Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Gary Thomas's new book, The Sacred Search: What If It's Not About Who Your Marry, But Why? (David C. Cook, 2013).

Often, single people spend lots of time and energy searching for the one and only person they think God has in mind for them to marry. Then, whenever they find someone for whom they have strong romantic feelings, they assume that person is their soul mate. They get married based on the intensity of the feelings they experience – and are later shocked when their feelings fade and they’re locked into a painful marriage with a spouse whose plans for married life are incompatible with theirs. In our society, incompatibility is the most frequently cited cause of divorce.

The truth is that God hasn’t created just one soul mate for you; He has made many people who each could potentially be a wonderful spouse for you. If you get married, God wants you to have more than a soul mate; He wants you to find a “sole mate” – someone who’s committed to pursuing the right kind of marriage and walking through it with you for the rest of your lives.

When you switch your focus from searching for the right spouse to searching for the right marriage, you’ll enjoy the blessing of true compatibility and a marriage that’s far more likely than most to survive and thrive. Here’s how:

Know why you want to get married.  Rather than just asking who to marry, ask why it’s important to you to pursue marriage. Keep in mind that the reason God calls people to marriage goes much deeper than what sometimes motivates people to get married (companionship, sex, financial benefits, etc.). What matters most to God is that people who get married do so in order to seek His kingdom together, because they believe that they know, love, and serve God even better together than they can separately. If you can honestly say that you want get married in order to best pursue God’s kingdom purposes for you, then that’s a valid reason for searching someone to marry. Seek God’s kingdom first, and as you do, you can trust that God will bring potential spouses into your life who are also seeking His kingdom first and can build a strong marriage with you around a shared spiritual mission.

Engage your mind as well as your heart. Don’t base your decisions about marriage simply on your feelings – no matter who strong your romantic feelings about someone may be. Since your feelings are constantly changing and can come only from your limited perspective on your circumstances (instead of God’s full perspective), they’re unreliable. Plus, feelings of romantic infatuation always fade within two years, while marriage is meant to last for a lifetime. Rather than relying on what you feel to guide you, seek God’s wisdom – which is completely reliable – to guide you. Approach your search to marriage as a serious quest to discover God’s will. Pray for God to speak to you regularly along the way, and carefully listen for whatever messages He may give you through means such as your Bible reading and conversations with spiritually mature people you trust.

Be patient. Don’t rush a decision as important as choosing a life partner. Take the time you need to thoroughly evaluate marriage candidates, discerning whether or not each one has what it really takes to be a good spouse.

Never compromise on character. Keep in mind that the person you marry will hopefully spend many, many years with you and become the parent of your future children. Such a person should have a strong character that comes from a strong relationship with Jesus. Character traits to look for include: humility, generosity, confidence, trustworthiness, a willingness to forgive, an ability to handle conflict in a healthy way, respect for others and good communication skills, a habit of praying regularly, and an ability to make and keep friends. When people date, they usually see each other in fun, low-stress situations, where they make sure that they’re on their best behavior. But marriage partners need to be able to successfully go through many different challenges together over the years (such as health crises, financial problems, schedule conflicts, and grief). So it’s crucial that you see anyone you’re considering as a potential spouse in a wide variety of situations, and carefully observe how they react to stress and how they treat other people. If you notice troubling patterns that reveal weak character (such as dishonesty or destructive anger), end the relationship now. It’s much better to go through the pain of a breakup for a season than to suffer for many years trapped in a painful marriage.

Look for a spouse who is motivated by God, not his or her own desires. It’s vital to search for a spouse who loves God so much that his or her relationship with God is the top priority – and he or she is willing to sacrifice whatever selfish desires interfere with that. Beware of people who lack self-control, especially in areas that are crucial marriage issues, such as sex and money. Realize that if your boyfriend or girlfriend wants to have sex with you before marriage or is in debt because of uncontrolled financial spending, that means that he or she values selfish desires over faithfulness to God – which indicates bad character that can cause you significant pain after you marry him or her. Search for someone who puts God first in all areas of life; that’s the kind of person you’ll want to be married to after infatuation has faded and you’re sharing a life together.

Consider whether or not your dreams are compatible with potential spouses’ dreams. Beyond a shared commitment to seeking God’s kingdom first in life, you and the person you marry should also agree on specific dreams and goals that will shape the way the two of you serve God together. Thoroughly discuss what you each hope marriage will be like, including details such as children, jobs, church, and gender roles.

Adapted from The Sacred Search: What If It’s Not About Who You Marry, But Why? copyright 2013 by Gary Thomas. Published by David C. Cook, Colorado Springs, Co., www.davidccook.com.

Gary Thomas is writer-in-residence at Second Baptist Church in Houston, a frequent guest on Focus on the Family and FamilyLife Today, and a popular speaker around the world. His award-winning books have been translated into a dozen languages and sold hundreds of thousands copies. Thomas and his wife have three children. Visit his website at: www.garythomas.com.

Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and the editor of About.com’s site on angels and miracles. Contact Whitney at: angels@aboutguide.com to send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience like an answered prayer.

Publication date: February 12, 2013