How do you know when you are ready to get married? How do you know when you have found “The One,” and not just the “Next Best One?” These are hard questions that cause many to struggle. However, there are some steps you can take to answer these questions and best prepare yourself for marriage.
Much of what we know about successful relationships comes from research by Dr. John Gottman. He and his associates at The Gottman Institute have been doing research on couples since the 1970s in a literal lab that they aptly call the “Love Lab.” What they have found is that there is not one perfect match for a person. Instead, there are about seven “perpetual issues” that will have no resolution in a relationship, although the specific issues vary based on the couple. This may be differences in religion, child rearing, or chore delegation. From this we learn that the focus is not on finding the perfect match, but on managing the conflicts that are bound to emerge in a relationship.
CHOOSE SOMEONE YOU CAN LIVE WITH
I do not mean to burst your romantic Hollywood-inspired bubble. But, put bluntly, this means that we have to find someone whose issues we can live with. Ask yourself questions like these: “What are deal-breakers for me? Would I rather have someone who does not pick up their socks or would I rather have someone who does not have the same political views as me?” The grass is not greener on the other side. It is greener where you water it. To insure that compatibility is possible, choose someone whose perpetual issues you can manage in relationship to your own needs.
While working with couples in therapy I have noticed a trend: couples who are struggling tend to not ask each other big-picture questions of interest. Before the wedding it’s important to explore who each of you are as people. Here are some open-ended questions to get you started: “Where do you see yourself in five years? What are some of your dreams right now? How do you plan to handle the holidays with family? What are some things missing in your life?”
Get curious. Learn about each other. Successful partnerships are based on a solid foundation of friendship. Use questions like the ones above as a tool not only to better know your potential partner, but also to keep the love alive for years to come.
INCREASE YOUR RATIO
While there is no magic wand for a love that lasts (though wouldn’t that be nice?), The Gottman Institute has identified a magic ratio to successful relationships. In lasting relationships, there is a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. Positive actions may include a kiss on the cheek, a word of appreciation or a successful conflict resolution. If couples can maintain this ratio, they are better able to maintain a positive outlook on the relationship even during the tough times. Because they continuously deposit into the emotional bank account that is their relationship, they have funds from which to withdraw when things are falling behind. Therefore, they thrive.
Because marriage, in itself, is not what creates a lasting relationship, do not forget to invest in the relationship prior to tying the knot. Ask openended questions about your future & your dreams. Seek compromise and compatibility. Practice creating that 5:1 ratio now. Perhaps see a couples’ therapist to help create dialogue between you and your partner even before your nuptials. Remember, your relationship will give you a return on what you invest. So, invest wisely & invest often.
Ashley Carter Youngblood is a Clinical Social Worker & Marriage & Family Therapist at Inner Peace Counseling, PLC in Kalamazoo. Her specialties include women’s issues, anxiety, holistic healing/mindfulness, and couples counseling. Find out more about her at her website, www.kalamazoo-counseling.com