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What It Means To Be Equally Yoked

Being 'equally yoked' begins and ends with how much you and your partner's values and beliefs align.

Love & Relationships

I'm sure most of us have heard of the term equally yoked at least once or several times in life—but do we really know what it means? The phrase was founded in the Christian church stemming from scripture stating that Christians and nonbelievers shouldn't be in a romantic union. Being 'equally yoked' begins and ends with how much you and your partner's values and beliefs align. Here is a glimpse of what being equally yoked means from a pastor's and a therapist's lens so that everyone can apply this discernment to their romantic unions.

Being equally yoked from a pastor’s lens:

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For believers, the phrase equally yoked is often rooted in spirituality. According to Pastor Malcolm from the Brooklyn-based Pathway To Life Ministries, what equally yoked means is to be joined together. "This means these individuals should be compatible, they're able to agree on most things, and their values are aligned. This is also true in secular relationships, but biblical speaking in 2 Corinthians 6:14 'that we must not be unevenly yoked together with those who do not believe. What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness, and what communion hath light with darkness?'" she conveys. 'My question is, how can we effectively communicate when we are on opposite sides? That is being unevenly yoked!"

So if we're able to dissect equally yoked further, it starts with aligning your faith within your union, and if we don't believe in those same core foundations, it's basically a no-go in the church. But you can be unequally yoked with a believer as well because we aren't a monolith, and God doesn't just prepare the world of men to be your partner for a lifetime. He assigns an imperfect yet perfect man in your life—on His timing, not yours.

"Oftentimes, Christians are engaged in relationships that are not ordained by God. It does not mean that the believer that you like is right for you," Pastor Malcolm states. "My advice is that we seek God in everything that we do. Ask Him to send the right person."

When you and your partner's values are misaligned and you're unequally yoked:

The most essential part of a romantic relationship doesn't lie in a person's appearance (though this is important) or how many followers they have on their socials or how well they dress. It is grounded on you and your partner's shared perspective in the life you want to build together, along with continuously communicating when things are great and when they aren't and what things you're open to compromising and sacrificing.

"On Sunday when she wants to go to church, and he would prefer to hang out with friends at a bar, or just stay home or better yet just not interested in church at all," states Pastor Malcolm. "This is how you know they are unequally yoked."

I'm sure we all may have a friend or family member in what seems to be in an unequally yoked marriage or partnership. Imagine the spiritual intimacy she would love to explore with her partner and isn't able to because he doesn't believe in God, doesn't believe in prayer, or is indifferent about reading the bible together. For some households, it works out because each partner respects their differences. But for others, it tears them apart slowly and creates an uphill battle of resentment.

Being equally yoked from a therapist’s lens:

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I also interviewed a therapist to apply to nonbelievers and for anyone like myself that loves to explore the depths of compatibility versus incompatibility in our love lives. I asked licensed marriage and family therapist Kimberly Panganiban, from Choosing Therapy, an online therapy platform, to describe being equally yoked in a non-religious perspective. Her response?

"Being equally yoked (in a non-religious perspective) means that you are with someone that you can count on to work with you as a team. You can trust them to be there for you and to navigate the differences you have well."

Seeing your marriage or partnership as a team makes it easier for you to be more compassionate and understanding with your partner versus withdrawn and indifferent as you would with a competitor. "If you Google equally yoked, most of what you will see talks about being aligned in values, beliefs, and goals (religious or otherwise)," states Panganiban. "In every relationship, there will be values/beliefs/goals that your partner is aligned on, and there will be values/beliefs/goals where you don't entirely match up. This is because you are two different people, and so you will never completely agree on everything."

"The key is finding a partner in which you can live with the differences you have and work together to make those differences feel OK. We all have to decide what differences we can deal with and what we can't. But most importantly, we need a partner that is willing to manage these differences as a team."

Tips for finding a partner who is equally yoked:

The older I'm becoming, the more I'm learning to listen to my spirit and honor what I really want in partnership because ignoring red flags only hurts me most in the long run. I asked Kimberly how she'd advise individuals seeking equally yoked partners for them, what signs we should look into, and what red flags we should avoid? She had some insightful tips to share: "When looking for an equally yoked partner, you must ask yourself, 'Can I live with the differences we have? Can I trust this person? Is this person committed to the relationship?' If you can answer yes to these three questions, you are equally yoked. If not, it is probably time to move on."

"Where people get into trouble is when they rationalize concerns in the relationship and expect things to change. Most of the time, the problems people face at the beginning of a relationship are the ones they will continue to grapple with so, be honest with yourself early on in the relationship as to whether the differences you have are something you can deal with forever or not. "

The more you know and honor yourself, the more likely you will follow where your spirit or instincts guide you. Finding your equally yoked partner won't be easy, but what makes your significant other 'significant' if you didn't have to go through much to meet them—offering the best you, you can be.

Keep working on yourself; take your time dating to see people's true colors to see if this is your person. Remember, it's the slow and steady that wins the race, and who and what's for you will never miss you.

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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