Most people choose their spouse based on traits they find desirable for a spouse. The desired traits would change depending on culture. In some cultures, pregnancy is almost a prerequisite for marriage since fertility is a highly desired trait. In other cultures premarital pregnancy is a very undesirable trait. In Nigeria some find it “normal” and some find it “abominable” 1.
Marc Galanter did a study to find which traits the Moonies, famous for their mass marriages where spouses were chosen by the religious leaders, valued in partners. Galanter chose 7 common traits for the broader culture such as “sufficiently intelligent for you,” and “looks attractive to people”. Then he included 7 traits specific the the Moonie or Unification Church values like “can convey the church’s spiritual values to your children” and “is profoundly committed to the Divine Principle.” Then respondents ranked the 14 traits by relative importance in a future spouse. ALL of the Unification Church items were marked higher than the values found in the general public.
As was fashionable with teen girls in my church, I also made a list of desired traits for a spouse. Only one of my peers had (or admitted) ‘superficial’ traits like “brown hair” and “plays hockey”. She and the rest of us still had our top traits as our church values like “good spiritual leader” and “devoted to God”.
Even traits that weren’t specifically related to our church, I had framed in relation to them. For example, instead of just saying I wanted to be with someone who was interested in both science and literature, I had listed specific Christian authors that I thought my spouse should appreciate.
At the very bottom of my list was “physically attractive”.
I had written these down in my church notebook. One church service my middle brother found it and spent the rest of the service seeing which of the guys matched my list. When I look back on the ones he ranked as possible, I’m sure that my loss of faith would have broken up most of those hypothetical relationships.
I simply no longer value blind obedience and dedication to the church. The values specific to our church, such as women wearing headcoverings I now oppose. I do now value more of the traits our general society does like shared interests and hobbies. I think the ability to find work is more important than the ability to speak in tongues and sexual attractiveness is more important than prophesying.
Thankfully, my spouse and I have enough non-church specific traits that we value so our relationship has gotten stronger. However, I wonder if this changing of priorities of what makes a good spouse is partly responsible for the strain so many relationships have when one partner changes their religious views. The traits they valued most in a spouse are suddenly gone.
On the other hand, I wonder if struggling relationships can be made stronger if they join a group that values some of the more obscure traits the partners have.
Galanter, Marc. Cults. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.