Ever since I started preparing for my own marriage about 15 years ago I’ve been interested in the topic of marriage preparation and have specialized in this field as a psychologist and couples therapist. One of the things that I get asked all the time is to give advice in helping others choose a partner for marriage, so when Baha’i Blog asked me to write about this topic, I thought it would be a great opportunity to share a couple of my ideas on this subject.
Unfortunately, numerous national studies show that divorce rates around the world continue to be on the rise (often ranging from 35% – 50%), and dysfunctional relationships have proven to have a direct effect on physical and/or mental health problems. Of course Baha’is are not immune to any of this, and so I’d like to share two important things individuals should focus on in order to improve their chances of making a well-informed and good choice when thinking of a suitable life partner.
Firstly, I would say that when considering marriage, the most important piece of guidance we have from the Baha’i Writings is to focus on knowing your own self.
The first Taraz and the first effulgence which hath dawned from the horizon of the Mother Book is that man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty. Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p.34
Knowing your own self is very important for a number of reasons:
- If you don’t know yourself, you cannot even start looking for a partner because you don’t know what you are looking for.
- A healthy relationship is only possible when you know yourself well. People who don’t know themselves well project many of their own issues onto their partner and blame him or her for things which are actually their own problems.
- Knowing yourself allows you to clearly convey your wishes, needs and dislikes to your partner, which is an important foundation for a satisfying relationship
- In order to lead a healthy and chaste relationship with your partner, knowing yourself allows you to set clear boundaries and the ability to respect each other’s boundaries too.
Now the second point to focus on when looking for a suitable partner – and this may seem a little more obvious – is that of ‘becoming thoroughly acquainted with the other persons character’.
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.Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p.118
Since we also believe that the spiritual bonds we create are eternal, the process of creating those bonds becomes even more important, so it is wise to spend as much time and energy on this as possible.
Abdu’l-Baha advised that,
Before choosing a wife a man must think soberly and seriously that this girl will be his friend throughout all his life. It is not a temporary matter.A talk by Abdu’l-Baha to Mirza Ahmad Sohrab on December 22nd, 1918
Of course this also applies vice versa. In much of society today, most marriages take place because people enter into a relationship based on some form of attraction, and often a lot of ‘sober’ and serious thought hasn’t gone into it. Many start a sexual relationship very early on in the relationship, and this forms a bond which is not based on the union of the two souls, but rather on the unification of the bodies, which is a rather transient and superficial bond. This then leads to couples moving in together, and then at some point realizing they are at the right age for marriage and then getting married. In this process a couple basically slides from one stage of the relationship to the next, taking second steps before first steps several times, meaning that they’re creating physical bonds before emotional, psychological and spiritual bonds are created, and starting a common household before the decision is taken that they want to spend their life together. This means that they’re creating realities which are very hard to undo, even if one of the partners realizes somewhere along the way that they don’t actually feel fully comfortable with the direction the relationship is going. This is one of the explanations for the high divorce rates – especially in relation to couples who have cohabited before marriage and would be expected to know each other well enough to make informed decisions relating to marriage. (Here’s an interesting article on this specific topic in the New York Times: http://nyti.ms/S3iicx).
The Baha’i approach respects the natural order of things and seeks to create spiritual, emotional and psychological bonds before physical bonds are created, because we believe that…
…man is, in reality, a spiritual being, and only when he lives in the spirit is he truly happy. Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p.72
Becoming thoroughly acquainted with the character of another person is no simple task indeed! Most of us are not even thoroughly acquainted with our own character, let alone that of another person. This is where the ‘knowing oneself’ bit comes in again: First, I need to be thoroughly acquainted with my own character in order to be able to become thoroughly acquainted with another person’s character. So, some questions I should ask myself before starting to look for a potential partner could be:
- What do the people I have felt attracted to have in common?
- What was good for me and what was bad for me? (e.g. in former relationships or friendships)
- What specific influence has the marriage of my parents had on my attitude towards marriage?
- How do I feel about becoming a father or a mother?
- Am I ready for marriage?
This is only the beginning, and although there are no guarantees in life, we owe it to ourselves, to those around us, and to future generations to take the steps necessary to prepare ourselves as much as possible before getting married in order to improve our chances of achieving a happy and healthy union.
Kate is a psychologist and couples therapist, specialized in the field of marriage preparation. Her personal experiences in this field are 14 years of marriage and three children. She has studied marriages and their dynamics for many years, both from a Baha'i perspective and from a scientific point of view and is fascinated by this most unique human relationship and its potential to transform people, families and society.
What great advice! As Baha’is we try to look for the good things about people, and we certainly can become blinded by their outstanding qualities whether they be physical, mental, or spiritual (or even material!). Sometimes we think that our love can overcome anything because it is so strong, but we can’t control another person. Eventually, the qualities that we don’t like can ruin a marriage. My wife and I have been married over 40 years and have found that facing issues and talking about them is the best way to come to a productive resolution. Timing is important as well. The heat of the moment is often not the best time to talk. Choosing a time when both people are relaxed and ready to talk is usually best. Sometimes vacations are good for this; other times, just relaxing in comfortable chairs is good when no kids are around. Even when talking frankly and openly in search for the truth, it’s still good to remember the good qualities of the other person -maybe the reason you married him or her. Hey, nobody’s perfect!
Rich Young (July 7, 2013 at 8:43 PM)
I love the saying “Before marriage, keep your eyes wide open, after marriage half closed”, meaning that before we get married we should really get to know the other person well, have a very close and honest look at their character, behaviour, attitudes etc. and once we have decided to get married have a “sin-covering eye” and focus on the positive. Unfortunately, oftentimes we do it exactly the other way around – being very forgiving and overlooking problematic characteristics of the potential partner before marriage and then once we are married constantly criticize and nag him/her.
Kate (August 8, 2013 at 9:29 AM)
This is Feminine Power, no? Kate?
Allen Warren (July 7, 2013 at 9:56 PM)
Why Feminine Power? The responsibility for getting to know yourself well, finding a suitable marriage partner and getting to know him/her well is a responsibility both genders share. 🙂
Kate (August 8, 2013 at 9:31 AM)
I’m not referring to feminism but to the divine quality of receptivity. As in partnership.
Allen Warren (August 8, 2013 at 3:47 PM)
Oh, you mean as in:
“The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over women by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the balance is already shifting – force is losing its weight and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age, less masculine, and more permeated with the feminine ideals – or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced.“
Kate (August 8, 2013 at 9:00 PM)
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The Human Temple, Divine Marriage, Our Future Souls, All Sacred, All Tapu | The WillSpring Chronicles: Un Asiata's Queestos for Bleestos (August 8, 2013 at 9:00 AM)
Thank you for sharing these beautiful thoughts!
Kate (August 8, 2013 at 9:03 PM)
Thank you for that beautiful quote of Abdu’l-Baha. I shall treasure it.
Katherine Woodward Thomas and Clair Zammit say in describing Feminine Power Shift:
“Unlike masculine power, which is the power to create things that can be controlled, feminine power is the power to manifest that which is beyond our control, including the things that our hearts most yearn for- intimacy, relatedness, creative expression, authentic community and meaningful contribution.”
It’s not just for women.
Allen Warren (August 8, 2013 at 4:26 PM)
Kate (September 9, 2013 at 12:38 PM)
Kate (August 8, 2013 at 1:58 PM)
I think this article is great, although I think we are just touching the tip of the iceberg. The times we live in make the search for a partner very difficult. I think one of the interesting notions we have is that a “romantic relationship” is one of love. We are told through many stories we have been taught and stories that we perpetually watch, that what we are looking for are romantic relationships. In his book The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm states that, “Love isn’t something natural. Rather it requires discipline, concentration, patience, faith, and the overcoming of narcissism. It isn’t a feeling, it is a practice.” In romance we expect “love” to just happen and thus believe in this idea that we fall in love. In the romantic context love is based on feelings. I feel I love this person. I feel attracted to this person. Fromm goes on to say, “Love is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision.” If love was based on feelings, I fall in love multiple times in a day.
I am at the age of my life where I am searching for a partner. I have found this to be quite a challenge. The search for finding a partner is the same as finding oneself. I still cling to the idea of a perfect partner and this idea confuses me constantly. I think, like the above article stated, we are looking for a friendship and we need to understand that chastity is the thing that protects us in that search. But I think we need to be happy in ourselves. Again I find it appropriate to quote Fromm. He says, “Paradoxically, the ability to be alone is the condition for the ability to love.” I think this is an important concept. We search for another in order to cure a certain feeling of loneliness we have and the result is “the unification of the bodies, which is a rather transient and superficial bond.” A temporary solution to the needs of our bodies and minds. We set traps for ourself and we fall into them continuously. But the question is, how does one take the steps to know their self? At one point does a relationship challenge and create a space for that knowledge to grow in a way that it cant alone? Is the last question based on a false need? Perfection and self knowledge is an infinite process it seems and I feel like relationships and community are hear to challenge us and make us confront ourselves in way we can not do alone. Aestheticism is forbidden in the faith for this reason. We need others to discover who we are.
There is a piece of wisdom in the above article that I read between the lines. Be the person you want to be when you are looking for a partner and don’t compromise the qualities you need in your life in order to be that. Don’t expect another to fulfill life, yet seek a friend in life that we can be sexually responsible with as we move trough life and develop the community that needs to be built. Community starts with the self, then with our relationships. This is the beauty of oneness. All of these things; self, friendship, faith, community, marriage are intertwined. the Golden age is the time when we have figured it out on all levels.
If you are interested in learning a lot about yourself I suggest the book The Art of Loving.
a human (August 8, 2013 at 11:07 AM)
i am sorry i only saw your comment now, otherwise i would have replied much earlier. What you so beautifully wrote are my exact thoughts on this topic. “The Art of Loving” is indeed a wonderful book and the idea that love is not romance but a VERB, something to be DONE each and every day is the realization at the core of every happy marriage. It is hard for us to understand this because our culture (movies, songs, novels, peers, oftentimes even parents…) tells us the opposite is true.
One of my all time favourite stories is “Love is a Verb” by Stephen Covey which i often share with my clients because it contains a large portion of the secret to a happy marriage (and, in fact, any relationship). You can read it here: http://saysomethingom.wordpress.com/2010/09/01/love-is-a-verb/
You are completely right about just touching the tip of the iceberg, in fact this is what frustrated me a bit when writing this article because it’s hard to put such a complex topic into 1,000 words. 😉
Congratulations for reading between the lines so well, your thoughts mirror my ideas and i fully agree with you that when we have gone through a thorough process of getting to know ourselves and being completely honest with ourselves in the process, a relationship and then marriage creates a space for that knowledge to grow in a way that it can’t alone. This, in my opinion, is one of the reasons why some people don’t marry or get divorced after a very short marriage because it’s a painful process to be mirrored by another person in such close proximity. The less we’ve practised this with other people and in communion with God and our own soul before marriage, the harder it will be to bear. But it is true that marriage gives up opportunities to grow in ways that we cannot grow without being married. I believe this is one of the reasons why Bahá’u’lláh encourages us to get married.
When searching for a partner, search for someone who is on the path of getting to know themselves, who is happy from the inside and doesn’t look for someone else to make them happy, look at the relationships they have with their friends and family, how they interact with others, how they take responsibility when something goes wrong (do they always blame other people or do they take responsibility?), do they enjoy spending time alone or do they always need entertainment, people and action? How do they talk about the relationship or their parents and the relationships they have been in? Look at their relationship with God, the community, the laws, the plan,… Who is in the center of their being? Their ego? Someone else? God?
Thank you for your beautiful insights and deep thoughts, i really enjoyed reading your comment and hope that maybe one day we can talk about this fascinating topic face-to-face.
Kate (September 9, 2013 at 12:38 PM)
A Human, I read that 30 years ago and I guess I didn’t get it. Time to read Art of Loving again. Time to update A Fortress fo Wellbeing.
Allen Warren (August 8, 2013 at 5:36 PM)
I have looked at vairous UU websites, but find the structure confusing. Apparently UU requires its member groups to be led by approved clergy trained in Bible-based seminaries, and practice Christian-derived traditions such as hymn-singing on Sundays. On the other hand, pagans and Buddhists (and now Baha’is) seem to be involved. How does this work? Do the non-Christians operate under different rules concerning governance and worship style? By the way, I live far away from North America, in a country with no apparent UU presence. Since the UU’s approve of other religions, I suppose they should simply recognize the religions which are already here, if sufficiently liberal versions can be found. But surely that’s not how it works ?
Rakhi (March 3, 2014 at 12:01 AM)
I’m not Baha’i and haven’t had the best experience with Baha’is in the past either. From what I know, I think Bahaullah’s writings are beautiful and relevent but I do not agree with most of the laws of and the structure of the religion, especially the hierarchy and the lack of personal space and privacy.
I was introduced to the Bahai faith about 8 years ago and at first it definitely seemed very welcoming and accepting of everyone. however, over the last few years, my experience with the bahais has just been very unpleasant. i started dating my fiance almost three years ago, I’m a pakistani muslim and his parents are bahais from iran (he grew up in the united states). I’m going to try and keep this short so he made his parents aware that he was dating me and his parents had never met me but knew me because of my sister who had become bahai a few years back. the very first time i met them (about 4 to 5 months into the relationship), i got a feeling they didnt like me very much so i told my boyfriend and he said i was just paranoid because they were very encouraging of the relationship and they say nothing but good things about me so i let it go.
the next time i interacted with his family was at their house, at this point i had made my parents aware of my boyfriend and my intentions in the relationship. my parents were not very comfortable with the idea of me dating someone who is not muslim but i didnt see it that way so i decided to take a stand. my parents interacted with him a few times and started becoming fond of him because he is a very good person and showed good character. they still said we can’t get married unless he’s muslim but we werent getting married anytime soon so i let that rest for a while.
when i first visited him and his family at their house, he had some commitment so i spend about 4 or 5 hours with his father and the whole time i was with him, he continued to put islam and my culture down and tried to enlighten me on the qualities of the bahai faith, i stayed quiet out of politeness but eventually made it clear that i am very content with who i am and my culture and religion plays a huge part in that so im not willing to sacrifice it. being completely honest, i dont think anyone should have to do that. one of the things his father said was that islam is like baby clothes, you fit into them when you’re a baby but you grow up and you need a bigger shirt aka the bahai faith which i found very offensive, he had also said that theres no room for tradition or culture because you’re supposed to be constantly evolving. to make things clear, this family is well known in the bahai community and have a very good standing as baha’is.
a little bit about myself to give you some perspective on this. i’m a 23 year old pakistani muslim who has been in the united states for a little over 10 years. i’ve always been taught to question things and come to my own conclusion rather than taking things how they’re told. i’m very happy with the person i am because i try very hard to be aware of my flaws and to work on them, i always encourage others to tell me if they see something negative in me. confrontations do not make me uncomfortable and i stand up for my loved ones and my ideas and beliefs.
back to my story. things kept going the way they were and i told my boyfriend we didn’t have to continue if he had an issue standing up for the relationship and he said no so we it continued. there were some hiccups, mostly because of the family. my family is very close and has a completely different structure than his, my siblings supported me through everything, the only time they had an issue was if my boyfriend did something really hurtful.
the following year both families met, first at their house, then at my parents a few months later. before any of this, his dad had made it clear in an email and verbally that we have consent of everyone except my dad so he had given consent, so had his mom. anyway, after the meeting at my parents house last year, my dad gave consent and his dad decided to take his consent back. both his parents attacked me verbally in the most awful way calling me things that first of all aren’t true and secondly, no decent adult should ever say about someone their biological son is in love with and looking to marry.
whats done is done. at this point what frustrates me most is that his parents are being so unreasonable, they kicked him out of the house, disowned him and this was before we did the muslim ceremony (nov of last year). they wont talk to him and when he talked to the lsa or nsa, he was told he could wait for his parents’ consent or “divorce” me. his parents are not willing to give consent at all as long as its me. just so theres no confusion, my parents accepted him as a bahai and he made it clear at the muslim ceremony. he is now being told that his rights as a bahai will be taken away when he didnt do anything wrong or immoral, he is just standing up against his parents’ bigotry but his parents are still thought of as amazing people and hes the one being punished. also i’ve had to share every detail of my life with random people who i do not care about and most likely will never meet so they can judge our actions, thats with my name and where i live and my family’s names too.
i apologize for the lack of punctuation and poor grammar but i’ve written and told this so many times. i know a lot of bahais who are very good people and completely disagree with this, why don’t the baha’is take a stand for someone like him and tell the nsa who is actually wrong in this scenario.
person (October 10, 2013 at 4:51 PM)
i am very sorry to hear that you had to go through this painful experience! Obviously i cannot judge the situation since all i know about it is what i’ve read in your post but one thing is very important to me and has been all my life – do not judge the Bahá’í Faith by what some Bahá’ís might or might not do! The Bahá’í Writings are the source of wisdom and understanding and if individual Bahá’ís say things that are hurtful to you, always go back to the Writings and see if what they say is actually based on the Writings. Do not judge the Faith by the people, because all people – you and me included – are just on their way and will make mistakes along the way. Another thing i’ve learned is that we should rid ourselves of all prejudices, and that includes positive prejudices, meaning to expect something specific from someone just because they are from a family with a good reputation, have been a Bahá’í for a long time, are very knowledgeable or anything else. This is something we all have to learn and IT’S HARD!! Prejudices make life easier because we can categorize people. The real art is to look at every individual without the veils of prejudice and without expectations or assumptions.
I hope very much that you, your husband and your and his parents will find a way to re-establish unity and love in your family and that you can find the beauty in Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings despite the hurtful experiences you’ve been through.
Kate (October 10, 2013 at 8:02 PM)
also, thank you for taking time out to read it if you do get a chance 🙂
person (October 10, 2013 at 4:52 PM)
thank you for your kind words. i appreciate it 🙂
person (October 10, 2013 at 12:05 AM)
Kate (October 10, 2013 at 3:12 PM)
Nice post lovely blog…….
Marriage garden in Indore (February 2, 2014 at 10:40 AM)
Thank you! 🙂
Kate (April 4, 2014 at 6:13 PM)
Hi Kate, thank you for your insightful articles. As a young Baha’i preparing myself for marriage I find this material useful.
I wanted to ask if you wouldn’t mind sharing your opinion on age differences (about 10 years) of two Baha’i’s wanting to marry? It seems difficult to apply the fundamental laws of the faith which state that from the age of 15 one BEGINS the process of spiritual maturation for marriage and ultimately it’s fair to say it would be acceptable to marry at 15. But naturally we live in a world that clings to traditional concepts of what is right and acceptable socially, which I fully understand. My struggle lies in the prejudice and ageism that can exist within Baha’i families when it comes to two souls who are earnestly yearning to investigate each others characters properly. Two souls who have been nurturing a trusting friendship for a few years.
What do you think is the most spiritually endowed way of going about starting that conversation with parents is, when an awareness of prejudice exists?
Friend (May 5, 2017 at 10:07 PM)