From the rainbows and butterflies of falling in love to the muddy waters of conflict resolution, it can be hard to objectively evaluate a romantic relationship when you’re in the middle of it.
Whether you are interested in someone or dating with the intent of getting married, here are a few red flags to help illuminate where you and your significant-other stand.
Important side note: Don’t just read this article with another person in mind. Look at yourself. A successful relationship takes two, so self-evaluate where you fall as well.
Red Flag: Overprotectiveness
We’re talking about when someone comes up to one of a pair and the other can’t handle it. It bothers them so much to the point that they end up cutting off or preventing the other from having any additional friends.
In her book Confronting Christianity, Rebecca McLaughlin talks about how the heart-to-heart relations between true friends can often be more meaningful and satisfying than physical intimacy with a spouse.
While we can live without a spouse, we absolutely need friends, so if the person you’re interested in is overprotective to the point that he or she cuts off your other forms of socializing, that is a huge red flag.
The Ultimate Purpose of Relationships
A romantic relationship is not supposed to be about turning in and focusing on the other. It is supposed to reflect the love between Christ and His Church.
That kind of love is not an inward/selfish kind of love. It is an outward testimony to the community, so if the relationships that make up that community are cut off, that is a huge red flag.
Red Flag: They are your “other half”
This is a popular idea in culture, to find someone who completes you in a 50/50 kind of sense. I specifically get into the concept of soulmates here, but the general idea is about finding someone who balances you.
Now, you should have somebody who balances you in a complimentary sense (1 Corinthians 12:21-26), but they do not complete you. You should be a whole person, not one half or the other.
100 + 100 is a lot more powerful than 50 + 50.
A couple who leans toward the 50/50 side of the spectrum struggles to stand separately when they are with others. This is also known as “clinginess,” when a couple seems incapable of not touching the other.
While the whimsical side of love grants a time to be playful, it shouldn’t be just that. If you are unable to be the best version of yourself without the other person, that is a big red flag.
Caveat: When you get married, that switch flips and you become “one flesh” with your spouse (Genesis 2:24). At that point, you shouldn’t be able to define one without the other, but that is a beautiful picture of strength reserved for a marital relationship where two individuals are made stronger by the other, not “completed.”
If you’re not a whole person on your own, you shouldn’t be looking for “another half” to begin with. Work on yourself first.
Hone in on your relationship with God and make sure you understand how His character ripples out into your life.
- Find God
- Find yourself
- Find your life partner
You will not understand who you are until you grasp Who you were made after. Pursue that knowledge, find yourself first, and you will better understand what you need in a partner.
If your future spouse does the same, the two of you will be so much stronger together than you could be individually.
The Ultimate Source of Love
When both people in a relationship are running after God, they are simultaneously getting closer to each other in koinonia, an intimate community shared by those pursuing Christ.
This needs to be the case before you find someone and when you find someone. Even then, both of you should continue pursuing Christ because He is the ultimate source of love who pours into us.
We cannot perfectly love someone in and of ourselves. We have to take the love God has poured into our hearts and outsource it to others.
You and your partner must both be right with God because you can’t truly love someone until you first know Love Himself. Focus on that relationship and it’ll pour into your other relationships.
Red Flag: You haven’t known them for very long
While there have been exceptional cases, you shouldn’t commit to a lifelong relationship with a prospective spouse until you have known them for at least a year and a half.
In general, it takes two to four years to completely get to know someone. Then, as long as you’ve been consistently interacting at least on a friendship level, you can say you know them.
Of course, you won’t fully know a future spouse as best you can until you’ve been living together for decades, but you want some time to pass before then so you know what you’re getting yourself into.
#1 — You recognize their sin patterns
The first year and a half of a romantic relationship is known as “the honeymoon phase” or how long the period of affection lasts. If you haven’t reached that yet, it’s really easy to overlook flaws.
You may notice elements of their sin pattern, but if you haven’t known them for very long, it’s near impossible to recognize the full breadth of what you’re seeing, and marrying them won’t fix it.
#2 — Actions can back up their words
Beware of the one who verbally confirms the embodiment of everything you want in a spouse, especially if you have a tendency to take people at their word. Words are powerful but limited.
Look at their patterns. Pay attention to their reputation. How do they treat their parents? How do their siblings feel about them?
Let enough time pass before you set anything in stone so actions can back up whatever words may be expressed.
#3 — You see them in multiple contexts
Go through a couple of seasons together to make sure you’ve seen them in every situation with every emotion: high stress and peace, joy and sorrow. At church, at school, at home, at a restaurant, at a park, etc.
They may be perfectly confident and on top of their game in one context, but absolutely losing it in another. Make sure you’ve seen both so you have a holistic picture of who they are, not just one side.
Red Flag: Christ is in second place
God is the very essence and epitome of love, so if you or your significant other do not know Love Himself or hold Him first in your hearts, you will not be able to fully cherish each other.
- If he doesn’t get on his knees in prayer, he doesn’t deserve to get on a knee with a ring.
- A man of God doesn’t just open a door, he opens his Bible.
- A man of God does not just go to church with you on Sundays, he encourages your walk with God on a daily basis.
God is the supreme model of all relationships. The relationships we have on earth are just small-scale versions of the massive love that Christ has for us. If that is not understood first, it’s not going to go well.
The Ultimate Purpose of Relationships
A marital relationship is like a trailer to the movie we ultimately want to see. The core of our souls longs to be reunited with Christ and unity here are earth is a small picture of that.
Your relationships—whatever they are: romantic, marital, between parents, siblings, friends, cousins—are a testimony of the love Christ has for His Church.
Ultimately, no matter what kind of relationship you’re in, the purpose of it is to be a light to a world that has dismissed its Creator.
Red Flag: Immaturity
One way to define maturity is your ability to focus on the task at hand. Regardless of the desired or undesired context, maturity will look around and be respectful of what’s going on.
Maturity will assume responsibility and recognize when something is or is not appropriate. A mature person will admit when they are wrong and be receptive when people call them out.
The health and maturity of a relationship are not measured by an absence of problems but by the way the inevitable problems are handled.
Maturity will sit down with you and say “let’s fix this” instead of being a child and ignoring you.
The right partner will be honest with you, respectful, and not goof around the entire time. You can be mature while still being funny and youthful, you just have to have a good balance.
“Growing old is mandatory, but growing up is optional.”-Walt Disney
However, make sure one’s maturity matches their age (or surpasses it). As 1 Timothy 4:12 says, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
Make sure they are not only one with their God-given purpose but also know how that connects their skillset, passions, and someone else’s need. They need to have at least a sustainable idea of where they are going in life.
Don’t fool yourself: if the person you’re interested in is having a hard time sustaining themself, that isn’t going to magically resolve if you get married and add more mouths to feed.
Let them grow up and mature so they can become a well-rounded person who can stand on their own two feet. If you do the same, the two of you coming together will be stronger than you could be alone.
The Ultimate Purpose of Marriage
A husband and a wife need to be growing toward Christ, sanctifying each other to be the best version of themselves, progressing the other to as much Christ-likeness as is possible on this earth.
Marriage is also meant to reflect Christ’s love for the Church and increase our longing for Jesus. In one sense, marriage is set up to disappoint so we will go back to abide in the love of our Savior.
“At its best, marriage is meant to leave us wanting more: it is a gateway drug to a far more fulfilling relationship.”-Rebecca McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity
Red Flag: They’re “perfect”
One of the sweetest things is a couple who has been married a long time and still sees the other as “perfect,” but for this to be the extent of one’s perspective would be like looking through rose-colored glasses: distorted.
Anything that is good or “perfect” is a rhythm of God’s grace. In and of ourselves, we are broken sinners who do what is wrong. You should never love someone so much that you lose sight of that.
“This is one of the miracles of love: It gives a power of seeing through its own enchantments and yet not being disenchanted.”-C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
Perfect love, love that rounds off won’t blind you to a person’s flaws or innate depravity but love them in spite of it. It’s not about loving perfect people but learning to love imperfect people perfectly.
Marriage is an ongoing, vivid illustration of what it costs to love an imperfect person unconditionally, the same way Christ loves us.
The couple who is happily married isn’t two perfect people who have it all together but two sinners saved by grace who have learned to work it out and look beyond the imperfections.
“The most intimate thing we can do is to allow people we love most see us at our worst. At our lowest. At our weakest. True intimacy happens when nothing is perfect.”-Amy Harmon
The right partner will know you aren’t perfect but treat you as if you are, and they will know they aren’t perfect but strive to be the best they can be because you inspire them.
The Ultimate Purpose of Marriage
In this lifetime, on this earth, before Christ comes back, you are never going to be perfect, so if you wait until you have fixed yourself fixed to start a relationship, it’s never going to happen.
That’s part of why it’s good to get married to begin with.
Marriage is like two jagged rocks put through a rock tumbler. A spouse is meant to be a spiritual irritant that bumps and nudges and grows you so you are rounded off into a smooth rock. It’s hard but so beautiful.
Red Flag: Ego
One of my college professors once said that if you can see someone’s ego, you are marrying a divorce. While this may seem a little strong, take note of the truth behind it:
Any inkling of a thing you observe in the beginning of a relationship will only magnify if you get married.
People are deep and complex, so the way we are known in the touch-and-go of our public lives is only the tip of the iceberg of behaviors that dominate our private lives.
If you can see enough ego to joke about, there is a whole lot more out of sight and, as Tim Keller once said, “A proud person can only love someone to the degree it benefits [themself].”
If you think more highly of yourself than you are, the other person is going to get really sick of that really fast. While being too generous will leave you with nothing, being too selfish will leave you with no one.
Pride will encourage you to scream, “That’s just the way I am” in hope that you won’t hear the soft whisper of humility asking, “Yes, but is that the way you should be?”Tweet
Christianity is a call to die to ourselves and live for other people. It’s not about you or what you want or what you can gain out of life. You were given another day because God is still working through you in the lives of others.
“When Jesus talked about relationships in a perfect world, He did not talk about what we needed, but what we needed to do.”-Rick Thomas, Get Ready
So hold your tongue when you’re right and own your mistakes because apologizing doesn’t always mean you’re wrong and the other person is right. It means you value your relationship more than your ego.
The Very Essence of Love
Marriage is a lifelong commitment of saying “you first,” as is every other relationship. We’re supposed to be outdoing one another in showing honor and serving. That’s one of the only two arguments you’re allowed to have:
- I’m the biggest sinner in the room
- Let me serve you
Relationships should be a competition to outserve the other. Not the two of you pouring into someone else but trying to serve each other. You should constantly be laying down your life to lift the other up.
“The very essence of love is putting someone else’s needs before your own safety.”-Nathan Janowski
You know you truly love someone when it’s no longer about what you can receive but how you can give. It’s not supposed to be about how they can love you, but how you can sacrifice and serve them.
Where to go from here
Two complete individuals whose primary love is Christ and whose heart desire is to export that love have a good foundation to build a relationship on.
If that’s not where you’re at, take a step back and evaluate if one or both of you need time to mature into their own person, or if the relationship wouldn’t work in general.
Neither call is fun and both will be tough, but it is significantly better to address foundational issues early in the construction process versus six months after you’ve moved in.
Don’t blind yourself. Seek counsel. Have tough conversations. You will be better for it in the long run, whether because a relational disaster was prevented or you get to enjoy a sturdy home that will last a long time.