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How do I develop my child into a good future partner?

You believe you can play a role in the success of her marriage if you prepare her for this important relationship, and you’re determined to teach your son how to treat his future wife. You may not be aiming to achieve the impossible ... experts believe that this is possible!

“My husband’s parents stuck to very traditional gender roles. His father was the breadwinner, and his mother the homemaker. In my opinion, his father sometimes acted very disrespectfully towards my mother-in-law. She was never allowed to give her own opinion and when she did stand up to him, all hell broke loose. He treated her like a servant in front of other people, and while she stood faithfully in his shadow, I could see she was bitterly unhappy. After marrying my husband, I realised that a lot of this had rubbed off on him. Although he’s part of the new generation, it’s difficult for him to accept that I'm a working woman with ambition. He sometimes belittles me in front of his friends, and makes out as if ‘he’s the boss’. When I confront him about it, he gets extremely angry. This is the cause of most of our fights. I feel that, while he's done much better than his father ever did, he doesn't really respect me for the individual, intelligent, freethinking person I am,” says Leatitia, a personal assistant from Pretoria North.

It’s a well-known fact that upbringing has a lot to do with how you approach your marriage. Some people learn how not to act from their parents’ failed marriage and are determined not to repeat their predecessors’ mistakes. Others act exactly as their role models acted when they were growing up, blind to the damage that this has already caused in their own lives. When Leatitia and her husband were children, gender roles were very defined. Parents believe that it was their role to provide food, clothes, a house and good moral values. Children were ‘seen and not heard’ and didn't interrupt their parents’ lives. Today, we know that parents need to provide a lot more than this. Bringing children up is an ‘art’, and not a duty, believes Pat Rapacchiano, author of an Internet article on, going on to say that parents should help children develop a good self-image, positive self-concept, motivation, relationships, social skills and more. Many parents aim to raise their child in the same way they were raised. They’ll tell you: ‘That’s how my parents brought me up, and I turned out all right, so I’m going to raise my child the same way! They don't realise that we’re living in a more democratic society now, and that some of the old methods simply don't work any more.

Today’s children live in a complicated world which sees the media expose them to adult topics long before they’re emotionally ready. Children don't know instinctively how to build good relationships with other children, especially not in a culture where the rules change so frequently. Children who have healthy relationships at home have a head start, but they still need guidance in terms of navigating a complex social world. (

Be an example in your marriage
So, how do you raise a child to achieve a fulfilling marriage relationship in future? The Bible gives us many guidelines, believes Hennie Stander, writer and professor in the Department of Ancient Languages at the University of Pretoria:“ The very first step to ensuring your child will make a good life partner one day is to be a good life partner yourself. Your own example speaks far louder than any words can.” He says you need to ask yourself if your child’s marriage should be like your own. Should she also talk to her mate the way you do? “Remember, your child sees things, even when you aren't aware of it. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4 verse 16 about his own life: “Therefore I urge you to imitate me!” Can you say that to your children, especially when it comes to your marriage?

In his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, Stephen Covey suggests that we should first be true to ourselves and uncover what things are important to us. It then becomes our responsibility to model our principles by integrating our values and priorities into our everyday life. According to Covey, "If we do not teach our children, society will. And they, and we, will live with the results."

Teach your children values
Peter L. Benson, author of What Kids Need to Succeed, suggests that parents identify and build on their children's strengths. After conducting nationwide research for more than 10 years, he uncovered that there are internal and external qualities, or ‘assets’, that individuals possess that lead to their success in life. One of the listed assets is positive values, which include: caring, equality and social justice, integrity, honesty, responsibility, and restraint. Values are vital for a child's own happiness. In their book, Teaching Your Children Values, authors Linda and Richard Eyre present the view that it is for their own happiness that children need values to live by. The values they class as most important are: honesty, courage, peace, self-reliance and potential, self-discipline and moderation, fidelity and chastity, loyalty and dependability, respect, love, unselfishness and sensitivity, kindness and friendliness, justice and mercy. “As parents we set the model for what our children see as important to us,” says Melinda J Hill in her internet article Raising children with character. What we hold true in our lives is demonstrated by the everyday examples that we set in our lives.

Selfishness isn’t an option
Another important principle to teach your child is that selfishness isn’t an option, believes Hennie. “In happy marriages, there is no place for selfishness. Teach your child from a young age to look past their own needs and desires and consider those around them.” Paul said in Philippians 2 verse 3: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself.” “Teach them to share and not to hoard everything in life for themselves — to give and to realise that the world doesn't only revolve around them and their own desires,” says Hennie. He also believes that it’s important to teach your child how to put their emotions into words. “Teach her, and especially him, to verbalise what is going on deep inside of them, what makes them happy or unhappy. Living with someone who hasn't yet learnt how to put their emotions into words can make marriage very difficult and lead to a lot of tension,” warns Hennie.

Money sense is a must
“Also teach your child responsibility when it comes to money,” he admires, going on to say that countless marriages have been crippled by arguments over money — especially when one partner overspends, and other is thrifty. “For whatever reason — money (or the management of it) is usually a fundamental cause of these problems,” says Hennie. The Bible warns us of the danger of money:“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from their faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6 verse 10)

Saying sorry...
Another important characteristic that your child should learn, says Hennie, is to say sorry: “Teach them to take responsibility for their choices. Don't always give the others the blame, and if you yourself are wrong one day, say so. Be prepared to ask for forgiveness. Every one of us makes mistakes, and will also make mistakes in marriage, but it goes a long way to solving conflict when you admit to making a mistake in the first place. If your child doesn't forgive his schoolmate who wrongs him, he won’t be able to forgive his partner one day. It also implies that you need to learn to forgive your child, and not to hold things against anyone,” warns Hennie. Experts believe a good way to teach your child about forgiveness is to ask your own child to forgive you when you are wrong. For many fathers, this might be unthinkable, but it holds much value.

Teach your child to choose right
Friends are a very important influence, and although you can't choose your children’s friends for them, you can teach them to surround themselves with good friends, children with the same values as theirs. “Their friendship circle will probably be where they will meet their own life mate one day, and will determine what kind of life mate they meet. Teach your child to choose good friends (and I'm not talking about rich or good-looking friends, but morally upright friends) and they will stand a better chance of securing a life mate with good morals, which will make their marriage that much easier and more pleasant,” says Hennie. He also warns parents against conducting conversations about how difficult or horrible marriage is. “Your child hears this, and you’re busy creating wrong expectations within them. Rather talk about the joys of a happy marriage — because this is the truth about healthy relationships.”

Blind loyalty doesn't work
Leandie Buys, a clinical psychologist from Port Elizabeth, agrees, saying that there is no perfect man or woman, but that there are ones with moral values and standards taught to them by their parents.“ It is important to teach your child that when a friend bullies them, the friendship should be broken. This teaches your child that emotional and verbal abuse should not be tolerated and that you shouldn't remain loyal to someone out of guilty feelings.” She also believes in encouraging self-confidence in your children by telling them regularly that you’re proud of them. “This doesn't only encourage a good self-image, but makes a child strong enough in himself to stand up against peer pressure.” Leandie also suggests that you teach your child from a young age that there are certain responsibilities in the home and that there are consequences if these duties are neglected. “This will teach your children that life is full of choices, and that they should take responsibility for the consequences of their choices.”

Work on your child's EQ
Many experts place a lot of emphasis on emotional intelligence. Controlling your anxiety when you take on a big project, controlling your anger when you’re working through marriage conflict, and controlling your fear when you apply for a new job — the ability to control your emotions in a healthy manner will determine your quality of life in a much more fundamental way than IQ. Some psychologists call this emotional intelligence, the ‘EQ’ factor.

Another 10 ways of developing the ideal partner in your child

  1. Have integrity. Mean what you say and say what you mean. Stick to your word and keep your promises. This will teach your child to be a dependable life partner who doesn't leave his mate in the lurch. Take responsibility for your actions and explain integrity to your child by using examples from your own experience. Tell him that taking responsibility for his actions means having integrity and remaining true to himself.
  2. Be honest. Teach a child the value of honesty and how important it is for other people to be able to trust him. Teach your children that it is always best to be honest, even if it means that they will get into trouble for it. Give them examples from your own childhood so that they can understand that it isn't always easy, but that it is worth striving for.
  3. Be loyal. Teach children that the ability to be a friend in need is a good characteristic. Being loyal to their friends will stand them in good stead when it comes to grasping the meaning of ‘for better or for worse’. It will help them understand that marriage isn’t always sunshine and roses and that you need to stand by your partner at all times.
  4. Encourage respect. Teach your children to respect other people and to show respect by having good manners. Teach them that it is necessary to respect young and old, disabled and able, black and white and men and women and to treat others as they would want to be treated. This will bring them a long way in marriage. Teach your daughter, especially, the value of respect, and exactly what it means (it doesn’t mean being a doormat) as respect will go a long way in ensuring success in her marriage.
  5. Encourage empathy. It is important your child is able to place himself in another person’s shoes. This will help them in terms of handling conflict within marriage. They need to be able to take other people's feelings into consideration and be prepared to stand up for others when necessary. Empathy strengthens character.
  6. Encourage self-control. Teach your child that self-control is important for his own growth and for adulthood. This will also help him one day in marriage in terms of not losing control and being able to tackle issues in a rational, sober manner.
  7. Self-image. Be sure to place emphasis on positive behaviour. A child should be complimented when he does something good, and likewise calmly told when he does something wrong. Screaming at a child is very destructive and sends a message which communicates betrayal. The same should happen in marriage.
  8. Don't place too much emphasis on beauty, otherwise your child’s self-image will be constructed around how they look or how pretty they are. This is problematic because it leads to a poor self-image when the child doesn't see themselves as ‘good-looking’ enough. Encourage your child to perform and excel in many different fields and place a high value on character, not only looks.
  9. Be their example. Your child will learn by watching your behaviour. This could be something as simple as skipping a red light, or leaving a stingy tip for the waitress. This has a big impact on children, and will have an impact on what type of person they become.
  10. Teach your child individuality. They need to know that they are individuals with worth. This will stand them in good stead against peer pressure.

How, what and when?
While it’s useless to attempt giving a primary school child a day-long lecture on character, experts believe that every day is a new opportunity to teach your children how to tackle future situations and relationships. It is vitally important to talk to your child continually. Enjoy the fulfilment of watching him come to certain realisations himself. Take small steps and teach your child by using examples in everyday life.  Be aware of your own behaviour so that your child learns to do what you do, not only what you say. Show the same degree of respect for him as you expect in return. Be aware of what your child absorbs and make sure that the images and messages that influence him are filters. Read with your children regularly and talk to them about character, and what’s right and wrong. Remember to stand in unity with your husband. Don't ever form a unit with your children against your spouse. Make decisions with him, and don't break each other down in front of the children. Show your children a united front and don't hesitate to give each other compliments. This will show your child how a happy marriage should look. And remember: ‘a family that prays together stays together ...’