“Besides a relationship with God, one of the most important decisions a person can make is concerning their future spouse. Gary Thomas is one of my favorite authors on relationships and I thought this blog was very helpful for someone who is seriously dating or even engaged. You can read more great Gary Thomas blogs and find out more about his ministry at GaryThomas.com. You can also download free 50 Questions to Ask Before You Get Married by Doug Fields and myself.”
Somebody could be beautiful, funny, a pleasure to be around, and even be active in their church but still not be good marriage material. A few relational “infections” can all but erase many good qualities.
Put it this way: a gregarious guy could be a lot of fun to have in the dugout of a baseball team, but if he can’t hit, throw, or catch a baseball he’d be a poor choice to join your team. In the same way, someone could be wonderful in the context of dating and still be sorely lacking when it comes to the “game time” issues of marriage.
I’ve seen the following six major character weaknesses become significant hurdles for marital intimacy and satisfaction and even take down some marriages. This isn’t, by any means, an exhaustive list. There are many more. But each one of these is significant enough that if the person you are dating displays several (or even one or two to a deep degree), they may not be emotionally or spiritually ready for marriage–regardless of how much fun it is to date them.
1. He or she is a “taker”
The sad reality is some people are givers and some people are takers. Givers don’t always mind being in a relationship with a taker because they like to give; it brings them joy. But there are times when the giver will need to receive. For instance the giver gets really sick or is laid off, even though he or she provided the bulk of the income or just goes through a discouraging time and suffers things she has never known before, like depression or anxiety.
In those instances, can your taker learn to give? In many cases, sadly, the answer is no. The taker freaks out, abandons the relationship, or just runs around in an emotional and relational panic wanting everyone to feel sorry for them, only adding to the giver’s problems rather than alleviating them.
If you marry a taker, you’re sitting on a relational time-bomb, because you’re making the bet that, as a giver, your fallen body and your fallen soul won’t ever get so fallen that you’ll someday need help, even for a season. You’ll have better odds trying to win the lottery.
It is not selfish to want to marry a giver. It is wise. It is being a good steward of your time and life. It is a gift to your future children (just think about it).
How do you know if you’re dating a taker? I have an entire section on that in my book The Sacred Search (pages 203-208).
2. He or she is lazy
Many particularly younger couples are often surprised at how difficult life can become. It’s a lot of hard work. Raising kids is exhausting. Taking care of a house, working, and being married will sometimes push you to the limit of your energy. Unless you have unlimited funds and can pay for your house to be cleaned, your kids to have a full-time nanny, and your spouse to stay home (if he or she wants to), you’ll run into serious problems if you marry a lazy person (and if you are a married person you won’t be able to afford any of that).
It might seem like a holiday when your boyfriend or girlfriend is all about play and always trying to take you away from work, but if they do that to an extreme and never demonstrate self-discipline and initiative that carefree spirit will grow very tiresome, very quickly.
3. He/she lives primarily in the virtual world instead of the real one
I’ve talked to couples where the wife spends too much time on Facebook or Instagram, or the wife is so invested in her blog about her marriage that she barely has time for her marriage.
I’ve also seen many occasions where the husband can barely restrain himself from getting into his video game seat for eight hour sessions. I’ll grant that a man or a woman without kids can enjoy a four or five hour round of golf on occasion and still be a rather responsible adult. But when someone is playing video games, or is online several hours a day every day, or eight hours at a time it has become an escape. Worse, the more we participate in an escape, the more tempted we are to double down and do it even more. The real world loses interest and the virtual world becomes our passion.
If your guy plays a little too much gaming now (or has to play on Christmas and Thanksgiving or is inflexible to be with you at an event that’s important to you because he doesn’t want to let other gamers down), it’ll frustrate you even more when kids come along or household tasks get ignored. If your girlfriend regularly loses herself in ten-hour Netflix marathons of Gilmore Girls or Grey’s Anatomy, ask yourself a simple question: “If this is how she escapes from pressure while single, why wouldn’t she do the same after we are married?”
And if you’re thinking, “Hey, if she watches ten hours of Parks and Rec then I can do ten hours of gaming!” you’re accepting a very low level of intimacy in marriage.
4. They’re not kind
A study listed kindness as one of the top two qualities contributing to marital happiness, and I believe it. Kindness never gets old. Bodies may deteriorate, mental functioning may slow down, beauty may fade, but a kind person usually becomes kinder. Your happiness will increase if you marry a kind person.
If you choose a kind person, you’re going to be blessed by their kindness for the rest of your life, maybe even every day. Kind persons love being kind; it gives them joy to be kind. Does your girlfriend look for ways to encourage and bless others in their discouragement? Does your boyfriend go out of his way to make people feel better rather than worse in social situations? If there’s a need, is your significant other someone who is often the first to step up?
Why stress kindness when so many other issues could be mentioned? Kindness is one of those qualities most associated with happiness, and most people desire a happy marriage. If that’s you, choose someone who is kind and drop someone who is unkind.
5. They’re addicted to porn and not dealing with it
I wish this wasn’t true, but the devastation I’m seeing from it has to be stated: women, if you marry a man who is an out of control porn addict, he won’t be able to be a satisfactory lover in marriage for very long (if ever). He will lose interest in you. He will face ED issues decades before men normally do. He will fight the urge to use you in bed instead of bless you. He will be comparing you with women who are acting according to script, not real life.
Infatuation can temporarily “cure” men of porn use for about nine to twelve months. But once the marriage settles into routine, many men go right back to the easy sexual fix. High speed internet pornography will literally re-wire your man’s brain, affecting how he gets aroused and his ability to handle that arousal. Google it. Study it. Look it up. Don’t just take my word for it! The results will and should concern you.
Some of you will say, “Isn’t this true for women, too?” Yes, though it appears to affect their brains a bit differently. But as a man, you should be equally concerned.
Women, be wary of allowing a man to rush you into marriage in hopes that this will take his struggle away. Marry a healthy man who wants to have an intimate, mutually satisfying sexual relationship not a man who wants to use you to overcome a habit that he hasn’t been able to cure on his own. Marriage alone never cures pornography use.
Since porn use is now virtually universal among younger men, you’ll be hard pressed to find a man who has no history with this or even one who doesn’t still occasionally struggle. Just be wary of a man who has never found any freedom in this area for any significant period of time. There’s a huge difference between marrying a man who has some accountability in place, people he talks to, and long stretches of obedience, and yet still occasionally stumbles and someone who has never been able to live without porn for any appreciable length of time.
I have worked with some young men with good hearts and a sincere desire to follow God who have struggled with porn to various degrees–and yet I was able to recommend them to marriage with no hesitation. They may yet struggle, but they are fighting the battle instead of simply surrendering to the desire, and they are intent on living without it. They’ve demonstrated obedience and wise living and I believe they will be honorable husbands. I don’t want you men to think I don’t have any empathy for you–I do. And I admit that there is a difference between a guy whose brain is being shaped by this who in fact has no history apart from this, who settles into hours-long porn sessions as his brain is sadly re-wired away from real-life on a regular basis, and a man who earnestly struggles because of his past but is seeing far more victory than defeat.
Any defeat represents future vulnerability, however, women do need to be careful and wise–that’s simply the nature of addiction. Porn certainly isn’t the only sin, but left unchecked, it can be among the most destructive.
6. They’re not humble
Humility is sadly under-rated. The Christian classics call it “the queen of the virtues” for good reason. Humility is the foundation for virtually every other positive character quality. It’s what spawns kindness, service, generosity, and confession.
Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, but less about yourself. If you marry an arrogant person, every time there’s a conflict he/she will expect you to change instead of examining their own heart to see what they need to change. That gets really old.
A proud person will choose to live where he/she wants to live. They will spend their holidays with whom they want to spend their holidays, and they will find ways to punish you if they don’t get their way. They will spend money as if their needs and wants are more important than anyone else’s. And you will feel as if you matter less and less as the years go by, instead of mattering more and more.