Two weeks ago, my husband walked our second daughter, Charlotte, down the aisle of our little church to give her to her new husband. Although he had done this once before with our oldest daughter, I could see that he was choked up. This was his little girl whom he had fed at 2 AM, run marathons beside, and prayed for fervently when she lived in Indonesia for 18 months. Was this tall handsome gentleman greeting her at the front of the church going to care for her as her dad had for 27 years?
My husband was confident that he would because he had asked him. When our son-in-law Brandon asked my husband for our daughter’s hand in marriage, my husband had a few questions he wanted answered first. I sat, listened, and then asked a few of my own. Our son-in-law answered them graciously and assured us that he would love our daughter very well.
But Charlotte had done her own work before Brandon even came to us that night eight months ago. She made sure that he met her own list of “non-negotiable” attributes. During her years in college, we talked about dating and marriage and helped her create a list of character qualities in her future husband that she felt were absolutely necessary. Not only would that make for a better marriage, but it made the engagement a whole lot easier.
She wanted a man who exhibited: kindness, faithfulness, a strong work ethic, a love for Christ, and who took his role as husband and father very seriously. Having a list made dating easier before she met Brandon because if a man lacked one or two of these, he simply wasn’t marriage material for her. And she decided that dating was a waste of time if a man wasn’t suitable to marry. That meant that she didn’t date much, but that was alright. Brandon was well worth the wait.
Having a list of “non-negotiable” attributes also helped her build a mature, strong relationship with him. For instance, if they argued and she became discouraged, she could go to the list and figure out whether what they argued about was serious or not. Once he drove the speed limit from northern Michigan to Minneapolis and she thought she would lose her mind.
“Who drives the speed limit for 12 hours?” she complained to me.
“Brandon does,” I said. “He’s a lawyer and won’t break the law.”
When this small thing irritated her, she could quickly tell herself to let it go because it was not on the list of five. In other words, a small irritant like this was not a deal-breaker. I also reminded her that he needed to let a lot of her irritating habits go too.
HAVING A CLEAR LIST OF “NON-NEGOTIABLES” IN A SPOUSE HELPS YOUNG PEOPLE (AND OLD) KEEP THE BIG THINGS BIG AND THE SMALL ONES SMALL.
I fear for young married couples who become so critical of one another that they insist on perfection from a spouse when it is wholly impossible. And more importantly, many marry the wrong person because they allow their feelings to dictate romance rather than their hearts.
We must teach young adults to make priorities for themselves and for their spouse so that life will go well for both of them. The divorce rate in the U.S. is unacceptably high, and I firmly believe that we can help our kids avoid the pain of divorce if we take the time to push them figure out what they want and what they don’t want in a spouse. Then, when they begin dating, they can use that list to guide them into much healthier relationships. And when they find that special man or woman, they can learn to embrace his/her strengths and ignore their weaknesses.
IF YOU HAVE A TEEN IN YOUR HOME WHO IS THINKING OF DATING, CHALLENGE HIM OR HER TO MAKE A LIST OF FIVE NON-NEGOTIABLE ATTRIBUTES THEY WANT IN A SPOUSE.
You’ll be amazed at what they come up with. And since they helped create it, they will take ownership and date very different people than they might have if they didn’t take the time to make such an important list.