Listener Questions Answered, pt. 1
How do I know if I am dating the right person? Should relatively minor things like cleanliness affect a relationship? Has God chosen one specific person for me to marry? What if I choose wrong? In today's podcast, Dr. Chris Grace and Dr. Tim Muehlhoff answer your questions about dating, God's will, and more on the Art of Relationships.
Chris Grace: Welcome to the Art of Relationships podcast with Dr. Tim Muehlhoff.
Tim Muehlhoff: And Dr. Chris Grace.
Chris Grace: We are here again with you today, and we're really excited to talk about a number of questions and issues that you have. You can go to our cmr.biola.edu website and find out some other great tools, and conferences, and things that we have available. And so, one of the things we want to do today is talk about, and answer different questions that have been submitted to us. And so Tim, wherever we go, at conferences and events, classes, whatever it is, people have questions about dating, and engagement, and marriage. What do you think about taking some time and just answering some of those?
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, I think we can even break that down into two categories. We get a ton of questions that apply to singles. Then we have a ton of questions that apply to all different aspects of marriage. We thought today, we'd tackle the singles side of things.
Chris Grace: Yep. For those that are either in relationships, that are dating, you might still be single and engaged.
Tim Muehlhoff: And even a bunch of these have to do with roommate relationships.
Chris Grace: That's right, and so we're going to tackle some of those, so let's get started.
Tim Muehlhoff: This is interesting, how can a girl be confident in the relationship while dating? There is no assurance that it will lead to a future, but guys want a girl to be confident, is there a way to help build your own self confidence? When the guy you are dating could have anyone, it could be hard to not feel jealous or threatened by other women even at Biola. Well hey this is a great question, and to be honest, this type of question is going to be around your entire lifetime. Because we're talking about your self image. We're talking about self confidence. And if your self confidence is rooted in the fact that I'm in a dating relationship, if it's rooted in the fact that, hey I feel like this relationship is secure.
If your self image is always rooted in something external, that could be grade point, that could be job, you hit a certain weight that you've always wanted to get to. It's not that those things are necessarily bad, but boy you're on a treadmill. So even in marriage, even in dating, even in life, we have to have secure self images. And as Christian's, Chris, we both believe that ultimately, that self assuredness needs to be rooted in how God feels about you, not your boyfriend, girlfriend, or store manager.
Chris Grace: Yeah, I would say, Tim, I think at the end of the day, what you mentioned here at the end is it's rooted in how God views us. So a relationship that we're in, any kind of situation we're in, ultimately at the end of the day can point us back to some very important principles. But primary can point us back to our relationship with God, how do we view God-
Tim Muehlhoff: Right.
Chris Grace: How do we view the way he views us? We can take this situation, I think especially in a dating relationship, even in a marriage, in any relationship, and use that as information on the status of our soul. Why am I anxious, why am I nervous? Ask God to prepare-
Tim Muehlhoff: That's right, that's right.
Chris Grace: You know what the Psalmist did in Psalm 139, search me, oh God, and know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.
Chris Grace: Right? See if there's a hurtful way in me. And I think that's what relationships do, they give you a status indicator-
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh that's good, yeah.
Chris Grace: As to your soul.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's right.
Chris Grace: And they kind of say, you know I got a little bit of concern here or anxiety here. Is this about this other person, is this about me, or this about the way I view God? Am I trusting him, am I loving him? Or am I more concerned with other people, or the way God views me, than other people. So I think that these are all ways to ask questions, and that's what relationships do. They force us back to figuring out, who are we? What do I view about God? And is this impacting my view of God and giving me some insight?
Tim Muehlhoff: That's kind of what James is saying, "consider it joy when you hit trials." Why? Because those trials reveal your faith. And so all of us have had our hearts broken man. I remember, Chris, I dated a girl for a long time, this was before Noreen. And we dated for a long time, and we went ring shopping, and after about three years I just had to pull the trigger and just say no, we're done. So like an idiot I thought, well I'm just gonna go see a movie and distract myself. I go see the Color Purple. Alice Walker's heart wrenching story. And I am sobbing, Chris, I am sobbing by myself in this dark theater. A woman turned around and offered me a handkerchief. She said here, you just — I thought it was the best idea, I couldn't stay in the relationship, that showed me where God said, "Okay, hey ultimately, do you feel good about yourself because you're in a relationship, are you confident in me?" And so Lewis once said, C.S. Lewis, "Once I've learned to love God more dearly, I can then turn around and love my human spouse more dearly." So the more we're securing God's love, the better we're going to be able to negotiate these ups and downs of these relationships.
Chris Grace: Yeah, good. Hey let's try another question. Here's one I got, "How do you know if there person you are seriously dating or courting is the right person to marry, what are the signs?" Wow. Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.
Chris Grace: Yeah. Well I would imagine there are a lot of people listening right now who are facing a question just like this. And the question is really tapping into something, is there ever 100% assurance that the person you're dating and courting is the one to marry. I don't know Tim, I think you and I agree on this one, I think there are probably three or four things that have to absolutely be in place. Now there have to have some sort of way in which other people in your life agree that this person is good for you. Right, so it's a mentor, a pastor, it's a parent, brother, sister, friends. There are more on one side, that is, a vast majority are saying this is a good person for you, they seem to bring out the best in you.
Now there's always going to be people who won't agree. There could be dissenters who say, "You know what, I just don't like you with this person," or, "I don't like that person." And so long as that's not the majority, I think a number one thing is, are other people in your life as encouraged? Second of all, maybe are encouraged for you and by this. Maybe another thing Tim is, are you able to see yourself bringing, are you getting closer to God in your walk, in your time, when you're with this person? Do they bring you closer to God, do they encourage you, do they help you kind of see the good in things? I think that's another big piece. And then, what do you think about this one too. I think there needs to be high levels of compatibility in the key areas.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yes.
Chris Grace: Religious values and beliefs. And so as a believer, if you are a believer out there and you're walking with somebody who's not, you're going to have all kinds of issues and problems in marriage. But it will be just simply compounded if you don't have core key values in place that are equivalent. And it starts with your belief and your walk with Jesus.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, and I totally agree with that. I would add one other thing to it, core enthusiasm, equal enthusiasm.
Chris Grace: For life you mean?
Tim Muehlhoff: I would say yeah, for a lot of things, but I mean we're talking about a relationship with Christ. It's one thing for both people to say, okay we're both Christian's, we both believe the Bible's written by God, we both believe church attendance is good. But you have one person that's just raring to go, they want to go to church three times a week. Let's read our Bibles together every day, let's really go at it, you know, this Christian life. And the other person is just not there, to that level.
Well this is why Paul, I think, is wise to say, "Don't be unequally yoked with each other." He's using a farming metaphor, where you took two ox, and you put a wooden yoke, it was a beam that made sure the animals were in step with each other. Other wise you'd get crooked lines, right. So Paul's saying don't be unequally yoked, we immediately just discount that to say, "Okay, well, we're both Christian's, we're good, check that off the list." No, I think Paul is saying, if you're really passionate, and you want to go for it in your walk with God, and the other person is like, "Yeah, I'll go to church sure, let's read the Bible." Well you're going to get pretty frustrated over time, cause you both want to, you want to go for it and the other person is just dragging you back a little bit.
Chris Grace: No, that's really good. I think there are probably those key compatibility areas. Nothing is going to be more critical and more essential than I think that, that kind of walk. And other areas, I think you and I might rate these differently, just like listeners would. For me, that idea of a sense of humor that's the same-
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.
Chris Grace: Or something in which you feel like you have similar interests and passions. God's leading you both maybe into certain areas. You know, if one of you wants to live in the urban area on the coast, and someone else is saying, no I'm a farm, away from the world kind of life. Well it's going to be a challenge to match up. So some of those compatibility issues—
Tim Muehlhoff: This is going to be with you your whole life, so we have some friends, if he were here, just us three, you, me, and him would be laughing the entire time. He'd be cutting up, we'd be joking, it'd be great. He'd fit really naturally with your immature sense of humor. But we would laugh a lot. When you see him, and I'm not mentioning any names or anything, but when you see him with his wife, he's a different person. He's more somber. Because she just, super nice person, super nice person, but just doesn't laugh very much. So he changes a little bit. Now can that work? The answer is yeah of course that can work. But I feel like it wears on him.
Chris Grace: Now so you, would you counsel somebody to say, listen you don't have the same sense of humor, but everything else seems to be good. Now here comes this couple, they're thinking about getting serious, would you seriously tell them that is one of the core key things that maybe you need to get in common, or maybe you need to reconsider? What do you think?
Tim Muehlhoff: Well, now again we're in the toolies, we're in the gray area. I did, I had, this is a long time ago, but a friend who, same kind of situation and I just sat with her. And I just said, this is how I think of you, I think of you a person who walks in and lights up the room. And person who's just like hey! And he's not, he is not by a mile. Now can this marriage work? Absolutely this marriage can work. Can it work for the glory of God? Absolutely. But listen, we're talking the next 50, 60 years of your life. Do you sort of kind of want to be married to a wet blanket? If she would've come back and said, yeah I think the positives out weight the negatives and I'm aware of this. I'd say, well okay. But I wouldn't want that, right Chris? I'd go crazy with that.
Chris Grace: Yeah I think there are a few key things like that. There could be extroversion, introversion, the idea, the way in which you see the world, maybe adventuresome or not, a little bit more stable. So those are some key things to look into as you think about dating this person. You know what are the signs if they're the right person.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, that's right.
Chris Grace: And most of these would line up as similar on a vast majority, not everyone.
Tim Muehlhoff: We say this sounds like a broken record, premarital counseling. You need somebody to sit down and help you evaluate. Is this a big deal, small deal, no deal, stuff like that. Like I had to know, in our dating relationship, that Noreen respected my mind. Because I was afraid she was just infatuated with me physically that she had objectified me Chris. I know you didn't have to wrestle with that.
Chris Grace: Anybody that's not sitting in front of you right now wouldn't really understand the pain, no doubt, Noreen went through.
Tim Muehlhoff: It weighed on me, it weighed on me. It was good, she loves me for both my both and mind. Why is our producer laughing? I don't know this kind of ticks me off just a little bit. All right, another question Chris.
Chris Grace: All right here we go. How do you know who God has selected for you? Do you choose, or does God choose? So I'm going to let you answer this one Tim, what should singles be praying, and how do you eliminate the desires or distractions. But let's go back to this main question, how do you know who God has selected for you? Do you choose, or does God choose? And this is-
Tim Muehlhoff: That's huge.
Chris Grace: Now you're getting into a deeper theological issue. And at the end of the day I think we're going to have to say, we'll ask God at the end, in Heaven, how did this all work out. But we do, he uses us through our own personalities, the way he's made us, our attractions, our desires. He kind of whispers through those pleasures.
Tim Muehlhoff: I agree
Chris Grace: And as he whispers, we kind of lean towards a particular person, somebody's appealing to us, or attracted, or we're attracted to them. Is God in that, did He direct this? It's a tough question, and I think there's a variety of answers.
Tim Muehlhoff: This is where C.S. Lewis said, get the first things in place, the second things will follow. So I do think for every believer, defining the word sovereign is a huge deal in how you actually live out your faith. So let me ask you this question Chris, do you believe Alisa, God selected Alisa for you before the foundations of the Earth? She was the one for you and your job was to find Alisa? Or is it possible that there are other women that could have, a successful ministry with and whatever.
Chris Grace: Yeah, no, I do, it's a tough.
Tim Muehlhoff: If you say yes, I have to say yes with Noreen. Cause I'll look like a schmo here. No, so what would you say?
Chris Grace: I do believe that is the case, in one respect. I believe there are others that could potentially have been out there, for both her and for me. But at the end, I guess I land the plane by saying, I believe before the foundation of the world, just given what has happened, that there was this kind of match, God knew was going to happen, did I have a choice in that? I think so, and we could have done equally, bringing him glory, and live according to him, and walk with him, and not disobey him. I don't think it was that. So it's a really tough one, I say, yeah I think so.
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, so you do think so?
Chris Grace: Yeah, I think there's a way in which His plan has lived out according to what He has done from the beginning. But I believe there's a lot of choice in that.
Tim Muehlhoff: So here's what I think. I think with my life, there were like two or three paths that I could've taken. One we've talked about before, modeling. No, but different paths. So I do think God is saying, okay so going down this path I could see this going, and by the way I don't think God had one path for me. Again, I think this is the wisdom of, the light in the Lord with all your heart, do not lean on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your path straight.
Chris Grace: Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: I think God very much wants to interact with us. Now on this side, I can't imagine being married to a person better suited for me, for this path. I mean doing a center for marriage, Noreen works at Biola, we speak at at FamilyLife Marriage Conferences. But if I went a different path, it is conceivable that there might have been somebody who brought a different skill set or something like that, right?
Chris Grace: Sure.
Tim Muehlhoff: So I want to say two things to our listeners. Cause people just stay up at night with this, am I gonna marry this person, and I need to know. I think Augustine had it right, Augustine said this, "Love God and do as you please."
Chris Grace: Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: So love God, remember Jesus, seek first His kingdom. Your kingdom priorities are right. Then you're just going to need to trust Him that He's in this. Now, let's tackle one issue in which we wipe out any uncertainty. Let's say you do get married to this person, and now you have doubts. Now you're like, oh crud, I married the wrong person. Now after you get married, that question is gone. Even if, technically, theoretically, you marry the wrong person. God had somebody who was better suited. He will redeem this marriage that you're in now, as you pursue His kingdom, and make it the best thing that it could be.
Chris Grace: Yeah I think that's right Tim. I think you end up having to decide something early on. And I believe you said, it goes back to what Lewis said, you get the first things first and everything else. And I think of Psalm 37, trust in the Lord, do good. Dwell on the land and cultivate faithfulness, that kind of tells you what to do. Then he says delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh that's good, yeah.
Chris Grace: And I think what happens is, when we delight ourselves in the Lord, he gives us that which, He puts on our heart, that which we should seek. And so it really comes back down to delight in Him, cultivate faithfulness, dwell on the land, commit your ways to him. Trust also in Him and He will do it. So I love that Psalm 37 notion, delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.
Tim Muehlhoff: And I do love that too Chris, but let's pair that with a question you already answered once before. And that was to get a bunch of people around you who know you. 'Cause I tell you what, we've all experienced people who delight themselves in the Lord and the get the most whacked out things that they want to do.
Chris Grace: Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: You know what I mean? And that's when you need somebody to step in and say, woah, marrying and extraterrestrial is not a good idea. You know what I mean? Yeah, so we've gotta check that though, because our heart is deceitful.
Chris Grace: Did you say marry an extraterrestrial?
Tim Muehlhoff: Extraterrestrial. I'm not limiting God, Chris, there's many paths people have.
Chris Grace: Yikes, okay let's try another question. Dr. Muehlhoff what do we got?
Tim Muehlhoff: How should relatively minor things like cleanliness for example, affect a relationship? Can they be deal breakers? This is a simple one. The answer is, it's a deal breaker if you think it's a deal breaker. So I would say cleanliness is not a deal breaker let's say, or sense of humor, not a deal breaker. But if you do, so let's say a person say, oh I love this person, we hit on so many different levels, we're just great but she's a slob, he's a slob. And it's like trying to convince yourself that you really do like the shirt you just tried on. And you go, "awh." I would say to that person, is this a relatively minor thing? Well in my economy it is, but you're going to live with this person the rest of your life.
Chris Grace: Well Tim why don't you just tell them that ... Pray that they change?
Tim Muehlhoff: Okay, good luck with that.
Chris Grace: Because I think really the answer comes down, we've heard that so many times. Well, I believe that if I can just be with this person, when we get married they'll be different. So they will change. And I love your advice, we've often times used that and stolen it from you which is, "if this person never changes for the next 50 years, are you comfortable staying in this relationship if they never change? The way it is today, right?"
Tim Muehlhoff: We know a great couple Chris, they're one of our heroes, we just love them to death. He's super successful surgeon, but driven, I mean good surgeon's are driven. So when they dated, she was so enamored by him. Here's a guy in med. school, just a sharp Christian leader. And he didn't eat lunch, skipped it, thought it was totally unnecessary. Why take time to eat lunch? Have a good breakfast, have a good dinner, don't need lunch. Well in dating, she did that. Boom, I'm not going to eat lunch, who needs lunch, lunch is for wimps.
They get married, she goes, you know what, I like lunch. I want to have lunch. And that was a conflict in their marriage because she's saying as they're dating, "Yeah, forget it." Shoes, I don't need to wear shoes, he doesn't wear—You know what I mean? Then you get married, and it's like, "hey I want to have lunch." That's the kind of stuff that really gets scary Chris is when you're dating, you get enamored with this person. It's kind of hard to tell what big things, little things. That's why the bigger purpose in marriage, God's glory is. But I would say the quick little answer to this question is, you have to be true to yourself. Is that pebble in your shoe a problem? Can you live with it, or is that pebble going to be with you the next 50, 60 years of your life.
Chris Grace: And Tim, it just brings up another topic for me related to this. And it's a concern, this isn't really a question, but it's just a concern. And that is, when people are dating and they are having sex, their intimacy is at such a high level, they begin to lose the perspective. The pebbles no longer matter, nothing else matters. Why? Because, frankly our brains are designed, during intimacy, to bond us together. And we ignore all of these differences. All of a sudden now you're dealing with a false intimacy that covers up differences, major, massive differences. Because we feel like we're so connected.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's right.
Chris Grace: And that becomes the most problematic thing. Now they make decisions based upon this blinding, and this falseness that covers up these differences. Simply because they believe they are designed to. Because that's what intimacy does, it connects you and binds you and calls you together. And here all of a sudden now covering up massive differences that become significantly influential.
Tim Muehlhoff: You know we know from research that 50 percent of people live together first before they get married. And if you are sexually active, I think it'd be really good for us, because I appreciate what you bring to the table about how the mind does get clouded. I think it'd be great for us to do a podcast on this whole thing, okay we are sexually intimate, we are thinking about marriage, moving in with each other. How do I know that I'm not being clouded? That could be a great podcast.
Chris Grace: Well let's do that. Let's go ahead and end it here. We'll have some more questions on another podcast that we'll answer. And we'll take that one Tim as the topic of another podcast coming up. So let's do that. For all listeners out there, just if you, again if you're interested in resources, tools, equipment, conferences, things that we're doing in the center including other podcasts and blogs just go to our website cmr.biola.edu and check out everything that we have including the art of relationships and—
Tim Muehlhoff: And I just want to apologize for Dr. Grace, he seemed very judgemental. If you're dating an extraterrestrial, I just want you to know, it can work. God can redeem relationship.
Chris Grace: Yeah, well let's end it right there. We'll look for you next time on the art of relationships. Bye bye everybody.
Christopher Grace serves as the director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and teaches psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology. He and his wife, Alisa, speak regularly to married couples, churches, singles and college students on the topic of relationships, dating and marriage. Grace earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Colorado State University.
Tim is a professor of communication at Biola University in La Mirada, CA, and is the co-director of the Winsome Conviction Project which seeks to reintroduce humility, civility, and compassion back into our public disagreements. He is the co-host of the Winsome Conviction Podcast and his latest book is, Winsome Conviction: Disagreeing without Dividing the Church (IVP)