I decided to take the plunge and start dating again. I am using a couple of dating apps and am also having friends set me up on blind dates. I am a Christian and have discovered that is a loaded term in the dating world. My relationship with God is the most important thing to me, and I don’t want to alienate people right from the start. When should I share about my faith with a potential partner?
A Faithful Heart
Dear Faithful Heart:
I appreciate your courage in asking this question because sharing one’s faith is a vulnerable thing to do on any given day, without the pressure of trying to find the right life partner. Before we talk about when or how you should share your faith, let’s talk about why learning about one another’s spirituality is a vital part of a relationship.
First of all, “Faith informs the big questions: What is the meaning of life? What happens after death? Does prayer really change things? But it also informs the little decisions: Where should we send our children to school? How should we spend our money? In what ways should we help others?” (Prepare/Enrich). These are the types of questions one should discuss with a partner to discover if you have similar spiritual values, even if you are from a different Christian denomination or religious faith tradition.
Faithful Heart, is research persuasive to you? There are a number of therapy theories that study romantic relationships such as the Gottman Method (John Gottman), Emotionally Focused Therapy (Sue Johnson), and Prepare/Enrich (David Olson). I am going to outline some of the research that Prepare/Enrich has done on spirituality and couples that will be helpful to you.
- In a study of 12,000 married couples who took Prepare/Enrich, agreement on spiritual beliefs was strongly correlated with other aspects of a happy marriage. Couples with high spiritual agreement reported significantly higher satisfaction in Communication, Conflict Resolution, Financial Management, Sexual Relationship, Closeness and Flexibility (Olson & Larson).
- In a study of 50,000 marriages, the most common spiritual complaint for couples was “unresolved differences in their spiritual beliefs”, with 52% of all couples struggling with differences (Olson, Olson-Sigg, & Larson).
- Some in the field would suggest that there are several types of intimacy a married couple can experience: emotional, physical, and spiritual. Further, it is often suggested that there are powerful links between different types of intimacy (in other words, healthy emotional connections may result in more enjoyment of physical intimacy). In the current study, an intriguing association between high spiritual agreement and the level of closeness a couple experienced was observed. The positive couple agreement scores for Spiritual Beliefs and Couple Closeness were significantly correlated (Olson & Larson).
- “…spiritual beliefs can be a source of strength or a stumbling block for a couple, based on their spiritual compatibility. It is not enough to know that one or both members of a couple are spiritual; their consensus on spiritual issues must be assessed. Certainly, there will be couples who embrace divergent spiritual views and still experience a good marriage with high marital satisfaction. But these are the exceptional few who can tolerate differences in such a powerful area of life” (Olson & Larson).
So, dear Faithful Heart, those are some good reasons why it is important to share your faith with a potential love, in addition to the great commission of Jesus to spread the Gospel far and wide. Now to the when.
There are a number of theories about when to share your faith in a dating circumstance. I have heard a wide range of answers—from clergy and church staff saying that they work for a “non-profit” or are in “community organizing” on a dating profile (sometimes for good reasons like safety), to people giving vague answers on a date in order to feel out what the other person thinks about religion, to people experimenting with the label “spiritual but not religious” on their dating app to see if they get more hits. These tactics can work, but my question to you is: Do you really want to begin a relationship with deception, even a small one?
In my experience of officiating numerous weddings and facilitating pre-marital counseling for hundreds of couples, honesty is the best policy. The right person is not going to be turned off by your spiritual affiliation. If you are using a dating app or site, what you say on the rest of your profile will show what kind of Christian you are and you can weed out those matches who see the word “Christian” and think something else. Dating is about getting to know someone and seeing if you are compatible. Being compatible does not equal having every hobby or viewpoint in common. You want someone who will take the time to get to know you, not write you off because you used the word “Christian” on your profile.
For brevity’s sake, dear Faithful Heart, let’s say that you have included “Christian” on your dating profile and/or your blind date knows that you attend XYZ Church. Now we can explore how you can bring up your faith in conversation. Remember Prepare/Enrich’s research that “agreement on spiritual beliefs was strongly correlated with other aspects of a happy marriage”? The research indicates that it is less important that a couple attend the same church or even share the same faith tradition, but rather that they share beliefs and the values that those beliefs uphold. Here are some ways that you can learn about your partner and reveal these beliefs without interrogating them:
- Talk about birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and other family traditions.
- Share how expressing your spirituality feels to you at church, in nature, in community, etc.
- Invite your partner to experience a spiritual practice with you.
- Use conversation cards like Table Topics Spirit Edition, Gottman Card Decks, or Prepare/Enrich Conversation Cards to talk about a variety of topics, including spirituality.
Hopefully, these suggestions spark your imagination, courageous Faithful Heart, as you wade into the waters of love.
Prepare/Enrich PowerPoint resource, accessed March 3, 2023
National Survey of Married Couples, Olson, Olson-Sigg, & Larson (2008)
Spiritual Beliefs and Marriage: A National Survey Based on ENRICH, Olson & Larson (2004), p. 7-8)