If one looks at contemporary dating web sites to find a future spouse, it appears as though attraction and compatibility have become standards for successful premarital and marriage relationships. Unfortunately, these characteristics create a false set of assumptions for developing and maintaining relationships for dating, engaged, and married couples. Married couples will also discover that these cultural characteristics are not the primary indicators of a vibrant marriage or family life.
Single adults and young couples are exposed to national marketing strategies by online dating services such as eHarmony® and Match.com® which utilize television and radio commercials featuring testimonies of couples who claim to have met their spouse on these sites. These couples fill out a questionnaire designed to match them to other people who have similar “core traits and vital attributes.” Many single adults have turned to online dating sites to assist them in their search for a future spouse. These sites claim to use a scientific approach toward relationships, and each company reports that millions of clients use their services. None of the major dating web sites address the biblical principles of a shared identity as essential characteristics of a vibrant relationship.
Over twenty million single adults use eHarmony’s services alone. eHarmony® reported over five hundred couples getting married each day on their web site while Match.com® reported in radio and television advertisement more relationships and weddings that any other company. These claims of millions of users and hundreds of weddings become very appealing for someone to use these services in order to find a future spouse. The most successful online companies spend millions of dollars in television and radio advertisements in order to get single adults to trust them to find someone who is attractive and has compatible interests.
A compelling argument can be made as to whether or not compatibility (friendship) and attraction have the potential to add excitement and vitality to a relationship. However, couples will find that attraction and compatibility are not the most vital components of a life—long relationship. People will not only change in their interests and hobbies but also in what attracts them to another person. Couples who enjoy hiking, traveling, or the theatre may find that an injury, recession, or a job transfer will keep them from participating in these activities.The level of compatibility that attracted them to each other, earlier in their relationship, will change. Another common misnomer about attraction is someone’s attraction to height, level of education, or hair color in another person will find these distinctives to be less important over time. I believe that the characteristics of shared values are the glue that allows couples to overcome obstacles, conflicts, and crises that are common over the life—time of a relationship.
In my opinion, the purpose of Christian marriage is to form a shared identity between a man and woman. A shared identity is formed as couples validate each other as children of God, and develop a shared spiritual life, friendship and shared values. The characteristics of compatibility and attraction are important but elementary in comparison to the blessing of a shared identity that is based upon friendship and shared values. Holy matrimony forms a divine partnership between a man, woman, and God where Jesus is the source of marital love. Couples have much more than attraction and compatibility to offer each other in a marriage relationship. A divine partnership allows people to extend and receive the blessings and benefits of sacrificial love with their spouses.
I believe that the most important characteristic of marriage preparation is left out of the matching process of these online dating organizations. The missing characteristic is a commitment to become the gift that God wants to give to one of his sons or daughters. Most people are oriented to finding the persons who will be a gift to them rather than becoming gifts to their future spouses. People who are committed to becoming gifts to their future spouse are in a much better position to choose partners who are also prepared to enter into a covenant relationship.
In my experience as a pastor, I have found that many people find themselves unprepared to love someone sacrificially because of the negative effects of divorce or abandonment on family life. The formation of a shared identity is difficult when someone’s identity was distorted or underdeveloped due to an unstable home life. Many of the young adults that I have worked with over the last twenty years are ill-prepared to establish long-term relationships because of the breakdown in family life due to divorce or abandonment of one parent. Judith Wallerstein reports that adult children of divorced families believe their marriages are doomed from the start (300). The Scriptures say that anyone who has marriage in their heart desires an honorable thing (Heb. 13:4). In my opinion the legacy of divorce that has been handed down from past generations is responsible for the cultural confusion toward marriage relationships. Single adults and cohabiting couples often view marriage as a greater risk to happiness and with fewer rewards than cohabiting relationships. Cohabiting couples avoid divorce by staying unmarried (296).
Churches are in a strategic position to come along side of individuals’ desires for marriage by helping them to establish relationships based upon the biblical principles of a shared identity and shared values. These characteristics are foundational to a marriage covenant. Unfortunately, many churches, counselors, or Christian organizations do not have the staff, expertise, or resources to counteract the cultural confusion toward marriage relationships.
Christian educators need resources and an assessment tool that can supply data that can be used to counteract the cultural bents of an increasing secular viewpoint toward marriage. The Life in Motion Relationship and Family Life Inventory (LIMRI) is an assessment tool that allows premarital and married couples to take responsibility to invest and enrich their relationships through developing friendship and shared values. The educational process that churches use to equip premarital and married couples must go beyond a melting— pot approach to Christ-centered relationships. Each relationship needs to be addressed individually because of each person has a unique family of origin or spiritual background.
Churches should use premarital and marriage materials and resources that are specific to the needs of young adults who grew up in single-parent, step-family, or divorced homes. The increase in cohabiting couples and single parent families require Christian education to equip people in these family types to develop Christ-centered relationships, especially due to the loss of healthy relationships in their family of origin. Many churches offer premarital and marriage classes for couples in their congregations. However, classes that do not teach couples or single to form a shared identity with their future spouse will fail them at a most critical need for a healthy premarital and married relationship.
The LIMRI was developed to equip couples to grow their relationship at their own pace. It was designed to identify relationships strengths as well as areas of improvement. The LIMRI offers married couples a growth plan that is used at their discretion. Engaged couples are encouraged to retake the LIMRI within the first year of marriage. The retake of the LIMRI will generate a one-year growth plan for newly married couples.
The LIMRI is a flexible instrument that develops worksheets and growth plans for married couples with or without parenting responsibilities as well as cohabiting and non cohabiting couples with our without parenting responsibilities. Over one thousand couples have completed the LIMRI and personalized worksheets over a five-year period. The LIMRI has proven to be an effective tool to enrich relationships over these last five years.
The decision to develop statements as friendship, and shared values was based upon working as a marriage and family life pastor over the last fifteen years. I had extensive experience working with couples and families who were in crisis or needed to enrich their relationship and family life. Couples made progress during my counseling sessions or marriage or parenting classes but struggled to maintain growth in their relationship and family life. The existing resources for premarital and married couples such as PREPARE/ENRICH and FOCCUS inventories were helpful but offered little help in developing growth plans or as a sustainable discipleship resource. The LIMRI fills the need of a sustainable resource for local churches that serves as a discipleship tool as couples complete their worksheets and growth plans.
I recognized that many of the couples within my congregation did not understand how to apply the Scripture to their relationships or family life. The LIMRI helps couples and parents to enrich these areas by discussing Scriptures, biblical principles, discussion questions and practical applications to areas of their relationship where improvement is needed. The LIMRI, personalized worksheets, and growth plans allow couples to apply biblical wisdom to everyday life.