The One Question to Ask Before Marriage

Recently, my husband and I have been doing more pre-marital counselling. This has been both fun and challenging.

Chris and I have had to really sit down and ask, what does the couple absolutely need? What are the questions we absolutely must ask to help them have a thriving marriage? What must a single person look for in a potential spouse?

I’ve been thinking, if I could only give them one trait to look for, what would it be? One way of knowing if you should or should not get married. One question that needs to be answered.

This is my question: How do you define the word love?

I reserve the right to change my mind. But, for now, I can’t think of a single more important question for a potential mate. How they (and you) answer that question will determine the health and joy of your marriage more than any other thing.

When they say, “I want to marry you because I love you”. What do they (and you) mean by that little word, love?

Once all the feelings are there. All the tingles. All the goofy grins. All the, “I love the smell of your hair” moments.

How do you define the word, love?

If I may, can I give three answers that you should run from?

The Compatibility Myth

If someone defines love as “you are the perfect fit for me”. Run. If that is the best they can give you, it’s not good enough. If they say, “You are the Whip to my Nae Nae”. Run.

This version of love says that I will show affection and commitment to you as long as we get along. As long as I feel that we are in harmony. As long as your personality syncs with mine. As long as this works, I’m in.

Here is a promise. If you get married, at some point in marriage you will feel that you are not compatible. It’s a guarantee. For goodness sake, someone wrote a book saying men and women are virtually born on different planets; Venus and Mars. We can feel very far apart in marriage, even when we are sleeping side by side. We can feel very out of sync. We can feel that the other just doesn’t “get” us. Even if we married a person who is perfectly compatible in all our personalities, hobbies and beliefs… we change. You change.

The truth is, we will feel incompatible at times. Another definition of love is needed to survive and thrive in marriage. This version of love will only further alienate and steal hope.

The Feelings Myth

We should know this. But it bears repeating. If your significant other defines love as a feeling. Don’t run, sprint. If they say, “I know I love you because I’ve never felt this way before” or “because my heart has never longed to be with someone like you.” That is all good and romantic (feelings are important)… but not the definition of love you should be looking for.

If their words somehow describe love as a feeling. That is romantic. But, those feelings will go away. And when those feelings go away (or develop in the direction of someone else!)… Where will you (and your children) be left?

The “You make me a better me” Myth

This would make a great line in a movie or the topic of a full season of Oprah specials.

We want to marry someone who “makes me the best person I can be”.

Your spouse just might just make you a much worse version of you. When they are grumpy. When they are impatient. When they aren’t as kind in their words. When they say something hurtful. When they don’t listen. Sometimes they will be that thorn of sanctification.

This is also unhealthy. Jesus makes you a better you. Of course our spouse should support us. They should encourage us towards all God created us to be. But they are not God. And this is God’s role.

You won’t always feel like your best version with your spouse. And when those seasons happen. How they (and you!) define love will determine where this all ends up.

The Truth

There are many definitions of love. Love as romance. Love as friendship. Love as sexual desire. These are all forms of love we experience.

But if you are getting married and you ask your potential mate, “How do you define love? The love we need for our marriage?”. I hope you hear some version of this:

The Cross.

Love as romance. Love as friendship. Love as that familiar comfort of a person that knows you through good and bad all grows from the soil of love as the cross. Sacrificial love leads to feelings, feelings don’t lead to sacrificial love.

You need a love that says,

I will prefer you above myself.
I will serve you.
I will ask forgiveness for my wrongs.
I will listen to you even when it’s hard to hear the answers.
I will not give in to selfishness.
I will swallow my pride.
I understand that I’m imperfect and that will affect you.
I will tell the truth.
I will keep my promises.
When I want to escape. I won’t. I’ll still come home to you.
When it’s hard, I won’t give up… because love doesn’t give up.
I won’t just think about how I feel, I will consider how you feel.
To love you means this will cost me something. I willing to pay that price for you. I commit to it.

Of course no person does all those things perfectly. Perfection will never be attained. But, if this is the love definition you both commit to from the day one.  The love you aim for. I can’t think of a single better place to start.

So, how do you define love?

Photo Credit: JM Scott

Top Relationship Books of 2014

It’s coming to the end of 2014 and I’ve been reflecting on some of the top books and writings that I’ve enjoyed this year. This is a list of my favorite books on relationships of all types! I hope you get some ideas. Is there a relationship orientated book that you’ve loved this year? I would love to hear about it in the comments section.


With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God

Best Book on Relationship with God: With by Skye Jethani

This book wins far and away as my favourite book of 2014. Jethani is both engaging and penetrating as he looks at the false ways you might be relating to God. He takes on the false belief systems in Christian culture and our own individual lives, you will be left seeing things in new ways. The best part is that you are left with a deep and fresh hunger for Jesus. During a season of my life that I was struggling with stress, anxiety and fear… this book was a shining light in hard times.


Fun Loving You: Enjoying Your Marriage in the Midst of the Grind

Best Book on Marriage: Fun Loving You by Ted Cunningham

My husband and I both loved this book. A great read for those who have been married for a few years and need to re-focus on the fun and friendship that bring so much life to your marriage. As a bonus he gives a ton of practical ideas for dates, fun get-aways, and ways to just have fun together.


Boundaries with Kids: When to Say Yes, When to Say No, to Help Your Children Gain Control of Their Lives

Best Book on Parenting: Boundaries With Kids by Cloud and Townsend

The “Boundaries” series is a classic in Christian and counselling circles. I had never read the parenting version and it came at just the right time for me with an 8 and 9 year old. There is a ton of helpful advice and practical tips. I think you could read this book at each stage of parenting and come away with key wisdom to apply.


Best Blog Post on Dating and Engagement: “Sex & Engagement” by Ron Smith

I haven’t read any great books on this topic this year but a great article is buy a close friend and mentor, Dr. Ron Smith. Ron and his wife did our own pre-marriage counselling. He is honest, straight forward and so excited to see people find their love for a lifetime partner. This article is honest and direct about the sexual relationship of an engaged couple.


Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Best Beach Read: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

If you read my husbands book list for 2014 you will see he also listed this book (along with 2 others I mention here!). I would just like to state for the record that I was the one who tipped him off to this great read. It’s the captivating story of ultra-marathon runners. You don’t need to be a runner to love it, though. It is a true-story adventure that takes you from the headquarters of Nike to a stone-age tribe in the hills of Mexico. The characters are funny and totally engaging, you will get sucked in. This is a great Christmas idea for someone that loves running, adventure or just a great read!


With-God-Devo-logo

Best Daily Devotional: With Daily Devotional by Skye Jethani

I recently had the privilege of meeting Skye Jethani. He was speaking out our Community Gathering at our campus in South Africa. I was chatting to him afterwards and told him that I was aiming to sign up as many as possible for his daily devotional, it is one of the best kept secrets on the internet. For $1.99/month you get a daily devotional e-mailed to you with scriptures to read and a prayer to meditate on for the week. It is short, engaging, challenging, personal and helps you focus on Jesus more than ever. This would be a wonderful gift idea for yourself or others!


Bonus: Favorite Music Albums

Mali Is...

Mali Is… by Mali Music

Ok, little known info about me, I’m a huge Jazz, Black Gospel, R&B and Rap fan. I’m listening to one of these genres most of the time. My first CD was the Winans Brothers… not Bibi and Cici Winans, that’s black gospel for the masses. I was in to the real deal Winans. I seriously am tempted to do a whole post on my top ablums in these genres. But, it’s not the point of this blog… sigh. But, if you love any of these genres or want to love them, run, don’t walk, to your computer and buy this on Amazon or iTunes. Ok, you are sitting at your computer. So click on the link above. Do it. This guy is the real deal. Best relationship track on the album? “Heavy Love”. You will at least start chair dancing while he extols the beauty and power of love that lasts a lifetime. As he says, beautiful love is that “great-grand-mama and grand-daddy love ya’ll”.


The Undoing

The Undoing by Steffany Gretzinger

So now that you know my tastes, this album is out of my norm. Most worship albums I listen to involve Fred Hammond or Donnie McClurkin (if you just said, “Who?”, hang your head in shame and go take a time-out for 10 minutes). This album is minimal, contemplative and personal.  I found myself surprisingly drawn in. Steffany has an amazing voice, that is undeniable. But, it’s more than her voice that draws you in. Each song seems to be taken straight out of her personal journal in the best of ways. For those days when you need to hear the heart of Jesus more loudly, this album delivers exactly that.

SHE is marrying HIM?!?

I love seeing people get married. This is nothing short of a miracle considering that marriage was at the very bottom of my goals in life. Well, that is before I met my husband Chris. Funny thing how that works.

Marriage does not solve life’s problems (it creates a few more actually). Marriage is not a utopia of romantic bliss. Marriage is not for everyone. I know this. With all of this, many people still want to get married and I think this is a good thing.

Those who know me also know about my “prayer list”. This is a list of people that I regularly pray for… that they would meet someone who would be their best friend in marriage. I have to say, these last few years have been good one for me. I’ve been crossing people off the list one by one as wedding bells have been ringing. (I’ve also had years of stagnation to the point that people wanted off my list because it wasn’t helping!)

In the midst of all this, I find another conversation going on. As singles are longing for, loving and pursuing someone there is a chorus of friends that are cheering publicly but doubting privately.

The doubts are varied and many:

Does this couple have what it takes for marriage?
Are they a good match?
Do they have any idea what they are getting themselves in to?
Shouldn’t someone tell them the hard truths?
Aren’t they being too naive and not counting the costs?
Is it a good thing that “she” is marrying that “he”?
Does “he” really want to marry that “she”?

We all can think of couples that married, all the while everyone had doubts in their mind if it would actually work.

Here’s the big question: “When do you say something and when do you keep silent?”.

I’ve thought about this a lot. I’ve boldly gone to friends months before the big day, said the hard thing and gotten the response, “Did I ask you?! Keep your advice to yourself!” Other friends have come to me after a first year of marriage that was full of tears and sorrow. They have looked me in the eye and asked, “Did you have doubts about this relationship and not tell me before the wedding?” Gulp.

So, when should you say something to a couple that you are concerned about? Here is the grid that I use:

When to pause before you speak.

“They have no idea how hard marriage is”

This is the most common thing I hear by myself and others. This is said by married couples who also had no idea what they were getting themselves in to on the day of marriage. If the only reason you want to say something is to give this couple an “education on the reality of how hard marriage is” then perhaps you should keep quiet. No one has a clue on their wedding day what is ahead.

“No one is being direct enough with them!”

This is also said by people who actually aren’t involved in the day to day of the relationship. I have actually had people come and ask me to step in to a relationship where I was not invited and did not know the couple very well. Others simply perceived that I was able to be “direct and honest” with the couple. I declined. I don’t fancy myself a professional “hit man” on those headed to the alter.

When to speak up and speak in love:

If they have invited your input.

If someone in the couple has invited my input, then I am obligated, by love, to ask the hard questions. I have been given permission to do so!

When the issues are repetitive sin.

If I see issues from the outside that are blatant, un-dealt with sin… I feel the Christian community can approach them with concern. I once asked a girl, “Does it concern you that your fiance regularly get’s drunk on the weekends to blow off steam?”. I knew her but not well. She later thanked me for being bold enough to ask the question.

When no one else is speaking in to their life.

Just because no one else is invited does not give me an automatic right. But, if I see a couple that I love “going it alone”, it concerns me. I will simply encourage them to find another older, wiser couple to walk with them. I have seen many times that one or both resist this because there are dysfunctions they are hiding. Overcoming this resistance is not always successful but I give it my best shot.

I might say something like, “I love you both so much. Marriage is difficult but wonderful. I want to strongly, strongly encourage you to find someone that can ask you both the hard questions as you prepare for your big day! If you need suggestions for people, just ask.” I then follow it up later and ask them if they have acted on my advice.

So that is my grid, what about you? Are you bold enough to ask the hard questions or are you too bold and an unwelcome counsellor in a couples life?

By the way, if you are actual friends with an engaged couple, here are 3 simple questions that will help them immensely! You don’t need to be their wise sage, but can raise the value of having input in any couples life!
  • Who are you going to for pre-marriage guidance and counselling?
  • How are you doing with preparing for the wedding, is there any way I can help and support?
  • Do you have people that you can talk to after you get married?

The Road Less Traveled

Last week I left my house for a late afternoon run. I’m a hoofer who plods along slowly. Seeing me run would probably evoke less images of a light-footed deer and more images of a stray elephant looking for it’s herd. But, I digress.

road-less-traveledThat evening was beautiful; still, cool air and beautiful clouds. I love running at that time of day, the streets are full of people walking home after a long day at work. There are large groups of gossiping Mama’s noisily giving the updates of the day. Weary fathers, pushing their young daughter home from pre-school. Dusty men returning home after a hard day of manual labour.

That evening I took my normal route along the busiest roads, past the buzzing taxi ranks and weaving along semi-crowded sidewalks. The next morning I woke up to learn that 30 minutes after I had run, there was a shooting along my route, killing several. It was part of week of rising violence in our neighborhood.

I told several people how close I had come to witnessing the violence. Several replied, “Why do you run there? It is not a safe area!” I could choose another route that takes me through quiet and calm neighborhoods. But, here’s the deal. Those quiet and calm neighborhoods feel dangerous to me because I’m alone. There is safety and security for me as long as I’m surround by the noisy Mama’s, weary fathers and dusty laborers.

I have changed my running route for now, until the violence calms down. But I’m looking for other busy paths that take me along roads where others travel.

There is an old saying, “God will not give you more than you can bear.” It’s not in scripture but we like to think it is. It’s not even true. There’s five words missing. Those five words make it more close to what scripture says all the time. Those five words are: “with the help of others”.

“God will not give you more than you can bear with the help of others”

This idea that we are radical individuals who should do everything on our own is a lie. So many of us desperately cling to this lie as if it is a life vest or a badge of pride. The reality? It’s like trying to swim down a white water river while holding on to a boulder. This go alone strategy can become our undoing.

We need people. And with the help of others… together we can bear so much. With others holding us up, we exchange our individual weakness for the the strength of community.

Jesus did this. Three times in the Garden of Gethsemane, facing his darkest hour, he asked the disciples for help. Think about that. The Savior of the world wanted friends to help him carry his burden.

Today we glorify the famous words of Robert Frost and seek after “the road less traveled.” While loneliness and difficult decisions are certainly part of our journey at times, going it alone should never be the ideal we praise.

Traveling on a road less traveled sounds so heroic. But I’m taking my strategy from Jesus. I’m choosing a road well traveled with people within shouting distance. When something feels too heavy to carry, I can bear it with the help of others.

In what areas do you need to reach out and ask for help? What’s stopping you from doing that today?

Date Night on the Cheap

Date NightI always get a huge reality check/heart attack combo when I visit the States and hear how much babysitting costs. It’s a lot. I’ve considered babysitting as a back-up career if this ministry gig doesn’t work out. My recent post on 4 types of date nights got me thinking about how to make dates cheaper and more accessible. Spending quality time with our spouse is healthy but also just plain fun. If expense is an obstacle then figure out a way around that.

Here are 10 date night ideas to get your creativity flowing.

1. Babysitting Exchange: Why not conspire with another family to regularly take care of each other’s kids? This works especially well if the kids are friends… then they love the evening too! Every other week, take turns being the ones to watch all the kids at your place. This works for weekend trips too. My husband and I have felt very sorry for ourselves for years because we live so far from family… thus making overnight trips seem nearly impossible. Just last week I went to a friend and said, “Enough! Every year we need to do a kid exchange and each get away for two nights.”. She said “yes” before I had even finished my sentence!

2. Call in a Favor: Why not just ask favors of people? Ask a relative or friend to watch the kids as a gift. Simply say, “We want to go out more but are struggling to come up with the cash, would you be willing to watch the kids once or twice a month?” I think you would be surprised at how many people would want to help.

3. Skip the Meal: One of the biggest expenses on a date is the restaurant tab. Skip this. Eat something before you go out and make the date about doing something else. If you want food, keep it simple by sharing a dessert or having coffee at a nice cafe.

4. Get Some Culture: Often art shows, museums, author readings, unique festivals and other cultural events are cheap or free. Keep your eyes open for what is happening in your community and try something different.

5. Outdoors: This works especially well in the long and warm summer days. Being outdoors is free and so relaxing. Go for a hike, borrow a kayak and get on the water, ride your bikes somewhere. One of my favourite things to do with Chris is picnics. Pack up something simple, get outdoors and enjoy being together.

6. Dreaming Date: My husband and I love, love, love to dream. We talk about trips we want to take, goals we’d like to achieve, family vacations we could plan, new cities we want to visit… it’s so fun! This is a refreshing way to connect that is free. A great environment for this is your local bookstore, looking at magazines, talking about the future and possibilities.

7. Combine Business with Pleasure:U.S. Travel Association survey found that couples who travel together have a better relationship and better sex than those who don’t. Two-thirds of those surveyed said a weekend away will spark more romance in their relationship than any gift. To bring down the expenses of a getaway trip, attach it to a business trip. If one spouse is traveling for business, why not have the other join and you both stay for 2 extra nights. This brings down costs for travel and can make it do-able.

8. Drop-Off: Drop off kids at Sunday School while you skip off for breakfast… avoiding church altogether. The Sunday School teachers will be none-the-wiser! Ok, I’m joking. Mostly. Haven’t all parents considered this option at least once?!

9. Stay at Home: A stay at home date can be just as nice as going out with a little planning. Plan an evening together with intention. If you have kids, the night only starts once the kids are fed and in bed. Have a later dinner with candles, spend time connecting. Being home gives all sorts of nice options such as taking a bath together, dancing on your own personal dance floor, watching the stars in your back yard with something warm to drink.

10. Utilise your Church: So many local churches are finding ways to support married couples… take advantage of it! Many churches offer date night babysitting where you drop of your kids. Some have yearly marriage seminars which are free and really fun… I know of many that provide the food and all!

What other ideas do you have where money is not a hinderance to date night?

4 Types of Date Nights

These days, date night is considered an essential component of a healthy marriage. I personally love any excuse to spend time with my husband. We’ve practiced it in various forms over the years but not always consistently. Marriage author, Ted Cunningham, suggests practicing a “daily delay, a weekly withdrawal, and an annual abandon”. These are three connecting points that build friendship and intimacy into a marriage.

The “daily delay” is simply finding a point in each day to connect, catch up and share how the day is going. The “weekly withdrawal” is what most of us call, date night. The “annual abandon” is scheduling a yearly trip of two or more nights… just the two of you.

types_date_nightsI love this grid and want to look at it with my husband to see how we are doing on each of these connecting points. When thinking about date night, there are many obstacles to having a weekly, deeper, connecting point. Many people have obstacles such as young children (all the more reason it is needed!), lack of finances, or simply not feeling that the date makes a meaningful impact on their marriage.

If you are stuck in a dinner and a movie rut then here are 4 types of date nights that can make dates more meaningful and fun.

Stay At Home:

Having a date doesn’t have to be expensive nor involve going out! Sometimes, for us, the thought of getting all dressed up, going to a noisy restaurant, navigating traffic just doesn’t seem romantic or relaxing. Stay at home dates can be relaxing, cheap and meaningful.

We often would feed our kids early, put on an audio book and put them in bed early. Then, we would cook a nice meal for just the two of us and eat in the quiet (!) house. Set the table nicely, light a candle, play some music in the background, open a nice bottle of something. The bonus of this is the bedroom is right down the hall for a great way to end the evening!

Taking Turns:

Why not take turns planning the date? Each week a different spouse gets a turn to plan something fun or nice. This way, you get the creativity of each person. I highly suggest to put a ban on movies for dates. I personally think movies are great for mindless relaxation but terrible for an evening of connection.

Often, date night gets relegated to last minute planning and doesn’t feel special or well planned. This way, each person know they are on for the week and take a few extra moments to put some thought in it. The other person gets to just relax and show up!

I know couples that do this and it is motivating to add a special twist for the week you plan! This works well, especially, for couples who are a bit competitive and love to out-do each other.

Digging Deeper:

This is one of my favourites. Periodically you can use this time to invest in your marriage. The idea is to get some sort of input which you use as a launching point for deeper discussion, growth and intimacy. Perhaps you sign up for a marriage course at your local church. You could read a marriage book, together. Use what you have read as a point of conversation each week. Most marriage books have guided questions at the end of each chapter.

One year we took an 8-week period where we did weekly stay at home dates. The kids were in bed early, we had a nice dinner together at home and then we watched a video series together. A friend had given us the “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage” series. We watched one episode a week and then discussed it for a few minutes afterwards. It was funny and a great little marriage tune-up.

Adventure Dating:

Boredom is weight on a marriage. If you think back to your “falling in love” years, part of the allure is the newness and adventure of your relationship at that time. You are always doing or discovering something new together. That’s one reason I enjoy watching new love… they are constantly out exploring new parts of our city, finding new things to do, new live music venues to enjoy, new bookstores no one knows about. Young love is full of newness and adventure! Be purposeful to add some of this to your marriage.

I know some couples that go to dance classes together. I’ve heard of others that have taken a cooking course on their weekly dates. One couple tries to eat a different type of ethnic food all the time. It’s small but a fun little exploration that they do together through the years. We have a hobby of always finding new speciality coffee shops. We are always on the hunt for a good coffee roaster we have never been to before. Perhaps you go for a walk or hike in a new place. Or is there a part of your city you have never explored? What could you learn, do or discover together this week?

Read More: Cheap Date Night Ideas

Dates don’t have to be expensive or cost at all. The traditional date often brings three expensive items: babysitting, restaurant food, movie tickets. Dump the traditional date. Here are 10 ideas on making a date as cheap as possible.