You’ve probably been warned not to think about marriage too much while you’re dating.
It makes sense — you don’t want your emotions to outpace your level of commitment.
But you need to think about marriage at some point, don’t you? When’s the right time? How much is too much?
How often you should think and talk about marriage depends on how you’re thinking and talking about it.
Specifically, it depends on whether you’re taking…
- A planning perspective,
- An educational perspective,
- Or a decision-making perspective
The Planning Perspective
We all love to dream about the future. This is especially true when it comes to marriage: What will my wedding dress look like? What will we name our kids?
But when you’re dating, this type of thinking is emotionally and spiritually dangerous. The author of the book Not Yet Married: The Pursuit Of Joy In Singleness And Dating, Marshall Segal, explains:
“Just like sex, all these things could be really good and safe and beautiful, but in the context of your covenant. Satan wants to subtly help you build marriage and family idols that are too fragile for your not-yet-married relationship.”
It’s difficult to think or talk about the details of your future together without forming expectations. And when those expectations don’t become a reality, they’re exposed for what they really are: idols.
Colossians 3:2 offers wisdom to Christian dating couples: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
Why should we set our minds on things that are above? It’s not because earthly things are wrong or insignificant. There’s a time for everything under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
It’s because Christ is your life — the power and purpose for your existence — and your future glory with him is guaranteed (Colossians 3:4). Eternity with Christ will not disappoint. It will surpass your expectations.
For these reasons, the planning perspective of marriage is the one you should avoid while dating. Here are a few tips for how to do that:
- Do talk about your individual dreams and plans for the future. These types of conversations help you discern if your goals and values are aligned.
- Don’t imagine those individual futures happening together. Until you’re committed to getting married, you should continue thinking of your futures as separate.
- Do make conditional plans where appropriate. A few months before he proposed, my now-husband applied to do research in a different country. To plan wisely, he needed to ask me, “If we got married, would you come with me?”
The Educational Perspective
Unlike the planning perspective, the educational perspective of marriage is one you should seek out while dating.
After all, the purpose of dating is to determine whether you should get married. How can you make that decision if you don’t know the purpose of marriage?
You may think you already know a lot about marriage, but I’d encourage you to challenge that assumption. Learn as much as possible about God’s design for marriage and what to look for in a spouse.
A humble willingness to have your beliefs about marriage be changed by God is the first step in making wise decisions. God invented marriage (Genesis 2:21-24), so learning his intentions for marriage will help you understand what you’re getting yourself into.
Here are a few tips for gaining an educational perspective of marriage:
- Do observe the marriages of couples you respect and ask them questions. You can also read a book about the meaning of marriage.
- Do test everything you learn against the Bible. People have a lot to say about marriage, but not all of it is true.
- Don’t drift into the planning perspective. We naturally want to apply things we learn to our lives. Be cautious of turning truths about marriage into idols in your heart. Take a break from learning about marriage if you find this is a temptation for you.
- Don’t think you need to learn everything. When you’re dating, focus on the whys of marriage rather than the hows.
The Decision-Making Perspective
Finally, the decision-making perspective can be summed up with the question: Should we get married?
The main way you go about answering this question is not imagining your future together (that’s the planning perspective). Instead, you should focus on learning the other person’s character.
Proverbs 19:2 says, “Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.” You may desire to marry your boyfriend. But to make a wise decision about marriage, you have to know him, too.
This won’t happen overnight, and you can’t force it. You need to observe and interact with him regularly.
So, you must keep the decision-making perspective in the back of your mind, but not in the way you might think. Instead of always wondering, “Should we get married?” reflect on the question, “What do his actions say about his character?”
Over time, you’ll discover you know him well enough to tackle the bigger question. As you get there, follow these tips:
- Do make a decision slowly. Marriage is a lifelong commitment. It takes time to discern the other person’s character and pray about the future.
- Do talk with other people before making a decision. Check out these tips on determining whose advice is worth listening to.
- Don’t make promises you can’t keep. As you think about the future, guard the other person’s heart by being careful of what you share.
The Real Destination
In summary, how much you should think and talk about marriage depends on your approach. In general, you should:
- Hold off on the planning perspective until you’re engaged
- Pursue the educational perspective at any time
- Keep the decision-making perspective in the back of your mind
I included lists of dos and don’ts with each perspective because practical tips can be helpful. But what really matters is where you fixate your heart.
Every relationship sails on a unique schedule. If you remember that God is at the helm, you’ll see that your true destination is Christ-likeness — not marriage. Ultimately, that’s the most important perspective.