How to Tell If He’s Marriage Material

A Post that Was Requested by Readers

I’m the first to admit that I probably married my husband for the wrong reasons. One of those reasons: his hands. Seriously, this is no joke. The very first time we held hands, I thought this: “His hand feels like husband material.”

And if you are thinking, “No wonder that crazy loon ended up with marital problems,” I must ask you this. Why did you marry your spouse? Why did you think your spouse was husband or wife material?

It’s my firm belief that the vast majority of us marry for the wrong reasons—especially the first time around. We deem someone as “marriage material” based on the following factors:

  1. Looks
  2. Income
  3. The kind of car he drives (I used the “he” pronoun here because I don’t know too many men who care about the kinds of cars women drive, but you can correct me in the comments if you think I’m way off base).
  4. The strength of the goo-goo gah-gah sensation you have when he or she is around.
  5. How he or she performs in bed.
  6. Whether or not he or she can cook.

I’m sure you could list a bunch more. Here’s the point I’m driving at: none of those factors will guarantee that your marriage will be good, and most of them are ethereal. It’s sad to say, but we all get old. A good income can disappear with the shift of the economy or even just a new boss who wants to hire his or her cronies. Cars break down. Goo-goo gah gah goes away.

Good sex is a skill that anyone can learn by reading, experimenting and doing it a lot. Think about that for a moment because it has important implications. Great lovers got great, in part, by loving a lot of people. That doesn’t necessarily make someone marriage material. I’m not saying it rules someone out, either. I’m just saying that someone who is great in bed might keep you orgasmically happy for years or might have some serious problems when it comes to remaining faithful. It could go either way.

As for cooking, it sure is nice, but the best meatloaf in the world isn’t going to save an otherwise horrific marriage.

For years premarital counselors have been trying to get couples to delve beyond such superficial things and to talk about stuff like whether or not they want children and how they feel about money. Still, just because you both believe in 2.5 kids and a 401-K doesn’t mean you are well suited for one another, and it has nothing to do with whether you will both excel at the art of being married.

No, to excel at the art of being married, one needs a number of qualities that include—but are not limited to—selflessness, patience, resilience and the ability to embrace change.

If I were single and thinking about getting hitched all over again, these are the kinds of questions I would ask to tease out whether a potential mate was marriage material:

  1. If I was in a car accident and became a quadriplegic, what would you do?
  2. If I suffered from a medical condition that prevented me from ever having sex again for the rest of my life, what would you do?
  3. If you thought I was having an affair, what would you do?
  4. If you found yourself attracted to someone other than me, what would you do?
  5. If I told you I was unhappy with our marriage and wanted to see a counselor, what would you do?
  6. If I lost my job, stopped showering, ate Twinkies all day long, and never lifted my dirty stinking ass off the couch, what would you do?

I’m sure I could come up with 50 more hypotheticals, but you get the idea. These are all tough issues that do really come up during a lifetime of a marriage. You all know. I’m preaching to my choir. You read this blog because you have been there.

If all goes right and your marriage does not suffer the curse of Job, you will hopefully only have to navigate just one of these horrific situations together. The point is: these things happen. Wives get breast cancer. Husbands get soft (and yes, I’m talking about down there). We all get old. Money comes and goes. So does illness, depression, stress, and good fortune.

It is only the resilient, forgiving person who is able to say with conviction, “I would still love you and I would find a way to get through it with you by my side” no matter what the circumstance. And it’s that person who is true marriage material.

What do you think?

25 comments… add one

  • Joanne July 21, 2010, 12:01 pm

    True marriage material is a person who can not only forgive but also Compromise. My marriage still exists, even though we have serious problems, because at the end of the day I just can’t imagine never seeing him again and he has told me he feels the same way so compromise is very important.

  • Sabrina July 21, 2010, 12:57 pm

    I married Mike because of his heart and how he treated me. How he cared for our daughter and how he put his family first. How he embraced my family as their own and his family me.

    Things turned sour quick, but as of recently, we have decided to date again and if i can get over his betrayal, we will give it another shot, if not, at least i know i tried.

  • Alison Kelly July 21, 2010, 2:47 pm

    I married a musician. Not money, no car, but my gawd he makes me laugh. Our marriage is no where near perfect, but it’s pretty damn awesome.

  • Drummer Guy July 21, 2010, 4:14 pm

    Alison you married a musician? You must ROCK too..LOL Must be something about the ladies with the letters A, L, I & S in them…..I really crack me up. :-)
    Another great post Alisa. I had learned a few of these myself. My first marriage failed although not for the reasons listed above (too long to go into). I also ALMOST made the mistake of marrying somebody for a couple of the bad reasons listed above. In that case, yea the sex & the passion was great. I latter found out that one reason she was so passionate was because EVERYTHING ABOUT HER WAS INTENSE, Her temper, her language, her stalking, her jealousy etc..LOL I think I had mentioned before I could write a post on dating red flags to beware of for men. I seriously could.

    Most everybody here knows what my beloved & I now deal with daily with her illness. We have learned the true meaning of commitment. We have endured things that I never in my wildest dreams imagined we would have to. So questions one & two on your list of things to ask a potential spouse have come true. Now question six might be a deal breaker. LOL

    Oh & on a funny note the things we look for while dating are things some people really do look at. Many years ago I was a radio announcer for a CHR (What they used to call top 40) station. In that job you get a lot of teenage girls calling you. I guess they think behind that velvet voice must be a hunk..LOL Anyway almost all of them would ask the same questions when they called. It went something like this. “How old are you”? What do you look like”? Then “What kind of car do you drive”. Well one night I thought I would have some fun with this. So when some teenage girl asked “What kind of car do you drive”? I said, “well I’m an axe murderer but I drive a brand new Corvette”! I swear the next words out of her mouth were, ” you drive a corvette, lets go out! The whole ax murderer thing went in one ear & out the other. Her next question was ” why are you laughing so hard”? Absolutely a true story. Aren’t the workings of the teenage mind amazing? I’ll write why me beloved is my beloved next. This comment is long enough…AGAIN!!! ;-)

  • Kathy July 21, 2010, 6:09 pm

    Alisa, why did I not know you all the times I got married. That’s right, you’re way younger than I and obviously much wiser than I. (Yes, DrummerGuy, now it’s my turn to suck up. ; ))

    You nailed it. Those are great questions to ask, if we were in the marriage market.

    Joanne, love your comment.

    I know I married my first two husbands for all the wrong reasons. Hell, the second one didn’t even have an income. Duh! How stupid is that on my part.

    My current husband, when we’re having difficulties (which we currently are, ugh), he had the qualities I was looking for – the ones that we actually on my list. There are some points that weren’t on my list. And they should have been.

    How is it that you go from finishing each other’s sentences to not being able to understand nary a word that comes out of their mouth? This is NOT a rhetorical question. Or not caring if the other interrupts what you are saying because what they have to say is either so insightful or so funny that you don’t care you were interrupted. How can you go from kidding around (teasing) to such complete hurt when they are “supposedly” teasing you?

    I think if I’d been a different person (my personal issues resolved/addressed) I would have never gotten married. Don’t get me wrong, I like having someone in my life. I don’t like having to answer to someone or having to “change” me to fit them.

  • Kathleen Quiring | Project M July 21, 2010, 6:59 pm

    Wonderful, Alisa! Your list of hypothetical questions is perfect. Those are exactly the kinds of things that, if answered correctly, point to marriage material. You’ve nailed it exactly, I think. Tons of wisdom.

  • sophia July 21, 2010, 8:26 pm

    I just knew that my man was a wonderful, considerate person who would not stay single for long. The reason I committed at 18 was because I knew that if I didn’t, he would be snatched off the marriage market.

    The funny thing is that we really are in a marriage market and you have to be able to interpret market predictors. For example, his parents have been married for 30 years, and his grandparents remained deeply in love until his grandmother passed away. He was ready to commit at 18 because he had everything he could want in a relationship. For some reason, women seem to ignore giant red flags in the dating game.

    When we first met, I really couldn’t imagine myself having sex with him. I was not attracted to him! But our first kiss was amazing! Its amazing how much better a lover is when he is crazy about you and you are crazy about him. And when he listens to you.

    Of course, we were penniless when we moved in together. We’re now 23, have a six-figure income, and have taken each other for richer and poorer. When people ask me what I am the most proud of, my immediate answer is our relationship. We’ve worked so hard to build it together and we enjoy each other very much!

  • Lisa July 22, 2010, 4:22 am

    I still remember our first kiss 22 years ago. It is what keeps the fire alive. I felt we were destined to be. Many years into our relationship we discovered we had been at an event when we were kids and never knew each other. our names are on a program from that event, DESTINY!! Soul mates. We didn’t go to school or live near each other, both from very different backgrounds. We met under unusual circumstances and have been together ever since. I don’t picture living my life with out him in it. I could never see myself waking with someone else, I am still in love with him and will always be.

  • Joanne & Ray July 22, 2010, 6:26 am

    Lisa- It was Ray’s kiss that sold me too. I know it isn’t a good reason to marry someone but within 2 weeks of meeting him I knew he was special and we were married within 9 months of knowing each other. We are going through a very bad time but I have no regrets about committing to him. I am such an arrogant, alpha personality it just amazing me how much being married to him has made me grow and evolve as a human being.

  • MarthaAndMe July 22, 2010, 9:28 am

    As a former divorce attorney I definitely agree that many people marry for the wrong reasons. Another attorney I knew who was acting as the guardian ad litem in a custody case said point blank to my client “if he was good enough for you to sleep with, he’s good enough to be a parent to your child.” I still chortle a bit at that and think more people ought to think about that.

  • Kathy July 22, 2010, 9:33 am

    MarthaAndMe, I so agree with that statement. But with a twist. You’ll have sex with the guy, but you won’t marry him? Granted I didn’t follow that in my youth. But it’s definitely where I’m at now.

    I know a gal that had three beautiful kids with a guy. But wouldn’t marry him and ended up marrying someone else. I just don’t get that.

  • Drummer Guy July 22, 2010, 10:06 am

    Alisa this has been among my favorite post. You do ROCK… See Kathy, my turn to suck up..HA! ;-)
    I love the 2 list here. I think a lot of the list people look at has a lot to do with age & the wisdom we gain from experience.

    In my personal life after I divorced from my first marriage I dated quite a few people & quite a few for superficial reasons. But at that time I wasn’t looking for marriage. That is fun for a while but after time human nature is we need more. Then I started looking more for long term relationships. Then I was looking at the things that are sustainable long term. Man did I ever find out how scary it is out there when you are looking long term. I discovered some people should just be required to wear signs that state “Posted no trespassing, violaters will be shot on sight”. In other words keep your distance from these people before you either get shot or just shoot yourself..LOL

    So after some bad experiences & at a time I was ready to give up I met my beloved. She was well employed, had high moral character, beautiful, kind, caring, very romantic, compassionate & always put others before herself. Not that I am a taker but it is a great character trait in anybody. They are the people that will be around for the long haul. If there should there be a long term illness, big financial change etc. they stay. The self centered type will be gone the instant there is an unexpected problem. After all everything with them is all about “ME”. One of the biggest problems in today’s dating world is finding somebody who isn’t completely self absorbed. I am told by female friends it is just as bad or worse with the single men.

    Thanks goodness I looked for much deeper qualities in a life mate. After everything that we have gone through from her illness to the financial difficulties it cause we have both grown & become a better us. So the hings I love about her are the things that attracted me to her in the first place. The looks, income, health etc are gone & we have grown stronger & closer.

  • Joanne & Ray July 22, 2010, 10:26 am

    After my first disastrous marriage I really expected to be fulfilled raising my three children and working I wasn’t even interested in romance and I was not going to parade a bunch of “uncles” past my kids. I stuck by this decision for 5 years. Ray kind of fell into my life because I did his sister a favor and was her brother’s date for the company xmas party. I didn’t believe in love at first sight, hell, I didn’t believe in love but I’ll swear that’s what it was.
    I still wouldn’t marry him though, I didn’t feel it would be fair to him, I came with thee small children, Carrie was only 5 years old at the time, and I couldn’t give him any children of his own. He pushed and pushed and I finally agreed to let him move in with me thinking that would end it because having 3 children not yours, 24/7 is daunting.
    He loved being a family and still insisted on marrying me 6 months later. He refused to just live with me like his sister was with her boyfriend of 20 years. He wanted the commitment and he finally wore me down.
    16 years later with the problems we are having now he may regret his decision, but I will stick by mine. Even with our problems I think he is an amazing man.

  • Drummer Guy July 22, 2010, 6:22 pm

    Joanne, I ment to comment earlier. I really loved your love story. It is always heartwarming to hear how people met & fell in love. I am that “old sentimental sap” type person & I really enjoyed reading it. All our best from my beloved & I. You & Ray are in our thoughts & prayers.

  • Joanne & Ray July 22, 2010, 6:52 pm

    Drummer Guy- The great thing about this site is how much we really want each other to succeed and believe me I feel the support. Even beyond the great marriage tips and advice Alisa has given us I wonder if she realizes what an incredible gift she has given us in a way to each other and the wonderful support we feel here.
    Alisa – I might as well say it too, you are so cool, you rock.

  • Michaela July 22, 2010, 8:15 pm

    Great post! I asked my husband several of those questions when we were dating and he had all of the right answers. I regret now that I married him for the father he presented himself to be rather than the man. My choice is not fair to either one of us. While he gave the right answers, he is far from a dedicated father who puts the family before his own needs. For anyone looking for marriage material, I suggest looking at how the person acts. Anyone can give a great answer and may not follow through with those actions. If we cannot make our marriage work, it is nice to have more questions to ask!

  • Maureen July 22, 2010, 11:16 pm

    My question: If I wanted to chase after my passion and dream would you support me?

  • Maureen July 22, 2010, 11:16 pm

    He said yes.

  • Sam July 25, 2010, 6:29 pm

    Alisa, I usually agree with you but I have some quibbles with this post. First, I think that looks are important for most people. You have to like looking at the person you’re with. I know this isn’t politically correct to say but if you don’t have some level of physical attraction then I don’t think the relationship will last. Yes, we all grow older but this doesn’t mean a person can’t remain attractive. It’s all relative based on age. This isn’t to say that other things don’t matter. They do. A lot. Personality, emotional outlook, maturity, etc. But looks count too.

    As for the goo-goo gah-gah factor, I disagree as well. Does this diminish over time? Usually, although I have seen couples that remain totally in love after years. Granted, it’s not common but it does exist. The bottom line here is that if you’re starting at a high level it’s certainly a lot better than starting at a hum-drum level. At least for most of us. Yes, there are always exceptions. But if you don’t feel in love from the start where do you go from there? It’s certainly not going to get better.

    Finally, how the person performs in bed is crucial to a relationship. Of course there are no guarantees. Yes, people can read books and learn. But sex isn’t just the technical mechanics. It’s what’s between the ears. How a couple interacts and how they play together is far more important–and it’s not necessarily something anyone can learn from a book. It’s chemistry. Someone who turns you on and kocks your socks off is likely to keep your interest over the long-term.

    I agree that income, the car one drives and the ability to cook are superficial. That’s because these are “things” rather than traits or “connections” between two people! Perhaps I’m misunderstanding things but I think you’re combining things in a way that muddles the picture.

    On the other hand, I think your list of questions is excellent. And I agree with your overall take on things. Thanks for another thought-provoking post!


  • Bern July 25, 2010, 8:41 pm

    Alisa, I think your list of the deep questions you should ask yourself are fantastic! Unfortunately though you are right – many people (and if we’re honest we all fall into this trap at some level) make a decision based on the superficial stuff you listed. If you’re smart and learn the lessons life teaches us hopefully you only make this mistake once, and if not then you are doomed to keep on repeating it over and over!

  • Patricia July 25, 2010, 8:43 pm

    Oh the difference in relationships and what we look for now vs when we were younger . . .

    I hear a lot about second marriages. I believe strongly that I will be experiencing my “second marriage” in the near future, and am thoroughly excited and am looking forward to it. You see, when I married for the first time, I was only 19 (4 days from turning 20). I had dated my husband for close to 5 years. We were young, but then again, back in 1977, people married right out of high school or shortly thereafter.

    I don’t regret marrying when I did. We bought a home, both had stable jobs, had two beautiful daughters and life unfolded as it should have. Unfortunately, after many years, drugs and alcohol entered into our marriage and family, thus destroying what we once had.

    Now I am in a committed relationship with a man that I was only friends with at first. Looks? Oh yeah, looks had a lot to do with my initial attraction towards him, I won’t lie! But, after cooresponding via Facebook for many months, I realized that this man was far more complex and interesting than I gave him credit for. You see, when we are younger, we think young, we act young, we REACT young.

    When we are older, and have experienced life, our thought patterns and actions and reactions change dramatically! We have gone through a lot, and now find ourselves at a point in our lives where we desire a TRUE connection with someone, not a superficial one or one that we simply “settle” for. We have the desire to accept the other person for who they are, accept the “baggage” that they pull behind them, listen to them instead of critiquing every last word that comes out of their mouths, just to prove we’re right and they are wrong!

    My relationship is definitely one of putting the other person’s needs and wants prior to my own, without jeopardizing who I am. That’s a BIG thing, not jeopardizing who I am! You see, when we’re younger, we wanted to change the other person and mold them into what WE wanted them to be. Now, years later, I find this to be 100% completely wrong. I want to accept my man for the man he is, not for who he can be molded to be! I don’t want to change him. After all, HE (and everything that comes with him) is who I fell in love with. Why on earth would I want to change him?!

    We discuss things rather than having the desire to prove that “I’m right and you’re wrong”. It doesn’t work that way with me, nor him. If we are having a discussion on a given subject and differ in our opinions, we simply say, “I don’t agree with what you’ve said, can you please explain why you feel this way, because I’m having a hard time understanding you”. Differences are discussed and arguments are non-existant. So, you think this may sound ‘fairytalish”, but it’s not. We make a conscious effort to be kind, understanding, respectful and considerate. It’s easy!!!!!

    As far as looks go, we ALL want to look across the table and enjoy the eye candy! I would be a liar to say anything other. And, yes, keeping up one’s appearance is an extention of being the best you can be for your “significant other”. It’s truly a turn on to know that your partner wants to look good for you!

  • OneHotTamale25 October 16, 2010, 9:24 pm

    I thought I read and commented on this post in the month it was posted… Anyhow, I think being able to forgive is huge. Knowing that I find it so challenging to extend forgiveness at times, I am amazed at the grace with which my husband interacts with me. He is a gem, and I am thankful to be married to him.

  • Michael Finlayson February 26, 2011, 1:49 am

    You’re quite right. There are far to many people who focus purely on the superficial things rather than looking at what really matters such as are you best friends, and can you work together and not in competition with each other. The end result being yet more work for those poor, overworked divorce attorneys.

  • Steve September 5, 2014, 2:06 pm

    Sorry but the questions thing is just a waste of time. I mean come on, do you really think a person is going to say to you “No I wouldn’t stick around if you got sick.” Let’s get real, people answer what they believe the other person wants to hear. I am not saying that answers are all lies, but I have to agree with the other person that it is all in the actions. As far as two people making it in a relationship and what makes a marriage last, it is that simple trait of being unselfish. Period. But BOTH must be that way. If either one is not, then one or the other is going to eventually be torn down and want out. It is all about continually wanting to serve the other person’s needs, rather than constantly wanting your own to be met. If you meet another person’s needs, then your needs will inherently be met. Simple as that, but my how difficult that can be to ascertain within a person. It takes time I think and paying close attention to actions and NOT letting your feelings of love cloud your judgement. If it looks like a rat and acts like a rat, then it must be a rat. So this takes constant tweaking on behalf of both parties involved. Both parties must realize this and continually strive to be considerate of the other and genuinely want to put their needs before their own. But again, it takes two and only one regarding love and marriage this way will eventually cause it to split down the middle. I came here thinking about getting married again but unfortunately I think what I found is there is no universal truth to this question. Aside from gauging a potential partner as well as you can from their actions, what other resource do we really have to predict the future? We don’t and sometimes we just have to jump in and pray for the best. But I do believe if we can determine that person to be somewhat selfless and believe they will always work to be that way, then you have a good chance of making things work over the long haul. Put your partner to a test sometime and see how they work it out. I don’t mean ask them questions, but give them real issues to have to act upon. How they handle those tests will tell you far more than they ever will by answering a few hypothetical questions. Period. It is funny because I can look back on all of my failed relationships from the past, (no not marriages but relationships in general) and there was ALWAYS a selfish component within them that made them fail. Either I was selfish, she was selfish or we both were selfish. Any way you look at it, that was the catalyst that eventually lead to failure. But even with all that said and my feeling that I have finally found someone that is not totally self-absorbed in themselves, I still call into question my own judgement and it makes it difficult to trust in your instincts. But I at least feel like I have my own head on straight for a change and I am ready to give rather than to receive. So far that has been working out really well in my current relationship. Nearly two years we have been together and things are looking promising. But who knows, as they say time will tell. There have been a few moments when we have been tested for selfishness behaviors. I have felt the sting of having to give up to gain, and so has she. But it seems we both did it with grace and without letting the other know just to gain brownie points. Believe me, the other one knows when you are doing something for them and it shows, you don’t have to tell them. Telling them just turns you back into selfish again. Chew on all that.

  • Steve September 5, 2014, 2:11 pm

    Oh and all of these out here that are commenting how wonderful and how right they go it at 18 or 22, if you are 10 or more years into your marriage then preach on. But early on all marriages are bliss. It is the ones that make it over time that can truly comment about what it takes or give valid advice. The seven year itch seems to infect ALL marriages. I have seen it over and over and over. Personally I wish there were a law that stated a couple may not have children until they have been together a minimum of seven years. I think then we would have fewer and fewer single family homes. Just my .02.
    Steve´s last blog post ..My Family Split Up for the Summer. This is What I Learned.


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