As a university professor, I'm around many young men and women who are engaged, or who are hoping to find "the right person" during their time in college. There is plenty of advice out there about how to find the right person, and of course many online dating sites that promise eternal romantic and marital bliss. But there is one thing that we often overlook when thinking about an ideal romantic relationship or marriage, and it has nothing to do with our potential partner or spouse.
When thinking about marriage, we often forget how important it is to be the right person. There are several character traits that, if we can cultivate them in ourselves, will help us to have a good and lasting marriage:
Forgiveness: You will hurt your spouse, and your spouse will hurt you. Sometimes this will be intentional, but often it will not. To maintain unity in the relationship, forgiveness, true forgiveness, is essential. It entails not holding your spouse's actions against him or her, and starting fresh after dealing with the offense.
Unselfishness: For a flourishing marriage, rather than thinking and working at getting our own needs met, we should focus on meeting the needs of our spouse. It isn't that we should avoid communicating about these things, and entirely disregard our own needs, but rather that we should intentionally focus on what we can do for our spouse. The natural human tendency is often to focus on ourselves, and so it is wise to be intentional in this way.
Love: We often focus on the emotional forms or aspects of love, but if we think of love as a virtue, it is a trait that will dispose us to seek the good of our spouse, in a variety of ways. This type of love is evidenced by our actions, not necessarily our feelings, and is essential to a good marriage.
Humility: In humility, we recognize our own fallibility and own up to it, rather than focusing on our spouse's weaknesses or mistakes. We shun self-centered pride and arrogance, and in humility recognize that we ought to put the interests of our spouse ahead of our own. Self-centered pride fosters isolation in marriage, humility fosters oneness.
There are many other virtues which are also helpful, but these serve as a solid starting point. Whether or not you are married, growing in these traits will benefit you in that most important of relationships, and the rest of life as well.
If you are interested in how to grow in these virtues, here are some books that you may find helpful: