Many people get engaged because they’re overcome with emotion in the heat of the moment — and without really thinking through all the implications of making such a serious, committed decision. So what can you do to ensure that you’re ready for marriage with your current partner and not just giving in to pressure from others?
“It’s important to feel that you are really certain about this. Before you find yourself shopping for flowers, photographers, DJs and a venue, it’s critical that you know you are seeking marriage for all the right reasons,” says Dr. Karin Anderson, author of It Just Hasn’t Happened Yet…, who called off her own wedding just two months before the day the ceremony was scheduled to happen.
“Take it from someone who has experienced this firsthand — it’s better to think through your decision carefully before it’s too late to get your deposits back.” 10 questions that prove you’re ready for marriage.
With that in mind, we’ve created a list of questions you should think about before you find yourself on either end of a marriage proposal. After all, a little thought and preparation may result in your own “happily ever after” — or save you from getting divorced!
1. Is the timing right? You’ve heard it before: Timing is everything, and the strongest marriages are often a result of optimal timing for both parties. According to Anderson, however, external sources (like your parents or friends) often dictate the pace of your relationship’s progress, resulting in a premature proposal. “Be honest with yourself — it’s better to tell your parents to back off than to marry the wrong man or woman,” says Anderson. And if your biological clock is ticking? “Better to marry the right man and adopt a child later in life than to lock in a father and end up divorced and raising your child alone,” Anderson advises.
Have you been able to observe each other’s behavior in a variety of different circumstances? If not, what’s the hurry? People are walking down the aisle later than ever these days (which is a good thing, since the divorce rate plummets if the husband and wife are both at least 28 when they marry).
Related: The ideal age for women to get married is…
2. Why this person? “Nine times out of ten, marriages fall apart because people either pick the wrong person or marry for the wrong reasons,” says Dan Neuharth, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist in San Francisco and author of Secrets You Keep From Yourself. “Marrying someone primarily because other potential partners seem few and far between or because you feel you need to be married to feel OK about yourself is what keeps divorce lawyers busy.”
If considering marriage comes from a place of stress or fear rather than joy, then you should run — not walk — in the other direction. You’re not ready to be married yet, and this isn’t the right person for you.
3. Are you focused more on marrying this person… or throwing your dream wedding? “Make sure you’re in love with your partner, not just in love with the idea of being in love,” says Dr. Neuharth. “You are marrying a person, not a romantic movie, and people don’t follow Hollywood scripts.” Really think about whether you’re idealizing marriage or just the wedding.
Try to have realistic expectations, because once all the fun and parties end, you have real life to contend with — and it’s not always sunshine and roses.
4. Is my potential spouse emotionally healthy and ready for marriage? It’s fun to get to know people with a range of different backgrounds — maybe even date someone who you know isn’t right for you. But marriage is serious; when you’re choosing a lifelong partner, you need to be sure that both of you are emotionally healthy — or in the process of getting that way, at least.
“Admitting your partner is a ‘fixer-upper’ and hoping your marriage will serve as that person’s support system is a recipe for disaster,” says Anderson. “Typically, once the partner gets ‘fixed’ he or she will move on to someone else, because the glue that held you together was the common goal of healing, which has since been accomplished.” Anderson also warns that if your current relationship includes any of the three “As” — abuse, anger, or addiction — you shouldn’t get married.
5. Do you appreciate all of your partner’s aspects equally, and without expecting this person to change after you’re married? If you think a wedding will magically transform someone into the ideal husband or wife, think again. No one’s perfect, and it’s vital that you walk down the aisle without expectations that you or your partner must change specific undesirable qualities afterwards.
“If you find yourself saying, ‘He’ll become more ambitious and responsible once we are married’ or ‘She’ll be more attentive and unselfish once I put a ring on her finger,’ then you need to put the brakes on your wedding plans,” says Jennifer Gauvain, a marriage and family therapist and the coauthor of How Not to Marry the Wrong Guy: Is He “the One” or Should You Run?
“Ask yourself if you’re willing to overlook his messy car and ‘man cave’ because of the amazing way he cherishes and respects you. Can you accept the fact that she will always take in stray animals because she’s the most kind and gentle woman you’ve ever met? You need to marry the person he or she is right now — idiosyncrasies, foibles, quirks and all.”
6. Do you bring out the best in each other… or the worst? There’s nothing worse than walking on eggshells or feeling off-balance in a relationship. “If you find yourself avoiding difficult conversations or stressed by the hum of low-level anxiety, it’s time to reevaluate,” says Gauvain. “The right partner will support your ambitions and encourage your dreams. When it’s all said and done, you want your spouse to draw out your best qualities and help you minimize the less-than-desirable ones.”
Related: 5 secrets for staying happily in love forever
7. Can you count on your partner to always do the right thing? It’s important to look ahead and imagine what kind of friend, neighbor, in-law, parent or coworker your partner will become over time. “Be honest: Do you think your fiancé/fiancée will do the right thing when it comes to friends and family, even when it is inconvenient or something he or she doesn’t like to do?” says Gauvain.
“If he’s selfish or she’s inflexible now, think about how it will feel in the future when you can’t depend on your spouse in stressful situations. Life is so much sweeter when you know you can count on your spouse to lift you up, share the load, and help out the ones you love.”
8. Is fear of being alone your primary motivation for marriage? “Some singles fear loneliness so desperately, they decide they’d rather be with anyone than no one — but is that really fair to your future spouse?” asks Anderson. “How would this person feel knowing that the main reason you got married was to avoid being alone anymore?” You should only get married because you know this person is right for you and vice-versa.
9. Is marrying this person in line with your long-term goals? Let us give you an example: “If your dream is to go to Africa and study animals followed by a year of sailing around the world and your partner is devoted to a career that involves very little travel then you will have, at best, a long-distance marriage,” says Dr. Neuharth.
“And if you can’t imagine a house full of children but your partner gets emotional around every baby in sight, you both will have your work cut out for you.” Are you willing to compromise your dreams because you can’t imagine the two of you being apart? Can you both agree to forge new goals together as a couple? If not, put marriage on hold for now.
10. Can you take your marriage vows seriously? “If you can’t say your vows — or if you’re only truthful about part of them — then you really shouldn’t say them at all,” says Anderson. “Life is long and hard. They call them ‘vows’ so you’ll both be willing to stick it out, no matter what.”
The author Kimberly Dawn Neumann (www.KDNeumann.com) is a New York City-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Women’s Health, Marie Claire, Maxim and more. A frequent online contributor for Match.com’s Happen magazine, she’s also the author of The Real Reasons Men Commit as well as the founder of www.DatingDivaDaily.com
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