Hey, Single-and-Dating Self,
I’m writing this to you from a café on a beautiful crisp autumn day in NYC, knowing that the city doesn’t feel quite so wonderful for you yet.
Aside from dozens of dead-end dates, you’ve had a few serious relationships that have dashed your hope for great love and ended in great heartache. But all the heartbreak and waiting is worth it. Trust me.
As of today, you’ve been married to the right guy for three years. And guess what? You have two adorable little girls together (laughing yet?).
But here’s the thing. You know that list of twenty-six qualities you are looking for in a husband? Those twenty-six qualities, which you believe you absolutely can’t live without in a partner? Yeah . . . we are going to need to edit that.
The list includes traits such as humble, hardworking, patient, healthy, keeps his promises, foodie, and likes animals. Let me try and break the news gently first: Your future husband is none of these things. He tolerates cats. He’ll make fun of your dog. And his favorite “restaurant” is McDonald’s (I’m serious).
I know right now you think these qualities are deal breakers and that many of them should be on every woman’s list. Who wants a man who doesn’t keep his promises? But I’d like to share a new shortened list based on what I’ve discovered really matters in the success of your relationship.
The love of your life isn’t perfect. Reality check: neither are you. And you’ll find out more and more how you fall short in your marriage, too. What matters is how you both strive to grow out of your weaknesses together. That’s the best part!
Please, delete that long list you have on your outdated iPhone 4, and wise up to the new list I have just made on our fancy iPhone 6.
Let me be clear, I don’t mean the feeling of love so much as I do the acts of love. You see, most people expect love to be a given in any marriage. But love is actually something that must be acted upon with intention at every moment rather than assumed. Hence “loving” as my number one unconditional must-have.
He may not always say the most romantic things, but there are few things more encouraging than authentic, self-emptying acts of love: a warm first greeting every evening, apologizing first, putting your needs and preferences before his own, and even gently suggesting when you might be wrong and helping you make it right when you are. These acts of love are what have sustained us through the hard times. And let me tell you, there are plenty of those in marriage.
In marriage—any marriage—both his and your imperfections will surface faster than you can say, “I do.” Sometimes the quirks that were once endearing will be annoying, and there will even be moments you’ll wonder why you decided to get married in the first place. That’s where “respectful” comes in.
Our motto is: When you’re at your worst, your spouse deserves to be treated as you would treat your boss, best friend, or a stranger. Would you yell at your boss? Would you call your best friend names? Would you be critical of or act in contempt toward a perfect stranger? If the answer is no, why would you treat the love of your life that way? Communicate your needs and boundaries when you’re upset. Then respect them. Respect, along with patience and a secure and persevering heart, will allow your marriage to thrive when fuzzy feelings falter.
03. Shared Faith
At this point, you’re pretty open to marrying someone of any creed or no creed at all. But I’d be remiss not to mention the huge role that having a shared faith has played in marriage. It gives us hope and keeps us from letting our faith get lost in the daily grind of bills, babies, and the messiness of life in general. When I tell him, “I’d like to go to church tonight,” without question, he’ll shuffle me out the door, cook dinner, and get the girls ready for bed. The truth is, our common faith impacts our core values and goals so much that it would be difficult to share fully in our marriage if we differed in such a huge respect.
I often tell friends that I don’t know how our marriage would survive if it weren’t for the security my husband provides in our marriage. I’m not talking money. I’m talking a strong feeling of our marriage being safe from danger or threat. Even when things are at their worst, he always reassures me that we’ll work things out. In protecting our marriage, he also protects our family. And this enables me to feel free to love him without fear of being hurt or compromised in our relationship.
You and I both know that our biggest weakness is our tendency to catastrophize: to think the worst of things and to, therefore, conclude that the only reasonable thing to do is give up. Well, your husband never has and never will give up on you. In doing so, he teaches you that no matter how big the crisis, there is always a solution. And every wonderful lasting marriage is made up of a lifetime of good resolutions.
On the not-so-rare occasion when I’m being the biggest jerk ever, he somehow manages to respond to my tirades as if speaking to the Queen of England. “Honey, I understand you’re upset. I’m sorry. Maybe we should talk about this when we’ve calmed down a bit?” I don’t know how he does it. It definitely takes a lot of grit and self-control. Whatever the case, the jerkiness usually ends there, and we can move on to the much more important business of nurturing our marriage rather than staying in a cycle of anger, blame, or resentment.
07. Responsible and Reliable
Being entrepreneurs, we like to think of each other as our biggest investor and business partner in one. We want the investor to be pleased with their return. And we want our partnership to flourish as our marriage grows. At the same time that we have our own roles to play in our “company,” it brings us peace of mind knowing that the other person is handling their own responsibilities for our common good and benefit.
08. Shared Vision for Children
Two of the greatest privileges of our marriage are our little girls. It was always understood between us that children, if we could have them, would be a major pillar of our relationship. Having kids is both tougher and more delightful than we expected. But because children are equally important to us, we both take the good with the not-so-good. It’s not more my job or his job to raise them. It’s a shared responsibility that we take on together by combining our natural strengths. Plus, him being a great father inspires me to be a great mother, and vice versa.
“Humor and distressing emotion cannot occupy the same psychological space,” says Steven Sultanoff, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and president of the American Association for Therapeutic Humor. This is great for us because my husband has an uncanny ability to make us laugh, even and especially when I’m upset. It’s not in an annoying way either, like pulling jokes at the wrong time or distracting me from the issue at hand.
It’s genuine, and all it usually takes is a smile and pointing out something ridiculous about the situation. “Who knew that two kids later, we’d be arguing about me taking out the trash in the same living room where I asked you to marry me four years ago? I bet you regret your answer right now.” Of course, that is far from the truth! But in giving me a bit of charity, empathy, humor, and perspective, all at once I realize how far we’ve come and how much we’ve accomplished together.
About number ten. It wasn’t on the first list, but it definitely should’ve been. Your husband is definitely the most handsome guy on the face of planet Earth, but this attractiveness goes far beyond his six-foot frame and goofy smile. At first sight, you’ll think, “Wow, he’s cute.” But his close friendship with his younger sister, his deep love for his family, and his unbreakable loyalty to his friends are what make him most desirable. Looks fade, but I firmly believe that I’ll always be drawn to this joyful, good, and kind man. And I’ll leave it at that.
These are the aspects of your husband that you’ll most admire, cherish, and need over the course of your marriage.
Sure, there’s something to be said for sharing common interests deeply. But our mutual obsession for all things Disney isn’t how I know he’s the one at the end of the day.
Where he falls short on your original list, he’ll surpass in ways you can’t even imagine or hope for. You’ll just have to see it for yourself. His best qualities will come alive in your friendship, engagement, marriage, and parenthood. Chin up. I can’t wait for you to meet him.
Your Married-and-Wiser-in-Retrospect Self
Photo Credit: Corynne Olivia Photography