How to Decide Your Must-Haves Versus Your Negotiables in a Spouse



Whether you attend Bible college or are desperately trying to find a match in your church’s singles groups before the pickings disappear, you may settle for the word settle. 

In other words, the standards you set before for yourself about non-negotiables while dating may get dropped.

Maybe, like me, you had family members tell you that you were “too picky” about your choices, so you decided to try someone a little different. Or, perhaps you’ve learned through dating multiple people that you’ve added things to the list of “must-haves” that were once “negotiables”.

In either case, one can have a lot of difficulty navigating the Christian dating waters. How do we determine what belongs on what list? After all, those lists appear to shift and change throughout every season. 

Do certain items remain fixated in that “must-haves” category? 

In this article, we’ll dive into the “must-haves” that should appear on every Christian’s list. Then we’ll discuss what to do about that negotiables list and the gray area that seems to exist in between.

What Are “Must Haves” and “Negotiables”?

Before we proceed, we need to define our terms, for those unfamiliar with these two criteria.

A must-have list includes all the qualities or characteristics a potential future spouse must have in order for you two to continue in a relationship. We’ll discuss more of these in-depth. But if someone does not possess all of the qualities on your must-have list, then you two do not belong together.

Negotiables, as you might guess, include the attributes that do not determine if someone should end up as your future spouse or not. For instance, maybe they’re a cat person and you tend to drift toward mammals of a canine nature. The fact they like cats more will not break apart your relationship. 

At least, we should hope not.

With this in mind, let’s talk about what must-haves should land on every Christian’s dating criteria.

What “Must Haves” Should Every Christian Have?

First and foremost, every Christian needs to plan to marry another believer. I know this sounds horribly stringent and unyielding, but allow me to explain.

Not only does Paul tell us we need to be equally yoked with our partner, especially in our belief in Christ (2 Corinthians 6:14), but as believers, our relationship with Christ comes first. We marry to grow closer to Christ. We cannot do so if our partner does not believe in Jesus in the first place.

But because this sounds rather abrasive, Christians like to engage in something known as "missionary dating." Because Hollywood often perpetuates this idea that if we swoop up a brooding male or female into our arms and show them the light, they will change for the better and, in the Christian world, accept Jesus as his Savior. 

I’ve watched countless friends learn the difficult truth that we cannot replace Jesus’ position as Savior. In trying to missionary date, we attempt to play the role of partner and Messiah all in one. Even if we find ourselves smitten with a non-believer, we have to leave them in God’s hands. Otherwise, we risk stunting our own spiritual growth.

OK, so in addition to the fact they need to believe in Jesus, what else falls on that essentials list?

In addition to avoiding yoking with unbelievers, we have another branch of Christianity known as nominal Christianity. Those who engage in nominal Christianity appear to be believers from the outside. They may attend church or slap John 3:16 on their dating profile, but that does not a believer make.

Even if they do have a relationship with the Lord, they may not be in the right place for a relationship with a human. As you date, watch for spiritual growth. 

Christians bear fruit (John 15:1-27). If they appear to be fruitless, then you need to say goodbye.

After all, we marry to grow closer to Christ. This is another non-negotiable. Become convinced of God's purpose for marriage yourself, and don't settle for a relationship that only serves the two of you without bringing your closer to God.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/PeopleImages

What Are Some Gray Areas or Negotiables?

Certainly, we want someone to be a strong believer in Christ, but what about gray areas. There’s a massive gap between “doesn’t believe in Jesus” and “prefers cats over dogs,” so where do we draw those lines?

Although I cannot speak for every Christian situation, I will highlight some big picture areas below that you should watch for in a potential partner. We also do have to bear in mind that Scripture does not have a whole lot to say about dating parameters because dating, as we know it, didn’t exist during the first century AD. 

But it does have a great deal to say about loving your neighbor, purity, and yoking.

Remembering that, let’s discuss.

  • Boundaries

Here’s where the fruit of the spirit and self-control comes in (Galatians 5:22-23). You may have found an absolutely wonderful believer, but they push boundaries.

Although Ephesians 5:3 tells us to let not even a hint of sexual immorality among us, what does that mean for things like kissing or cuddling Maybe you said you wouldn’t kiss before marriage, and you two kiss after every date--even in a gray area, you've pushed your boundaries.

Scripture calls us to practice the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31). This includes dating relationships. If our partner practices both, they will respect boundaries. And this does apply to both men and women. 

  • Children and Career

This may seem silly to include in here. After all, I’ve known Christian women who didn’t want children who ended up with large families and Christian men who wanted to fill a homeschool van with their offspring who never had a single child to their name.

Hence why we placed this in the gray area. Because God’s plans often don’t follow our own.

With that said, I have encountered several gentlemen, while dating, who essentially said, “What’s the point of a marriage if you don’t even have children? If she’s not head-over-heels in love with kids, we can’t date.” They often like to cite the be fruitful and multiply verse (Genesis 1:28) And I’ve also encountered people who said, “I don’t necessarily feel called to have kids. I believe God can use me to minister to youth in other ways, and it takes all types to spread the kingdom of God.”

We haven’t even discussed views on adoption and fostering kids. You may date someone who doesn’t want biological kids but who wants to adopt.

Or who stays home with the kids if you do have children. Is your wife willing to put her career on hold? Or your husband? 

Therefore, you need to establish in dating someone their views on this matter. And whether for you, or them, if this falls into a must-have category. 

To put this into simple terms, you need to determine what each spouse's role looks like.

Debates aside (please, really, I’m not looking for an argument here) your partner will fall somewhere between the Complimentarian and Egalitarian spectrum. They may fully believe that the husband should have headship and should make all the important decisions in a marriage.

Or they may fall more egalitarian, believing both spouses should have a say in major decisions. 

No matter what the case, you need to ascertain your partner’s viewpoints early on.

As for other matters in the gray area, we could devote entire books to the subject. My best suggestion is to create three separate lists: must-haves, negotiables, and gray areas. You may find, over time, that items on that gray area list will shift to another of the two categories.

Christians especially (but nonbelievers as well) can rush into relationships and marriage. Church culture has a tendency to try and speed up the process so we can fulfill that fruitful and multiply verse we find in Genesis. 

But we run the risk of yoking with someone who can ultimately cause mental and spiritual damage, and we in turn may do the same to them.

Yes, this will prolong the dating process. We will have to turn away a lot of people, and we narrow our dating pool a significant amount by adhering to our standards. But we save ourselves from heartbreak and hurt by doing so. 

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages


headshot of author Hope BolingerHope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,000 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy released its first two installments with IlluminateYA, and the final one, Vision, releases in August of 2021. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. Find out more about her at her website.

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