My inbox overflows with questions about dating relationships that cry out for caution. These women want help to move their romances forward — in fact, to speed ahead to marriage — where it is clear they should not. I advise them to end their relationships. Hidden in those disastrous dating scenarios are three overarching categories of risk that apply broadly. When one or more of the following is present, it’s a big enough red flag to break up:
- Repeatedly leading each other to sin;
- Not being free to marry; and
- Unwillingness to take on the responsibilities of marriage.
Having spent so much time in that and other columns answering questions from readers in troubled relationships, it’s no wonder I’m always on the look out for red flags. Recently, however, I was reading Pre-Engagement: Five Questions to Ask Yourselves by David Powlison and John Yenchko. They were talking about the sort of evidence that suggests a relationship should move forward. They said there are such things as “green flags.” Green flags: That’s something I’d nearly forgotten.
As I wrote about red flags, I thought about couples who seemed to be racing ahead, even though their struggles warned of major trouble. Now I’m thinking of couples plodding along that, when the issue of marriage comes up, seem tepid, worried that something they’re looking for isn’t there. They may fear they don’t have a magical pull toward the altar, but they don’t appreciate what they do have that’s working. They need a flag waver on the tarmac waving the green flag, saying “Go!”
If sin, inability and unwillingness are signs that a relationship should end, what are the signs that it should steam ahead — the sorts of elemental, foundational things upon which solid marriages are built?
1. You’re both saved by grace.
If you’re dating a Gospel-centered person, saved by grace, who knows that apart from Christ his/her goodness is as filthy rags, you already have the basic requirement in place for Christian marriage.
Believers must marry other believers. It’s basic, yet often overlooked. It’s tempting to think that because godly people are hard to find, we can skimp in this area and settle for a good person. But this is the sort of settling that leads to heartache and unnecessary trouble — the sort of settling you shouldn’t do.
Without God, goodness means nothing (Psalm 16:2, John 15:5, Romans 3:10). It may seem that there aren’t enough Christians to go around. But that was truer when Paul penned 2 Corinthians 6:14, the standard for his day and ours:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?
Sharing a common faith is an essential green flag.
2. You’re both committed to the body.
The church is the bride of Christ, and marriage is designed by God to refer to Christ and the church. If you both belong to, invest in, minister with and pray for your church, you’re well on your way to learning about the sort of relationship marriage is intended to be.
3. You’re mutually sanctifying.
You’re patient and kind; she’s gentle and joy-filled. If together you overflow with the fruit of the Spirit, encouraging each other to be godly, that’s another green flag. Maybe you’ve heard people say of their significant other, “He brings out the best in me.” For believers, we’re not limited to the best in us. We have the privilege of going beyond ourselves to become like Christ. We have the charge to spur one another on to godliness. Relationships that are de-sanctifying — bringing each other down spiritually — raise a red flag. If you’re helping build each other up spiritually, that raises a green flag.
4. You’re both open to bearing children.
Marriage is rich with benefits. To attain them, you have to be willing to embrace the accompanying responsibilities. One of the key responsibilities is family making. If you’re excited about the possibility of having babies together within marriage, that’s a good thing. From beginning to end, family — created by God to be one husband, one wife and their children by blood or adoption — is the picture of our place in God’s kingdom (God is Father, Jesus is preparing a place for us, the church is Christ’s bride, we are God’s children , members of God’s household, Jesus is our brother, etc.)
5. You’re both ready to leave and cleave.
Although at marriage the wife takes the name of her husband’s family — and all the generations that preceded him — when they marry, they form something new. If he’s prepared to “leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh,” then he’s ready to marry. Just as he must come out from behind the skirts of his mother (see Genesis 25:27-28) to form a new home, she must be willing to leave behind her father’s home. The wedding song of Psalm 45 tells the bride to “forget your people and your father’s house …” with the promise that “in place of your fathers shall be your sons” (vv. 10, 16).
6. You’re both practicing sexual purity.
Regardless of your sexual past, you’re both living forgiven, chaste, and have a plan for being pure, before marriage and after. Though you long for intimacy, instead of looking for ways to taste it now, you look forward to it in marriage. This is another essential green flag.
7. You’re both ready to embrace the responsibilities of marriage.
He’s ready to lead and love sacrificially; she’s ready to fit in with his plan and respect his leadership. Biblical marriage calls both man and woman to reassign their primary allegiances to each other and together pursue a new and distinct mission. If you both believe in the Ephesians 5 model of marriage and are ready to live it out — with each other — this is a good sign.
8. You’re unhindered and ready to live out the vows.
You’re not engaged, divorced, a teenager, preparing to declare bankruptcy or about to leave for a missions assignment that requires celibacy. Absence of such hindrances is a good sign that you’re free to marry. Though no major change — like getting married — is without hurdles to clear, such freedom lends itself to moving ahead with purpose.
9. You have the affirmation of your pastor, family and/or mentors.
When the people you look up to for being mature in the faith, wise and well-married themselves, think your relationship is good and has the potential for marriage, it probably does.
Is it possible to have all of the above in your relationship and still decide not to marry each other? Yes, it’s possible. But if you’re dating someone and have these green flags — and you both like the company of the other — you have a solid foundation for exploring the possibility of marriage. If these describe your relationship, green means go. Don’t just plod along or stay in cruise mode. This is the time for forward momentum.
Copyright 2011 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.