holding hands

If you have a “steady” boyfriend or girlfriend, and the subject (or idea) of marriage has come up, check this out…

“Love is a many-splendored thing…” 

So, you’re in a Serious Relationship – exciting, isn’t it? Love truly is a wonderful thing!  Here are some things to consider as you enjoy this special time:

1) Do not rush to get married. Were you aware that the average age of a person in America when they get married is now about 26 years old? And that, in general, the older a couple is, the greater the chance that their marriage will go the distance? According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 59% of first marriages between couples who are18 years of age or younger end in divorce within the first fifteen years while only 35% of those between couples who get married at the age of 25 or older end in a divorce within that same time period. Wow! What a difference a few years makes!

2) Take things slow and easy. If he (or she) really is “The One” for you, there is absolutely no need to rush things. Get to know each other well, in a variety of situations, before pledging undying love to each other. Relationships that begin with a foundation on friendship are usually much more stable in the long run than those that “rush to euphoria,” only to later crash and burn. The wisdom of this type of approach was highlighted in an article published in the L.A. Times on December 16th, 2002 entitled “The Brain in Love”. The article discussed a long-term study being conducted by the University of Texas in Austin which “identified three paths through early courtship: fast and passionate, slow and rocky, and in-between. The fast-track group, about 25% of the total, usually were interdependent within weeks, tended to ignore or forget their initial problems and were committed to marriage within several months. By contrast, the slow-motion group took an average of two years to reach a commitment, spending up to six painstaking months in each stage. Yet when it came to success at the 13-year mark, the tortoises won out.” According to Ted Huston, the study’s lead investigator, “The more boring and deliberate the courtship, the better the prospects for a long marriage, I’m afraid. People who had very intense, Hollywood-type romances at the beginning were likely to have a big drop-off later on, and this often changed their view of the other’s character”. So, slow and steady wins the race. Check out our program for making good decisions and how to find safe people to date: “Within My Reach.”

3) Become educated about Relationships. How? The first step is by reading. While there are a number of very good books about this topic, we recommend the book entitled “Relationships,” written by Les and Leslie Parrott, as an excellent place to start. You might be interested in our workshop on relationship skills for singles, called “Love Thinks” (or sometimes called “How To Avoid Marrying A Jerk (or Jerkette).”

4) Develop heathy communications skills and conflict resolution skills. Dr. John Gottman of the University of Washington is able to predict with a 91% accuracy level whether a couple’s marriage will succeed or fail by observing them interacting with each other for as little as five minutes. Five minutes! And it’s not a matter of whether the couple argues or not that is key, but rather HOW they argue – and how they treat each other when they argue – that turns out to be the most important factor in a couple’s long-term success together. Each couple develops its own particular “pattern of interaction” in a relationship. While a “positive pattern of interaction” will build each person, and the relationship, up, a “negative pattern of interaction” will usually tear each person, and the relationship, down. The good news is that positive patterns of interactions, can be learned. However, the earlier in a relationship that healthy communications and conflict resolution skills are learned and put into place, the easier it is to make changes – before “bad habits” get too heavily ingrained. A number of resources exist to learn these healthy communication and conflict resolution skills, several of which are contained in various places on this web site. Sections on this web site that contain this information are the section for Engaged Couples, and the sub-sections labeled Marriage Classes and Recommended Reading under the Marriage Enrichment section.

5) Avoid living together. Have you ever heard someone say that they were going to move in with their boyfriend or girlfriend as a “trial marriage”? Guess what – it doesn’t work! Recent research by the University of Wisconsin indicates that 40% of cohabitants break up before getting married. And those who do end up marrying each other after living together experience a 50% higher divorce rate than couples who had not lived together. So instead of experiencing a 50% divorce rate, these couples experience a 75% divorce rate. Overall, therefore, what we find is that only 15% of couples who live together before getting married end up in a lasting marriage. OUCH! Okay, let’s go through those numbers again, more slowly. Let’s say we start with 100 unmarried couples who decide to live together. We can expect that 40 of those will break up instead of getting married; that leaves 60 couples who end up getting married. But 45 of those couples (75%) will end up divorcing – leaving only 15 of our original 100 couples in a lasting marriage. Conclusion: if you want to increase your odds of being in a lasting relationship, do NOT cohabitate; it just doesn’t work. And this University of Wisconsin study is only one of many that give similar results. For an interesting discussion of why living together fails miserably as a “trial marriage,” as well as a review of a number of other studies that give similar results as the University of Wisconsin study, check out two articles written by Dr. Willard Harley. To find those articles, visit Dr. Harley’s website at http://www.marriagebuilders.com. From the main menu, select “Q&A Columns,” then “Preparing for Marriage” and then the two articles “Living Together Before Marriage #1” and “Living Together Before Marriage #2.”

6) If it looks like this relationship may be getting serious enough that the two of think that it could lead to marriage some day, we strongly suggest that you take a premarital inventory such as FOCUS, PREPARE, or RELATE well before you actually get engaged. Any of these inventories will give you a road map of areas in your relationship that you still need to talk about together before you make your final decision concerning your future together. Many churches offer one of these instruments to their engaged couples as part of their marriage preparation process, and most will be willing to let non-members take it as well. Be prepared for them to be surprised at your request – most couples are not forward-thinking enough to take this step, but once you do you will be glad you did.

7) If the two of you do decide to get married, participate in the most rigorous Marriage Preparation Program you can find. Go above and beyond any “required” classes the person who is performing the ceremony may require you to take – this is your marriage, not theirs. This is your future happiness at stake – not theirs. You will find that the time you spend in these types of courses will definitely pay off. Studies conducted by the University of Denver show that those couples who participate in a true “World Class” Marriage Preparation program reduce their probabilities of divorce within the first five years by two-thirds. And it makes sense, doesn’t it? We take classes before getting our driver’s license, don’t we? We take classes before becoming an architect, or teacher, or nurse, or doctor, or engineer. Why shouldn’t we take classes before entering into a much more permanent “line of work” – marriage? Being married is a “skilled profession,” and the good news is that the necessary skills can be taught and they can be learned. The “Engaged Couples” section of this web site will show you a number of resources available for you to customize your own Marriage Preparation Program. Please, please, please – do not skimp in this area. The time you spend preparing for your marriage will have a much greater impact on your life than the time you spend preparing for your wedding. Remember – a wedding is just a day but a marriage is a lifetime, and we want the life you share together to be the most wonderful it can be.

8) And once you are married, continue to invest in the relationship. Good marriages do not “just happen.” They are built. You wouldn’t plant a garden and then never water it, would you? Or buy a car and never change the oil? We all understand that neglecting our gardens or our cars will cause them to die. The same is true with our relationships – especially our marriage relationships. If we do not continue to invest in our marriages they will die, just like anything else in the world. We strongly suggest that you participate in at least one structured Marriage Enrichment event each and every year of your marriage. These include Married Couples Retreats, or a class series on Marriage, or participating in an ongoing Married Couples Fellowship group at your church (or at a nearby church if your particular church does not happen to offer them). This web site’s sections for Newly Married Couples and Marriage Enrichment are full of those types of resources.

9) And if your marriage ever starts to experience problems, get help right away. The sooner the problems are addressed, the easier they are to fix. A recent study found that only 10% of couples who got divorced sought help from a professional counselor before filing for divorce, and that those who did get help had been experiencing problems in their marriages an average of six years before they sought help. If you broke your leg skiing, would you wait six years before you went to the doctor? Don’t treat your marriage any worse than you would treat an injured leg. Here’s a commitment to make to each other before you get married – mutually agree that if either of you ever feel like your marriage could use some outside assistance that you both will go in for help together.

10) Once your relationship gets serious, and you begin to talk about marriage, print this page out and go over it with your Significant Other. Focus especially on the paragraphs numbered seven, eight and nine. Ask probing questions such as:
“If we got engaged, would you be willing to take the time to participate in as thorough of a Marriage Preparation Process as we could find?”
“If we got married, would you be willing to participate with me in at least one structured Marriage Enrichment activity each and every year of our lives together?”
“Would you be willing to agree, up front, that if we did get married that one of the ‘rules’ of our marriage would be that we would both be willing to participate in marriage counseling at any time that either of us requested it?”
This is a very important discussion to have. Not only will it give each of you an indication of how much commitment and dedication each of you would be willing to give a future long-term relationship, it may well be setting out guidelines that will keep an eventual marriage relationship on track “as long as you both shall live.” And that really is what you are looking for in a marriage – isn’t it? – a promise that will last a lifetime.

Potential Events or Resources for you:

No Jerks
Waiting, Dating, & Mating