However, sometimes, in their quest to secure a relationship with a person of high moral character, people are still drawn towards superficialities. Often, even deeply religious people dream of a spouse whose style of dress will match their outfit. They want a spouse who will increase their status in the community. They should belong to a certain family or a certain social class. Many single people have a long checklist of things that they are looking for in a person before they will even consider them in marriage.
Most people wish to find the perfect mate, with whom they can agree on all things. However, no matter who you choose, all married couples fight. Some will eventually learn to tolerate each other. But that is not the same thing as being happy! They key to marital bliss is in how you fight, say psychologists.
Therapist John Gottman says he can predict how long a couple will last, not by studying how well a couple gets along, but by studying how well a couple doesn’t get along. A relationship is only as strong as its weakest link— how a couple handles their challenges.
Generally speaking, people from the same cultural or religious background will experience less friction in marriage than people from very different backgrounds. Yet, shared beliefs are also no guarantee of happiness. Someone who is very dogmatic about religion might adopt a judgmental and narrow-minded approach to disagreements, even going so far as to imply that to disagree with him is to disobey God. Even deeply pious people might be hyper-sensitive, whiny, passive aggressive, or overly critical at times.
Therefore, it is not usually enough just to seek a “suitable match.” What we should really seek is a partner who is spiritually and emotionally capable of what Aristotle called a “Relationship of Shared Virtue.”
The number one thing to look for in a potential spouse is not perfection, but their sincere interest in engaging in continued personal growth through relationship, suggests Karen Salmansohn, author of “Prince Harming Syndrome.”
“After all, if your partner doesn’t value growth, he won’t be ready to deal with non-fun, inevitable conflicts in a high integrity way,” writes Salmansohn.
“Good character values not only come in handy on a day-to-day basis, but during those eventual, inevitable times of conflict. If you and your partner do not value putting in the effort of acting with strong character values during times of disagreement, disappointment, stress, crisis, temptation, sadness, monetary-challenges, illness, vulnerability, misunderstandings—then your relationship will always suffer…
“Take the time to find out if your (potential) partner values embracing empathy, listening, direct communication, honesty, loyalty and growth. After all, a guy’s character will always be the determinant behind his choosing to be naughty or nice—thereby making you feel sad or happy.”
You know you are in a healthy relationship when being together makes you feel happier and improves your life. Unhealthy relationships make you more unhappy, insecure, unsafe, or just plain frazzled! But negative communication patterns can be overcome through patience, wisdom and compassion.
Relationship therapist Arhata Osho advises: “It’s good to acknowledge and remember that those who choose to not be friendly… are likely dealing with their own issues while of course, denying it. It’s rarely the person who is ignored’s fault… they may be dealing with more than you or I can really help them with. Be open to them coming around, or not… Be free to be your real self, and move toward those few who cherish the same way! A loving person just accepts everyone for what they choose to be.”
Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D, author of “Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom,” writes that when you recognize the deeper wants of others, they feel seen and are less likely to be reactive:
“Consider any significant relationship: How does it feel when they misinterpret what you want? Or worse, when they could care less about understanding what you want? Ouch.”
“During an interaction with someone who is difficult for you – or while reflecting about the relationship as a whole – try to see the deeper wants in the other person, behind the acts of thought, word, or deed that have bothered or hurt you… and if you like, try to figure out less harmful ways to fulfill (them),” continues Hanson.
We all have some bad communication habits that we learned in childhood. While unhealthy communication styles often stimulate the worst parts of ourselves to come out, healthy and positive relationships support our spiritual growth so that we can gain the strength to transcend bad habits and even addictions.
This is why Muslims say, “Marriage is half the faith.” It is not enough to simply be married. The marriage relationship helps a person develop themselves spiritually by providing causes for conflict.
Each conflict provides a couple with the opportunity to learn how to go beyond ego reactions such as fear of abandonment and learn to see another person’s point of view. Disagreements which are handled in a good way will lead to a deeper, more meaningful relationship. Therefore, the secret to a happy relationship is in the way you fight. Happy couples learn from their fights. Arguing in the best way means seeking truth, wisdom and inner beauty together – not defeating the other person.
“As you live deeper in the Heart, the mirror gets clearer and clearer,” wrote Rumi.
The less ego we project upon a conflict, the more purely the Light of the spirit shines through us, and ultimately, the closer we are to God.