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Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Most Romantic Time of the Year

It's that time of year again: the time when I wax self-righteous over the wisest decision I ever made... the time when I become one of those obnoxious givers of romantic advice. Yes, it is my anniversary, and I'm full of gooey romanticism, warm thankfulness, and solid insights about what it takes to make a marriage succeed.

I know, I'm just a two-year veteran. The bloom has not yet faded from the rose, so to speak. Yet the Newlywed Game rules stated that eligibility went to those who had been married less than two years, so I guess we officially qualify as having survived the honeymoon. And I'll tell you this much: in an objective sense, the honeymoon wasn't easy.

That isn't to say that getting along has been difficult, but rather external circumstances have often, in the past two years, offered more challenges than typical newlyweds face. Aside from the fairly common challenges of blending families, we moved three times, had a baby, struggled together through postpartum depression, began homeschooling, and discovered the responsibilities of first time home ownership. I started and quit a really horrible distance school program, while we were living (at the time) in a house half the size we needed for so many people, with no windows that opened. I had moved nearly a thousand miles away from my family, and was homesick, and didn't have a single friend.

If we could make it through all that and still have any bloom left on our rose, we must be doing something right. Or we must have done something right from the start, when we chose each other as partners for life.

That, I think, is the key.

Marriages can and sometimes do survive between people who are wrong for each other, or people who choose unworthy partners, or people who are not mature enough to make such a commitment. But more often they do not. Rather than hoping a bad marriage can survive despite its wrongness, isn't it better if we can be fortunate enough to marry well in the first place?

Last year I gave a whole list of things to look for in a spouse. This year, I will focus on just one, because I believe it is the most important. Does your potential spouse make you want to strive to be a better person?

One of the first things that impressed me about my husband was his generosity. He would give money to people he suspected were scamming him, on the off chance that they really did have need. He would give to those who he knew had genuine need... until it hurt. He made a habit of putting other people before himself.

Obviously, I have fared well with this generous nature. He has given me flowers many times in the four years I've known him, and he's endured hardship and discomfort on many occasions in order to do something kind for me. But his generosity has had another more important effect: in seeing this goodness in him, I have grown in desire and determination to be a more generous person myself. If loving him didn't affect me, change me, then love would be a stagnant and unimportant thing.

The goodness in my spouse makes me want to develop whatever goodness I have in myself. And that is the way it should be. If it didn't, then it would mean he didn't have what it takes to move me, to connect with my very soul. It would be a superficial enjoyment, not an abiding love. And certainly not the kind of commitment that can last when enjoyment wanes.

It isn't just by example that he encourages me to improve, either. He is confident enough of my love that he knows he can encourage me by word, or even by correction, to do right. A good spouse will encourage you to make amends for your mistakes, mend your broken relationships, and live honestly. A good spouse does not want to see you suffer guilt and heartache, and will have the courage to help you avoid both. If he only makes you want to be good, kind, and honest with him, then he isn't really encouraging goodness but only seeking his own well-being. Such a spouse is to be avoided, because he is selfish. A truly good person, the kind who will be a good spouse, will want you to be as good to others as you are to him.

And if he truly touches your heart, he will inspire you to want to be good to others, too.

A person who really loves you will love all the good in you, not just the good that benefits him. Anyone less isn't worth marrying.