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You may be one of many people looking for a magic formula for how to find and have a relationship that works.
I wish I could wave my hand and have it work well for everyone on the planet. However, the good news is that you likely already have a lot of the foundation in place for a successful, loving relationship. One significant key: increasing your self-knowledge, particularly about your own character, and learning how to apply that knowledge in your words and actions.
Everyone has the capacity to develop an excellent character, and you likely already have a number of strengths. You just may not realize what’s there, where you need to strengthen a quality, or how to have those strengths make a difference in a relationship.
Sometimes you may resist learning about your own character–self-analysis can seem like a pain at times! Well, the gift of understanding your character and getting better at it is that you end up with less to feel guilty and resistant about! The Baha’i teachings encourage us to look at ourselves on a daily basis – what we have done well and what we need to change. Baha’u’llah asks each of us to “Bring thyself to account each day…”
For example: most people say honesty is a vital quality in a partner. We really value it when someone has the ability to tell the truth, and we can trust what they say. We know that their actions will be straightforward and not manipulative or deceptive.
Okay, so here’s Principle Number 1: You can’t know or truly value whether someone has a quality as a strength unless you have a lot of experience with it too. If you’re out there lying, cheating, or stealing, how can you ask for an honest partner? It’s just words. It’s not real. You can’t distinguish the value in someone being truthful and honest if you aren’t doing it yourself. Consider what the Baha’i teachings say about truthfulness:
Truthfulness is the foundation of all the virtues of the world of humanity. Without truthfulness, progress and success in all of the worlds of God are impossible for a soul. When this holy attribute is established in man, all the divine qualities will also become realized. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 4, p. 183.
To find an honest partner, you’ll need to carefully discern the current status of your character in interactions with everyone. Are you fairly consistent with practicing patience? Friendliness? Courage? Moderation? Excellence? Generosity? Helpfulness? What about enthusiasm?
Where do you cause conflicts with others? That’s a great way to discern your weaker qualities. Like everyone, you probably have a quality or two you could strengthen, such as courtesy or cooperation.
Principle Number 2 then is: You can get to know your own character by taking regular time to assess your words and behavior and how they affect other people. If you have difficultly learning how to see yourself clearly, a good friend, relative, or coach can help.
As you begin to learn your strengths and weaknesses, you can then increase your self-respect by setting improvement goals. As you improve, your happiness will increase, too. Let’s say you’re having regular difficulty getting along with someone you have dated for a few weeks. Your immediate inclination? To drop the relationship. But wouldn’t it seem wise to pause first and look at the dynamic of what’s happening? What do you say and do when the conflicts occur? Are you failing to show compassion for a difficulty the other person has? Are you avoiding being honest about a problem? Would this situation turn around if you became more loving, thoughtful, or kind?
This brings us to Principle Number 3: Only discernment and self-assessment about your own behavior and motives can help you develop yourself towards being an excellent person. Remember that when you leave a relationship, you take yourself with you.
Now let’s consider a quality like flexibility. If it’s a strength of yours, you have the ability to adjust to new or difficult circumstances, and you don’t get upset when something changes. You can adapt your methods and approaches as needed. If you meet someone who is very good at being responsible and self-disciplined, you might have difficulty doing activities with them. You might be always trying to loosen the person up, and get them to lighten up and relax. Perhaps they resist and get annoyed.
So, here’s Principle Number 4: You can each have character strengths, but still not be compatible. Just knowing someone has some good qualities is helpful, but you need to know how you interact together. The scenario above could shift if the partner recognizes that strengthening personal flexibility is a good thing, and you agree to work together to influence some behavior shifts. Remember not to criticize a partner who has strong resistance to your strengths. Criticism can destroy relationships very quickly. Encouragement and loving kindness can turn a person in a more positive direction and help their character be more filled with light. Baha’u’llah tells us this:
The light of a good character surpasseth the light of the sun and the radiance thereof. Whoso attaineth unto it is accounted as a jewel among men. The glory and the upliftment of the world must needs depend upon it. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 36.
If you know about and practice character qualities, you can effectively recognize them in a partner. That comes from assessing your own character regularly. Discernment and self-assessment help you create and carry out your own personal development plans—and make much better relationships blossom. Just remember–people can have terrific character strengths, but everyone, no matter what strengths they have, will need to work together to create compatibility.