I answered that in this week’s Reality Check newspaper column. I hope you enjoy it! For a Christian take on the same topic, see the blog post on what makes a good Christian husband that inspired this column.
Ask teenagers what they’re looking for in a future spouse, and you’ll likely get these typical answers: she has to be good-looking. He has to be tall. They need a sense of humour.
All very fine and dandy, but being tall and being good looking isn’t going to help much when the baby is colicky, though the sense of humour may prove useful.
Too often when we think of marriage we picture that idealistic fairytale that never involves any work.
That’s why we tend to focus on the shallow criteria for a marriage partner, like good looks or sexual prowess, rather than character issues. However, research shows that choosing a marriage partner based on whether or not they’re good in bed is actually pretty stupid, because those who have the best sex when they’re married are those who had sex the least before they were married. Practising with a ton of people, then, doesn’t increase your chances of wedded bliss.
But four traits, I think, do lead you in the right direction.
First, your beloved must believe marriage is a commitment.
If he or she thinks marriage is a feeling—I marry you because you love me and you make me happy—then when the feeling goes away, the marriage is too easily dumped. For marriages to thrive, we have to commit. If you don’t commit, then your relationship is always under scrutiny. You’re always asking: is he making me happy? Is she meeting my needs? You’re focusing on the other person’s failures, instead of your own failures. And since we tend to judge ourselves by our intentions, and our spouses by their actions, spouses will never measure up.
Second, marry someone who brings out the best in you.
Lots of people marry someone because they are in awe of them. It’s almost a case of idol worship. Marriage should not be about one person completely serving the other at the expense of him or herself; it should be about you both becoming who you were meant to be. Don’t fall into this trap of putting your beloved up on a pedestal and marrying because “I’m just so amazed that someone so wonderful could be interested in little ‘ole me!”. That’s not a recipe for a good marriage. That’s a recipe for a lonely marriage.
Third, marry someone who has initiative.
A good job and a secure career are actually far less important than motivation. If he is motivated, he will always find a way to provide. Someone who is lazy, though, won’t get the promotions at work. He won’t fix up the house. He won’t get involved with the kids. And if she’s the one who’s lazy, she won’t contribute, either. She’ll expect to be waited on. She won’t discipline the kids. And that gets irksome quickly.
Finally, marry your best friend.
Marry someone you can talk to, laugh with, and just enjoy being around. A marriage cannot survive on infatuation, or sex, or even love. It needs laughter and goodwill, and that comes from simple friendship. If you have that foundation, everything else will likely fall into place. But if you expect those exhilarating butterfly feelings to take you through decades of baby stress, teen stress, parents’ failing health, and job issues, then you’re in for a cruel surprise.
Many reading this, of course, will think my criteria for what makes someone marriage material is too extreme. Maybe marriage just isn’t worth it. Don’t believe that. To walk through life with someone who knows you intimately and still chooses to be with you is a blessing indeed. If you find that blessing, take it. But make sure it’s rooted in something real, and not something fleeting. When we marry thinking it’s all a big fairytale, then rarely will we find that happy ending.