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picking a spouse
three steps to avoiding divorce
by jeffrey d. walker

I am now five years and a few months married. And I was pretty deliberate about deciding whom I would settle down with. I lived with Amanda for about four years before we got married, which followed a practice of living with every girl I seriously dated, and not counting ladies who never made it to live-in girlfriend status. There were quite a few.

I was even more deliberate before writing this piece on marriage, which, incidentally, was something the wife wanted me to write after like two months. But I didn’t. I wasn’t going to talk about marriage until I did it for a while. Only then could I discuss it.

As I write this, I have a cold. So does my wife, and we both feel awful. Sure, there are much worse afflictions that could and may befall us in life, but right now, it doesn’t seem like there is much worse.

And so begins my column on marriage, starting with the “in sickness” part. If you’re going to hate being with someone, it can easily be when either they are sick or you are sick. Or in this case, as are we, when you both are sick, which is a damned thing I’ll tell you. Damned.

But what do we do? We try to comfort each other as much as can be managed without coughing and sneezing on one another. One of us may sleep somewhere else if the other is particularly hacking through the night. We make deals to get the most needed and ignored chores done. Like Tim Gunn advises the designers on Project Runway, we “Make it work.”

Probably the most unromantic part of marriage is the “in sickness and in health” part. Think about your loved one covered in sores, or accidentally soiling themselves. Will you have no other thought but to help? Think of yourself doing the same thing in front of them. Do you trust that person to help you, or might they more likely run away gagging?

This isn’t the romantic part of marriage. But it’s a real part. There are also traditional wedding verses that mention death and being poor, the latter of which I’m told is one of the leading causes of divorce in the United States.

Yes, I did just mention death and divorce in my marriage column. Right after I talked about you soiling yourself. Why? Because that’s what you’re doomed to at best if you screw up your marriage. Divorces occur more frequently than I would prefer. They are expensive, painful, and often hard on groups of friends who feel they have to take sides (not to mention any children).

Listen: Divorce, death, sickness, poverty; all these are really lousy things, and also all very serious topics. I hope one day we have a society smart enough to end most of those (I’m not sure that we want to outright end deaths). But in the meantime, anyone entering into a marriage may encounter death, sickness, poverty, or other unintended and horrible things during a marriage. And when an ugly moment comes, you’d rather have picked someone who you can trust to make it through with you, as opposed to being alone and footing a divorce bill. Picking your mate should be given just as serious consideration as any of those more unsavory topics. Don’t wait until the going gets tough to realize you chose poorly.

So how do you track down this person? I’ve seen people with “lists” of traits that the perfect mate should have, and at least one of those persons is still single after all this time (I’m not naming names). And generally, the “list” fails. Your mate may have the right color hair and the same religion as you, and even may like the same music. But that’s not going to stop you from becoming a murder-suicide.
Forget what you know; finding a good mate takes only three steps:

(1) Spark: Yep, this is the hocus pocus part. The moment. This isn’t a spark in your pants; while that is a reaction that may also occur, the spark that really starts off a romantic relationship is a little trippier. I’ve experienced it both as sort of a time slowing down thing, and twice couldn’t make words come out of my mouth because the moment got me stuck a little. But there has to be that moment when you see someone and you just, sort of, pause. The world sort of does. And that might not mean “marry” that person, because if so I’d have a lot of divorces. It’s just a signal to check this one out. And so then, move onto…

(2) Communication: After the spark, you need to do some vetting. Sort of like when a new Supreme Court justice gets picked, you need to ask this person pointed questions to see if they make sense. Your date might not agree with your politics: ask them why, and see what you think about their logic. Your date might not have a job you think is lucrative or “sexy”; ask them why they do it. Find out how this person ticks, what gets them motivated, how they solve life’s dilemmas. One of my favorite things about my wife is how her motivations and methods of attack on a problem are often different from my own. I have listened to Amanda, and I like what she’s about. And from this, grows part three…

(3) Trust: After you’ve done the other stuff, you have to decide if you can trust this person. Does their logic work? If your own sense of normal got knocked off kilter, could you trust this person to make the important decisions? If you need some advice, would you trust your mate to give it? Because, even more than a killer set of hooters (or what have you), you’re going to want someone who can do something you’ll trust. And at it’s core, communication plus trust, with a little spark, makes a marriage work.

Sure, there’s the attraction, the sense of humor, the looks – I’m not implying that you throw all caution to the wind and ask out the closest wildebeest just to see if it’s interesting and trustworthy. I’m not asking you to forget everything you know about dating. But don’t get too focused on the “we have such a good time together stuff.” That part’s pretty easy, especially when only seeing each other in brief increments (i.e., dating evening and weekends). You need someone who you can stand and can stand you over the long haul, and under extreme circumstances.

Following these steps helps narrow it down. Living together also helps work out the kinks – people are never the same as with visitors as they are when forced to cohabitate. That’s my advice. But, in a pinch, a several day road trip or some sort of lock-in may help.

This piece on marriage mates goes out to my wife, Amanda. Past all the common sense and practicality I depend on her for, she’s a lot of fun and good time, too.


A practicing attorney and semi-professional musician, Walker writes for his own amusement, for the sake of opinion, to garner a couple of laughs, and to perhaps provoke a question or two, but otherwise, he doesn't think it'll amount to much.

more about jeffrey d. walker


walk it out
everyone's unique viewpoint, without prejudice
by jeffrey d. walker
topic: writing
published: 6.15.07

wish you were here
a reluctant writer on why you should write
by jeffrey d. walker
topic: writing
published: 12.18.09


adam kraemer
9.15.10 @ 10:46a

About a year before they got married, my brother and sister-in-law were joking about how when the going gets rough, they temporarily hate each other (emphasis on "joking"). Brett was saying it'll be like, "Why have we been waiting in this line for an hour? And you didn't take out the recycling again." Or "I can't believe the power went out and you snore." Or even "This traffic sucks ... and so do you."

They've now been happily married for 5 years (I think). Two daughters. The trick, from my observation of them is that when things really do go badly (not just "we're out of milk"), they absolutely have each other's backs. They're stronger as a team. They just hate waiting in line.

candy green gustavson
9.16.10 @ 6:36a

About the only good line in the American version of "Shall We Dance?" is one about marriage. I haven't got it right, but it's something about someone being there to bear witness to your life. It's when the Susan Sarandon character is talking to the detective at the bar towards the end.
Nice reflection on one of life's biggies, Jeffrey D. Walker...

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