By Anna Mussmann
Last Valentine’s Day, one of my Facebook friends shared this quote from Timothy J. Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage: “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God.”
Mr. Keller is right. I am married myself, and it is an amazing thing to live with someone who knows more about my flaws than anyone else does, yet continually lives out his marriage vows by loving me anyway. I am deeply grateful that I am able to experience the blessed estate of marriage. It is truly awesome.
Yet finding a spouse isn’t always easy. In fact, in a world filled with marital strife and divorce, it is downright scary. Many young people have reacted to this by delaying marriage and waiting for someone who is perfect enough to sweep away all of their fears. Unfortunately, like unicorns, perfect spouses are extraordinarily elusive.
I have heard many debates about the qualities that Christian young people should really be looking for in a prospective spouse. I would suggest that the list be kept short. The items at the top are (or ought to be) pretty obvious. Find someone who recognizes his or her own sin and who rejoices in Christ’s forgiveness. Find someone who treats others kindly and whom you would trust to raise your children. Find someone whom you are willing to try to love, no matter what, even though he or she is flawed (note that this is really about you more than it is about the other person). In addition, I would like to point out one more trait that I think makes married life more pleasant for everyone.
Find someone who laughs at the right things.
Good Spouses Can Laugh at Themselves
Do not marry a man who cannot laugh at himself. Do not marry a woman who is deathly serious about her own choices, opinions, and actions. People who cannot see the humor in life’s messiness must either be crushed by their own faults and failures or else blame others. People who cannot recognize that we are all sometimes absurd have a hard time forgiving their loved ones for being flawed and complicated.
The beauty of laughter is that it helps us see things in proportion. It reminds us that we, too, might be wrong, and that being wrong is rarely the end of the world. Laughter makes it easier to relax enough to grow and improve. Look for a future spouse who can laugh at himself.
Good Spouses Laugh at Each Other’s Jokes
The two members of a married couple need not have the same personality or even the same sense of humor. However, reconsider tying the knot with a woman who does not laugh at your jokes. Think hard before accepting a ring from a man who can’t tell when you are trying to be funny. Communication in marriage is huge. If your spouse’s mode of thought is so different from yours that one of you has trouble recognizing when the other is cracking a joke, it probably means that all of your serious conversations are going to require increased effort. You may also have frequent misunderstandings because it never occurred to you that anyone would take your words in a given way. This isn’t insurmountable, but it is something to be aware of.
Besides, laughing at someone’s jokes (or looking out the window when she points out a pretty view, or asking about his day, or otherwise responding good-naturedly to her attempts to engage with you) is a way that people show they care about each other. It’s one of those things that correlates with healthy relationships.
Sometimes, Good Spouses Don’t Laugh at All
Different families and different groups of friends follow a range of conventions about teasing and laughing at others. The line between what is perceived as “funny” v. “mean” is different in different places. That’s fine. However, do not marry someone whose laughter reveals that he or she finds a sneaky pleasure in the failings and mishaps of others. Watch out for individuals who relish the unhappiness of their enemies or even their friends. Cruelty is never pleasant in a marriage.
In addition, avoid a prospective spouse who uses false humor as a way of controlling others--who has a pattern of teasing other people into doing things that make them uncomfortable, for instance, or of disclaiming responsibility for anything that hurts others by retorting that they need a better sense of humor.
Marriage is awesome. That doesn’t mean it is necessarily easy--we are, alas, sinful human beings who must live in daily repentance and who must constantly receive forgiveness both from God and from each other. Yet the forgiveness and love that we learn in marriage are breathtakingly beautiful.
After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin, Anna taught in Lutheran schools for several years and became so enthusiastic about Classical Education that she will talk about it to whomever will listen. She is a big fan of Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. Anna and her husband live in Pennsylvania with their two small children. Anna's work can also be found in The Federalist.