Recently I reconnected with an old friend. As we started to catch up on each other’s lives, she suddenly became very somber. The last time I saw her she was reeling under the sleepless reality of having four kids under six years old and a husband who traveled a lot. Theirs had been joyful wedding full of promise and hope and no one had any qualms about their marriage. They started to have children right away and seemed to thrive.
Now, she looked down, shifted her weight and dropped a bomb. She had just filed for a divorce. We both cried as she recounted her story. Her husband was a handsome PK (preacher’s kid) who knew his Bible through and through, faithfully attended church and appeared so ideal on the outside. And yet, my friend stood before me and confessed that this man had cruelly abused her for years. He was always sorry and he always begged forgiveness; yet he never changed. She finally realized the best thing for her and her children was to end the marriage.
“I always wanted a man who read his Bible and prayed, and I got that man, but he turned out to be a tyrant.”
She had made the mistake so many Christian women make, which was that she assumed being saved guaranteed good character. She had rushed into the marriage not really knowing what kind of man he was. He read his Bible! He went to church! He fasted, prayed and tithed! Surely these things meant that he was a good man, and yet, barely six months into the marriage, he began to lash out in a violent rage when she made the slightest mistake, and all this time, her life had been a living hell.
We’re going to talk about three mistakes both single and married Christian women make and I’ve just described one of them.
Women care too much about outward things. I’ve seen too many women idealize men who look spiritual and snub men who don’t seem spiritual enough. And women who can’t see past a round belly or bald head to see a man who is truly a gem. Single women look past the skinny guys who don’t pray out at prayer meetings or lead men’s groups or quote Scripture. They assume that “God’s best” can only be muscly men who preach. I’ve met married women who are a little ashamed of their husbands because are “just” mechanics or accountants. They are jealous of pastors’ wives and wish that they too could serve in ministry alongside their men.
Happily married women just shake their heads, because we know that these things, in and of themselves, have very little to do with what makes a man a great husband.
I’m going to say something that may seem heretical: a man’s spiritual resume has absolutely nothing to do with his character. There are men out there who can’t find the minor prophets and who can’t stomach contemporary Christian music, but who love God and they love their families. They are good providers, good listeners and giving lovers. They live humble, quiet lives and know how to die to themselves and put others first. Single women, look for that kind of man. Married women, if your husband has those qualities, you’ve found a gem. The grass is not always greener on the other side.
When I first met Marvin, he couldn’t find the book of Exodus, but he loved God and he had the most exemplary character I had ever seen. Now he knows his Bible better than I do and spiritually challenges me all the time, but if I had snubbed him because he was a new believer and couldn’t quote chapter and verse, I would have missed out on the greatest blessing of my life.
I would rather be married to a humble man with a new-found faith, than an angry, proud or selfish man who can prophesy, any day of the week.
Similarly, although physical attraction is one thing to look for, it is not the only thing to look for, and it can grow. Look to the heart, and if you fall in love with that, you will fall in love with the outer wrapping, too.
Women become mothers instead of lovers. We may think this only happens in certain cultures, but I have seen black, white, Italian, Anglo, rich, poor and middle class women make this mistake. And it always starts during the dating days and only gets worse in marriage.
Here’s what it looks like: most women are nurturers, but some women are nurturers TO THE MAX. Women who become mothers are often attracted to needy men. From Day 1 she is emotionally stronger. He needs a lot of encouragement, propping up or coddling. He’s prone to tantrums, petulance or insecurity and she is always giving: giving him the benefit of the doubt and excusing behavior because he’s tired, or he had a tough upbringing, or a bad day. He often doesn’t “man up” and do the right thing or the hard thing, and so she swoops in and does it herself. In other words, she carries a disproportionate load in their relationship and he leans on her too much.
This may also happen in practical matters where he can’t hold down a job so she provides the steady income or he loses his license and she has to drive, or he ruins his credit so she has to buy the house. Often, men like this lack discipline and so they look at other women, or waste money or break a lot of promises.
I am not saying that men have to be perfect. When we marry, we are in a partnership and when one falls down, the other lifts up. But women become mothers when they are the ones left holding the bag too much of the time.
You can see signs of this early on in their dating relationship, as this kind of woman is often the engine of the relationship from the start. But they mistake need for love (he needs her and she needs to be needed) and get married anyway.
This may work for a long time; women like this are very strong and can bear a lot, but somewhere along the way, two things start to wane: respect and sex. She stops respecting him and he starts resenting her – and they both lose interest in sex (with each other). How many men do you know who want to have sex with their mothers (I hope the answer is NONE!)? Men whose wives have become mothers often turn to pornography as an outlet and this is only exacerbated by the fact that women have a hard time having sex with men they don’t respect. This couple’s sex life tanks and things start to unravel even more.
If your relationship looks like this, there is hope but I tend to think it will take professional counseling for you both to deal with your issues. You’re going to have to get over your savior complex and learn to let him be a “grown assed man” (as my husband would say it) and he’s going to have to learn to be a man. God can fix anything — if he has two willing participants.
Single women over-spiritualize the dating process. A few years ago, an acquaintance ran up to me, excitement dancing in her eyes, “I just met my future husband!” Apparently, God had spoken to her that the man she just met was going to marry her. She admitted that she didn’t even know his last name, or if he was already married or not! A year later, he married his gay lover.
This is an extreme example, but I’ve seen various iterations of this over the years and I myself fell into some of this kind of thinking when I was single.
Back in the day it was vogue to think God didn’t approve of dating but that you should expect Him to speak to you about your mate before going on a date with him. The proponents of this teaching quite accurately saw the devastating effects of serial dating, which involved women giving their hearts – and in many cases their bodies – away to multiple men. They argued that Christians didn’t have to live this way.
While I agree that Christian single men and women should refrain from giving themselves away to multiple people, I think this teaching went to an extreme which caused a lot of confusion and its own kind of heart ache.
Instead of throwing out dating, we need to remember the purpose of dating, which is to get to know someone and find out if he is marriage material. And getting to know someone takes time.
I firmly believe that one of the reason the divorce rate in the Christian world is just as high as it is in the secular world is because some Christians rush the dating process. I’m not advocating dating for 5 or 10 years! As a matter of fact, when I meet a couple which has been dating that long, all kinds of alarms go off. But I do think it is possible and healthy to date long enough to get to know someone very well: their strengths, weaknesses, fears, hopes, dreams, histories, family dynamics, beliefs and biases. You have to know if you’re compatible: if you like to do the same or similar things; if you like each other, respect each other and are good for each other.
You can never know everything about a person or how he will change through the years, so it will always take a step of faith to say I do and make those vows, but it should be an informed step of faith, where you have done your due diligence to find out the good, bad and ugly of this man you say you love.
I’ve heard a lot of stories of women being wronged by men. But the more I hear, the more I realize there are problems on both sides. Christian women need to own their issues and get healed, too. Men don’t cause all the brokenness we see in so many relationships. It takes two to tango.