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Preparing for Marriage: Re-Imagining Sanctity

Susanne M. Alexander | Jul 2, 2024

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Susanne M. Alexander | Jul 2, 2024

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

Marriage in modern society has taken some battering in recent decades, and the Baha’i teachings invite us to bring its sacredness back. 

The Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi, said in a letter written on his behalf: “Marriage is a very sacred institution. Baha’u’llah said its purpose is to promote unity. … we … are trying to create a high moral standard, and reinstate the sanctity of marriage.

So, how could preparing for marriage contribute to this sanctity — and to a healthy, fulfilling, loving, sustained life together? As courting couples look ahead to marriage, they can consult about questions such as:

  • What does it look like to improve the spiritual life of one another?
  • How will we incorporate praying and consulting as a couple and family?
  • How will we continuously strive to abide by the Will of God?
  • What will be our approach to rearing children to know and love God?
  • How might we make serving humanity central to the purpose of our marriage?

Asking these questions will allow the couple to begin to see marriage as primarily a social and moral act, whose purpose includes but also extends beyond their own immediate needs and interests. Marriage has important implications for any children the couple may have, and for the larger structure of society. The Universal House of Justice — the democratically-elected leadership body of the world’s Baha’is — said in a 1980 letter that: “Entering into a marriage is a step that has tremendous implications for a whole range of people beyond the couple themselves, both in this life and in the next ….” 

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First, Get to Know the Other Person’s Character

As noble human beings, every couple engages in a humble process of learning about each other before they marry — studying, consulting, acting, and reflecting individually and together. Couples choose what activities foster learning about each other’s background, families, and inner characters. They may have to re-imagine what marriage is for them, as they become friends and partners who wish to better the world in order to offer their marriage as a pillar of society. The Universal House of Justice said, in a letter written on its behalf:

A married couple can be a tremendous strength and support to each other, but building a strong, united marriage requires persistence, effort, and the overcoming of many difficulties together. Thus Abdu’l-Baha advises a young couple to get to know each other’s characters thoroughly before taking this very important step. They must think not only of the effect on each other but of the effects of their characters on the children who will be the fruit of the marriage.

Taking a broad view of marriage preparation, we see that it can constitute a threading light throughout a person’s life. It can begin with parents nurturing good character in their children and experiencing the security of their parents’ united, happy marriage. The global Baha’i institute process can help form an early basis for good relationships, because it includes children developing spiritual qualities, learning about true friendship, and practicing the art of consultation. Character training and capacity-building continue in the Baha’i junior youth spiritual empowerment program. Female and male youth build the capacity for marriage and parenting while teaching children’s classes and animating junior youth groups. Through the main sequence of courses in the institute, participants strengthen their twofold moral sense of purpose to develop intellectually and spiritually, and to contribute to the betterment of the world. For Baha’is, then, marriage preparation is integrated and coherent across a person’s entire lifespan.

The Sources of Marital Happiness

Although happiness and contentment form an integral part of the fabric of marriage and family life, cultivating those attributes is a universal responsibility. The Baha’i teachings focus couples on the vital purposes of mutual support in their spiritual development, child-rearing, and service to humanity. Before marrying, it serves couples to consult about their spiritual paths, their approaches to parenting, and their commitment to better the world.

The Baha’i writings encourage the use of marital consultation as foundational for the creation of just and unified family lives. When couples use Baha’i consultation as a regular practice, it becomes second nature over time, and then can naturally be practiced in all relationships in community life, such as work, friendships, extended family, and other activities. Courting couples can use consultation to explore mundane topics or such weighty matters as navigating difficulties, managing money, rearing children, building family unity, and more.

Abdu’l-Baha, in a speech he gave in Chicago in 1912, defined Baha’i consultation as seeking truth in an atmosphere of love and fellowship:

… consultation must have for its object the investigation of truth. He who expresses an opinion should not voice it as correct and right but set it forth as a contribution to the consensus of opinion, for the light of reality becomes apparent when two opinions coincide. A spark is produced when flint and steel come together. … Therefore, true consultation is spiritual conference in the attitude and atmosphere of love. … Love and fellowship are the foundation.

RELATED: 3 Ways to Make Your Marriage a Fortress for Well-Being

Friendship also has a vital role to play in preparation for any permanent relationship, and research affirms it as an essential element in healthy marriages. The ability to create and maintain a strong friendship lays the foundation for eternal partnership, mutual support, and service to others. Additionally, a community where friendships among its members are supportive and nurturing naturally protects and supports the institution of marriage as an essential element of its vibrancy. A broad ethic of strong friendship prepares a community to be a worthy container for its marriages in addition to preparing couples to flourish within them. As Abdu’l-Baha pointed out, the primary Baha’i principle of gender equality is an important element of that success:

The Lord … hath made woman and man to abide with each other in the closest companionship, and to be even as a single soul. They are two helpmates, two intimate friends, who should be concerned about the welfare of each other.

Marriage is the fundamental foundation of the family, and families build the orderly structure that contributes to humanity’s social well-being. A united family has far-reaching implications — which emphasizes the importance of marriage preparation. The Baha’i teachings describe marriage and the home as institutions, with friendship, unity, and love as their key pillars. 

Aeric Meredith-Goujon, Monette Van Lith, and Johanna Merritt Wu also contributed to this article.

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