If you are a take-your-vows-seriously type of person and believe in “till death do us part,” your life will be much simpler if you marry the right person to begin with. For some this seems a difficult task. Here are five tips to get you started.
1. If you’re dating someone to the point where things have crossed over that indefinable line into a “serious relationship,” stop and ask yourself if this is someone you want to spend the rest of your life with. Can you see this person as the mother or father of your children? If not, why are you wasting your time? Don’t put off the inevitable. It will only be harder later on for both of you. Meanwhile, the person who is right for you is out there still, waiting to meet that wonderfulness that is you. Or perhaps you already know him or her, but you’ve just been unavailable. Don’t stay with someone who isn’t right for you out of fear of being alone. Instead, get yourself one step closer to lifelong happiness—with the right person.
2. Ask the opinion of your mom or best friend when it comes to your relationship with this person. They know you better than anyone and have an outsider’s view of your relationship. Does that person think you two are a good match? Do they like your significant other? If not, why? The tricky part here is to be open to the other person’s objective opinion. You may be filled with warm fuzzies just at the thought of this person, but those feelings will not last and will not sustain a marriage. There needs to be something backing the emotion. A person on the outside can see if your relationship has substance. Listen to that person.
3. Discuss children, finances, and in-law involvement. These are all issues that can cause conflict later on. If you truly love this person, learn to compromise. If you’re truly right for each other, you will agree on important areas such as these. If one of you wants seven kids and the other wants zero—you’ve most likely got a deal breaker. If one of you is a penny pincher and the other a spend-thrift, you may have conflict in your future life together. If one of you wants your mom essentially to live with you, while the other thinks a week-long visit every five years is sufficient, you’d best work that out now. Men, especially, have trouble saying no to their mother, but once the ring is on your finger, gentlemen, your wife becomes the most important woman in your life. She takes precedence. Your mom will need to understand that.
4. Once you’re engaged, take the marriage preparation seriously. Listen to the experts whose mission is to help you be sure you’re making the right decision and to have the best marriage possible. Engaged couples break up. It happens all the time, but better now than years, and children, down the road. Are there any nagging issues that you’ve been repeatedly pushing to the background or rationalizing away? Do you think he or she will eventually change, or that the grace from the sacrament of matrimony will fix everything? If that’s what you’re hoping for, you should know that it doesn’t work that way. Use this as a test: when you haven’t seen the other person for an extended amount of time, how do you feel when you do see him or her again? Does your heart sing or does it flop? Does it feel nothing at all? Take a hard, honest look at how you truly feel about this person. And do it now before it’s too late.
And finally and most importantly, if you’ve dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s when it comes to all the tips above, don’t blow it now by moving in together before the wedding. Cohabitation greatly increases your chances of divorce. What you don’t realize, and what society doesn’t tell you, is that living together means you don’t fully trust each other. “Playing house” is a mere rehearsal for those who don’t love or trust each other enough to do things right the first time. Instead, it’s using one another.
Real love cares about doing things right, in the right order. If you really love one another, and want to be together for the rest of your lives, don’t sabotage your future now. What’s waiting a few more months when you have a lifetime ahead of you? If you don’t believe me, keep this in mind: research by the National Marriage Project showed that “no positive contribution of cohabitation to marriage has ever been found,” and if you take the time to look, you’ll find lots of research stating the pitfalls of cohabitation—the stuff no one dares to talk about even though the evidence is overwhelming. Think you can beat the odds? So does everyone else. What makes you any different from them?
Remember that love is doing the right thing for the sake of the other person’s happiness and well-being, even, and especially, when it’s inconvenient to you. That may mean making the hard decision to break things off, or to wait to live together even though society may mock and misunderstand you. The greatest reward, a lifetime of married happiness, belongs to those who do the difficult, but honest and selfless acts. Best of luck to you!
Betsy Kerekes is Director of Online Publications at the Ruth Institute and co-author with Dr Jennifer Roback Morse of a new book: 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person: Helping Singles Find Each Other, Contemplate Marriage, and Say I Do.