A few years ago I was visiting my parents when I caught my mom with some interesting reading material: Marriable by Hayley and Michael DiMarco. She divulged a few of the book’s insights and assured me that I was on track. When you’re working toward something, whether obtaining a degree, succeeding in a career or finding a life partner, it’s not a bad idea to study how others have done it — and done it well.
With this in mind, I informally interviewed a dozen married couples to find out what drew them to their spouses and what made them stick around. These 10 characteristics rose to the top.
(Note: Some names have been changed to protect couples’ privacy.)
1. Contentment. When Nathan met Kelsey, he noticed her beautiful smile and the fact that she was satisfied with her life. “She wasn’t desperate to get married,” he says. “Kelsey had two plans for life: one that included a spouse and one that did not. That told me that she was content with whatever God brought her way.”
Jessica caught Jim’s attention the moment she walked into the room. “She acted differently than most people — reserved and modest, not showing off her obvious beauty,” he says. As Jim got to know her through the outdoor activities they enjoyed doing together, he noticed her self-assurance. “She wasn’t looking, but she wasn’t resistant either. I got along with her very well, and it seemed that she wasn’t trying too hard to be the person I wanted.”
2. Initiative. Josh found many things to love about Danielle, including her stunning auburn locks, but the thing that most caught his attention was that she was living her life with purpose. She had graduated from college and was succeeding in her career as an exhibition design assistant at a big city art museum.
“Some girls I knew were sitting around waiting for this wealthy, good-looking man to take care of them,” Josh says. “Danielle was living life to the fullest, and that attracted me to her.
“I thought, If a girl is sitting on the couch at home all day at her parents, will she sit on the couch all day as my wife? In Danielle, I could see a glimpse into the future and knew she would carry the same passion and energy she had for God, our church and her job into marriage. As it turns out, I was right.”
Similarly, Gretta, who was friends with her husband, Jay, for three years before they began dating, noted his work ethic. “He was determined to do well at whatever he set out to do,” she says. “He was reading books on relationships, talking to trusted married friends and seeking wise counsel. I saw in his work life how he wanted to excel. He would do whatever it took to get the job done, and he applied that same determination to our relationship.”
3. Kindness. Johanna was first attracted to Paul because of the friendliness and kindness he showed to everyone, not just her. “And I thought he was a hottie,” she adds. After they were married, Johanna discovered that Paul’s kind heart extended to financial generosity as well. “He gives way more than the standard,” she says.
4. Consistency. Kelsey knew she wanted to marry Nathan when she was grocery shopping with him for a dorm section event in college. They weren’t even dating. “I thought to myself, I could shop with Nathan for the rest of my life!” Kelsey knew Nathan for two years before they began dating. “He was consistent,” she says. “He was the same person no matter who he was around or what situation he was in.”
5. Optimism. Gavin and Jamie met while working together at the same church. “I guess it was natural I would take a second glance at someone who was my age, cute and single,” Gavin says.
But once they began dating, he discovered something else. “She’d lived through some rough times growing up (like me). Yet somehow, she’d come out on the other side with a remarkably positive attitude about life and an unshakeable faith.”
Even when Gavin lost his job and thought that might end their relationship — “Who wants to date a guy who just lost his full-time income, right?” — Jamie was supportive and encouraged him in the next step. That pattern has continued into their marriage.
6. Commitment. When Josh began attending Lindy’s church and quickly committed himself to the worship and leadership teams, Lindy was impressed. It was also a “happy coincidence” because she was on the same teams, which meant they got to see each other three times a week. Josh demonstrated the same kind of dedication as he pursued Lindy for marriage. “He’s a man of integrity who knows how to make a commitment,” she says.
7. Spiritual Passion. Krista believes God told her to marry her husband, Craig. “I quite willingly agreed!” she says. “When I was growing up, my mom told me to pray for a husband who is passionate about God. I did, and I got him! I am able to respect Craig because he listens to God and obeys His voice.”
From the first time they met, Melissa loved Brock’s green eyes. The kind of guy who would buy her a trinket she liked or plan a fun outing together, it was Brock’s devotion to Christ that ultimately won Melissa’s heart. “His desire to know Jesus and develop a closer relationship with Him was evident through the dating process,” she says. “He has a very strong commitment to the Lord.”
8. Humility. Christine met her husband, Mike, via their blogs and eventually moved to Australia to marry him. Among his many good qualities, Christine says of Mike: “He is open about his flaws and sincerely repents of his wrongs. I can see his tender heart constantly being shaped by the Holy Spirit to become more like Christ.”
Josh’s humility “really got my attention,” Danielle says. “I’d been around a lot of men who were full of pride, who never gave heartfelt apologies or thought they were wrong. Josh had a humble spirit, and I really loved that about him.” She’s discovered that this humility also allows Josh to be a good leader of their home.
9. Faith. Shy and reserved, Sarah might have never talked to Andrew if he hadn’t sat by her at a college ice cream social and struck up a conversation. But as she got to know him, she noticed his deep trust in the Lord. “I knew Andrew would make a good spouse because of his commitment to being a godly man and the way he trusted the Lord for all of his needs. That was a trust that I saw the Lord rewarding time and again as He provided exactly what we needed at the moment.”
10. Perseverance. Rebecca and her husband, Kade, had a long, difficult engagement. “I experienced so much grace, love and truth-telling,” Rebecca says. “I felt completely valued and loved in a way I never had before, and I saw Kade persevere in the challenge of relating to my parents, who didn’t like him.”
Mike heard about his wife, Jessica’s, “brains and beauty” before he ever even met her. When they did meet, he was hooked. But five months after they began dating, Jessica went on a year-long missions trip to a country with limited Internet and phone access. While she was away, Mike got up at 4 a.m. many mornings to chat with her online, spent a fortune on calling cards and even visited twice, staying for two months in the summer.
“Then I knew he would not only support my dreams but join me in them,” Jessica says.
“Throughout our relationship, Jessica was committed and loyal,” Mike adds. “We had a saying ‘up and to the right’ (like the trend you want to see in the stock market). As time passed our love for each other continued to grow. Marriage has its ups and downs. Being able to make it through the downs is what strengthens a relationship.”
Each of the above 10 characteristics was mentioned again and again — by people who know. This list is certainly not comprehensive, but based on the fact that most of the couples interviewed have been married for between five and 10 years, these qualities seem to be good indicators not only of “mate” potential but of success in married life.
Getting married and staying married isn’t always easy, but solid character is a good foundation for both.
Copyright 2009 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.