy giving and serving and they delight in meeting their children’s needs?

And then finally, the sixth thing I think is so key and it’s that, you know, cliché “last, but not least.” Is the Holy Spirit active in their life? Not just are they a believer, but are they a believer in the sense that you see evidence of the Holy Spirit? And I’m not talking about Pentecostal or charismatic expressions, not that I have a problem with any of that. I mean the fruit of the Spirit that Scripture says is present when anyone is surrendered to the work of God in their life.

We’re told in Acts 6:3 to choose deacons, choose men who are filled with wisdom and the Spirit. And that’s a good test for some of you young women when you’re trying to think, “how … how do I think about this guy?” And you’re talking to your friends and they say, “Why do you want to marry him?” And you say, “Well, he seems to me unusually filled with the Spirit and wisdom” and if they spew their coffee halfway across Starbucks, you might be in a state of idealization.

In fact, if you want one of the best biblical manuals for who you want to hook your life to, you would turn to Galatians 5:19 through 23. Paul tells you what to avoid and he tells you what to look for. Galatians 5:19 through 23. He says the acts of the sinful nature are obvious. These are red flags. Sexual immorality, does he put his pleasure above your standing and integrity before God? Impurity. Are they drawn to the crude? Debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft. Men, you go into her dorm room and she’s sticking needles into funny-looking dolls, get out of there. That’s a really bad sign. Hatred, discord, jealousy. You know, they always seem to be at odds with everybody. Fits of rage, we’ve already talked about violence. Selfish ambition — they don’t have in mind the things of God, but themselves. Dissensions, factions and envy. Drunkenness, orgies and the like.

He’s talking about addictions there and I would say, please be very careful here, singles. Because we know neurologically that in one sense, addictions stamp our brains and it is hard to ever walk out of them. And we’re always more susceptible once we’ve given way to creating the neural pathway of an addiction. And I’ve seen addictions cause so much grief in marriage. I think self-control is vastly underrated. Okay, those are the things that should give us concern.

But look at this where he says this is what you want to look for. This is what is so powerful. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

Now the challenge is that those words are so familiar. They’re like clichés. You’ve … you’ve heard ‘em and you don’t even really understand their power. And so … I … I’m just prayin’ that God could make these words come alive for you right now.

Just imagine what it would be like to marry somebody who is motivated and filled with love. They love God. They love you. They love on others. That’s just their motivation. How that would inspire you, how that would bless you, how it would … would encourage you to grow in love yourself.

Joy: we live in a dark world with a lot of frustrations, a lot of awful things going on. Imagine marrying somebody who has this supernatural well of joy. However dark things get, they have a real joy because God’s work is within them and is so powerful.

I mean, if you want to marry Eeyore, you can marry Eeyore. But sometimes it might be fun to go off with Tigger for a little bit, so (Laughter) look for joy.

Peace — do you want to marry the drama queen, the drama king? Or do you want to have somebody say, “Look, God has got this.” Patience — let me speak to the men for just a second here. The Bible tells us, we all stumble in many ways. We mess up. And if we marry a wife who’s not patient, we’re gonna make her miserable and she’s gonna turn around and make us miserable. When you know you mess up, marrying somebody who doesn’t have patience is sort of like drafting a quarterback who can’t throw the ball. Alright, it doesn’t make sense. It’s a necessary skill for the position. It is a necessary skill for marriage, to stay close, to keep growing closer, to have patience for each other.

Kindness, goodness, faithfulness — these are wonderful things. Gentleness — you’re not always harsh. Self-control — they’re protecting your family. They’re creating boundaries. Because your spouse can bring so much grief to you and your kids if they don’t know self-control. Now here’s what’s so powerful about this list. Here’s why I think this is the list that you want to look off of.

The three things of the world that we talked about—infatuation, we know neurologically it fades. Sexual chemistry, it fades. Date compatibility, it fades, as well because when you have a mortgage and you’re raising kids and you’re dealing with all these other issues, date compatibility goes out the window. The things that the world picks and too many Christians, frankly, have nothing to do with long-term satisfaction in marriage.

But if you base your decision off the fruit of the Spirit, here’s what’s so amazing. The fruit of the Spirit grows because God makes it grow.

The source isn’t in the person. The source is God within them. Kindness gets wider. Peace gets deeper. Goodness goes higher. Wisdom is … is increasing on a regular basis. And so, if you fall in love with someone for that reason, you will love them more at year 20 and 30 and 40 than you ever did at day 20 or month 20 or year 2.

And so, not only are you giving your children a parent who will model the effects of Christ in the life and that will invite them to embrace that same Savior. You’re also bringing along a partner with whom shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, hand in hand, you can serve God and that will give your marriage meaning. It will give you purpose. It will give the two of you something to talk about and something to pray about.

And let me just say, it will give you one of the happiest marriages you can possibly give, because you know as good as it is now, because of the work of God, it’s going to get even better. Thank you.

Audience: (Applause)

John: Pastor Gary Thomas with a blueprint for a truly happy marriage on today’s episode of Focus on the Family.

Jim: John, I think you, and I, can both say that we are SO grateful to have married godly women who are the kind of ‘Kingdom partner’ Gary talked about right there. We are very blessed!

John: We are. Both of those ladies, Dena and Jean, have terrific hearts for God and they’re real treasures!

Jim: And here at Focus on the Family, we understand that preparing for marriage is a very important process which is why we devote resources to that aspect of building a family. And one of the best examples of that effort is our outreach to single adults called Boundless. Our colleague Lisa Anderson hosts the Boundless weekly radio broadcast and podcast, building a community of single young people who want to take the drama out of dating, navigate the tough times of life, and dive deeper into their faith together.

There’s also a Boundless website and blog providing hundreds of helpful articles to young adults in their 20’s and 30’s on their journey toward marriage and family.

So, let me just remind you that when you give to Focus on the Family you are helping to support efforts like Boundless. And when you make a donation of any amount today, I’d like to send you the book Gary Thomas wrote for singles, it’s called The Sacred Search.

So, join us as a financial partner as we, together, help guide our young people to build families. And to ultimately thrive in Christ.

John: Donate today and request Gary’s book when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. That’s 800-232-6459. Or online we’re at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast

When you’re at the website, look for some extra audio from Gary about how to tell whether you’re dating a ‘Giver’ or a ‘Taker.’

And be sure to be back with us next time, when Dr. Kathy Koch explains how you can find health and wholeness according to God’s design.

On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ.

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