When I was single, I couldn’t imagine a prospective spouse with big old spindly second toes.
Before you laugh, take a good look at your own list of non-negotiables.
Today, after 17 years of marriage, I could care less about half the items that once seemed so important.
If you’re looking for a marriage partner, then consider these foundational traits of great couples:
Talking is one of the most important activities spouses ever do. Many situations arise where the path forward isn’t clear, and spouses need to communicate to figure things out.
You don’t need be fabulous conversationalists. You just need to be able to wrestle through issues together honestly and come to solutions.
Part of communication is “fielding” your marriage partner. That’s baseball imagery meaning you catch and handle anything that comes your direction. Say one person is highly extroverted and talks all day long—the other person needs to learn to handle this communication style without being worn out.
Or perhaps one spouse likes talking about deep subjects. The other spouse doesn’t need to be the same, but must learn to field this.
The Same Spiritual Track
You want to be “equally yoked” (2 Corinthians 6:14).
Mixed marriages sometimes work, but it’s surprising how many areas of life it spirituality affects: Holidays. Raising children. Ethical issues. Managing stress. Choosing entertainment. Whether and where to attend church. What books you read. How your character develops over time.
When a married couple isn’t on the same spiritual wavelength, it’s hard for each person to share what’s important at the core.
A Basis of Genuine Friendship
Can you spend a day together and not be annoyed with each other at the end?
Before marriage, plan a strategic date doing something routine and unexciting. Mail a package together. Shop for deodorant. Do dishes. Why?
Because it’s easy to go on exciting dates: concerts, movies, roller coasters. But if you only have times of excitement, then it’s too easy to be enamored with the activity rather than the person.
Much of life involves routine. If you’re still interested in each other while standing in line together at the post office, then you’ve got a good thing.
Any person contributes to a tone in an environment. You want to understand the tone set by your future spouse.
Maybe the person you’re dating is bookish and introverted and loves staying home nights or going for long wilderness walks. That tone will affect everything from career to parenting styles to the home atmosphere to where you vacation together.
Or maybe your prospective spouse is driven, always running, intense, a tone some people love. Others don’t.
You and your spouse don’t need to have an identical tone. My wife was raised with Texas and California in her roots. Her family of origin was demonstrative in everything—from how they expressed affection to how they disagreed.
I was raised with reserved, polite, apologizing Canada in my roots. We kept our emotions to ourselves, thank you very much.
We needed to work out issues of tone together.
Enduring Physical Attraction
Sometimes people seek the feeling of electricity in a potential spouse. Or they want the best looking person in the room. But neither is important over the long haul.
If you always expect your spouse to be the most attractive person in sight, then that puts a lot of stress on you both. Plus, after you’re married, others will come into your life who appear attractive to you or your spouse, and you’ll both want to be able to handle those feelings without damaging your marriage.
Physical attraction comes and goes. It can change with aging, accidents or disease. If your spouse becomes wrinkled (expect it), blemished, heavier or even disfigured as time goes on, then you still want to be in love and committed to that person. Physical attraction is on the list, but it must be held loosely.
If you idealize a specific build, height, hair color or body type, then rethink what you’re actually looking for.
Alignment in Character and Integrity
Sometimes, young women are attracted to “bad boys.” Sometimes young men are attracted to “wild girls.”
Dating a dangerous person might prove fun for a while (or not). But ask yourself, is this really the person I want to be with forever?
What you want in a marriage partner is a person of integrity, compassion, kindness and hope.
Watch how the person you date interacts with others. Is she rude to the checkout clerk? Does he lie? Is she consistently angry? Does he snap at you or put you down?
A Willingness to Commit
When you look at the person you’re dating, can see yourselves married? Are you satisfied and content with this picture?
Sometimes, satisfaction springs from a definite decision. Sometimes, it’s a feeling that develops in your gut.
I dated a young woman in my twenties who added up great on paper, but I always seemed to be talking myself into the relationship. We eventually broke up. I didn’t have the will to commit to her, and I knew she deserved that in a marriage partner.
When it came to dating the woman who became my wife, I never needed to talk myself into the decision. I had the will to commit to her almost instantly.
She, however, needed to wrestle through whether to marry me, and it took two years. When she did come to the decision, it was real, deep and unwavering.
That’s OK. Sometimes a person will become attracted to another person at a slower pace. The attraction is strong, it just takes longer to build.
Marcus Brotherton is a journalist and New York Times best-selling author. Critics have widely praised his new novel, Feast for Thieves, calling it a satisfying blend of Shawshank Redemption, To Kill a Mockingbird and True Grit. It was shortlisted to the 2015 Christy Awards for excellence in fiction.