When a relationship walks out the door, pain and frustration often walk in.

Sure, it’s easy to complain: he lied to me or she cheated on me. But let’s look deeper–both issues have to do with character qualities such as truthfulness and faithfulness.

For a relationship to be healthy, both individuals must have many strong character qualities. For a successful relationship, it is also important to recognize and observe the character weaknesses that could sabotage a marriage. Marriages filled with character issues tend to focus continually inward on repair, instead of allowing the husband and wife to both focus outward towards service to humanity.

The Baha’i teachings point to understanding character as an important part of courtship:

Baha’i marriage is the commitment of the two parties one to the other, and their mutual attachment of mind and heart. Each must, however, exercise the utmost care to become thoroughly acquainted with the character of the other, that the binding covenant between them may be a tie that will endure forever. Their purpose must be this: to become loving companions and comrades and at one with each other for time and eternity…. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 118.

Self-reflectionThe first important step, if you want a healthy relationship? Knowing your own character. Look at yourself in the mirror. Do you respond with compassion when a friend has difficulties? Do you tell the truth when asked a tough question? Do you pay your bills, keep your promises, and meet your responsibilities? All of these questions really ask about your character. When you know which positive qualities help you keep your relationships with everyone going smoothly, you will know which ones will help you in a romantic relationship.

After you’ve considered the importance of character, the next step involves strengthening your observation skills. Make a list of the qualities that are important to you in a relationship partner. Consider whether you want the person to be confident, courageous, courteous, flexible, friendly, generous, respectful, and truthful. Or make another list of character strengths altogether, as there are dozens of potential strengths to consider. Look carefully for signs of the qualities on your list in everyone you meet. Pay attention to words and actions (and non-actions!) to see if you can become very skillful at spotting character qualities in others. In the process, you will also likely notice where you—and others–could benefit from some character growth.

When you’re in a relationship, observe your partner’s behavior. Place yourselves in situations where you can easily learn about each other, such as doing community service, working on a project together, or learning a new task. If you notice positive behavior, it will encourage you to go forward. If you notice negative behavior, hold a mirror up to see if you also have that behavior. Assess what you can change in yourself, and also what is important in the relationship. Are both of you ready to be together? Can you grow and change together, or is it a poor match? Are you spending a lot of energy trying to “fix” each other, and then becoming resentful?

When you establish a marriage filled with healthy, spiritual qualities, and you both continue to practice and strengthen these qualities, it is more likely that you will be “companions and comrades and at one with each other for time and eternity….” You will also be well positioned to raise children with many character strengths.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

2 Comments

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  • Jun 14, 2015
    Nice piece by Susanne M. Alexander, with lots of good points. Challenging, however, to actualize in today's culture that is so focused on "romance" -- but really important to detach from that and focus on character.