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Sunday, April 14, 2013


Steve Cole muses: Just thinking to himself about how important it is to pick the right spouse:
For a successful marriage, you not only need true love and physical passion, but common values and goals. Most people meet, start dating, and spend a few months gently getting the answers to the various questions that determine if this is the person they want to spend their life with. During that period, you at least have some fun dates. You don't want to push too hard to get the key answers because when you get a wrong answer, the fun dating part tends to end, usually with a broken heart for both players. Then you have to go to all the trouble to find a new sweetheart.
This seems a good point to say that while half of all marriages fail, those that happen in the old-fashioned way (six to twelve months of courtship between church-going people who are in their mid-twenties) have a very high success rate, around the 90% just like marriages from the 1950s.
When Leanna and I met, we were 25, which was very old for single members of our generation. Almost no one our age was single, other than those who had been divorced. We both felt the clock ticking and knew that "old maid" and "old bachelor" were going to be our nicknames by the end of the year. However, both of us were at least slightly more terrified of marrying the wrong person out of desperation than of not marrying at all. (Old maid was better than divorcee in those days.) Once we thought we had something that might work, we made a conscious decision to compress the normal six-to-twelve-month dating period into a couple of weeks. We gave up the fun dating part and took the risk that maybe the answer to the next question was the deal breaker. The deal never broke. It wasn't perfect (I just cannot dance and she misses dancing) but it was very, very close.
Below are the key questions every couple needs to ask before they get engaged (and start buying things together, like houses). I'm sure that endless magazine articles have similar lists and I'm told that one of the dating websites has about 30. I'll settle for 10. If you both are in love and both have the same answer to every question, you have a very high probability of a successful marriage. If not, you may have some serious thinking to do. Marrying someone hoping to change their mind on core beliefs is a suicide mission and will result in one of you deeply resenting the other.
To be sure, there is some wiggle room. Someone who has always thought of having three children might be able to adjust to idea of only two, and a Tea Party member might be able to get along with a country club Republican, but direct opposites do not attract -- they collide.
1. How many children do you want to have? The big problem is if one of you says "none" and the other says "one or more." Even if you both agree, you also need to be aware if your sweetheart's family is unhappy with your mutual choice. Maybe you are absolutely committed to never having children, and your sweetheart readily agrees, but your future in-laws may be looking forward to grandchildren. That's going to make for a lot of uncomfortable family dinners. While we're on this one, do either of you have children you are supporting or are fighting for custody thereof? How often do you have to see your ex-spouse?
2. What political party do you support? Any marriage is going to have enough arguments without constantly fighting over the direction the country is going. Your social circle will be greatly influenced by your politics (and your churchgoing status, see the next item). Gun ownership is another key point. Someone who cannot stand being around firearms is not a good match for an avid hunter with a concealed carry permit.
3. What religion/denomination are you? Specifically, how often do you see the married couple going to church? Every week? Twice a week? Twice a year? Weddings and funerals only? Are you an evolutionist or a creationist? If you're not members of the same denomination (which is one reason why church is the first place to look for a spouse) then you're going to have to reach a comfortable middle ground, perhaps selecting a neutral denomination. Members of different religions have a tough battle unless (maybe) one of you has basically no religion at all.
4. Financially, are you a spender or a saver? Are you someone who wants to stay out of debt (except buying a house) or someone who doesn't mind carrying around tens of thousands of dollars of credit card debt? Frankly, and you won't like this, you need to run a credit check on each other and discuss the result with your own parents. Are you sure you want to marry someone with $50,000 in student loan debt for a worthless degree in German polka history?
5. Where do you see yourself living? Someone who cannot imagine living anywhere but your home town isn't going to be a good spouse for someone who assumes that their career will inevitably take them to New York. At the same time, discuss your career goals. Marrying a lawyer with a secret desire to leave his education behind to become a starving artist is not something to find out later. Another consideration is just how much of an obligation your career will have for work hours and travel. Maybe you do not want to marry someone who will spend weeks or months away all the time? Someone who wants to go to a special event once a year may not be a problem as long as you realize that you'll have one vacation week a year that you'll be alone.
6. Just how much time do you see yourself spending with your in-laws? If your sweetheart's family is a thousand miles away, are you willing to travel there at least every other year? Do you honestly expect your new spouse to spend every vacation and every Christmas at your parent's house? This gets really sticky if your sweetheart is from a foreign country with a very different culture. International child custody battles are a really dark and gloomy future to consider.
7. You need to discuss your habits: smoking, drinking, and recreational drugs for a start. Marrying someone who smokes (when you do not) is a deal breaker. Someone who gets drunk all the time is a bad match for someone who never drinks at all. Someone who uses illegal drugs is not someone you need to marry unless maybe you're a defense attorney. While we're at it, any criminal records will have to be revealed, both to your sweetheart and their family. Another thing is to discuss any medical situation. A family history of some disease may be a deal breaker. (If it is, maybe you're not as much in love as you thought you were? If it's not, maybe love is making you blind.) If you (hopefully) have no incompatible habits, discuss your hobbies. Maybe your future spouse isn't happy about you spending every dollar you can get on some activity they have no interest in? Maybe your future spouse assumes you will attend every game of a football franchise an hour away, or every concert of a rock band you just don't like.
8. Meeting your sweetheart's family is critical. (A girl of 20 will probably grow into her mother; a boy of 20 will very likely grow into his father. Want to know who you're going to be living with? This is your chance.) If your sweetheart's mother hates you, your future mother-in-law is going to be actively working to destroy your marriage every single day it lasts. That's not necessarily a deal breaker, but it is a major challenge to prepare for. Your spouse is your lifelong companion and must come before your parents, so if your future spouse is not willing to defy their parents, this isn't going to work.
9. Extra-marital obligations need to be discussed. Some of these we have mentioned before, such as prior debt, continuing child support, or criminal records. There are many others, such as membership in some volunteer organization or social club or sports team, an aging parent, a special needs child, military service obligations, a job (one you have or the one you want) which requires extensive travel, or anything else. Your future spouse needs to know about anything that is going to take you out of the house. Asking them to attend a charity fundraiser now and then should not be a problem. Marrying someone who spends every weekend and two nights a week at meetings for his favorite charity or issue or political party is going to become tiring.
10. Whether you're going to be monogamous, serial cheaters, or a swinger couple is up to you as long as you're both completely happy with the other person's choice. You're also going to have to be comfortable with their "past" so get it all out in the open. For that matter, once you get beyond the basics, there are a lot of things two people can do in the dark and if one of those is a deal breaker, find out before you get engaged.
The point of all of this is complete openness, and that is scary. That secret you're hiding that you know is a deal breaker will come out sooner or later. The heartbreak of a failed romance is nothing compared to the heartbreak of a failed marriage.