NOTE: I wrote this article several years ago when I was in the beginning stages of my marriage. I have since learned a few things about marriage and joy, and have updated this article. Happy Valentine’s Day!
I’ve only been married for a few years, but with each new day it becomes increasingly clear to me that you shouldn’t marry anyone. Marrying anyone is the quick path to a joyless marriage.
Let me explain.
Do soulmates exist?
We all have wondered “who should I marry?” at some point. We wonder whether we should marry our soulmate or anyone who loves us. Well, I hope this story of mine can tackle that question for you in a rather unconventional way:
I grew up particularly cautious about love. I’ve seen heartbreak on television, in the news, in my friends’ lives, and even in my parents’ relationship. I was all too familiar with how sour love could become. As a result, I didn’t date much growing up.
I mention this because I knew at an early age that if I ever did fall in love and get married, it would be with someone special.
But let me explain a bit more about myself. I grew up with one foot in the Christian culture and one foot out of it. Because of this, I knew of something called a “soulmate” — or the one God has destined you to be with. For a good portion of my life, this left me thinking that I would somehow magically know which girl would be my wife the moment I laid eyes on her. I wouldn’t have to date around to find her.
Problem was, this didn’t stop my search for love. I kept looking for it everywhere I went.
But then, something happened as I entered college. People got oddly weird about the concept of soulmates. Blogs and articles started saying they didn’t exist.
This gave me a bit of apprehension, but also a bit of joy. You see, without God in the picture, I felt the pressure of having to choose someone to love for myself. But then, I also felt the freedom of being able to date anyone.
The backlash against soulmates is much welcomed, in my opinion. I don’t believe soulmates exist. But in this backlash, society has swung to the opposite extreme. We now feel the freedom to make love work with anyone, and I don’t believe this is the right approach either.
I love the freedom to be able to make love work with anyone. But when I tried this, I failed. Simply dating anyone didn’t bring me closer to a healthy relationship.
The kind of person you should marry
After strings of failed attempts with girls, I decided to do something drastic.
I chose to not move forward with women until I worked on fixing myself.
I had a lot of emotional baggage then. I felt desperate for a relationship because it would somehow validate my ego, make me feel special and valued. I wanted another person telling me I was worth something, and that’s the main reason why I wanted the freedom to date whomever. To me, it didn’t matter who I dated — just as long as they made me feel special.
This wasn’t healthy. I knew this, but I didn’t want to face it. But after my failed attempts, I learned: if I want to be in a healthy, long-lasting relationship, I must first strive to become healthy myself.
This is what sparked my journey to becoming a safe person.
My definition of a safe person is anyone who is …
- Present with you
- Kind and generous with you
- Honest with you
In other words, a safe person is anyone who is empathetic. They don’t criticize you or make you feel less than. They are with you in times of pain and trouble. And when you need correction, they are honest with you.
These are people who help you become the best version of yourself.
If you want to learn more about the traits of a safe person, read Safe People by Dr. Henry Cloud and James Townsend.
I wasn’t safe because I relied on relationships to solve a deep need in me. It sounds harsh, but this was a form of manipulation. If people didn’t solve that need to be valued, then it resulted in tension.
When I focused on becoming a safe person myself, an interesting thing happened …
I met my wife soon after. She was the girl next door, and she had a radiant personality, mixed in with convictions deeper than the Atlantic.
She wasn’t just anyone. She wasn’t my “soulmate” either. Instead, she was healthy too.
The surprising secret to love that lasts
My wife is a counselor, so whenever I have questions of emotional health, I ask her. The other day, I asked her, “How can people find safe, healthy relationships — the ones that last through the troubles?”
She responded, “By becoming safe people themselves.”
Safe people know what safety looks like.
Here’s what I getting at with all this: I wanted to make love work with just anyone, but I soon realized I couldn’t.
Just because soulmates don’t exist, doesn’t mean you can choose just anyone to love. I thought it did, but it doesn’t.
Instead, what I found was, when you become a safe, healthy person, you can find a safe, healthy person.
Now, I can’t promise that once you become healthy, you’ll instantly find someone to marry. I also can’t promise that love between two safe people will last forever. It doesn’t work that way. What I can tell you is that when you do become a safe person, you increase the odds of having a long-lasting love that gives you joy.
And this is what I believe stands in the way of many healthy marriages and relationships: too many people believe they can simply make love work with anyone. They believe love is their choice to make.
But we’re too focused on who we choose to love and not focused enough on who we should love — a safe and healthy person.
Entering into a relationship where we want to save someone, whether it be them or ourselves, is a recipe for disaster. It steals joy instead of adding to it. And this is why we can’t marry anyone.
The truth is, love isn’t as flexible as we want it to be.
There are certain factors that need to line up if the relationship is going to be healthy. We can’t will for love to be life-giving in any situation. In most cases, love lasts when people are safe, or are both committed to becoming safer.
You can’t make love work with anyone by simply making the choice to love them despite their differences. This is where martyrdom in relationships comes into play. If that person is unsafe and is not committed to growth, the relationship will be strained.
The best thing you could do for your marriage
So here’s my suggestion: don’t marry just anyone. Find a safe, healthy, and empathetic person. This can only be achieved by becoming such a person yourself.
I did follow my own advice. I didn’t choose to marry just anyone. Marriage is too valuable of a commitment to perform with just anyone.
Instead, marriage is meant for someone special — and no, I’m not talking about a soulmate. I’m talking about the person who is safe or is focused on becoming safer.
A friend once told me that marriage is a refinery, where each person works to better the other. But this only works if both are just as messed up as the other. I now understand what he meant by this. Because my wife and I are both striving to become safer, healthier people. I’m not trying to fix her and she’s not trying to fix me. Instead, we’re both on the same team, working to better the other.
That’s my hope for you: that you’ll be in a relationship with not just anyone, but someone you can work and grow with, someone who won’t drag you down but rather lift you up.
So my advice to you remains the same. Don’t marry anyone. Marry someone who’s safe and healthy, just like you.