Years ago, I thought of myself as someone who would probably never get married. I thought I was just “wired” for relationships that were fun but ultimately short-lived.
Fast forward to today and as a happily married man, I’m honestly surprised by how easy it was for me to transition to a committed, life-long relationship. In fact, it feels damn good!
The truth is, while I did a lot of work on myself, a lot of it was just looking for a good partner.
I get hundreds of emails each year from people struggling in their relationships. And a lot of those people are either engaged or thinking about getting married. I often want to wave a giant neon flag at them shouting, “Don’t do it!” because getting married for the wrong reasons can have dire consequences–not just emotionally, but financially, as well.
After working with dozens of couples on this issue, I’ve put together two checklists below that summarize everything. The first checklist is the BAD reasons people get married. The second checklist outlines the GOOD reasons to get married. Check it out.
TERRIBLE REASONS TO GET MARRIED
Most of these horrible reasons to get married will probably seem obvious and maybe even a little ridiculous. But for a lot of us, it’s really hard to take an objective look at our own motivations and see them for what they really are.
Sometimes, your real intentions are hidden a few layers deep and you just need someone to lovingly shake them to the surface for you.
So here, let me help you with that.
TERRIBLE REASON TO GET MARRIED #1: TO SOLVE YOUR RELATIONSHIP PROBLEMS
For some reason, a lot of people seem to think that something magical happens when you get married and all the fights and toxic cycles of behavior disappear.
This is tragically misguided.
Committing to someone by getting married amplifies all facets of your relationship. So if you genuinely love and respect one another, that love and respect can grow and evolve in a marriage.
But the same is true for the problems you have in your relationship. If you’re bad at communicating in your relationship, miscommunications will only get worse in your marriage. If you don’t have respect for one another, you won’t gain it by getting married. You’ll probably lose it even more.
Basically, when you get married, things can get even better if they’re already good, but they only get worse if they’re already bad.
TERRIBLE REASON TO GET MARRIED #2: BECAUSE YOU’RE AFRAID OF BEING ALONE
Being alone can really suck.
What sucks even more, though, is marrying the next person who comes along simply because you’re tired of being alone—and then they turn out to be terrible for you.
You’ve probably heard this before but no one is going to be happy being with you if you can’t be happy being by yourself. I’m betting nobody ever told you how to go about doing that though. After all, it seems like a catch-22: you need to be happy by yourself before you can make someone else happy, but you’re not happy because you don’t have someone to make you happy.
The problem is the way you’re judging and valuing yourself. You’re valuing others’ opinions of you more than you’re valuing your own opinion of yourself. You think your value as a person is determined by who you’re with. Just think about how fucked up that is for a second.
Develop yourself into who you want to be first. Get healthy. Leave your dead-end job and get serious about your career. Get your finances in order. Then find someone who is excited to be with you because you kick so much ass already.
TERRIBLE REASON TO GET MARRIED #3: TO PROVE SOMETHING
Maybe your crazy aunt keeps telling you about how “the clock is ticking” and you’re not getting any younger. Or your father thinks you need to “grow up already.” Or maybe your parents got divorced and you’re determined to show the world that you’re better than them. Or all your friends are married now and you want to show them you’re not just the third or fifth or eleventh wheel all the time.
Sometimes it’s a little more subtle but just as fucked up. Like, some people see marriage as a status symbol, so they get married thinking they’ll parade around town with their spouse and people will bow in their presence like they just conquered Westeros or something.
Whatever it is, getting married to prove something to someone—or yourself—is a god awful reason to do it.
The fact is that a marriage isn’t going to work unless both people are in it for each other and no one else. The world doesn’t care if you get married. Billions of people have done it. You don’t get a gold star and extra warm cookies on the plane just because you’re married. You also don’t get to rub it in anyone’s face for more than a few months, tops. And then what?
I’ll tell you what: then you’re stuck in a marriage trying to figure out if it was worth it after all.
So if any of these terrible reasons to get married apply to your situation, well first, don’t get married. Second, work on your relationship skills. Learn about healthy and toxic behaviors in relationships. Familiarize yourself with how emotional needs work so you can better get yours met and meet the needs of others. It takes a lot of time, but it will save you a lot of pain and maybe a divorce or three down the road.
On the other hand, if you can take an honest look at your relationship and say that none of these terrible reasons to get married apply to your situation, then great.
THE “SHOULD WE GET MARRIED?” CHECKLIST
Alright, so you’ve determined that you’re not thinking about getting married for the wrong reasons, but you’re not out of the woods yet, my friend.
Below are some of what I’ve determined to be the most important aspects of a relationship that bode well for a healthy and happy marriage.
And even though I’m calling this a “checklist,” I’m not saying that this big of a decision can be boiled down to a few “yes/no” questions and that’s it. But if your relationship doesn’t have these things already, let’s just say that it’s going to be pretty hard to make a marriage work in the long run.
1. YOU FIGHT WELL
A healthy relationship is not a relationship without arguments. A healthy relationship is a relationship with healthy arguments.
What I mean is that not only are fights inevitable in even the happiest marriage, they can actually be a good thing for the relationship if they are fought in a healthy way.
That means that, when you do get upset and argue with each other, you try to get to the root of the issue itself and you don’t attack the other person for who they are.
So, for example, maybe your partner blew you off when you really needed them and you felt hurt by it. Instead of telling them that they’re a heartless fuckface who only cares about themselves, you should probably try to understand why you’re so hurt in the first place and address that with them. Are you afraid of being left alone in times like this? And if so, do they actually understand that? Is there some way you can communicate when you really need them and are they willing to work with you on it?
Most arguments in relationships come from a misunderstanding of emotional needs. But that also means there’s an opportunity for you both to a) figure out what each other’s needs are and b) learn how to get your needs met and meet the needs of the other person.
And so, when done from a place of mutual respect for one another’s needs, this is how arguments can be a healthy part of a relationship.
And when you do fight, it’s important that, ultimately, you forgive each other and you forgive yourself. You don’t keep bringing up old issues but instead, you acknowledge when someone messes up and you accept their apology (and they own up to it and change their behavior). But you also admit when you’re wrong and forgive yourself for it instead of continuing to beat yourself up.
Again, fights are inevitable, so you need to make sure you’re fighting well before you get married. Otherwise, be prepared to deal with either a very short, tumultuous marriage or a very long, miserable marriage.
2. YOU HAVE SIMILAR WORLDVIEWS AND VISIONS FOR YOUR FUTURE
Stop and ask yourself this about your relationship: are your lives going in the same direction and do you share similar values? Or is there friction when it comes to big life decisions? Do your career aspirations and/or lifestyles mesh well with one another?
If one of you wants to be an actor and live in Los Angeles and one of you wants to live a quiet life on a farm in Idaho, well how exactly is that going to work? One of you will have to give up on your dreams, creating a downward spiral of resentment and regret. And then no one “wins.”
Similarly, if one of you wants to spend your money on traveling and seeing the world but one of you would rather buy a nice, big house and stay home to take care of it, that’s also a recipe for conflict down the road.
Essentially, if one of you has to give up on your dreams, your career, your passions, it’s just not going to work. One or both of you will wind up miserable and resenting each other.
And if one or both of you have to suppress or change your values in some way, you’re also in for a rocky marriage. Things like how to raise kids (or if you want them at all), religion, how you handle money issues, and so on. A lot of these things aren’t sexy to think about, but again, any issues you have now in your relationship will be magnified in your marriage. And the bigger the issue, the harder it will be to ignore it for long.
3. THERE’S A STRONG FRIENDSHIP THAT UNDERPINS THE RELATIONSHIP
A fact of any long-term relationship is that romance dwindles, sexual desire comes and goes, and life just happens sometimes. So it’s best to have someone you can count on in other ways when these things do occur. You should be marrying someone who’s not just an ideal romantic partner for you, they’re also your friend.
A good friendship involves accepting one another unconditionally, flaws and all. They might annoy you in some ways and piss you off in others, but at the end of the day, you still want to be there for them and you want them to be there for you.
You don’t get sick of each other, but when you do need your space, neither of you takes it personally and you give it to each other.
And maybe most importantly, you think in terms of “we” and “us” and not “you” and “me.” This is a product of having shared values that manifests as a solid, loving friendship. Of course, you recognize and respect one another’s autonomy. But you’re also a team, working towards the same goals.
If instead you feel like the other person is always interfering with your independence, then you either have a mismatch in values (see above) or you have some avoidant tendencies you need to deal with (see my article on attachment styles). Either way, you need to work this out before getting married.
4. YOU SEE MARRIAGE AS AN EXCITING OPTION, NOT AN OBLIGATION.
Last, you shouldn’t see getting married as something that you have to do for whatever reason.
And I don’t just mean someone giving you an ultimatum—“we need to get married or I’m leaving”—although that’s definitely one giant red flag not to get married. But you shouldn’t also feel like you have to get married because “that’s what people do” or because you’ve been with someone for a long time and feel like you owe it to them.
A marriage—and any relationship, really—is something that is created by two people. It’s a project, not an obligation.
And like any project worth doing in life, it can be challenging at times, but it should also be exciting and, in the end, worth it for both of you.
BOOKS ON RELATIONSHIPS AND MARRIAGE
Lots of people ask me which books I’d recommend for understanding and creating better relationships that can lead to a healthy marriage. The truth is, most books out on the topic give pretty shitty, vague advice that isn’t all that useful. That said, there are a few books out there that I regularly recommend to people. My top two are The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman and Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix.
If you’re the type who likes a more “academic” perspective, John Gottman’s 7 Principles of a Successful Marriage is nice overview of why relationships succeed and why they fail.
And if you find yourself in relationships where you’re constantly fighting with one another, check out Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg.
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