Choosing the “Right” Spouse
How to Find Your Equal Partner and Create a Happy, Eternal Marriage
In Elder Robert D. Hales book, Return, which he published in 2010, he wrote a chapter called, “Choosing an Eternal Companion.” At the end of Chapter 19, he asks the following “checkpoint” questions:
How thoroughly do I research a potential eternal companion before falling in love?
What are my criteria for choosing a mate? Are they more temporal or eternal?
Do I set high yet realistic standards in seeking an eternal companion?
How open am I to receiving direction from the Lord when I seek His approval of my marriage choice?
Do I ever seek to impose inspiration I have received on others for whom I have no stewardship, including someone I am dating?
On page 233 of this book, Elder Hales emphatically states: “It is sad when a person who wants to be married never has the opportunity to marry. But it is much, much sadder to be married to the wrong person. If you do not believe me, talk with someone who has made that mistake. Think carefully about the person you are considering marrying, because marriage should last for time and for all eternity.”
I came across Elder Hales’ book and read this chapter after I finished writing my own article, “Choosing the Right Spouse.” I agree with everything Elder Hales says in his book and appreciate the analogy he uses for doing “Due Diligence” while searching for the right companion. I recommend reading Elder Hales’ book Return, Chapter 19, “Choosing an Eternal Companion,” in addition to my own article to gain more inspiring insights into making this very important decision.
We all have important choices to make in life. One of the most important choices is choosing the “right” spouse. I define the “right” spouse as someone of the opposite sex who will be an equal partner with you in creating a happy, eternal marriage. Finding an “equal partner” in marriage means finding someone who is compatible with you physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Stephen R. Covey, refers to these four areas of life as the “whole person: body, mind, heart, and spirit” in his book, The 8th Habit, which talks about finding your own voice and then helping others to find their voices. I believe you first need to develop yourself in these four areas and then look for a spouse who is interested in developing in these four areas, too. You can discover this “whole person” attitude as you continue to date many different individuals and engage in a wide variety of activities that help you get to know each other better. This is an important reason to never rush into a marriage but give yourself the needed time and space to better understand what your dating partner's preferences and goals really are and if they truly match your own preferences and goals.
You are often drawn to people because of their looks, but physical attraction alone is not a good indicator of finding the best spouse for you. The expression of romantic feelings during dating should be kept to a minimum so you can think clearly and virtuously preserve pure intimacy for marriage. Also, you will want to be aware of what your future spouse’s interests are with regards to maintaining good health and fitness. If athletics have always been a big part of your life and you love to work out every day and your spouse has no interest in your passion, there may be resentments because of your time commitment. Find someone who wants to be physically fit throughout life. Exercise lifts feelings of depression, renews your energy, and revitalizes your marriage.
You will want a spouse that you can talk to easily and who understands the way your mind works. If you love to spend time reading and discussing classic literature and your spouse only likes to watch mindless television shows then you will never be able to have mind-enlightening conversations together. Find someone who is as excited about his or her own interests as you are about your interests so you can share your experiences, knowledge, and wisdom with one another.
You will want to feel safe as you honestly share the deepest feelings of your heart. Feelings are often difficult to put into words, but this language of the soul can be learned. Communication is most meaningful when time is set aside to discuss your feelings on important subjects as you both encourage each other to kindly say the things you really feel. You can “agree to disagree” on subjects, but it is imperative that you both feel completely comfortable in voicing your feelings.
You will want to feel connected and inspire each other to be your best self. While you may have different levels of gospel knowledge, you both need to have a desire to continue learning and living the gospel of Jesus Christ together as you create a Christ-centered home. You need to have a desire to share your spiritual gifts with each other and strengthen each other as you keep the covenants you have made with God.
The Right Spouse
The “right” spouse will be a wonderful, IMPERFECT person whom:
- Has become your best friend over time
- Inspires you to be your best self
- You love and adore with all your heart
- You only think about and no one else
- Is your Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, and Spiritual equal.
Finding your eternal companion is a marathon, not a sprint, so take your time and enjoy the journey! I thought I had found the “right” spouse when I was 18 years old. A young man, who was a returned missionary for our church and five years older than I was, met me at a student ward and apparently fell in love with me. I was recently graduated from high school and planning to go to BYU in the fall. I hadn’t dated much in high school, so this was my first time to have a real “boyfriend.” I was definitely flattered by all the attention he was giving me because I’d never experienced being “in love” with someone where the feeling was reciprocal. While I really liked him, I didn’t feel what I thought I would feel when I was considering marrying someone. However, after several dates, he convinced me we should get married, and I agreed. While I didn’t yet have a ring on my finger, we were talking about marriage plans. His parents liked me, my parents liked him, and I loved going to his house and visiting with his family. I felt so accepted and appreciated when I was there with them. Although we came from entirely different backgrounds within active Mormon families, we both knew we wanted a temple marriage and to have a gospel-centered home. That’s as good as it gets, right?
As we continued dating, major differences in opinion began showing up, and we both began to doubt if we should get married after all. After a whirlwind six-month relationship, the feelings of love we had for each other began to fade as the stress between us began to grow. Although I eventually knew I shouldn’t marry him, I was heartbroken when he finally broke up with me and heartbroken once again when he married someone else several months later. It was so hard to say goodbye to someone I had once loved. However, I had hope that I would someday meet a young man with whom I would feel the type of feelings I always expected to feel when I finally met the “right” one. I knew in my heart I shouldn’t “settle” or marry a man just because he wanted to marry me.
I happened to meet up with this former boyfriend and his wife forty-five years after we broke up. I was so grateful to see that he was still happily married to his lovely wife because I was equally happily married to my wonderful husband. As I reflected on our previous relationship, I realized it had happened for a reason and that it had been an important relationship for both of us. Because of the different things we learned from each other, we were both better prepared to achieve a truly happy marriage with the spouse we did choose to marry.
Falling in Love
Dating many different individuals is so important before deciding on the right person to marry. “Falling in love” is not a good reason to get married. You could travel around the world and fall in love with a wide variety of individuals, but they wouldn’t necessarily make good marriage partners. I learned that you need to let plenty of time go by from when you first meet someone before you start talking about marriage. Never marry a “stranger.” Time is on your side. Be slow and careful. While some quick courtships turn into long, happy marriages, most do not. With at least a 25% divorce rate, and an even much higher rate of still-married, unhappy couples, you need to use both your mind and your heart when making this major decision in life.
In Doctrine and Covenants 8:2 it says, “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.” Listen carefully to the promptings of the Holy Ghost. When the emotional feelings of your heart are in complete harmony with the realistic thoughts in your mind, you should be at peace. But in addition to pondering and praying about the right person to marry, a good practical book to read with a potential marriage partner is Things I Wish I’d Known before I Got Married by Gary Chapman. This book is a good reality check about the challenges every couple will face in marriage.
Learning from Other's Mistakes
I would like to share some insights I have learned not only from my own life, but from observing the lives of many others throughout the years. I hope that what I say will help you avoid the pain that so many have gone through as their marriages have fallen apart. I also hope that what I share with you, you will share with everyone else that you know who is trying to find their eternal companion and equal partner in marriage.
The most important decision you will make in life is who you choose to marry. This is a decision that is difficult to make. There are many feelings and emotions that are constantly on a roller-coaster as you make this decision. The point I want to continually stress is that making the decision of whom to marry is a process—not just a one-time event. While you may think in your mind or feel in your heart that a certain individual is the right person to marry, it doesn't mean that is necessarily correct. We make decisions based on our experience at the time. Just because the thought came into your head that you would like to marry a certain person, it does not mean that you must carve that fleeting thought permanently in stone and hold on to it forever.
The dating process should be an opportunity to “try on” many possible future spouses for "size." Thinking about one individual as your spouse, continuing to date while you fantasize about being married, and even actually becoming engaged does NOT mean it is necessarily the right decision to marry that person. During the whole dating and engagement experience, you should still be gathering information about this individual whom you at one time thought you wanted to marry. If any new information you gather raises any "red flags"—meaning concern, worry, unhappiness, wavering thoughts, or ambivalent feelings—you need to stop and rethink your decision and whether this is the person you really should marry.
Engagement Is Not Marriage
Please always remember: ENGAGEMENT IS NOT MARRIAGE! Some people feel that once they are engaged, they are committed to marry the person, even when other issues come up that are definite "red flags." This is not correct. Continuing an unhappy or stressful engagement can only produce an unhappy and stressful marriage. Marriage alone does not solve any type of relationship problems. Marriage only magnifies the old problems and ignites the dynamite of new problems that will eventually blow up the marriage. If you think it's too hard to break an engagement, think how hard it is to break up a marriage. A broken engagement does break your heart, but the pain and suffering does not go on the rest of your life, like a broken marriage does. I want to share a few stories about married couples I have known throughout my life whose marriages didn’t last without using any of their names.
One couple had a very up and down dating relationship, but because the "ups" were so sweet, they ignored the "downs" that were so bitter and pushed forward into a marriage that eventually ended in divorce, wrecking their own lives and the lives of their beautiful children.
Lesson #1 : Bitter destroys sweet
Another couple had doubts about their upcoming marriage and whether they even really loved each other, but because of all the expense involved during the engagement such as the engagement ring, wedding dress, announcements, and $5,000 non-refundable deposit where the reception was to be held, they went forward with the marriage, wept on the honeymoon, and of course, later divorced.
If you have a relationship that starts off sweet but then becomes bitter from time to time, call it quits. Every relationship will have problems that will have to be discussed and sometimes compromised on, but there should always be a feeling of mutual respect and honesty in these discussions. If you feel you must hide things or feel that your fiancé is being deceitful to you, you are on a dead-end street. Don't bury your head in the sand and wait for the problems to go away. Problems do not go away by hiding from them. Discuss issues as they come up. If you do not agree on basic principles, or if discussions explode into anger or fighting, it is time to say good-bye.
Lesson #2 : Ignore engagement expenses
A third couple, began their dating experiences being too physically intimate, even though they did not actually have sex. During their rocky, unhappy courtship and engagement, their intimacies continued. Because they felt guilty and somewhat obligated to each other, they thought they needed to get married to resolve their guilt, even though they had lost their respect for each other. The marriage was a disaster from the beginning, and they too were eventually divorced.
If you are engaged, don’t let feelings of embarrassment stop you from calling off your engagement if you feel in your heart you are making a mistake. It doesn’t matter how much money has been invested so far. People lose money all the time in different financial investments. Be practical, not emotional about this "investment" in your engagement. There is a saying in business about knowing when to "cut your losses" and move on. Yes, you do lose some initial money, but it also frees you up to take your experience and make a lot more money in a different investment at a future time. Marriage is a type of business where two people are going to be working closely together for a very long time. If you feel it's not right, be brave and "cut your losses."
Lesson #3 : Repentance restores respect
The question then remains "How can I know that I am marrying the right person?" The answer begins with Lesson #3. You will be in a much better position to make a correct choice if you don't get involved in physical intimacies before marriage. It is hard to get inspiration when your emotions are running wild. If you have become too intimate, stop, repent, and get a clear head before progressing any further with marriage plans. Remember that expressing feelings of intimacy and passion within marriage is beautiful. These feelings are sacred, natural, and soul-binding. It isn’t just a physical act but a combination of all your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energies wrapped up in one while unifying the marriage covenant. Be patient and practice self-control so you can kneel at the altar feeling pure, clean, and worthy to accept all the marvelous blessings the Lord has in store for you throughout eternity. I was determined to have the right kind of temple-worthy relationship when I started dating my husband David. We kept our expressions of love and affection for each other to a minimum. The reward came after we left the temple and kissed for the first time as husband and wife alone in our car. The feelings were incredible!
I do not believe that marriages can survive without the divine blessings of our Heavenly Father. It is so important to live worthy of the blessings we seek. In the Doctrine and Covenants 130: 20-21 it says, “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated. And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated." We are all human. We will all make mistakes of one kind or another. We are in constant need of the cleansing power of repentance and forgiveness through our Savior’s Atonement each day. If you have a real desire to keep all the commandments of God, your conscience will let you know when you need to repent and make a change in your life. Marry someone who wants to be a repentant person. A sincere person with this kind of humility will treat you like the person you deserve to be treated. A prideful, unrepentant dating partner makes a mean, self-centered spouse. Greater than the need to be loved is the need to be respected. Love grows quickly cold when it is not fanned by the flame of real respect. You not only need respect from your spouse, you also have a responsibility to preserve your own self-respect. You must take charge. No one else can do it for you.
There is a scripture that says, "…men are, that they might have joy" (2 Nephi 2: 25). Men, meaning all human beings both male and female, have been promised joy from our Heavenly Father. If you are engaged and approaching your wedding date, you should be feeling real joy—along with the normal nervousness that usually accompanies any wedding. If you are feeling constantly tearful, unhappy, or completely depressed, this is a definite "red flag” that should not be ignored. Your spirit is telling you that something is wrong. Listen to your spirit. When something is right, it feels right. It is always accompanied by a feeling of peace and comfort.
When something is wrong, it feels confusing. In the scriptures, this is referred to as a “stupor of thought” (Doctrine and Covenants 9:9). You keep going back and forth in your mind wondering if it's right or not. You try to talk yourself into it, even though your heart is not really feeling it. You constantly feel stressed or unsettled. Sometimes you even feel physically ill with stomach pains or headaches. Listen to your spirit—and your body—they are trying to tell you something.
Seek for the feeling of joy, not the feeling of excitement. Joy is happiness combined with peace. Excitement is happiness combined with an emotional high. Excited, emotional highs must always come down. Peace is like a quiet river that runs constantly throughout your life. Pure joy embraces periods of excitement, but excitement does not embrace continual feelings of pure joy.
Always remember the goal is joy. The best way to have a happy marriage is to marry your best friend. Make good friendships with many people of the opposite sex, and then be selective as to whom you date. Be slow to develop romantic relationships, and give yourself the gift of time. I recommend knowing a person for at least “four seasons” before you get married. As you date a variety of individuals, analyze your feelings for each of them. Make a list of the top ten qualities you want in a marriage partner and see which person has most of these qualities you are seeking and who shares all your core values, including a complete commitment to living the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Always be cautious as you carefully choose your marriage partner. It is the most important decision you will ever make because all other decisions the rest of your life will be influenced by this one decision. Pray for the gift of discernment as you judge which person is best for you. In Moroni 7: 15-16 it clearly states: “For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night. For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.” When a decision is right, you should feel the warmth and joy of “daylight.” When a decision is wrong, the feeling of the “dark night” will gradually drift into your heart and mind. In choosing a marriage partner, you’re not necessarily judging “good from evil” but judging between “good, better, and best” as Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught in the October 2007 General Conference. One potential spouse might be good, another might be better, but who is really the best spouse for you? With prayer, patience, and perseverance a “perfect knowledge” can come through the Spirit of Christ.
Sometimes you don't know what a person is really like until you are formally engaged and are approaching your wedding date. I know one young woman who broke three engagements before finally marrying. The third broken engagement was called off two weeks before the wedding. She had been driving around with the addressed wedding announcements in her car for a long time because she was hesitant to mail them. Finally, she realized that this was not the person she was supposed to marry. If you must break a formal engagement, remember you’re not alone. Social etiquette books explain the proper way this can be done. It is important to remember that until you say “yes” at the marriage altar, you are always free to say “no” and walk away.
There is a saying that is attributed to Benjamin Franklin and was quoted by David O. McKay in his book, Secrets of a Happy Life, which says, "Keep your eyes wide open before marriage and half-shut after marriage." The purpose of keeping your eyes “wide open” is to look for those "red flags" that will tell you it’s time to stop and analyze whether you are marrying the right person or not. Remember that "red flags" are real. Do not ignore them.
The reason you keep your eyes “half shut” after marriage is because no one is perfect. When you’ve dated enough people to make a wise decision as to whom you want to marry, then be patient with your imperfect spouse. Together you will help each other grow and become the best you can be as individuals and as a couple.
One question to ask yourself as you contemplate whom you should marry is this: Do I feel the same way towards my potential marriage partner when I am with this person as when I am by myself? If you feel confident about marrying this person when you are together and doubtful when you’re alone, you might be being manipulated into getting married. This is NOT right. Your goal is to find an eternal companion and an equal partner that you can love and respect forever. If one person feels more strongly about getting married than the other, this is an unequal partnership that will cause discord throughout your marriage and not bring you long-term happiness. I knew one man who married his wife simply because every time he told her he wanted to break up, she would cry. This was not a fulfilling marriage for either of them because he married her out of a sense of obligation and hadn’t been true to his real feelings. As my father always taught me, you should have a clear conviction that you are marrying the “right person, at the right time, in the right place.”
Look Outside the Box
You might need to look “outside the box” to find the best marriage partner for you. Someone new might show up that you hadn’t considered yet for your eternal companion.
I knew one young man who kept saying to his mother, “I wish I could marry someone like Kathy.” Kathy was a girl who was a few years younger than he was and had been in his ward growing up. After dating a lot of other young women and continuing to tell his mother he wanted to find someone like Kathy, his mother finally gently responded, “Why don’t you just marry Kathy?” He did. This lovely friend from his ward, Kathy, whom he had known for so long, turned out to be the right one, and they were both incredibly happy.
Another happy couple we knew had an interesting story of how they ended up married to each other. They knew of each other in high school but didn’t associate at all. She described herself as “Molly Mormon” and he was not a member of our church and led a life far different than our strict church rules would allow. However, after leaving high school this young man joined the church and changed his life completely. When I asked her how she felt about marrying someone who had such a wild past, she looked me in the eye and quietly said, “Kristine, the Atonement of Jesus Christ is very real.”
I realized that I needed to take off my judgmental glasses and stop looking at a person’s past life and learn to rejoice in the new person he or she had become through the Atonement of Christ. As it says eloquently in 2 Corinthians 5: 17, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
I went “outside the box” a bit when I decided to go on my first date with my husband David. I first got to know him through the mail when he wrote to me on his mission, which was at the request of my cousin who was married to his brother. We exchanged letters for a few months, but I never considered him as a potential marriage partner. When we met each other after he returned from his mission, neither of us were interested in dating each other. We remained friends and would say hello when we would see each other on campus at BYU as we both continued dating other people. After David broke up with his last girlfriend, he impulsively decided to call me up and ask me out on a date. I was so surprised because we were just good friends, but I accepted. Our first date was December 4, 1971. I knew that night I was going to marry him. The overwhelming feelings of the Spirit were indescribable. They were feelings that I had never felt before but had hoped to feel when I met the “right” one. I was stunned—he was not whom I thought I would marry—but he did meet my “short list” for what I was looking for in a husband: spiritual, fun, and wanted lots of children like I did! We were engaged on New Year’s Day and married on March 30, 1972.
This was one year after we first met and two years after he wrote me his first letter. That letter, which I had laughed at when I first read it, turned out to be prophetic. The first line said, “Terry and Steve think we ought to get married—what do you think?” The second line said, “I am having my companion take a picture of me writing you this first letter just in case something ever happens.”
I never expected that anything would “ever happen” but had saved his letters and picture he sent to me, not for sentimental reasons, but because I saved everything at that point in my life! When we were engaged, I was glad I still had his picture and letters! David and I are opposites in many ways, but we have learned to “celebrate our similarities and delight in our differences.” We have always been completely united in our love for the Lord, for each other, and for our eleven beautiful children, their spouses, and our grandchildren. He has been my rock since the day I married him. I’m so grateful that I “looked outside the box” and made my eternal commitment to the man who was my best friend.
The following two poems express my feelings about the whole dating and engagement process. I hope that if you are in a dating relationship that you know in your heart and mind you should end, please pray for the courage to do so. Trust in the Lord that there is someone better for both of you up ahead. As you continue to carefully contemplate on whom you should marry, remember what it says in that classic scripture in Jacob 6: 12, "O be wise; what can I say more?"
Separation was inevitable.
Somehow we just
couldn’t fit the mold
we had envisioned
for the other person.
Instead of growing closer
we grew apart . . .
Until it felt
just as good
to be alone
as it had felt
to be together.
My finger was bare;
The ring was his again.
hurt too bad
was too shattered
to look forward to again.
He wept for me.
I wept for him.
What else could we say, but
Break Up & Make Up
cry and cry
dry your eyes
for someone different
pray and pray
to someone new
a true best friend
will come to you
Don't Look Back
In conclusion, I believe it is possible to find the “right” spouse who is your equal partner and one with whom you can create a happy, eternal marriage. After choosing your spouse wisely, if you both are committed to living the gospel of Jesus Christ then you will be able to grow and progress together as you work through the challenges of this mortal experience here on earth. As you feel Heavenly Father’s love in your life, rely upon the strength and friendship of Jesus Christ, and listen carefully to and follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost, then you will have a happy marriage. The scripture Moroni 10: 4-5 applies to every decision you make in your marriage, “. . . if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”
Once you are married to the “right” spouse and begin experiencing difficulties or unpleasant surprises in different aspects of your marriage, don’t look back. Keep going forward in faith and don’t question your decision to marry this person. Remember the scripture in Doctrine and Covenants 6: 22-23: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?”
Yes, the feeling of PEACE is the answer to every question and decision you make. Once you feel peace, hold on to that memory and be willing to “walk to the edge of the light” as Elder Boyd K. Packer counseled when seeking guidance from the Lord in doing His will. (“The Edge of the Light,” BYU Magazine, Mar. 1991)
Consistency in doing the basics is what is essential for a happy, successful marriage. I heard someone once say, “We have one rule in our family: If the prophet says to do it, we do it!” I like that rule because it’s quick and concise. Keeping all the commandments of God is not difficult. What is difficult is going back and forth in your mind trying to decide whether you are or you’re not going to keep a certain commandment or counsel from the Prophet. That is what causes a great deal of stress and wastes a lot of valuable time. My motto is simple: “Take the gospel seriously. Live it joyfully.”
Blueprint for Happiness
Another little book you might want to read and discuss with your potential spouse is one that I wrote called ABC’s for a Happy Marriage. Each “letter” discusses a true principle to help create a marriage that is filled with real joy. A happy marriage doesn’t just happen and it isn’t reserved for just a select few. In Doctrine and Covenants 88: 118 it says: “. . . seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” In addition to beginning your marriage on a strong spiritual foundation, factual knowledge in all areas of married life is essential. The scripture, “faith without works is dead” (James 2: 26) means you can’t simply pray to have a great marriage, you must work at it and do the things other men and women have learned to do to achieve great marriages. Every couple who follows a “blueprint” for success that includes faith in Christ, study, and mentoring will achieve a happy, eternal marriage.
Faith in Christ: As you both choose to keep the commandments and be kind every day, your belief in Christ’s atonement will increase along with your love and commitment to each other.
Study: As you read good marriage books and other inspirational literature together you will learn new ideas and gain the necessary skills to gradually turn your weaknesses into strengths.
Mentoring: As you associate with other couples who have strong marriages, they will become positive role models for you; professional marriage counseling is also extremely helpful to improve communication and renew hope in the future.
Finding a marriage partner that is spiritually, physically, emotionally, and intellectually equal with you is possible if you will keep the commandments, keep going to church, and keep dating. Although you may have to go through some disappointments in your dating relationships before you find the “right” one, the Lord will continue to lead and guide you along. I believe that every dating relationship teaches you something, both positive and negative, which will help you in your marriage someday. Never give up hope but always take courage in President Hinckley’s comforting words of advice, “It will all work out.”
(This article, Choosing the “Right” Spouse, began as a personal letter I wrote to one of my daughters in 2000, which I originally called “The Engagement Letter.” It was later continued and expanded over time as additional experiences and thoughts came to me.)