Is my boyfriend practically prepared to pursue marriage?
My boyfriend is the same age as I, but has struggled in college, eventually dropping out, and struggles to find consistent employment with his line of work while paying off school debt. To outsiders our relationship probably looks impossible: different races, upbringing, level of education, and income. However, I see spiritual depth in him as he faithfully serves our church and has navigated a difficult upbringing, and I can see great potential in him — all reasons why I decided to go out with him in the first place despite some hesitancy to his financial situation.
We are attracted to each other and want to be together; however, I still feel unsure as to whether this is wise for me or him. It definitely bothers me that he isn’t more financially stable. I have this fear of being the breadwinner or “sugar mama” or being married to a stay-at-home dad, and I wonder if it might affect my respect for him. He has definitely been hesitant in our relationship thus far, and I do believe it is somewhat tied to his employment situation.
It’s sad to me, because I very much feel the effects of him being raised in poverty and hopelessness. I don’t want to give up, and I do want to have hope that God has a wonderful plan for his life, but I’m just not sure what is the best way to wisely proceed (or not). I also don’t think my motives — whether for wanting to be single or in a relationship with him — are all godly, pure motives. I had difficult life experiences growing up that forced me to be independent at a young age, and the past two months have been a process of uncovering a lot of insecure areas in my heart as well. I am willing to talk to my pastors, but I feel hesitant because they are from a similar background as him, and maybe I presume that they will be defensive of him.
What constitutes the practical preparedness aspect of a man being ready to pursue a relationship? How might this look for a couple like us who are very different?
Spiritual depth and maturity are part of what’s necessary for a man to lead his wife well in a biblical marriage. But they are not all that’s required. The role of husband is a big responsibility that carries with it the need to provide for wife and children. How a man manages his finances, stewards his commitments and obligations, obtains and keeps steady employment, and pays down his debts are clues to what sort of provider he will be.
No less essential is the role of wife. Women are called to joyfully support their husband’s leadership, to help him as he shoulders the load God calls Him to. God made Eve to help Adam, not to lead him or leapfrog him in the marketplace.
Does this mean you can only marry a man who has a better job? I don’t think so. Life in our day is typically long, and employment in our economy is often a process rather than a short distance from the mailroom to president of the company. Many young Christian couples have seasons where the wife supports her husband’s education or even earns the same or more than him while he’s building his career. But their goal should be to move beyond that imbalance.
The fact that your boyfriend couldn’t support you today doesn’t mean he will never be able to. Is he making progress in that direction? Where is he heading? What are his goals? Do the two of you anticipate a time in the not-too-distant future when his current efforts will pay off in a job that pays enough that you can stay home with any children God provides? These are important questions to work through.
From what you’ve described, it sounds like you have far outpaced him in areas of financial maturity and professional accomplishment. That’s not to say he can’t or won’t grow into the role of provider, but that he may not catch up to where you are. Or it may take longer than you are willing to wait. As you suspect, it’s hard to respect a man who can’t earn enough to support his family and who opts, instead, to stay home with the kids. Mr. Mom worked as a romantic comedy, but it’s statistically unsatisfying to many husbands and wives. But even more important than that, it goes against God’s design for the man as primary provider within Christian marriage.
You say he’s been hesitant in your relationship, and I think that’s good. It would be wise on his part to wait to move forward until he is able to be financially sound. I’m not talking about wealthy or “financially stable” — that’s an elusive goal at best — but faithfully holding a steady job, working hard, meeting his obligations, and committed to continue doing so for the rest of his life. God made man to work. In our emphasis on the Sabbath, we tend to overlook the work aspect of the fourth commandment: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:8-10a, emphasis added).
I’ve written before about God’s design from the beginning. Scripture is clear that while wives have the potential and opportunity to contribute to the family budget (see Proverbs 31), they do not have an obligation to do so. The primary responsibility for providing a living for a family rests on the husband (1 Timothy 5:8).
It doesn’t work well to go into marriage earning significantly more than your husband with no plans or prospects for that ever changing. Endless cultural voices will tell you otherwise, saying roles and responsibilities are interchangeable, but in a biblical marriage, our standard isn’t popular opinion, but God’s Word.
It’s wonderful when a woman has the ability and opportunity to contribute to the family economy with marketable skills. There may be season where they are necessary for the family’s survival (sickness, injury, military absence, etc.). What’s hard on a marriage is when the wife is the only one bearing the responsibility of earning a living for the family. A husband who is unwilling, or unable for reasons of unemployment or under employment, to earn enough money to pay the rent, buy groceries and keep the lights on is a husband who will struggle to lead his wife and children. First Timothy 5:8 says, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” To make matters worse, often in such situations, the wife ends up acting like a mother. One study found that couples “where the wife earns more than the husband are less satisfied with their marriage and are more likely to divorce.”
You asked what preparedness a man should have in order to pursue a relationship. I agree with the Biblical Dating series that you should be feasibly able to marry within a year before you start a dating relationship. For men, that includes being able to pay your bills and earn enough to support a wife and eventually, children. For women, that includes being willing to live on what the man we marry is able to provide. For many of us, that may mean a change in our standard of living from what we had growing up and even what we were able to earn for ourselves while single. It would be good to talk with your pastors about readiness on your part as well as his.
Even where you have a man caring only for himself to the neglect of those he’s responsible for, it isn’t that he’s not a provider, but that he’s selfishly providing only for himself. Men thrive and families flourish when husbands embrace their God-given design to lead in love and provide out of their strength and creativity, sacrificially, for the good of those in their care.
Copyright 2014 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Candice Watters is a wife, mom, and Bible teacher. She is the author of Get Married: What Women Can Do to Help it Happen, co-founder with her husband, Steve, of Boundless.org and co-author of Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies. They have four children and blog at FamilyMaking.com.