“I know that once we are married, we’ll be able to take care of that.” This statement, heard again and again, is usually fueled by wishful thinking rather than honest evaluation — whatever the that happens to be. If a young woman runs up significant credit card debt, how realistic is it to expect that she can establish and maintain a frugal budget during marriage? If a young man’s temper has frequently gotten him in trouble with teammates and authority figures, how can he assume that a marriage license will cure that? Or if the couple’s dates have been almost all physical activity and little if any conversation, do they really think a wedding will “fix everything”?
It should come as no surprise that most people are on their best behavior during the dating and engagement phases of their relationship. To be more honest, they aren’t really themselves. They go out of their way to smile and accommodate — not wanting to risk offending the other person prematurely.
But potential life partners also need to see each other in various situations. Here are just a few:
- Running late for an appointment because of congested traffic
- Visiting a hospitalized loved one
- Playing with the kids on the street
- Being around his or her parents
- Spending time with his or her “regular” friends
- Participating in a competitive sport
- Handling various stressful situations
It’s not as if these things aren’t going to come up during a marriage. The sooner one’s prospective spouse sees how the other performs under such conditions, the better he or she can estimate the potential success of marriage. It’s also good to have a few disagreements and arguments prior to the wedding. Otherwise, when they come up during marriage (and they will!), you will not be prepared to see the other person in this different light.
The more two people attempt to be real with each other, the more realistic their expectations will be as they enter marriage.
Who am I really marrying?
It is very important for people to determine whether the attraction they feel for their prospective spouse is purely physical. No one would suggest that this aspect is irrelevant, but we must recognize that it does not deserve the attention it receives. Some more significant questions are:
- Do I enjoy conversing with this person?
- Can this person carry on an intelligent conversation?
- How do I feel when I introduce this person to some of my father’s business associates?
- Is he or she a social misfit?
- Does this person have a growing interest in godly things, or is he or she still a spiritual infant?
These questions get to issues that are enduring. Age will take its toll on everyone. Physical beauty is passing. If we invest in a person who is little more than a physical “package,” what will we do when that package begins to sag and droop over time?
In watching and listening to older couples, it quickly becomes apparent that their marriages endured the test of time because of an attraction based on depth of personality, not shallow physical appeal. They learned to share secrets as they treasured time spent together. They are happy to hang out together. There is no one they would rather have coffee with, for they have become best friends for life.
Physical intimacy and romantic love are not what keeps couples together. It’s the emotional and spiritual aspects that make a marriage sweet.
This article was adapted from Lasting Love: How to avoid marital failure by Alistair Begg, who is the senior pastor of Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio.
Whether you're engaged to be married or you’re serving as a pastor or mentor coaching an engaged couple, find more information about marriage preparation at Ready To Wed.