So, you’ve been dating for a while. How do you know if you’re ready for marriage? Before you have the ‘forever conversation’, consider these signs to discern if you are ready to commit, should wait a little longer, or should quit now.
Marriage Readiness Check List
You help each other to be better people. You’ve grown and your partner has grown throughout your dating and courtship.
Marriage is a ‘growing up’ institution – it’s a relationship that helps us to mature and change for the better. If you haven’t seen positive personal growth in yourself or your dating partner, it’s a warning sign: most marriages break down because one or both refuse to change.
A willingness to grow is fundamental to life-long marriage. None of us are perfect, but if we’re prepared to grow, there’s hope that things will get better. If there’s no willingness to grow, there’s no hope and the future is bleak. A marriage without hope is a desolate place.
2: Family Approval
Your family approves of your choice and encourages your relationship. You have good relationships with your partner’s family.
We know that some families are dysfunctional and their objections to a choice of partner may not be grounded on good principles. However, most families are functional and they know and love their child/sibling/cousin/grandchild well.
If everyone in your family is shunning the relationship, there’s a good chance that they can see something that you can’t. Don’t be too hasty to dismiss family disapproval. Listen to the concerns, and if they have merit, take them on board.
3: Friends aplenty
You have maintained healthy friendships and your friends approve of the relationship and affirm that you are a better person because of your relationship.
One of the biggest dangers for dating couples is that they lose contact with friends in the intensity of the romance. They end up committing to marriage, not because they are ready or a good match, but simply because to break up would leave them lonely and friendless. The absence of friends to meet our emotional needs is not a good enough reason to commit to marriage and will almost certainly back-fire down the road.
Moreover, no single person, no matter how amazing, can ever meet our every need. We want a mate who can be our best friend, our confidant, our perfect sexual fulfillment, our recreational clone, fun and exciting, financially capable AND a great parent (the list keeps going!) Couples who expect this of their spouse, end up in trouble. It’s an impossible expectation to put all this on our spouse and unhealthy for our relationship.
You enjoy a healthy attraction for each other and share a sexual energy.
The key word here is ‘healthy’; what we’re referring to is a balance. A relationship consumed by uncontrollable lust will not survive and will struggle to maintain sexual exclusivity. Equally so, a relationship where there is no sexual passion will also struggle, especially in our present sex-charged culture which is constantly asserting itself into our lives.
Sex is a wonderful and important communication between a husband and wife and in healthy marriages there should be regular, enjoyable sex. It is also central to the sacramental expression marriage which is why the Church has been so protective of marital sex.
You and your partner are prepared to make sacrifices for each other and for the relationship, surrendering recreational hobbies, personal preferences and career opportunities if necessary.
All good things have a cost and it’s simply not possible to have it all. To establish a life-long marriage, both spouses need to be willing to prioritise the relationship and their emerging family over their own interests.
This doesn’t mean that you have to surrender all your cherished dreams; marriage is not a prison or an institution of deprivation. Marriage is an opportunity to participate in an incredible dream – the dream of a life-long love affair that leaves a legacy that endures for generations.
Your dreams, like everything, have to be prioritised. If the marriage dream is not the first among your aspirations, you’ll always resent what you have given up for it. Some people have more of a dream for their wedding day than they do for their marriage; if you’re not really thinking about or planning for life after the wedding, it’s a warning sign.
You both respect each other’s boundaries, whether they are moral, sexual, financial, physical or emotional.
Respecting boundaries is one of the principle ways we honour and value each other. Every marriage partnership will have differences in their boundaries – both of us need to be prepared to abide by the other’s boundaries, otherwise resentment and wounds will accumulate in the relationship and undermine it.
Listen openly and honestly to each other when you express your feelings about boundaries, and boundary violations. If you’ve violated a boundary, take ownership for the harm done to your partner, apologise and commit to honouring the boundary in the future. If you can’t do this before marriage, chances are you won’t respect the boundaries afterwards.
You talk regularly and deeply, sharing your inner thoughts, dreams, fears, emotions and needs. You’ve discussed your future goals and religious beliefs and are open to exploring each other’s spirituality.
Newly in-love couples are often quite good at this… they talk for hours and are fascinated by each other’s ideas and emotions. Everything is new and it’s exciting to explore each other’s world.
But we are not static entities; we grow and change every day, so the need for deep communication is just as important for a relationship that is 10, 20 or 50 years old as for a 2 month one. If your communication has plateaued, or been subsumed by other interests, work to reinstate it before you consider committing to the next stage.
You don’t withhold information from each other or keep secrets. You have disclosed your past mistakes and history. You are transparent about how you spend your money, with who you spend your time and what you do when apart.
Many a relationship has fallen apart because one or both failed to disclose important information. The sense of betrayal can be immense when we discover that our spouse has be keeping secrets or withholding information – it’s often worse than the actual secret itself.
If you have undisclosed aspects of your life or your past, think carefully about what this means; if you are afraid that you will be rejected because of your history, or are just keeping an ‘insurance policy’ if something goes wrong, that’s a red flag and you really need to consider whether your lack of trust in your partner’s love and acceptance is grounded in your lack of self-worth, or your sense that your partner’s love is conditional. Both reasons are a problem and require action.
You’ve talked about your values, the things that are really important to you, especially the marital values of fidelity, openness to children, exclusivity and permanence.
Marriage is a permanent and sexually exclusive relationship between a man and a woman – and for good reason… a sexual relationship is the gateway to conceiving children and when children are involved, the stakes are very high indeed. No longer is the relationship just about the two of you, it’s about the rights of your children to be raised in a loving home by both biological parents.
Sexual exclusivity ensures that they are your biological children; permanence ensures that the relationship will last until they are grown up. If you plan to marry in the Catholic Church, the values of permanence, fidelity, unconditional sharing and openness to children are considered basic features.
You have dealt with any addictions (drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography, gaming etc) and are free to make a choice for love.
If you’re enslaved to an addiction of any kind, your spouse will always be second to the addiction. It’s a recipe for strife and marriages have a very difficult time surviving with an addiction.
It’s a mistake to think that you will deal with it later, after the wedding. If you or your partner has any addiction, our advice: make it a priority to deal with it now. Put the wedding or discussions of marriage on hold until it’s done.
The same applies for mental illness. If you are not in full possession of your will, you cannot make a free and total commitment to marriage. Get help and get well before you proceed further.
Are you ready for marriage?
There are so many things to consider, but the things couples usually think of, such as enjoying each other’s company and the absence of conflict are not always the best indicators of your readiness for marriage.
Engagement is a wonderful time, but it’s also very busy and many couples find that their relationship development gets crowded out with all the wedding day planning. For dating couples who are discerning marriage, the SmartLoving Engaged course is a great way to explore these topics and ensure you are ready for marriage before you become officially engaged.SmartLoving Engaged
Information for parish leaders here