By no means are the following the only aspects of a marriage that are important: physical attraction, intimacy, trust, a shared sense of humor...the list goes on and on.
But other qualities also definitely matter.
And they're definitely signs that you married the right person, because the right person supports and helps you personally, professionally, and in helping to make your dreams come true.
(Since I'm a straight guy, I wrote this from my perspective--hence "she"--but none of the following is gender specific.)
1. When there's bad news, your spouse is the first person you want to tell...not the person you most dread telling.
When good things happen, plenty of people can't wait to tell their spouse.
But what about when something bad happens--and especially if that "something bad" is in some way your fault?
That's a much harder conversation to have.
If you've married the right person, though, that is the first conversation you want to have: You know she'll listen, commiserate, empathize...and then help you find ways to make a bad situation better.
2. Your spouse doesn't expect you to change overnight.
I have a really bad habit I'm trying to overcome. (Actually I have plenty of bad habits; this is just one.)
I often agree to do something way off in the future...only to want to back out when it gets close to the day. (A therapist could probably have a field day figuring out why I do that.)
So invariably I'll say something like, "You know, I don't think I want to go [somewhere] after all...."
Instead of saying something that I already know, like, "You always do this. Just suck it up and go," or, "People are going to be disappointed if you don't go," my wife smiles and says, "I really hope you go. You'll have fun. You always learn things and meet cool people. And later, you're always glad when you do [that]. What can I do to help you get ready?"
In short, she doesn't make me feel bad for wanting to back out. She knows that's how I am, and instead of criticizing me, she's supportive and helps me work through it.
The right person knows there are things about you that you want to change, but they don't expect them to change overnight. They're willing, for as long as it takes, to help you work through your quirks.
3. Your spouse won't let you give up on yourself.
Showing patience is an under-appreciated way to show genuine confidence in your spouse--because it shows that, no matter the current struggles or issues, you truly believe in him.
When I first changed careers, I really struggled. I worked impossible hours just to scratch out a semblance of the income I once generated. But every time I talked about giving up, my wife kept me centered by gently reminding me that all the work I was doing would pay off if I stayed the course. "I have all the faith in the world in you," she said. "I know that if you give it time, you will figure this out."
I still work long hours, but the reward is much greater--and I've figured out how to have a lot of fun doing what I do.
No success is overnight. That's why, when your spouse is patient with you--while also encouraging you to work hard--you can sometimes achieve things you never imagined possible.
And speaking of success...
4. Your spouse helps you be more successful.
Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that people with relatively prudent and reliable partners tend to perform better at work, earning more promotions, making more money, and feeling more satisfied with their jobs.
That's true for men and women: "Partner conscientiousness" predicted future job satisfaction, income, and likelihood of promotion, even after factoring in the participants' level of conscientiousness. (Check this out for more on how a good partner sets a good example and makes it possible for you to become a better you.)
5. Your spouse doesn't talk about you; they talk about the cool things you do.
We all know people who openly badmouth their spouse: complaining about what their partner does (or doesn't do), criticizing their partner's decisions, questioning their partner's judgment, or work ethic, or manners, or...it's almost as if they wear their spouse's failings like a badge of honor.
When you love--and respect--the person you married, you don't gossip about their personal failings. You talk about their great qualities because you're happy for them...which is also a sign you're happy with yourself.
Or, more likely, you don't say anything at all, unless asked, because quiet pride is the best pride of all.
6. Your spouse knows you well enough to have the ideas you should have had (and you love when they do).
A few years ago, I was in Nashville for Inc.'s GrowCo event. The day Mark Cuban appeared, one young man spent the entire day manning the green room door. I started to feel sorry for him; here he was at this cool conference and yet he was stuck in a chair guarding a door in a lonely hallway.
So I stopped to talk. He was surprisingly happy about doing that job but mentioned that he would love to meet Mark Cuban. I didn't say so, but I knew that would never happen: Cuban's time was tightly scheduled, plus local and national media were angling for time. The constant crowd of people wanting something from him would make that impossible.
A little later I called my wife and mentioned that the volunteer hoped to meet Mark. She said, "You can make that happen. Why don't you try?"
She was right. I could make that happen.
So I did.
When you've married the wrong person, you both care more about who had the idea than the idea itself.
The right person knows enough about your work, your goals, your dreams, and the kind of person you want to be to offer ideas you haven't considered.
And when they do, you never feel like they're telling you what to do or meddling in your business...you're just glad. You just appreciate that they care enough to want to help you.
7. You feel your spouse listens more than they talk (and they feel the same way about you).
The right person is a master of Social Jiujitsu, the ancient art of getting you to talk about yourself without you ever knowing it happened.
It's easy. They ask the right questions, staying open-ended and allowing room for description and introspection. Asking the right questions, and then listening closely, shows they respect your thoughts, your opinions...and, by extension, you.
And you do the same for them.
8. They care more about doing something with you than whatever you actually do.
If you don't know there's a difference--and you don't feel the same way about your spouse--then you didn't marry the right person.
9. You only have to think about what you want to say, not how you need to say it.
We all manage up, or sideways, or down, choosing our words carefully in order to frame an idea, or a suggestion, or feedback, or constructive criticism.... Oftentimes, in professional or personal settings, we feel we need to think more about how we want to say something than the essence of what we need to say.
When you've married the right person, you don't think about how you want to say something. You just say it, partly because you know they will understand...but also because you trust that you can work through any initial misunderstandings.
10. Your spouse cares a lot more about finding what's right than being right.
Oftentimes, people in a relationship take a position and then proclaim, bluster, and totally disregard their partner's opinions or points of view. They know they're right--and they want (actually, they need) their spouse to know it, too.
Those discussions are more about power than about making great decisions.
The right person doesn't mind being proven wrong. They feel finding out what is right is a lot more important than being right. And if they feel your point of view is better, they're secure enough to back down graciously...because ultimately they feel you're in it together.
11. Your spouse never hesitates to ask you for help.
Asking for help instantly conveys respect. Without actually saying it, you've said, "You know more than I do." You've said, "You can do something I can't." You've said, "You have experience (or talents or something) that I don't have."
What you've said is, "I respect you." That level of regard is incredibly powerful--and empowering.
More importantly, though, asking for help instantly conveys trust because it shows vulnerability. When you ask for help, you admit to a weakness. That means what you've really said is, "I trust you."
Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness. It's a sign of strength--especially in your relationship.
12. Your spouse not only forgives, they forget.
When one person makes a mistake--especially a major mistake--it's easy for their partner to forever view them through the lens of that mistake. (Or to use that mistake as ammunition in disagreements or arguments.)
That's the easy thing to do.
It's much harder to move past a mistake and put it behind.
When you've married the right person, you see living proof that to forgive may be divine, but to forget can be even more divine.
13. Your spouse helps turn your flaws into your strengths.
I have a need to be liked, probably to an unhealthy degree. In this business, that's not always a good thing, but my wife encouraged me to not only embrace what others might see as a failing but also to use it to my advantage.
For example, I don't like to write negative things about people, products, or companies. So I don't. I work hard to find people who are smart, talented, successful, insightful...and that way I never have to write anything negative. If I write about someone, that means I like and respect them. (In short, if I can't say anything good, I don't say anything.)
My wife doesn't expect me to be something I'm not. She just helps me be a better version of who I am.
If that's what your partner does, you're with the right person.
14. Your spouse is genuinely thrilled when you are successful.
Great business teams win because their most talented members are willing to sacrifice to make others happy. Great teams are made up of employees who help each other, know their roles, set aside personal goals, and value team success over everything else.
The same is true for great marriages. The right person doesn't resent your success, doesn't begrudge your success, doesn't need to claim a share of the spotlight...they're just genuinely happy that you are happy.
The right person believes, without thinking, that a portion of their happiness comes from seeing their spouse succeed. And that means they not only celebrate your success--they help you achieve it.
15. Your spouse never makes you say something like, "I talked her into coming..."
My wife and I were standing beside Morgan Spurlock (who I will interview in the near future for an Inc. article) in the balcony at Webster Hall as we waited for Metallica to hit the stage.
I made a little small talk. "Do you think they'll start late?" I asked him.
"Nope, they're real professionals," he said. "Why?"
Some people would have answered, "She's not really a Metallica fan, so I had to talk her into coming, and if they're late I'll feel worse."
I didn't need to say that. I didn't even think about saying that. My wife isn't a Metallica fan but she knew I really wanted to go, so she never made me feel like she was doing me a favor, or that I owed her, and she wouldn't have complained if the trip and the show hadn't turned out well. (They did, though. Both were awesome.)
The right person doesn't expect a pro quo for your quid. If they agree to go, or participate, or whatever...then they mean it, without reservation.
In short, the right person is truly giving--because truly giving people give without expectation of return.
And speaking of giving...
16. Your spouse praises you more than they praise anyone else.
It's easy to take people for granted, especially the people we see every day. But we all do things well and we all deserve praise and appreciation, even from someone we see every day.
The right person sees the good in you, over and over again. The right person is also consistently appreciative.
Not only does that make you feel good, it can help make you a better person...because sometimes consistent praise is the main reason we keep trying to get even better.