Looking back after twenty years of marriage: What's really important?

This week my husband and I reached an amazing milestone. We have been married for twenty years! I can hardly believe it as I look at a much younger picture of us on our wedding day. How did it go so fast? It has made me take a moment to assess.

I love my husband, and I believe that I chose well all those years ago.

However, standing on this side of two decades, I see my choice quite differently than I did as a twenty-something blushing bride. I was blessed, but not really for the reasons I thought.

All I can say is that God in His mercy knew what I needed when I was just hung up on marrying a Christian man who was handsome, funny, smart, and tall. That was it. That was the sum total of my list.

It’s kind of embarrassing, in retrospect, what I didn’t know. But for all the young women who work at Concerned Women for America (CWA) and the young leaders of our college chapters, here are the top five other things I should have had on my list.

1. It’s not enough that he is a “Christian.” There are plenty of men who can check that box, but few who base their entire lives on being wholly sold out to God’s plan and promises for his (and your) life. That means when you wake up one day and are fat from childbirth, catty from lack of sleep, and just plain irritating to live with, he will still choose to love you as Christ loved the Church. Emotions follow actions, and sometimes we must act first and feel later. I promise you it works, but the idea that “the heart wants what the heart wants” is lethal. Love will conquer all, but there are times when you both have to have your commitment so sealed in your hearts that Satan cannot drive a wedge, no matter what he throws at you. Only faith and character can prevail.

2. It’s not enough that he is funny and a good date. You had better like each other. I can honestly say that there is no one in the world that I would rather share a day, a trip, an experience with than my husband. That is because we like the same things and genuinely find the same quirky things in life funny. Not every day, but often in the middle of sleep deprived, hellacious nights with screaming toddlers, we could crack each other up. Some days that was all that saved us.

3. He must respect you. What I mean by that is that he sees you as his equal. I am not going to get into the whole submission conversation.

This principle stands outside of the ordering of decision making and roles of the home.

This is about your husband respecting your intelligence, your discernment, your feelings, and your calling from God. The two of you will not always agree.

Yes, the two of you become one when you make your vows, but often God’s calling on your life is different than on his. That does not mean, however, that you are not “help meets” to each other.

My husband ran a large scale retirement community for a number of years with 2,000 residents and 1,000 employees. I attended dinners, shook hands, made friends, and supported him in any way I could imagine. When he had to leave our family in a blizzard to go care for the residents in his charge, I blessed him and encouraged him to follow God’s calling and responsibility on his life.

By the same token, he respects the ministry that God had given me to do, too. In spite of his own challenging career, he has never devalued anything that I was doing, regardless of the size of my paycheck — and even when there was none at all. He has NEVER once made me feel guilty for leaving a family gathering to go do a media hit on Fox or CNN.

He has always done his share to enable me to pursue the calling God has on my life by partnering with me on home chores and child rearing.

4. I am downright ashamed that I didn’t have “good father” on my list. What on earth was I thinking? Praise God that He knew I needed a man who was one hundred percent invested in loving and rearing his children.

I am frankly not sure how one screens for that, but it’s worth thinking about. One way might be to look at his father.

In a quiet moment alone with my mother-in-law, I recently thanked her for raising my husband to be a good dad. Her answer was illuminative.

She humbly said, “He had a good daddy.” It’s not to say that men can’t be good fathers without that example in their lives, but it sure is harder. And if he was hurt by the man that should have taught him how to be a man, then you both must meet that head on, discussing what you plan to do differently.

Everything from rough housing little ones, to discipline and character formation, to wild, abandoned, unconditional love is a father’s job, and my husband has exceeded any of my dreams had I dared to have them.

5. Finally, he needs to have a forgiving heart. Oh that I will become as forgiving as my husband. There is a reason why the passage often read in weddings, I Corinthians 13, specifies that love keeps no account of wrongs. Now, I am not talking about life shattering betrayal. Honestly, I am not sure I could come back from that. Instead, I would argue that couples can easily keep track of each other’s failings over the years until they each have a large enough tally of slights and wrongs that become unrecoverable.

My husband is teaching me to forgive by his example of never reminding me of my past failures in order to score a point in an argument.

In sorting through this list, I come to the word “noble.” There is something beyond good about my husband, and millions of men, quietly doing what’s right every day, with thanks often unsaid and enduring the pressures of life; they are noble.

We don’t really talk about any of them very much. It’s the rakes that get all the press.

So to all CWA’s beautiful, single members, think through your list. Choose your spouse wisely. You may not just be choosing for yourself but for generations to come. But no pressure!