I’m in my 30’s and want to get married. I have dated a lot of guys who were very different; however, in the end, these relationships ended so maybe I’m not seeing a common denominator. What should I be looking for in a future husband and what will make ME marriage material?
First, you are not alone in your dating and relationship struggles. As finding a mate has become both an art and a science and the age of marriage continues to rise – at least in the U.S. – more and more singles are asking themselves these exact questions.
Before I jump in to answer the first part of your question in this Part I edition, let’s first consider several different schools of thought about finding a mate:
1. We’re all marriage material but need to find the person who will make us whole. Some believe that everyone is marriageable but that we all need to search for our counterpoint – a kind of mirror image – in order to create the right fit and make marriage last. This person, who meets our needs and completes us fully (a la’ Jerry McGuire) is commonly known as our “soulmate”.
2. Some people are marriageable (and some are not) so we need to choose carefully. This philosophy says that there are individuals who are more prepared for marriage than others. It would suggest that we need to assess this level of readiness in each potential candidate and move forward with only those who demonstrate a certain level of maturity or development – – whether emotional, mental, spiritual, intellectual, or financial.
3. None of us are marriage material but we can make it work with the right attitude and behaviors. Perhaps the most pessimistic of the three ideas, this one asserts that we are all selfish at our cores but that adapting our self-serving natures to one more conducive to the mutuality of marriage may result in success. No one person is seen as a better fit than another because the belief is that people can grow and change in order to make marriage work.
Which one of these do YOU believe?
Having worked with couples for a long time – and observed that the divorce rate has hovered around 50% for an equally long time – my stance is somewhere around the 2.5 mark.
For sure, some individuals are simply more prepared for the demands and sacrifices that marriage entails but there’s no checklist I can give you that is fail-proof.
That’s why it’s wise to carefully assess anyone you might be interested in marrying without seeking absolute perfection because that’s impossible.
While it may seem gloomy, the reason I like #3 above is because it offers hope to any marriage and any two partners – however imperfect – if they are willing to look honestly at themselves and strive to be a great spouse.
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Some of the questions I would be asking about the worthiness of a potential mate are actually more about YOU:
>>> “Am I the true ‘me’ when we’re together”?
When I say the “true you”, I mean the “you” who is comfortable in your own skin and not the version of yourself you THINK your partner wants. The polished “best foot forward” aspect of dating lends itself to attraction and excitement but doesn’t in any way resemble the bedhead and morning breath reality of marriage.
I’m certainly not suggesting that you go out of your way to be frumpy or unkempt on your next date, but begin over time to reveal more and more of yourself as you build trust with someone and evaluate whether they are doing the same in return.
Overall, you should feel as if your partner loves you for exactly who you are—not who you are becoming or who you might be in the future. Your partner should add more positive than negative to your life. Think complement, not complicate! He should treat you well and make you feel special because you are. He should inspire you to be the best version of yourself and build a desire for you to do the same for him.
>>> “Am I comfortable being uncomfortable with this person”?
After the section above, it may seem paradoxical to say that you should test how uncomfortable you can get with this person. What I mean by this is that you should be able to talk to your partner about anything—even (and especially) hurtful or scary things from your past.
Similarly, can you openly challenge one another when you don’t agree? This can be very uncomfortable for many newlyweds, but real security, stability, and safety in your relationship will come from being able to discuss your differences in a respectful way. Being able to compromise, apologize, and forgive are also vital skills key to a successful and satisfying marriage. Comfort grows with time, of course, but there should already be a building block there in the beginning. Bottom line: you should be comfortable being uncomfortable with this person and be able to lean into this discomfort to fuel your own growth.
>>> “Will our core beliefs and values provide a strong foundation for life’s big decisions and major storms”?
While opposites may attract in the dating phase, any successfully married couple will tell that you that it’s important to share core beliefs and expectations such as those related to religion or faith and child-rearing. It’s also imperative to know each other’s answers to a few huge questions such as those about where you prefer to live (city or country), how many children you want (none or some), and how much time you will spend with friends and family (a little or a lot). Notice that these answers aren’t precise: you should have a general idea but remain flexible, as life can never be perfectly scripted and isn’t always within our control.
Beyond this, it makes marriage easier and more enjoyable to share common interests (e.g., cooking, traveling, hiking) you can continue to do together as you grow. You don’t need to have EVERYTHING in common (and you won’t), but sharing a common goal or vision for the future is crucial.
>>> “Am I an integral part of his life”?
It always amazes me how many people try to simply add a spouse to their world like an appendage or a plug-in thumb drive. They want to keep their lives exactly as they are but just add a spouse to them and hope for the best.
Needless to say, this approach doesn’t work very well because marriage requires a wholehearted and comprehensive commitment and radical life change. Your marriage – and by extension – your partner – should become the most important person and priority in your life—far and away more important than family, friends, or outside interests.
I would look for clues like whether you are – over time – meeting your partner’s family and friends. How is he introducing you? Is he considering you when making decisions about how to spend his time or whether to attend special events? Have you met his coworkers?
If he’s really that into you and your relationship is progressing, he’ll be not only willing, but excited and eager to introduce you as his and make you a central part of his social circle and schedule.
Now, finally . . . for the second part of your question: what will make YOU marriage material?
If you Google this for five minutes, you’ll come up with oodles of articles on what men are seeking in a mate, but at the end of the day, they want the same things you do.
They want to be respected, loved, and cherished for who they are and what they bring to the table as a partner. All the attributes described above are there for you to consider and be willing to give completely in return to the man of your choosing.
You do raise a great question and I have lots to say on the subject so I will tackle this in Part II of this blog post next week, but in the meantime I offer these parting words of advice:
Don’t hunt for the perfect husband or even the perfect relationship! Nothing in life is perfect. Just focus on being yourself, loving who that is, and finding someone who simply agrees.
P.S. Here’s the link to the Premarital section of our blog, where you will find more ideas and information about tying the proverbial knot!