Not to put too much pressure on you, but, "your choice of a life partner may well be the most important decision you ever make," says New York City-based relationship therapist Jean Fitzpatrick. But we're can make that big decision a little easier. Here, our experts say, are eight questions you must ask yourself before you say "yes."
1. Why do I want to get married?
Are you feeling the siren call of wedding bells because this was the year all your friends tied the knot — or because you can't imagine your life without this guy or gal? "Marriage ideally should be about finding the right partner, instead of feeling like it is time to do so," says Lisa Yee, LMFT in Madison, Wisconsin. So, she says, be sure you know why you want to say yes before you do.
2. Can we manage conflict?
The key to a marriage-ready relationship isn't a lack of conflict, says Fitzpatrick. Instead, you can feel confident in saying "yes" when you've learned to manage conflict with respect. "Partners who can speak gently to each other rather than fly off the handle will be the most effective at sorting out typical disagreements over money, sex, and chores," Fitzpatrick explains. "Couples who don't manage conflict effectively end up in destructive arguments, or they begin to avoid each other and the relationship goes stale."
3. Will my partner stick through the tough times?
Should you tie the knot, you'll likely promise to stick with your partner through the good times and the bad. But can you be sure your partner plans to do the same? "Nobody expects trouble," says Linda F. Williams, MSW and certified professional life coach, "yet these challenges are almost inevitable. Knowing how well an individual deals with unexpected developments and changes will clue you in on whether they will be supportive in the trenches."
4. Can I be my true self around my partner?
You want to spend your life with a partner from whom you don't have to hide your true self. So before you say yes, says Kali Rogers, founder and CEO of Blush Online Life Coaching, be sure he or she brings out the real you. "If you feel like you have to hide things about yourself, exaggerate, lie, or anything else in order to be the right version of yourself in front of your partner, be aware," she says. "It's pretty impossible to hide our authentic selves over the course of 30, 40, or 50 years, so it's good to make sure you both are being yourselves now before you move forward."
5. Does marriage mean the same thing to us?
When you picture marriage, what do you see? And does your vision match your partner's? "If one partner thinks children should be raised by a stay-at-home mom and the other looks forward to being a two-career couple, you have some talking to do," says Fitzpatrick. Or, "if one likes to be alone [together] most of the time while the other wants to socialize regularly, you'll need to find compromise."
6. Would I trust my partner with my bank account right now?
You may still several months before you'd have to test this out, but it's best to know if your money management styles mesh now. "So often money issues and trust are at the root of many marriage conflicts," points out Susan Albers, Psy.D, psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic. "If you wouldn't feel comfortable handing over your bank account, it is unlikely that you truly trust your spouse to be. Trust begins with being able to reveal everything — from our phones to our bank accounts, passwords and computers."
7. Do I love who my partner is today?
Says Rogers, "Potential is a great, but it's not enough to sustain a relationship. So ask yourself if you are banking on something changing in your relationship in order to take the big plunge." Why? Because, as Rogers explains, you have no guarantee your partner will change down the road. "So the best thing we can do for ourselves is to ask if we are completely happy with the person our partner is today," she says, "because assuming they will change in the future could completely devastate expectations."
8. Do our families mesh?
Albers asks you to picture a family holiday. Do you see every peacefully together, or does tension and conflict erupt? "[If] you can't imagine a [peaceful] meal with both sides of the family, carefully explore why not," she encourages. "Extended families are often at the heart of fissures in the relationship. You may think that you will only visit in-laws once a year but distance no longer guarantees they won't be involved in the day to day of your life."