I am in the “question business” regarding weddings and premarital counseling. During a wedding, I ask questions. The first thing I say in a traditional ceremony is a question to the father, mother, or whoever walks the bride down. “Who presents this woman to be married?” Then I will ask the family some questions later in the service. And, of course, I will eventually get to the big question. “Do you take this person, promise, pledge, from this day forward?” Or some version of this question. But the question is crucial. You cannot have a wedding without asking a question.
Weddings are marked with questions, but the process leading up to the wedding should also be marked with questions. This whole thing began when someone asked a question. Someone asked someone to go out, hang out, get coffee, have lunch, or have dinner. Someone asked a question.
That began the first of three phases of relationships. The three phases are dating, engagement, and marriage. Dating started with a question. Then there is the Big Question, the proposal. “Will you marry me?” And then, at the wedding, I am legally obligated to ask an “I Do” question.
Now, those are big moments, but between “Do you want to hang out?” and answering “I Do” in a ceremony, there are tons of essential questions. Before moving from dating to engagement or from engagement to marriage, I ask couples these questions. I hope you choose a premarital counseling process if you are reading this. There is no substitute for this. Regardless of where these questions come from, You need to ask these ten questions.
The first two questions I ask tell me a lot. When I first meet with a couple, I want them to answer these:
The first should be easy. The second is more challenging and requires a little thought. But even before I ask those, there is a very personal question:
This question is essential. Are you sure? Once you get engaged, the relationship goes public. People in your world will ask you questions. People will want to know your story and ask, “How do you know?” How did you meet each other? When did you know it was love? How do you know this person is the one? How do you know you are ready to get married? Guys often get the joking question, “Are you sure you are ready to settle down?” or “She’s the one, eh?”
You can move on to some secondary questions once you have wrestled with these big questions.
Relationships need time to breathe and mature. Dating for at least two years is the generally accepted time for a couple to get to know each other. I have seen couples who have dated for a month or two, and they are convinced they have found the one. And that may be true. But it would be best if you still gave it a little time. For the first six months, this person you are seeing is perfect. You tell your friends and family that they are perfect. They roll their eyes and say the same thing, “We are excited for you; give it time.”
Once you get to a year, some things appear as habits, patterns, and issues. The shine gives way to the reality of who the person is. Ideally, the more you see, the more you like it. You are not falling in love with a flawless person but loving someone despite their flaws. Or it is the realization that two flawed people can make a great couple. Two years give you time to see them at work and play, with friends and family, in good situations and challenges.
While two years is the relationship baseline, I like to see couples date for a while before getting engaged. What is the difference between dating for two years and being engaged for one year vs. dating for one year and being engaged for two? Technically nothing, but engagement tends to pull people away from the relationship and more towards event planning. My general recommendation is to date for at least two years before getting engaged. On the other hand, my follow-up recommendation is don’t stay engaged forever, either.
Recent studies have shown that the human brain does not reach full developmental maturity until around 25. One study suggests three developmental categories:
· Adolescence (generally defined as puberty through age 18)
· Young Adulthood (generally defined as 18 to 22 or 18 to 25)
· Later Adulthood (generally defined as the mid-20s and older)
So, the human brain reaches full maturity at least in the mid-20s. So the rental car companies have it correct. The brain isn't fully mature at 16, when we are allowed to drive, or at 18, when we are allowed to vote, or at 21 when we are allowed to drink, but closer to 25, when we are allowed to rent a car. Those who marry before 25 face a higher divorce rate. The divorce rate after ten years is 48% for those who marry before age 18. However, the rate is just 25% for those who marry after age 25. For people who marry between the ages of 20-25, there is a 44%-60% chance of the union ending in divorce. These statistics confirm that the couple's age at the time of marrying impacts subsequent divorce rates.
Being at least twenty five years old and together for at least two years is the baseline for success.
Your family of origin has the most significant impact on your marriage. Out of all the factors that can and will impact you as a person, your parents have the most influence on your life. Whether it is good, bad, or somewhere in between, Your parents have left their mark.
Your family of origin has the most significant impact on your marriage.
No one has ever told me, “I don’t want to do it the way my aunt and uncle did it.” or “I want a marriage like my coworkers have.” Maybe those are examples to emulate or avoid, but most people say, “I want to do it the way my parents did it.” or “I don’t want to do it like my parents did.” For all the good or the bad, your parents are the template. When I push on it a little, I will ask, “So how did your parents do it?” or “What exactly did they do right or wrong.” They will sometimes say, “I am not sure.” So, some of this needs to be examined.
If you or your partner have siblings, I am interested in whether they are married, single, or divorced. If your partner comes from a family with divorced parents, I am curious if the siblings have gotten married or, in some cases, have already been divorced.
In reality, if your parents do not like your partner before the wedding, they will not like them after the wedding. If they think you need more time to be ready or it is not a good idea, pause. Romeo and Juliet and, eventually, West Side Story were romantic tragedies about star-crossed lovers. They were both romantic and tragic. Rushing to get married to avoid disapproval won’t fix anything. You might be married, and nothing can change that, but that won’t always change feelings and opinions either.
Romeo and Juliet were romantic tragedies. We cannot overlook that their story was romantic and tragic!
This does not imply that you must be wealthy. No one is ever wholly ready financially for marriage (or children). And if you have had rough financial patches, that is also ok. No one expects two human beings to be perfect. However, if finances are a big issue, this usually doesn’t go away quickly.
Use these questions as a starting place and do not be afraid of where the answers might take you. To listen to our podcast episode on this topic, click here: