What if there was a guidebook on how to prepare for a successful marriage? It is beautiful to know that the Author of romance, God Himself, has left us principles through His Word that can lead and guide us into all Truth in the area of romantic relationships and godly marriages. Catch a breathtaking vision for what God created marriage to reflect, and learn how to begin preparing for a marriage that goes the distance beginning today!
Leslie Ludy: Hey everyone, it’s Leslie Ludy, host of the Set Apart Girl Podcast: Biblical Encouragement for Women of All Ages. Today we’re going to be starting a series on godly relationships, and this episode is about the best way to prepare for marriage.
I’m excited about this topic because I think there are a lot of misconceptions of what is the best way to prepare for marriage. A lot of people used to tell me when I was a young adult and in my single years that dating around, being with lots of different guys, and seeing which personalities I was compatible with was going to be the best preparation for marriage.
But what I found was that I jumped into one temporary relationship after the next. It really didn’t prepare me for marriage, it set me up for divorce more than anything else because I would casually jump into a relationship, and give my heart, my emotions — pour myself into this relationship — and then, as soon as one of us got tired of it, we would move on to the next person. And after this cycle had happened in my life a few times, and led to a lot of heartbreak, I remember thinking, This is actually preparing me for a divorce mentality — to casually jump into a relationship and then to bail out as soon as things get difficult.
Falling in Love With the Author of Romance
Leslie Ludy: So I began to pray and say, “God, what is Your way to prepare for marriage?” And God took me on an amazing journey in which I realized that preparing for marriage is very different than the mentalities that this culture gives us and says, “Date around. Explore all of these relationships. Give your heart to one person after the next, and that’s how you prepare for marriage.” God’s way of preparing for marriage is completely different.
The key truth in God’s way of preparing for marriage is — instead of cultivating a selfish, temporary-relationship cycle — the way to prepare for marriage is to spend time with the Author of romance, God Himself, and let Him build His character within you. I’ll say that one more time: the best way to prepare for marriage is to spend time with the Author of romance, which is God Himself, and to let Him build HIs character within you.
I want to offer you two practical ways to make that happen in your life starting today. These are the things that God took me through when I was really seeking Him on, “What is your way, God, of preparing for marriage?”
Principle No. 1: Love Jesus Above All Else
Leslie Ludy: The first one is making Jesus Christ your first love. This is so important, and I would honestly say that this is probably the number one secret to a lasting, successful relationship — is to make Jesus Christ your first love.
When Eric and I were first married, we had a lot of people who wished us well, and cheered us on, but we also had a lot of naysayers — people who said, “Oh yes, well you’re in love right now, but just wait until after the honeymoon, or just wait until after your first year of marriage is over, or wait until you have kids, or wait until you start to have a stressful job, or this goes wrong or that goes wrong. The romance will quickly fade.”
So many people told us that, and I remember hearing a Christian counselor say, “At every point and in every marriage, you will look across the table from the person you are married to and wish that you were married to someone else. The romance just doesn’t last, and you shouldn’t expect it to.” That was extremely depressing for Eric and I to think about because we had had this beautiful God-written love story, and we thought, Is that how it’s going to end?
But as we learned through the years, there is a secret to keeping romance strong and keeping a marriage alive and healthy, and that is making Christ your first love. Eric and I have now been married for over twenty years, and we have never had a moment where we wished we were married to someone else. We haven’t grown tired of each other. In fact, our love is deeper and more beautiful than when we first took our wedding vows, and this is not because we’re especially gifted at romance or perfectly sensitive to each other at all times. We have been through a lot of stressful times being in ministry, and yet we’ve learned how to allow those stressful times to draw us closer together rather than drive a wedge between us. This is simply because we have kept Christ at the center, not only of our marriage, but of our individual lives. We’ve learned to find our deepest fulfillment and satisfaction in Him, and that is what leads to this amazing beauty that we’ve discovered in our relationship.
When I was first married — those first few years — one of the things that I struggled with was reading a lot of marriage books. They seemed to focus mostly on how as a wife here is how you get your husband to meet your needs and be more sensitive to you, and here’s some creative ways you can get him to understand what you need him to do to be a better husband. There were some good tips in those books and some good principles, but I found myself focusing so much on getting my own needs met that I lost sight of loving and serving my husband.
I began to adopt this attitude — I won’t be happy until my husband changes in these areas. I would read these books and think, Yeah, he needs to be more sensitive, and he needs to speak differently in this way, and he needs to start doing this more. Then I would start to become discontent in my marriage, and think I have to put my happiness on hold until my husband becomes this man that I’m dreaming of or the prince charming of my childhood dreams.
And God began to really get my attention through that and say, “Leslie, if you are putting your happiness on hold until your husband changes and becomes more sensitive to you, then you’ll never be truly happy.” Because as godly and as Christlike as your husband can become he’ll never be perfect, and he’ll never be perfectly sensitive to your needs. The only way you can truly be happy and fulfilled no matter what your marriage is like — no matter what your outward circumstances are like — is to make Jesus Christ your first love and to find your absolute happiness and contentment and fulfillment in Him.
So instead of reading those books, I began to put them aside and say, “Lord, I am going to spend time with You every day and find my fulfillment in You,” and as I did I was able to say, “Wow! My needs and my desires are first and foremost being fulfilled in my relationship with Jesus Christ.” That gives me the ability to look at my husband and say, “How can I love you, and serve you, and give to you?” As opposed to always looking at all the ways he’s falling short and not meeting my needs.
I learned how to pray for his short-comings and even communicate things that I needed from Him, but also to realize that I had everything I needed right then and there for perfect happiness in my relationship with Jesus Christ. So I began to learn to ask different questions in my marriage. Not, how can I be served, but how can I serve my spouse? Not, how can my spouse be more sensitive to me, but how can I be more sensitive to him?
Whether you are single or married, you can set the stage for a marriage that grows more beautiful when you take time to cultivate your relationship with Christ and learn to find your deepest satisfaction in Him. When Christ is not your first love you’ll always be looking to a human person to meet needs in your soul that only Christ can meet, and you’ll end up frustrated and disillusioned. But when Jesus is in His rightful place, you can set the stage for a selfless love. It’s a love that no longer asks the question, “What am I getting out of this relationship?” But rather, “How can I bless, honor, and serve my spouse and love him as Christ has loved me?”
So if you’re unsure how to make Christ your first love, take this simple advice from the book of James: “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (That’s in James 4:8.) Spend time in His presence. Study His Word. Build your life around the pursuit of Him. The Bible promises us that when we seek Him with an undivided heart, He will reveal Himself to us. (You can look up Jeremiah 29:13 for more about that.) So that is the first principle, and I believe the best way to prepare for a successful marriage.
Principle No. 2: Let the Man Take the Lead
Leslie Ludy: The second one is letting the man take the lead. Before I was married I remember hearing my parents and other people in my life say, “You really need to let the man be the one to initiate a relationship.” I remember thinking, when I was younger, That’s old fashioned! People don’t do that anymore. Is that really necessary? But as God really began to get a hold of my life I began to realize that Scripture paints a very clear picture of the bridegroom being the initiator and the bride, the woman, being the responder. It’s all throughout Scripture, and it’s even a picture of Christ as the Bridegroom, and we —His Church — being the Bride. We love Him because He first loved us. And that pattern is meant to translate into male/female relationships here on this earth. Marriage is truly meant to be a reflection of a much greater love story—the love story between the Church and the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.
So I began to ask God, “Show me how to let the man take the lead.” As my relationship with Eric started I didn’t want to rush ahead of God, rush ahead of Eric, and try to take control of things. But that sometimes goes against our nature. As women we want to rush things along. We want to be in control. We want to manipulate circumstances to push things in the direction that we want them to go.
I remember a really challenging situation in my relationship with Eric. It was right before he was about to leave for the mission field for a couple of years. We were very close friends, and both of us, I think, were sensing that there was going to be more than just a friendship. Yet, that conversation hadn’t actually taken place. He was about to leave, and back then we didn’t have easy ways of communicating with each other. It sounds like I’m talking about way back in the olden days, but really twenty years ago you didn’t have quick, easy ways of getting in touch with each other. A lot of the modern technology wasn’t out yet, and so I remember thinking, “If he doesn’t have this conversation with me, I’m not going to be able to sleep for two years because I’ll be wondering where are things at between us. Is he forgetting all about me? Is he going and finding another girl? Or is he somebody that I should be saving my heart for?
There were so many times leading up to that day that he was leaving where I wanted to initiate a conversation, and I wasn’t going to sit down and demand him to declare his love for me. I basically wanted to say, “Hey, could you just give me an idea of where things are at between us, and what you’re thinking about our relationship?”
Every single time I went to open my mouth to start that conversation, I just felt God pull me back and say, “You need to let him be the one to initiate that conversation.” And that was extremely hard for me because he just wasn’t doing it. Finally, it was the day before he left that he sat down with me and told me that he felt that God was preparing us to be married someday. And one of the first things he said in that conversation was, “I am so thankful that you allowed me to take the lead and be the one to initiate the conversation. It shows what a godly woman you are.” And I was laughing to myself thinking, He has no idea how many times I almost blew that out of the water!
But it was really beautiful to see that as I obeyed the Spirit of God and said, “Okay, Lord, I’ll trust You to move this relationship forward in Your own time, and to move on Eric’s heart when it’s the right time,” as opposed to manipulating and trying to make things happen quicker. It really set the right tone from the very beginning of our relationship, and it honored his position as the leader.
A lot of married women are frustrated with their husbands because their husbands aren’t strong leaders. They don’t initiate growth spiritually in the family or in the marriage. They don’t initiate moving the relationship forward, but a lot of times those same women didn’t allow the man to be a leader from the beginning of the relationship, and it’s very hard to switch back to the way God intended the pattern to be. It’s not impossible but it’s so much easier if you can start from the very beginning of the relationship with letting the man take the lead.
A lot of married women want their husbands to be stronger leaders in the home, but if the man has been robbed of his position even before the relationship began you need to take some time to apologize and repent for that, and re-give him that position as the leader and say, “I have been taking this away from you, and I want you to be the leader.”
When you look at a woman’s role in a relationship, it’s important to realize that men and women are equal before God, and we are both commissioned to share the Gospel just the same way men are. If you think about who Jesus appeared to after His resurrection — it was a woman. And what did He tell her to do — it was to go and share the news of His resurrection with the disciples. It says in Scripture that because of the cross, “There is neither Jew nor Greek…neither male nor female (Gal. 3:28).” We all have the privilege of coming before the throne of grace, and yet when it comes to a relationship we, as women, have the privilege of letting the man take the lead in a relationship and in decision making, and following that amazing pattern of Christ and His Bride. The same applies to Church leadership and other situations in which women need to simply step aside and allow men to be the strong leaders that God intended them to be. Allow them to take that strong role of decision-making and being the initiators, and we become the responders.
Stunning Examples of the Biblical Pattern for Marriage
Leslie Ludy: If you think about Jane Austen romances we all as women think they are so romantic, and we love reading those books and watching those movies. But what would it be like if a Jane Austen romance had the woman pursuing the man? If she was the one to write him letters all the time, and draw self-portraits of herself and send them to him, and constantly asks what he thinks of her — it would be missing something!
Most of the romance is removed when a woman takes that position and tries to pursue a man. Jane Austen romances are really not just fairy tales, and they’re not just invented by Jane Austen. They reflect God’s pattern of a man rising up and being a strong man, and proving that He is truly worthy of a woman’s heart. So that is the type of pattern that, in today’s world, we need to get back to even though it may not be easy. It’s easy to fall into the idea that letting a man lead in a relationship is unnecessary, and it’s even unwise. After all, we might think, Why would we wait around for the guy to finally initiate the relationship? What’s so wrong with the woman giving him a nudge when he’s moving too slow, or at least letting him know she’s interested? What if the relationship never moves forward?
These are the thoughts that we oftentimes struggle with, but as I mentioned before we see that pattern in Scripture of the man initiating and the woman responding. The Song of Solomon is all about that — a man pursuing and the woman responding. And of course Christ, the Bridegroom, and the Church, His Bride, responding.
So when we let men pursue, initiate, and lead a relationship, we honor their position and we help them become the godly leaders that God intended them to be. Now this doesn’t mean that you should stay in a relationship in which a guy is just leading you on, or taking advantage of your heart and emotions without any intention of a marriage commitment. The best course of action in that situation is not to demand that they become serious about you, but rather to pull away from the relationship until God matures him into a truly honorable and trustworthy man. There are a lot of books coming out for women today that say, “Here is how to nudge the guy into a commitment to you.” But really that is just another form of manipulation, and the best course of action is to simply pull back and say, “God, You work in his heart. You build him into the man that he is meant to be, and if Your intention is for us to be together — I trust You to work in his heart that he will take the lead.”
So be watchful of rushing ahead of God’s pattern and robbing a man of his position because of your own impatience. If there’s a step that needs to be taken, ask God to move on his heart, and trust He can work in a man’s heart without your subtle, or maybe not-so-subtle, manipulation. Yes, it’s true you may have to wait longer than you’d like, but if you lean entirely upon God’s faithfulness rather than your own scheming, you will see that in His timing and His ways you will find His perfect pattern.
Leslie Ludy: So there’s one final thought that I’d like to leave you with. If you want to prepare for an amazing romance get to know the Author of romance. Build your life around Him — not the pursuit of relationships, and if His plan and purpose for you is marriage, you’ll be far more prepared for an amazing love story that will go the distance than you will if you follow the world’s selfish patterns.
For more on this topic please visit our Secrets to an Amazing Love Story online course available here. I pray you have a blessed and Christ-centered week!