I Get Married?
Revised Edition, October 2000
M. Blaine Smith ~ InterVarsity Press
The Search for Perspective
Most of the happily married couples I know confess that the road to finding the right person was a rocky one at best. There were many false starts and disappointments along the way, and there was even a lot of confusion in reaching the decision they finally made. One very happily married woman in her late forties admitted to me in all honesty, "If I were widowed, I don't think I could go through the process of finding a husband again."
I do know a Christian couple who were acquainted only four days before becoming engaged. The decision to marry involved no struggle for either of them. Though only in their young twenties, they were both mature enough to make a wise choice. They've been married over twenty-five years now and have had an excellent relationship. They show that whatever may be said about the difficulty of choosing a marriage partner, or the need for a long acquaintance period, there are exceptions to every rule.
I'm hard pressed, though, to think of another example like theirs. My own odyssey toward marriage definitely fit the rule and not the exception. I was painfully shy as an adolescent and teenager. While I did enjoy a dating relationship in my young teens that lasted over a year, several others which I longed to initiate never got off the ground. Things began to improve after I gave my life to Christ at age nineteen. My social confidence in general increased remarkably.
By the time I was twenty-five, however, I'd been through three relationships where my expectations were seriously disappointed. In one I even believed I'd received a revelation from God that we would marry--something that in time proved to be just wishful thinking. In another, all the signposts seemed to indicate marriage, and we enjoyed a good relationship for a year and a half. Yet in time we discovered our vocational goals were so different as to make marriage untenable. Following a seminar that left me guilt-ridden for wanting marriage so much, I even resolved to forsake dating for a semester. While some important benefits came from this time, I realize now that my motives for this temporary vow of singleness were less than healthy.
Things took a very encouraging turn when I was twenty-six and began dating Evie Kirkland. We were married within a year! In the end God's grace triumphed over my own blundering and confusion as it always does. Yet I must confess I felt like a ship lost at sea without a compass for much of this time. I know that much of my pain and poor judgment could have been eliminated if I'd had better instruction on how to choose a life partner.
Some Common Concerns
So many Christian singles have told me they are frustrated or confused in dealing with relationships and the question of marriage that I'm certain my own experience with deciding to marry is the rule and not the exception today. There are several points at which many feel adrift.
Married or single? Some are stuck at how to resolve the basic choice between marriage and singleness. We who are married can quickly forget what a complicated question this is for many singles, who hear different ideals about marriage and singleness being tossed around. Should you follow one of these ideals--and if so, which one--or is it okay to simply follow your own preference? How do you find God's will in the midst of it all?
Getting off square one. Many others are quite comfortable with the idea of being married yet just as uncertain about how to get there. I know many bright, likeable singles well into their adult years who deeply want to be married but for various reasons have not been able to. A surprising number have never had a serious dating relationship at all.
Making the choice. Perhaps most surprising is how many are in serious relationships yet unable to resolve whether to marry. The majority of those seeking my counsel in recent years, in fact, have been looking for advice about whether to marry a particular person. Many of these are mature Christians with long-standing relationships, in which one or both cannot decide about marriage. In some cases the concern is over needing a clear sign from God. In others it's over whether one's ideals can be fully met in the relationship.
The fear of commitment. Still, some hesitate to marry from fears that marriage itself may be an overly confining or unpleasant experience. Not a few speak of commitment as claustrophobic--like being stuck in an elevator. A mature Christian woman admitted to me recently: "You know, I long for a relationship with a man, but when it finally becomes apparent that he wants to get serious I panic and want out. Once the relationship is over and the threat of commitment gone, I start liking him again." The fear of commitment causes some to bail out of perfectly good relationships and others to avoid dating altogether.
A map for the journey ahead. Finally, there are many who, while not overly concerned about getting married at this point, would like some perspective on how to move toward marriage at some time in the future. Too often they end up frustrated, for little meaningful direction on this matter is given by the church today. Among the many churches with which I'm acquainted, few offer any teaching on finding or choosing a spouse. And while several books on the subject did emerge during the 1990s, helpful books for the Christian on the marriage decision still remain few and far between.
Encouragement and Direction
That brings me to the purpose of this book. I wrote it to give navigational direction to those who are at each of these points of need, and to offer spiritual encouragement as well. This is a guidebook for working through the major stages in considering marriage. My interest has been fueled especially by remembering how helpful it would have been for me to have a volume of this sort available as a young believer.
This is a revised edition of Should I Get Married?, which has been in print now for ten years. I've provided additional counsel and examples in various places. I've also added several major sections which I'll note in a moment. I've focused my concern in this new edition more exclusively on how to make a wise choice of whom you marry. I address my counsel to those who are in a serious relationship or considering one, to help them determine whether marriage is the right step. I've removed a section that was in the first edition on finding a spouse, in order to allow more space for the book's primary concern.
If you have picked up this book for help in finding someone to marry, you can still benefit significantly from the book's material, and I would encourage you to read what follows carefully. Determining what it is you are looking for in a relationship is a vital step toward finding one. I find time and again that singles who are eager for marriage often are harboring unrealistic ideals that are hindering them from finding someone who is truly suitable for them.
In fact, clarifying your expectations can simplify the search for a mate, sometimes considerably. Some even find that they already know someone who would make an excellent spouse--perhaps a close friend--whom they've overlooked because their expectations were unreasonable. While this may or may not be true in your case, be open to that possibility as you read.
Three Blind Spots
When I reflect on my experience as a single Christian, I'm struck by two things. First, I'm certain that some of the difficulties I experienced were unavoidable. There is a mystery--in short, a risk--in human relationships that can never be avoided if we are to experience the adventure of life as God has designed it and move toward the goal of an intimate lifetime relationship.
Yet I also realize only too well that some of my problems resulted from certain well-intentioned but misguided perspectives which made me prone to bad judgment and a sitting duck for disappointment. In my work with singles today I find these same unfortunate viewpoints coming up again and again, and the problems that result are all too predictable. They tend to fall under three general areas:
One is spiritualizing. By "spiritualizing" I mean expecting an unreasonable measure of guidance from God. Scripture shows that while God graciously guides our decisions, he seldom eliminates the need for us to think them through and ultimately take responsibility for resolving them. Yet many Christians expect him to guide in a mystical or supernatural fashion which would supersede this process and remove all personal responsibility.
Such a belief leaves some Christians uneasy about taking any personal initiative in finding a marriage partner. Others who are in serious relationships feel compelled to wait for an unmistakable sign from God before finally deciding to marry. And some are too quick to think God has given them a revelation to marry through some inner feeling or ironic coincidence. They don't do the hard work of carefully thinking the decision through.
Similar problems are caused by idealizing. We may hold to unreasonable ideals about romantic love or the perfect mate. Having ideals for marriage is crucial, but it is vital that these be realistic and in line with God's best intentions for our life. In reality the influence of both our secular and Christian cultures is such that few of us enter adulthood without the need for some revising--often drastic--of our ideals before we will be in a position to find a suitable mate or make healthy decisions about marriage.
Many fail to see the marriage potential in a good relationship because their partner (or their feeling of romantic love) falls short of some unreasonable ideal. Others are too quick to think they have found the perfect companion in someone who seems to match up to certain stereotypes.
There is a third mindset that can be just as great an obstacle to sound decision making, which is catastrophizing. By this term I mean harboring unreasonable fears of risk or change by dwelling on problems that are not likely to occur, or obsessing over the possibility of making a wrong decision. A variety of normal fears arise as we take steps toward marriage, ranging from the fear of rejection to the fear of decision making to the fear of commitment itself. The fear of commitment is the one which most typically hinders those in good relationships from going ahead with marriage.
Some fear is healthy in a step as major as marriage, for it causes you to take the decision seriously and spurs you to trust more fully in Christ. But excessive fear can hinder clear thinking about marriage and keep you from going ahead when a suitable opportunity presents itself. Without some willingness to risk, indeed without a proper sense of adventure, you will never take the plunge into marriage.
Throughout the book I'll look at misleading ideas that arise in each of these three areas and how they can get you off track in considering marriage. I'll draw on examples from my own life and the experiences of others whom I've known and counseled. At each point I'll do my best to point you to outlooks which I understand to be more in line with Scripture and healthy thinking. My hope is that this book will benefit you in three major ways:
By helping you clarify how Christ's responsibility and your own relate in decisions about marriage.
By helping you establish healthy ideals about marriage, singleness and who you would consider marrying.
By giving you perspective on how to deal with fears that may be keeping you from God's best in these areas, particularly the fear of commitment. (I've authored another book specifically on the fear of rejection, Overcoming Shyness, and I encourage you to read it if this is an area where you need special help.)
Our Task Ahead
We will begin by looking at the question of choosing between marriage and singleness (chapter two). Because this is foundational to everything else considered in this book, I want to begin by offering clear counsel for thinking this issue through.
In part two we will take a close look at God's guidance in our lives, especially as it touches decisions related to marriage. While I stress God's role in finding a spouse and the vital need for faith and trust on our part, I also examine some common misconceptions about how the Lord guides our decisions.--misconceptions that can keep you from taking proper responsibility for finding a mate or from clear thinking when it comes to making a decision about marrying someone.
Part three is the heart of the book. It provides perspective for deciding whether to marry once you're in a serious relationship. I offer guidelines for assessing your compatibility with another person, your readiness for marriage and whether the balance of factors add up to a decision for marriage.
In part four I offer counsel and encouragement to divorced persons considering remarriage and to those considering marrying someone divorced, and I look at biblical and practical issues involved. This material is new to this edition of Should I Get Married?; I did not deal with remarriage in the first edition at all.
In part five I examine the fear of commitment, looking at problems it causes and how to deal with them. I discuss how to recognize this fear in yourself or someone else, how to respond to someone who is afraid of commitment and, if this fear is a problem for you personally, what steps you can take to overcome it. I've given considerable attention to this area during the past ten years and have published a book devoted to it--The Yes Anxiety. I've grown more optimistic about the possibility of one's overcoming commitment fear and offer much more counsel related to healing than I did in the first edition of this book.
I have also added an appendix on the question of whether Christian singles should date. While this was rarely an issue ten years ago, it is a major one for many singles today, due especially to the popularity of Joshua Harris's I Kissed Dating Goodbye, published in 1997. The question is a challenging one now for many considering marrying someone or beginning a serious relationship. In appendix one I explore the issues related to it and suggest how to determine whether dating or a nondating approach to courtship is best for you personally.
Finally, I've added "Vows for the Imperfect Marriage" (appendix two). These are simply a few statements that reflect the theme of this book: that God provides us with a most suitable but imperfect partner--and that two imperfect human beings can realistically have a marriage filled with understanding, forgiveness and love.
While I cite many real-life incidents throughout the book, I've changed incidental names and details in some cases in order to protect the identities of those involved. I've also felt free to combine and create examples to illustrate particular points.
Finally, let me mention that my experience gives me not only empathy for the struggles of single Christians but an important basis for extending hope as well. For one thing, my ministry has brought me into contact with many who are truly contented and joyful in the single life. I've been seen many times the grace and fullness of life that God gives to those who are single. If you are single, I hope you will take considerable encouragement from the discussion ahead.
I've often been impressed, too, with how God can work miracles to bring two people together in a lifetime union. I share the awe of a couple I married, who felt it remarkable that they grew up three thousand miles apart, in radically different circumstances, yet through the providence of God met and decided to marry.
My own experience as a single Christian taught me the significance of certain changes in perspective, and this more than anything inspired me to write this book. As my thinking changed at several important points, my journey toward marriage progressed as well. The result has been twenty-seven years of a happy, fulfilling marriage. I've seen this pattern repeated time and again for many who at one point were ready to give up but now are in happy, solid marriages.
I say this cautiously, for--in spite of the preposterous claims of some popular titles--no book can guarantee that you will find a marriage partner. Yet I'm confident that the perspectives presented here can improve your prospects--perhaps considerably--and help you be more fully open to the abundant provision of Christ for your life.
My strongest conviction is that these perspectives will help you make a wise choice, and move into marriage with confidence once the right opportunity presents itself.
In short, I write this book in a highly optimistic and hopeful spirit. I hope that spirit will be contagious in the pages ahead.
Excerpt taken from Should I Get Married? (Revised Edition) by M. Blaine Smith. Copyright 2000 by M. Blaine Smith. Used on this site with permission from InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, Illinois 60515 USA. Not intended for multiple copies.
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