What is the most important quality in a marriage?

This post is part of a series on the fruits of the spirit. The current theme is love.

Mike and I are three weeks into this latest separation and it hasn’t felt like a good week for us on the Laos-Australia skype date front.

We are managing to talk most nights, but by the time 8:30 or 9 rolls around I am… let’s go for a an elegant understatement here… a little bit tired. This fatigue, and my daily routine at present, don’t exactly make me the most fascinating conversationalist.

The start of last night’s conversation, for example, went something like this.

Mike: “How was last night?”

Me: “Well, he was down at 10, up from 12-1 and 3-4, and then he started squirreling around and making angry koala bear noises at 4:45 so I took him into bed, where he promptly threw up on me. Do you want to hear last night’s baby spew tally?”

Mike: “Yes please!

Me: “Two pairs of his pyjamas, one pair of mine, my hair, his crib sheets, one set of queen sheets and the mattress protector, a pillowcase, and a pillow protector.”

Mike: “Champion. What else did you do today?”

Me: “Well, let’s see. I fed him six times. I took him to the community health nurse and she says he’s gaining weight like a prize piglet and looks as healthy as can be. In the evening we had a bath. He screamed so hard he stopped breathing and turned purple when I took him out and tried to dress him. Then we lay on the floor together and watched a program about sperm whales. Did you know that sperm whale hunt using sonar and those sonar clicks are the loudest sound produced by a living creature, as loud as thunder? Apparently, when a sperm whale clicks at a diver it’s like getting kicked in the chest by a horse. During the program, there was a baby sperm whale that got lost and came right up to the boat and surfaced under the pontoons – I think he thought they were other whales – and then he started clicking for his mama.”

Mike: “Did you cry?”

Me: “No, but by the time the mama whale came and found him I had milk soaking through my shirt.”

Mike is a good sport but this is not exactly the type of skype conversation we’re used to having. I mean, it had been 24 hours since we talked and pretty much all I had was sperm whales and a vomit tally. Yeah.

When I was up in Noosa last week my friends were asking me how Mike and I manage to stay connected when we spend so much time apart.

“We talk,” I said. “A lot.”

“Don’t you run out of things to talk about?” they wanted to know.

So I told them about how Mike and I keep a running list of conversation topics that we can delve into when we have the time and the energy, and I told them about how when we were dating we would sometimes pick questions randomly out of a question-based game. The questions from that game could be goldmines.

“One time,” I said, “the question I picked out was: What is the most important quality in a marriage?”

“This was before you were married?” they wanted to know.

“It was before we were engaged,” I said. “And it led to one of the more interesting discussions we had long distance.”

Most of my friends looked across the dinner table at their spouses.

“Go on,” I said. “What’s the most important quality in a marriage?”

There was a long pause.

“Everyone’s trying to think of the right thing to say,” someone said with a laugh.

“Everyone’s also wondering what their spouse thinks is the right thing to say,” someone else observed.

“Love,” someone ventured.

“That’s too general,” someone else said. “What do you mean by love?”

On Monday I’ll tell you how Mike and I answered that question the first time we tackled it. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What’s the most important quality in a marriage?

The woven cane ring from Papua New Guinea that Mike gave me when he proposed


20 responses to “What is the most important quality in a marriage?

  1. Willingness to be a partner–for the fun stuff and the bad stuff: cleaning, lawn care, home repair, groceries, baby stuff, playing with kids, bills.

    Maybe if I wanted to be less practical: treating the other person like you like them the most of everyone on the planet every day! Still working on this one 🙂

  2. Loyalty and love for a lifetime!
    Peter and I recently had our 21st wedding anniversary. It was a disaster. No, it was worse than that. We were at the end of a one-month move that had taken well over two months. Peter had promised we would be done by our anniversary and that he would take me out for a leisurely dinner. What really happened is that we were STILL moving and it was all Peter’s stuff (a pack rat, he is) and he didn’t eat supper at all and I had some microwaved casserole our neighbour provided. Then I proceeded to cry my eyes out on the cold, hard basement floor later that evening.
    Just yesterday, when we were discussing this anniversary, Peter said, “A day is a day, but a lifetime is more important.”
    He’s right! And we have had a spectacular lifetime together (apart from this day)…

  3. I second the partnership. Also, agreement on money and sex — though not at the same time.

  4. I busted out laughing at the milk leaking through your shirt during the sperm whale show. That’s funny stuff! I can remember similar things happening when mine were babies. 🙂

    I think the most important quality in marriage is commitment. Even when things get rough, and money is tight, and you don’t like each other very much, you have to still remained committed to one another. Feelings will come and go, hard times will come and good times will come, but staying true to and invested in the relationship is necessary for longevity. Maybe that is the definition of love, though. It sounds a lot like unconditional love.

    • I let down at the sight of a puppy the other day! Interesting that you pointed to commitment, that was Mike’s initial answer too, and also interesting the thought about how this all sort of ties into love at some level.

      • I’ll answer here since you two are talking about it. I agree that “love” is too general, and so my answer would be “commitment”. However, that could be interpreted as a cold, “ok, doesn’t matter if we’re both miserable, we’ll stick it out.”

        So my answer is “commitment to love”. Which is what the marriage vows are all about, right? Love (as we humans do it) without commitment nearly always fails. Commitment without love is cold and miserable. But a commitment to love gets you through the hard times because there is ALWAYS hope if you both are fighting for love.

        And secondly – humor. 🙂

        • Oh, Kacie, well put. And you’ve made my dad smile (you’ll see why in the next post).

          • We’re watching several of our closest friends divorce at the moment and it’s very disheartening. At one point my husband said, “I feel like we need to make some sort of promise that we’ll never do that and then I remember that oh, we did, that’s what the wedding vows are for!” I think there is a sense of vulnerability when you realize that despite having made the strongest promise you can make, it simply isn’t a promise that is respected or followed through on by many.

          • Sorry, Kacie, that would be depressing. Thinking out loud here… a little bit of feeling vulnerable might not always be a bad thing – though too much of it would tend to breed unhealthy levels of fear, I suspect. But maybe a little bit of feeling vulnerable helps prompt us to be vigilant about those pitfalls in our own lives.

  5. Putting the other’s needs ahead of your own. I think. And we fail a lot.

    My boy turns purple when we get him out of the bath too 🙂

  6. I agree with all the comments on commitment, love and partnership. But I think you also need the ability to say sorry, and the willingness to accept an apology.

    • Yeah, I’d agree. I don’t know if I’d say it’s the most important quality, but it’s up there. Although, I guess it reflects something about the underlying qualities that ARE present – that ability to acknowledge wrongdoing and accept an apology.

  7. You are so funny!

    I’d have to say a sense of humor and commitment.

    Because, you won’t always FEEL loving. My pastor counseled us: “Love doesn’t hold the marriage together. Rather, the marriage holds the love together.”

  8. Pingback: Church in the bedroom | Wandering. Wondering. Writing.

  9. Pingback: The most important quality in a marriage (2) | Wandering. Wondering. Writing.

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