In every dating relationship, you’re asking yourself, how do I know if this is “the one”? How do I know if I should stay with this person and marry them, or break up?
This isn’t a list of specific behaviours or indications; it’s more of a set of general diagnostic questions you can ask yourself about the health of the relationship.
1. What is my emotional experience in this relationship?
How does the relationship generally make you feel? Do you feel happy, energized, positive, built up, and good as a result of your interactions? Or do you feel discouraged, depressed, disrespected, angry, hurt, scared, etc? Note I’m talking over time. At the beginning of a relationship, almost everyone feels positive. And there may be times you have a disagreement and feel angry and hurt! This isn’t talking about one specific incident, but rather your general experience of the relationship.
In most relationships, you have some positive experiences and some negative. But if the negative is consistent, or outweighs the positive, and if the relationship constantly gives you bad feelings about yourself, life, and the opposite sex—that’s a very good sign to take a big step back and evaluate why you think that might change, and what’s keeping you in this relationship.
The other person should not be consistently hurting you (even if they “don’t mean to” or it in some way “isn’t their fault”). They should be consistently building you up, honouring you, respecting you, treasuring you, acting in your best interest, and sincerely apologizing and changing when they fail.
2. Do I trust this person?
This is huge. Without trust, there’s no relationship. We can love the other person very much, and they us, but if we can’t trust them, we have no foundation.
This could be in any number of areas. Are they always honest? Do they flirt with other people? Do they respect us and our boundaries? Can we be confident that in all situations, they’ll do the right thing?
Or are we constantly questioning them? Do we not give all of ourselves because we don’t feel safe? Are we worried about their interactions with the opposite sex? (I’m not talking about unreasonable jealousy, but if they’ve given us reason to suspect them). Can we trust them with our money or possessions (including our body)? Are we worried about some area of addiction or irresponsibility? Are we suspicious about what they do when we’re not around?
If you don’t implicitly trust this person in everything, you may not have a reason to stay.
3. Are they a person of integrity whose actions back up their words?
It’s easy for a person to talk a good talk, especially if they know it’s what you want to hear. But pay attention to what they do. Do they talk about wanting to find a job or go to school, but somehow never get around to applying? Do they say they want to wait till marriage for sex, but then try to pressure you into it? Do they say they want to make a marriage commitment, but make no move to do so after some time together? Do they say they’re not a person who does x, but you later catch them doing just that?
Watch their actions, because this tells you who they really are. What they say does not count, unless it is backed up by their life. And there’s no shortcut to finding this out: you need to take time to get to know them and observe them in all kinds of situations.
4. Does the relationship help you to live by your morals, standards, and values, or do you find yourself pressured to compromise?
In a good relationship, especially a Christian relationship, the partners should mostly agree on important moral questions. But even in areas of disagreement, you should never feel pressured by the other person to compromise your standards. Instead, they should respect and protect your values, even if they don’t share them 100%.
An example of a non-negotiable area would be sex. If you’re a Christian who’s committed to waiting till marriage for sex, your partner should not only share that value, but help you to keep it.
An example of a grey area might be if your partner enjoys an alcoholic drink on occasion, but you don’t drink. He or she should respect you in that and not try to pressure you to join them.
Bottom line, you should never, ever feel pressured or disrespected by your partner to do anything you’re not fully comfortable with. He or she should honour your values and standards, even when they don’t share them.
5. Do they really love you?
I remember someone asking me this question toward the end of a doomed relationship, and I was so struck by it, because I could not honestly say that the answer was yes. I was agonizing over whether we could be together, and this simple question brought it all into focus.
6. Do you feel increasing confidence about the idea of committing yourself to this person, or does the idea make you doubt and worry?
In a good relationship, we should feel more and more at peace, happy, and confident about marrying the person. Of course we won’t feel this right away (at least, usually not). But as the relationship grows, our confidence increases. We feel sure that this person will make a good life partner, and there are no outstanding issues that give us pause.
On the other hand, in a not-so-great relationship, the thought of marriage gives us doubts and fears. We have nagging worries about character issues or other problems that won’t go away. We don’t feel totally confident that it will work out.
If yours is the second case, take time out to think and pray about what is making you doubt. Talk with trusted friends or counsellors. Normally we have those gut feelings for very good reasons, but sometimes they arise from our past negative experiences. But when they are related to the other person, that’s a good reason to step back and evaluate whether we should continue.
7. Does this person have to change in some fundamental way in order for you to be together?
If this is your case, give it up and get out. This “relationship” is doomed. People do not often change drastically, and when they do, it is usually not because of a relationship.
I’m not talking about normal areas of change where each person becomes better as a result of feedback from their partner. This should always be happening. But if there’s some fundamental dealbreaker, or some harmful behaviour, that has to change before you can be together, it’s best to simply accept that this is who they are and move on.
8. Are we on the same page on the most important things?
Are we basically compatible on important issues? Is this person a believer in Jesus? Do we have the same kind of calling in ministry? Do we agree on things like men’s and women’s roles in marriage, number of children, how to raise them, where we’ll live, etc? Talk about important issues, especially ones that really matter to you. Be honest about your goals and desires. Make sure there’s no major area of difference.
Do you enjoy a lot of the same activities? Do you have the same kind of preferences for things like movies to watch? Nobody’s going to be identical, and difference is the spice of life. It’s good to compromise and grow by participating in things our partner likes that we wouldn’t normally do. But we should have many areas of commonality, so that we can enjoy doing things together.
9. What do our closest friends and family think of the person and the relationship?
Our friends and family are, or should be, people who know us better than anyone and who want the best for us. If they’re seeing red flags, it’s a very good sign to back up and look carefully at what they’re saying. On the other hand, if they warmly accept the person and approve, that’s probably a sign that we have a good bet on our hands.
Of course, people are fallible, and they don’t know everything about the other person and about our relationship. But if we’re being honest with them, and if they’re consistently warning us about problems they see, it would be pretty foolish to disregard their opinion. When we’re in love, we’re not very clear-sighted. Those around us don’t have that problem. They can often see things we can’t, and we should listen carefully.