Are you more interested in getting married than you are in the person you’re marrying?
This might seem like a strange question but it’s one, as a therapist, I find myself wondering about at times. To clarify, it is often women I wonder this about.
I’ve noticed a theme around women settling for a less than satisfactory situation in the hopes that it will lead to marriage and a family. Not only this, but they put their lives on hold to encourage the process.
Assessing the potential future happiness
This article sets out to address this possible path and give women tools to help them assess their potential future happiness in their current relationship.
I’ve spent much of my career talking to people about the “honeymoon phase” of their relationship and I think this is where a lot of people get stuck.
The beginning phase of most relationships is exciting and can be exhilarating. Usually, both partners are putting their best foot forward and trying to impress one another. In many ways, both partners are putting on a show. In my experience, this is often the reason people stay in relationships longer than they should.
If you find yourself saying things like, “I just wish my partner would go back to the person they were when I met them.”, you are likely in this boat. You’re hoping your partner will go back to the person you fell in love with. That makes a lot of sense. In a lot of relationships, the honeymoon phase version of the partner comes back from time to time renewing our hope.
Hoping your partner will change in various ways to be your ideal partner
Another version of this is wanting or hoping your partner will change in various ways to be your ideal partner. This can be a slippery slope and something to pay attention to.
There’s a difference between loving someone despite their perceived flaws and hoping they will turn into the person you could love or feel loved by.
I would like to acknowledge the pressures that women are faced with around getting married and starting a family.
Whether you’re experiencing this from the peers, the media, your family or just from your environment, this pressure can be intense. For women, this gets coupled with biology and the fear that waiting too long will leave you with limited options around having a family.
Despite the fact that women are giving birth later and later in life there are still the other people who are settling down with someone in their mid-twenties and beginning their path to child rearing.
Regardless of the articles about celebrities giving birth in their late forties to healthy babies, we are still somehow fed the idea that our womb will dry up or that we’re destined to have insurmountable fertility issues.
No one hopes to be an older parent
This coupled with the idea that no one hopes to be an older parent can push anxiety into high gear and make the perfect storm for settling for a less than desirable future spouse to avoid the possibility of missing out on your chance to have children and a family.
For some people, this works out. However, this could also lead to feeling trapped in a situation where you’re tied to someone you’re unhappy with for the sake of your child or children.
I don’t believe pressure to compete with our peers has necessarily increased. However, I do notice that social media has led to an uptake in our competitiveness. It is a forum for people to put out a well-crafted version of their reality.
At a certain age, it starts to feel like everyone is getting engaged, married or having babies. When this is your goal but you’re not exactly where you hoped you would be it can feel frustrating and even painful. It also makes one more likely to gravitate towards options that are nearest even if they don’t make total sense.
The idea that you might get some of the things you want can override your general happiness.
This is the time when ex-partners seem more attractive if they start engaging you. You might have a list of reasons the relationship didn’t work out and also have hope they might have changed or grown since things ended.
This leads us to tunnel vision. For some people, they become overly focused on the idea of becoming a couple and/or getting married. A common phenomenon is that they then focus less on themselves and their own personal development and more on making a relationship work.
They will often allow a partner to cross certain boundaries in the hopes that their own relaxed response will curry favor with the partner.
They might stifle their own feelings for fear that their partner will be turned off by their expression of even slight unhappiness or experience them as a nag. In essence, they walk on eggshells trying to make their partner happy when they themselves are not.
This is all in the hopes that the partner will like them more. It’s almost an extension of the honeymoon phase. The stage is now set for you to never get what you want. When we bend over backward to make others comfortable, inevitably our comfort becomes less important and resentment builds.
In life, when we push our needs aside it catches up with us somehow.
What you can do
All of these factors that impact your future relationship are easy to see in hindsight. I know plenty of people who can tell me they knew things weren’t right before they got married and now they’re divorced. How can you keep yourself from falling into a similar dynamic?
I strongly recommend that you take stock of your life and ask yourself some serious questions. If you’re not sure of the answers that’s understandable; life questions are not easy ones.
It might be helpful to talk to a therapist who can help you tease out what you want and need versus what you currently have.
Ask yourself questions like
Am I pursuing my personal passions/interests?
Am I focusing on my own growth and development?
Does my partner support my growth?
What do I want from a partner and am I getting what I want?
Am I happy in my current relationship?
Have my partner and I talked about what we want in the future?
Are we truly on the same page?
Do I feel safe to communicate what I think and how I feel?
Does my partner listen to my concerns and try to understand me?
Do we both try to resolve our core issues?
You might ask yourself whether your future plans are driven by your anxiety or by your happiness.
Try to be honest with yourself
I’m not suggesting that anyone is wrong for wanting to get married and start a future with someone. I feel compelled to talk about what happens when you put that goal before yourself.
We often hear about “settling down” or just plain “settling”. I believe you can have it all if you are true to your needs and make your needs known. It can take time to find the right partner.
When you feel rushed or pressured it can cloud your judgment.
People often equate getting married to being happy. It’s not a cure for loneliness. Truth be told some of the loneliest people I know are married. Marriage, even to the right person, is hard and requires work. Take your time. You deserve all the good things.