I'm 30 years old, never married, and the only one in my circle of friends who's single and childless. In the past couple of months I met and began dating a wonderful man, and while we're very compatible and I enjoy spending time with him, I also still appreciate my alone time and don't feel any sense of urgency about the relationship.
I've realized in the past couple of years that I'm content being single. I have lived like I'm preparing for marriage and seek out godly men, but I'm perfectly happy to wait on God's timing. And yet, beneath the peace and contentment is an undercurrent of fear — divorce is epidemic in my family, and I'm afraid of being as miserably unhappy as my parents were with each other and with their current spouses.
So what I wonder is, by declaring myself "content" with my singleness, am I really just hiding from the fact that commitment scares me to death? Am I selling myself short? Am I finding peace with God's plan, or am I just chickening out?
The short answer is yes, I believe you are using your fear of divorce as the driving factor in how you handle relationships that have the potential to move to marriage. And when fear is at the forefront of your mind, it's hard to imagine that it wouldn't cloud your ability to discern "God's timing."
You are not consigned to repeating the marital failures that plague your family tree. You can break that cycle of relational chaos, and there are some excellent resources available to help you do it. One of the best is John Trent's book Breaking the Cycle of Divorce. Trent was raised by a single mom but now has a strong marriage and family, and ministers to thousands of families nationwide. In addition to reading about strong relationships, you can begin to evaluate yours own to see if it has the potential to thrive.
According to the most recent State of Our Unions Report, "your chances of divorce may be lower than you think." The report is issued annually by the Marriage Project at Rutgers University and is among the most comprehensive and authoritative perspectives on the state of marriage in America. The 2007 report on the divorce rate states:
The background characteristics of people entering a marriage have major implications for their risk of divorce. Here are some percentage point decreases in the risk of divorce or separation during the first ten years of marriage, according to various personal and social factors:
-If you have an annual income over $50,000 (vs. under $25,000), your percent decrease in risk of divorce is 30 percent. [That's a 30 percent decreased risk of divorce.]
-Having a baby seven months or more after marriage (vs. before marriage) decreases your risk of divorce by 24 percent.
-If you marry over 25 years of age (vs. under 18), your risk of divorce goes down by 24 percent
-Religious affiliation (vs. none) decreases your risk by 14 percent
-Some college (vs. high-school dropout) decreases your risk by 13 percent
There are many things you likely already have going for you to decrease your risk of divorce. In addition to these indicators are some proactive things you can do.
Understand the Nature of the Marriage Vow — When you vow to stay married, you're promising something that, by itself, is impossible to do. What's required goes far beyond feelings to a bedrock commitment: a decision of the will to stick it out no matter what. And for centuries of recorded history, people did. The notion of commitment is little honored in our culture, but it's what's required to stay married for life. Thankfully, in the context of Christian marriage, we have the benefit of divine power to help us keep those vows, our covenant of marriage. He is faithful.
Don't Follow the World's Way — Just because our culture allows no-fault divorce does not mean you have to avail yourself of it. Do you believe in divorce? Does he? It's important to have that conversation and answer that question before you go any further in the relationship. For a Christian couple, the notion of a back door of escape shouldn't be an option.
Get Good Input — As you're evaluating the potential of this man to be your mate, don't look to your family members who have failed in marriage for whether the two of you make a good match. Get that feedback from other, older believers whose marriages you admire (mentors, pastors, friends, etc.).
Ask Hard Questions Now — Don't wait until after the wedding, or even engagement, to start asking questions. It's best to know as much about this man and his convictions and beliefs before the wedding. Get some pre-engagement counseling and don't avoid the tough issues. Talk about money: Does he live on a budget, do you? What about debt? Do you both want children? How soon? What about birth control? Do you attend the same church? What's your philosophy of how you'll educate your children? How are your family backgrounds similar, different? How will you reconcile the differences? What new traditions do you want to start together?
Embrace Community — It's essential that you walk through this in community for the benefit of good counsel as well as good modeling. And not just while you're dating or engaged, but also, even more importantly, once you're married. Proverbs 15:22 says, "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed." But it's not just the wisdom for making critical decisions that you need. Since you grew up without examples of what good marriages look like, you need replacement models. You need to see what it means to work through conflict instead of letting it drive the relationship apart. You need to see healthy intimacy that improves the relationship rather than false intimacy that rots it.
Fill Your Mind and Heart With Truth — I think it would be very helpful for you to do a Scripture study on the word "fear" and start memorizing and quoting the passages about Jesus taking your fear away. It's never wise to make decisions out of fear. They will always be skewed not toward what's wise or best, but toward what's least likely to leave you hurt. Only when you're free from fear will you be able to think clearly about who will make a godly husband, with strong character, able to follow through on his vows.
As much as the enemy hurt you through the divorce of your parents, don't allow him another victory by letting that keep you from a God-honoring marriage. Just because your parents blew it doesn't mean marriage is to blame. It's still a wonderful state — designed by God for our good and His glory! I know from personal experience that when you marry well — and you can, even when you've grown up under people who married poorly — it's one of the best things we can experience this side of heaven.
You can make your marriage last. Listen to what theologian Elton Trueblood wrote more than 50 years ago:
A successful marriage is not one in which two people, beautifully matched, find each other and get along happily ever after because of this initial matching. It is, instead, a system by means of which persons who are sinful and contentious are so caught by a dream bigger than themselves that they work throughout the years, in spite of repeated disappointment, to make the dream come true. (The Recovery of Family Life, 56-57)
The hope we have in Christ is that when believers marry and together they commit to a lifetime of working to become more like Christ, their marriage will not only not end in divorce, but will bear much fruit.
I pray God will make you fearless, strong and courageous!
Copyright 2008 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.