Advice to Christian Couples Considering Marriage

Five categories of advice for Christian couples considering marriage: Talk, Touch, Attitudes and Experiences, Plans and Logistics, Relationship Skills

Dear Christian couple considering marriage,

You’ve been dating for a while now, and you think things are going well. You’re wondering if it’s time to consider taking your relationship to the next step: marriage. You understand that covenanting to someone is a big deal. Maybe you feel stuck because you’re so worried about making a mistake. You wish there was some sort of checklist to guarantee of a happy future together. Some people tell you you’re overthinking, but you long for some sort of rubric by which to analyze your relationship—just to be sure! So what are you to do?

Or…

Maybe you’ve fallen hard and fast for “the person of your dreams”, and you’re ready to sign the marriage contract yesterday! But others in your life are cautioning you that you’re moving too quickly, that compatibility is just as important as chemistry. But sometimes it’s hard to see straight enough to analyze matters of practical concern.

In either case (or if like most people you fall somewhere between!) marriage is a very serious step and there isn’t a checklist that guarantees “success”. However, there are general principles that are helpful to consider on the journey towards making healthy and wise decisions about romantic relationships.

In order to facilitate wise thinking and decision making in this area, I have compiled an extensive but not exhaustive list of points for consideration. My advice falls under five main categories: talk, touch, plans, experiences, and skills. Let’s look at each in turn.

TALK: Things to start talking about before engagement.
– finances: debt, spending habits, financial philosophy
– health: current and past physical and mental health
– if there have been any serious crimes or addictions in the past or present
– children: if you want to have any, birth control beliefs and preferences, child rearing philosophies
– family of origin
– formative experiences both positive and negative
– attachment styles (secure, anxious-avoidant, etc.)
– what you consider deal-breakers in a dating relationship and in a marriage, including your views on divorce
– relationship history
– if either of you have children
– sexual history, philosophy of sexual intimacy in marriage, any history of being abused, attitudes surrounding sexuality in family of origin
– specific fears and hopes
– future plans and goals
– theological beliefs
– political views
– gender roles
– who your friends and community are
– how you deal with stress
– past traumas and their current effects
– hobbies and interests
– pet peeves
– Note: if any of these feel too difficult to discuss on your own, they can be saved for premarital counseling.

I will intersperse helpful charts and lists from relationship experts whose research and advice I value.

TOUCH: As relationships head closer to engagement, it’s a good time to reflect on your current experience with physical affection.
– is your physical relationship growing? It generally should grow as other components of the relationship grow (and always within limits of holiness and preference).
– is physical affection mutual, enjoyable, respectful?
– do you understand and practice consent always with all kinds of touch?
– do you have a pattern of making wise, healthy, and holy choices regarding touch?
– are you able to communicate about physical touch–what you’re comfortable with, your convictions, what you like, what you don’t like?
– My opinion: exercising self-control regarding physical affection while dating can be greatly illustrative of a person’s character and bode well for future marital faithfulness. At the same time, I don’t think physical affection in romantic relationships is just a fun bonus. It’s actually a valuable part of the bonding process (as long as it’s not driving the relationship or veering into sin): it’s part of nurturing the emotional and romantic side of the relationship; it builds trust; it expresses and directs growing attraction; it lays the foundation for good communication about touch in marriage; and it can help provide a calm, joyful, and connected place from which to face the challenges of relationship.

PLANS AND LOGISTICS: The practical stuff!
– if you get married, where will you live?
– will you have one income or two incomes?
– where will you go to church?
– are there plans to move to a different city at some point?
– when do you want to get married?
– how long do you want to be engaged?
– do you want to have children?
– will you use birth control?
– what are your beliefs about gender roles and how will they play out?
– how much time do you want to spend together versus apart when married?
– how will you relate to your families of origin?

ATTITUDES AND EXPERIENCES: Your demeanor towards one another and your experience of being in relationship with one another.
– do you enjoy being together?
– do you laugh together frequently?
– do you find yourself feeling calm and happy after and during your interactions?
– do you feel safe and respected?
– is there mutual effort put into the relationship?
– do you generally feel free and able to express your thoughts, feelings, needs, and desires?
– are there any indicators of narcissism or abuse?
– do you want to spend the rest of your life with the other person?
– do you increasingly find yourself wanting to learn about the other person’s struggles and baggage not so much to analyze whether they would make a good partner but rather to better understand them and how to care for them in their places of weakness and pain?
– are they one of the first people you think to share your joy and pain with?
– can you rely on each other for help, advice, care, and support?
– do you trust each other?
– can you be vulnerable with each other?
– do you enjoy learning things about each other?
– do you get excited about some of the same ideas, hobbies, or causes?
– do you feel connected and understood?
– are you emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and physically attracted to each other?
– can you sit quietly in the same room together?
– do you still enjoy hobbies and friendships you enjoyed before the relationship? (If so, that’s a good sign.)

Read about signs and types of abuse here.

SKILLS: Relational skills that will help you tackle the known and the unknown.
– communication about thoughts, feelings, relational struggles, wants, plans, dreams, and fears
– fighting fair, conflict resolution, and relational repair
– knowing the components of a good apology and willingness to apologize
– balancing acceptance of what is with seeking growth and change
– identification of and care for your own emotions and needs
– identification of and care for your partner’s emotions and needs
– listening in order to understand and connect
– responding to “bids for connection”
– “speaking” each other’s love languages
– maintaining connection to healthy community as individuals and as a couple

OTHER THOUGHTS:
– I think that premarital counseling can be a beneficial thing for most couples. One of the best premarital counseling programs is called Prepare and Enrich. I would recommend seeing a licensed professional counselor (LPC) who is also a Christian as opposed to a pastor, though it’s beneficial to meet with a pastor once or twice too.
– John and Julie Gottman of The Gottman Institute have some of the best and most thoroughly researched information about healthy relationships available! I highly recommend checking out any of their resources. In particular, read up on what their research shows are the four most common predictors of divorce or what they call “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. If any of those four things are present in a relationship, that’s a red flag.
– My advice can be summarized with the following questions: are you compatible enough, to the best of your knowledge? do you know each other well enough? do you want to commit to one another? do you enjoy each other and connect well? do you have the skills and motivation needed to continue growing as individuals and as a couple both before and after marriage? And do you have a supportive community that will help you along the journey?

If you are like me, it can be easy to get caught up in overanalyzing and perfectionism. Having high standards for our self and others is good, but it’s important to understand that: 1) every person has baggage and every relationship has challenges, and 2) the experience of and sense of connection in a relationship are just as important as a checklist.

If on the other hand you are likely to let your heart lead your head into unwise or unhealthy paths, I implore you both to healthily honor your passion and nurture your prudence. No amount of chemistry can make up for incompatibility or poor character. Take a little time to consider. It’s worth it. You’re worth it!

In closing, I sincerely wish you well! And I hope that some of what I’ve shared is helpful for you as you evaluate your relationship and set intentions for the future. Marriage is such a good gift, and it’s worth the effort to enter it the best way you can—walking in wisdom, not perfectionism.

“He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD.” Proverbs 18:22

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” James 1:5

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16

Blessings,

Hannah 🌸

A Look at Lectionaries

According to Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, “the lectionary is the reason why, if you’re a preacher, you’re bored to tears, and if you’re a layperson, you have a sneaking suspicion you’ve heard this one before.”

LITURGICAL COLANDER Season Your Pasta With Ordinary Thyme ...

Most preachers that I interact with on a regular basis don’t typically use the lectionary to plan out their sermons. I will typically look at it for seasons like Advent or Lent, but I usually preach through a book of the Bible or systematically preach through a topic. However, I know some preachers who are attached to the lectionary to the point that they are getting bored with it.

They have sermons for every text over the course of the three year cycle, and they need something else so they can keep flexing their sermon prep muscles. According to Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, “the lectionary is the reason why, if you’re a preacher, you’re bored to tears, and if you’re a layperson, you have a sneaking suspicion you’ve heard this one before.” If that resonates with you, then I have good news for you! There are other lectionaries that you can borrow from!

Typically, when one thinks of the lectionary, they think of the Revised Common Lectionary since that is the most common one in use among mainline evangelical Protestants (and we will cover that one for our low church friends). However, did you know that there are actually handful out there that you can use?

Getting the Lingo Down

For those of you who may be eavesdropping into the conversation you may be wondering, “What in the heck is a lectionary anyway?”

A lectionary is a systematic reading of selected Scriptures throughout the Christian year (Advent through Christ the King Sunday). The tradition of using a lectionary goes back to at least first century Judaism (maybe even farther back than that) where there would be assigned readings from the Old Testament to address where the people of God were in the Jewish calendar. (You can read Leon Morris’ extensive work on the Jewish lectionaries here.)

Even in Luke 4, when Jesus teaches in his hometown, the text tells us that they handed the scroll of Isaiah to Him so He could read from it. From this, we can infer that when Jesus read Isaiah 61 and said, “Today, this has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:17-21) it was because Isaiah 61 was the assigned text for that Sabbath day.

So, if the Jews used a lectionary to remind them of the significance of where they were in the Jewish calendar then it’s only natural that Christians would do the same with the Christian calendar.

So, if the Jews used a lectionary to remind them of the significance of where they were in the Jewish calendar then it’s only natural that Christians would do the same with the Christian calendar.

Let’s look at some lectionaries at our disposal. This is by no means an exhaustive list. These are just some that I’ve found helpful.

The Revised Common Lectionary

The Common Lectionary was published in 1983 out of an ecumenical effort by both American and Canadian denominations to have a common experience of the story of Scripture throughout the Church year . There were some various problems with its trial run so the same people who brought us the Common Lectionary went back to the ol’ drawing board and brought us the Revised Common Lectionary which you can peruse at this link. The Revised Common Lectionary, published in 1992, takes into account constructive criticism of the Common Lectionary. It is a three-year cycle of Sunday Eucharistic readings in which Matthew, Mark, and Luke are read in successive years with some material from John read in each year.

When a mainline church uses the lectionary this is typically their go-to. Many PCUSA, Cumberland Presbyterian, United Methodist, and American Baptist congregations walk through this lectionary every three years.*

LCMS One Year Lectionary

The Missouri Synod Lutheran Church developed the one year lectionary which you can view here. Admittedly, I don’t know much about this lectionary, but from what I’ve seen it could be handy for pastors who want to introduce the Christian calendar to congregations that have historically been low church.

At this link you can read a talk given by Rev. Randy Asburry where he gives some compelling reasons for using this lectionary.

The Narrative Lectionary

I have become quite familar with the Narrative Lectionary over the last year or so. Basically, this lectionary operates on a four year cycle where you focus on the story of one of the four gospels every year from Advent until Pentecost Sunday, and then there are various readings of Scripture throughout the rest of the church year that help us in examining other books of the Bible or systematically addressing different themes from Scripture.

I should add that one of the reasons I admire this particular lectionary is that it’s convenient to take a break from during Ordinary Time so that you can preach on other topics or books of the Bible that the lectionary doesn’t cover.

You can read all about the Narrative Lectionary here.

Lectionary from Christ Church – Moscow, Idaho

Even though I follow Christ Church and Douglas Wilson, I haven’t heard much about their lectionary. From what I understand this lectionary is strictly used for readings in the Sunday morning worship services at Christ Church (as opposed to being used for selections for sermon texts). However, when I began filling the pulpit at variousCumberland Presbyterian Churches in my presbytery, I found this lectionary helpful for selecting sermon texts.

Because of the limited readings in a two year cycles, this might be perfect for any preacher that wants a personal challenge. You can find their lectionary here.

If you’re a lectionary preacher, I hope you found this article helpful. Contact me if there are other lectionaries that I can address in future articles! Thanks!

_________
* There are too many denominations to list that actually use the Revised Common Lectionary.

Decision-Making in Marriage (When One Spouse is Not the Automatic Tiebreaker)

One of the main objections raised to egalitarianism or even soft complementarianism is, “How does a couple make decisions if neither one of them is the tiebreaker?” I had a reader ask me this question on my recent book review of Rachel Green Miller’s Beyond Authority and Submission.

In recent years, I’ve done much study on the Bible, theology, psychology, gender roles, and gender dynamics. All of that coalesced into realizing I had an idea of how to answer this question. I replied to my reader with my initial thoughts, and I decided I wanted to flesh it out further in this blog post.

Basically, I have identified three different categories of decisions that will need to be made in a marriage context.

  1. Group Decisions
  2. Individual Decisions
  3. Consent Decisions

It’s not as cut-and-dry as these three categories suggest, and sometimes they bleed into one another, but they still provide a helpful framework for looking at the different kinds of decisions couples need to make. Also, many of these principles can be applied to other types of relationships: friendships, dating, business, or other types of family relationships.

Let’s look at the three categories of decisions in more detail.

Group Decisions

This is the largest category of decisions and include such things as what restaurant to eat at or what schooling options to choose; these decisions affect the group and are best arrived at using communication and compromise to reach consensus.

When a husband and wife disagree on a decision, the first thing they should do is each explain their perspectives and try to truly understand the other person’s. Often, this will resolve the issue, as one will share information that will end up changing the other person’s mind.

If not, helpful questions to further dialogue could be:
Who has the stronger opinion or bigger need in this situation?
Who has more knowledge, expertise, or experience on this particular issue?
Is there a way to compromise?
What feelings, needs, or histories are each spouse bringing to the situation, and how can they be taken into account?
Whose idea “won” last time?
How can each spouse express care for the other regardless of what decision is made?

It is also appropriate when a wife chooses voluntarily to submit to her husband’s wishes, even if there’s not another specific reason to do so. Likewise, it is appropriate when the husband decides to love his wife by going with her idea, even if there’s not another specific reason for him to do so.

Individual Decisions

Some decisions have more to do with the individual than the couple. For example, what time to wake up in the morning, what hairstyle to have, or what book to read. In these cases, the other spouse may share advice or make a request—particularly if it affects them–but the person who is actually reading the book or waking up at a certain time gets the final say (though they should care a lot about their spouse’s opinions and requests!).

Consent Decisions

Another category of situations are those in which if both spouses do not freely say “yes,” the default is “no.” This could be as simple as deciding whether to have another family over to one’s house (since the house is both spouses’ space). Generally speaking, major financial decisions would fall into this category; both spouses should agree to major purchases, especially if they have a joint bank account. Sexual intimacy is another scenario in which two willing (and hopefully joyful!) yeses are absolutely required in order for things to proceed in a respectful (and non-criminal!) way.

Summary

But does this actually work in the real world? I have friends from various walks of life and different belief systems who say that this is how their marriages function. So yes, it is possible! Because when you have two people with good character and emotional intelligence who seek after healthy communication, true understanding and care, and a willingness to work together, things generally work themselves out.

Application

If you’re unmarried put in the work now to become this sort of person–for your own sake and for the sake of your present and future relationships.

If you are looking for a dating relationship, pay attention to if a potential date has these qualities.

If you’re married and your marriage already looks like this, I rejoice with you! Keep up the awesome work, and consider mentoring others.

If you’re married and your marriage does not look like this, please know that growth is very often possible—especially when both spouses are committed to it!

But here’s a very important caveat: if you are married, and your spouse is guilty of serious and unrepentant sin (such as adultery, abuse, or abandonment), please know that no amount of healthy communication or character on your part can fix your spouse, and if you choose to leave such a spouse, I believe you have done no wrong.

Resources

For those seeking personal growth, character development, and/or relationship strengthening, here is some advice and some sample resources:
– Sit under the teaching of God’s Word and fellowship with his people. These are tools the Holy Spirit uses to grow people in Christlike love and wholeness.
– Look into receiving professional counseling services (individual therapy and/or couples therapy).
– Seek out mentorship or discipleship opportunities by mature individuals or couples.
– Read books such as Boundaries in Marriage by Dr. Henry Cloud (which I honestly haven’t read, though I’ve appreciated some his other books—which are sometimes a bit theological fluffy, so be discerning).
– Study materials put out by The Gottman Institute, which I see as the gold standard in relationship advice, and most of it is totally compatible with a Christian worldview.

And that’s it! Thus ends my musings and insights on how couples can make decisions together in ways that honor one another.

A big thank you to my reader who asked a great question which then inspired this post!

What about you? What advice do you have regarding how couples can make decisions well? What have you found works for you, or how do you want your marriage to work in the future?

3 Most Helpful Articles of 2015

The truth is that she is weird, and she is liberal, but when anyone is speaking the truth you can’t disagree with them just because they don’t fit into your cookie cutter mold of what a Christian should look like.

These are some articles that really helped me in my walk with God to understand some key theological concepts. I hope you find them helpful as well.

  1. The Playground of Heavenly Reality: Pneumatological Sacramentalism
    I know this article has some odd words in the title, but I promise that if you’re from a charismatic/pentecostal background like I am and you want help understanding what role the sacraments play in that setting, then this article is really helpful.
  2. What Getting Dumped Says About You
    As someone who got dumped this year, I found this article to be comforting on so many levels. I think it’s interesting someone has finally addressed this issue from a biblical standpoint to let you know that you are not alone, and you are not out of the sovereignty of God just because your relationship didn’t work out.
  3. Want millennials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church ‘cool.’
    On April 30th, the Washington Post published this article written by Rachel Held Evans on the cusp of her new book, “Searching for Sunday.” In the article she tells the truth about all of these huge mega churches that try to make Jesus a ‘cool, relevant, hipster.’ Now, if you know who Rachel Held Evans is then you’re probably thinking, “She’s a weird, liberal, Episcopalian. What are you doing promoting her stuff?” The truth is that she is weird, and she is liberal, but when anyone is speaking the truth you can’t disagree with them just because they don’t fit into your cookie cutter mold of what a Christian should look like.

Now, I found more articles than just these helpful, but I’m constrained for time at the moment and I really wanted to get these out there. So, take a read, tell me what you think, and have a blessed Sunday!