The old saying goes “Marry in haste and repent in leisure.” Besides the decision to have children, whom you marry is the most important decision of a person’s life. Yet, as we approach wedding season, so many are careless when it comes to how they choose a mate for life. Ben Franklin once said that we should choose our shoes and our bed wisely because we will be in one or the other all our lives. I would add marriage to this as well. One of my patients once said to me that marriage was relentless. That struck me at the time, and after 20-plus years of marriage I believe it to be exactly that: relentless. That doesn’t mean it is a negative thing, but we are encountering the same person on a daily basis for perhaps the rest of our lives and that can indeed be daunting.
So, when we are in the throes of infatuation, lust and everything just seems so nice, we must take a moment to step back, be objective, and ask a few important questions.
1. Do you think marriage is going to fix what’s ailing in your relationship? Here’s a truth that you may not want to accept: Problems in a relationship before marriage tend to exacerbate after marriage. When couples fall into routines and there’s less charm and attraction to each other through daily living, there’s also less attention paid to solving conflicts. If you think that somehow after a wedding ring is added into the mix, that your partner will be better for you, think again. Putting marriage before the relationship is a psychological cart-before-the-horse kind of argument. Couples on the verge of marriage need to ask themselves why they are moving towards the finish line. Couples are wise to make sure they get pre-marital counseling so the kinks can be ironed out, along with developing good conflict resolution skills.
2. Do you want “it” and not me? Women dream of getting married from the time they are little girls and men get that same Hollywood version of marriage with the love at first sight scenario played out in romantic comedies and music. But let’s face it: women get it in spades. In our culture, men are judged on how successful they are and women for whom they marry. It’s not exactly fair but then what is? So, many women are so hell bent on getting married they can easily overlook negative qualities that may drive them ’round the bend later on. The startling statistic that John Gottman, author of The Seven Principles of a Happy Marriage, arrived at after interviewing 12,000 couples was that 80 percent of marriages fail because men will not accept the influence of the woman. Attention women: this speaks volumes about what women let pass as status quo or acceptable to them. Just finding someone who is gorgeous, rich or simply cool is not the ultimate answer to wedded bliss over a lifetime.
3. How did your parents treat each other? History repeats itself, so the saying goes. Our family history certainly does when it comes to marriage. I can’t tell you the number of times I have made reference to how someone is being treated exactly how their parents treated each other. He is just like his father, she is just like her mother, “that’s how your parents treated each other” comes out of my mouth on a weekly basis to the couples in my office. We will automatically repeat the same behaviors we witnessed growing up, or in the absence of a parent, there will be some anger to consider. So, knowing where your mate comes from is essential if you want to know what is on the menu for their behavior. Can you accept that behavior or predict how they will treat you? Look at how a man treats his mother and that’s a good indication of how the wife will be treated by him.
4. What do you think marriage is supposed to be like? Checking out the fantasy levels about what marriage should be like to both parties will save a lot of grief later on. If your mate believes that they should be given breakfast in bed every morning and you should shine their shoes, they are in for a rude awakening. Getting our marriage dreams to fit into reality is a must on the marriage to-do list. Take some time to ask about what each of you expect from the marriage before you get into something you will have a hard time getting out of.
5. Do you want children and how many? This is something that couples don’t always examine and agree on before they get married. It can have a serious impact on whether you want to tie the knot, especially in regard to how children affect finances, religion, family and lifestyle. Making sure your family values are lined up is the best way to start out your lives on the same page. Do the talking before someone does the walking; it will help immensely later on.
6. What role does religion play in your lives? During courtship, religion is often off the table. But once people get married, the future and your respective upbringing in religion, along with your family of origin’s religion and their desires for tradition become more influential on your relationship. How will the holidays be handled? What family do you celebrate with? If you are from different religions and traditions, then you will need to talk about this before the nuptials and before children are born.
7. Do you want a traditional or non-traditional marriage? Different ideas about what kind of marriage you want can be very divisive, if you don’t agree. If the wife sees her role as the home-maker but the husband sees the wife’s role as another income, you will be in trouble. What do you want to do after children come or when parents become sick or elderly? What is your relationship to money, saving, spending and investing? Making these decisions early on is critical to relationship harmony.
8. How much do you want our families involved in your lives? How much families are involved in your lives is a very important to understand from the beginning. Having Mom or Dad over every weekend or daily and how the quality of those relationships will affect lifestyles is important to know going in. Do you like the family of your spouse? How involved are they? How often do they want to get together? What are the relationships like with other siblings? All these questions will influence the outcome of your marriage.
9. How would you resolve a disagreement? The most important skill for any couple is how well they resolve conflicts. The most important elements in a happy marriage are: Are they willing to look at their part in a conflict? Do they need to be right? Are they defensive, critical, sarcastic or do they turn off during arguments? Are they forgiving, tolerant, understanding, tender and empathic? These are the most critical elements for long-term happiness and contentment in a marriage. If you have these qualities in a mate, you will find your way through any difficulty.
10. Is there any history of difficulty with drugs, alcohol or infidelity? Courtships are one long party so we can easily overlook drug and alcohol problems. Have you asked about their history before they met you? People with issues like these will have problems with intimacy, holding jobs and being faithful. These are deal-breakers. If you think you can change the other person, think again. For sure, we can’t change anyone. We better accept them for who they are, because more than likely it’s not going to change much unless they decide they want to. Even then, it’s not easy.
After you have found out the answers to these questions, make up a few of your own. If you find the answers to your liking, then it may be time to start planning your future together. Forewarned is forearmed. Take nothing for granted and keep your powder dry. Marriage isn’t for sissies, but if handled with love and care, it’s the only real game in town.