One thing I’ve learned over my lifetime is that you can always learn from others, regardless of whether they are further ahead of you, in a similar position as you, or striving to be where you are. The principle of being open to diverse sources of wisdom is especially valuable with respect to relationships.
For instance, I recently got engaged but my current status did nothing to lessen my receptiveness to a series for singles from Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church, entitled The New Rules for Love, Sex & Dating. It was a four-part series that dealt with everything from the emotional toll of sex before marriage to how pornography poses a direct threat to relationships, but it was the first part that really caught my attention. One of the main points of that message was the danger of believing the “right person” myth””the notion that the key to having a great relationship is finding Mr. or Ms. Right.
This idea should be familiar to many people. The vast majority of advice on love and dating is externally focused, either telling people how to find the ideal mate or how to change the person they have into the ideal mate. This focus on others can be very problematic. While I believe it is critically important to know what qualities you seek in a partner, an overemphasis on searching for the “right person” often keeps people from thinking about how they themselves can become the “right person.”
One of the keys to making yourself Mr./Ms. Right is to focus on the types of character traits two people need for a relationship to endure. Unfortunately, very little relationship advice, whether from the media or from people we know, deals with qualities such as patience, resilience, kindness, humility, respectfulness, forgiveness, honesty, or trust. Furthermore, these traits are only cultivated when we are put in situations that require them.
For example, you won’t know your capacity to forgive until you have been disappointed or hurt by someone you love. Too often, we overemphasize the importance of the superficial qualities that attract us to someone without giving much consideration to a person’s character and temperament. This leads people into relationships that are built, maintained, and evaluated almost exclusively on chemistry. In fact, most relationships don’t suffer from a lack of chemistry; they suffer because many couples have a weak foundation and lack the tools (e.g., conflict resolution, effective communication) that are needed to perform basic, ongoing relationship maintenance.
Serious, committed relationships will test our ability to be patient, trust, forgive, love unconditionally, and exercise kindness. That is why we should constantly be seeking to mature as individuals. I’ve found that this growth was impossible for me until I became fully accountable for my actions, which often includes acknowledging when I have done wrong, apologizing and asking for forgiveness, and committing to improve in the future. While I haven’t perfected this process, I have to constantly remind myself that I owe it to myself, my fiancÃ©e and our relationship to continue to grow spiritually, emotionally, and relationally.
I believe men need to be particularly careful not to fall victim to the “right person myth” because our culture does a poor job of equipping and encouraging men to be effective mates. Our society gives both subtle and overt cues through music, media, and other men that women are prey to be pursued and conquered, instead of equals to be respected and valued. Yet somehow we think the only thing we need to have a good relationship is to meet a woman so wonderful that she makes us want to “settle down” and marry. The problem is that years of a poor perspective of women and unhealthy relationship practices are not undone once you say “I do.” It is easy to drag the bad habits that are practiced in singleness and dating right into marriage. For example, I’ve heard men in relationships casually discuss the women they see on the side as if their unfaithfulness were perfectly normal. That type of disregard for your partner and relationship doesn’t die at the altar.
Finding a compatible mate is critically important, but what’s more important is being the type of person who has the potential to flourish in a healthy relationship. Becoming the right person requires a great deal of self-reflection, the wisdom and desire to mature, and the courage to make whatever changes are necessary for growth. The great””and sometimes frustrating””thing about relationships is that they will lay bare weaknesses, insecurities, bad habits, defense mechanisms, and any other areas of our lives that expose our imperfections to a significant other. Regardless of where you are on your personal relationship spectrum (single, dating, married, etc.), it is never too late to do what it takes to become the “right person”. Trust me, your future (or current) spouse will thank you for it.
BMWK, have you ever fallen victim to the right person myth? What have you done to ensure that you are becoming the right person for someone else?