Then the next time you become involved with someone and start to feel yourself getting serious about them, pull out and review your lists. Use them to evaluate whether this person has more traits on the “can’t live without” list or the “can’t live with” list. And don’t be too eager to compromise—remember you made these lists after careful self-analysis and experience over time. Don’t be unreasonable, but don’t concede important points just because you want this to work out.

Realize that most of the problems that occur after marriage are caused by issues that were apparent beforehand; we just often choose to ignore those little “red flags” when they appear. The jealous husband was also the jealous boyfriend—you just chalked it up to the fact that he “cared” so much about you. And the “high maintenance” wife demonstrated those same “the world revolves around me” tendencies when you were dating. But back then; you just considered her “princess-like” qualities to be entertaining and endearing.

So, choose carefully! Don’t expect that your spouse will change to better suit you after you are married. Or that they will “grow up”, “become more secure”, “more faithful”, or “learn to compromise”. In fact, be realistic and accept that their minor annoyances may become major thorns in your side as time goes on. Maya Angelou has a very wise saying, “People tell you who they are, believe them—the first time.”

The bottom-line is to work on yourself before you marry to ensure that you are ready to assume the responsibilities of marriage. That you can make and accept decisions which are in the best interests of your new family, rather than just yourself. That you are sufficiently mature enough to forgive, are able to leave the past in the past, and can effectively communicate without anger, when a problem arises. And that you are a confident, secure, well-adjusted individual who is truly prepared to share their life with someone else, but doesn’t need a relationship in order to feel valuable.

Then make a wise choice of mate by really getting to know one another beforehand. Spend plenty of time together in various situations including stressful and challenging ones. Be clear about your (and their), expectations of marriage and of one another. Discuss finances, children, religion, career goals, family traditions, and household responsibilities. Look for any areas of incompatibility—I promise they will come up again! Attend couples counseling and/or engaged encounter weekends to gain a more objective view of your relationship. And most of all, be honest with one another, be yourselves, and don’t try to “put your best foot forward” just to make a good impression. You can’t keep up a pretense for your entire life!

But what about after the “I Do’s”? Is it too late to reconcile your compatibility requirements with your reality? Not at all! The same principals apply—you need to be, or develop into mature, loving, unselfish, forgiving, secure individuals. And you have an even greater incentive than before—now your marriage is at stake! But have faith—you can find your way together, especially if you are willing to adopt some tried and true biblical principals.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” ~Galatians 4:22  

If you adopt these attributes, you will be well on your way to formulating a strategy for a successful marriage. Take them one at a time and think about how you can both use them to improve your marriage and even your lives.

Be LOVING toward one another; remembering what attracted you to one another at the beginning of your relationship. Love each other as God loves you--be willing to forgive and don’t be judgmental.