You’ve been dating for a while. You might even be living together. Your man finally popped the question, but you’re wondering: should you say yes?
If you hesitated, your gut is telling you something. I encourage you to take a step back, evaluate the relationship as honestly as you can, and make sure he’s really the one. Why do I advise such caution?
Because I work as a marriage counselor, specializing in affair recovery. I know how hard marriage is, and I’m telling you, if you aren’t 100% jumping up and down ready to marry him, there’s probably something wrong.
An all-too-common problem
There is an old adage that a woman marries a man hoping to change him, whereas a man marries a woman hoping she will never change.
If you hesitated (or are now questioning if you really should have said yes—many women say yes because it’s the “right” thing to do or because they don’t want to hurt his feelings), you know something isn’t quite right. A lot of women are people-pleasers (we’re trained to be this way), and so we go into marriage knowing that our man is not exactly what we want in a life partner, but hoping that he will eventually get there. He’ll grow into the role, or he’ll mellow out. He just needs time, right?
Make sure you admire who he is today
People don’t change just because you want them to, and many a relationship goes down the tubes because one partner is trying to change the other. You will get frustrated because he’s not changing, and he will become resentful of you for not accepting him as he is. If you want a successful marriage, marry a person who already has good character, not the potential to maybe-perhaps-someday evolve into the man of your dreams.
Why does character matter? Because life is hard, and you need someone who does the right thing even when it’s not convenient. Not someone who has the potential to do the right thing someday down the road.
Markers of poor character: The triple AAAs
I asked Brett Novick, a marriage therapist and author of “Don’t Marry a Lemon!” for his advice on what to look for in a spouse. He advises considering character and values above all else, including physical attractiveness and chemistry.
“Watch out for the triple A’s: the AAA of Alcohol, Addiction, Affairs,” Novick says. “Do they have a history of jumping from relationship to relationship? Addiction? Do they drink a lot?”
Novick warns against the AAAs because they say a lot about a person’s character. A person who drinks too much is probably unable to cope with challenges healthily, and alcoholism is an all-consuming battle that will definitely stress your relationship. Likewise addictions indicate weakness of character that can sabotage the marriage. A man who has a history of short relationships may not be capable of committing to you.
The trickiest A: Affairs
What if he’s cheated on you before marriage? As an expert in helping marriages recover from infidelity, I strongly recommend that you end it now. Marriage is hard. You need someone who will always be there for you, even in bad times. If he cheated on you, he has shown you who he is. Walk out the door now, when the pain is only that of a break up. The pain of divorce is much worse, especially if you have children with him.
Hallmarks of good character
But how can you tell if a man has good character?
Novick says you can tell if a man has good or bad character by observing his interactions with other people. “We all try to be on our best behavior when we first meet someone,” Novick says. “Hopefully, he treats you well. Watch how he treats other people, especially people who can’t help him or benefit him in any way. How does he treat the waiter? His family? His mother?”
Why should you pay attention to how he treats people who offer him no benefit? Most human beings are savvy enough to know that we have to behave well when we want to get something in return. However, you need to know how he will treat you in the future, when you are both comfortable with each other, or are under stress. After the honeymoon period is over, will he still be considerate? You want to choose someone who is kind, generous, respectful and willing to sacrifice for others.
Likewise, you want to look for indications that he is the type of person who can weather the storms of life. Is he resilient? Positive? Able to handle obstacles and challenges without blaming others for his problems? Watch how he handles everything from bad traffic to a car accident. Is everything always someone else’s fault, or is he able to accept culpability when he makes a mistake? Is he vindictive or gracious?
Before you say I do
Choosing a partner can be challenging. It can be tempting to settle and just say yes if your search for a husband has been long and tiring. As a marriage counselor, I can assure you that it’s better to remain single and continue searching than to tie the knot with someone who has poor character. A good husband is well worth the wait, even if you have to break off a premature engagement.
Want to have a happier, healthier marriage?
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
More by Caroline Madden