A truly lasting love is not easy to find. As adolescents, most of us entertained fantasies of discovering our soul mate—a bond so perfect nothing could disturb its devotion. Sadly, reality is not so simple: real relationships are complicated and messy. If we are unlikely to discover our one true mate, how should we go about choosing a prospective partner? How do we recognize a good enough match for our souls?
An irreverent Indonesian spiritual guide once told me: It is very difficult to find your one true soul mate—hardly worth searching for. However, there are many people whose souls are a good match for yours. Look for one of those and you will be happy.
To recognize our soul match, we listen carefully to our most subtle experience: quieten the mind, open the heart and discern the still small voice of intuition or inner guidance. We have to heed something deep inside that tells us: Yes, this is right. To clarify that knowing, we take notice of four essentials of a soul match: Attraction, Rightness, Compatibility and Generosity.
Mutual attraction is the captivating force that draws two people together. It has many dimensions from the physical and sexual to the profoundly spiritual. Initially, attraction is experienced as an erotic charge that stimulates sexual desire—popularly called chemistry.
Chemistry is a spark that ignites the fires of erotic love, an experience that is wonderful and enlivening—at least for a time. However, for a long lasting connection, we need an attraction that is more than physical, more than skin deep. If the magnetism is centered on only particular features—beauty, intelligence, emotional availability, material success—then it is will fade and dissipate with time. Our bodies, minds and situations change, so our bond has to be to something more permanent.
To last a lifetime, love must focus on the being of the other person, not just some particularity. True attraction includes the whole person, recognizes surface imperfections but sees beyond those to something more fundamental. At our best, we are attracted to a soul and not a personality.
Can we recognize the difference between attraction to a whole person and attraction to some feature of that person? Can we resist being captivated and seduced by attraction itself?
Do I get drawn to a partner who has particular characteristics? What are they?
Do I really know and understand my partner before I get involved?
Is the attraction I feel to my partner deeper than I can fully explain?
Karl Pillemer tells us: “In the search for a partner, nearly all of the experts describe a powerful “sense of rightness,” an intuitive and almost indescribable conviction that you have made the right choice.”
The advice his interviewees give is remarkably similar: …trusting your instinct has a lot to do with it;…rely on your intuition about your relationship;…no sense of an endpoint somewhere in the future.
While hard to explain or articulate, this feeling is described as absolutely essential for a fulfilling relationship. The experts all agree: “Never get married without it.”
One indicator of the sense of rightness is what Arnaud Desjardins calls at-ease-ness. This is the recognition that you feel profoundly comfortable in the relationship. You can be yourself and you can allow the other person to be who they are. At its best, at-ease-ness means you are able to trust the other person with your most vulnerable and intimates secrets. There is no need to pretend or try to be someone you are not.
Both rightness and at-ease-ness arise from a deep sense of resonance and acceptance in the relationship. Something inside relaxes because we know that we are in the right place with the right person and the search is over. There is a magical quality to the relationship when our souls have found a match: An underlying recognition that we belong to each other.
Do I listen to the sense of rightness or wrongness about my partner?
Can I imagine being comfortable with my partner for the rest of my life?
Am I truly relaxed and totally at ease when I am with my partner?
Do I have nagging doubts, bad feelings in my stomach, or a subtle sense of wrongness about the relationship?
Compatibility is the essence of comfortable companionship that bonds two people together, even as the fires of passion subside. It arises out of two essential aspects of a relationship: similar values and similar natures.
When partners share related values, they agree on what is important in life. We hold our values close to our hearts and do not give them up easily. Conflicts between values, opinions and attitudes, easily become a major sticking point in a relationship. They lead to endless arguments and estrangement. Incompatible values are the cause of many breakups.
What are our values? They include our core beliefs about sex, religion, politics and how human beings should treat each other. In a relationship, they center around our attitudes about caring for each other, managing money, having children and how to rear our children. Values are those things we feel are most essential to being a good person.
The second aspect of compatibility is what Arnaud Desjardins terms, “two natures which are not too different.” He is not talking about personalities or interests, preferences or communication styles. These surface attributes often converge over time. It is our essential natures, our inner selves that need to be compatible and in resonance.
We recognize compatibility by a feeling of companionship and a sense of at-ease-ness with the other person. When our values and natures are in harmony, we feel at home and know that our partner is a good person.
Do we share similar beliefs and values about children, money, politics and religion?
Do we fundamentally agree on things that are important?
Do we enjoy a sense of companionship? Are we good friends?
Do we approach life and living together in a similar way?
Research shows that generosity is the glue that holds a loving relationship together; it is a powerful predictor of a happy marriage. Not just the virtue of giving to one’s partner freely and abundantly, generosity encompasses small acts of service, expressions of affection and the willingness to forgive mistakes and failings.
The basis of generosity is the impulse to make the other happy, as Desjardins tell us. This impulse arises out of a quality of love that is selfless rather than selfish. In the right relationship, we feel drawn to give, to share and to support. This creates a mutual sense of abundance and spaciousness in which it is easier to act from the better, more openhearted parts of our selves.
An essential aspect of being generous is encouraging the growth and development of our loved ones. The essence of relationship is sharing and growing. If we do not grow, if love and connection do not deepen, then the relationship stagnates and may die. Life is growth; stagnation is slow death. That is true of our relationships and of our inner selves.
Partners who value a generous open heart, who support and love each other are rewarded accordingly. Loving-kindness begets loving-kindness.
Do I feel generous, openhearted and giving with my partner?
Do I feel my partner’s support, kindness and appreciation?
Do we both hope and wish for the greatest good and happiness for each other?
Do we accept and forgive each other’s faults easily?
These four aspects of a soul match—attraction, rightness, compatibility and generosity—are closely interrelated. While they may not appear all at once, in the right relationship there is a sense of growth and expansion as each person engages openheartedly with their partner. Together these qualities create something unexpected, something that can be described as pure magic.
Finding and creating a bond with our soul-match that is just the beginning of real relationship. The practice of sharing love—connecting to, engaging with and accepting our loved one—is constant and ongoing. We have to grow. We have to cultivate selflessness, generosity and awareness in ourselves. Then our life takes on a sense of animation and serenity. We become who we are meant to be. That is the power of a soul match.
Arnaud Desjardins. 1990. Toward the Fullness of Life: Threshold Books.
Karl Pillemer. 2015. 30 Lessons for Loving. Hudson Street Press.
Jerry M. Ruhl and Roland Evans. 2014. “Spirituality and Relationship in Later Life” in Jung and Aging, Eds. L. Sawin et al. Spring Journal Books.