Are there red flags that you have been ignoring or rationalizing? Get honest here. When I see women who are in the process of, or have been divorced, they can easily identify a whole list of clues that the relationship was not working from early on in the relationship. Then we talk about what they told themselves that kept them from facing that truth. You don’t need to end the relationship, but don’t put your head in the sand either. Identify the red flags. Write them down. Then write down all of your excuses for ignoring them. Because these will be the things you will be discussing with your friends (or therapist) when the relationship ends.
Why do you want to marry him? Really look at this because this is where a lot of marriages go wrong. Don’t get stuck at “I love him.” That’s too easy and often, it’s not enough. Ask yourself:
- What do I admire about this man?
- What am I most proud of about him?
- Is this someone who I can respect and cherish?
- Whether or not I want children, what would this man teach my kids?
- When I talk to my friends about him, do I tell them how wonderful he is, or am I complaining about his faults or what he needs to change?
- Do I love him as is? If you’ve identified some flaw, some imperfection—anything from “he smokes cigarettes” to “he’s completely unreliable”—then this is not the relationship for you. If you’re waiting, hoping, nagging, pleading with him to change, this is not the relationship for you.
Why do you want to get married now? What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you read this question? The question speaks to depth of your ideas about marriage. Is it because you want the big wedding? Is it because you thought you would be married by now? Is it because everyone is asking when you’re getting married? Because you want a baby? Because it will make you feel special? Because it will make you feel secure? If marriage is to be a sacred space where you both live, you should feel secure and special already. And so should he. And if you both feel that marriage is just the obvious extension of a connection you already have, you’re ready. Any other answer isn’t good enough to last.
Do you feel cherished in this relationship? This doesn’t require that your guy brings you flowers every day or fawns all over you telling you how perfect you are. You’re not perfect. But everyone has their own way of being cherished. Does he get you? Does he think about you when he’s away? Does he make you feel completely secure? Does he call you on your stuff, but love you anyway?
Criticism. Contempt. Defensiveness. Stonewalling. Do any of these negative interactions exist in your relationship? This is the point when people usually tell me that all relationships have some of that going on. Don’t they? Yes, they probably do. But to what degree? Renowned couples researcher, John Gottman, found that healthy relationships tend to have a ratio of 5 to 1 positive to negative interactions. And that couples with less than this have a lesser chance of long-term success. That means, for every 1 time criticism or contempt or defensiveness or stonewalling shows up in your relationship, there needs to be 5 positive interactions to create a stable relationship. And according to Gottman, in very happy couples, the ratio is much higher. This is worth keeping in mind next time you pick a fight over the cap on the toothpaste.
Strong, healthy relationships are not about avoiding negative interaction. On the contrary, they are built on a couple’s ability to recover from those negative interactions. And that ability is developed when there is deep respect for one another and a positive culture of appreciation in the relationship.
If you find yourself asking how long you should wait before expecting a move toward marriage, I might suggest that you’re asking the wrong question.