When you pastor a church that has a huge number of twenty-somethings, almost every month you get asked the question: “How do I know if he/she is ‘the One?’” Well, before I dive into the specific details, I want to make sure that the foundations of your marital worldview are solid. To be specific, it’s critical you understand two foundational realities:
(1). Only God can Fulfill You:
Psm.62:1 teaches us that our “soul(s) find rest in God Alone!” God Himself is the ONLY thing that will continue to satisfy. A lot of people are looking for a “soul mate”… A person who can somehow sustain a constant feeling of infatuation. Yet, the Bible teaches that there’s only one true soulmate… And his name is Jesus. I realize this is obvious, but it’s incredible to me how many people don’t understand this. No matter how gorgeous your spouses is, that’ll wear off (which is why celebrities get divorced all the time). Charming personalities will inevitably get crabby; even scarier, your idealistic criteria for a spouse will constantly change. Thus, you can spend the rest of your life partner swapping; or, you can admit right now: there is a God shaped hole inside of your life. And until you fill it, you’ll spend the rest of your life pinballing through relationships that just don’t fill the void for long.
In the end, your spouse was never intended to fulfill and enrapture you. That’s God’s Job! HE is the enddestination; and His calling on your life is the adventure. Your spouse is simply the coadventurer! They are the “best friend” who’s along for the ride. (Which assumes the obvious: if the person you’re dating isn’t madly in love with God, there’s always going to be a disconnect or series of unrealistic expectations that will plague your relationship). See [this blog] for more!
But with all of this said, let’s move on to the 2nd foundational reality that helps you know: “is she/he the One.”
(2). Marital happiness is more about commitment than compatibility:
Most young people have bought into something I like to call the “Compatibility myth.” It’s the lie that says: “Marriage, romance, and attraction is 90% based on compatibility and 10% work.” This myth is constantly fed to us through movies: If you find the right person everything else just works! Attraction will just magically appear and sizzle forever. Fighting will be minimal. You’ll finish each other’s sentences: “You know, Honey I could really go for a…”
“Chicken pot-pie! Yup! …Already cooked it!” …Because you’re “Soul Mates!” And we all know that soul mates have a love frequency that pulses out of their beating hearts like Morse code! And in the end, either “you met that person OR you didn’t!” But here’s the truth: Marriage, Romance and attraction is 90% WORK and 10% compatibility.”
Part of the reason why we believe garbage like this is because we live in a culture that falsely believes “attraction isn’t wieldable.” There’s been a lot of research on sexuality and romance proving that we can “control our sexual attractions.” Human beings can train themselves to be sexually attracted to animals… Or they can “untrain themselves.” Yet, we’ve been fed the lie that our “attractions” are a mystery… Perhaps it’s a Cupid who shoots us with an arrow of love, or a genetic code that predisposes us to an erratic ocean of attractions. But, as a pastor who’s helped people in every imaginable situation, allow me to change how you think here.
As Jesus put it: Mt.6:21 “Where your treasure is, there your heart follows!” When you ‘treasure’ something, you’re placing your time & focus on it. Thus, God’s word promises, THAT is where your emotions and attractions are going. Or, to put it another way, “Desire follows Attention.” or, put another way, “Feelings Follow Focus” the more focus & energy you give something, the more you want it. (I talk a lot about this in the Substance teaching series: “Too Many Shades of Grey” ).
Over time, a lot of married couples will come to me saying: “I think we’ve fallen out of love;” but I remind them, “No. You simply falling out of ‘focus’… You are attending to your jobs, hobbies, and kids more than you are to each other, and not surprisingly, your emotions have moved in that direction.” And fortunately, if you spend time fanning the embers of emotion, that relationship (and your attraction to them) can completely reignite.
Now, the reason I share this is because: many single people obsess over silly compatibility criteria: “Does she share my passions?” (and YES …there are some “basic issues of compatibility” that you need to look for.) For example, Do they passionately love Jesus? Do they have dynamic Christian friends and a ministry in a local church? Are they remotely attractive to you? Can you be best friends? If you can’t give an affirmative yes for every single question I mentioned above, then I would probably press the escape button on that relationship.
However, I gotta be honest with you: Beyond these things, my wife and I were totally different! For example, in college: I was this poetic singer/songwriter… I was artistic and alternative. I’d write poetry / music for her… (In fact, that’s how I bought her wedding ring… I won a contest with a song I wrote.) And don’t get me wrong: My wife can enjoy these things… But she prefers acts of service… like washing her car / unloading the dishwasher. She certainly wasn’t looking for a singer-songwriter.
And, as for me: I was looking for a philosophical woman, with deep passions, who could analyze movies with me… perhaps a good singer. (I.e., I was looking for someone exactly like ME, except without the ability to grow a beard). And, at that time, my wife just didn’t fit my “image” of a soul mate. She was conservative! She didn’t die her hair weird colors. She couldn’t be sarcastic to save her life! Even to this day, she doesn’t always appreciate my poetic side.
“So, then, Peter, why then, did you guys get married?” Because, I realized that 90% of the things that make a great marriage have nothing to do with these superficial criteria. I realized that what society told me about “chemistry” was a lie. I started to see and appreciate totally different strengths in my wife… and through disciplined pursuit I fell in love with those strengths. And don’t get me wrong: Today I feel more passionate attraction towards my wife than I EVER have. But it’s only because I got beyond all the superficial forces of attraction and I discovered a more divine and consistent way of stoking up our romance.
So, what should my criteria be? Once again, there are the basics: Is this person passionately in love with Jesus (and rooted in a local church); Is this person attractive to you? Could you be best friends with this person? Would this person fit into your family system? Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying they need to be best friends with your dad or crazy brother. But these are critical criteria that will be very hard to live with once the honeymoon period wears off.
Obviously, there are other criteria that matter such as: Do they fight fair? Do they spend impulsively (credit card debt)? Do they have hidden porn addictions, chronic discontentment issues, or an obsession with eating entire boxes of snack cakes? You may think these issues are small – perhaps even cute. But trust me: Small turns into big really quickly (especially if they like snack cakes).
As for the other criteria: “Do they sing?” “Do have the same sense of humor? Are they a good dancer? … Well, lets just say… these things really won’t matter much in the big picture (or, at the very least, they can be remedied by having “hobby friends” who share those interests). Besides, by the time you have kids, many of your hobbies will take the back seat anyways (I know that I’m breaking some of your young idealistic bubbles right now… but somebody has to do it.) And, some of you guys are imagining yourselves to be having sex seven times a day (which is why you over-obsess over physical attributes); and some of you ladies imagine you’ll have endless time to discuss books with your husband. But once reality sets in… and pregnancy weight sets in… and professional responsibilities increase… and child-development devours your budget… your criteria will shift a little.
Don’t get me wrong: I still love a hot date with my sexy wife. And, thankfully, childrearing, belly-fat and job-stress can be temporary (assuming you’re marrying a person who has good boundaries). But, in the end, you’re looking for a self-disciplined best friend… a co-adventurer… a person who, you wouldn’t mind waking up next to (even if they have terrible, terrible breath.)
And if you’re in doubt about this person you’re considering, find a good Christian mentor (who has a successful marriage) that can help you sort it through. After all, there’s no sense in discerning this alone. Lastly, if you’re looking for more resources on How to date, make sure you check out my three-part blog series on the topic. But, wherever you’re at in the discernment process, remember, God wants to help you. Isaiah 48:17 says, “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.” So, rest in that.