Choosing a Safe Husband (or Wife)

On many occasions, with single students and clients, I’ve heard what kind of person is being sought as a future husband or wife. Descriptions include, “She needs to have a strong testimony,” or “He needs to really love the Lord.” Faithful individuals desire faithful partners with whom they can progress to the celestial kingdom, so it may seem logical to focus on those kinds of celestial characteristics. But we must be wary of the appearance of the celestial in areas where true content is difficult to measure. For instance, a prospective partner may express fervent testimony and a deep love for the Lord and yet still be largely subject to the appetites of the natural man. I remember a young woman who married a returned missionary at least partly because she was so impressed at how often he attended the temple and how beautifully he bore his testimony. Shortly after their marriage, she discovered his vicious mean streak when they disagreed. He would tell her that she was ugly, stupid, and repulsive to him, but in much nastier language. She had thought his celestial-seeming characteristics made him a good partner, but, in fact, those celestial-seeming characteristics had not been built on a solid terrestrial foundation of harnessing his natural man temper.

Celestial characteristics—love, spirituality, true charity—are qualities that are impossible for us to really measure. Which of us can accurately measure the deep recesses of the heart? Some individuals seem to display celestial characteristics, but are later found to be very different from what they appeared to be. We have been warned about wolves among the sheep (see Acts 20:29, Matthew 7:15).

It is simply not a realistic expectation to find people in their twenties (or thirties or forties or fifties, for that matter) who have progressed to a consistently celestial level. While there may be many who are moving in that direction, it is not a rapidly accomplished goal. We learn and grow “line upon line and precept upon precept” (Isaiah 28:10-13). In our twenties, many of us are exchanging our childhood testimonies for a personal conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The refining journey to the celestial is still largely ahead of us and our prospective spouse. Consider the wisdom of seeking a partner who is solidly terrestrial with the desire to move forward toward celestial living. There is safety in the terrestrial which brings peace, safety, and prosperity. Not a bad place for marriage to begin.

Another advantage of seeking a partner with terrestrial characteristics—consistent behaviors requiring self-control and deferred gratification—is that, unlike celestial characteristics, terrestrial behaviors are mostly measurable and difficult to fake, at least over time. Asking questions like the following can help distinguish a terrestrial partner from a telestial one:

      • Does this potential partner pay his bills?
      • Is she in significant debt?
      • Can he hold down a job?
      • Is she often hurtful and offensive?
      • Is he in full fellowship with the Church?
      • Does she have good credit?
      • Is he able to maintain solid relationships and healthy friendships, or does he seem to leave a trail of injury and enmity in his wake?
      • Does she control her temper and other appetites?
      • Does he honor commitments—attending meetings, fulfilling callings, doing home or visiting teaching?
      • Are her decisions based on her own (selfish) desires, or does she consider the wishes and well-being of others?

As you answer these, and other similar questions about a potential spouse, remember that at this stage of life we aren’t looking for perfection, but for solid consistency over time. It’s true that even these behaviors can be faked, but counterfeits can’t “hold their breath” forever. Over time—and it really does help to take your time—it becomes fairly evident what kind of mastery an individual has over the natural man.

We are fallible human beings. Just because someone makes mistakes or has weaknesses doesn’t mean he or she is telestial. But red flags should go up when a pattern of telestial behavior is exhibited. Some individuals seem to go from one crisis to another. They have trouble with their landlord; their bank account is overdrawn; their credit card is “maxed out;” their neighbors are unreasonable; they have fights with roommates and a personality conflict with the boss at work. They may explain such crises in terms of coincidence, unfair treatment, or bad luck—but no one has that much bad luck. It is true that anyone can experience unfortunate or unfair circumstances, but if someone seems constantly “victimized,” a closer look often reveals that the individual’s choices and behaviors are not consistently in the terrestrial realm. The person is breaking rules, violating basic principles, or offending others, and their choices are generating unpleasant and costly natural consequences. “Let the buyer beware.”

(You may be interested in reading more about safe partner selection. This subject is discussed at length in my new book, Choosing Glory, available on my website: lilianderson.com.)

  1. Summer says:

    Nice article Lily. It makes a lot of sense to consider those triats and attributes before you marry someone and get all the potential problems. (If only young love would be that wise!) Your comments are also a good judge on how we are doing ourselves in life!

  2. Stan says:

    I count myself fortunate every day that I have such a wife as I do. Though I don’t think I ever gave active thought to most of the suggestions on your list, in retrospect, I can see how clearly she suits the principles discussed in that blog post.

    The above post was just one of many parts of “Choosing Glory” that really rang true to me, for its practicality, and immediate applicability. I think it’s far too easy–especially when one is caught up in the emotional rush of early dating (and later, engagement) to simply ignore potential problems as “cute little quirks” and what not.

    Speaking for myself, I didn’t actually realise quite what “eternity” meant, before getting married, when I thought about how great it would be to have my girlfriend/fiance become my wife. Though I don’t see the Lord “sentencing” us to live with a spouse we can’t stand, I think it’s all around better to know before hand whether these are people we’re even likely to enjoy spending time with, let alone all eternity.

    I just hope that I can do a good enough job teaching my kids how to be the kind of people they want to marry, and I hope I can use your advice to help them see through that emotional haze that sometimes winds people up in crummy marriages.

    Thanks. :)

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