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How Do I Know She or He is THE ONE?

How Do I Know She or He is THE ONE?

“How do I know if she or he is THE ONE?” I get this question a lot from young adults who are looking to date to get married. As many people are becoming single again in later adult life, this question now is equally asked by more seasoned folks.

I can sum up the answer in one word: character.

Character is a person’s ethical (following rules provided by an external source) and moral (following personal principles regarding right and wrong) qualities. Simply put: character is who the person is as they relate to others and the world around them. Some character traits we use to describe people are:

  • Honest

  • Selfish

  • Generous

  • Deceitful

  • Courageous

  • Proud

  • Kind

  • Possessive

  • Humble

Henry Cloud and John Townsend are two of my favorite authors, because they adeptly address relationship issues from a Biblical perspective while integrating sound psychological concepts. Their book Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren't (2009; Zondervan) cuts to the heart of the issue of finding a good life partner. They write:

God does not use religious terms and language when he discusses people. He talks about how people treat him and others, and whether or not they get things done as they said they would. In short, he looks at someone’s character. He looks at their makeup as a person and the way that that character interacts with him and the world….

We do not get a lot of training in evaluating character. We tend to look on the outside and not the inside of a person…So we choose people based on outward appearance, and then experience the inside of them. We look at worldly success, charm, looks, humor, status and education, accomplishments, talents and giftedness, or religious activity. But then we experience the pain of being in a real relationship with them, and come up very empty-handed.

Cloud and Townsend define safe people as “individuals who draw us closer to being the people God intended us to be. Though not perfect, they are ‘good enough’ in their own character that the net effect of their presence in our lives is positive. They are accepting, honest, and present, and they help us bear good fruit in our lives.”

The authors provide an in depth look at the character qualities of both unsafe and safe people, contrasting one with the other. I encourage you to ponder each trait and honestly ask yourself 1) if your potential partner is unsafe or safe and 2) if you currently have enough information to really determine this trait in them. Here’s a summary table of the 20 sets of contrasting traits.

UNSAFE PEOPLE SAFE PEOPLE
1 Think they have it all together Admit their weakness
2 Are religious Are spiritual
3 Are defensive Are open to feedback
4 Are self-righteous Are humble
5 Apologize but don't change Change their behavior
6 Avoid working on their problems Deal with their problems
7 Demand trust Earn trust
8 Believe they are perfect Admit their faults
9 Blame others Take responsibility
10 Lie Tell the truth
11 Are stagnant Are growing
12 Avoid closeness Connect with others
13 Are only concerned about “I” Are concerned about “we”
14 Resist freedom Encourage freedom
15 Flatter Confront when needed
16 Condemn Forgive
17 Stay in parent/child roles Relate as equals
18 Are unstable over time Are consistent over time
19 Are a negative influence Are a positive influence
20 Gossip Keep secrets

For those who are followers of Jesus Christ, the authors summarize three hallmarks of safe people:

  1. Draw us closer to God.

  2. Draw us closer to others.

  3. Help us become the real person God created us to be.

I highly recommend this book, as the authors discuss relationships in general and not just romantic ones. If you’re being honest, you will squirm while reading the book, because you’ll quickly realize that some (and even many) character traits of an unsafe person are in YOU! What I have seen in relationships is that unhealthy, unsafe people tend to gravitate toward unhealthy, unsafe people. After all, how can you determine what is safe or unsafe in another person if you tolerate and excuse the unsafe behaviors and characteristics in yourself? Good thing the book has a chapter on “Learning How to Be Safe.”

Having a list of character qualities tells us what to look for in assessing whether someone would make a good life partner, which is absolutely necessary and helpful. However, I’ve encountered too many people who thought they had found the “real deal” only to find out after getting seriously involved with the person that she/he was far from safe! So the real question becomes “How do I go about finding out what a person’s real character is?”

To know a person’s real character takes a lot of time so that you see them in many different contexts, relating to a wide array of people, and responding to a full range of situations. The best example is us. It’s easy to impress others with our good behavior during two or three interactions with them, but to sustain that level of impressiveness time and time again over years is remarkable! A formal date is meant to showcase our finer qualities, but what would that person hear us say or see us do when we are with our coworkers, friends, or family or—horror of horrors, when we’re by ourselves? We can be charming and thoughtful in the honeymoon phase of a relationship, but what are we like when we’re bored, disappointed, hurt, or angry?

In the next article in this series, I will address more in detail how to know a person’s character.

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