I’ve been married for several months. I know what you’re thinking. What gives me the credentials—and the audacity—to offer marriage advice? Well, I got married for the wrong reasons, and I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did. Like most women, I wanted a man with a good heart who would be a romantic, loving husband and a great father.
Unfortunately, those qualities are not enough to sustain a loving, faithful marriage. A successful marriage requires nurturing every single day. By the time the light bulb came on, I was already married.
David and I were married after just a few months of getting to know each other. We skipped dating and became a married couple and business partners within a matter of months.
Why the rush?
Pregnancy? Green Card? Arranged marriage, perhaps?
None of the above. We fell in love. We both had a history of doing things our own way for selfish reasons in relationships. Those never ended fruitfully. We decided to do things differently this time.
Here are the eight things I’ve learned from my marriage to help you sustain a fruitful one.
Know Your Partner
I first met David when I interviewed him for my book, It Takes Moxie. I was interviewing successful immigrants and those who came from humble beginnings, and I wanted to learn more about their American Dream stories. David had one. He went from living in an orphanage in Korea to being adopted by a Dutch family who moved him to a small town in Oregon where he had to overcome a lot of difficult situations.
As a young adult, David dealt with those childhood issues improperly and was mad at people and the world. He rebelled against his family, broke the law, and broke the laws of his weak faith. It wasn’t until his late twenties that he had a God moment. He saw that his life was headed for a dead end. This wake-up call became a vow to make major changes. David’s life turned around, and for the next twelve years he focused on his career and his faith.
Create an Ideal Life Partner Checklist
Getting married wasn’t a priority for David. It wasn’t even on his radar until we met for dinner on March 23, 2012. While we were catching up on the past year, something was happening to David’s heart. He began looking at his mental checklist to see if I could be Mrs. Van Maren:
1) Into God (Check)
2) Loves friends and family and the Oregon Ducks (Check. Except the Oregon Ducks part)
3) Can bring home to parents (Check. I clean up quite nicely)
4) Enjoys action movies (I love rom-com . . . so close enough)
5) Attractive (Check)
6) Has patience (I do not, but five out of six isn’t bad)
I made the cut.
Just like David did, I encourage you to make a list: What are your potential partner’s “must have” qualities, and which you are willing to sacrifice? Must this person share your faith? How important is physical appearance? What are your thoughts on children? Should money be saved or spent? A list will provide you with some directions for what really matters to you in a partner. Otherwise, you may find yourself in a relationship where you wish you could change someone rather than accepting him or her unconditionally.
David and I met again the following week.
For me, it was to seek career guidance; David has mentored many people. For David, it was to get to know me even more. At our “meeting,” David had me write down my goals: 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, and so on. He gave me recommendations for achieving them. I hung onto his words.
Yet, I couldn’t help but think, this is too good to be true. “What are your intentions for helping me?” I asked him. David paused. He said, “I simply want to be a blessing in your life. That’s it. I want nothing in return but to pay it forward.”
My heart melted. I knew I was sitting in front of someone truly special. In addition to having a good heart, David was a former athlete and fitness guru who kept himself in excellent physical condition. That was on my checklist: a man with a six-pack.
David then introduced me to his parents and siblings. I learned I was the first person he had ever brought home to meet his family.
Soon after, we got married.
Do His Actions Match His Words?
While I was lead by my emotions to marry David, I had my eyes wide open. David is a man of character. After our “meetings,” David never suggested going to my house or to his place. David was careful because he wanted to honor me. Ladies, chivalry is not dead!
As I spent more time with David, I could feel myself become closer to God. David isn’t shy about his faith, and he breathed words and truth into me like no one had.You have so much God-given potential. You are made with the most perfect ingredients . . . And the Oregon Ducks are the best team out there.
The guy has a sense of humor, too.
What’s His Faith?
It’s really important to know your partner’s spiritual beliefs. In fact, it’s one of the first things you should learn. People’s faith will tell you how they handle conflict or guilt, what they use for a moral compass, and whether they have the ability to graciously forgive. And while David’s words told me so much, his actions showed me even more.
What Are You Willing to Compromise?
On the other hand, I did observe David’s weakness (or should I say, lack of knowledge?) in the romance department. A guy who knew how to romance me was certainly on my own list, but I was willing to compromise.
Case in point: While I was heating food in the microwave one evening, David asked me casually, “Will you marry me?” We had talked about it already, so I nonchalantly said “yes.” David then handed me an unwrapped box and walked back to his computer and proceeded to work. Standing by myself in the kitchen, I opened the small box. There sat the most-perfect, brilliant, 2.2-caret solitaire diamond ring. I gasped. Is this David’s way of proposing to me? I put the ring on myself and stared at my hand. Sobbing. I was overwhelmed with joy and started imagining our wedding day, traveling, children, and growing old. David missed my reaction to the most important question he’d ever asked because he was working in front of a computer.
Confession: I’d imagined an entirely different proposal. Maybe a candlelight dinner with soft music in the background with David down on one knee, opening the box himself, looking into my eyes, and asking, “Will you marry me?” But how could I be upset? He really didn’t know what romance meant. The guy had no clue. Zero. Nada.
Now, that doesn’t mean he can’t change on his own and at his pace.
Once we said, “I do” in front of family and friends, David and I continued on with our independent, busy lives, still living in our individual homes. No time for moving in together, and no time for a honeymoon. We saw each other on the weekends. You could say we were still dating, but married.
After six weeks of living apart, we finally moved into together. We thought because we saw each other everyday, we were acting out our respective roles as married people.
During this time, we had also become business partners, which presented a whole new set of challenges. My learning curve was steep, and our marriage took a backseat.
I realized it. David did, too.
In a matter of hours, David took the initiative and planned our long-overdue, 15-day honeymoon across Europe.
Our honeymoon began in Barcelona, where we took our first romantic walk ever, hand-in-hand, at Park Güell. Paris seduced us at every corner. Sipping a cappuccino with my husband was something I’ve had on my bucket list since I was a teenager. We acted like newlyweds in Venice and kissed under the Bridge of Sighs. We shopped in Milan, the city of fashion, and appreciated the history in Rome. We spent more quality time in those fifteen days than we had in the entire time we’d known each other, and this helped rekindle our passion.
I was reminded that there is a God. David turned into a romantic right before my eyes. He started cuddling with me at night, became engaged in our conversations over dinner, and not once did he turn on the TV to watch football. (We didn’t have access to American TV, so perhaps that wasn’t by choice, but I’ll give him that one.) We felt so free and in the moment. We marveled at La Sagrada Família, Eiffel Tower, and the Coliseum. Ooh! Aah! Wow!
The sightseeing brought us temporary happiness. As with anything new and shiny, we had the initial high, and then it wears off. We knew we needed to spend time with God during our honeymoon if we were to experience permanent joy in our marriage.
Understand the Definition of Marriage
We’d brought along a book, The Art of Marriage, which was recommended by our married friends who are of the same faith.
Previously I had only known the human reason for marriage: Two people love each other and want to make a lifetime commitment. But as I read about why God created marriage, I began to fully understand the foundation behind the covenant.
I didn’t know the Godly meaning of marriage until I started reading verses from the Bible. For example, David said on our wedding day, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” I now fully understand what David was telling me. He was promising to me what God has done for me all along: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
I started looking at my own life. There are times I know I have abandoned God, but I know HE has never left me. David made a covenant to faithfully do the same.
It was in reading that verse that I understood what I was doing. Through that covenant, I was telling David the same thing. I must love David with all my heart the way God loves me.
That’s intense. Revelation.
Keep the Honeymoon Alive
Once our honeymoon came to an end, David and I realized how easy it would be to go back to our old habits. Work first, marriage second. We no longer had the nice hotels, swanky restaurants, or the world’s best views to provide a romantic setting. However, we are now making a habit of creating that honeymoon environment at our own home. For us that means going on dates a minimum of once a week. When we were planning our honeymoon, we found ourselves spending time researching new places. Now that we’re back to our daily lives, we just need to keep that same energy of “new” experiences. It could be re-creating a delicacy we enjoyed eating in Europe or watching a movie filmed there. I have a year’s worth of ideas for our weekly date nights, but if I do run out of ideas, we’ll just have to go on another honeymoon.
That’s not such a bad idea.
We understood that during our first year of marriage we would experience cracks along the way. The causes might be work-related stress, being too busy for each other, or (fill in the blanks.) We saw those cracks and did our best to repair them, only to find they kept coming back . . . sometimes even deeper. We don’t need ten years of marriage to know that cracks are unavoidable. They will come. It’s just a matter of when they come and how we to handle them when they do. But we are confident that because of our strong faith in God and in each other, we will share a lifetime of joy in our marriage.