Thirty-two years ago I asked the question before the question. Recently my two sons did the same. Every year 2.3 million couples ask the same question. Though the question can be asked in as little as four words — “Should I get engaged?” — the potential impact is huge. That’s why if you’re currently considering asking or answering the “Would you marry me?” question, you need to be absolutely sure you’re ready before you get engaged.
When I faced the question before the question, I wasn’t completely sure if I was ready for engagement. So I asked one of my pastor friends if he thought I should ask Bernice to marry me. He was the pastor you went to when you needed some expert fatherly advice. And he knew Bernice and me both very well.
Jim’s answer to my “Should I get engaged?” question was direct and simple. “Dave, you’d be crazy not to ask Bernice to marry you.”
Shortly after that, I did pop the question. And in a moment of weakness, Bernice said “yes.” I guess her answer was a miracle for me and a moment of insanity for her! Looking back I’m so grateful I popped the question.
Unlike others who also popped the question, but have lived to regret it.
Some years ago Ann Landers reported the results of an informal poll she took among her readers. She asked, “If you had it to do all over again, would you marry the same person?” Shockingly, 70 percent of her readers replied no, they would not marry the person they had married. To me that’s tragic, but it’s also preventable by carefully considering the top five signs that will help you determine if you’re ready to pop (or say yes to) the question.
Would You Marry You?
A dating or engagement relationship, or ultimately a marriage, is only as healthy as the individuals in it. Relational health is vitally connected to individual health. It begins with you. That’s why you need to first ask yourself, “Would you marry you?” before you ask, “Will you marry me?”
When my son, Brent, was contemplating his personal readiness for marriage he wrote, “It’s a huge question. Would I marry myself or want someone to marry me? Am I ready to get married? ‘Cause if not, I need to know now, and I need to figure out how to get ready.”
According to Jesus, your personal and relational health is vitally connected to the health of your relationship with God, others and yourself (Mark 12:30-31). If your vertical relationship with God is healthy, your life will be surrendered to doing His will. If your horizontal relationship with others is healthy, your life will reflect acts of sacrifice. If your inward relationship is healthy, you’ll see signs of stability in your mental and emotional makeup.
Shortly after I finished high school, I made an intentional decision to take a year to focus on getting my act together. Academically, I wasn’t achieving my potential. Vocationally, I needed to determine the career path I would pursue. Socially, I needed to make some firm commitments to the relational standards and values I was going to live by. Suffice it to say, my personal life had several rough edges on it that needed focused attention.
Now as I look back, I’m so grateful for the decisions and changes I made during my freshman year of college. I began moving in the right direction toward becoming a better, healthier person. In fact, the year following my personal makeover work, Bernice and I began dating which eventually led to a great marriage.
Healthy marriages are built on healthy individuals. Tweet This Not perfect individuals (we all have issues!), but individuals who are moving in a healthy direction. If you can’t say, “I’d marry me” then you need to start getting your life together before you get engaged.
Are You All Dated Out?
If you get married before you’re done dating, you’ll be susceptible to past and future dating dangers. You can be burned by an old flame or fall into a new fling. Marriage is meant to be a one-man-one-woman “till death do us part” unconditional commitment — for life! Without this kind of lifelong commitment, you could find yourself with regrets like Trisha.
Three months after Trisha married, she told her mother, “I wish I wasn’t married. I want to be able to hang out with my friends and meet new guys. I feel like I made a big mistake marrying Rick, and now I’m stuck.”
Unfortunately, Trisha’s statement reflects two common dating dangers. First, the view that dating is all about me. To gratify my desires. To fulfill my wants. My needs. And without a dating focus shift from me to you, you can fall into a second dating danger — endless spousal shopping. Stuck in the belief that somewhere out there is a perfect person who will satisfy you, you keep on shopping. You keep playing the game and looking for the “perfect” person.
If you, like Trish, are a person who still enjoys the whole meeting-flirting-dating scene, you may need to examine your motives and reasons for dating. Anyone who is truly done dating is ready to make a selfless commitment to one person for life.
Do You Make A Good Couple?
The idea of a couple marrying because they complement each other isn’t an insignificant sidelight. It’s an essential consideration and legitimate reason for marriage. In fact, it’s at the heart of why God created a man and woman to enjoy life together.
From the beginning of time, God said, “It’s not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). God created a man and woman to complement each other — in body, soul and spirit. Together they can do more and be more than they would if they lived life alone. Their differences and similarities mold them each into better people.
As I look at my life over the past 30 years, it’s obvious I’ve needed a “helper.” Just ask my kids and colleagues. My life has been so much better than it would have been had Bernice not been my wife. To this day, I know I owe most of my accomplishments in the home, work and community to God’s incredible work through Bernice and the many ways she has complemented my life.
When I work with couples who are considering marriage, I encourage them to think about the ways their similarities and differences could add or subtract from their relationship. Core values, personality differences, likes and dislikes, spending habits — these areas and more are essential factors in relational harmony and success.
The Prophet Amos made this point when he asked, “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3) The obvious answer is no. This truth was at the heart of why Sharon decided to break off her pre-engagement relationship with Chad.
Sharon told me she realized if she married Chad, she would end up resenting him because the kind of life he wanted was so different from what she wanted. He wanted a very traditional, ordered life, but Sharon’s life was very non-traditional. She loved variety and change and adventure. Chad wanted stability, sameness, predictability. When Sharon realized that God had created her and Chad with very different values and passions, she realized she couldn’t marry him.
Are You Spiritually Connected?
It’s not by mistake that when Paul wrote about selecting a prospective spouse, the one thing he chose to focus on was the spiritual connection. Paul clearly said that a follower of Christ must marry another follower of Christ. As he described it, the other person “must belong to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39).
Having been raised in a home where I saw firsthand the effects of spiritual disharmony, I’m in complete agreement with Paul. If you’re a follower of Christ, marry another follower of Christ. Otherwise your life and your home will suffer from your differing spiritual beliefs. Take it from Stephanie who learned this the hard way.
“I know I should have never married him,” Stephanie blurted out. “I knew what the Bible said about marrying an unbeliever, but I ignored it. I just figured it would all work out. Well, it hasn’t. I’m so frustrated. It’s gotten to the point in our marriage now where he doesn’t want me to go to church on Sunday. He says it’s the only day we can have together as a family. But I want our two children to grow up in the church. So Pastor Dave, what should I do?”
As you can imagine, there’s no easy answer to that question after you’re already married and spiritually mismatched. You’re better off making sure you have a strong spiritual connection before you get engaged. I’d urge you first to consider if you both have a relationship with Christ, then also take into account each other’s spiritual beliefs, practices and commitments. Each of these vital areas will have a huge impact on your marriage.
What Does Your Heart Say?
If you’re considering getting engaged and your heart feels heavy, tense, confused, uneasy or pressured, you need to find out what’s wrong. Something isn’t right, and it needs to be checked out. It’s in your best interest not to ignore those feelings.
Peace will keep you out of a marital accident. Not just peace relationally, but peace emotionally. It’s obvious you as a couple need to be at peace with each other. You need to get along. But internal emotional peace is also necessary. It’s one of the key ways God reveals His will in our lives.
Colossians 3:15 says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” When Paul used the word rule, he had in mind an umpire in athletic games who was the final authority. His point? Peace must be the final authority in your heart. Without it you could be making a mistake to play on.
I could hear the pain in Mark’s voice when he said, “Not going through with my plan to ask Kim to marry me was the most difficult thing I have ever done.” After 18 months of dating Kim, it looked like Mark was going to ask her to marry him. Everyone was expecting it. But instead, Mark ended up dropping a “we need to break up” bomb, even after he had already bought the engagement ring.
When I asked Mark what his final determining reason was for not popping the question he said, “It really all boiled down to one thing. I didn’t have peace about asking Kim to marry me. Even after I bought the ring, I felt like I was making a mistake, like it wasn’t the right thing to do. I just didn’t have peace about going through with it.”
In addition to Mark’s “trapped” feelings, there were several other factors that contributed to Mark’s lack of peace. His friends and family weren’t fully supportive. His finances were a mess. And when he considered whether or not marrying Kim was God’s will, he had no clue.
Mark’s lack of peace was more than just last-minute wedding day butterflies. Having performed hundreds of weddings, I can say from experience that anxiety, sweaty palms and even nausea are very common “last-minute” subjective feelings. After all, getting married is a big commitment. You’re going to feel something!
My concern is for the person like Mark whose lack of peace has been building over time and is directly connected to other objective factors. Negative feelings like these that are producing a lack of peace should not be ignored. I believe Mark’s decision to not ask Kim to marry him was the right decision even though it was excruciatingly painful. He was smart to let the final authority in his heart make the final call.
If your heart is at peace about popping, or saying yes to, the question, I’m excited for you. It may be the final indicator you’re ready for engagement and marriage.
From Before You Get Engaged by David Gudgel and Brent Gudgel with Danielle Fitch copyright ©2008. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN 37214, www.thomasnelson.com.