About two weeks ago, one of my friends asked me what the foundation of marriage is. I'm better at brainstorming what it's not, such as personality, romance, and idolization of your partner. Thinking in the affirmative is a difficult task because no one aspect of our relationship proves to be the single most important piece of this complex act of loving each other on a daily basis. Some good candidates include open communication, shared values and goals, good chemistry, and respect for each other's intellect, emotions, and spirituality.
One candidate that I believe contributes very much to the foundation of my relationship with Owen is our shared faith in God, which provides us with strong unity, life path, and common values. Yet, I do know a handful of non-religious folks with very vibrant, healthy relationships, so I can't name religious belief as the single universal answer to this question.
After further consideration, I hypothesize that the foundation of marriage lies with proper prioritization. Your partner has to be #1. Though, your partner shouldn't be the only number one. You shouldn't have to sacrifice strong spiritual beliefs, values, life goals, or family for your partner. For example, Owen is my number one priority, along with good health. Because Owen also holds good health as a high priority, they are not in competition, and together, Owen and I put the time and energy necessary into maintaining good health. Your relationship should not keep you from fulfilling your individual needs, and sacrificing too much for your partner may lead to resentment.
Another number one priority for me is writing (I have a sizable list of number one priorities). Owen encourages my desire to write in every possible way. He helped me start my blog, reads my rough drafts, and indulges my constant need to keep the writing energy going (e.g., by changing locations every hour or so), even as he attempts to focus on his own work.
Though, I want to be careful here, because I do believe that many of us hold strong values or goals that are actually harmful to us. When I first met Owen, certain religious beliefs had me chained to the idea that I needed to maintain a perfectly pious life and kept me in a mindset of guilt and fear. And when I say perfect, I mean that I was an 18 year old who had said about three swear words in my life, counting when I was a small child and didn't know what they meant. Owen helped me let go of this mindset, and I do not resent him for the loss.
Your partner should be compatible with all of your number one priorities, and simultaneously, you shouldn't hold any priorities above your partner. However, if we are being realistic here, we can admit that this isn't always easy, and may need to be worked at and learned with time. One of the priorities that Owen and I struggle with is image.
I like being real goofy. Sometimes I embarrass Owen, who is in the habit of maintaining a composed image. We've found that when I'm really upset at Owen, the quickest way for him to reconnect with me is by doing something silly that embarrasses him. When I was the angriest I've ever been with Owen, he ran into the street and yelled, "I love Summer Renee G-- D--." To me, that's not embarrassing; I'd do that for fun, but this actually made Owen shaky. This sort of act makes a difference in our relationship because I know that Owen has to push himself to put me above composure, and his desire to put me ahead of everything lets me know that he loves and values me. Composure is not in my list of number one priorities, and I wouldn't be in a relationship with someone who put it above me.
Owen and I also hold values that are unimportant to the other. One ideal that I believe in very strongly is that all of us, at some point in our lives, should hold menial, bottom of the totem pole jobs, so that we can better understand and appreciate the entire system. Owen has never held such a job. I don't know how he did it, but his very first job had to do with providing therapy to children. No one has ever paid Owen to take out the garbage, prepare food, or clean something. Though I hold this ideal, Owen is higher on my priority list, and so it doesn't cause arguments, so much as intellectual riffs. Differing values can sometimes provide interesting discussion topics.
Given what I've already said, you need to have an idea of which priorities are number one before you even enter into a romantic relationship. Entering a relationship with a partner who is incompatible with your priorities will lead to many problems in the future, including over sacrificing, resentment, and finally detachment. When you consider priorities, think outside of the box; future career goals are relatively minor compared to more personally engrained needs such as those related to image. Perhaps for you it isn't composure, but optimism. Think about it.
Do you have a different answer? Please feel free to comment what you think the foundation of marriage is!