Looking through some old papers I came across a list of qualities, handwritten with little hearts dotting all the "I's," by my 14-year-old self, describing what I was looking for in a future mate. The list said he had to be:

Good looking, funny, smart, nice to horses (don't really remember why that was so important), have a good job, watch Star Trek, love to cuddle, like sports - especially soccer and skiing and want to hang out with my family.

Now, after 17 years of marriage to a great man who doesn't necessarily like Star Trek and has never been skiing, I look at that list and laugh at my cute younger self. If I could send her a letter through time, I would tell her she could cross everything out on her list and add just two items that would cover it all:

1) Willingness

2) Commitment

That's it. Really.

Let's begin with "willingness." My husband has gone with me to each Star Trek movie, and even buys the popcorn, even though it's not his favorite. A man told me of his wife's willingness to compromise on a cherished Christmas Eve tradition to include some of his traditions, as well. And, it goes even deeper. This shows up when one of you has deeply hurt the other, and your relationship is on perilous ground. If both are willing to talk, even just a little, forgive, allow the passage of time to begin its healing process and really work on yourself and your relationship then this is "willingness" at its best. If you possess this quality you are able to:

  • Listen, actively and curiously.

  • Self-reflect on what you are doing to help or hinder your relationship.

  • Apologize.

  • Try new things and be open to new ideas.

  • Understand that relationships require work and to do what it takes.

Next: "commitment." What have you ever had to truly commit to? We practice commitment when we take a new job, begin a new project or decide to train for a marathon. But nothing truly prepares us for the level of commitment we undertake when entering into a relationship. This is when we get to find out what we are made of.

I love rollercoasters. There is such a thrill as the coaster is climbing the hill and you are excitedly anticipating what's to come. However, once that coaster gets going, that's it, you're committed. You are thrown down the hill, tossed around the loop, jerked sideways and every which way until the ride ends. And, for the most part, the ride is thrilling and exhilarating.

Commitment in a relationship is similar but different in that this rollercoaster lasts your whole life. It's up, down and sideways. Sometimes it makes you sick while other times it's absolutely thrilling. The point is to understand that, come what may, you are not getting off. You are riding side-by-side with your spouse and riding it to the end. Aren't you glad there is someone with whom to share it? If you're going to vomit, it might as well be on someone who signed up for this ride with you.

A committed person has the ability to:

  • Stand their ground, even when it's difficult - especially when it's difficult.

  • Determinedly place one foot in front of the other.

  • Realize "this" fight, misunderstanding, stressor can be worked with and doesn't mean the relationship is over.

  • Enter into a relationship without thinking that the first three years are just a test run to see if they'll like it or not.

  • Be emotionally mature.

Some may argue "love" should be on that list or a myriad of other qualities. Here's why. During the past 17 years, I haven't always been "in love" with my husband just as I know he hasn't always been "in love" with me. Sometimes we downright didn't like each other. Other times that "lovin' feeling" just wasn't there for a period of time. If neither of us had possessed the above qualities, we may have decided our marriage was over because we weren't "in love" anymore.

Our looks have certainly changed. Our likes and dislikes have evolved over the years. Cuddling time has been reduced somewhat due to our seven children also wanting their share of affection. Although my husband does make me laugh, if he had a great sense of humor but was unable to be committed I sure wouldn't be laughing.

One important disclaimer is that both parties have to possess these qualities. I don't want anyone mistaking "commitment" for staying in an abusive or unhealthy relationship. If abuse is occurring then the person with whom you are in a relationship is neither "willing" nor "committed" to the health and vitality of your marriage.

So, all you singles, whittle your list down to two and see what you can do with that. It may be easier than finding someone who matches all 37 of your preferred items. If you're already married, take a moment to see the ways in which you could strengthen these two characteristics to make them the foundation of who you are. From them, you will gain the fortitude and perspective you need to make a long-lasting and wonderful relationship.

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