Always a bridesmaid…that is what I thought I would be. As I watched friend after friend walk down the aisle and say, “I do” to their prince charming, I wondered if I would ever be a bride. I had dated several guys who wanted to become more serious, but when they would start talking about marriage I would start backing away – quickly. Marriage was a huge commitment, and I wasn’t about to take it lightly. In all of my relationships I had never felt like I knew for sure that the guy was the one.
How ready are you? I would often ask my friends or spiritual mentors. The reply was always the same, “You just know.” Thanks for clearing that up for me.
What does that mean anyway? You just know. I know a lot of things until I change my mind about them. I just knew that I loved the comforter and pillows that I picked out for my bed – until a year later when I decided I needed a whole new look. I know this is trivial compared to marriage, but the logic seemed the same to me. Even if I was sure now that this person was the one I should marry, would I still feel that way in two years? What about in 20 years? I was signing up to be with the person for the rest of my life; I had to be sure.
So how do you know for sure? I would like to offer some ideas. These are things that helped me when I was facing the same decision.
In my case, I already knew Matt quite well. We had attended college together and had become good friends. We even went on a couple dates, but I was never interested in anything more than friendship. But eight years later that friendship had turned into something more, and we began dating. However, I still wasn’t sure I wanted to marry him.
What did it take to convince me? A lot of talking. I don’t mean that he spent hours trying to talk me into it. I mean that we had to discuss a lot of things. I wanted to know all about him, his hopes, his dreams, his fears, his expectations for marriage, and anything else I could think of. I wanted to talk about every possible situation that could arise in a marriage and find out how he would handle it.
It turns out there are actually books that already have questions like these for couples. I searched the books and the internet to find suitable questions. When we were together we took turns asking each other these questions. Since he didn’t live in the area at the time, we also asked and answered questions by mail. We agreed in advance which questions we would answer and mailed our answers out on the same day so that the other person’s answers wouldn’t influence our own. We learned a lot about each other and what we expected from a spouse.
The questions covered everything from how many kids we each wanted and where we would like to live to who would do the dishes and take out the trash. You can find many of the questions we used in the book, 1000 Questions for Couples by Michael Webb. Other books with similar questions are The Hard Questions: 100 Essential Questions to Ask Before You Say “I Do,” by Susan Piver and 101 Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged, by Norm H. Wright.
It’s important to remember that some people are introverts and need time to process things before they answer. If your significant other is one of those people, respect that and allow him or her to take the time needed. You don’t have to cover all the questions at once. Spread them out among your other activities and conversations. However, if you find that the person you are dating repeatedly avoids answering questions, or feels that the whole idea is a waste of time, be careful. Even guys (or girls) who don’t like to talk about their emotions should be able to communicate freely with the person they love. If they can’t, it could be a red flag in the relationship.
Meet the Family
If you have “interesting” family members, perhaps an over-protective father or an annoying sibling, having your date spend prolonged amounts of time with your family may seem scary. But when you marry someone, you also marry that person’s family. They come with the package. So it is important for each of you to know what you are getting into.
In addition to spending time with each other’s family, discuss your childhood experiences. The way a person was raised shapes their belief system and who they become as an adult. For instance, how did they spend family vacations? Did they even take family vacations? How did their family handle conflicts? How did they handle finances? What are their holiday traditions? These seem like simple things, but when you combine two people with very different holiday traditions, sparks can fly when Christmas rolls around! If you know these family traits ahead of time, you are better prepared to consider what each of you grew up with and decide which of those traditions you want to keep and which you want to change.
It is also important to know about problems within the family. If there were things like abuse or alcoholism in either of your pasts it is important to discuss these issues.
Consider Your Friends
It is true that love can blind us. Often our friends can see things about our relationships that we can not. Do your friends like the person you are dating? If your friends express concerns to you, don’t immediately tune them out. Take some time to prayerfully consider whether what they say has any truth in it.
Take Your Time
Regardless of what you heart (or biological clock) says, you do not need to be in a rush to get married. It is important to take the time to prepare yourself for such a huge step. Are you emotionally ready to get married? You should question your reasons for wanting to marry this person. If it is to make you happy or relieve loneliness, you may find yourself disappointed after the wedding. Or if you have emotional wounds from your past that you have never dealt with, perhaps you should seek counseling about those issues before proceeding to marriage.
Couples also need to take time to prepare themselves financially for marriage. Love can hold people together through tough times, but it doesn’t pay the rent. When you marry someone their credit history and debts become yours too. Be sure your finances are in order and try to pay off any large debts before you get married.
Perhaps, the most important step in deciding if you should proceed to marriage is prayer. God created us and knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows which person will be the best match for us, and He will let us know if we are willing to listen to Him. The key is that we must also be willing to be obedient to what He tells us. We can’t ask God if this person is the right one, then plug our ears because we don’t want to give up the relationship. Surrender your relationship to God from the beginning and be willing to trust His guidance for it.
You Just Know
Once you do all these things, you will have a much better picture of who you are dating and what you both expect in a marriage. There will always be new things that you learn about each other if you do get married, but knowing as much as possible from the beginning will make the transition to marriage much easier.
So how do you know for sure? I think my friends were partially right. In a sense, you do ”just know,” but it isn’t because of some magical feeling that all is right with the world. Just knowing comes from time spent contemplating your similarities, your differences, and how well you fit together. It comes from asking God in prayer if this is His will for you. And it comes from making the decision in your heart that you will remain committed to this person no matter what the future holds. When those three things combine and you sense God’s total peace about the decision, then you can know for sure.
It doesn’t mean that you won’t encounter problems in your relationship along the way. But it does mean that regardless of what those problems are you can look back and know that God brought you together with this person and He will see you through.