It happens. Somewhere a DJ is playing ”All of Me” when you look across a crowded room and there she is. She’s stunningly beautiful and the moment your eyes meet there is a spark. Everyone else fades away as you walk toward one another like Tony and Maria from “West Side Story,” or Cinderella and her Prince at the ball. You introduce yourselves and then talk as if you have known each other forever. A whirlwind romance follows and a few months later you walk arm and arm down the aisle together for all eternity.
And then reality sets in. Followed by disillusionment. Because that kind of love, the falling in love, butterflies in the stomach kind of love, rarely has the foundational elements necessary to build a lasting relationship.
Our society has tricked us when it comes to relationships. It has made us believe that if we have attraction and those butterfly in the stomach feelings for someone, then we have met “the one” and we have what we need for marriage. But quite often those fluttery feelings are nothing more than intense physical attraction. And if we want to build solid marriages, marriages that will stand the test of time, we need something more. Much more.
Over the years I’ve observed that the strongest marriages have 8 essential elements in common. I call them the 8 building blocks. Here is a brief summary of these foundational components.
The first building block to a strong relationship is a commonality of beliefs. Every once in a while I hear about a couple with two very different religions (such as Catholicism and Judaism) and I always wonder how they can possibly make their marriage work, because a person’s belief system is their framework for living. Your beliefs affect your moral compass, your behavior, the way you raise your children, and virtually every factor in life. So when considering a relationship, it is essential that a person carefully examine the beliefs of a potential spouse. When discussing their convictions they shouldn’t hide anything. They need to be completely honest and never consider any romantic entanglement unless their core beliefs align.
The second building block is respect. The dictionary describes respect as, “a feeling of deep admiration for someone,” “esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person,” and “a feeling or understanding that someone is important and should be treated in an appropriate way.” Simply put, before you decide to marry a person you need to know that person’s character and admire him or her for that character. That doesn’t mean the person is going to be perfect (no one is) but he or she should have qualities that result in your admiration and esteem.
Trust is a consequence of respect and is another essential building block for marriage. Without trust a relationship cannot survive. Trust depends on honesty because once a lie has been told, you will always be wondering if the person who lied is lying again. Trust also relies upon a person keeping promises. And it comes from watching how a person handles a situation and seeing that they strive to do what is right, not for their own self-interest, but for your sake, the sake of others, and most importantly, because of a desire to obey and please God.
Next comes the ability to communicate. Being able to express feelings, ideas, and reasons for behavior is key to developing and sustaining a healthy relationship. Young people should be asking a series of questions about how they interact together. Can they talk openly and honestly about a problem? Can they rationally discuss the situation without becoming angry or emotional? And can they talk through a problem and come to a solution based upon the respect and trust they have for one another and from a conviction to live according to God’s word?
Closely related is the ability to weather storms together. When starting a relationship it is easy to be so starry eyed that you fail to understand that life is full of difficulties. Young couples rarely think about what will happen if they become sick or injured, if they experience financial struggles, if they suffer the death of someone they love, and a wide variety of other problems. They need to be asking how their future spouse will respond to hardship. Will that person be loving and supportive and come to your defense, or will he or she point a finger, whine and cry, fall apart emotionally, and possibly even desert you? Does that person really grasp the meaning of “for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, till death do us part?” If there is a doubt in your mind, don’t even think about a relationship with that person.
Kindness is another essential factor when building a strong relationship. A relationship, and especially a marriage, without kindness is sheer misery. If a person speaks unkindly or acts unkindly it hurts and causes resentment and bitterness and an erosion of respect and trust. Kindness is needed in every area of a relationship, both little and big. It is about going out of your way to make your spouse happy and thinking about your partner’s feelings and acting upon those feelings according to the golden rule: in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.
Another important building block is the ability to have fun together. Life is too short to be saddled with someone who can’t take a joke and have fun. Laughing together makes life joyful. There is no happiness in waking up next to a person who is always gloomy. My daughter has already planned to have nerf guns in her future home so she and her husband can playfully shoot at one another. She understands the importance of fun in a marriage.
The last building block is physical attraction. You can meet a person who, on paper, sounds perfect for you, but if there is no attraction, or if you spend time with a person hoping an attraction will develop and it doesn’t, give it up, because physical attraction is absolutely necessary in a marriage. Unfortunately, many people get married solely upon the basis of physical attraction (as in the beginning story of this post) mistaking attraction for love, and then they have nothing else upon which to build their marriage. But to marry without physical attraction just because the other elements are in place is equally problematic. You need to want to kiss and be close to the person your marry. You need to want them to hold you close and touch you. If that is not there, something is wrong.
Finding all of these qualities in a potential spouse is not easy, but if you do find them, my advise to you is to hold on to that person for dear life. You have found a treasure! On the flip side, if even one of these elements is missing, run. Get out of the relationship. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that person will change or the circumstances will alter once you are married. Problems don’t get better when you get married, they only get worse. A solid relationship comes from a commonality of beliefs, respect, trust, the ability to communicate well and weather storms together, kindness, fun, and last, and definitely not least, attraction.
Young people need to be cautious when it comes to relationships. They need to understand the difference between the kind of magical love that Hollywood promotes, as opposed to the real, authentic, love that develops from a solid foundation with these 8 elements in place. Butterflies are nice, but they are not enough to hold a relationship together in a lasting and satisfactory manner.