I visit a lot of different websites each week, searching for interesting articles or for story ideas.  The New York Times website is one of my favorites, and while there I always look at a little box that lists the “most emailed stories” of the day.

If one article keeps showing up on this list day after day, you know it has attracted an unusual amount of interest.  And this was the case a few years ago with an article titled “An Ideal Husband,” by columnist Maureen Dowd.  It stayed on the “most emailed” list for about a week, which means that somehow the column struck a chord with many readers.

It’s a simple article, actually.  It raises the question: How do you know if you’ve found someone who would make a good husband?  Dowd then introduces Father Pat Connor, a 79-year-old Catholic priest who “has spent his celibate life — including nine years as a missionary in India — mulling connubial bliss. His decades of marriage counseling led him to distill some ‘mostly common sense’ advice about how to dodge mates who would maul your happiness.”

Connor’s advice is the type of practical wisdom you don’t normally find in the New York Times.  (Perhaps that is one reason the article was so popular!)

For example:

  • “Never marry a man who has no friends.  This usually means that he will be incapable of the intimacy that marriage demands.”
  • “Does he use money responsibly?”
  • “Steer clear of someone whose life you can run, who never makes demands counter to yours. It’s good to have a doormat in the home, but not if it’s your husband.”
  • “Does he have a sense of humor? That covers a multitude of sins.”
  • “Don’t marry a problem character thinking you will change him. He’s a heavy drinker, or some other kind of addict, but if he marries a good woman, he’ll settle down. People are the same after marriage as before, only more so.”
  • “Take a good, unsentimental look at his family — you’ll learn a lot about him and his attitude towards women.”
  • “Does he possess those character traits that add up to a good human being — the willingness to forgive, praise, be courteous? Or is he inclined to be a fibber, to fits of rage, to be a control freak, to be envious of you, to be secretive?”

What would be on your list of attributes for a prospective husband–or wife?  What would you say to a friend or child who asked, “What should I look for?”

I like Connor’s advice, but I would add some questions about spiritual compatibility.  To me, a couple’s spiritual foundation is the key factor for making a marriage work.

The first question is, “Are both of you Christians?”  As the apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6:14-15, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership has righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?  Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?”

Let me quote from Preparing for Marriage, a premarriage manual I edited and co-wrote with three colleagues here at FamilyLife:

This passage makes it clear that a Christian should only marry another Christian.  Marriage is not a man-made institution.  God created it.  Its fullest enjoyment and expression can only be found in two people who have a relationship with Him.

When Christians fail to obey God in this critical area, they experience a growing frustration after marriage:

  • They are unable to discuss the most precious, intimate part of their lives with their mates.
  • They have conflicting goals and expectations.
  • They clash over the values they teach their children.
  • They have differing circles of friends.
  • They have difficulty communicating and resolving conflict.

A second question is, “Do you both share the same commitment to spiritual growth and to serving God?”  My observation is that many Christians avoid this second question; they know they need to marry another believer, but they allow infatuation, loneliness, or weariness of singlehood to cloud their minds about deeper spiritual compatibility.   Quoting again from Preparing for Marriage:

1 John 2:15 tells us, “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  You may both have received Christ, but if one of you is more focused on loving the world rather than loving God, you will experience many of the same conflicts as a believer and non-believer.  Your goals and values will differ.  Your lives will head in different directions. …

To evaluate this area of your spiritual compatibility, begin by asking yourself questions such as:

  • Do both of us share the same desire to know and please God?
  • Do I have any sense that one of us is putting on a facade of spiritual commitment?
  • Do our actions back up our words?
  • Do we both consistently display a desire to obey God in all things?
  • What priority does each of us place on ministering to other people?
  • Are we both willing to follow God’s direction?

When you are truly spiritually compatible, and are walking with God daily in the power of the Spirit, you are able to experience marriage the way God intended.

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