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Marriage is the sum of all its many parts. If any of those parts is missing, the marriage is missing something essential. Here are those necessary parts.

  1. Friendship: Ideally, before you marry you become friends. You really take the time and make the effort to get to know one another. In time that friendship begins to take on an innocent intimacy because you feel free to discuss personal issues you would only talk about to a true friend.

  2. Relationship: Over time the friendship develops into a relationship. You begin to know one another more closely and, in time, there is an exclusivity about the two of you and others know that you are together and becoming one.

  3. Love: As the relationship grows, love replaces like and there is sentimentality about the relationship that goes beyond acquaintance and becomes longing and need. You want to spend all your time together.

  4. Commitment: Becoming engaged signals a commitment, one to the other, which, at the proper time, is solemnized with a ceremony meaningful to both parties and you have now become husband and wife with every intention of making the bond inseparable and permanent.

  5. Fidelity: This is what you pledge when you marry -- forsaking all others and having an exclusive relationship wherein there is trust, constancy, shared vision and unquestionable loyalty to your mate.

  6. Individuality: Each of you bring your own, individual and unique strengths and weaknesses into the marriage. While the act of marrying implies a melding of these, you each fell in love with the individual you are now married to and while a marriage is full of compromise, each must retain the individuality that made you fall in love in the first place.

  7. Independence: Each of you must be available for the other to lean on occasionally but not to smother. Ideally, when times are difficult you lean together to combine your strengths. Neither should be wholly dependent upon the other but each should be able to depend on the other. Maintain the delightful independence which brought you together while working together for the common good.

  8. Equality: Each of you must give 100% to the marriage and to each other, and more. No one of you is more important in or to the marriage than the other. Neither of you is subservient to the other. Both of you have equal responsibilities and equal rights within the marriage and your lives together.

  9. Mutuality: In all things you must present a combined front to the world. There will be many things that may wear on or tear at your relationship but if you face them, strong and united, they can never prevail against you.

  10. Spirituality: Whatever your independent and individual beliefs, marriage is a uniting of the spirit as much as it is of the flesh. If you have no spiritual belief in and bond to your marriage, you will be lacking that which sets us aside from the beasts of the field.

In the bible there is a passage about the first and great commandment and a second that is like unto it. In marriage, the first and great commandment is "Put your marriage first." The second is, indeed, like unto it. "Put everyone and everything else second to your marriage." Children come, grow and go. Parents pass on. Siblings and other relatives scatter. Friends relocate or you may grow beyond them, or them beyond you. Jobs and the people in them change. In the end, all you have to totally rely on is yourselves, and all that within the framework of your marriage.

This essay was written by Mike (passem), the token step-father and regular contributor to the StepTogether Message Board.