04 May Should I Get Married? Your Relationship Checklist
By Julene Mays
Congratulations! You are considering proposing or accepting a proposal that seems imminent. You love your partner, and are looking forward to proclaiming your love to the world. Love is a wonderful thing, but is not enough to guarantee a lifetime of happiness. Before you take that final step, give some consideration to four major roadblocks to marital bliss, and be prepared to be honest with your partner and yourself.
You Want to Get Married?
This one sounds obvious, and if you are reading this, it’s likely that you are seriously considering marrying your partner. However, you might want to take the time to consider why you want to take that step, and what it means to you. What does marriage mean to you?
Many couples get married because of family expectations; (“When are you going to settle down?”) Social pressure; (“all my friends are getting married…”) To keep your partner (“He/She gave me an ultimatum and I don’t want to lose them…”). If you are older, you may see marriage with this partner as as an opportunity to complete a major item on your bucket list, or you want children and a family and you think that your biological clock is running out of time (“This might be my last chance!”).
If you experience any of the above, it doesn’t mean that marriage to your partner is a bad idea. These are things that many of us think and feel, and that’s okay! Just make sure that they aren’t the only reasons you want to take your relationship to the next level. Do you feel that your partner is “the one” or are they interchangeable as long as you have someone to marry?
Your Lifestyles Are Compatible
You enjoy spending time with your partner. You go out on dates, you share experiences, and have fun together. This is dating, and even couples that live together can be on their best behavior to some extent during the courtship. As much as you both enjoy this honeymoon period, you may begin to realize that you aren’t on the same page about some important matters.
Before you announce your engagement, you should make sure you are on the same page about work ethic, how you will handle money, opposite sex friendships and leisure activities. If your partner drinks more alcohol than you are comfortable with, or you resent your partner’s “nagging” over what you consider to be recreational marijuana use, you have some basic lifestyle differences that aren’t going to go away after the wedding. Opposites do attract, but make sure your differences complement each other, and you can reach a mutual agreement about how you will live your lives together.
You Are Both in Agreement About Children
This is one of the most important decisions you will make as a couple. Many couples who are not in agreement about children unrealistically think that their partner will eventually “come around”. Assume they will not. Are you willing to give you dream of becoming a parent, or conversely, are you willing to take on an unwanted lifelong responsibility in order to make your partner happy? How do you feel about your partner’s children if they have them? When you get married, you will be expected to treat them as your own. Be honest with yourself. Is that an obligation you are ready to undertake with joy, or do you already feel resentment over the financial/time/emotional cost of being a stepparent? Will you be on the same page about how your children will be raised? For example, even if your partner hasn’t practiced their religion in years, many people feel a renewed sense of spirituality (or cultural responsibility) when they become parents, and want their children raised the same way they were. Talk together about your dreams and expectations for your future family.
You Are Both Completely Transparent About your Finances
The importance of this area cannot be stressed enough. Fighting over money is one of the most common reason for marital strife and divorce. Before the engagement, both partners should sit down together and be completely open about their finances. How much debt do both of you carry? Is it in credit cards, student loans, car loans, or a combination? Can your partner be trusted to pay bills on time, or is that a responsibility that you might have to undertake when you are married? If your partner has a low credit score, it can affect the goals of home ownership as well as many other important facets of your everyday life. In many marriages there is a “spender” and a “saver”. It’s important that you reach a compromise with your partner, including a definite budget and complete transparency about how joint marital assets will be managed.
You Are Sexually Compatible
In a famous line from the movie Annie Hall: A therapist asks both halves of a couple how often they have sex. He says, “Hardly ever; maybe three times a week.” She says, “Constantly! I’d say three times a week.” This illustrates how different a perspective a couple can have on their sex life. Sexual attraction early in your relationship can be intense but the familiarity of years together, and the realities of every day life can affect intimacy.
If you feel strong conflicts between you and your partners’ sexual needs before marriage, they will be exacerbated by the everyday the stressors of married life. Childcare responsibilities, work anxiety, and resentment built up from unresolved relationship conflicts will change the way you relate to each other sexually. You might find you find some of your partner’s preferences off-putting, feel turned off by our partner, they withhold sex or affection as a punishment, or you have major differences in the desired frequency of sex.
Even if you and your partner have not yet started your sexual relationship you should be able to have an honest discussion about your needs and expectations. Physical connection will be a major part of what keeps your marriage healthy and keeps you feeling connected as a couple.
If any of the above resonate with you or your partner, be honest about those “red flags”. Remember, marriage is more than just the wedding! Do not allow the attention of the engagement, the pageantry of the wedding day, and the perceived respect that comes with completing a rite of passage overshadow reality. When you return from your honeymoon your life together truly begins. Sit down together and have honest discussion about your expectations. Pre-marital counseling from a qualified couples therapist can help sort things out and prepare you both a smooth lifetime journey together.