Most people think getting married is procedurally pretty simple. You connect with someone you like and find attractive. You date for a while. You meet the folks and the friends. You compare notes: living and working where? how many kids? You affirm your love. Then—presto!—time to design the ring(s) and plan the wedding. You set the date and send out the invites for better or worse.
But there’s a better way. Before you forge ahead, check the foundation you have laid for your union. Are all or most of the pieces in place? As elsewhere in life, readiness is everything.
To know if you are ready to tie the knot, consider the points outlined below. How do you measure up? Next, ask yourself where your mate stands with each one.
Experience with living alone. Have you lived on your own? For how long? It’s important to have at least a couple of years under your belt before you hitch yourself to someone else. I’m not talking about a room of your own at college or an apartment share after graduation. You need to have flown solo as a working adult in an apartment or a house.
With no one to tell you when to tidy up, what music to listen to, or when to go to bed, you discover your preferences. How will you furnish your space? What will you buy at the grocery store? How will you spend your free time?
When you are the boss, you learn how to please yourself. Armed with this self-knowledge, you will know what living habits safeguard your sanity and which can be negotiated to accommodate someone else.
Ability to express and hear feelings. You must be able to tell your spouse how you feel without embarrassment. We’re talking here about feelings, not thoughts. The point is not to make the other person listen—you have no control in this area—but to honor yourself.
It’s a matter of mental hygiene. On the flip side, when you are able to hear and accept someone else’s feelings, you can instantly cut through trivia to reach the heart of a dispute. In the process you win trust and take a giant step toward resolving any conflict between you.
Ability to voice and hear wants. Do you know how to say what you want? No one is a mind reader. There’s no guarantee that you will get it, of course, but you stand a better chance if you ask for it explicitly, and by doing so you establish a starting point for negotiations. Your partner must also make clear requests. Once you understand each other, you can agree on an action plan. Specificity is all!
Long-range goals. You want to feel good about each day you spend on this earth—if not about what happened, then at least about how you handled it. The best way to achieve this result is to know your values and goals and to have an action plan. Once you have this personal GPS, then you can readily appraise your headway.
A purpose-driven life helps you feel good about yourself. Ideally your partner also has values, goals, and a strategy for reaching them. Planful living allows us to take care of ourselves. It’s about self-respect, an attribute you want to have and to see in your partner as well.
Ability to take responsibility for oneself. In a healthy marriage, power and responsibility are equally distributed. Before either of you shoulders part of the joint burden, however, you must be accountable for yourself as an individual.
This attitude of personal responsibility shows itself in how you dress and how you behave. It is also evident from how you handle money and your health and your career, how you treat obligations to family members and others, and how you protect yourself and your future. Where do you and your partner stand in this department?
Willingness to advocate for oneself. The ability to speak on your own behalf is closely allied with the ability to voice feelings and to ask for what you want. When you make the case for your needs, you are fulfilling your basic duty to act as your own best friend.
If you don’t take care of yourself, who else will? Your parents did the job when you were young, but you are all grown up now. The ability to look after yourself in this regard is a hallmark of adulthood.
Ability to compromise/negotiate. When two people disagree, the knee-jerk response is generally to show the other person that your way is right. But a solution that satisfies only one party probably won’t last. You don’t want your marriage to become a war zone.
It’s better to solve the problem in a way that meets the essential needs you each have. You both own the problem, and you must collaborate to reach a win-win solution.
Money habits. Before you marry, there should be a meeting of the minds on financial matters. The two of you must be equals in this area, agreeing on how income, expenses, bills, and bank accounts will be handled as well as on financial goals for the future. You both need to track income and outgo on a weekly or monthly basis.
When one person does this work alone, the resulting imbalance breeds helplessness, fear, and resentment in the other party. The goal in your relationship is complementarity, interdependence: both of you should be capable of managing alone if need be but determined, as long as you are together, to combine your efforts.
Attitudes toward relatives. Before you settle down as a couple, compare notes. Who and where are the family members on both sides? What responsibilities do you each have to them? What sort of contact do you have with your relatives by phone or in person?
Can the two of you accept the preexisting loyalties and agree on boundaries that protect your privacy as a couple? Here as elsewhere, the two of you must deal with the outside world as a team. Better to know what to expect in this area than not, since ties to mother, father, and siblings are older than the bond the two of you have forged.
Commitment to troubleshooting. Be sure to affirm your joint determination to iron out the inevitable problems together. Relationships are always hard work! The boat always needs bailing, and the captains must constantly trim the sails. Whatever the issue, though, you can deal with it as long as both parties want to stay the course.