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You Won’t Find the ‘Perfect’ Spouse

Throughout high school and college, I read all the books on dating and pursuing marriage that lined the Christian bookstore shelves.

Due to experiences among my family members, I was nervous about finding the right person to spend my life with. I was determined to make sure a man checked every box before I even considered him a potentially worthy husband.

What I didn’t consider, however, was that I could be too picky. I blurred the line between setting the bar high in search of a worthy spouse and following unrealistic (often culture-driven) expectations. Over time, I acquired quite the list of attributes in a husband that I prayed for in great detail.

Husband ‘Formula’

Certainly the Bible explicitly labels some qualities as requirements—marriage is designed to be between a man and a woman (Gen. 2:24), and believers should only marry other believers who live by their profession (2 Cor. 6:14).

Aside from these two necessities for a God-honoring marriage, though, God gives us freedom to choose the person we spend our life with.

While the stacks of books and articles about the traits you should look for in a godly spouse are helpful and worthwhile guides for making a wise lifelong decision, I began to fixate on the “formula” rather than on God’s leading in my life.

I began to fixate on the ‘formula’ rather than on God’s leading in my life.

The problem manifested when I subtly began considering additional preferences as necessities. It’s not inherently wrong to have preferences for certain qualities in a spouse. But when we turn what isn’t a distinct biblical guideline into a must-have—into an idol—we’re in the danger zone.

I fell prey to creating a character in my mind who was the type of person I thought I wanted to marry—and he didn’t exist.

Perfectionism to Pessimism

I was oblivious to my unreasonable standards until I listened to Tim Keller’s marriage sermon series. The material from those sermons was eventually compiled into his book The Meaning of Marriage, where he addresses the widespread cultural problem of looking for our idea of near perfection in a potential spouse.

“Both men and women today see marriage not as a way of creating character and community but as a way to reach personal life goals,” he wrote. “They are looking for a marriage partner who will ‘fulfill their emotional, sexual, and spiritual desires.’ And that creates an extreme idealism that in turn leads to a deep pessimism that you will ever find the right person to marry.”

Even as believers, we can fall into this trap that our culture conditions us to pursue. Pessimism begins to creep in, which I witnessed in college as crude jokes toward the opposite sex and claims of lifelong celibacy (some joking to hide their rising despair, others dead serious).

Selfish Desire for a Perfect Spouse

When God brought the man who’s now my husband into my life, I felt both compelled to get to know him and also disillusioned. Apart from the true fundamentals, like being a man of faith who lives it out, he didn’t possess all those additional skills or attributes I thought I had to have in a life partner.

The Holy Spirit and my community helped me to recognize that those other attributes were merely ideals. They were qualities I thought would boost my self-image and fulfill me. I was in pursuit of a man who would make me look good to the world and feel better about myself. Ultimately, I sought completion in another fallen human being.

In this mindset, there’s little room for the true design of marriage—walking with our spouses through the peaks and valleys of life, helping each other to become more and more like God as we journey toward heaven together.

Better Desires

As God continued to teach me, he began to give my heart new desires—better desires (Ps. 37:4). Coming to terms with the fact that my husband wouldn’t ultimately satisfy the gnawing craving in my soul to be known and fulfilled at first felt flattening. But over time, it became liberating. I began to understand it as an invitation to freely love my spouse without being threatened by his imperfections, and an invitation to stir richer affections and hopes in my heart for an astonishingly satisfying life with no end in heaven.

Today, I’m sobered, humbled, and grateful that God didn’t give me some of the things I prayed so earnestly for in a husband.

Today, I’m chilled to the core, humbled, and grateful that God didn’t give me some of the things I prayed so earnestly for in a husband.

Even more astonishing is that he gave me wonderful things I never even thought to ask for. In his wisdom and kindness, God gave me a husband who’s different from the man I imagined I’d marry, but overwhelmingly better for me in every way. Our strengths and weaknesses differ, helping us become better as one than we were as individuals.

Single friends who desire to be married, consider and pray over those qualities you’re eager for in a spouse. There’s nothing wrong with hoping for certain characteristics or interests. But also pray for your heart to be receptive to God’s good plan for you. Ask him to reveal and change any unrealistic or unhealthy expectations. Pray with the psalmist, “Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths” (Ps. 25:4). Pray that God would be the treasure of your heart.

If marriage is designed to be an earthly shadow of a heavenly reality, then our expectations must adjust accordingly. Shadows and silhouettes are their own art form, but they’re nothing compared to a vivid, colorful image with sharp detail. We wait for our shadows to be filled in with life untouched by evil and decay at the dawn of eternity—at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6–9).

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