Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Craig Groeschel's book, Going All the Way: Preparing for a Marriage that Goes the Distance, (Multnomah Books, 2007).

Unhealthy marriages and divorces are so commonplace that you may wonder whether a close and lasting marriage is even possible for you. You may be tempted to settle for whatever spouse you can find and just hope that somehow it’ll all work out.

But there’s a better way. If you make wise decisions before and after marriage, you can prepare yourself to experience a marriage that goes all the way to God’s best for you.

Here’s how you can prepare for a marriage that goes all the way:

Pursue Jesus first. Your relationships will never work well without Jesus as your number one priority. Devoting most of your time and energy to finding a spouse will actually sabotage your chance for a good future marriage, because your focus is in the wrong place. Instead of focusing on romance, focus on building a strong relationship with Jesus, and in the process, He will transform all aspects of your life – including your love life. Rather than looking to another person to complete you, realize that only Jesus can complete you. Seek to become the person God wants you to become – independent of marriage – so that when the time is right for you to get married, you’ll be doing so as someone who is already healthy and strong. Remember that before you can enjoy true, lasting love with another person, you must first know God’s love. The more you become like Jesus, the better prepared you’ll be to give and receive His love in marriage.

Remove the pressure. Let go of unrealistic expectations that put unnecessary pressure on you. For example, don’t worry about having to find the only person God intends to be your spouse out of every other possible candidate on the planet. No such magical person exists. The reality is that there are many people you could possibly marry, and if you do your part to meet and get to know some them, God will help you build a strong marriage with one of them. Also, be sure you don’t put too much pressure on any romantic relationship you have by trying to make it work when it’s foundationally flawed. Dating an unbeliever, for instance, is something you shouldn’t do under any circumstances, since it’s a prescription for guaranteed grief. And if you’re not attracted to someone or your personalities aren’t clicking, be honest with both yourself and the other person rather than trying to force a relationship to work. Don’t settle for less than God’s best for you. Remember that, in your search for your future spouse, you can’t find the winner if you’re dating a runner-up.

Build relationships gradually. Proceeding too fast in a relationship can cause damage to both you and the other person. Give your relationships the time they need to develop properly. Think of a relationship as driving a car with five gears. In first gear, your goal is simply to build a friendship with the other person. You invite the person to participate in your world while you do the same in his or hers, often spending your time together doing activities with groups of people.

In second gear, you spend more time alone together, but being careful to guard your heart while you do so. Ask yourself questions like these: “Is this person becoming more like Jesus?”, “Does this person have strong and growing character?”, “Does this person have the right kind of friends?”, “Is this person responsible – financially, relationally, emotionally, intellectually?”. If you can answer “yes” to all those questions, ask some more: “Is our attraction increasing?”, “Are we helping each other grow closer to God, rather than drawing each other away from Him?”, “Do people I respect think highly of this person?”, “Do I believe God is blessing this relationship?”, “Are we growing in our understanding of one another? Do we like what we see?”