I’m no advocate of arranged marriages, but one advantage I can see in someone else – parents, larger family or even a traditional matchmaker – making the decision of who will be your lifelong mate is that less heart than head goes into it, and libido stays completely out it. Second to squandering our sexual purity, I think the biggest mistake most Americans make in selecting a mate is failing to use their brains before they unleash their hearts.
I’m also no advocate of formulas and questionnaires to avoid this mistake – let’s not go overboard. Obviously, a short list of qualities we need to “check off” before saying “I do” to even a lunch date includes: has Jesus as Lord, is law-abiding, sane and involved in some age or stage appropriate activity of industry. Beyond that, our past experiences have likely yielded a supplemental list of qualities that are important to us, such as loyalty, integrity and kindness, and then there are our negotiable preferences: likes football, doesn’t wear too much make-up, etc. These are okay, but beyond the checklist, we need to consider other important aspects of compatibility; first by learning some things about ourselves, and then by assessing them in potential mates.

Half-full or Half-Empty

Pessimistic Christians? It’s actually an oxymoron, but such creatures exist in abundance. Most people don’t want to admit they are pessimists, but guess what: there are a lot of you out there! There are plenty of online tests for this sort of thing, but most of them are easy to see through. In general, initial reactions to possibilities and hypothetical situations are telling. Do you project or expect the worst? Is there usually some reason why something won’t work or might go wrong? Does he always seem to think everything will turn out alright? Does she express realistic concern but remain hopeful? Figure out your own disposition and then look for a compatible type. Eeyore and Tigger may live peacefully enough together in the Hundred Acre Woods, but trust me, they would not work as a couple.

Another important life outlook is the issue of industry versus entertainment. Of course, life is a mix of industry with entertainment and leisure – as God mandated it. However, some of us are numbering our days more correctly than others. Some are “making the most of every opportunity” (Eph 5:15) and others of us are reading Harry Potter and Twilight. Some are “being careful how we live” and others could care less how we live, as long as we’re in a WiFi zone.

As we mature spiritually (hopefully coinciding with growing old), these things which now seem somewhat insignificant really begin to matter. You may find yourself tied down to a spiritual ball and chain whose love for all things leisure keeps your family from being industrious for the Kingdom.

Hit and Miscommunication

Many counselors will tell you that miscommunication is at the root of most divorces, so finding a compatible communicator can go a long way toward a more perfect union. There are many styles of communication – some just wrong, like the yeller/screamer/dish thrower – and others just different, as in the case of passive versus assertive communication. As Americans, we tend to value assertive communication, but in many other cultures, such forthrightness is considered rude.  And yet there are many red, white and blue-blooded Americans who have a passive communication style, but because of the societal preference for assertive communication, they go undeclared. Like pessimism, “passivism” is hard to admit about yourself; and unlike pessimism, it’s not so easy to discern in others, particularly in the first stages of acquaintance when both are usually so accommodating.  

In general, keep eyes open for frequent misunderstandings – even when they aren’t really problematic – or poor assumptions that lead to even the smallest drama. Passive and assertive aren’t the only communication styles at odds. Maybe you are a conceptual communicator and she wallows in minutia. Maybe he is a lopsided communicator who is only listening to you when it might serve a purpose for him, but you cling to every word he says. All of these differences are worth noting and respecting.

Who’s on Top?

Traditionally, the answer has been “the man,” but in the last 30 years, things have turned topsy turvy and now, before you even start to date, you need to learn about yourself what position you prefer. Get your mind out of the gutter now because I’m talking about emotional and social needs to lead or follow, dominate or submit, care for or be taken care of, as well as the middle ground – those who seek truly equal partnership.

I was 36-years-old when I met my husband and had by that time finished my education, traveled extensively, bought and sold a house and advanced in career. I was (and still am) an independent woman. I believed I was looking for a true partner – an equal in the adventure of life. Why was it then, that “Alpha Texan” (my husband’s online dating handle) caught my eye? And why did his big broad shoulders, deep voice and imposing presence so impress me? As it turned out, much to my surprise, this modern woman actually yearned inside for a man who could be a spiritual and emotional umbrella. This makes sense to me now as I reflect on my own strong, silent father and the fact that in all of my close relationships, I am the anchor. I am plenty strong, but what I long for in a mate is someone – one single person in this world – to be strong for me.

In this uncharted place in time when our old gender maps are useless for getting our bearings, we need to give special consideration to our own needs and wants – looking beyond what we would like to think is true of ourselves and coming to an understanding of what really is – and then try to do the same with potential mates.  A mismatch in this area can cause confusion in many aspects of the relationship – everything from who should lock the doors at night to, yes, who’s on top.

For two persons committed in attitude, word and deed to living God’s will for their lives, these are not make-or-break issues; they can be remedied, though it may require years of self-denial and self-development or even professional counseling. For all other marriages, they can create major problems that lead to divorce. Even if you’re banking on being among the camp of the committed, it’s best to employ those powers of observation with which your Creator endowed you and assess upfront your compatibility on these and other important aspects before you play the heart card with any potential mate.