As parents, we all want to set good examples for our children. If, for instance, they see us treating everyone we encounter with respect, chances are good they’ll do the same. Personally, I’m always gratified when one of my sons orders by asking the waiter if he can “please have the filet mignon,” and then thanks him when it arrives (perhaps not as happy when the bill comes, but whatever…).
I’m sure all of us had hoped to model marriage-lasts-a-lifetime-behavior for our kids, too, but as we know, life doesn’t always work out as we expected. In my case, their mom and I went through a basically mutual, fairly amicable split after 27 years; though it was nice to show them how to have a civilized divorce, that still wasn’t the ideal.
There was, however, a positive to be gained from the negative. I believe going through my divorce gave me insight into why the marriage was what it was, and went where it went. I’ve come to more clearly comprehend the thoughts and choices I made, and the assumptions I held, concerning getting married. And I discovered that some of them were, shall we say, less than correct.
This personal understanding, combined with the stories I’ve heard and research I’ve done for this site, has helped me develop five tips I believe young adults should keep in mind as they make the all-important decision about whom to marry, and when.
- You need to love him or her desperately. This is not a choice where you say, “Eh, makes sense, what the heck, sure, let’s get married.” You need to feel like nothing is more important than spending the rest of your life with him or her. Nothing. It’s not enough to think that he or she will be a good parent, and that you’re quite compatible. You have to feel a deep need to be together, and a strong fear of life without that person — if not, he or she is not the one to marry.
- Be squared away in your own life. Don’t get married while you’re still trying figure out your life and career. Which isn’t to say you’ve got to be a CEO with a mid-six-figure income. It’s okay to be in school, or a training program, or working your way up in your career — as long as you know what you want to do, and are in the process of making that happen. However, if you’re still searching for your calling, or trying to find a path that works for you, wait. Figure yourself out before adding someone else to the mix. Getting married under those circumstances won’t add stability to your life, it will just create pressures in your marriage.
- Realize marriage will not improve any issues between you. If something about him or her is bugging you now, you need to speak up. If that doesn’t work, do not expect marriage to magically make it disappear. Perhaps you’ve asked him or her to talk to you in a nicer manner; if it hasn’t happened yet, marriage will not result in unending sweetness and light pouring forth from your spouse. If you’re complaining about your sex life pre-marriage, tying the knot won’t improve it, and, in fact, familiarity and children will likely make it worse. So you need to fully consider those faults, problems, and flaws, because they’re almost certainly a permanent part of the package. If you can truly accept them, that’s great. But they aren’t going away.
- He or she needs to accept you as you are, too. A twist on the tip above, do not marry someone who sees you as a “project” to be molded and improved once you’re married. If he or she is talking about getting you into a better career post nuptials, or finding some more interesting friends once you’re married, or even changing your personal style after the wedding, move on. This attitude says “I’m not fully happy with who you are, but that should improve once I change you.” This will lead to resentment, and a loss of your identity. Compromise in a marriage is important, but a forced surrender invites trouble.
- Think of yourself first. You can’t go into a marriage because you think it’s what the other person wants. Or because you want to make him or her happy. Or because you’re being pressured. Or because you don’t know how to get out of the relationship. Recall Seinfeld’s George Costanza being willing to marry Susan, and spend the rest of his life in misery, rather than endure a break up with her. Sure, that may have been exaggerated, fictional comedy — but I’ll bet versions of it happen often in real life. Remember, this is your choice. You get to make it. Think of what you want, and do what’s best for you. You are entitled to that.
A friend of mine, who owns apartment buildings, has a 19 point checklist for deciding to buy a property. If just one point is a no, he walks away. He says it keeps emotion out of the mix. And he’s done very, very well.
Obviously the decision to get married is all about emotion. It has to be. However, you still need to do some serious analysis.
If you’ve got a green light on all the above, and the emotion is there, go for it. If not, do like my friend, and walk away.
That doesn’t ensure the marriage will go the distance, of course. But it should increase the odds, as well as make for a smoother ride along the way.
What advice can you offer? What did you learn from your marriage, and Divorce? Please leave some words of wisdom in the Comments Section.