The following is an interview by Damayanti Fornos Monco of the Devotee Care Committee in Argentina with Uttama devi dasi, GVT member.
Damayanti: What qualities should we search for in a spouse?
Uttama: You should look for someone who has similar values to yourself. If you value the process of Krsna consciousness and want to execute it in a serious way, you should search for a spouse who values that also. If you value good parenting skills, look for someone with that potential. If you value living in the upper class of a big American city, don’t marry a Bengali brahmacari raised in a small village, no matter how nicely he plays mridanga.
You should also look for a person who has a similar and compatible personality. Extreme differences seem exciting at first, but will quickly become hard to live with. Some differences will always be there and make life more interesting, but avoid extreme differences. Kindness, compassion and caring are personality traits most desired in a marital partner. I just came across a prayer today from the Rg veda meant to be chanted by women, where the woman prays to be a knower of the Vedas, to be able to powerfully share it with others and to get a husband who is always pleasing and will behave tolerantly toward her. These characteristics of pleasantness and tolerance have been topmost desirable traits for eons, both by men and women.
It’s also a good idea to marry someone who has a similar lifestyle as you. Do they have the same interests and like to do some of the same activities? Couples who have many shared interests usually feel a closer bond and are more satisfied with their marriage, as they have many things they like to do together.
D:Who should young couples seek advice from?
U: It’s best to take advice from mature, happily married couples. While you certainly need your guru’s blessings, it will take a burden off your guru if you can ask grihastha mentors your practical questions. If you can take a premarital course and find a mentor couple trained to offer skills that is also very valuable.
D: Could you talk a little about the importance of a premarital course before marriage? What places are already doing this? What are the benefits?
U: Premarital courses teach you how to explore your values, improve your communication, manage conflicts, handle your finances, and learn parenting skills. Too many divorces occur because the couple doesn’t have enough support and skills to navigate inevitable difficulties.
I live in Canada and here we have a requirement that if a devotee wishes to get married in an ISKCON temple they must first complete a premarital education course. We want to support healthy, happy families, not just perform rituals and wish them good luck. No one integrates all the skills upon completion of one course, but it starts good practices and above all normalizes the ups and downs of relationships. And you become aware that there are more skills you can learn. You also gain mentors.
D: What do you think about moving in together before being married?
U: Marriage has been recommended by all scriptures for thousands of years. Today, many people believe living together is a good way to give marriage a trial run. Research, however, suggests something quite different. Researchers have concluded, after studying living together for 25 years, that marriages that begin with living together, don’t turn out any better than the average marriage. In many cases the rate of divorce is much higher and the satisfaction in the relationship is much lower.
When you live together prior to marriage or engagement, you are giving up options before you have clearly made your choice. It’s a high cost test. When you live together you end up buying many things together, sometimes big ticket items like cars and houses, you spend less time with other friends, maybe even have a kid or two and yet you haven’t really decided that you want to spend the rest of your life committed to this person. But now you have constraints and so may feel you have to marry this person who you wouldn’t choose to, if you had known them better first. You drift into marriage, instead of choosing to marry a person you can commit to spending your life with.
Better to test your compatibility first by reading some relationship books together, talking about your values and how you see life together. Get to know the other person well. What are both of your core expectations in marriage? Take a workshop together- will your partner even want to go? Work on a project together; notice how they inter-relate with all types of persons. See their lifestyle over time. These are much more effective and less risky ways of testing compatibility.
Commitment strengthens one’s resolve. When you act with intent, from deep within your heart, you will accomplish the most in your relationship.
My son-in-law to be once discussed this with me. I asked him how he thought my daughter would feel if he told her he liked her and would like to live with her and see how things worked out versus telling her he loved her, was committed to supporting her and sharing his life with her, and would she like to marry him? I personally would rather they court each other for longer, until they are committed, than live together and see if it can work.
The results of a break-up from living together, or practicing marriage, are much greater than breaking off a courting relationship. It’s like practicing divorce. The likelihood of divorce in any subsequent marriages then becomes higher; just as the likelihood of divorce in second marriages is 12-15% higher than first time marriages- that’s around a 66% divorce rate. Commitment changes your mind set and helps you make it through the challenges.
I don’t know if people realize it can take at least a year, if not two, to know a person well enough to be able to commit to a life time of marriage. Moving in together may cloud the ability to properly discriminate. Especially if you are doing it while still in the infatuation stage.
One should also never underestimate the value of vows and of blessings from a holy sacrifice and from one’s family and friends at a wedding. It is a monumental rite of passage, and one should always feel dependent on the mercy of God and the Vaisnavas.
D: How does the brahmacari ashram prepare us to enter the Grihastha ashram?
U: If this wasn’t a formal interview, I would probably answer facetiously, “Not very well.” Our neophyte mentality in the early days of the movement didn’t produce the best results in any ashram, though. We just weren’t mature enough and didn’t have enough elders.
Seriously, brahmacari life should make one very respectful to women, sober about using the human form of life to go back to Godhead, regulated, clean, humble, and tolerant. All these qualities are also needed in the Grihastha ashram to be happy and to advance in spiritual life.
But there are other skills that are needed also, which in previous times were learned from living with a variety of relatives and having many good role models. Today, nuclear families are the norm and many people have been raised by single parents only, so they have not experienced good role modelling. That’s why we recommend attending skill building courses and finding a good mentor.
Actually we have a very wonderful brahmacari ashram in Eastern Canada and the leader sent most of his brahmacaris to attend the GVT course, Strengthening the Bonds that Free Us when we were facilitating it in their area. He knew that most of the brahmacaris will go on to marry and he wanted them to learn the skills that would be necessary. Many of the brahmacaris that attended commented that the skills, especially those on communication and conflict resolution, were helping them already in their own ashram. A few of them did eventually decide to marry and the brahmacari leader immediately advised them to take some counsel from mentors and they went on to take a premarital education course with their fiancée.
We also had a young man attend the same seminar in South Africa and we met him again a few years back in Chowpatti. He came up to us and said that our course had helped him to decide he should become a brahmacari. I was so touched he shared that with us.
Damayanti: Thank you, Uttama for your insights.