(Please keep in mind that I am not a relationship expert, nor am I professionally educated or trained to give any advice on relationships or marriage. I have shared these thoughts with a lot of people over the years, and finally, at the urging of a couple of friends, have decided to write all of this down. Take it all for what it is worth…)
Back in 1993, I was about to marry my best friend. She and I had each been married once before, and had been through prenuptial counseling together to find out all the reasons why, after a failed marriage for each of us, and with the thought of merging two past failures, along with 4 kids, we should not get married. We had a great counselor, and she helped us work through a lot of potential issues, different parenting styles, letting go of past hurts, baggage, issues, etc. Fortunately, we had a 10 year friendship that was at the foundation of our marriage, but not everyone is so lucky.
This is not an article about the benefits of therapy, although I could certainly write that article, too, as I am a big fan, assuming the therapist is a good one, and the patient is honestly seeking to make changes in his or her life.
This is about an article we were given by our therapist back then, which outlined 4 steps to determining if the person you are considering for a long-term relationship is, indeed, the right person for you.
There, of course, are no guarantees, and this article certainly does not claim to be a “crystal ball” in any way, but these four questions (well, now there are 7 – over the years, I have added 3 of my own that seem to apply, and that I have shared with hundreds of young couples over the years) are, in my opinion, good ones to consider as you and your chosen partner move forward.
For the sake of consistency in this blog, I am going to assume you are male, and considering marrying your current girlfriend. Feel free to substitute the “her” and “she” with “he” and “him”, if applicable.
Here are the original 4 questions, followed by my additional 3:
First, “Would you like to have kids with her?” Not that you definitely will and in my case, we haven’t had any together, but already had four (she had three, I had one) when we married. Certainly, I would have loved to have had additional kids with her, but 4 was a good number for us. Does the thought of having children together sound appealing, or “right”?
Second, “Would you like it if your kids turned out like her?” Because, guess what? They will! Sure, they will be a lot like you, as well (which may scare the hell out of you…or her!), but knowing that your kids will have a lot of the characteristics of your spouse should be a good thing, as you consider this person for a lifetime (or longer, depending on your beliefs) commitment.
Third, “Would you like to be like her?” Are there traits in her personality and character that you admire, and you would like to implement into your own life? Do you admire her? Do you watch the way she interacts with others, treats her parents, talks to strangers, or sings to herself in the kitchen, and think to yourself, “I want to be more like her”?
The final question of the original 4 was, “If she were never to change anything about her character or personality, would you still want to be with her anyway?” Most people do not change much, especially as we get older.
I have heard it said, however, that we change the most in our 20’s than in any other decade, as we form our political views, religious beliefs, and overall perspective of the world around us. It is our first decade as an adult, making our own decisions for the first time, and we form most of our lifelong habits between the ages 18 – 30.
You and your chosen spouse or significant other will change tremendously in these years, so keep that in mind as you move into a relationship, as well. Not all changes will be good, or to your liking, so make sure you are okay with the changes she is making, and that you love the way she is, as well, because many of the important traits she has will not change. Does she love kids? Is she kind to people? How does she interact with her parents, siblings, friends? These things probably won’t change much, so make sure there are not significant red flags in these areas.
Over the years, as I have gone through my own relationship, and watched countless others in successful, or failed relationships, I have added the following three questions, that I think are very important.
Fifth, “Are you and she best friends?” Are you genuinely in “like” with one another? Do you celebrate her success, or are you threatened or jealous when she has a big day or event? If you are truly friends, you would rather be with her than anyone else most of the time. I love to play golf, and get a chance to play with family, colleagues, clients, and others, but I always wish I was playing with my wife above anyone else. We have a history of golfing together – I started teaching her how to play when we were first dating back in 1992 and, not to knock any of my friends or colleagues, but I simply would rather be on the course with her!
Sixth, “Is there a romantic spark between the two of you?” Questions 1 through 5 could apply to a lot of people, but if there is not a mutual chemistry, or spark, in the relationship now, when it is still relatively new, you are headed for problems down the road. Mix in careers, kids, mortgages, stress of illness with parents and kids, the day-to-day annoyances that occur in every relationship, and that spark can be extinguished pretty easily. This takes work – making sure you do everything in your power to keep that spark alive – and is one of the toughest parts of any marriage. If the spark is low now, that could be a sign of tougher days ahead.
Finally, and I just added this one recently, “When you are apart, what kind of thoughts do you have about her?” When you think about her, are your thoughts happy ones, do you get warm feelings in your heart and in your mind, do you look forward with eagerness to when you get to see her again, or are you glad to be apart, on a break, or getting some “time to yourself”? Not to say time alone, or with friends, and apart isn’t mandatory for any solid relationship, because some independence and individuality is crucial, but when you are away from each other, there should be mutual excitement to be back together again.
Again, please keep in mind that these seven questions are not a magic potion or pixie dust that will guarantee happiness in any relationship, or unhappiness if the answers are “no” to a few of these. I just have found over the years in my own life, and in observing countless other couples, these questions are very good barometers for the future success of committed relationships.
There are many other questions, and I could easily create a Top 10 by simply adding, and perhaps these are the most important, questions like “Do you trust each other?”, “Can you laugh together?”, or “Do you have the same values and beliefs?” All of these are important, as well.
Years ago, I created an acronym for the word LOVE, which I believe is also critical in any relationship.
L = can you Laugh together? O = Oneness, or unity. Are you unified in the important stuff? V = Values – are the important things to you important to her, and vice versa? And E = Enthusiasm – are you genuinely happy for the other person, are you enthused about your relationship, and celebrate the successes of the other person?
Again, no magic potions here…just common sense things to consider before making that long term commitment, and keeping you on the right side of the relationship statistics!
If you have other questions, or suggestions, please let me know, as the list could go on forever, but I think this is a good start. Identify which of the 7 to 10 categories is most important to you, and then take an honest look at your answers. I have several friends who do not want to have kids, so questions 1 and 2 are less relevant to them. Which questions are most relevant to you?