By Emily Kensington
It’s time to get introspective! By taking the time to honestly assess your feelings and your motivations, you will be able to ascertain your degree of readiness for marriage.
Ask yourself the following questions:
What do I love about my partner?
As a psychotherapist specializing in couples and marital therapy, one of the first things I ask is “What do you love about one another?” If the answers indicate little depth, serious trouble is indicated. Replies such “because she’s pretty” or “he’s fun” are troubling signs, indicating surface attraction. Once, to my horror, a client replied “Because we like the same kind of pizza.” Needless to say, this is not a foundation for a long lasting relationship!
Happily, after considerable introspection, many couples are able to identify their attraction to positive partner qualities such as compassion, intelligence, and an ability and willingness to communicate effectively. After all, if you can’t talk openly with your partner, the relationship is not solid. Perhaps more important, self-aware couples are able to recognize areas for potential growth, and develop a plan to jointly work on their relationship.
Some, especially new, couples may view such questioning as cynically casting doubt upon their whirlwind romance. Nonetheless this type of critical self-reflection is vital in determining ultimate compatibility. Indeed, it doesn’t take a relationship advice guru to realized that a little work now could save a lot of heartache later.
Why am I asking this person to marry me?
For example, are you proposing because your partner is pregnant? If that’s your primary reason for getting hitched, I suggest you reconsider, because studies show that you will grow to resent your partner and child.
Can we work through problems?
If you’ve been with your partner for a long period of time, you have likely experienced some rough patches. Take a look at those patches to determine how you dealt with them as a couple, and note what you did well or identify areas for improvement. Do you feel comfortable discussing any problem with your partner?
Can we communicate?
Talking is not necessarily the same as communicating. You need to be able to talk to this person in your life in a constructive way. If you have already argued, you already know if this is possible. We don’t always get along with the people we love, but we should be willing to get along with them most of the time and try to love them when we are feeling negative about them. If you felt like you came away from the situation understanding the other person better, you are able to communicate.
If you have ever walked away from an argument feeling degraded or unsatisfied, you might want to work on your couples communication skills a bit more.
What is my concept of marriage?
Everyone has a different pre-conceived conception of what marriage means; some of us are influenced by family experiences, some of us by mass media depictions of marriage, some focus on the magical wedding day and think everything else will fall into place, while others dream of children and building long-term memories. What are yours? Are they at least similar to your partners? I hope so!
Do we share the same values?
While this doesn’t necessarily include religious or spiritual ideals, sharing the same values is going to be helpful in ensuring future harmony. For example, you will need to be able to share some values in order to make decisions together, parent together, and to live in the same home together.
Conflicting values can be fun to debate when you’re first dating, but having to live with someone who never agrees with you is not a strong foundation for a marriage.
Do we share the same religion?
If you have strong religious beliefs, you should be able to 1) share them with your partner or 2) respect your partner’s differences. There are many couples that do not share the same religion, but they still need to be able to respect their spouse’s beliefs and have their spouse return the favor.
Important tip: Those that do not share the same religion will want to create a plan on how to deal with this in terms of children and holidays.
Where are we financially?
Marriage is certainly not about money, but making a note of what you have in terms of financial assets is certainly going to help you create a solid foundation. You need to be honest with your partner about your financial situation and they need to be honest with you. If you do not discuss money, this can create conflict in your marriage. In fact, financial stressors are one of the leading causes of divorce.
Action for the day: Perform some type of financial planning as a couple. Make notes regarding your financial situation as it relates to your tastes and standard of living. If you’re fiscally responsible and your partner has a penchant for designer shoes and is drowning in credit card debt, can you manage this divide? Are you and your partner compatible in living within your means?
What are our differences?
Are you and your partner fundamentally different? If so, can you live with those differences? This can be anything that you feel strongly about or something that you simply dislike. For example, every one of us have “dealbreakers” which are things that we categorically will not tolerate. They represent a bare minimum requirement that should never be breached because it would often result in the end of the relationship. Do you need your partner to change in certain areas, or can live with them? Be honest, and save yourself future aggravation! Speak now or forever hold your peace, remember?
Make a list of your “dealbreakers” and share them with your partner. This will ensure that you are both on the same page regarding your expectations for your relationship.
A little introspection with respect to the above questions will help you ascertain your personal readiness for marriage. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t think of your partner’s feelings as well. Next, we address your partner’s readiness for marriage. After all, it takes two!
It’s quite easy to get wrapped up in the idea that you are the only one that needs to consider your feelings regarding marriage as you’re the one that’s going to do the ‘asking,’ but this is only partially true. Yes, you do need to consider your own readiness, but you also need to question if your partner is ready as well.
Here are some questions that you can ask yourself about your partner to determine if this is a person that is ready to marry you:
Are they willing to share things with you?
While all of us have small secrets, being married requires teamwork and a willingness to discuss some uncomfortable things. If you find that your partner isn’t someone that shares things with you, you may want to reconsider whether they will make good marriage material. If they do not share themselves with you, then by definition you do not truly know them. In addition, you will likely find it difficult to communicate with them or even get a sense of what they are thinking.
Have they already discussed marriage?
When you’re in a long term relationship, the topic of marriage should be broached at some point. Even if you never plan to get married, couples should talk about the possibility and the probability. A sign that your partner is ready or close to being ready for marriage is this discussion – this often indicates they have given the idea some thought and have begun to ask themselves if they are ready.
Do they see your relationship as a team effort?
If your potential spouse treats your marriage as though it were a team effort, it usually means they respect your input and opinions and are looking at things in the long term. Also, if your partner actively treats you as a permanent couple, this is likely a sign that they want to be a permanent couple.
Has your partner had positive role models of marriage in their life?
If your partner came from a family that did not provide an example of a stable marriage, then they may have a slightly harder time adjusting to the idea of marriage or long term commitment. This doesn’t mean they are unfit for marriage, but it can be an obstacle in terms of them harboring different opinions about love and relationships.
Where do I see our lives heading?
Many people forget that the proposal is simply just one moment in which your lives will change forever. And while this moment is beautiful and timeless, you need to think more about what happens after your partner accepts a ring.
It’s important to show your significant other that you have been thinking about the future and not just about the proposal. This is probably the most romantic gesture of all and it tells your partner that you are in this for the long haul.
You can relay this feeling to your partner by talking about the future after you propose or before you propose. Creating a vivid, happy picture of what your future together will look like is a great way not only to set up the perfect moment for popping the question, but also helps ensure that you are both ready for the wonderful ride!
If your partner isn’t clear about what they want from your relationship, this isn’t a problem necessarily, but it can be something that you might want to think about before you ask the big question. A partner that isn’t quite sure what they want may indicate that they are not yet ready for marriage, or not easily satisfied. Of course, at the point you are ready to propose, you should already have an idea of your future potential as a long term couple.
Do I really know the person I Plan to marry?
It’s easy to become swept up in the moment of proposing. If you’ve only been together for a few months, you’re probably feeling as though nothing will ever go wrong between you – that all will be happy and blissful.
However, the truth is that whenever you put two people together, you will inevitably experience some sort of disagreement or some rough patches. That’s life, and unforeseen stressors can occur in the form of sudden unemployment, illness, the passing of family and pets, etc.
There is no hard and fast rule regarding how long you need to know someone before you get engaged, but you should be asking yourself just how much you know about the person you wish to spend the rest of your life with.
And you should consider how much they know about you.
Consider your partner’s family. Have you met them? Meeting your partner’s family is a great way to learn more about your partner, and gives you clues regarding their upbringing and caregiver models.
Do you know your partners goals and dreams? Do you know what your partner would if they only had the chance?
You should not get engaged to someone with the belief that you will “grow to love them” or get to know them more as you are married. This is almost always a recipe for disaster. Put simply, you should become engaged to someone you know well right now. While it’s true that people change over the course of a marriage due to maturity and basic human development, but you should have a good idea of the essential nature of your partner.
Do your partner’s family and friends like you?
While the opinion of your partner’s family and friends isn’t the defining factor regarding the validity of your relationship, you do need to consider any problems as potential obstacles to true bliss. If your partner’s mother, for example, is always berating you, you might have to deal with this for the rest of your life. Even worse, if your partner never stands up for you, can you live with that?
Some relationships may always be difficult, so you should ask yourself if that’s something you will be able to deal with in a mature and honest manner.
Though it’s true that you want to do as much as you can to ensure that you have positive relationships with the important people in your partner’s life, you also need to be willing to acknowledge that people generally do not change, but they can soften over time. In other words, thoughtfully consider, but don’t get over attached to the opinions of your partner’s family and friends.
Unfortunately, even if your partner’s friends and family don’t like you, you still need to treat them with respect. This will help to maintain civility and keep your partner from feeling like you are exacerbating the situation.
On the other hand, if you notice that your partner never stands up for you, this can create stress in your relationship. Additionally, if your partner always defers to the opinions of others, such as friends and family, this may create obstacles with respect to big decisions like children and career moves. Also, when a partner is constantly seeking others outside of the marriage for advice instead of conferring with his or her mate, this is a predictive indicator of relationship problems.
Do we share similar interests?
Think of the time you’ve spent with your partner thus far. Are you able to spend time together pursuing similar interests? While you don’t have to share all of the same hobbies and activities, you do want to have some things you can enjoy together.
For example, perhaps you both love the same sports team and look forward to watching and attending games together. Or you may both be fitness enthusiasts that like to workout together.
Think of the activities you already enjoy together to determine if you have aspects of your lives that you can share over the long haul. If not, maybe it’s time to find something that you can both enjoy together.
Are we able to live individual lives too?
Here comes the flip side to the above recommendation: It is also vital to maintain balance in your relationship. While you want to have similar interests in your lives, you also need to maintain your own individuality without any interference from your partner.
In the beginning stages of a relationship, you will always want to be together – at work, at home, etc. But as the relationship evolves and you learn more about each other, you need to step outside of your comfort zone and find out what makes you happy on your own.
In short, you need to get your own life! While your partner may be a high priority in your life, you also need to nurture your own learning, hobbies, and interests in order to grow as a person.
What’s more is that the more you learn about yourself and about what you enjoy, the more you bring into your relationship.
The old joke is that older couples run out of things to say because they’ve already said everything – but this is not necessarily the case when you take the time to develop your own life outside of the marriage and the relationship.
You need to both be willing to give the other space and time away in order to grow. If you think that spending as much time together as possible is going to work for you, you may be shocked to see just how much that doesn’t work in a long term relationship.
Be ready and be willing to support the interests of your partner so that you can both learn and feel nurtured in learning new things. And when you have new things to share, you never run out of things to say!
Is anyone ever really ready?
A very valid case could be made for the fact that you’re never really ready for marriage and an engagement, but you try anyway. Things aren’t going to be perfect, but they should feel perfect for you. In every relationship, there are going to be ups and downs, but it’s what you do with those moments that will define you as a couple.
This is why it’s so important to make sure you ascertain your readiness for marriage. A wedding proposal is a big step that shows you are ready to become committed to your partner, and what better time to explore your own feelings?
Getting engaged is a time of nervous excitement. It’s a big step in any relationship, but by examining your personal readiness for marriage and the foundation of your relationship, it’s going to feel like the right step!
Action For The Day:
Take some time to make a list of all the reasons why you want to get married. Do they match your partner’s reasons? Are they valid reasons, or are you fulfilling some unmet and potentially selfish need?
Emily Kensington is a couples therapist. Visit her at hearts-and-kisses.com