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Going beyond "Do you pray 5 times a day?"; 5 questions to ask your potential spouse

From soundmuslims blog

When we start pursuing a potential spouse, we tend to talk about fun stuff that may get them to like us, but may not help us figure out if they're a good match for the long run. Obviously, the pursual process is the precursor to a long-term never-ending relationship. Thus, if we spend some time exploring compatibilities now, it'll pay off inshaAllah.

Here are 5 questions you can ask that go beyond the basics. The key is to ask the right question the right way. Remember, this is not a way for you to judge whether someone is a good person or not, just if they're who you want to marry. Also keep in mind that we should ask ourseleves these questions first. If you're not ready for these, you won't make a good spouse to someone else either:

1. Are they learners for life?

If you have a person who is set in their ways and doesn't want to learn other ways (including being influenced by others), they are usually hard to get along with because everything has to be their way. They may not be particularly stubborn, but simply think their way is the only right way and that others should follow them. What does this have to do with learning? a person who likes to learn new things is more likely to be open to new ideas, and willing to learn ways to improve him/herself. A couple of questions you can ask:

"So (use the word "so" to make it a casual conversation, rather than an interrogation), have you read any good books recently that have changed the way you see things?"

"So how do you like to learn? books, lectures, classes, discussions?"

"How do you feel about a small, simple wedding?" - they don't have to agree to this, but the way they react can tell you a lot about him or her.

2. What is his or her family life like?

this provides insight into what your family life would be like. If they've got a family that's not close, and doesn't do stuff together, it is likely that family won't be important once they get married. You want to look specifically at his or her parents' relationship, and if the siblings are close to one another. This also gives insight into the person's aptitude for intimacy: if there's no respect and likeness, be careful. Ask,

"So, which of your siblings are you closest to?"

"Do you have a best friend?" - this can sometimes offer insight into a person's willingness to be close to others.

"So, what kind of role did your dad have when you were growing up? was he laid back with you or firm?" - a father who is too casual and laid back usually ends up with children who are spoiled and/or irresponsible.

3. What are their long term goals, and how do they plan on accomplishing them?

These are 2 questions in one. You first need to find out if they have goals, but more importantly,you need to find out how they intend to accomplish them. Many of us have a lot of plans, but when it comes to getting things done, we are disorganized and procrastinate. The first part is also helpful in finding out what their goals are beyond their deen, beyond the basics. The second partof the question will help you figure out how your potential spouse will help the household and family on a day-to-day, week-by-week basis. This is also crucial to find out if you will work well together; an organized person usually gets very frustrated with an unorganized one, and vice versa. Ask,

"Do you like TO DO lists?"

"How often do you feel stressed about errands?"

"How do you stay organized with your tasks?"

"So, where would you like to be in your spirituality in say 5 years?"

It is also essential that you find out what he or she spends most of their time doing, over a week or month, where do they spend their energy. There's really no question you could ask cause he or she may feel it to be a trivial or prying question. Just notice this quietly while you are pursuing them them.

4. Conflict Management:

You cannot avoid this no matter what. It is crucial to find out if your potential spouse knows how to deal with conflict. Please note, this does not mean that they always agree with you, but has to do with their communication style when a conflict arises. This is also important to see what your day-to-day interactions will be like. There are several styles, from avoidance to over-bearing; from independence to complete attchment. You want to look for someone who likes to engage in a respectful conversation when a conflict arises.

One way you can find out is to create a mild conflict. e.g., if your families are going out together, throw in "Can I bring a friend along?" etc.

5. Are you my Type?

Personality experts have identified 4 categories where people differ. If you study these, you can assess how compatible you are. Although being different in all 4 doesn't mean a bad match, you need to read up on your differences if you want to figure out where your challenges will be once married. Here are the 4 categories (known as the Meyers-Briggs personality traits):

Introvert vs. Extrovert: how outgoing and talkative you are.
Sensing vs. Intuitive: how you communicate; you say "tomato", they say "tomatoe"; it does make a difference!
Thinking vs. Feeling: Brain vs. Heart! how does one make their decisions. This is probably the most critical in figuring out how your day to day interactions will be.
Judging vs. Perceiving: Do you tend to judge people easily & voice it or do you tend to perceive things and keep quiet?

There are several books written on Meyer Briggs Personality Types. These contain useful information. There are also sites that let you take this test, so take it and get them to take it too.

Hope the above 5 questions help offer some guidelines and considerations during your pursual. These are by no means ways to find faults in people. Neither are these cut and dry; they are more of a scale. You will find people who have a mix of good and bad from the above.

One last thing: no matter how much time you put into this, and no matter how many meaningful conversations you have before you get married, you will still run into conflicts and still have differences in personalities. The secret of a successful marriage is to have mercy, perseverance and look to the examples of the Prophet P.B.U.H. But before you say"I do", find out if "You can"!

Further reading:

The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others In Your Life by Helen Palmer

Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage: by John Gottm
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