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We get little or no training for one of the most important decisions of our lives—the choice of a spouse. Along the courtship path we struggle; we fall in and out of love. We wonder about our compatibility and how to recognize a good choice. We’re never quite sure.
Are there reliable principles to better guide our decision process? I recommend good sense and a gospel perspective.
- Don’t start by looking for romance. Romance makes people irrational and goofy. It is not a good foundation for a wise long-term decision. Friendship is a good basis for making important decisions. Get to know the person over time and in a variety of situations, including situations in which the two of you have to problem solve and resolve disagreements together.
- As the relationship progresses, look for the things that matter. Good looks and an interesting personality might make for an enjoyable date but may not predict an enduring relationship. Having a checklist of qualities we want in a spouse may cause us to focus on things that aren’t truly important. There are things that do make a big difference. I adapt the recommendations of David and Vera Mace, pioneers in relationship education.
Commitment. Does the person you are dating seriously make and keep commitments to friends, work, family and God? If the person has more excuses than loyalty, you have reason to worry. Of course, he or she will not be perfect. But a good candidate should be serious about commitments. Does she take her church commitments seriously? Is he committed to his family? These are important indicators.
Creative use of differences. Does the person fall apart in the face of differences and disagreements? Or does he or she have difficulty understanding your needs and finding solutions that you both feel good about? A promising candidate will use differences as an opportunity to learn and adapt.
Common values. My dear wife, Nancy, and I are polar opposites on most personality dimensions. We have sometimes laughed at how differently we approach things. Yet we value many of the same things—learning, serving, and repenting. Our eternal bond is based on our common values not on similar personalities.
- Use the Lord’s markers to help you make decisions. He promises that He “will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost” (D&C 8:2).
Our minds can recognize the quality of friendship and compatibility. Our hearts offer reassurance. If you have a good foundation with your future spouse and your relationship has the factors that will lead to an enduring relationship, you should not allow moments of uncertainty to get in the way of moving forward. You should trust your heart and the reassurance of the Holy Ghost and not allow moments of uncertainty to convince you the relationship is wrong.
It is common to fast and pray when approaching a marriage decision. That is good. Yet my experience is that, when Nancy and I fasted and prayed, I got no answer. It was days later that I realized why. God had already witnessed to me many times that my relationship with Nancy was pleasing to Him. God expected me to be accountable for the truth He had already given me.
On the other hand, you should not get so caught up in a fog of infatuation or yearning to get married that you sweep potential red flags under the rug. If you have moments of uncertainty due to legitimate signs of potential problems, you should acknowledge and deal with those issues prior to committing to marriage. Don’t allow romantic desires to override cautions from good sense and the Holy Ghost.
It is useful to get feedback from those who are closest to us. Does your family like your intended? Do trustworthy friends see you as a good match or do they have concerns?
Choosing who to marry is one of the most important decisions of our lives. We should ensure we are using wisdom in getting to know our future partner well and basing our decision on things that matter for the long term. By using patience, good sense, and heavenly inspiration, we can trust we have reached a good decision. And we can trust that once we are married, Heavenly Father will honor and sustain us as we continue to honor our marital covenants.
Note to those already married: You may fret that your decision to marry the person you did was unwise and ill-informed. My guess is that, most of the time, that feeling is a temptation from Satan. All marriages are imperfect. All decisions are made with incomplete information. Yet God invites us to honor our covenants and purify our hearts. For more about making a normal marriage heavenly, see Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.
Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful input on this article.