Becoming a Couple: Preparing for Marriage—What Three Women Learned from a Wilmette Course
The Wilmette Institute has been offering a series of courses on dating, courtship, and marriage for over a year. It has now started to repeat the series, refining the course content as the courses are offered a second time. The following comments are from three learners in Becoming a Couple: Preparing for Marriage, which the Wilmette Institute offered in August and September 2014.
A Divorced Woman, Now Single, Find New Hope for a Spiritual Marriage
“My primary objective in taking the class [Becoming a Couple: Preparing for Marriage] was to gain a firmer understanding of principles regarding dating, courtship, and marriage. I also wanted to reflect on my past experiences and learn from the choices that I had made. Looking at the Bahá’í scriptures relating to marriage was so helpful to me, as was participating in the dialogues with fellow classmates. I was married and divorced before becoming a Bahá’í. I realized that in the past I did not get to know the other person as well as I should—really getting to know his character. I also allowed physical attraction to cloud my decisions.
“I now have a much less ‘magical’ way of thinking about marriage. In the past I did believe in society’s notion of a soul mate. Now I realize that there is no one soul mate, but there are a number of possible people that I could be married to and have a successful marriage experience. As the foundation, though, I must establish a friendship with the other. I should take the time to get to be fully acquainted with the other’s character. I should also remain chaste. This will help in my decision-making process and being able to clearly discern God’s will for my life.
“There are a number of skills that I have learned through this course, such as learning to memorize and follow Bahá’í scriptures on dating and marriage; trying to develop friendships with others through service; becoming acquainted with another’s character; recognizing my own character strengths and weaknesses; trying to improve in areas needing growth; being absolutely chaste; and keeping relationships pure.
“The class has changed my way of thinking about dating and marriage in a very positive way. Even though I am divorced, I do feel now that marriage can be a ‘fortress for well-being,’ if I follow the guidance of Bahá’í teachings and principles.
“I changed from looking for a soul mate to finding an individual who is one of many possibilities for a mate, a person who shares my spiritual beliefs, one in whom I have a deep and abiding friendship, a person with whom I can laugh and share values and serve God. I will wait and spend time getting to know others, truly reflecting on the character qualities I would like to find in a spouse. I will remain chaste because I have a better understanding of its purpose in helping to establish a sacred marriage. Instead of being fearful of marriage and the possibility of divorce, I now have a very positive outlook on marriage. I see it as leading to a profound spiritual union with another that is blessed by God and that marriage is a service to God in this world.
“I have used what I have learned to share the Bahá’í scriptures and teachings with others. I am not in a dating relationship at this time but will use this time to serve the Bahá’í Faith and through that service hope to meet others who are like-minded and whom I may choose to date. I am much more mindful of looking for character traits in my relationships with others. I hope to find a spiritual friendship with another that will grow into a loving marriage. In the meantime, I will pray and reflect on the Bahá’í scriptures I read and the lessons I learned through the course and try to apply practically those principles to my life.”
A Single Woman Focuses on Character as an Essential Building Block for a Spiritual Union (and Shares Her Insights with Friends)
“My goal [in Becoming a Couple] was to learn about discerning a potential marriage partner’s character. I have completed the assessment of my character traits, read all of the materials provided for this course, and practiced discerning the character of friends in various social settings. I would say I am making steady progress in discerning the character traits of others and learning more about the character traits that are most important to me in a relationship.
“Character-trait assessment and continued character building is one of the most important aspects of a relationship. It was helpful to compare my previous relationships with my desire for a future relationship by looking at the individual’s character. When looked at through this lens, I could plainly see that the previous relationships were not going to meet my expectations/needs. I feel more prepared for the future. It will be beneficial to participate in many different activities as a couple to discern each other’s character.
“I have an increased awareness about the importance of character and in assessing my own and a potential partner’s character. I have a list of activities we can participate in that will give me the opportunity to discern his character.
“My whole attitude and focus of a relationship has changed from being one of pleasure to being in a spiritual union. I have expanded my knowledge of living a chaste and holy life and feel confident I will enter my next relationship with that foundation. I am much more focused on discerning the character of a potential marriage partner. I am also much more open to being in a marriage, rather than just a relationship.
“I will definitely be seeking a healthy, character-based relationship. I will also share my knowledge with my single friends who are seeking a relationship.”
A Single Woman Tests Bahá’í Teachings on Honesty and Chastity during the Course and Ends a Relationship without Heartbreak
“In Becoming a Couple I learned a great deal about how to cultivate a friendship with a guy through being open and honest. My previous dating experiences were shaped by a lot of secular books on relationships: The Rules, Mars and Venus on a Date, Meeting Your Half Orange. And I followed their advice like a religion, but it was restricting my personality, and I felt like I was trying to follow all the guidance to attract a husband.
“During this course I dated a guy I met on-line and decided to use the guidance in the course and first find if we could be friends and also emphasize how much chastity was important to me. It was incredibly successful, and my date’s responses were positive and also enabled him to be open and honest. Even though we decided to end things because of our respective religions, I did not feel the same hurt and disappointment I have felt in the past. We remain friends, and I truly feel I gave it my best shot and applied spiritual principles and had the bounty of teaching the Bahá’í Faith. I feel emancipated from my old methods, and I am truly on the right path!
“I have a clearer view of how men perceive physical attraction and understand that, if given permission to touch you, it means that they feel like they can touch all of you. Also, I understand that chastity encourages equality, produces stabler marriages, unites couples through a shared challenge, eliminates relationship drama, and avoids ‘stampeding emotions.’ Physicality in a relationship is a charade if there is no spiritual connection. I feel much more supported in my efforts to remain chaste, thanks to the letters written by the Universal House of Justice. When you follow the laws, there are so many rewards. Most important for me is living in conformity with my beliefs and the confidence that follows that conviction.
“The skills I have acquired or improved include these: I am much less rigid when it comes to relationships and much more experimental. I realize that romantic relationships can generate more fear than those associated with friends who become involved. It was certainly true with my experience dating during the course. I have become more fearless when being around guys and not as concerned about saying the wrong thing. I am more natural and trust the process through prayers and action. I see action as a magnet and see how important it is to try and take risks. There is no right way to have a relationship. I am striving to recognize my character strengths and weaknesses in order to become a better human being.
“I feel very hopeful about the future and feel that I have the tools and attitude I now have to attract the perfect-fitting man for me. I am feeling more confident and less attached to looking the right way to attract a man. I am not feeling like I need to say the exact right thing but recognize the importance of saying something rather than remaining silent.
“Instead of valuing perfection, I value learning and striving for excellence, rather than trying to be perfect. I also learned that chastity is not a deal-breaker. I see courtship as more equal for men and women rather than one person pursuing another more aggressively. I rely heavily on God and prayer and do not just trust intuition because it can be flawed. Instead, I rely on detachment. I will work more on my inner beauty than my outer. I will improve my relationship with my parents and be much more respectful of their role. I will be more open and honest in all my relationships with family and friends. I will share more of myself with the world and take more risks in my professional life as well—recognizing that action is a magnet and that saying ‘yes’ to new experiences and challenges attracts bounties.
“The [course] material built on itself nicely and in a thoughtful sequence. The course was a great time to practice what I was learning because I was dating during it. I used some of the language in the course—‘open and honest,’ ‘being friends first’—and had a very positive dating experience. I have set a timeline for when I will marry. Making plans was helpful in giving me hope about the future. I had the great idea of buying a planner and putting my goals in the calendar related to marrying by September 5, 2015—for example, shopping for wedding dress, ordering flowers, meeting partner’s family, asking for consent. If I see it written, it will happen.”
Wilmette Institute courses for preparing for marriage include (starting dates for the courses are in parentheses):
- Becoming a Couple: Preparing for Marriage (July 6, 2015)
- Parental Consent for the Marriage Process: Preparing for Marriage
- Building Unity toward Marriage: Preparing for Marriage (January 15, 2015)
Courses for strengthening marriages include:
- Choosing Our Married Couple Time: Strengthening Your Marriage
- Communication and Consulting as a Couple: Strengthening Your Marriage
- Creating a Fortress for Well-Being and Salvation: Strengthening Your Marriage (April 10, 2015)
- Handling Some Complex Subjects: Strengthening Your Marriage (September 27, 2015)