Ready For Marriage—How I Knew

Friday, I was asked one of those questions.  When you have been married for more than fifteen years, inevitably, a friend in their twenties, contemplating marriage, ask, “How did you know you were ready to marry?”  Given the high levels of divorce in the United States and the tendency of friends to turn foe, the truth is young people increasingly have fewer and fewer people to ask.  The implicit assumption—People married a long time have the wisdom to make a successful marriage—is surprisingly not true.

What will make the next marriage work, is not a repeatable recipe.  The elements that made one marriage, may in fact, not help the next situation.  However, the storytelling about a successful marriage’s path provides immense value to the young person.  Interpreting the story through the context of the young person’s experiences reveals the valuable elements.  Thus the important point is to tell the story, let others decide what is crucial to their situation.

Thus, I’m to tell my story.  And, I thank my friend, for her willingness to ask my thoughts.  Her question, has given me the opportunity to refresh the reasons that my marriage brings such happiness.

So how did I know I was ready—I recognized in myself a readiness to work on making a marriage last.  I have long thought that relationships have four stages.  When I was mentally ready to move into the fourth stage, that’s when I knew that I was ready to try the path of marriage.  The four stages:

  • just getting to know, need to know more
  • i see some things, I don’t like
  • i see some things I like
  • ready to work.

Some see these four stages as occurring over time.  And, with time, my wife and I certainly progressed from one stage to the other, but, something else happened during time’s passage.  We evolved in our understanding.

I comprehend four dimensions of understanding: A personal capacity to trust the other, An understanding of the other’s values, An appreciation of the other’s personality, and A personal willingness to risk our emotional well-being.

A Personal Capacity to Trust the Other

As relationships move across the stages, the level of trust grows.  Here are four statements I consider reflective of each relationship stage.

Relationship Stage Statement a person might make for each stage
just getting to know, need to know more We are ready for a day trip together, but I can’t commit to a weekend meeting the family
i see some things, I don’t like It troubles me sometimes, how my significant other explains other’s behaviors
i see some things I like It’s healthy for our relationship that each of us occasionally hangs out without the other
ready to work. If my significant other broke my heart, I’d be shocked and disheartened, but I think I could learn to trust them again

The evolution of trust for Beverly and I took an interesting path, in that we were friends without dating for a year.  Because we went to the same college and had mutual friends, who shared common activities with the other (for example, Beverly and my best friend were in student government), we could move to “I see some things I like” using the association of our friends.  Our early dates were less about discovery of “things I like” and more about confirmation.

Part of my progression was how well I thought I knew Beverly, but also, the reciprocal nature of Beverly entrusting me.  To a degree, the observing Beverly in life’s more stressful experiences, gave me tremendous clues to how much she trusted me.  Trusting too fast, and the potential to be taken advantage of rises.  Trust too slow, and the opportunity to move ahead can be destroyed as the other person becomes delusional.  When Beverly agreed to my marriage proposal, she had to move across state lines, find a new job, start a new career.  These are major activities and they require trust to make them happen.  As I trusted Beverly more with my life, the nature of our relationship grew.

Importantly, we had not reached the ready to work stage by the proposal date, but we had by the marriage date.  This for us was the nature of when life’s events allowed us to display, receive and reciprocate with trust.  As we progressed, we became ready to work.

An Understanding of the Other’s Values

After twenty-two years, Beverly and I can easily think about the values we share.  But in deciding to marry, in our twenties, knowing values with certainty was difficult.  Discovering a significant other’s values requires familiarity.  We observe and interpret.  Yes we guess as well.  But successful marriage, at least in our case, was not about accuracy in guessing, but more of undergoing a few of life’s unexpected events, discussing them, and matching them to our observations.

Beverly and I decided to have a long engagement.  We lived together for eighteen months before our wedding date.  Our families had no interaction before the engagement.  Thus, we used the passage of time to allow life’s events to unfold and we both took advantage of the opportunity to observe the other.  During these eighteen months, we observed the other in diverse situations that revealed the value compatibility we were seeking to confirm.  Some that come to mind:

  • Beverly worked multiple jobs while I was a student
  • I observed Beverly and Beverly observed me interacting with an ex-girlfriend (a classic story we share)
  • We lived for a time managing personal finances separately, and decided later to combine them
  • We shared our dreams of school and career, and agreed a shared vision of how each of us would support the household

As values are discovered, people grant permission for the relationship to move across the stages.  Here are four statements I consider reflective of each relationship stage.

Relationship Stage Statement a person might make for each stage
just getting to know, need to know more We have lots of common friends, and we like many similar things
i see some things, I don’t like Sometimes, I don’t understand why my significant other does the things they do
i see some things I like I like that I can predict how my significant other will behave in a tough situation
ready to work. Despite that we sometimes see situations differently, rarely do we disagree about what is right & wrong

An Appreciation of the Other’s Personality

In thinking of marriage, two thoughts have reached almost mythical proportions, one is “opposites attract” and the other is “my spouse is my best friend.”  Neither is complete, although the two thoughts are seductively appropriate.  For me moving to the stage of ready to work, took me gaining an appreciation of Beverly’s personality.  And in my observation of the marriages that have lasted and failed, appreciation seems about right.  Best friend is too strong, and opposites is not quite right.

As relationships move across the stages, the nature of the appreciation changes.  Here are four statements I consider reflective of each relationship stage.

Relationship Stage Statement a person might make for each stage
just getting to know, need to know more I’m still figuring out their personality
i see some things, I don’t like I see some personality traits that I recognize in myself
i see some things I like My significant other differs from me, and that’s a good thing
ready to work. We each recognize the strengths of the other, and I am relieved to let them do the things they are good at.

For Beverly and I, living together worked well for us to move through the relationship stages.  I achieve ready to work status, because I could see Beverly’s personality as evidence of skills and contribution that would help achieve our mutual goals.  By the time of our marriage, we had many roles of our household figured out and working smoothly.  And importantly, we both could acknowledge which of us would be best at an activity—we acknowledged the other’s individuality.

The Newlywed game show was famous for exposing the lack of factual knowledge with new couples.  Appreciation of personality has nothing to do with facts, Beverly and I discovered many factual things as we spent time together.  However, from the time we committed to each other, we knew each other’s personality.  If we had taken a Meyers-Briggs test when we wed, there would have been no surprises.  Appreciating each other as individuals allowed us to have confidence that we could figure out the unknown when needed.  And that is what willing to work is about.

A Personal Willingness to Risk our Emotional Well-Being

As relationships move across the stages, the willingness to take risk grows.  Here are four statements I consider reflective of each relationship stage.

Relationship Stage Statement a person might make for each stage
just getting to know, need to know more I need to protect myself in relationships.
i see some things, I don’t like I am shielding my most sensitive emotions, it is just good common sense
i see some things I like We have had serious talks about our life—There is potential to move ahead
ready to work. My significant other is entrusted with my emotional stability—my friends can’t imagine how much

Individuals can move along this dimensions, without their significant other traveling along.  It is a very personal decision to risk emotional well-being and anyone who has ever had a broken heart knows the pain.

In my case, this stage was achieved because of my experiences with a couple of go nowhere relationships I had recently had, and by what I now understand was my relatively high self-esteem.  Not a cockiness that I’d succeed, instead, a conviction that with hard work I could recover from the worse embarrassment.  Which, by the way I needed, as Beverly didn’t trust my unrehearsed proposals and turned me down three or four times.  At this age, it’s hard to remember how many.

What Happened to Love, and Physical Attraction

Love and physical attraction are requirements to reach a successful marriage.  So for that matter is scent—A spouse just has to smell the other person and experience pleasant thoughts.  However, none of these are sufficient when the marriage requires work to continue, and every marriage does require work.  No, willing to work, requires a personal energy and commitment driven by more than physical attraction, or an emotional high based on love.

When we married, Beverly nor I had fully progressed along all four stages, but some progress had been made.  Today, we are very comfortable across all dimensions.  This certainly doesn’t mean we are error free, but committed to working on our relationship through all of life’s uncertainties and surprises—that we are.

One single comment

  1. Kris says:

    Wow, this was a GREAT post! I’m definitely linking this in my new post! Thanks!

Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment. So log in!

Copyright © Thoughtfulness
Ideas to clarify; Decisions to make

Built on Notes Blog Core
Powered by WordPress