By: Joseph Warren Kniskern
Author, Making a New Vow: A Christian Guide to Remarriage
You know about the many advantages friendship dating and courtship have to offer widowed or scripturally divorced Christians. But how do you know when you've truly found the "right" person for you before entering remarriage?
Your Relationship Early Warning System--Seven Critical "Stop Signs"
Real estate executive Donald Trump may have his faults, but he does know how to evaluate offers and propositions. "Experience taught me a few things. One is to listen to your gut, no matter how good something sounds on paper. The second is that you're generally better off sticking with what you know. And the third is that sometimes your best investments are the ones you don't make."1 Before you invest your future, and that of your children, into a remarriage partnership with your beloved, watch and listen very carefully. Be sure you know who and what you're dealing with. If you have any reasonable doubts about your beloved, or nagging uncertainties about your relationship, perhaps, like Trump, the best investment of your life would be to pass on the relationship and wait for God's best.
There truly is nothing worse than marrying the wrong person for the wrong reasons. Here are a few relationship "stop signs" the Lord may use to say, "This relationship isn't suitable for you":
Rushed or blind "love". You know from experience that recovering from death or divorce of a spouse takes a lot of time and healing. So what does that tell you about someone who is only months out of a prior marriage and now wants to remarry you? Love on a quick rebound is a stop sign--don't ignore it! Like a teenager, you also may experience a blind, romantic "puppy love" for someone that clouds your judgment. Sure, it seems real to the "puppies," but is it real love? Test yourself and the relationship. See if the signs point more toward romantic infatuation than biblical love.
Excessive loneliness, immaturity, self-pity, or defensiveness. If your love interest retreated from society and lived a sheltered life after a prior marriage ended, will he/she be ready, willing, and able to actively interact with you and your children? Is your partner mature enough to be a spouse and a parent? If he/she is impatient and doesn't consider the consequences of impetuous decisions, these tendencies will carry over into any remarriage. Remarriage and blended family situations are much too complex for the immature to handle.
If you find yourself feeling sorry for your partner, or vice-versa, this also isn't a healthy basis for a relationship. While it's nice to feel needed, if your partner is too emotionally dependent upon you, trying to fill his/her needs will wear you down over time. A problem also exists if your partner never takes responsibility for whatever goes wrong and blames everything on others. Lies, accusations, and self-justification indicate bigger spiritual problems. Is it difficult for your partner to say, "I was wrong. I'm sorry"? If your partner spends an entire evening out detailing how he/she was wronged by an ex-spouse, a boss, a parent, or others, pick up the check and check out of the relationship quickly.
Possessive control and abusive behavior. Does your partner "advise" you on ways to change yourself so you'll be "more acceptable" to her and her family and friends? Does he frequently criticize, correct, or try to "fix" you?
Sara gives us this revealing look at control and possessiveness: "I first met my husband at a party. He told me his name, and made me spell it to make sure I would remember it. He asked if I wanted a drink. When I said, `I'd like a milkshake,' he told me I would have to stop eating high-calorie foods if I wanted to hold his interest. He then asked how late he could call me. I said, `10 PM.' He called at 1 AM. After we started to date, he insisted we cut back on visiting my parents and friends. They were `boring.' Before I met his parents for the first time, he gave me orders--`Don't wear your best outfit. I don't want them to think you are extravagant or vain about your appearance, or clothes-crazy.' When things turned serious and he asked me to marry him, I said I would love to have an engagement ring. He said, `Engagement rings don't mean anything. They are just pieces of jewelry that women like to show off.'" Here is a picture of an emotional abuser. When an abuser successfully flatters someone, the abuser rides on that flattery to become overbearing. If the flattery catches one's heart, the victim hangs on to the abuser for fear of rejection and being alone. Run! This definitely is trouble!
Does your partner pressure you to do things against your will? Is there an persistent interest in sexual matters, or to engage in sex, prior to marriage? These pressures could increase and create multiple problems for you and your children! If your partner is divorced, how does he/she treat an ex-spouse? Why would you expect him/her to treat you any differently? How does your partner communicate with waiters and service people? Do you witness judgmental, critical, demanding, unforgiving, insensitive behavior? While driving, does he call other people "jerks, morons and idiots?" You could be on the receiving end in the future! If your partner doesn't get along with parents, siblings, neighbors, or people at work--watch out!
After decades of dealing with relationship problems and misunderstandings, columnist Abigail Van Buren is convinced that the best indications of a person's character are: (a) how he treats people who can't do him any good, and (b) how he treats people who can't fight back. If you find your partner using a double standard in how he treats you, and how he treats others, beware!
Above all, never continue a relationship with a person who threatens, hits, or humiliates you or your children, no matter how many other good qualities the person may have.
Unhealthy personality types. If you experience trouble with your partner's personality such as jealousy, temper, stubbornness, lying, moodiness, regular unhappiness, or lack of dependability, ask yourself whether you want to spend the rest of your life coping with these problems. Some people are so absorbed in themselves and their lifestyles that their entire personality becomes a red flag:
• The Religious Fanatic. Winston Churchill once remarked, "A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject." We are not talking about serious, evangelical believers, or those having legitimate religious differences. These are the fanatics--those excessively legalistic and dogmatic religionists who really don't care as much about pleasing God as they do about making their own rules and distorting Scripture. They feed their own selfish needs by manipulating others in the name of religion.
Abusers of Christianity will tell unsuspecting partners in a relationship, "God wants you to marry me--He meant it to be!" But this is only a cover for their own manipulation and control. Don't take their word for it, or let them take God's place! Check out the Scriptures, pray, and seek the counsel of many advisors before going further.
• The Dominant Dictator. A dictator personality is a classic perfectionist or control freak. They are dominant people who love making decisions for themselves--and others! Initially they may seek to control the friends you can see, and how you spend your money. Eventually, of course, this control becomes pervasive as the relationship grows.
Dominant dictators love being around passive people, who admire and follow their "leadership". They secretly fear weakness, so they are "know-it-alls" who must always be right about everything. They must be in control of their own destiny, since they do not trust God or any spouse to look out for them. Be forewarned, dictators are preset to behave in ways which will eventually degrade and humiliate their partners emotionally, socially, and sexually while robbing their partners of dignity and worth.
• The Dependent Doormat. This passive person may be the single-again woman, who comfortably let her deceased husband take care of the finances and all important marital decisions, but who now experiences a deep void with the loss of her spouse. There is "no one to take care of her." This person quickly becomes infatuated with anyone powerful who will "tell her what to do." She wants a man to "rescue" her and take control of her life. (Of course, this happens to men too! Weak men often look for "mamas.") A "yes, dear" dependent doormats lacks confidence, direction, and strength who avoids conflict at all cost. Doormats crave a dominating personality because they fear making decisions for themselves.
• The Selfish Saint. Selfishness is fairly obvious early in most relationships. Those who are thoroughly acclimated to thinking only of themselves tend to tip their hands early. But the selfish saint is more subtle due to masking his/her motives and hiding behind seemingly charitable acts of kindness. This might be the divorced single father so busy working at church or "doing God's work" that he neglects his children. But selfishness is selfishness, obvious or not. There's no room for sensitivity or caring for others. Every decision first hinges on one question, "How will this affect me?"
• The People Pleaser. Remember the comedy "Mrs. Doubtfire" with Robin Williams and Sally Fields? When the movie begins, their characters are married with three children. But Williams is the man-child who indulges his kids with a barrage of junk food, crazy antics, loud music, and 24-hour entertainment. The kids love it! But the movie reveals how this act quickly wears thin on his responsible and sensible wife, played by Fields. She hates parenting four children--husband included! Eventually she gets fed up and divorces him. The rest of the movie details the extreme lengths Williams' ostracized character invents to be one of the kids again. A people pleaser might be the fun-loving father with a gang of kids from a deceased wife. He wants to find a mate to join the gang. In reality, he is looking for a mother to take care of everyone. These folks may care more about how they appear to others, than how they please God!
Poor Communication. Does your partner carefully listen to you and show genuine concern for your feelings, or just brush you off? Does your partner really seem to understand how you feel, or just go through the motions to appease you? Is your partner judgmental and accusatory so you cannot tell him/her what you're really feeling? Does your partner shut down the conversation or leave you whenever negative feelings or conflicts arise? This type of conduct obviously is not the way to begin any remarriage.
Inadequate Conflict Resolution Skills. Researchers confirm there are two primary "marriage killers": (1) unrealistic expectations; and (2) inadequate conflict resolution skills. The ability to talk about problems, and to resolve them in a biblical manner, is as important as how much the couple loves each other. If you and your partner disagree about too many issues, and especially if you even disagree about how to resolve your disagreements, then the relationship is failing early. This isn't a good sign. Do you and your partner avoid conflict? Blow up at each other? Manipulate with guilt? Can both of you accept personal responsibility to say, "I'm sorry. Will you forgive me for...?" Has your partner described himself in a way that creates conflict for you? What if he tells you, "I need to be in control," or "I have trouble with closeness," or "It's not my responsibility?" A controlling person eventually will control you. Conflicts like these may be beyond resolution! Fervently pray for God's guidance.
Serious problems with children and extended family. Is your partner ready, willing, and able to interact with, and love your children? These relationships are as important to the success of any remarriage as your partner's relationship with you. "I really don't have any interest in being a father to your children. I've already raised my children, and am not looking to do it again." If your partner is honest enough to say it, how will you handle these remarks? If your partner has children, do you want to "marry" them too? They'll be part of the package. And, of course, these children always will be a direct link to your partner's ex-spouse. If you and your partner cannot accept and love each other's children, do your kids (and yourselves) a favor--stop!
Have you met your partner's family, friends, and co-workers? If your partner has kept them hidden, this is a red flag. Perhaps your partner doesn't want you to get involved with people who know him/her best. Does your partner disrespect his/her family members, or yours? Is there excessive devotion to one's family, which might interfere with your relationship with your partner? Is he hung up on his mother? Is she in awe of her father? Has she made him a saint? If your partner is devoted to a parent and that parent isn't very fond of you, problems may be unavoidable. Is there a "fantasy bond" where your partner holds the illusion that you resemble a former mate or parent? Do you see any relationship problems in the extended family that might adversely impact you and your children? Use caution!
Red flags like these are stop signs! They should stop you in your relationship well before you consider remarriage. This isn't always easy to determine or do. As David Russell once observed, "The hardest thing in life to learn is which bridge to cross and which to burn." This is why testing the relationship over time and seeking the counsel of many advisors are so crucial to your prayerful decision.
Some relationships may have no outward "red flags." Even so, our partners may not be good remarriage candidates for us--not because they are unlovable, but because they aren't suitable to our personalities or don't meet our needs (or those of our children).
It's also important that we add a note about judgment here as well. A divorcee may fear abandonment in a remarriage, leading to a controlling and jealous nature. This may only be a temporary condition due to that person's wounded and unhealed heart. But remarriage calls for two whole and healed hearts. Lovingly move on to those with healed hearts without judging the wound in those left behind. Our point in addressing "stop signs" isn't to judge others, but merely to recognize wounded hearts which need the Lord's healing outside of any remarriage affecting you and your children.
Give yourself adequate time to review, assess, and pray about your relationships. This is the most vital prerequisite to making a right decision. Your judgment cannot be better than the information on which you base it. Get the facts, be compassionate and loving, but don't ignore the stop signs! Listen for God's still, small voice in your heart. If you see and knock, Jesus promises to answer. Also, don't compromise your values and beliefs for the privilege of keeping a questionable relationship. To paraphrase former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, someone who values the privileges of a relationship above its principles soon loses both!
Above all, don't feel bad about ending a relationship (or having it end for you). Humorist Robert Henry remarks, "Don't ever be afraid to admit you were wrong. It's like saying you're wiser today than you were yesterday."2 Use your experience with prior relationships to your advantage. Rejection sometimes is God's way of keeping two people apart who shouldn't be together.
Taken from "Making A NEW Vow: A Christian Guide To Remarriage" by Joseph Warren Kniskern (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003). Used with permission.
1 As quoted in Investors Business Daily, September 7, 2001, P. 4.
2 As quoted in Investors Business Daily, February 26, 2002, P. A2.
Joseph Warren Kniskern is a Christian attorney, mediator, and author of "When The Vow Breaks: A Survival and Recovery Guide For Christians Facing Divorce," and "Making A NEW Vow: A Christian Guide To Remarriage," both available from Broadman & Holman Publishers, Inc. in Nashville, Tennessee.