I was at a Padres game recently and between the third and fourth innings this “gaggle” of Padres women and the Friar mascot came bounding down the stairs stopping two rows behind us. The commotion was followed by a gentleman getting down on one knee, pulling out a ring box and “popping the question;” my husband muttered to me “that’s gutsy” expressing the fear of many people when they are ready to take that step, “What if s/he says no?” My own internal voice was asking, “What if she wants to say no, can she in front of thousands of people?” So, there came the beginning for this blog, recognizing that formally committing to a relationship through the institution of marriage is filled with a myriad of emotions, and the bottom line question, “Are we ready for marriage?”
Dr. Dan Neuharth, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of Secrets You Keep from Yourself (2004) notes that “underneath every specific couple’s issues are the bedrock concerns we all have,” yet sometimes we forget to explore those issues before making this lifelong commitment. Here are 10 of the most common shared concerns that you may want to consider exploring:
- Is this REALLY the love of a lifetime?
Ultimately, relationships serve various purposes in our lives; I discuss relationships as those of a “reason, season or lifetime.” A “reason” relationship is one with a clear purpose of supporting or getting us through a specific time; a ”season” relationship is one where we grow and learn about ourselves during a significant life period such as young adulthood. A lifetime relationship is the person you want to be with through the good times and bad times and into old age.
- Am I prepared to be faithful for the rest of my life?
Marriage is a union that should be able to stand the test of time after the excitement and fanfare of romantic bliss fades, and through those periods where boredom may rear its head. Even the most committed spouses can find themselves tempted to stray, so if you have doubts about your ability to remain monogamous, marriage may not be for you. Talk to your partner about how you want to handle those periods of confusion, boredom, hurt and frustration BEFORE they surface.
- How will we handle our finances once we are married?
Nothing can harm a perfectly wonderful relationship faster than shared financial stress. It is important to discuss with your partner your financial worries, current financial situation, and your approach to handling debt; reaching agreement on how these matters will be managed in the union is critical to having both of you feel secure and safe in your relationship.
- Do we want the same things and share the same goals in life?
You want to make sure that you know what your partner is seeking in the future and feel that any divergences from shared goals are not fatal to the marriage. The excitement and adventure of a young and evolving relationship emphasize “day-to-day” adventures; marriage demands a look into the future and developing a shared vision that is both compatible and fulfilling for both partners.
- Do we both want children (if so, how many, and when)?
Asking the question is one thing, knowing for yourself if the answer is a “deal-breaker” is essential. Assuming you both want children, the next area to explore is parenting styles. How do you want to raise your children? What values do you want to instill? Who are your models in parenting? Spend time together with children [nieces, nephews, etc.] and talk about the interactions and your experiences.
- How important is religion and/or spirituality?
This is an area that on many levels is intangible due to the personal experience of faith and spirituality. However, you need to recognize what’s negotiable for you and what isn’t. You may not need to share the same beliefs, but genuine acceptance of each other’s is important.
- Are we similar enough?
The old adage of “opposites attract” can be misleading if we buy into it for a lifetime commitment. There are reasons why we want a partner who is different from ourselves, but how different is “too different”? Luo and Klohnen found that those couples who share similar values, beliefs and attitudes report sharing the highest levels of marital satisfaction; they also noted that differences in personalities can add a deeper dimension to the relationship – as long as there are not “grave dissimilarities” between partners. [Luo, S., & Klohnen, E., (2005). Assortive mating and marital quality in newlyweds: A couple-centered approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 88(2), pp. 304-326.]
- How do we approach our relationships with our families?
Although your relationship with your partner should always be of paramount importance – you are also marrying into each other’s families. Discussion about expectations for family visits, future residential options for aging parents, and celebratory/holiday traditions is important. Additionally, speak openly about experiences where either of you feel excluded or “side-lined” by family leading to a better understanding of those family dynamics and the impact on your relationship.
- What about sex?
Good sex requires good communication, and communication is built over time, beginning with those times where sexual compatibility is at its best. As individual age or stressors increase, or health issues take their toll, sexual compatibility may waver and your ability to talk through these periods and reach new sexual expectations is critical to sustaining a level of intimacy that brings you closer together.
- Is my partner the “total package” for me, and vice versa?
Let’s dispel the myth that your partner will be “everything” to you, however, your partner should be the person you find yourself completely in trust with throughout the lifetime of the relationship. Robert Sternberg developed the “triangular theory of love” model which illustrates three components that are essential for “Consummate Love” – Intimacy, Passion, & Commitment. Intimacy is reflected in qualities of closeness, nurturance and supportiveness; passion involves sexual chemistry and physical attraction; and commitment consists of cognitive and behavioral efforts of partners to remain focused on each other. Research has shown that couples who possess all three [“the total package”] report having the most satisfying and fulfilling love relationships.