Single and searching? Look for this one quality.
Sometimes single people ask us for suggestions on how to find a suitable marriage partner. Some, having had a series of disappointing experiences, are looking for ways to improve their odds of success. Here’s a thought we often ask them to consider.
Most people, when quizzed on the kind of qualities that make a good husband or wife, will identify virtues such as kindness, honesty, generosity, work ethic, readiness to forgive, gentleness, good humour, etc.
These are certainly good qualities to seek in a spouse. They are also good qualities to foster in ourselves, and clearly make a person more marriageable (and easier to stay married to!)
However, if we were honest, most of us would admit that we often fall short of these ideals. After all, who among us can claim to be always completely honest, generous and kind all the time, or never lazy or humourless?
The truth is that these virtues are life-time endeavours. How much of these virtues we possess at the beginning of a relationship is not nearly as important as whether we are committed to acquiring more of them over time. In other words, what matters most is whether we both possess a ‘Willingness to Change’. That’s the quality, or character trait, that more than any other, forms the foundation of a successful marriage.
Equally, it’s opposite – a ‘Persistent Resistance to Change’ – is widely recognised as being “Marriage Enemy #1”. Most of us can think of a person who stubbornly refuses to admit their fault or to take responsibility for causing offense or harm. It’s the kind of person who insists that it is simply ‘who they are’ and that it’s the other’s role to provide unconditional acceptance. In a marriage, such a characteristic is always harmful to the relationship.
Sure, acceptance is indeed important in relationships as none of us like to feel that the other is constantly judging us. We all need to know that we are loved, and loved unconditionally. However, acceptance of the other does not translate into unchallenged tolerance of destructive behaviour.
True love always seeks the good of the other. Marriage is meant to change both of us for the better. And caring for each other includes helping each other to grow and mature into more virtuous and holy people.
Allowing someone to continue to abuse us, for example, is never an act of love. Love demands that we resist such abuse and require the other to change.
Allowing someone to mislead us with lies over and over is not love. True love seeks to help the other person recognise their behaviour for what it is and take ownership for change.
If you’re in the ‘dating game’ remember that the sorts of qualities that often initially attract us to another person are not always the qualities that will make that person a good husband or wife. Nor are they necessarily the qualities that you want in the mother or father of your children.
If you’re just starting out in a relationship, look for evidence of growth … in both of you. Am I growing in character through this relationship? Is this person growing and becoming more virtuous? Am I finding them a positive source of challenge and encouragement? Do they demonstrate a willingness to respond to the call to growth? If you have found yourself with a person who demonstrates a consistent ‘willingness to change’ you may indeed have found yourself a keeper!
Of course, this advice to dating couples – to be open to the challenge of growth and change – is equally relevant to we who have been married for many years. The longer we are married the more clearly we recognise the faults in the other, and if we take the time to look or listen, our own imperfections. With this knowledge comes the choice: will we persistently resist change, or will we be consistently willing to grow? Only we can decide.
None of us are perfect and none of us should expect their spouse to be perfect either. A successful marriage is not the union of two perfect people, but rather the union of two imperfect people who have embarked on a journey together towards holiness, and who have committed to helping each other get there.
For more on this topic, search for Dr John Van Epp, Persistent Resistance to Change.