Every Monday I like to put up a reader question and take a stab at answering it, and today I’ve got two questions from readers that relate to the same thing: how do I know I’m not in love with the wrong person?
One young woman asks:
When I was first together with my fiance I noticed that I he lied. He called it being diplomatic, and he said there are grey areas, that not everything is white or black. The lies extended to our relationship. I would find his chats with other girls, but he would claim that they’re random old time friends. Then I’d see him on an erotic literature site with a profile pic of a poorly clad female. He’d claim to have stumbled onto the site, but then I’d find out that the pic had been there for more than a year and that he still visited. After going through your site and seeking counsel, I decided to end the relationship. The issue, though, is that I don’t know if I should have overlooked those ‘minor lies/diplomacy’ in the first instance. Just don’t want to make the same mistake twice.
Another young woman asks:
Over the past several years, I’ve worried a lot about marrying the wrong person…to the point that I dread marriage. It’s not that I believe I only have one possible spouse out there, but I do believe that some choices are wiser than others when it comes to choosing a husband. Simply put, I’m afraid that I’ll marry the wrong guy and end up with all sorts of problems like some of your readers share about… insecurity, emotional of physical abuse, my husband leaving or having an affair, divorce, etc. Do you have any advice for single women on how to pick a good life partner? Because I would truly rather remain single forever than end up in a bad marriage.
Okay, great questions! To the first reader: I’m so glad you got out of that relationship! And to the second reader: Marriage is a really wonderful thing, and I’m sorry if so many of my posts have scared you to death! Don’t dread marriage; it’s awesome! You just need to be wise, that’s all.
And so today, let’s talk about how to be wise when looking for a life partner.
When it comes to knowing if he’s the wrong guy, character trumps everything.
Sure there may be personality issues: what if he’s outgoing and you’re not? What if he’s adventurous and loves the outdoors, and you love nothing more than decorating your little nest and staying at home? What if he dreams of being a pastor and you always swore you’d never marry into the ministry?
But these things can easily be overcome with a change in attitude, perspective, or just a little compromise.
When it comes to avoiding a marriage that could be abusive, or where affairs or porn or secrecy may be a part, character trumps everything else. If a guy has good character, he isn’t going to have an affair on you. He isn’t going to be emotionally abusive. He isn’t going to tell you you’re fat and demand that your body stay a certain size. Yes, some great marriages end up in affairs, but that really is the exception, not the rule. When I was dating my husband, I never worried that he would do any of these things. Never for one single moment. And he never has. He had great character, and I could see that right in the beginning.
Does that mean he was perfect? No, of course not. But if he ever did anything wrong, he was quick to own it; he was quick to apologize; and he was quick to show me that he didn’t want to do it again. He didn’t justify his behaviour, or try to blame it on someone else, or tell me that I was just misinterpreting the whole situation. And that’s the picture of a Christian: It isn’t someone who does absolutely everything right, but it’s someone who is honest about the state of their heart, and who is running after God and trying to look more and more like Jesus everyday.
Look at it this way: If you would never have an affair; if you would never wreck someone’s confidence; if you would never be emotionally abusive, then people like you exist (you’re living proof!). So don’t thing that you can’t find the male version of someone like you. In fact, the more you pursue great character in yourself, the more people with great character will be attracted to you, and the more likely they will show up in your social circle (because like tends to hang out with like). So remember Andy Stanley’s awesome dating advice:
Other posts that may interest you on deciding who to marry:
You should never have to talk yourself into believing in the relationship.
With that being said, let’s go back to something our first letter writer brought up: Should the first few lies have been enough to say, “this is the wrong guy for me”?
Quite frankly, yes.
If you have to talk yourself into believing that this is the right relationship; if you have to give yourself a pep talk that “he doesn’t really mean that” or “he loves me, he just doesn’t realize the effect that he has on me when he does that”, then he’s not the right person.
Do not waste your time on a guy that you have to talk yourself into believing that he loves you. Your time is too valuable. Get out.
Now, I can think of a few exceptions. Sometimes guys are just clueless. Let’s say that you’re bubbly, and you need a lot of human connection. But you’re dating someone who is very “inside their head”. He’s more introverted, and when he gets thinking about a project, he often forgets to text or seems to ignore you.
That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the wrong guy. This is actually quite a common scenario for people who are dating each other–they choose the opposite, and I think sometimes God puts these opposites together to help smooth out our rough edges. He puts the bubbly person with the introvert so that the introvert is forced to still be social and to maintain a relationship with the outside world, while the extrovert is taught to be more contemplative.
So here’s how you tell if it’s just a personality difference that can be fixed or if it’s a genuine character issue:
You tell him what you need, and if he’s open to trying to provide it, then it’s not a character issue.
So if you say, “I know sometimes you’re busy and in the middle of something, but I just need you to text me everyday, even if it’s just a ‘hey, honey, just wanted you to know I was thinking of you and I love you, but I’m trying to finish up a big project at work, and will likely be working late tonight.’–and then he puts a reminder in his calendar to text you and follows through, then it’s not a character issue. He shows that he values you enough to adjust his normal way of doing things.
But if you have to continually say to yourself, “he didn’t mean to hurt me that way”, or “that’s just the way he is”, or “I’m just too demanding”, then he is the wrong guy. Believe it. Character trumps everything. It’s the only thing that matters.
If your “gut” is telling you he’s the wrong guy, listen to your gut
I have never met a woman who has been divorced who didn’t also say, “the warning signs were there before we were married but I ignored them.”
Our gut tells us when something is wrong. If you’re constantly telling your gut to be quiet, and trying to talk your “gut” into believing that he’s the right guy, then he’s the wrong guy. It’s that simple.
People do not magically change once they get married
While I have never met a woman who has been divorced and who has taken a good, hard look at her failed marriage who hasn’t acknowledged that there were warning signs, I’ve had plenty of readers write in and say, “he totally changed once we got married, and now he’s a horrible person!”
Quite frankly, I don’t believe it. I think they’re trying to absolve themselves of the responsibility of choosing poorly, and they’re putting all the blame on their husbands.
For instance, if a guy promises you the moon–“As soon as we get married, I’ll move out of my mother’s place and get a job”–but he does absolutely nothing about it before you’re married, and then he still doesn’t get a job once you are married, he didn’t change. You simply judged him by his words rather than his actions, which is never a wise thing to do.
If he is promising you that all kinds of things will change once you’re married, then he’s the wrong guy. Those things have to be in place BEFORE you’re married for him to be the right guy. If he says, “once I’m married, I won’t be tempted to use porn anymore”, then he’s the wrong guy. He needs to be free of porn for a significant amount of time before you’re married.
And the flipside is also true: if you ignore your gut and then you get married, it’s not that he changed. You just chose not to see the warning signs. People do not suddenly become abusive. He would have been dismissive of people before you were married; he would have wanted to talk about himself and not about you; he would have insulted you if you tried to have an opinion of your own. He may not have hit you before, but he would have diminished you or tried to put himself in a power position over you.
That’s actually good news.
That means that if you’re dating a guy with good character, who is kind to you, and who is responsible, and you don’t have those warning signs, you can rest assured that he isn’t going to suddenly start abusing you (unless a mental illness manifests itself or something like that). He really won’t.
Run after God like crazy. And then listen to God.
Finally, here’s some other awesome marriage advice I heard from Deb Fileta from True Love Dates: Run after Jesus as fast as you can and as hard as you can, and after you’ve run a certain way, turn around and see who has kept pace with you. Then marry that person.
In other words, don’t try so hard to find the right person; run after Jesus. Then you’ll tend to find other people of good character. But not only that, if you’re close to Jesus, you’ll be able to hear His voice. And He will show you if someone has bad character. He really will.
So run after Jesus. Listen to His voice. Pray constantly. Teach yourself to recognize Jesus’ voice. And then listen to your gut (which is really the Holy Spirit talking to you). If you do that, it’s very unlikely you’ll marry the wrong guy. And if you are dating someone that you love, and that you don’t have to justify, and that you believe also loves Jesus, you don’t have to worry that he’ll become something totally different once you’re married.