By John Van Epp, Ph.D.
“He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.” Proverbs 18:22
Wouldn’t it be great if the answers to three questions could ensure we get the woman of our dreams? What if the careful observation of three major patterns would help find our perfect companion? What single man wouldn’t jump at a chance like that? Well, don’t expect a genie to pop out of this article, but here are three helpful tests to find that “favor from the Lord.”
The customary way marriages form has drastically changed since Biblical times. The practice of arranged marriages dominated a majority of the world’s civilizations throughout history. Families guided the process, with most partners being selected from a very localized pool of potential mates who possessed social, religious and cultural similarities.
In contrast, we now live in a global, electronic world that is mobile, diverse and extremely individualistic. This provides us with greater freedom in building romantic relationships and in choosing whom to marry than anyone has ever had in history. On the other hand, we have so much freedom that in many ways, we are left on our own, with no one guiding principal to help us choose. Honestly, that’s a huge responsibility to shoulder.
It starts with meeting (in person or online) a girl. Introductions and inquiries regarding basic details, such as age, interests, status, residency, etc., usually follow. But should we go deeper when everything checks out after the first few contacts? When that “perfect” woman apparently crosses our path and it seems God has granted our hearts desire, how can we be absolutely certain she’s the one?
This delema lead me to write the book How to Avoid Falling for a Jerk. To have confidence we know what a person is really like, we have to look beyond individual acts and piece together patterns. Face-to-face contact is a key requirement to develop deep levels of a relationship, however, an initial sketch be fashioned by learning to decipher the consistency between three major patterns, or “relationship scripts.” Asking the right questions can be crucial in determining the next step in any relationship.
There are three major areas that can provide enormous insight into a potential partner: a. the patterns of her conscience in the relationship; b. the patterns from her family background; c. and the patterns of her relationships to others, especially with previous romantic partners. These three areas can act as windows to the soul of a woman, and when considered carefully, can provide a good indication of what her future behaviors might be. Red flags should go up if inconsistencies are observed in these three areas, but when they resonate in harmony with each other, it’s a strong indicator that she might be the perfect match she promises to be. I refer to this test of character as the Trilogy of Consistency (see Figure 1).
[Insert Figure 1: Trilogy of Consistency]
How Does She Treat Me?
THE FIRST AREA OF FOCUS HAS TO DO WITH THE WAY OUR GIRL TREATS US. A MORE ACCURATE PICTURE CAN BE OBTAINED BY CONSIDERING BOTH THE OBVIOUS AND DISCREET ACTIONS OF HER CONSCIENCE.
Take note of the following: 1. Are her moods consistent? 2. Does she reply in a timely way? 3. Does she show a similar initiation to contact us as we show toward her? 4. Do we feel respected by what she says and how she says it? 5. When we make a request or set a boundary (“I can’t talk tomorrow because I have a huge project I need to work on”) do we feel understood and supported?
Recent research links a kind, gentle and understanding conscientiousness in a woman with marital stability and enjoyment. Another good way to determine if she has this disposition is to ask, “What kinds of behavior patterns does she often display with me, and where are the exceptions?”
It’s important to consider what kind of conscience a person has. The conscience is a God-given capacity to monitor our own thoughts, attitudes and actions with an emotional concern about moral and interpersonal effects (Romans 2:14-15; 9:1). This ability seems to be mapped into the neuro-structure of our brains, so all humans have this capacity. It is the vehicle that the Holy Spirit works through to bring conviction or commendation. But as we read in Timothy 4:2, the conscience can become seared or hardened, so much so that we no longer are prompted by either our own moral code or by the Spirit of God.
It is crucial to marry someone who has a well-developed and mature conscience. This is often neglected when considering compatibility. Although we should beware of drawing conclusions prematurely, it has been documented that one of the strongest indicators of a quality marriage with a low chance of divorce is both partners having high sensitivities in conscientiousness.
We should utilize patience in this discovery process, as it takes time and extensive contact to accurately assess a woman’s conscientiousness. It is helpful to keep in mind that what we see on the surface is often her best behavior. We shouldn’t expect this good behavior to last forever, but we can expect the bad behavior to get worse.
How Does She Treat Her Family?
NEXT, COMPARE HER ATTITUDES AND BEHAVIORS WITH THE DYNAMICS OF HER FAMILY EXPERIENCES. IT IS EASY TO ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT SOMEONE’S FAMILY EVEN IN THE EARLY STAGES OF A RELATIONSHIP BY STARTING WITH QUESTIONS ABOUT THE STRUCTURE OF THE FAMILY, SUCH AS, NUMBER OF SIBLINGS, PARENTS’ CIVIL STATUS, ETC. WE CAN THEN MOVE TO QUESTIONS ABOUT THE DYNAMICS OF THE FAMILY. WE ALL BRING SOMETHING FROM OUR FAMILY DYNAMICS INTO OUR RELATIONSHIPS, SO WE WILL CERTAINLY WANT TO FIND OUT WHAT SHE BRINGS TO THE TABLE FROM HER UPBRINGING.
Take note of the following: 1. Are her parents still married (if alive) or divorced? 2. How many siblings does she have? 3. Who was she close to in her family? 4. What was done for fun? for vacations? 5. What was the relationship like between her and her sibling(s). 6. What was the mood or atmosphere in the home? 7. How was affection shown? 8. What made her feel special in the family? 9. How did she know that she was loved by her mother (or female caregiver)? her father (or male caregiver)? 10. How were conflicts handled by her parents (or caregivers)?
If she has some “blemishes” in her family relationships, it is important to know the impact her family had on her and what she internalized from those experiences. In other words, the ways she was shaped by her family, and how she reacts to those experiences may predict the way she will act in her own marriage and family.
We can see this concept of “generational continuity” and how it can be broken in the Old Testament. Most of us know how Abraham favored Isaac over Ishmael, and how Isaac favored Esau over Jacob, but his wife Rebecca, instead favored Jacob. Jacob continued the pattern by favoring Joseph, and later Benjamin, over all his other sons. However, Joseph seemed to break the cycle by dealing with his family issues and attempting to treat his sons equally.
Seeds planted by our families may not germinate during the dating relationship—they may need the fertile soil of marriage to sprout. For instance, if our perfect woman had conflicts with her father, she may not believe those will ever affect her future relationships with men, even her spouse, but whether she believes it or not, she is not immune to the influences of those past family experiences. Or, if she was raised by a controlling mother, those dynamics may play out when she becomes a mother. If there are strong similarities in dating behaviors and family patterns, it’s likely that her dating behaviors will continue even into her marriage. If there are inconsistencies between dating behaviors and family patterns, try to find out what steps has she taken to improve herself and deal with any of the issues experienced in her family.
Knowing the likelihood these seeds germinate in marriage will help both members of the relationship work together to uncover potential sources of conflict and root them out as the relationship develops. Romantic relationships, as well as marriages, should be structures of shared responsibility and accountability that ultimately facilitate personal growth and maturity. Ideally, both people in the relationship should help the other grow and become better than they were before relationship.
How Does She Treat Others?
The final set of patterns to consider in the Trilogy of Consistency is the way that our perfect woman relates to others—her siblings, parents, friends, coworkers, previous romantic partners and bosses. Even take notice of how she treats those she does not know well, like waiters and other service people. If she treats us in a similar fashion to the way she interacted with her family, and this is consistent with her relationships with others, this could be a positive endorsement of our girl’s future marriage behavior. However, if there are inconsistencies in this trilogy of patterns, it could be evidence of character flaws, pointing to a long, difficult road ahead in the relationship.
Take Note of the Following: 1.What did her previous partners like and dislike about her? 2. What did she like or dislike about them? 3. What did she wish she had done differently? 3. How does she describe her previous partners? 4. How did she fight with previous partners? 5. How long were her relationships? 6. How did her relationship(s) break up? 7. What is her relationship now with the previous partner(s)? 8. What did she like to do in the previous relationship(s)? 9. How were arguments resolved? 10. What did she argue about?
An old Turkish proverb says, “Measure a thousand times, but cut only once.” In the same way, we need to pace the growth of our relationships with our observations and understanding of our perfect woman’s behaviors in regard to the Trilogy of Consistency. By bringing our head to bear in matters of the heart, we can ultimately relax and feel confident in our choice of a partner. True peace in this vital decision can only come when bathed in prayer, but God will use our intentional observations and careful considerations to steer us in the path of His choosing.
John Van Epp, PhD, President/Founder of loveThinks, LCC is the author of How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk, published by McGraw-Hill, which blends in-depth research with humorous stories to provide a map for making healthy relationship choices. His 25 years of clinical experience and extensive research in premarital, marital and family relations have paved the way for his teach-out-of-the-box courses, PICK (How to Avoid Falling for a Jerk) and Marriage LINKS to be taught in thousands of churches, singles organizations, educational settings and social agencies in all 50 states, 10 countries and by more than 2,500 military personnel. Van Epp and his innovative Relationship Attachment Model, book and relationship courses were awarded the Smart Marriage Impact Award (2008) and have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, Psychology Today, O Magazine, and Cosmopolitan; and he has appeared on the CBS Early Show, The O’Reilly Factor, Fox News, and Focus on the Family. He has been happily married for over 30 years and is the proud father of two daughters www.lovethinks.com