After my post on the Josh Duggar scandal went live a few weeks ago, I received a Facebook message from a friend who’s 29 and single. He said, “This situation raises fears and doubts for both guys and girls that make the prospect of marriage even scarier than it was before. How do we as Christian singles move past the fear of marrying another sinner whom we don’t fully know?”
In other words, how can we know for sure that we’re not marrying a snake in the grass? It’s a great question. When I was dating my now-husband Kevin, I think I was fairly naïve to the evil that could lurk beneath. But years of watching friends marry well — and, at times, not-so-well — did give me some ideas of what not to do.
With that in mind, I present to you my tips for how to end up in a bad marriage:
1. Withdraw from community. You’ve probably witnessed this scenario just as I have: A man and woman start dating, and suddenly you never see them. Without community, the couple has no objective gauge for the character of the other person. With stars in their eyes, they could very easily explain away or excuse “red flag” behavior.
When Kevin and I were dating, we were certainly not thinking that critically about one another (I mean, really, he is so cute). It helped to have friends, family members and church community speak into our relationship. Our parents raised concerns (including our age difference and the pace of our relationship), and we were able to openly talk through these things with objective observers who loved us and had our best interests at heart. An additional benefit of maintaining community throughout your dating relationship is that you have a strong, supportive community in which to begin your marriage.
2. Avoid Accountability. Similar to the first point, sometimes couples who withdraw from community also place themselves firmly outside of accountability. Unchecked sin during a dating relationship — or a neglect of basic spiritual disciplines — sets couples up for big
problems in marriage. If you are giving into temptation during your dating relationship, or allowing anger or unforgiveness to take hold, how will you know that both of you will have the Holy Spirit-fueled willpower to fulfill the basic commitments of marriage — to love and
honor — once you tie the knot?
Accountability from other Christians allows you to live out the words of Ephesians 5:11, which says, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” It helps you to form good habits in the season leading up to marriage.
3. Don’t ask questions. So you may have a sneaking suspicion that your boyfriend looks at porn, has a sexual history or has dabbled in drugs or gambling, but it’s way too awkward to ask him about it. The brave ones who do ask may allow themselves to be satisfied with a, “Yeah, I used to look at porn, but I quit” (even if what he means is, “I quit yesterday”).
We are all sinners. Therefore it’s imperative that you assume that your intended has sinned and does sin. Before I got married, a friend of mine gave me a list of “hard questions” to ask a future spouse. They included questions about porn usage (not just if he’d used porn but when, how often, what kind, etc.), drug and alcohol use, and sexual past. Those kinds of questions are not fun to ask. But while someone could probably lie to you, you may also be able to gauge by his reaction to such questions if there might be something going on behind the scenes. And you will be better off knowing the truth before you’re legally bound to the person.
4. Ignore a checkered past. I see this happen frequently with women, but I think men do it too. In the high of the budding relationship, you choose to look away from a sinful past. The divorce. The sexual impropriety. The former gambling addiction.
While forgiveness and grace are real, and people can change with the Holy Spirit’s help, don’t take a sinful track record lightly. If the person says she’s changed, find out what steps she’s taken to leave behind her sinful past. Also, strongly consider getting additional counseling — individually and as a couple — if there is something in either of your pasts that could potentially be destructive to your marriage.
5. Follow your heart. This may be the number one reason singles marry poorly. Most romantic relationships begin with infatuation, and studies show that many couples marry while they are still in the infatuation period — Kevin and I did. That’s not the problem. The problem is when you allow infatuation alone to guide your decisions. You imagine your relationship will always be as it is now, with all of the ooey-gooey feelings.
The truth is, the passion that comes with infatuation is not reliable. As has been stated in previous points, it can cloud our judgment. Examination, counsel and prayer — not just feelings — are required to discover someone’s true character.
So you actually don’t want to end up in a bad marriage? I didn’t think so. Just take my advice in reverse: Seek out community and accountability. Ask hard questions and don’t allow your emotions to rule. Taking these steps can give you confidence that you’re marrying someone with godly character. Then, if God is giving you peace and there are no red flags, move forward in faith, knowing that you are a sinner marrying a sinner and that’s going to cause problems at times. But with God’s help, you can overcome the challenges that come your way.