Decades of radio counseling, personal experience, and public and private discussions about marriage prompt me to write this list of questions for anyone contemplating marriage.
1. Is the person your best friend or at least becoming so?
It is easy to find a lover. It is easy to get excited about a new person. But if you cannot say that the person you are considering marrying has become or is becoming your best friend, you need to figure out why before you decide to marry. This is probably the single most overlooked question among couples, especially young ones.
And for good reason. Many people cannot not answer this in the affirmative. But you have to answer it. Over time, friendship is the greatest bond between a couple. If the person you marry does not become your best friend, you will either seek someone who will be or simply drift apart.
What is a best friend? Someone you can and do tell just about everything to. Someone you want to be with as much as possible. And someone you need. One of the most devastating ideas of the last generation was that needing or depending upon another person is a sign of weakness. The opposite is true. The inability to need is a sign of weakness — you are afraid to relinquish power or afraid to be hurt.
2. Aside from sex, do you enjoy each other?
As great as the sex may be (and great sex certainly adds to a marriage), even Hugh Hefner spends the vast majority of time doing other things. You must enjoy this person during those hours. This sounds trite, but enjoying each other may actually be the single most important characteristic of a happy marriage.
3. Is there chemistry between the two of you?
As essential as being best friends and enjoying each other are, there should be a physical component to your relationship. Dating for marriage is not an interview for a platonic best friend. Nearly always, a woman who dates a man who meets the criteria listed here can grow to find him sexually attractive. If that were not the case, the majority of men would never attract a woman. There are very few men who turn heads. Most men become physically attractive to a woman thanks to other, masculine, qualities that they possess.
Even for men it is common to find a woman physically attractive over time. In my late 20s, I directed a summer institute for men and women ages 19-25. After the first two summers, I began to play a game with myself. On the first night of the session, I made a mental note of which women I thought the most attractive and compared that list to one I made after the four weeks. The names on the latter list were rarely on the first-night list.
Nevertheless, if there is insufficient physical attraction after all other criteria are met and time has passed, you may be in the tragic position of having to end a relationship with a great man or woman.
4. Does the person have a number of good friends and at least one very close friend of the same sex?
It is a bad sign if the person you are thinking of marrying does not have good friends (including of long duration) of the same sex. Something is very wrong. This alone should rule out the person from consideration. A woman who cannot hold female friends and a man who cannot hold male friends have issues that will probably sink your marriage.
5. How does the person treat others?
It should go without saying that if the person is not kind to you, quit while you can. But it is far from sufficient that the person you are considering marrying treats you kindly. Watch how he or she treats waitresses, employees, family members and anyone else he/she comes into contact with. I promise you how the person treats others now is how this person will treat you later.
If these questions and the ones I will pose in Part II are answered honestly and help determine your decision, your chances of entering a happy marriage or avoiding an unhappy one are dramatically increased.
You’ll need that, too.
It is exceptionally difficult to find the right person to marry.
This is especially true for first marriages. That is why it is so important to think through your decision by asking and answering critical questions. In Part I, I offered five. Here are seven more:
6. What problems do the two of you now have? And what inner voice of doubt, if any, are you suppressing?
Here is a rule that is rarely broken: Whatever problems you have before the wedding day, you will have during your marriage. Do not think that marrying will solve any problem you have with the person. You therefore have three choices: Make peace with the problem, see if it can be solved before deciding to marry, or don’t marry the person. It is imperative that you be ruthlessly honest with yourself. And that is very hard. Nothing in life is easier than denying problems when you are in love. That is why it is important to pay attention to inner doubts.
7. How often do you fight?
It may be normal for couples to fight (though the ratio of loving moments to fights must be high to sustain a loving relationship). But it is usually a bad sign if you are doing so with any frequency while dating. Presumably that should be the easiest time to get along — no children together, no joint financial problems, and the excitement of a new person.
If you do fight, do you quickly make up? Does he/she fight fairly and hear your side? Has either of you said “I’m sorry” after a fight? And perhaps most important, do you fight over the same issue(s) with no resolution?
8. Do you share values?
Opposites attract in the very beginning. Likes stay together for the long term. The more you share, especially values, the better your chances of a good marriage. For example, if you think television watching is a form of self abuse and your prospective spouse loves watching for hours a day, you may have a big problem. Likewise if you have opposing political and social views to which you are passionately committed.
Love conquers all pre-maritally. Not post.
9. Do you miss the person when you are not together?
This even holds true for men. Yes, men are better at being distracted by work, sports, computer games, the opposite sex, and God knows what else, but it is not a good sign if you rarely miss her when not together. As for women, if you don’t miss him, it is probably a really bad sign.
10. Is the person unhappy?
Having written a best-selling book on happiness and lectured on the subject on all seven continents, I am tempted write a book-length book explanation of just this question. Suffice it to say that the importance of marrying an essentially happy person cannot be exaggerated. If you are basically happy, do not think for a moment that you can make an unhappy person happy by marrying him or her. On the contrary, the ability of the unhappy to make the happy unhappy is far greater than the ability of the happy to make the unhappy happy.
11. How much of your love is dependent on the sex you are having?
The power of sex is so great that it often obscures problems of relating to one another. How much do you relate outside of bed? Do you love talking when you don’t see, let alone touch, each other — such as by phone or computer? The best way to ascertain the answer is to take a month off from all sexual contact and see how much you then enjoy each other.
12. What do people you respect think of the person you’re considering marrying?
Young people are certain they know better than anyone else in the world what is good for them. So a lack of enthusiasm for the person you are considering for marriage on the part of family or friends may mean little or nothing. And sometimes family objections should mean little or nothing. But if objections come, let us say, from a parent you respect for reasons that are not easily dismissed, and if others you respect are unenthusiastic as well, you should take the objections seriously. You would do so regarding the purchase of a car, wouldn’t you? Yet no car will affect your life nearly as much as your spouse.
Will honest answers to these 12 questions either help you marry well or avoid a marriage that can make your life miserable? There is an easy way to find out. Ask any married or divorced person who will open up to you whether these questions need to be answered. They are the experts. Not the never-married, like you, who usually know nothing about marriage.