Editor’s Note: Strong relationships are at the core of a happy life, but sometimes, dealing with the people in our lives is tricky. That’s why Thrive Global partnered with The Gottman Institute on this advice column, Asking for a Friend. Every week, Gottman’s relationship experts will answer your most pressing questions about navigating relationships—with romantic partners, family members, coworkers, friends, and more. Have a question? Send it to [email protected]!
Q: How do you know you’re ready for marriage? —A.G.
A: There’s no one way to know, but if you’re considering whether or not to marry, you can set yourself up for success by having more clarity about your vision for your relationship, your confidence in your friendship, and creativity around your conflict.
Your vision for your marriage
It wasn’t that long ago that marriage was about survival. These days, marriage is much more about choice. You need to know why you’re making that choice. And what you hope that choice will accomplish for you. Ask yourself:
-Why do you want to be married?
-What will marriage do for you that being single won’t?
-What do you believe about the purpose of marriage?
-What will change about your relationship after the wedding?
Indeed these are all versions of the same question, but the answers are critical. Marriage is both a civil union that gives you access to your partner’s hospital room after a tragedy and a sacrament that unites people under a common religious or cultural banner.
Most pain in a marriage surfaces from the gap between expectation and experience. You and your partner should both be able to articulate your (initial) expectation for the marriage and your confidence in your ability to provide the kind of experience that make it (initially) successful.
The strength of your friendship
Dr. Gottman’s research suggests that the foundation of a healthy marriage is a strong friendship. This includes a deep familiarity with one another’s interests, goals, and dreams. It includes the proactive sharing of fondness and admiration for one another’s body and mind. It includes a regular habit of paying attention to and turning toward one another’s bids. Ask yourself:
-Is your partner interested in your goals and dreams?
-Is your partner fond of your character and choices?
-Do you matter to your partner?
-Does your partner have your back?
You’re probably assuming that “YES!” is the answer to each of these questions if you’re close to marriage. My follow up question would be, “How do you know?” In order for your partner to support your goals and dreams, they need to know what they are. In order for them to appreciate your character, they need to see it tested. In order to know that your partner has your back, you need to experience adversity together.
A great way to test all of these questions is to spend a major holiday with your partner’s family. You’ll discover quite a bit about what they think and feel deep down. You’ll learn a lot about how they operate under stress. You’ll probably have a few opportunities to have one another’s back.
The way you handle conflict
Conflict is inevitable. I’d argue it’s even essential. If you’ve not weathered at least one major conflict together, you are NOT ready for marriage. You do not want to have your first major conflict to come after the license is signed. Ask yourself:
-What do you know about conflict?
-When you do argue, how does it start?
-How does it end?
-What is it about?
-What is it really about?
You should at least have a theory of conflict. The Gottman Method includes a few surprising realities about how to handle conflict. Indeed, the ability to “manage” conflict is one of the key qualities of healthy couples.
The first is that the ability to accept influence actually increases your ability to exert influence in an argument. In other words, the ability to yield makes it easier to win. A second is that resolving an argument is less important than repairing the relationship. Dialogue is much more valuable than solution. Finally, the number one thing that couples argue about is “nothing.” They usually argue about the argument which is the real cause of escalation. You need to learn to self soothe, and to soothe one another, in order to avoid useless conflict.
So how do you know you’re ready for marriage? There’s no one foolproof way. But a thoughtful consideration of the questions above is a good first step.
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