How and by what means can I know when I have found the right person to marry?

“How and by what means can I know when I have found the right person to marry?” New Era, Mar. 1972, 31–32

“How and by what means can I know when I have found the right person to marry? How many values must I compromise? My boyfriend (a returned missionary) and I can make each other happy, but we argue a lot.”

Answer/Darwin L. Thomas

These and similar questions are asked in many contemporary western societies where “free mate-selection” systems (the person getting married has the major responsibility for choosing his mate) have developed. In some societies people have never had to ask these questions because parents have had the responsibility of finding the right person for their Jane to marry. This is not so in our circumstances. Jane has to make that decision.

Some say that Jane will “know in her heart” when the right person comes along. Others say that if Jane is wise, “she will not let her heart run away with her head.” The basic dilemma that many people experience in selecting a mate is reflected in the conflicting advice contained in the above bits of folk wisdom; namely, how much should one rely on feelings and emotions and how much on analysis and reason. Western societies emphasize the importance of the feeling side (you’ll know in your heart when you are really in love), whereas parents choosing a mate for their child underscore the rational, analytical components (he comes from a good family; he is intelligent and hardworking).

The Latter-day Saint in the mate selection process should be aware of both aspects and try to determine if the decision to marry rests solely on feelings or emotions. If he or she cannot at times coldly and rationally analyze the other person’s strengths and weaknesses, then perhaps feelings and emotions are dominating the relationship to the exclusion of reason and analysis. It is possible for reason to dominate in the mate selection process, but this rarely happens in our society.

Just saying that careful thought as well as feelings are important in choosing a mate still leaves unanswered what one should think carefully about. Here the best answer from both the scriptures and social scientists seems to be, “Think carefully about what the two of you have in common.” One way to get a perspective on this is to climb up his family tree and look around. Studies seem to show that people who marry within their own group (religion, ethnic background, and socio-economic status) seem to get along better. Do you have similar values? Are you friends? Do you enjoy the same types of people and the same types of activities? Do you agree on issues concerning children? You may not be able to answer yes to all of these questions, but you will at least know which questions come up with no answer. This may force you to ask about the possible risks involved if you were to marry.

By this time you may be asking, “Why all this emphasis on careful thinking and reasoning? Isn’t this putting too much emphasis on man’s own reasoning powers to the exclusion of God’s influence in the lives of people? Can’t I just ask God in prayer and then know if my fiancé is the right person?”

The scriptures tell us that we should be anxiously engaged in a good cause and do many things of our own free will (D&C 58:26–29). Furthermore, we are counseled that it is not good to be commanded in all things. Surely the selection of an eternal companion is a good cause, as well as being a very important part of the necessary earth-life experience that we came here to obtain. It obviously requires a good portion of analytical contemplation along with fervent prayer.

The scriptures also counsel that we should not just ask and expect an answer. We are to study questions out in our own minds, attempt to reach a decision, and then diligently seek God’s assistance through prayer. (D&C 9:7–9.) If we do not do our part, we can hardly expect God to answer just because we ask. If, however, we do all within our power and then go before the Lord in prayer, he will not abandon us in times of momentous decision-making, such as when choosing a mate. Often times the assurance we receive at such times is the knowledge that God has heard our prayers, accepts our efforts up to that point, and bids us proceed to the next step.

Many times questions of finding the right one imply that there is a one and only, and as soon as that person is found then eternal bliss will result. This type of thinking tends to overemphasize the element of discovery and underestimate the element of creation. In most instances, acts of creation must follow the moment of discovery, if that discovery is to ever be an important one. This seems especially true for selecting an eternal companion. One can know when he has found the right person by (1) thinking clearly and searching it out in his own mind, (2) seeking God’s assistance through prayer for a confirmation of one’s own efforts, and (3) resolving that the finding of a mate is but the beginning of an eternal creation. One cannot create without effort. Thus, you may have found the right person now, but without the willingness on your part and his to work at it, you may discover that at some time in the future he will turn into the wrong person. Look not only to the past (what kind of person each of you is) but also the future and ask what the two of you are willing to become. Answers to the latter question may more accurately tell you if he is the right person for you to marry.

If you have thought carefully about what you and your prospective mate have in common and have selected one who shares many ideals with you, then there should be few if any real values that you hold that will have to be compromised. Indeed, you should receive from your mate the assurance, well-being, and peace of mind necessary to live according to your values. Two people sharing eternal values and committed to a lifetime of effort together should experience few destructive arguments. Disagreements you will have as the two of you work together. But, if you resolve your differences constructively, you should increase in that oneness of purpose that will lead unto eternal lives.