If you're not sure you're ready for marriage, you likely aren't

If you're not sure you're ready for marriage, you likely aren't

Q: My on-again, off-again boyfriend of four years proposed a few weeks ago, and we are talking about getting married. We have had a tumultuous past with issues on both sides that I believe have been worked on and improved.

I have several girlfriends and family members who have lent an ear during our breakups and, because of this, are no longer fans of our relationship. I am hesitant to tell them of our engagement because they will all object; some have objected strongly already.

There are two sides to every story and I realize they have heard only mine. I do love this man very much and believe we could be happy together, but also I am afraid I am unable to see the things my friends and family can see. How do I decide if this is the correct decision?

Confused and Sad

A: We may all put our personal stamp on our bad decisions, but there are almost always common denominators — call them foundation mistakes.

The most common one, I think, is having a sense of urgency. If you feel pressured — internally, by your boyfriend, by societal norms, whatever — to make this decision, then expect it to come with regrets. If you cite your up-and-down history as grounds to wait, and see if he's the right guy, then he'll be happy to wait.

Next most common mistake? Denial. When there's a truth you're afraid to face, you're essentially choosing to use incomplete information.

In your case, your friends and family don't necessarily have it right; maybe they do have only part of the story. But the fact that you're afraid to hear critics out, afraid you'll be either swayed by unfair criticism or unmoved by legitimate questions, is telling you everything you need to decide the wedding is off, at least for now: It says you're not able to sift truth from perceptions, fears, wishful thoughts and other powerful distractions.

Marriage is not for the muddled or faint of heart. To avoid crushing or being crushed, spouses need to be able to: face and articulate difficult truths; admit fault; recognize when to set their needs aside for the good of the relationship, and when to set the relationship aside to address their own needs.

If you don't "believe we could be happy together" with enough conviction to withstand a well-meaning flak storm, then you lack the self-knowledge to be ready as a person, regardless of whether you're ready as a couple.

This is not meant as a personal attack. There's no shame in not being ready.

In fact, I'd say the third most common mistake is in having something to prove. Wanting to show you're mature enough, or that everyone's wrong about your boyfriend, or even that you fit your own vision of yourself, has a way of bending the facts into whatever you want to hear.

Constant fighting, for example, becomes "working through your issues," complaining to your friends becomes "just venting," skeptical loved ones become "people without the whole story."

Take these three mistakes — rushing your decision, hiding from critics and wanting to prove them wrong — and turn them around, and you have exactly the steps I advise taking: Slow down, hear your family out, and be open to whatever comes.

If you're not sure you're ready for marriage, you likely aren't 05/29/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 29, 2009 12:24am]

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