Focus on the Family Broadcast

Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged

Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged

Pastor David Gudgel offers insight and wisdom into things you’ll want to consider before making a lifelong commitment to your future spouse. From communication styles to spiritual beliefs, Dave encourages you to examine your own heart before giving it to someone else.
Original Air Date: August 22, 2022


Dr. David Gudgel: You marry another person who loves Christ. But that’s not the only thing when it comes to connecting spiritually. It’s also your beliefs. It’s also your practices, and it’s also your convictions or your commitments. And so, you need to explore all three of those areas. So you could both say, “We’re Christians,” you know. And that’s wonderful, but what about those practices? How does that translate into things that you will do, then, that will be a demonstration of your love for God? Are you gonna go to church together? Are you gonna give? Are you gonna be in a small group with others? You know, what is it? Are you gonna do some Bible studies together? Do you pray together? All those kinds of practices, and commitments, what level of commitment are you going to make in your relationship with God and with each other?

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John Fuller: That’s David Gudgel, and he’s with us today on Focus on the Family to talk about those important things you need to consider before getting engaged. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, choosing the person you want to spend the rest of your life with is probably one of the biggest decisions you’re ever gonna make, aside from accepting Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, which I hope you’ve done that. But I’m really curious. What was that moment for you like when you proposed to Dena?

John: That was, Jim, a non-moment. I really…

Jim: What does that mean, a non-moment?

John: … I never really proposed. We went from, if we get married, to when we get married. I do remember asking her dad one night if I could marry her (laughs). The next morning, it just was like, yeah, we’re gonna get married. I didn’t give her much of a choice.

Jim: Did you have panic when you talked to her dad?

John: I, uh, yes (laughs).

Jim: Okay, good. I was gonna say, that’d be normal.

John: But I waited until he was tired (laughs).

Jim: You were already planning.

John: I was good about it.

Jim: I did all that. I went to Jean’s mom and dad and asked. And then I took, actually, the ring, and we went up to Santa Barbara. There was a huge oak tree there. I thought, okay, that’s what I want my marriage to be represented by this huge oak tree that’ll never be blown over, you know.

John: Yeah.

Jim: So it all worked, and she said yes…

John: Nice.

Jim: … which was amazing (laughs).

John: Well, Dena would tell you, I never really asked her, but she said yes anyway (laughs).

Jim: Okay. Well, we’re looking forward to today.

John: Mm-hmm, we are, and we’ve invited David Gudgel to be our guest. He’s really excited about preparing couples for engagement. He serves as the Director of Church Health for Northern California Venture Church Network after ministering for 40 years as the lead pastor in California and Arizona.

David is a husband, father, grandfather to 11 grandchildren, and author of the book, Before You Get Engaged. And that’s gonna be the foundation for our conversation today. We have copies of that book here at Focus on the Family. Just give us a call, 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. Or stop by

Jim: David, welcome to Focus. Welcome back.

Dr. Gudgel: Well, thank you. It’s, it’s really fun to come back.

Jim: Let’s start with that distinction between premarital counseling, and here, you’re hitting the step before, like pre-engagement. And is there something people need to know about the pre-engagement?

Dr. Gudgel: Well, I think so (laughs). That’s why we’re talking.

Jim: You’ve written the book. There’re not many books out there in that space. There’s a lot of premarital materials, but this is the question before you pop it there.

Dr. Gudgel: Yeah, most churches have premarital counseling. Very few churches have pre-engagement counseling of some kind, or pre-engagement classes. It’s difficult either way. You know, as soon as you put, like, a blurb in the bulletin, which we don’t have anymore, the e-letter or whatever it is. As soon as you put that in there, it kind of causes a little bit of anxiety, to be thinking about that if a couple’s beginning to get serious. And so, you have to creatively figure out how to suggest this is a good idea. It really is.

Jim: Yeah, in that regard, you counsel a lot of young couples. What’s that distinction between… again, the premarital counseling? They’ve already decided to be engaged. You’re taking one step back and saying, “Well, before you are engaged, here are things you need to think about.” What’s some of the research that you’ve seen with the young couples before they ask the question? What are they experiencing?

Dr. Gudgel: Yeah, I know that if they’re getting serious, they’re beginning to think about, “Is this a possibility, that we might get married someday?”

Jim: Right.

Dr. Gudgel: You know, I think that even early on in relationships becomes something that they’re thinking about, or maybe even talking about. And if not, then they’re going to perhaps move in that direction at some point. So to get into their minds the thought that a little bit of help could be helpful for them as they move down this road in their relationship is something that we’ve been trying to help couples see, that there’s a lot of value to this. Really comes out of my son’s experience.

Jim: And you’ve written this with Brent, your son.

Dr. Gudgel: Yeah, Brent.

Jim: He couldn’t be here today.

Dr. Gudgel: Yeah, he’s actually a documentary filmmaker, and he’s in the middle of another one right now. But Brent and his girlfriend at the time, Danielle, were trying to sort that out. And actually, as they were sorting it out, they went to a wonderful church that had premarital counseling. And they thought, well, maybe this will help us decide if we should ever get engaged, and if it’s marriage might be in our future, and that kind of thing.

And what happened was, they got into the class, and it only lasted a few weeks until they really felt pressure. They felt like most everybody in the class was already down the road on that. They had already made the engagement decision, so they were engaged. And so, it made sense to have premarital counseling, but Brent and his girlfriend, Danielle, had not made that decision. They weren’t even sure if it was actually gonna be something for them in the future, and all they felt was pressure.

Jim: Oh, interesting.

Dr. Gudgel: That’s what the class did, just created pressure.

Jim: Yeah, which is not good.

Dr. Gudgel: No.

Jim: You want… You want light pressure.

Dr. Gudgel: And you don’t want to be rushed (laughs). That’s the last thing you need. So it’s nice to be able to sit with a couple and just say, “Hey, what’s happening in your relationship?” And as you begin to go down the road of possibility, what kind of things would you expect that that other person is going to need for you to be able to say, “Hey, maybe this could be marriage someday”?

Jim: See, this would’ve been easier for us, John, if we had done this.

John: It would’ve been helpful.

Jim: (Laughs) We would’ve not fumbled around, perhaps, as much. You have an analogy with cars and engagement, or pre-engagement. Something about the gauges. So what was that analogy?

Dr. Gudgel: Yeah, that analogy just is connected to the whole matter of, well, would you marry you, that question, you know? And one of the first questions we should ask is, are we the kind of person that someone would want to marry? Are you trying to be somebody you’re not? Are you growing? Are you changing? Let me just say it this way. Are you moving in a good direction?

Jim: Well, that’s fair. Now, how do the gauges help you decide that, in a car (laughs)?

Dr. Gudgel: Well, when I bought my first car, I wanted gauges. I didn’t want those lights. They called them idiot lights at the time, you know.

John: Right, not a good name.

Dr. Gudgel: Yeah, not a good… That’s probably not something we use anymore, but (laughs)…

Jim: No, it’s not a good name.

Dr. Gudgel: It’s not. But the point is, is that with gauges, you could see if something’s full or empty, essentially. And so, how are your gauges spiritually? How are your gauges relationally? How are your gauges in your identity, your personal identity? Where are you at on this spectrum of, you know, somebody who’s moving in a positive direction? Is your relationship strong when it comes to your relationship with God? What’s your friendships like? What are they like? Are you somebody who’s relational? Do you care about others? Do you ever even ask the question of, “So what are you doing lately?” you know, or is it all about you, and you’re constantly focused on you? And as a person, have you found your groove, your niche? You know, do you have any sense of where God is taking you? And those kinds of matters, I think, need to come into play.

Jim: Man, some of those questions could be tough in your 20s. I don’t know that I had those answers figured out at that point. One thing, that is obvious, is how much faith plays into that concrete foundation. I think Jean and I with, you know, our normal ups and downs. we’ve been married 35 years. It’ll be 36 years, and I think when we both talk about this, I mean, faith has been the most critical aspect of our relationship. And I’m not just saying that. But it helps you through difficult times, through dark moments, you know, things that happen in the family, those kinds of things. I can’t imagine, not having the right tank, or the right gauge, if Jean and I, if either of us weren’t topped up when it came to our faith in Christ. That would be a very different experience.

Dr. Gudgel: Absolutely. Well, my granddaughter and I were talking about this topic. She found out that I was gonna be here to talk about the subject of engagement. I said, “Haley, what’s the most important thing that you would”…

Jim: She’s out of high school now.

Dr. Gudgel: … she’s out of high school.

Jim: Okay.

Dr. Gudgel: What’s the most important thing you would be looking for in a guy? And she, without hesitation, said, “Where he’s at spiritually.”

Jim: Yeah.

Dr. Gudgel: Because we need to be connected spiritually. I said, “It’s that important? You would put that, like, at the top?” Now, I would. But I was delightfully surprised.

Jim: That your adult children have done well in raising her, obviously.

Dr. Gudgel: If you don’t have the spiritual connection, you’re all alone in this thing, in a sense.

Jim: Your son, Brent, who co-authored the book with you, he said he expressed, or identified a need for a secure identity with his wife, Danielle. That’s interesting, too, beginning to form your identity. What was he driving at with that comment?

Dr. Gudgel: Yeah, I still remember him talking about that, because he wanted to become the person that God wanted him to be. So he was, you know, at the time, trying to sort that out, in terms of the direction his life was going. He knew that he loved God. He knew that he had an interest in this girl, and he didn’t want the relationship to pull him off track, so to speak, of where he felt that God was working in his heart, and the direction that the Lord was potentially taking him. So he was pretty serious about, you know, getting an understanding of where she was, in terms of her own sense of, well, “This is what I feel like I have to contribute in a relationship, and this is who God’s made me to be. How about you?”

Jim: Yeah, that’s great, and those are good conversations to have. You also had a story in there about marriage goggles. What was that about?

Dr. Gudgel: Yeah, that’s Brent’s language, and one of the things in the book is that he and Danielle, his girlfriend at the time…

Jim: Now his wife.

Dr. Gudgel: … now his wife, yes. So all through the book…

Jim: Make sure we complete the story.

Dr. Gudgel: … they were truly trying to sort this out. It wasn’t just, let’s, hey, let’s write a book or something together. It was, they were trying to sort it out, and even after the book was done, they still had to have time to sort it out. It may have been a year afterwards, and they finally got engaged. And so, it was wonderful. But one of the terms he used was marriage goggles, which basically could cause you to think that you have something that you don’t. It could sort of cloud your view of the other person. So you see them differently, or maybe you see them…

Jim: More positively.

Dr. Gudgel: … as you really want them to be.

Jim: Yeah.

Dr. Gudgel: You know, you read into it.

Jim: That’s called before marriage (laughs).

Dr. Gudgel: That’s right. And that makes me think of a couple that I worked with, and we went through pre-engagement material. But they had an airplane relationship. It just came out of them flying back and forth. They lived in different cities, and so, their relationship was built on those wonderful moments that they had together, and…

Jim: Restaurants.

Dr. Gudgel: … you know, people were different at that time.

John: Well, this is Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. Our guest today is David Gudgel. He and his son, Brent, wrote this book, Before You Get Engaged. And we’ll encourage you to get a copy of that. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. Or stop by

Jim: Let’s move to infatuation. That’s part of the book.

Dr. Gudgel: Yeah.

Jim: You know, that’s, that’s kind of how it goes, right? You know, I think psychologists would tell us that it starts with a notice, and a connection, and then it moves to holding a hand, and then it continues down until hopefully you’re married, and then you have more physical intimacy. But talk about infatuation, and how that’s temporary in our brain chemistry.

Dr. Gudgel: Boy, it’s really good to know that, just like chocolate is temporary, too, right? So I think there’s some kind of connection here chemically, but you gotta give it time. I mean, you just have to give it time. And that’s why it’s so important to not get into the relationship with the physical. If you go down the physical road, it could cause you to believe that you have something that you really don’t. I mean, as a result of moving down that road quickly, or whatever it is, block the spiritual in your relationship. I mean, if you’re a Christ follower, you’ve gotta somehow do damage to your relationship with Christ if you’re physically involved.

Jim: Right.

Dr. Gudgel: You’re compromising your beliefs and so forth. But you also are stunting the emotional. Because it may be that you aren’t connecting emotionally at a deep level, where you’re really beginning to help one another, and understand each other, be empathetic, and work through your challenges together in healthy ways.

Jim: Yeah, and I so appreciate that, because I think we hear from 20-somethings, where particularly the woman, you know, she has given into what she knew what wasn’t right to do, but he talked me into it, and we were gonna get married. But guess what? It broke off, and she gave everything.

Dr. Gudgel: Mm-hmm.

Jim: And the marriage never happened. That’s a fairly common descriptor, unfortunately. And so I just want to reemphasize the strength, for both the men and the women, not to give into that, to honor the Lord. And thankfully, Jean and I, we were able to do that. You know, it wasn’t easy, but we did it. And we didn’t have those moments where we had to show regret.

Dr. Gudgel: Mm=hmm.

Jim: I mean, I shook her hand for the first three or four dates, because I wanted to send a message. This is what it’s gonna be about, but that’s a great foundation. And I know it’s hard. I know it because I experienced it.  But I just want to encourage young couples who are pre-engaged, who are thinking about it, don’t fall prey to giving into each other too soon. Save it for the wedding night. Let God give you that special present for your wedding night. It’s a great way to go.

Dr. Gudgel: Yeah, you know, I’m working right now with a couple where they just have a wonderful friendship. And if he could, I’m sure he would love to have a physical relationship with her than, more than just a kiss or something.

Jim: Yeah, that’s a normal desire.

Dr. Gudgel: It totally is, and, but he’s also not a Christ follower. And we’ve had conversations where he is probing the spiritual area, has an interest, is a seeker, I guess. But he’s still not there. But she’s holding the line. You know, she’s fine with being a friend and that sort of thing. But she’s made it absolutely clear this is a conviction for her, and she’s not going to compromise and marry him, or even get seriously into a relationship until possibly, if it ever did happen, until he comes to faith in Christ.

Jim: Yeah. Well, and I think, again, one of the good things for us as men to remember is it shouldn’t be the girl’s responsibility to draw the line. Maybe we should draw it…

Dr. Gudgel: Yeah.

Jim: … in terms of our leadership. That sets the tone for the relationship, too. Let’s move to you and Bernice. Let’s go to personal experience. You had, I think a negative communication situation, where you had some difficulty communicating with each other. That me versus us kind of attitude. So what, what was going on, and what was the revelation for you?

Dr. Gudgel: Yeah, there are many different revelations (laughs). I’ve been married now for 46 years, so (laughs), which one do you want to talk about, Jim?

John: Just start at the beginning and work your way through (laughs).

Jim: Me to us, that’s the one.

Dr. Gudgel: That kind of thing. I know which one you’re talking about. You’re talking about my tendency to say to Bernice, “Where would you like to go for dinner?” You know, that one, and I already had something in my mind, and if she didn’t give me the location, I had in my mind…

Jim: It’s more like fishing.

Dr. Gudgel: … yeah, that’s, it wasn’t really fair conversation. I would say, “Well, how about,” and she just finally got to the point of saying, “Listen, if you’ve got something on your mind, would you just say it?” You know, we don’t want to go down this road of 14 guesses, and maybe we’ll go there. Just, “Dave, come on.”

Jim: You were dead set on Mexican food, but she didn’t know it.

Dr. Gudgel: That was it. So can we, can we improve our communication somehow?

Jim: No, that’s good, and that gets us to the five levels of communication. What are they?

Dr. Gudgel: Yeah, and by the way, I should’ve known these when I got married, you know, and brought them back. I was a sociology major, and this was one of the books that we read that had to do with these different levels of communication. But still, we can get hung up in them. Cliché conversation’s level five, which is nothing, you know.

Jim: Superficial.

Dr. Gudgel: Yeah, superficial kind of conversation. Reporting the facts is the second one. You know, hey, well, you know, I could go home and report the facts. Yeah, I took an airplane there, and I sat in Las Vegas for five hours.

Jim: You’ve gotta be kidding.

Dr. Gudgel: You know, I do have some feelings about that. But anyway (laughs), you know, reporting the facts. My ideas and judgments, level three. This is where we begin to talk about, you know, “How do you really feel about COVID and what we should do right now?”. My ideas and judgments. No, we’re not gonna go down that road here.

Jim: Kind of dangerous territory, maybe.

Dr. Gudgel: It sure is.

Jim: But you get to know each other.

Dr. Gudgel: Boy, you find out a lot at that point. And then my feelings are level two, kind of gut-level. I mean, now you’re getting more into the core of your being, and how you feel about it. And that’s important. I need to know what you really feel. Bernice’s expressing her feelings. She felt disrespected when I would say to her, “So where do you want to go to have dinner,” you know, but I had something in mind that…

Jim: Right, already.

Dr. Gudgel: … it didn’t address her feelings, and her desires. It addressed mine, so me, me, me, what you were saying. And level one, of course, is the most personal. It’s just open, honest communication. So when she said to me, “Dave, you know what? Why don’t we just go wherever you want to go.” That would be peak communication (laughs). It came from her gut. She was really just being candid.

Jim: Well, and what you’re describing is allowing somebody to challenge you, too, and how important is that?

Dr. Gudgel: Oh, that’s an important part of a relationship. If you can’t be challenged by this person that you are thinking about marrying someday, you’re gonna miss out on what could be in your relationship.

Jim: Yeah, and in that respect, I mean, what’s interesting here, your kind of laying out a roadmap. You and your son, Brent, your coauthor, are laying a roadmap out. And you might want to be purposeful in creating some of this environment, so you’re talking about important things. It’s not haphazard, in other words. You can talk about those five levels, but begin to include, you know, the spiritual dimensions. You gotta start talking about that at some point. And you’re trying to clarify where a person is. I definitely am attracted to you. I look at you, and I feel my heart race. That’s good. That’s the starting point.

Dr. Gudgel: Right.

Jim: But now, we’ve gotta start talking about what’s underneath. “Who are you?” “How are you wired?” And you do need to create environments where you can have those discussions.

Dr. Gudgel: Yeah, you gotta get to this level one, truly. You gotta be there. I love what you’re suggesting there, Jim, because you’re saying there’s so many things that you need to know about each other, to be able to take that step of engagement, working toward marriage. And, you know, it could be your value system. Certainly, communication has to be something that you can do. You’ve gotta work through conflict, so many different areas.

Jim: Yeah, and it’s so good. And I guess infatuation, back to the rose-colored glasses you were describing a while ago. If you go through your pre-engagement courtship, your dating time, and you’re not driving toward that, I know young people who have said to me, “That’s a waste of time.” I mean, why wouldn’t we be purposeful, especially for the Christian, young Christian community, who believe in Jesus? I mean, yeah, if I’m gonna date you, I’m dating you with a purpose. It’s to find out whether or not we are meant for each other. And so, then you can begin to uncover some of those things more quickly, perhaps, but I’m thinking that infatuation particularly. Because I would think young couples, they stay there. They don’t go deeper. They’ve already said yes to the engagement. Now they’re in premarital counseling, and now they’re wobbly, going, “I don’t think I knew him in that context.”

Dr. Gudgel: Mm-hmm.

Jim: What advice do you have for that couple that’s in that spot? Jean and I, in our premarital situation, we had about four couples that got up and walked out of the room at one point, because they realized they weren’t right for each other. That person did their job. That instructor.

Dr. Gudgel: Absolutely.

Jim: Because that’s what you’re trying to sort out. And so, I’m just thinking of that woman, you know, that 20-something woman that’s sitting there and going, “I don’t know if this is right.” Now, some of those heebie-jeebies are normal, but how, how does she really filter out, “I don’t think I should be at square three. I should be back at square one,” and what do I do?

Dr. Gudgel: Yeah, I think that’s a yellow flag, if nothing else, right? It perhaps isn’t a red flag, saying, “no, don’t go forward.” It could be the flag to say, wait. You’ve got to back up. You need to be cautious right now. There are things here that need to be sorted out. Colossians 3:15 says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,” and that word “rule” means to be the umpire. It was used to describe the umpire on the field, the one who had the final call. Well, peace, or a lack of it, could be what you don’t have right now. And if you have it, great. Then keep moving forward. If you don’t, pause, go back, and say, “What is creating this disturbance in me?” Don’t ignore it, because it may be a gift from God to protect you, in terms of…

Jim: Yeah, that’s good.

Dr. Gudgel: … where you’re gonna end up.

Jim: Yeah. In fact, you speak about three spiritual areas, beliefs, commitments, and practices. So hit those really quick.

Dr. Gudgel: Yeah, this is so important, because we say that we want to marry a Christian, and we should. And, and I pray that we all do, that you do. You marry another person who loves Christ. But that’s not the only thing when it comes to connecting spiritually. It’s also your beliefs. It’s also your practices, and it’s also your convictions or your commitments. And so, you need to explore all three of those areas. So you could both say, “We’re Christians,” you know. And that’s wonderful. But what about those practices? How does that translate into things that you will do, then, that will be a demonstration of your love for God? Are you gonna go to church together? Are you gonna give? Are you gonna be in a small group with others? You know, what is it? Are you gonna do some Bible studies together? Do you pray together? All those kinds of practices and commitments.  What level of commitment are you going to make in your relationship with God and with each other? It could be just a Sunday thing.

Jim: Yeah, Dave, this has been so good. Again, for the listener, the viewer, this is about helping maybe not you, because you’re married, and you’ve already been there. But maybe it’s your adult children, or maybe even your grandkids, like Dave was saying earlier. What a great resource, Before You Get Engaged. We’re not talking about the commitment of engagement. We’re talking about speaking to young people prior to that, and what they’re looking for in that hopefully lifelong spouse that they’ll have, especially wrapped in faith in Christ.

This is a great resource. So if you can help us financially, a monthly commitment is great, or a one-time commitment. Let us know. Send that to us, and ask for, Before You Get Engaged, and that’ll be our gift and our way of saying thank you for being in ministry with us.

John: Join the support team as you can. Donate, as the Lord leads, and ask for your copy of that book, Before You Get Engaged, when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459, or stop by our website,

Jim: You know, John, another resource, and if you know nothing about Focus on the Family, know this, we are just a treasure house of resources. And so, we have something else called Ready to Wed, which is a pre-marriage curriculum. If you’re a pastor, this would be great for your church, and if you’re a mom and dad, not a bad idea, to let your young people see this and view it. So again, Ready to Wed, something created by Focus on the Family. And the research is great. If a couple has 10 hours or more of premarital counseling, their chance of divorce is very small. I mean, it is a great way to kick off their relationship.

John: Yeah, ask about Ready to Wed when you get in touch. And again, our phone number, 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.

Jim: Dave, thanks again. This has been terrific.

Dr. Gudgel: Thank you. My honor.

John: Well, next time, you’ll hear from Dr. Kenneth Wilgus. He’ll be encouraging us as parents, to see our teenagers as future adults.


Dr. Kenneth Wilgus: Somewhere in every teenager’s soul is the question, “Hey, I’m beginning to look, and think, and act more like an adult. When will you say that I am completely an adult?”

John: Well, 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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