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?

Growth Mindset

The truth is that these virtues are lifetime 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, its 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 offence 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.

Maturing Together

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 those of us 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 is perfect, and none of us should expect our 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.


Originally published at SmartLoving. Photo by Yaroslav Shuraev.

About the Author: Byron and Francine Pirola

Married for 25 years, with 5 children, Byron & Francine Pirola are the founders and co-authors of the SmartLoving Series – marriage enrichment and marriage preparation courses designed to help build successful and resilient marriages. International speakers and authors of numerous articles on marriage, more than 3000 couples have attended their programs, workshops and conferences in Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain Byron & Francine are Executive Directors of the Marriage Resource Centre from which they run SmartLoving programs and produce digital resources. Francine graduated from Fordham University with a Masters in Religion and Religious Education. Byron is a founding partner of the strategic consulting firm, Port Jackson Partners Limited, and a Director of both listed and unlisted companies. He holds a PhD from the Commonwealth Centre for Gene Technology, Adelaide University.

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