There comes a point in most relationships where the “next steps” are considered. As time moves on, and two people grow closer, it’s inevitable some thought will go towards big milestones — moving in together, having children, and, although less common than it used to be, getting married.
This linear route of progression is conventional and this path of romance is a big part of our culture. As a result, can form subconscious expectations or beliefs about the importance of marriage. I’ve written a lot about romance and the pitfalls of conventional relationships, and myths of our culture. It’s not to say the path of progression is wrong.
However, it is crucial to consciously explore your reasons for considering marriage, preferably alone, and then with your partner. That includes looking at the “why” of these reasons. For example, are you considering certain milestones because, well, it’s just the way it is?
In this article, the focus is on the milestone of marriage. Such a commitment can be a wonderful thing, a way to celebrate mutual love, a way to express dedication to growing together, and overcoming obstacles.
But it’s also a huge decision, and there’s no escaping the fact that around half of marriages in the US end up in divorce.
To assist with your process of reflection, here are 5 questions to assess if marriage is truly the right decision for you and your partner:
1. Is marriage necessary?
As mentioned, marriage can become an option because it feels like a logical next step in a relationship. That doesn’t mean it’s necessary are even beneficial. To uncover the “whys” behind the necessity of marriage, it’s time to uncover some of your beliefs. Do you feel that the relationship only has inherent “value” having walked down the aisle? Is there pressure from friends and family?
The purpose here is to explore the deeper, authentic feelings and beliefs you have, away from expectations or cultural beliefs. Unless there are pressing legal reasons, it’s unlikely in modern times marriage is a necessity; you can have a long, nourishing relationship without tying the knot. But the heart wants what the heart wants, and it could be that it just feels necessary for reasons personal to you.
2. Do you and your partner value marriage equally?
Which leads us onto an important second point. Once you’ve reflected on your genuine feeling and sense of necessity, the next step is to understand where you’re partner is at. Not to make assumptions, but ask directly. Are you and your partner on the same page?
Granted, these are tough conversations to have, but if preparing to make a lifelong commitment, ideally it would be with someone you can have these conversations with.
In an ideal world, the decision would be split down the middle, 50/50. It’s unlikely to be that equal. However, you want the decision to be as closely matched as possible. If one of you is fairly nonchalant about the idea, and the other feels the fate of the relationship relies on wedlock, this could be a huge point of tension.
Are you keener than your partner? On the flip side, is your partner keener than you? If so, be wary of compromises. It’s healthy to compromise in romance as you harmonize with someone else with their own wants and needs. But a big life decision, such as marriage, should never be a compromise.
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3. Is marriage an “I’ll be happy when…”?
A common trap of the ego is setting a future point as the destination of contentment and happiness. Rather than cultivating fulfillment in the present, the ego projects ahead. This is what I call the “I’ll be happy when” trap, when we postpone happiness until we have more money, or more free time, or a better apartment, better clothes, etc, etc.
This trap finds its way into all areas of life, like an endless hamster wheel of unsatisfactoriness. Many of us, myself included, look to romance to fulfill this urge. “I’ll be happy when I meet the one,” is a common thought. This trap occasionally applies to marriage. Has the idea of being married become a mental bookmark of a time when you’ll be happy? Are you looking to marriage to fulfill a general lack of contentment in your present moment?
Such thinking can lead to idealizing marriage and viewing it as an answer. Marriage isn’t an answer to anything. It doesn’t change the relationship itself, the willingness to communicate openly, to cultivate loving intimacy, to weather storms when they come, to love unconditionally. It also won’t suddenly inject happiness or offer a solution to problems that may exist beforehand.
If you notice that there is a part of you that feels marriage is the answer for happiness, use this to explore deeper. Why is this the case? What will be different in your day-to-day life? How could you find this sense of contentment from within, rather than looking to marriage as an answer?
4. Do you trust your partner?
Most of us, when we think of trust in the context of romance, think of sexual exclusivity. Of course, if you’ve agreed on a monogamous relationship, feeling secure within that agreement is crucial. But trust runs much deeper, in many subtle ways. Trust isn’t one-size-fits-all — you might trust your partner in some areas and distrust them in others.
Trust is the foundation of all long-lasting relationships. When considering marriage, look at your levels of trust across the board. Do you trust your partner to communicate openly, to the best of their ability? Do you trust your partner to show up for you when necessary? Do you trust your partner to build a sense of togetherness in the relationship?
When it comes to marriage, you’ll have extra areas to consider too, such as whether you trust your partner’s approach to finances or dedication to working through difficulties when the going gets tough. This reflection isn’t to point-score, but illuminate potential issues that have to be worked on. Is this lack of trust a dealbreaker? Or something you and your partner can work on?
5. What expectations do you have?
Lastly, it pays to explore all the expectations you have about getting married. I’ve touched upon a few, such as believing marriage is the key to happiness. Pay close attention to expectations that marriage will change the way you feel. This is a way of projecting responsibility for your happiness and contentment onto an external event; plus, it places a lot of pressure and expectation on your partner.
What other expectations do you have? Are you expecting the relationship dynamic to change? If so, why? Are you expecting to be together forever? What if it doesn’t work out?
There are elements of shadow work here, and it takes courage to dig deep. For example, it may become apparent that, deep down, you have fears of abandonment, and you feel marriage will provide you with security. Such deep-rooted insecurities have to be confronted independently and healed. Otherwise, they won’t go away, and they will resurface, marriage, or no marriage.
Marriage is a huge step and it’s unlikely you’ll feel 100% sure either way. There will be doubts mixed in with excitement, fear mixed in with comfort. Just remember, there’s no rush. Take your time to carefully and consciously look within, to gain clarity on what you truly want, before communicating openly with your partner.
If such reflection leads you to realize marriage isn’t the answer, rest safe in the knowledge this insight is better in the long-run, and it doesn’t mean the relationship is over. If you feel a strong conviction marriage is what you want, congratulations! When the special day comes, you’ll know, in your heart of hearts, it’s right.
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