Here’s a familiar scenario: a woman is dating a guy and thinks, “Ok, so he has A-B-C-D going on and he’s a bum, but I love him.” Then she marries him and in the not-too-distant future she becomes…well, miserable. She’ll then come to someone like me for counseling. I often ask, “You didn’t see this before you were married?” Then she’ll tell me, “Yes, but I thought I could change him.”
I think a lot of people are not being totally honest during the dating process. Or many feel obligated to follow through with a relationship just because they have been dating for a while, even though they may have some strong reservations. But if you are struggling with any aspect of who a person is, you probably need to look at that as a red flag. Ultimately, that is what the dating process is for – to decide, based on what you have learned, whether or not to marry that person.
As people of the Christian faith – a faith that stresses hope for our future, despite the failings of our past – we oftentimes deliberately ignore a person’s past when deciding on a mate. And while everyone makes mistakes, some mistakes have consequences and ramifications that can follow us for the rest of our lives. Granted, God doesn’t hold our past mistakes against us if we come to him in true repentance, but those mistakes can still have consequences that may negatively affect our future relationships, particularly in a marriage.
The dating process should be a time of discovery and analysis as to whether or not a certain person would make a good lifetime mate. And make no mistake about it – a person’s history can be a major factor in determining how they will handle their future relationships. But because of our belief in forgiveness of the sins of the past, many Christian couples fail to factor history into their mating decisions. The wise seeker of a mate, however, would do well to look into the history of their potential spouse. And doing so is not unfair, nor is it un-Christian.
I counsel people all the time who struggle with issues that go back to their past. For example: situations where a woman feels like her husband is using her for sex now because of all the other guys in her past who did. That is something he should have learned about during the dating process. If you can’t walk those kinds of things out when you are dating a person, if you can’t carry that heavy load, then let them go so they can find someone who can. There are very wonderful, compassionate and kind people who have been gifted by God to do just that. People who can say, “I will love you, cherish you, and take care of you no matter what.” God can give people great gifts of compassion or encouragement or mercy. It doesn’t mean that those who don’t have those gifts are bad people. It just makes you honest when you realize that you aren’t comfortable in dealing with the baggage of someone’s past.
Let’s say you learn the person you are dating has a past record of shoplifting. You may wonder what values that person grew up with that allowed them to make a decision like that. Knowing the choices they’ve made in the past, you may not want to continue on in the relationship – and that, in my opinion, is fair. The dating process is about finding out about someone, the choices they’ve made and who they are.
You may say, “But what about forgiveness?!” It’s not about refusing to forgive a person’s shortcomings or judging someone harshly for their mistakes. You can forgive them (God certainly does), but it doesn’t mean you have to marry them. Remember, the dating process is really about looking at the person as a whole and thinking—yes, I am very comfortable with who this person is, or no, I’m not.
Let’s say your girlfriend tells you that she had an abortion three or four years ago. If you truly believe this is something you can deal with, and you are able to love and cherish this woman and help her with the emotional and physical effects of this, then great! If, on the other hand, you struggle with some things in her character that allowed her to make that decision, or you are concerned about the emotional and possible physical issues that may result, you have every right to move on. That doesn’t make you a bad person. It just makes you honest. It’s better to decide now, before you are married, than to have great difficulty with it afterwards. Once you say, “I do”, it’s a whole different ball game – you’re in for life. But it is okay to move on in the dating process. Remember: that is what the dating process is for. Besides, it would be better for her to find someone whom God has gifted to be able to handle her past.
Maybe your special “someone” tells you that they have a sexually transmitted disease – one that you too will get once you marry them. Now’s the time to walk away, if that is something you don’t want to live with.
It could be simpler things like… his family is gross. Maybe her father drives you crazy. You might see a problem in how her mother treats her father—which could be an indicator of how their daughter will treat you. Now is the time to walk away.
Some could be more difficult issues like sexual abuse or addictions to alcohol or pornography. These kinds of issues are all fair game during the discovery process of dating – again, that’s part of what dating is about. You get to analyze the situation and view the person as a whole and see if you can handle all that goes with taking this person as your spouse.
It is imperative that men and women are totally honest with each other during the dating process. These types of things should be revealed at the front end. It’s not fair to be 18 months, two years, or five years into a marriage and for your spouse to be struggling with issues they didn’t even know existed in you. You must be honest with each other during the dating process. If someone does not feel they can handle certain baggage, best that they move on.
What they should not do is drag that person along for months or even years if they have some serious reservations. It’s not fair to the other person. You have to be willing to let him/her go so they can find someone who can deal with who they are – past and all. People will say, “I really love her/him. How can I just walk away?” But if you have serious reservations about the marriage, the most loving thing you can do is let them go. It’s not fair to keep stringing another person along, wondering if you can or can’t handle all of their issues.
Mark Gungor is one of the most sought-after speakers on marriage and family in the country. Each year thousands of couples attend his Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage® seminars. His take on marriage issues is refreshingly free of both churchy and psychological lingo. Mark is pastor of Celebration Church in Green Bay, WI. He speaks for churches, civic events, and business meetings and is even a speaker for the US Army. Mark has been featured on national broadcasts such as Focus on the Family and ABC News. His daily radio program is heard on over 250 radio stations nationwide. Visit www.laughyourway.com.