- Be a person who has values.
Values are the regard you hold for persons, for ideals and for things, and this regard causes you to behave in a certain way. Values dictate your behaviour. A woman may not always appreciate the things you choose to do with your time, but she will be interested in the way you apply yourself to it, because that will tell her what your values are. You might love football. Football is not a value, but the way you conduct yourself around football will indicate what your values are. If playing football brings out the worst in you because you swear and fight, get drunk with your friends afterwards and leave your filthy clothes lying around the house, this does not reflect quality values. Clearly, someone who behaves this way does not value sensible adult behaviour, moderate drinking or the home the clothes were left lying around. However, if you use playing football to help keep you fit, enhance your social interactions and as an opportunity to exercise your diligence to taking care of your own things, anyone can see you have worthwhile values. In the end, if you have values, your loved one will not mind how you spend your time, energy and money, even if it takes you away from them, because they will be able to believe you can behave with integrity.
- Be a person who learns.
Not just book learning. Although if you love books, please read. I am talking about adaptability. Openness. Willingness to change. Accepting of new things and preparedness to grow. Your strength, physical and emotional, will be needed and called upon often in your relationship. But do not confuse strength with rigidity.
If you have come into your relationship with a list of requirements and cute little fetishes and the other person appears to fulfil them all, enjoy it now. It will not last. In fact, it ought not. People change. Often, they have to. A man that expects his bride to stay the same as when he married her is asking the impossible. He will have to be prepared to grow and evolve both with her, and independently, and the marriage will have to be strong enough to endure that. Sometimes, what appears to be a very good thing about someone has come about because of a very bad thing that happened to them, and when they get over the bad thing, the thing you thought was a good thing may be gone forever.
Some women are very compliant and restrained because they have been abused, and have deep issues surrounding shame and rejection. But should such a woman ever be healed from that pain, she may find she begins to blossom. She wants to educate herself and stop seeking fulfilment through clean laundry. The husband that considered his ideal wife to be someone who hysterically enjoys domesticity may become very threatened and disappointed by her new behaviour. Who should adapt? Likewise, the man who marries a woman because she is wild and adventurous may be very confused if she suddenly reinvents herself as a stay-at-home mother after the birth of their child. Be very careful about basing your security and happiness on the capacity of another human being to never, ever change. You will both have to, and you don’t get to say what or how they do it. You only get to change yourself.
- Be a person who stands
I don’t mean by this “stand for something.” The things you stand for may change over time, as your life weaves in and out of friendships, communities, workplaces, churches, neighbourhoods and even families. This is because what we think is important when we are with some people can change when we leave them. Take families of origin for example. One of the first things you do when you leave your folks may be to work out your own priorities, separate from your parents. As you and your wife move house, change church, leave towns, move through jobs, have children and grow older, what is important to you will evolve, or perhaps become clearer. One of you may even lose faith. This is why it’s more important to be someone who can stand than it is to be someone who can stand for something. You must be able to do it, even when you do not understand why, or what you’re standing for.
There will be times when everything you have believed in is lying in pieces. There will be times when something will happen and you will not know what to do about it. There will be times when the conflict, the grief, the loss, the betrayal, the fear and the unknown will feel overwhelming, and because you are the man, everyone will be looking to you to do something about it. It’s all very well to say that the man has to dream the dream, see the vision, keep the faith, hold the fort, fight the fight and know the stuff. But while you are certainly a man, you are only human. That’s why you need to know how to stand when everything is crumbling around you.
Standing counts for a lot when everything is falling down. Standing, even if you don’t do or say anything, gives the people in your family a place to go when they feel they are about ready to give in. Standing is what you need to do when your wife is railing at you in anger or crying in pain in your arms. Standing is what you need to do when your child is hurt, and when your teenager hasn’t come home. Standing is what you will do when they tell you all is lost, and when you have to apologise to someone else because you let them down. Standing is often what must you do when you feel like running, hitting, yelling, driving away, breaking something or leaving.
Standing is where your wife needs to find you when she is looking for her place in the world. It will be beside you, facing everything it’s got to throw at the both of you.
- Be a person who forgives
Forgiveness at times seems like the geeky, skinny-legged neighbour to trendy, new-fashioned working it through. Working it through is a new phrase to describe stringing an argument out until one wears the other down. Well, you can “work it through” as long as you like, but sooner or later, someone is still going to have to get over it first. May as well be now. May as well be you.
Not because you’re the man, by the way. Not because you’re supposed to be stronger, smarter or the leader. Just because you can. Don’t worry. I’ll be telling the girls the exact same thing.
Forgiveness doesn’t just extend to the life of your marriage, by the way. If you are a person who forgives it will bode you well across many spheres in your life. Just imagine it. When you have that row with your mate, or that falling out with the dickhead at work, you’ll be the one who has moved on first and has been doing interesting things with the part of their brain that might have been taken up with stewing and brooding. Useful.
And forgiveness should not just extend to your wife while you are married. If, heaven forbid, you and your wife should stop being married, being a person who forgives will mean that your children will be spared the enormous amount of agony that any rancid vitriol existing between your ex-partner and yourself will undoubtedly cause them. Every time they see you, they will know your energy will be directed at being pleased to see them, and not at cursing their mother, and trying to prevent her from keeping everything you once owned together – including them.
Forgiveness is a process, not a one-off act. Forgiveness will allow you to see the girlfriend with a sexual history as the beautiful bride of your present, and the faithful wife of your future. Forgiveness helps you get along with your in-laws, and move back to your hometown to raise your kids. Forgiveness facilitates amazing vision and momentum. Become practiced at it, and you will find it takes you much further than power, knowledge or ambition, both in marriage, and in life.
- Be a person who takes responsibility
Now, I don’t mean this as in “the whole shebang rests on your shoulders, buddy.” I don’t mean to imply that it’s the man who ought to shoulder all the financial and spiritual responsibility, although if that’s what you both have negotiated, go for it. What I mean by taking responsibility is being a person who does not blame others when things go wrong, and does not look to others to fix their mistakes. A man who allows his wife, or indeed, who insists his wife, take the wrap for some dumb thing he did is not only no leader, he is a man without character, or integrity.
Men who lack a sense of responsibility for their relationships, their marriages and their family life often do not realise the disorder they create around them. Children become distant, as they know they will not be held to account for what they do, or rewarded for what they achieve. Women become fixers, rescuers and co-dependants in chaotic households where each feeds off the worst of the other, where no one fails, but no one succeeds either.
Men who take responsibility risk looking bad sometimes, weak sometimes, flawed sometimes and wrong sometimes. But the truth always makes them free. Take responsibility for your fidelity, your appetites, your addictions, your habits, your imagination, your desires, your hurts and your healing. No one else is the boss of these, nor are they to blame or to thank for wherever they may take you.
- Be a person without expectations
I asked my husband today to give me a piece of advice on marriage he would like to give other men, maybe something from our pre-marriage counselling that he didn’t find useful. He said he actually didn’t remember any of our pre-marriage counselling. That’s a bad sign as far as the counselling is concerned, because my husband never remembers any information he’s not found a use for. Not one thing he found of the slightest practical application, in twenty three years.
Later on, Ben said he’d thought of something he’d like to tell you. Expectations. Get rid of them. All of them. The way you think marriage will be? It won’t be like that. The things you think are going to really bother you? They probably won’t. The things you think won’t be a problem for you? They are probably going to become the irreconcilable differences listed on your divorce petition. Those things your partner did in their past you think are going to come up? It’s unlikely. In fact, there’s no way you can know the real issues, literally. If you guys go for counselling in a couple of years, you’re going to be so surprised at what you’ve been arguing about. I’ll put money on it.
Marriage is like deep, deep water. You think the waves on top are the worst of your problems. You cannot fear what you cannot see.
Some very specific directions to men about women.
Virginity. Some straight talk. A woman’s virginity is hers alone, and hers to to give – it’s something she chooses to part with, and not an entitlement to be demanded from her. Men do not get to police women’s virginity, they do not get to tell them who they may or may not give it to, or say how sad they are it isn’t there any more. A woman’s virginity is not a red, velvet, penis shaped receptacle with your name on it. If your wife did not “keep herself for you”, it’s understandable you might be disappointed. But surely women cannot be expected to appreciate there is a man out there who would like her to keep herself for marriage, when she only ever seems to encounter lots of men who couldn’t seem to care less if she did or not.
I think you ought to take this issue up with the lots of men who don’t seem to care less.
Women who have sex with men before they marry do it because they have pressing emotional needs that need satisfying. And sometimes, those deep emotional needs exist in the first place because someone who was meant to love, treasure and protect them decided that perpetrating a sexual act on them would be more interesting.
Don’t you be guilty of doing the same.
After a while, women work out that having sex creates a lot more emotional needs than it satisfies. Before you get all morally superior and act disgusted at women who have had sex before marriage, just know that the only difference between your wife, and those other women you didn’t marry because they were sluts, is that your wife hasn’t worked out you can’t fulfil her emotional needs. Yet.
One last piece of advice. Whatever you do, don’t fall for the line that women are looking for a master, for someone to be their imagination, their intellect, their visionary and their muscle. We’re not. Women want a partner, someone who differs physically but matches intimately, not a bully who will try to manoeuvre her, or a misogynist who feels threatened by her. Women seek unity, simpatico, synchronicity – moving forward, together. A woman who just sits on her bum and waits for a man to make it happen for her is a sad specimen, and you won’t please her or fix her. If your woman shows spirit and spunk, is kicking and lively and can make herself clearly understood, stick around. She’s a person who’s going somewhere, with or without you. May as well be with you.
There you go. Now, I could have given you a bunch of things to do, but as you see now, you’d only have picked and chosen. The fact is, the details are up to you. Much of what will work in your marriage will be you applying the above to your priorities and circumstances, and marriage is the most exciting negotiation you’ll ever undertake. The way you undertake it is more important than where, what, how, who and when. You’re a smart guy – you’ll work it out.
Thanks for reading. Tomorrow…for the ladies. Look out.
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