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It can be hard to know what spiritual qualities you should look for in a romantic partner when our media and entertainment industry bombards us with so many images of toxic, abusive, and superficial relationships.
That’s why I reached out to three Baha’i couples who have had healthy, long-lasting marriages for over 40 years and asked them to give singles their advice about what they should look for in a relationship.
1. Look for a Life Partner Who Has Many Virtuous Qualities
My mother, Barbara Talley, has been married to my father, Gile Talley, for 42 years. While they were dating, she realized that he was the nicest man she had ever met. They continue to be kind and respectful to each other four decades later.
That’s why she told me to look at a potential partner’s virtuous qualities first. “It’s nice that he or she is fine, but you will never find your soulmate if you’re not looking at their soul,” she says.
Susan Troxel, who has been married to her husband, Rick Troxel, for almost 44 years, agreed that the character of the person you’re thinking about marrying is most important. She advised singles to see if their romantic interest is truthful, trustworthy, kind, and compassionate.
Susan wrote, “Physical beauty fades for all of us, but the qualities of the soul are lasting. There needs to be respect and mutual support for each other’s spiritual pathway. It’s good to look at a prospective mate’s relationships with family and friends, as well as how they handle money. And very important is how they handle tests; are they willing to look at their own part and not blame others? Are they willing to sit down and pray and talk things out? Are they open to learning from their mistakes?”
My mom added, “We have guidance [from the Baha’i writings] to be pure, kind, and radiant and writings against being kind to the liar, the tyrant, and the thief, so don’t marry a liar, a tyrant, or a thief. If they are not kind and trustworthy, it’s a deal breaker. Keep that in mind before you take that vow.”
Since people are often on their best behavior during the courting phase, my mom says singles should also look at their prospect’s relationships with those who are close to them. “Find someone who treats their parents and siblings with respect. You’re marrying into a village,” she says.
BAHÁ’Í 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.
“Remember that the journey of life is long and fraught with many surprises and ups and downs,” wrote Dr. Lameh Fananapazir. He has been married to his wife, Karen Fananapazir, for 47 years. “Your focus must be lasting virtues…Be clear-eyed and aware that time is not going to improve a flawed and unspiritual character.”
2. Look For Someone You Can Have a Spiritual Relationship With
When you find someone who has those virtuous qualities that you are looking for, it’s easier to establish a spiritual relationship with that person. Abdu’l-Baha wrote that “husband and wife should be united both physically and spiritually, that they may ever improve the spiritual life of each other, and may enjoy everlasting unity throughout all the worlds of God.”
So, Karen asked singles “to look for someone you can love and trust and who in turn also places his reliance and trust in God.” As you two strive to better the world and grow closer to God together, you ultimately grow closer to each other.
3. Find Someone You Are Physically Attracted to
Although physical beauty can fade, my dad says that physical attraction is important in a romantic relationship. Abdu’l-Baha wrote, “As for the question regarding marriage under the Law of God: first thou must choose one who is pleasing to thee…”
We should look for a romantic partner who is pleasing to our eyes and soul, because marriage is a physical and spiritual relationship. Everyone deserves someone who sees both their inner and outer beauty.
4. Find Someone You Are Compatible With
“Beyond the prerequisite attraction and affinity,” Rick suggested that singles seek “deep, nurturing compatibility, and commitment.” He listed several helpful questions that each new couple should ask each other:
- “How easy is it to be open, honest, and expressive with each other?
- Do you mostly share the same values, and respect and support even those you might not entirely share?
- Can you each commit to the same kind of relationship?
- How do you handle disagreements?
- [How do you handle] decision-making in general?
- Are you both of good character, in both deeds and words, in basically all contexts?
- Do you appreciate how your potential partner relates to others?
- Can you perform acts of service together and mutually support each other’s individual acts of service?
- When one of you is stressed (or joyful, for that matter), what does that bring out in the other?
- How well are you matched on what is viewed as stressful or challenging versus what is comfortable or adventurous/fun?”
Rick wrote, “Implicit in this, I guess, is to know oneself as much as possible, as holistically and integrated as possible. This facilitates the other’s investigation of you. It helps you distinguish your likes from dislikes, deep needs from more superficial desires, and where you can and can’t flex. It may help distinguish your true self from your social environment, upbringing, habits and customs, and popular trends.”
5. Look for Someone You Can Accept Completely
My mom says you shouldn’t look for a fixer upper that you intend to change to your liking. “It’ll put a strain on the relationship if you are going into it saying, ‘I don’t accept you for who you are, but if you become this other person, I will,’” she explained.
“We each have our path and will grow at our own pace or perhaps not at all. If you can’t accept the person fully for who they are now, then wait until you can find someone that you can accept.”
6. Marry Your Best Friend
“Lastly, look for someone who can be a very, very good friend — someone you feel you can talk to about anything,” Susan wrote. My parents say it’s easier to cultivate a close friendship when you have things in common, like similar values and lifestyles.
And, my mom says it’s also important to “find someone who makes you laugh.” Laughing together is a great way to bond two friends. It is physically and spiritually relaxing and can help get people through tough times.
As Abdu’l-Baha wrote, a married couple’s purpose must be “to become loving companions and comrades and at one with each other for time and eternity.…”
I hope this advice from older couples helps all of you singles out there find your eternal partner and forever friend.