I’m a preacher, who is young, and likes to rant about dating and marriage. So naturally, one of the most popular questions I hear from singles is, “How can I know if he/she is the one?

“Tyler, we’ve been dating for a couple years, and she’s talking about rings and naming our first baby! How do I know she’s it?”

“I have a track-record for choosing duds. I used to say all guys were alike, but then I looked back at my last five relationships and noticed that the common denominator was… ummm, me. So I’ve finally chosen a guy who seems like he’s good. How can I be sure he’s the real deal?”

“I’m 27 and already divorced. It was the worst thing ever. How can I know that won’t happen again? How do I know she’s the one?”

This is a tough question, to say the least, but it’s a good one. One I think everyone should ask that respects God’s institution of marriage. And it requires a conversation larger than this blog because each couple and situation is different. But allow me to offer one piece of advice that’ll start the conversation for you.

If you want to know if they’re the one – Look at their actions, not their intentions.

Please, please, please! Singles take this to heart. Don’t let someone’s good intentions or romantic words or bombastic promises convince you their actions are irrelevant.

Don’t let them point to the future despite their past. Don’t let him say, “But baby, I know I did this and that to you, and I lied about this, and hid that, and ignored you here, and drug you through the mud and the muck. And I know I’ve done that to you six times now, and every time I promised it would be the last, even though I did it again last night, but baby, I’ll change. In fact, if you’d just marry me, I’d have the motivation to be a new man!”

Weak sauce! Don’t buy it! Don’t let him convince you that once you’re married, “tah-dah!”, everything will be magically okay. Because marriage isn’t magic. It doesn’t pixie-dust all the stupid habits she’s been building, it intensifies them! Marriage is a magnifying glass, not a medicine. So look at their actions, not their intentions.

This principle seems so intuitive, I know. You’re probably wondering, “Does this really need to be said? I mean, duh. Seems logical.” But yes, it does need be said. Over and over. You need be slapped in the face with this now before marriage. You need be specifically and explicitly made aware of this principle now before you fall in love. Because when you fall in love you don’t think straight. You don’t do what’s logical.

People literally experience “chemistry” when they’re attracted to someone. Attraction causes a rise in dopamine and norepinephrine, so you feel this sort of high that screws with your brain. Attraction acts like a drug because of the physical chemistry it causes, and so you honestly lose your ability to discern wisely. You’ll believe anything because of “love.”

I’ve seen it time and time again. He’ll promise that “It was the last time baby…” Or she’ll chide, “If you’d just marry me, I know I could change…” And smart, logical, clear-headed people are duped. You won’t look at their actions, their habits, their track record, their patterns, their past. Instead you’ll just hear their good intentions.

And their intentions are good! I have no problem giving them the benefit of the doubt, because I believe when they make these promises, they really do have good intentions. They want to do you right. They don’t want their mistakes to blow this. They’re attracted to you too. And because of that, because of the chemical high that you two feel, you’ll look at their inflated promises and dreamy words and nice intentions, and ignore their actions.

You’ll tell your momma, “But mom, you don’t understand. We share the same straw in our drink, we’re in love.” And she’ll say, “Yea, but does he have a grip on his attitude? And a handle on his dishonesty? And a plan to actually get a job?” And you’re like, “But he doesn’t need a job, momma! We have matching tattoos!” And she’s like, “Wait… what?”

Plain and simple, when you lose your mind in love, you’ll believe anything. So burn this principle into your heart now so it will be impossible to ignore then. Make him put his money where his mouth is. Stop the engagement. Pause the relationship. And force her to prove she really means what she says.

Because, real talk, if he sleeps around now, he’ll probably sleep around then. If she’s a flirt now, her hunger for male attention will only grow. If he’s a hot-head now, what about marriage is going to change that? If she has a knack for spending herself deeper into debt, when the two of your bank accounts become one, she’ll bury you too. If he drinks too much now, he’ll drink too much then. If she’s a pathological liar now, what makes you think you’ll be able to trust her after a wedding?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling you not to forgive. I’m not telling you not to give them second, third, and fifth chances. That’s your call. Pray about it and be wise. I’m just suggesting you stop the forward movement of the relationship until they begin to replace their bad habits that destroy commitment with good ones that nurture it.

In fact, you know what you two should do? You should commit to identifying and erasing your bad habits together (even if they, not you, are the cause of most the problems). Make this a mutual effort towards healing. Give them no excuses.

Commit now to being the type of person who can commit later, together.

You won’t be sorry. Because even if you two don’t make it, even if he’s not the one or she won’t change, you’ll be glad you took time to change personally. It’ll make you less attracted to anyone who isn’t growing like you and more attractive to whoever your next sweetheart might be in the future.

Trust me, I’ve never heard a girl say, “Wait a minute. You’re telling me you’re a virgin? You actually saved yourself for your wife? Yea… ummmm, we’re going to need to pause the relationship so you can run-along and get a little practice. Come talk to me in two months after you’ve sowed your wild oats.”

I’ve never heard a guy say, “Hold-up, you have no debt? No student loans? No consumer debt? Nothing? Someone sign this girl up with Groupon and Visa, fast!” Never have I heard that. And I don’t plan to.

So please singles, take this to heart – When it comes to finding the one, the actions people choose trump the commitments they make. Look at their actions, not their intentions.

A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad.” -Jesus

Tyler McKenzie is the Teaching Pastor at Northeast Christian Church and Blogger at CrossShapedStuff.com. Give his blog a visit for more great content and join the conversation.

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