Earlier this year, Tim wrote a piece about looking for the wrong person to marry. “Thanks for writing this,” responded some readers, “now I know who NOT to look for. But I’m still left with the question, who DO I look for??” It’s a great question.
“You just know,” is probably the most unhelpful answer of all time. But if you took a poll of married people on how they knew they wanted to marry their spouse, that is a common answer you might get. Maybe if you were a very intuitive decision maker, you would just know (and if that’s the case, this article is not for you). But for the rest of us, although I don’t have all the answers, here are some factors that might be helpful when considering whether the person you’re dating is someone you’d want to marry. It is not an exhaustive list, and each person must decide for herself what she values most, but this list might help you think some things through. (For simplicity’s sake, I will write referring to the other party as “he,” but these points can apply to either gender.)
1. You’re comfortable being yourself.
One of the things that struck me most about Tim was how comfortable I was around him. I felt at ease and safe when I was with him. I was not afraid that he would judge me and I was confident that he was looking out for my best interests. I could let him see me with or without makeup. I felt free to laugh or cry in his company. I didn’t feel like I needed to be anyone other than myself in order for him to like me, or for us to get along. Part of feeling comfortable with Tim was also that I could completely trust him. (It’s also important that he is comfortable with you, because you want him to be able to be himself and feel safe with you.)
2. You like how he relates to his friends and family.
When I was dating Tim, I also looked at his relationships with his friends and family. I wanted to see what kind of relational habits he had. I particularly took interest in his relationships with his mother and sister, as they were the women closest to him at that point. I appreciated the amount of respect he showed them and how we valued their presence and input in his life. Early on in our dating relationship, Tim learned to buy flowers for me (partly because I would hint at it to him). After that, he reflected on how he’d never done so for his mom, so he went and got flowers for her as well. That he considered her spoke volumes to me about his thoughtfulness and care for others.
3. Being together helps both of you grow.
I asked myself, did dating Tim move me toward being the person I wanted to become? Did he encourage me to develop my strengths and to improve on my weaknesses? As a Christian, I hoped that my relationship with my husband would make me reflect more of the qualities and characteristics of Jesus. I needed to see that the person I was dating was helping me along that path. Similarly, I wanted to know that I was moving him in the right direction as well. I wanted to be sure that he was being challenged and encouraged by dating me, otherwise, I might not be the right person for him.
4. He values growth (particularly if you value growth).
Every person is bound to have areas of immaturity or weakness. What matters more is that he is willing to keep growing. (I wrote more about this here.) Does this person read? Seek out personal development opportunities? Look to connect with people more mature than himself? Is he open to trying new experiences? I had always dreamed of being able to go dancing with my spouse. Tim was not a great dancer – but he was wiling to try it out and learn with me. That was good enough for me.
5. He demonstrates the ability to build relationships over long periods of time.
Marriage takes continual work over the long haul so you want to marry someone who has shown that he has the capacity to continue investing in your relationship. What is his track record with friends and family? Does he have a history of short-term friendships or does he still keep in touch with people he met many years ago?
6. You’re aware of the things that bother you about him and are moving toward greater acceptance of those things.
There will always be stuff you don’t like about the other person, and you might be tempted to think, “When we’re married, they will change.” The reality is, he may or may not change. And you definitely will not be able to make him change. So take a look at what those qualities are that bother you and ask yourself whether you are able to live with them or not. You may never like those parts of your significant other, but if you’re moving toward greater acceptance of them, your relationship has a chance for the long term. The same goes for his acceptance of you. In marriage, you want to continually influence each other for good but not demand change from the other person.
7. You both address conflict that arises.
You may not have it all figured out, but are both of you at least willing to work on healthy conflict resolution? Conflict is an important part of marriage so you want to marry someone who will engage with you to work things out when differences arise. When Tim and I were dating, neither of us liked to resolve conflict. We would rather avoid it. But we agreed to work on this area of our relationship. (We wrote a whole chapter on this in our new ebook “Fight With Me: How We Learned to be Married.” You can download it for free!)
8. Your relationship is about more than just the two of you.
Love in its essence radiates outward. If your love is healthy, you will not only concern yourself with the other person, but with those around you. If your relationship is about more than just the two of you, chances are your relationship is in a good place. Having a cause or purpose greater than yourselves is also good for marriage because it can give you something common to move toward and keeps you from becoming inward focused.
Ultimately, the decision to marry someone is always an act of faith. You will never completely know how the other person will change, or what life may throw at you. Before you decide to marry someone though, you need to consider whether he is a positive influence on you and whether you are a positive influence on him. I read this advice recently that seems appropriate to end off with: “There’s no perfect choice. Be informed, choose one and commit.”
What do (did) you look for in someone to marry?