The fairytale dream is to find your prince, ride off into the sunset, and live happily ever after. If it were only as easy as fitting your delicate foot into a glass slipper like Cinderella! The truth is that with the divorce rate now hovering around 70%, there are many things to take into consideration before you get married, and the ideal time to talk about these is BEFORE you get engaged. Better to find out that a relationship might be on the road to disaster before you send out the wedding invitations, eh? As my mother used to say, "Marry in haste, repent at leisure." Yikes!!
Mike and I have been married for 30 years now. Our church required us to go to a weekend engagement retreat to make sure we knew what we were getting into. At the beginning of the retreat, all the couples in the room had to introduce themselves and say their favorite trait that their partner possessed. Mike and I said things like integrity and loyalty, but about half of the room said that their favorite thing about their partner was, "he/she puts up with me." The divorce rate at that time was about 50%, and I felt like those people made up the 50% right there. Really? Is that the best thing about your partner? The fact that they are willing to put up with you? Wow.
Mike and I on our wedding day
If you think you've found a keeper, then start talking through the big issues asap. Some are deal breakers, and others you just need to address. Here they are:
1. Core Values
There are certain core values that you need to look for in a partner. You might want to check yourself as well; how do you stack up in the values department in these areas?
Does your partner have your back? Does he make fun of you or belittle you in front of others? An occasional joke doesn't have to be a big deal, but a regular onslaught of put downs is a warning sign that shows lack of respect. You should be each other's favorite people, especially at this point in your relationship, and if anything, people should get tired of hearing you two talk about how great the other one is. If there is disrespect now, it's only going to get worse as you hit life's rough spots.
Is your partner honest, or does he tell little white lies all the time? If he's lying about the little things, how can you trust him in the big things? I once dated a guy who was absolutely brilliant and seemed like Prince Charming, but when he started concocting foolproof ways to rob banks, I was out the door. Who does that??
Loyalty and Fidelity
It's important that you're both on board with this. Marriage is a covenant between two people, till death do you part, not with whomever you feel like, depending on which way the wind blows. If either of you is not feeling the two person thing, then don't get married! It will only end in disaster. Temptations will strike, especially during hard times. Be sure your commitment is rock solid, and avoid putting yourself in possible places of temptation. For instance, is it really a good idea to hang out at a bar with your friends without your spouse around where people are looking for hookups? Maybe just go to lunch or dinner instead if you are spending time with your friends.
If either of you is religious, you definitely need to talk about this one. Statistics show that in marriages where the spouses are of different religions, 70% of the children of such marriages end up not going to any church at all as adults. In other words, if you want to pass on religious values to your children, you need to get on the same page with your spouse.
My daughter Lauren (right) at Confirmation with Amy, her sponsor
2. Financial Goals
Are you a spendthrift and he's a miser? Or vice versa? That could be a huge problem. Financial problems are one of the biggest causes of divorce. Talk about your financial goals together, who's going to pay the bills, what your savings and investment strategies might be, etc. It's easier to talk about this before you have a ring on your finger than when you're a month late on the bills, your credit score is dropping like an anchor, and you're thousands of dollars in debt without quite knowing how you got there. If you need some help in this area, here are some books you can read.
3. Lifestyle Goals
Does he want to live on a sailboat while you want a hog farm in Iowa? Hmmm, that could be a problem.
Everyone grows up differently, and it's not a given that your partner wants to have the same kind of lifestyle you do. We have a friend from rural western Tennessee who married a beautiful girl from Boston. He built her a palace in rural Tennessee, but after a year she said, "Honey, I really love you, but we need to move. I can't handle it here!" It was a beautiful place but just too different from the urban lifestyle she was used to. To her credit, she gave it a good try. To his credit, he understood immediately, and they sold their house and moved to a more metropolitan area that they could both live with. Here's a fun exercise: write down separately where you'd like to be in your ideal world in 1 yr, in 5 yrs, in 10 yrs, and in 20 yrs, then swap papers and compare notes. If they are like night and day, you'd better sit down and really talk it through.
4. Good Communication Skills
Mike and I have completely different thought processes. I will never be able to finish his sentences, and I have no idea what he's thinking about anything, ever. Sometimes this is a real problem, while other times it's a huge blessing, as I know I will always hear a different perspective from him. Because we recognize that we approach things differently, we know we have to work that much harder to communicate clearly. If you have issues in this area, the "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" series of books are very helpful in understanding different communication styles.
Mike and I on vacation
5. A Kind and Pure Heart
This one is huge. Things go wrong in life, and you both need to have kind hearts toward each other. You need to be kind and forgiving when the other one makes a mistake, and you both need to avoid nagging or treating the other like a child. A kind heart is a requirement for being a good parent, too. If you see any signs of a controlling personality or possible domestic violence in your potential partner, run in the other direction and never look back. These things will literally ruin your life.
Another marriage-ruiner is porn addiction. Unfortunately, with the rise of the internet, porn addiction is on the rise, too, and is much more prevalent than we would all like to think. If your significant other has this problem and either doesn't see it as an issue or refuses to seek help, this should be a major red flag. It won't end well for you.
6. Family Goals
How do you both feel about having children, and what philosophies do you have about parenting? It's important to be a united front, or your children will find that they can play you against one another, and that can cause some serious problems in your marriage. Mike and I didn't have any specific family goals going into our marriage; we decided to just be open to new life. Boy, were we surprised when we ended up with eleven wonderful children!
Also, how do you both view your extended families? Is he a mama's boy (red flag!!)? Where will you spend your holidays? Will you take turns with each set of in-laws? Spend the holidays on your own? Switch off? Believe it or not, there are a lot of fights over things like this, and they can tear a marriage apart.
Our crazy family
Marriage and family life have a way of curing selfishness issues because there is an enormous amount of self-sacrifice involved. It's natural to be me-oriented when you're young, but if either of you is unable to grow up and put the other's interests first, you will have some serious problems down the road. It shouldn't be that one person is doing all the sacrificing and the other calls all the shots, but it will never be 50-50 either. Both of you need to be willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to make things work as a team. Problem areas to watch for are coming home from work and immediately playing video games or watching TV for the rest of the night. It's not a big deal to do either one for an hour or two, but if all your time together is spent on separate screens, that's not a relationship.
Too often when people get married, the whole focus seems to be on the wedding, the dress, the honeymoon, etc. While it's good to want to create a memorable day to celebrate the beginning of your new life together, remember that your wedding day is only a day; your marriage is the rest of your life. Make sure you've covered all the big stuff before you get caught up in the details of your wedding day so that it keeps its proper place as Day 1 of a beautiful life together. Here are some books you may find helpful in your adventures in dating and marriage. Here's to a wonderful future with the spouse of your dreams!!
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