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You and your sweetie are talking about marriage. Being in a happy marriage builds love, promotes well-being, and creates an ever-expanding unity. In comparison, being in a conflicted marriage is misery. The good news is you have a lot of control over the outcome; “Careful preparation for marriage is an essential first step in the preservation of Baha’i marriage.” 1
Asking for and receiving consent from all living parents is a requirement of Baha’i marriage. It’s a new concept to have couples independently arrive at the decision to marry and then to have parents respond. I’m always striving to understand the guidance from the Baha’i Writings on the subject. I’ve considered and given consent, and I’ve also asked for it from my own parents. I am exploring the topics of consent and marriage with couples and parents globally as a marriage and relationship educator and coach. However, everyone involved in consent is in a learning mode and simply trying to do their best. One way I am learning is by asking couples in difficulty what they could have done differently before they asked for consent and got married. Here is my checklist of 5 things to consider as potentially helpful for you before asking for consent:
1. Become friends and companions.
I think that this is what it might look like when friendship is formed between two potential marriage partners: You can talk easily about everything, you turn to each other to celebrate accomplishments, you have each other’s back with good-will and loyalty, and there is an abundance of truthfulness and trust going on that helps you learn about each other and from each other. You pay attention to each other’s balanced need for time and connection. You truly enjoy each other’s company, easily laugh together, and have many commonalities. You naturally encourage each other’s efforts, deeply respect each other as partners, and criticism is very rare. You share your most important values and beliefs. You can pray together with a frequency and quality that works for both of you. You willingly and lovingly support each other when life doesn’t go smoothly. When you have disagreements or are temporarily cranky, you can navigate the situation well. This vision of companionship is inspired by these words of Abdu’l-Baha:
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. If they live thus, they will pass through this world with perfect contentment, bliss, and peace of heart, and become the object of divine grace and favor in the Kingdom of heaven. 2
2. Know your own character and study each other’s character.
I believe it’s vital to know each other’s good qualities/virtues and areas of growth. This can be a challenge with long distance relationships where you might visit each other and be on your best behavior or in vacation mindset. It’s wise to know first-hand about someone rather than just from their self-reporting about their life and choices. This means independently observing the person’s words and actions both with you and with many others, including family members. It’s good to serve together, spend time with each other’s friends and family, and be in a variety of circumstances. This can often be accomplished by living in the same city, town, or cluster before making a firm decision about marriage.
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. 3
God has given man the eye of investigation by which he may see and recognize truth… Man is not intended to see through the eyes of another, hear through another’s ears nor comprehend with another’s brain. Each human creature has individual endowment, power and responsibility in the creative plan of God. Therefore, depend upon your own reason and judgment and adhere to the outcome of your own investigation… 4
A couple should study each other’s character and spend time getting to know each other before they decide to marry, and when they do marry it should be with the intention of establishing an eternal bond. 5
3. Learn consultation skills
When I meet with couples in difficulty, it is common to see communication and consultation skills that need to be developed and strengthened. When you consult, you can kindly and honestly share feelings, thoughts, and perspectives in ways that peacefully build understanding and help you reach unified decisions. When the principles of consultation are applied, you can know how to look for the spiritual principles to place at the foundation of your discussion. You fully share facts and thoughts and avoid dominating each other. You go into consultations with an open mind about the outcome, instead of deciding ahead of time what it should be. When appropriate you defer to each other. Sometimes you consult multiple times to reach a conclusion because you value unity of minds, hearts, and action. Before marriage, you can seek out opportunities to study quotations about consultation and to learn and practice the necessary skills.
Consultation bestoweth greater awareness and transmuteth conjecture into certitude. It is a shining light which, in a dark world, leadeth the way and guideth. For everything there is and will continue to be a station of perfection and maturity. The maturity of the gift of understanding is made manifest through consultation. 6
Family consultation employing full and frank discussion, and animated by awareness of the need for moderation and balance, can be the panacea for domestic conflict. Wives should not attempt to dominate their husbands, nor husbands their wives… 7
Consultation is no easy skill to learn, requiring as it does the subjugation of all egotism and unruly passions, the cultivation of frankness and freedom of thought as well as courtesy, openness of mind and wholehearted acquiescence in a majority decision. 8 [Note: There is no majority decision for a couple, so good skills and striving for unanimous decisions are even more vital.]
4. Fully discuss marriage topics.
Marriage is an intimate and complex relationship that involves complex relationships with many family members. Fully sharing and consulting about finances, education and discipline approaches for children, how you each handle difficulties, what you are like during times of stress and hormonal changes, what aspects of your cultures you value and want in marriage, where you will live, your favorite types of service, what equality and partnership look like, what looks like loving words and actions, sexual experiences that might affect marital interactions, how you were raised, whether you have dealt with baggage from the past, what level of involvement you’d like to have with in-laws, and much more, are all important topics to consult and build mutual understanding about.
5. Learn about yourselves and about marriage from other sources.
These options include studying the Writings; consulting with a Spiritual Assembly for their guidance; reading research and spiritually based books about marriage; watching videos from experts; interviewing married couples; getting a marriage-readiness assessment; and consulting with a marriage and relationship educator or professional counselor. All of these can help you uncover any blind spots you have about each other or marriage and can give you confidence that you are ready to marry, and it’s time to go to your parents and ask for consent to your marriage.
I believe that couples who are thorough in preparing for marriage are more likely to make wise decisions about whether to go forward together or make other choices. When they choose to ask for parental consent, marriage preparation will help them be confident about being unified marriage partners.
- Baha’i World Center Research Department, Introduction to the Preserving Baha’i Marriages compilation, item #3
- Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, #92
- Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, #86
- Abdu’l-Baha, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 293
- On behalf of the Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, #1269
- Baha’u’llah, Compilation of Compilations, Vol. 1, #168
- On behalf of the Universal House of Justice, Compilation of Compilations, Vol. II, #2160
- Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 95
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