Dear Rosie & Sherry,
I am currently engaged to a wonderful man that absolutely adores me, and who has all the qualities I'm looking for in a spouse. I recently read your checklist and I can successfully check everything off: I look up to my fiance for his worldview, intelligence, unselfishness and love of me (besides the many other qualities which I need -- and he has them all!). I also feel a strong sense of security and trust with him, and feel I can lean on him when necessary.
Except there is one point that I'm unclear about: I need to feel a strong "admiration" for a man who is really confident in himself. (Since I have a hard time with this myself, I admire it in others.) My fiance does have this trait to some degree, but not as much as I wanted. That leaves me feeling uncertain.
I do feel that he is someone that I can build a life with, but I got nervous when I read your point about the importance of "admiration." Does he have to especially possess that strong point that I admire, or is my ability to look up to him in certain areas enough?
I would really appreciate a quick answer, since I'm only a week away to my wedding and this makes me nervous!
It sounds to us that you have exactly the right admiration that one should have for a prospective spouse -- you admire a number of his very fine personal qualities. We've never said that a person must admire everything about a spouse, and in fact there will always be certain things that irritate or annoy everyone about the person they choose to spend their life with. This is entirely normal, and exists in even the happiest, healthiest marriages. Admiration doesn't mean admiring the entire person -- it means finding certain aspects of his or her personality to admire.
We once heard a lecture by a man who had delayed marriage until his 40s. He was speaking to an audience of "gun shy" bachelors, trying to convince them to consider marriage. In dispelling certain myths about marriage, he said: "There will be 50,000 things about your wife that you will not like. But, there will be 150,000 things about her that you do like, and when it all balances out, the good points will outweigh the negatives many times over." He's right.
As much as we hope that this idea calms you, we'd like to add one more thought. Throughout marriage, it is a good idea to focus on your spouse's best points, rather than his worst ones. We know someone who tells this little story from time to time to explain how to make this idea workable:
"My husband had a habit of leaving his socks and dirty clothes lying on the floor, instead of putting them in the hamper, and told me he'd 'get around' to them 'later'. It annoyed me to no end that even though we both worked hard at jobs, he took for granted the fact that his dirty clothes would find their way to the hamper every day. I'd remind him, ask him, and sometimes complain, but any improvements on his part were always short-lived. And, of course, I'd get angry and resentful whenever I had to pick up his clothes, which was almost daily.
"After we'd been married about seven years, as I bent down one more time to retrieve the past day's dirty socks from the bedroom floor, I realized that I was wasting a tremendous amount of emotional energy getting angry at a man who all-in-all was a very good husband and person. Yes, I resented the fact that clothes on the floor didn't bother him as much as it bothered me, and it made me feel taken-for-granted to have to pick them up on an almost daily basis. But, of all the things in our life together, this was one of the few items I even wanted to complain about -- the rest was pretty great. (And I knew there were things I did that irritated him on a daily basis...)
"From then on, picking up after him didn't bother me too much. And, interestingly, at some point down the road he decided to become a little neater and started to pick up after himself. The postscript to this is that it's now about 20 years after that minor epiphany, and while there are some other quirks of my husband's that I'm not crazy about, the good points still overwhelm the few negatives."
The postscript to this story doesn't mean that your future husband's issues with self-esteem will go away. It is true that there are ways he can address and improve his self-esteem, but that isn't the point. The point is that you can learn to take your focus away from this personality trait, and deal with it in a way that doesn't cause you frustration, or cause friction in your marriage. You can learn instead to focus on the many admirable qualities he possesses and the wonderful way you relate to each other. This is what every man and woman in a good marriage learns to do. And it is a learning process -- it doesn't come automatically.
We hope you can take our advice, move forward, enjoy your wedding day, and concentrate on building a happy life together with your husband.
Rosie & Sherry