Is Your Relationship Ready for Marriage?

Marriage is scary.  We're too good at hiding our fears, feelings and secrets from our partners—and ourselves.  So, it's no wonder so many people are putting off finding a mate until later in life. There is no guaranteed list of do's and don'ts about making a wise choice, but relationship research provides some sound advice.

The following are scenarios that may pose problems and strategies to help you avoid disaster.

1. Scary Scenario.

You are both under 21. When one or both partners are under the age of 21, the chance of divorce, break ups or unhappiness increases. Yet, there are couples who met in high school or earlier and have long-term, happy relationships!

Safer Strategy: Wait until you are both over 21 and have work and life experience  and education or training.  Don't use your partner as a human Teddy Bear in life.  Build a sense of competence and confidence in yourself first.

2. Scary Scenario.

Before you got married, you became engaged in less than six months or got married after knowing each other less than two yearsThe brain's chemicals of oxytocin and dopamine rise when you feel in love. This increase can last about two years--the time when couples realize it's time to call it quits.

Safer Strategy: If possible, extend your time together before engagement or marriage so you can escape the trap of making decisions while in la-la land.

3. Scary Scenario.

You've dated or lived together for more than six years without making a commitment.  Often, these long-term relationships seesaw and switch between one person wanting to get married and the other not. Finally, someone either secretly begrudgingly agrees—or bolts.   

Safer Strategy: Pay attention whether you are flipping back and forth between wanting or avoiding marriage.  Ask yourself:  "Are there good reasons that we haven't moved on to marriage-if that indeed is what one partner wants?"  Don't use the divorce option as the way to resolve your indecisiveness.  Go for counseling.

4. Scary Scenario.

You have only been with your partner through either really good times or bad. Often, we cling to someone during times of need and then not want him or her when the situation gets better.  In contrast, if you've had an easy time of it for a short time, you may not know if your mate will stand by you when the going gets tough.

Safer Strategy: Observe your partner's coping skills-or lack of them.  Watch how they "sweat the little things" and how they make decisions about big things such as money, health issues or spending.

5. Scary Scenario.

However, falling in love during only difficult times can increase poor choices of partners. For example, the death of a parent, caregiver or partner can propel a person to hasten love and commitment-sometimes to a very wrong person. 

Safer Strategy:  Be patient.  If possible, wait until you feel that life is more normal or more manageable before making such an important decision.

6. Scary Scenario.

You don't always feel good about yourself and how you act in the relationship. You should really like the YOU in the relationship. 

Safer Strategy:  Ask yourself whether you and your partner bring out each other's Best Self.

7. Scary Scenario.

Either one or both of you experience physical, sexual or verbal abuse. Criticism and withholding positive relationship interactions are often strong predictors of marital unhappiness, according to research in long-term marriages.      

Safer Strategy:  Keep the emotional environment warm.  Never use words, tones or actions that you wouldn't want someone to use on you.  If you respect your partner, you will be far less likely to act unkindly.

8. Scary Scenario.

You have a tough time having or applauding eachother's separate interests. 

Safer Strategy:  Develop your own interests.  Don't rely on your partner to fill your life. You don't have to share all interests or all values, but you should know what's most important to you.

9. Scary Scenario.

You don't share some key values and interests. You don't "complete each other" through complimentary personality characteristics. 

Safer Strategy:  Don't choose someone just like you.  Think of marriage as a team effort where you bring different skills such as social skills or optimism.  Good teams are a balance of a shared common goal plus varying skills, including good problem-solving skills.

10. Scary Scenario.

You have issues with your partner but will wait until "later" to resolve them. It's best to solve major snafus before you get engaged—those who don't tend to have television-style blow ups.

Safer Strategy:  Watch for warning lights about these issues while you are dating.  If you still want to stay in the relationship, discuss and resolve most of these issues as soon as possible. For example, smart couples settle their issues about religion, children, sex, money and lifestyle before they get married.

These tips aren't the last word on whether marriage is a go or not.  Since many key decisions in life are made with incomplete information, choosing the wrong partner—or missing out on a right one—is always a possibility.   And, despite the success of science, it cannot explain or predict all our behavior.  We always have the potential for surprise and mystery-which can be both thrilling and terrifying when it comes to love and marriage.  Love doesn't have to be totally blind.


For more articles and information on Dr. Wish check out her bio on our Medical Advisory Board page.