In his book, Before You Save the Date, author and speaker, Dr. Paul Friesen poses 21 questions dealing with Convictions, Character, Compatibility and Chemistry to help couples assess their decision to move forward with marriage. Whether you are engaged, pre-engaged or just dating, you can use these questions to help you grow closer together and to clarify your relationship. After all, this is the most important decision you’ll make in life after your decision to follow Jesus.
1. The Authenticity Question: Who was this person before you met one another?
In other words, look at his/her historical pattern of behavior before you met. Their love for you can drive them to “appear” to be more compatible than they really are. For most people, the pressure of trying to be someone they’re not eventually takes it toll and they revert back to their previous behavior. (Philippians 1:27)
2. The Faith Question: Are you at a compatible level of faith?
If you are a Christian, what about your special someone? Ideally, you should desire to marry not just another Christian, but a vital Christian who will challenge you and help you grow in your faith. It is important to explore your positions on faith, theology, gender roles and doctrine, and then marry someone who is at a similar position in their faith and passions. (2 Cor.6:14)
3. The Word-of-God Question: Is the other’s life truly governed by God’s Word?
In times of stress and difficulty in marriage, you want to have chosen a spouse who is obedient to God’s Word. This area of spiritual compatibility will become even more critical once you have children and need to agree on a standard by which to raise them. Does he/she see obedience to God’s Word as an option or a mandate? Choose to marry only someone who loves God’s Word, holds it as the highest authority, and seeks to understand it and live accordingly. (Heb. 4:12)
4. The Completeness Question: Are you looking to marriage to make you complete?
Does the person you're dating seemed fulfilled as a single? Do you find yourself feeling “if only I were married, all my issues would be taken care of?” If our worth, significance, and wholeness come from our mates, we have given them way too much power over us. But when our needs are being met by God and a variety of deep relationships and activities, we’re less likely to be desperate and take whatever and whoever comes along. If you’re not enough without them, you’ll never be enough with them. (Philippians 4:19)
5. The Commitment Question: Are you entering marriage with a covenant or a contract mindset?
We live in a culture that believes you can always upgrade your phone, your computer and even your spouse if you’re not happy. God has nothing against happiness, but never at the expense of obedience. Assess within yourselves your levels of commitment during the ups and downs or your relationship. Look at how your beloved performs in a job, friendship or church environment. Marry someone who keeps a commitment, even when there are easier or more attractive options available. (Matt. 9:16; Mark 10:9)
6. The Time Questions: Has your relationship spanned four seasons?
Couples often make life-long decisions based on a very short time together. Mark at least one year of friendship before making a permanent commitment. Time is your friend; seeing each other in as many different situations as possible before marriage is wise. Marriage has enough challenges without entering the relationship with additional unknowns. (Ephesians 5:15-17)
7. The Servanthood Question: Is he/she interested in serving your needs above his/her own?
While you never know what life will hold, it’s possible while you’re dating to observe whether your potential mate prefers to be served or instead finds joy in serving others. Selfishness can be seen in the routine of every day life – and that is where it is most often expressed in marriage as well. Look for ways your friend serves others even when it’s inconvenient or there’s nothing to be received in return. This is the person you want to grow old with. (Philippians 2:3-4)
8. The Parents Question: What role will your future in-laws likely play in your marriage?
You cleave to your spouse only to the degree that you have left your parents. Each newly married couple should be free to start their own traditions and make their own decisions and plans. Your allegiance will be to your spouse and his/her needs first – not your parents. This can be especially difficult in some cultures where honor and obedience to parents are synonymous, and going against their wishes is seen as disgracing them. While we always want to be sensitive to culture, if Scripture and culture contradict one another, we are always called to obey Scripture. (Gen. 2:24)
9. The Respect Question: Is she willing to respect you and submit to your leadership? (Men, this one is for you.)
In Ephesians 5, women are commanded to respect their husbands and men are commanded to love their wives. Most men would say that having a wife that respects them is more important emotionally that virtually anything else. You do not want to be married to a woman who corrects you, belittles you, overrides your decisions or makes them for you. Instead, marry a woman who appreciates you as a leader, and interacts confidently with you, but does not overrule you. If you marry a woman who respects you and builds you up, you’ll never regret it. (Ephesians 5)
10. The Cherishing Question: Do you feel loved and cherished by him/her? (Women, this one is for you.)
Does he love to discover what is important to you and then help make it happen? Does he encourage and inspire you to grow spiritually? Is he a servant-leader? Will your fiancé delight in helping you realize your dreams, desires, abilities and gifts, or do you see him expecting you to shelve yours in order to make his happen? Godly husbands know their spouses and delight in helping them become all God designed them to be. Is this the man who you wish to submit to and choose to respect for the rest of your life? Is he the one with whom you will joyfully partner? (Ephesians 5)
11. The Provision Question: Is he able to provide for you? (Women, this one is for you.)
Is he a man who has the strength and drive to lead and provide for you and your family in ways that honor God and you? Postpone the wedding if necessary, but don’t get married without the groom having had a stable job for at least a year. It doesn’t mean that women can’t work also, but the goal is to not be dependent on her as the primary breadwinner. Yes, men can nurture and women can provide, but typically it is not our natural wiring. Ask yourself: “Does he have a strong work ethic and job history?” If not, don’t count on it after the wedding. Marry a man who is able and willing to provide financially for you. (2 Thess. 3:10; I Tim. 5:8)
12. The Mother/Father Question: What kind of parent will your date make?
Whether or not to have children is a huge decision. Talk honestly about it. Your special friend may make a great date, but what about a parent for your children? Will they model the values to which you are committed? Will they be willing to put the children’s needs ahead of their own? Remember: as you choose your husband or wife, you are choosing the person who will shape your children. Marry someone who has the character and values you want imitated.
13. The Communication and Conflict Question: How satisfied are you with your communication?
How our families of origin dealt with communication and conflict often shapes how we deal with conflict in marriage. How would you rate your communication on a scale of 1-10? How do you make decisions? How do you handle conflict? Is your communication with each other helpful or hurtful? Do you feel built up by your conversations or torn down? Is your date sensitive and responsive to what you need in communication? Be and look for someone with healthy communication traits. (Ephesians 4:25-32)
14. The Compatibility Question: Do you have a significant number of similar interests?
Compatibility is not what marriages are based on, but without a reasonable amount of it, marriages tend to stagnate. Knowledge of how you’re wired temperamentally can also be of enormous help. However, while you don’t have to share all the same passions, interests and hobbies, you must have enough in common that your friendship will continue to grow throughout your years of marriage together, and that you each can be confident the other does not secretly resent having been kept from fulfilling their dreams. (Matt. 19:5-6)
15. The Motivation Question: Are you similar in areas of motivation and accomplishment?
The motivation quality is often over-looked because the “laid-back” one brings balance to the “driven” one, while the driven one makes things happen for the laid-back one. The problem is that tension often gradually develops between the different goals each spouse has. So, how do the two of you compare when it comes to drive, motivation and accomplishment? Whether you tend to be highly motivated or the more laid-back type, it’s much better to marry someone with a similar outlook than to feel pushed or pulled for the rest of your life.
16. The Family Background Question: How alike or different are your families of origin?
The amount of tension created in establishing your own traditions and ways of doing things is often proportional to the differences in your families of origin. Do you share similar social status, ethnic/cultural background, and educational experience? Do your families have similar ways of dealing with money, conflict, vacations or discretionary time? While these are not necessarily make-or-break issues, they are important. Experience has proven that to a large extent, we are products of our families.
17. The Public and Private Question: Do you like your date both in public and in private?
Do you like your special friend when you are in public together? Are you ever embarrassed to be with them in public or find it easier to be together in private? Because so much of life is in public, be sure you’re comfortable with and proud of your date. On the other hand, some couples do well in a group setting but struggle one-on-one. How is it when it’s just the two of you and no one else is around and no activities going on? Examine your comfort level both when you are together in public and in private because this will be your partner 24/7.
18. The Shared Passion Question: How much do your passions overlap?
Do you each have passions that burn within you – things that make you “come alive” and that you want to accomplish during your lifetime? Are your passions similar? Although it’s not necessary to have the same calling, are your passions in conflict with each other? Is one of you ever resentful of the other’s passion? Is one of you called to a foreign mission field while the other has a passion to stay in their hometown the rest of their lives? While both are valid callings, they are in conflict. If you are passionate about something and your spouse does not share that passion, it will eventually become too easy for you to go your own individual ways, and even perhaps find an “unwholesome” passion in common with someone else.
19. The Finance Question: Do you have similar views about finances and stewardship?
Finances frequently are a huge area of tension in many marriages, so it’s extremely important to understand each other’s financial habits before you marry. And while past performance is not a guarantee, it is still the best indicator of future expectations. Make sure you have worked through some good material on money management and are on the same page with your financial goals. (Prov. 21:20)
20. The Physical Attraction Question: What role does physical attraction play in your relationship?
While physical and sexual attraction is not the foundation on which to build a house, without it there is little laughter, joy or delight with in its walls. It’s more like living with a roommate. So if you’ve been dating for a while and are contemplating marriage, but have no problem with keeping physical boundaries, you have a problem. You should be fighting with all your might to stay pure; there should definitely be a strong sexual desire for each other. There’s an entire book of the Bible, Song of Solomon, that is devoted to the delights of the sexual relationship and strong attraction between a husband and a wife. Sex may not be the glue that holds a marriage together, but it is a wonderful gift from God to be enjoyed. (Song of Solomon)
21. The Physical Involvement Question: How have you encouraged each other toward sexual purity?
Do either of you have reservations about the way you are expressing affection? Would you have any problem sharing your level of involvement with your parents, pastor or spiritual mentor? God designed the sexual relationship and made it so wonderful that He gives clear guidance in scripture so that couples are able to experience all He has for them sexually. And the time to do so is within marriage (Genesis 2:24, Matt. 19:5). Ultimately what keeps couples faithful to each other is a commitment to God’s Word – regardless of feelings, desires, happiness or hormones. Best friends can become lovers, but “premature lovers” are less likely to become best friends. There is no area that blinds couples more to the challenges of their relationship than premature sexual involvement. And keep in mind, there are many times in marriage that a sexual relationship is not possible for a variety of reasons. Make sure you enjoy each other while making the bed and not just while you’re in it.
Bonus Question: When all is said and done, what does your gut say about this relationship?
Have you had a consistent peace about your plans to marry? Does your gut consistently yell, “Yes! I am going to marry this person and we’ll be together the rest of our lives!!” Or do you have doubts. If you do, listen to them. It’s normal to have jitters before a wedding, but if you have a real check in your spirit, don’t move ahead. If parents, friends and mentors are voicing their concerns about your marriage and you are the only one “hearing God’s voice” to move ahead, check your hearing.
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Now what? How did you do? How do you feel? Remember, this is not a test. You don’t pass or fail. But there are three likely outcomes in your relationship: confirmation, caution or cancellation. These questions are designed to help you and your special friend be more objective as you evaluate your “fit” for marriage. Just use it as a tool to help you confirm and clarify the second most important relationship you’ll have in life. And may God guide you and give you His joy, peace and confirmation as you seek His best for your lives.
Dr. Paul Friesen and his wife, Virginia, are the co-founders of Home Improvement Ministries (www.HIMweb.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to equipping individuals and churches to better encourage marriages and families in living out God’s design for healthy relationships. Together they regularly speak at marriage, men’s, and women’s conferences across the country, as well as at family and parenting seminars.
Paul has a doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy and a master’s degree in Family Ministry, both from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has also authored and co-authored over ten books and curriculums on parenting and marriage, including Letters to My Daughters, In Our Image, So You Want to Marry My Daughter, Before You Save the Date, and most recently, The Marriage App.
Paul and Virginia have been married since 1976 and live in the greater Boston area. They are the proud parents of three young adult women, two of whom are now married to wonderful, Godly men.