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How long is long enough to know if a relationship is right?

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

How long is long enough to know if a relationship is right?

Anonymous: There's a line in a Beyonce song: "If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it." Do you think there's any truth to this? So many times in your column, I see people with doubt after doubt after doubt after doubt. I've been with people like that, and it's excruciating. At what point do you just throw your hands up in the air and say, "You know everything you're ever going to know about me. Either you want to be with me or you don't. And if you did, we probably wouldn't be having this conversation"?

I just don't think I could marry anyone who expressed doubts about me. I'd never know what his real motives were.

Carolyn: People do tend to go after what they want, but conviction alone is not the last word. With, say, a three-month relationship, it's a ridiculous standard. Meanwhile, just because someone professes and demonstrates commitment, that doesn't rule out ulterior motives.

I am loath to cite actual numbers, but I'd put the throw-up-your-hands point somewhere after you've been together two years. That allows you to wait out any head rush from being new and exciting to each other, so you can see how you really get along without the adrenaline crutch. (It's my understanding that the newness buzz dies off after a couple of years.)

Before that point, people have the buzz as a reason to doubt their own judgment, even if they don't have specific doubts about their partners.

If your head has cleared of infatuation-buzz, you're still unsure of someone and just waiting for an epiphany, that's stringing someone along. Someone with specific doubts at this point — doubts on a path to resolution, preferably — is certainly entitled to them, but owes the partner an explanation. Some are damning, some aren't.

Anonymous: Re: Two years: My husband and I met in our 30s, immediately committed to the relationship and married just shy of knowing each other two years. I might have misunderstood the context, but I'm feeling a little defensive right now.

Carolyn: People can choose wisely before two years, certainly, based on maturity or experience or even a hunch. There are also people who fall head-over-heels in love, think that floaty feeling is the ideal they're trying to achieve — and then, once the newness wears off, find themselves married to someone they don't even like very much.

For people afraid of the latter, a benchmark can help them tell the difference between love and infatuation. That doesn't wipe out the importance of individuality, experience and judgment.

Anonymous 2: Re: Two years: Actually courted for three years, then got married. Spouse started an affair five months after the wedding.

I was certain he was perfect for me, and he certainly acted as though I was perfect for him.

We're divorcing.

Carolyn: "Two years" is not the line where all decisions before are bad, and after are good. It has an extremely narrow purpose: to tell you whether you're getting misled by infatuation.

Whether you're getting misled by anything else — the other person, your own bad judgment, societal or parental or peer pressure, mental illness, addiction, your messed-up childhood, your un-messed-up childhood, whatever — is another matter entirely.

I'm sorry about your divorce.

How long is long enough to know if a relationship is right? 12/09/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 9, 2009 3:30am]
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