“…it’s not gonna be easy. It’s gonna be really hard. We’re gonna have to work at this every day, but I want to do that because I want you. I want all of you, forever. You and me, every day.” – The Notebook
Alright, be honest. How many of you had a list, like I did, when you were in your early teen years highlighting some of the qualities that you were looking for in the “perfect” person? Come on…I said be honest. No shame, here.
Some of the qualities that I looked for: Cute (of course), funny, smart, athletic build, liked theater, liked to read, tall but not too tall (I’m only 5′ 0″ if I round up), likes my family, drives a cool car, Christian. Cute, smart and funny were definitely the most important to me. Mind you, this is not always the type of boy I dated. There were a couple that made rocks seem pretty smart, but they were really cute, so….
Needless to say, this approach to finding Mr. Right didn’t really work too well. And yet, I somehow managed to land him. (I chalk that up to God looking out for me.) But here we are, Mr. Right and Me, approaching our 23rd year of marriage and as we reflect on what makes a relationship that can go the distance, we thought we’d share those insights with you, our friends.
In no particular order:
Here’s a good way to assess if the person you’re dating is going to be a jerk or not: Go to a restaurant and order something complicated. When it comes to the table let your date know that it isn’t how you ordered it. Don’t make a big deal out of it…just wait and see how they respond. If their response is, “Oh, no. Should we send it back?” and then they follow your desire, congratulations! You’ve found a nice person. If, however, they make a big deal about it, ranting about lousy service or belittling the wait staff, puffing their chest out or making bold declarations about customer service, excuse yourself to the restroom and “peace out.” Call a friend or an Uber and treat yourself to a pint of Ben and Jerry’s – you just survived a monster.
Seriously, respect is kind of a big deal. If you have a partner who calls you names or makes threats of separation or self-harm every time there is conflict, you’re in for a lifetime of pain and suffering. I’m not being dramatic. Your needs and desires, your values and feelings are important and deserve to be respected. It is possible to disagree with someone and still show respect.
2. Be Equally Yoked
Yup…I said it. I hated this concept when I was a dating person. I thought it was dumb. I just wanted to have fun. Guess what? If you’re trying to live a Christian life and your partner isn’t, it isn’t very fun at all. It’s really pretty hard.
You see, the way you see God informs everything you do. If your world-view doesn’t include God as a major player, your approach to sexual temptation, finances, even having children may be very different. It’s not always something that you see in those early dating days, but when those conflicts arise (as they are prone to do in a marriage), the differences you have in your approach to the world will become apparent and could potentially put a serious wedge between you and your spouse.
Nip it in the bud from the start – marry someone who’s faith you share.
3. Be friends
Life is hard, right? I think we can all agree on that. And isn’t it also true that when you’re going through a bad time in life, it’s just easier when you have a friend by your side? The world just seems a little bit safer when you have a friend to share it with.
Now, I know it’s easy to assume that if you marry someone you must be friends with them. That’s not necessarily true. Haven’t we all seen that couple at the restaurant that doesn’t even look at each other over the course of a full meal, much less talk?
Admittedly, it’s possible they are in the midst of a crisis which may well inhibit a jovial conversation, but I think more often than not, it’s just a couple that lost touch with each other along the way.
Stay connected. Engage in dialogue. Share your hopes and fears, your regrets and victories. Celebrate the little milestones. Pray for and with each other.
Your friendship may well be the one thing that keeps you married when everything else comes crashing down. It was for us, anyway.
4. Share Common Interests
This relates to being friends. Go do fun things together. Hike, watch movies, go to the museum, race cars, play in a band. Whatever floats your boat…. The point is, sharing common interests keeps us engaged with each other.
That being said, I think it’s equally important to have things that you can do apart from each other. Your partner or spouse can’t be expected to fill your every need for companionship, but having a few things that you enjoy together can keep your relationship grounded when it feels like the world is trying to tear you apart.
This is also a great way to meet your future Mr. or Mrs. if you’re currently dating. I found my true love doing high school theater. You never know where they may be, but if you meet while doing something you both enjoy, it’s a really great start to building a beautiful friendship.
5. Have Integrity
Here’s a chance to do some honest self-reflection: Are you the same at church as you are at work? Does your behavior and words in the ‘real world’ match what people see any given Sunday? Is your word reliable? Can you be trusted to do what you say will?
Let me put this out there – this is a hard one for me. As a kid I learned early on how to adapt to any environment in order to fit in. This worked great for me socially, but it wrecked me personally because I lost my internal compass that kept me pointed toward the God I loved. I’ve had to learn the hard way what integrity does and does not look like.
Here’s the thing, if you can be trusted to be the same person in a crowd of thousands as you are for an audience of one, that’s integrity. It builds trust. It inspires honesty. It grows love.
Those are the five qualities that every strong, go-the-distance marriage I personally know has. There might be others. There are certainly other characteristics that will be beneficial, but as Matt and I talked about in this episode, these are really the main ones. It’s no guarantee that it will all be smooth sailing, but I honestly believe that if you start with this foundation, the life you build will indeed stand the test of time.
P.S. The photo is of my great grandmother and great grandfather, Mabel and George Morris. They were married in 1924 and remained so until 1957 when George died. They had three children, Norma Jean, Lila Lee (my grandmother), and Bill. They loved going dancing, baseball and spending time with family.