By Terry Gaspard MSW, LICSW
Who we choose to marry is one of the most important and costliest decisions a person will make, yet it’s not uncommon for lovers to make errors in judgment. Why does this happen? One reason is that most of us aren’t raised with a healthy template of marriage to follow. We also lack self-awareness and may be afraid of ending up alone.
Another factor is unrealistic expectations of marriage because we grew up in the first generation for whom divorce continues to be accepted and common. According to author Pamela Paul, lots of marriages seem to be trial marriages and people tie the knot with the notion of “If it doesn’t make me happy, I’ll just move on.” Since more and more individuals grow up in divorced homes where they witness divorce being the solution to marital problems, they may not approach marriage with a thoughtful mindset.
Unfortunately, many of us marry without obtaining critical information about our partners. For instance, we may not know that our father-in-law is a substance abuser or that our mother-in-law has a family history of mental illness. Sadly, we may put our faith in someone who we fall in love with blindly and fail to ask some of these crucial questions.
5 questions to ask potential marital partners:
1. Who are their parents? Include questions about marital history, mental illness and substance abuse, etc.. Don’t shy away from asking questions now that may blindside you later. It’s better to be forewarned because some qualities have a genetic component.
2. What is their typical way of dealing with conflict? Don’t assume that your partner has good anger management skills. Does he/she usually take responsibility for his/her actions or blame someone else? Do they tend to stonewall or withdraw from conflict or see it as an opportunity for growth?
3. How does your partner feel about having children? How many children do they consider the best number if they want them? Do they believe that couples should share chores and childcare responsibilities?
4. What are their values and beliefs about infidelity?
5. What is their view of divorce? What would they consider a good solution to a period when your marriage is rocky?
Perhaps the first step in deciding whether a person is a good risk for marriage is to get clarity around “deal breakers” and “deal makers.” It’s crucial to know those things that are important to you from the list above (or other questions) and to not compromise too many of your values and beliefs.
There is no such thing as a perfect partner. You might want to ask yourself this question: Is there something about the way that he/she treats me that makes me a bigger and better person? If the answer is no, ask yourself: Am I settling for less than I deserve in the relationship?
Looking to the experts can help you gain clarity about marrying the best person for you. In particular, Mira Kirshenbaum’s book “Is He Mr. Right?“ offers a valuable model for looking at compatibility. One of the central premises of her groundbreaking book is that chemistry is the best way to figure out if someone is right for you. Surprisingly, she’s not just talking about sexual chemistry but also the feeling that you enjoy being around your partner and have fun together.
5 Dimensions of Chemistry according to Mira Kirshenbaum:
1. You feel comfortable with each other and it’s easy to get close. In other words, you feel that you can be yourself.
2. You feel safe in the relationship. Your partner can take care of him/herself, and you feel comfortable being vulnerable and honest with your partner.
3. It’s fun to be together. Kirshenbaum writes, “Couples who have this dimension of chemistry going for them have a shortcut to intimacy and a buffer against the stressful times we all face.”
4. You have real affection and passion for each other. This is where sexual chemistry comes in and it should go hand and hand with affection.
5. You feel there’s real mutual respect. You accept, admire and respect each other for who you are. Kirshenbaum posits that if you don’t have respect for your partner, it will eat away at chemistry until you have nothing left.
Are you wondering if you are wasting your time with the wrong person? It’s understandable that you’d have a need for certainty before continuing to pursue the commitment of marriage. However, don’t panic and jump into a commitment because you believe that the clock is ticking or most of your friends are married.
6 signs your partner is good marriage material:
1. You admire your partner for who they are as a person. You like and respect who he/she is and how they carry themselves through the world. If you can’t respect the way a person lives their life, let alone admire them, it’s hard to keep any relationship going.
2. Your partner is trustworthy because they keep agreements. Their actions are consistent with their words. When you share something personal you trust they will keep it to themselves.
3. He/she makes time for you on a regular basis. They make you a priority because they value your relationship. Even when he/she is swamped, they make time to spend with you. This includes regular text messages or phone calls to show that they’re thinking of you.
4. Your partner is comfortable talking about the things that interest you and asks you questions about your hobbies, friends and family. They appreciate you for who you are right now and aren’t trying to change you.
5. He/she makes you feel good about yourself. A partner who truly cares about you is a boost to your self-esteem. He/she values you and gives you compliments and praise.
6. You share a vision. Sharing a dream for your life together can help you gain a healthy perspective. When couples possess a shared vision, the inevitable ups and downs of marriage are less bothersome. Creating a larger context of meaning in life, can help couples to avoid focusing on the small stuff that happens and to keep their eyes on the big picture.
If you feel that your partner is the right person for you but you still fear commitment, you might want to consider the following: Know that no relationship is conflict free, but you are worthy of having a relationship that makes you happy. If you aren’t there yet, embrace where you are now. What is it that holds you back from achieving a satisfying relationship? And once you have it, what will you do when you get there?
The best partner will compliment you and bring out your very best. When you are with him or her, you will begin to see untapped possibilities within yourself and in the world. In any relationship, you will face ups and downs and your love will be tested. However, where admiration and respect are found, love will be sustained. But where these things are absent, love will die. Finding a partner who likes and respects you as much as you do him/her will give you the best chance of finding long-lasting love.
Follow Terry Gaspard on Facebook, Twitter and movingpastdivorce.com where you can order her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-lasting Relationship.
Terry’s new book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True in February of 2020 and can be ordered here.
This blog appeared previously on HuffingtonPost.com