Today marks the sixth anniversary of the smartest thing I've ever done. I hope you'll bear with me for a moment while I pat myself on the back. I married one of the kindest, smartest, funnest, manliest, and most fertile men I have ever met. And despite three well-rehearsed "You! You did this to me!"s, I have never, even for a two-second pause, regretted it.
So in the spirit of annual tradition, I would like to share a few words about how to marry well.
Choosing a partner:
- Don't expect change. A husband or wife might change over time, but you can't expect it or force it. Don't marry anyone who isn't just what you want to be married to right now. A boyfriend or girlfriend who manipulates you is not suddenly going to become honest after the wedding date is chosen. A fiance who belittles you is not going to miraculously discover what a gem you are after rings are exchanged. Your loved one will have faults, yes. But you have to ask yourself if these are faults you are willing to live with for the rest of your life.
- Don't approach marriage thinking "if it doesn't work out, we can always get divorced." People who think of divorce as an option are not likely to try very hard to make things work.
- Don't marry someone who doesn't think you are the best thing that has ever happened to him or her. You deserve to be appreciated, and not just loved but cherished.
- Do communicate. If at all possible, take a marriage prep class, or attend an engagement retreat like Engaged Encounter, or go for premarital couples counseling. There will be areas where you think or assume that you are on the same page and it turns out that you are not. Most of these are minor hurdles that can be worked out with just a little bit of communication; but if it turns out that one of them is a deal breaker for one or the other of you, better that you should find out now, not after you've established a life, started a joint checking account, and bought a car together.
- Do make decisions together about finances and children. Before you marry. Even if your decision is not to decide yet, make sure you both agree on it.
Keeping a spouse:
I like to tell my sons that the best way to have a happy marriage is to treat their wives the way my husband treats me. For the benefit of those who don't know my Charming and Patient Husband, I will elaborate a bit here.
- Accept your spouse. That doesn't merely mean pretend to tolerate. Really accept him or her for what he or she is. There is nothing in the world that will help a person blossom into the best they can be better than genuine, unconditional acceptance. It heals past hurts, it raises future hopes, and it makes life a lot smoother.
- Appreciate your spouse. Don't merely overlook faults. Look, actively look, at qualities. And then express your appreciation verbally. Let him know that you are grateful for his hard work. Let her know how her smile warms you on a bad day.
- Never let the kids get between you. Your kids will one day grow up and move out; hopefully your spouse will not. Don't fight in front of the kids. Don't contradict them publicly about child rearing. There will be times you disagree about how to handle something, but discussion should always be respectful of the other person, and private. The kids do not need to see places where they can drive wedges to get what they want. Nor do they need the insecurity of wondering if they will have both of you in their lives in the future.
- Be the best person you know how to be, even in the areas of your life that don't affect your spouse. It inspires admiration. Don't just be generous with your spouse; also be generous with others. Smile warmly at the whole world, not just the person you love. It affects your entire outlook for the better, and it really can help your spouse to want to be a better person, too. I know that when I see my husband being kind to strangers, it reminds me to be kinder. When I see him being generous, it makes me feel proud of him. Don't deprive your love of the opportunity to be proud of you.
- Don't be afraid to be weak. Yes, keep on trying; but don't think that means you have to hide your weakness and vulnerability. That's what a life partner is for! This is the one person who will back you up when your backbone doesn't feel very strong. Let your spouse know how much it means to you that he or she helps you through your moments of weakness.
- Most of all, remember that love is not just a noun, it is also a verb. It isn't just a "thing" that you feel, it's an action that you do. And like every other action, it requires that you make a decision of the will. You are not a victim of love, you are an active participant. Keep on loving. Decide each and every day to give of yourself. Remember each and every day how much you love this person.
I pray that you will experience the kind of joy that I have in love.