Am I marrying the right person ? (Pt 1)
Owing to limitations on the amount of material that can be put into a web page, this Section had to be split into 3 parts:
It’s all in the timing
What is the perfect marriage?
Like and respect
Types of compatibility
Compatibility – specific issues
Political world view
Compatibility – specific issues (cont.)
Contribution to the relationship
Warning 1: This section is only intended for those who may have a doubt on this topic. If you have no significant doubts about who you are going to marry, there is nothing of relevance to you here.
Warning 2: As with everything else on this website, I write this section based on my life experience, the vicarious experience of people I know, and my general reading. In other words, I have no expertise in this area of any academic sort.
Warning 3: I give lots of advice in the form of what it is good to do, or not do. But life long ago taught me that when it comes to humans, there is nothing one can say that applies to everyone. I have seen a number of great relationships that should never have been a relationship at all, let alone a great one. Ultimately, I advise you to be guided by your gut feelings rather than anything that I advise (except this advice, of course !). So what’s the point of my advice ? I think that gut feelings are best exercised after you have considered the widest possible range of considerations, and my purpose in writing this Section was to try to expose you to considerations that might not have otherwise occurred to you.
Warning 4: You won’t have to read far into this Section to get the impression that deciding whether someone is right for you is like going through a checklist. That was never my intention, but I can see why that impression forms. I repeat my advice that you should rely on your gut feelings, and only use this Section to get ideas on issues that might be of particular concern to you. Anyone taking the checklist approach risks contracting a severe case of decision paralysis, and never being able to find the right person. If someone feels right for you as your general overall impression, they probably are right for you.
It’s all in the timing
Am I marrying the right person ? Have I married the right person ?
I have raised the second question merely to highlight that it is a question that you will hopefully never have to ask. The sensible thing is to ask the first question before you marry, put considerable energy into answering it, and then only marry if the answer is “yes”. Once you are married, you can then devote all your energy to doing your bit to make the marriage work. That’s a way better way to go than not worrying too much about the first question, and then having to ask the second question after the wedding.
Before we get deeper into how you should go about checking out whether you are marrying the right person, there are a few preliminary matters to mention.
1. In my opinion you should never marry for love alone. While it is fine, and in fact highly desirable, that you love the person you marry, it is not enough. I believe you should only marry someone:
- who you really like and respect; and
- with whom you are basically compatible.
For most people I would also recommend that you only marry someone with whom you are sexually compatible.
I’ll explain all of these things in more detail below. While you can have a long-lasting marriage even if none of these things apply, I would be very surprised if you get as much happiness out of the marriage as you would have if all of these things apply.
So put another way, if you love someone, but you don’t really like and respect them, are not really compatible with them, or are not really sexually compatible with them, if you go ahead and marry them I predict you are in for a pretty bumpy and unhappy ride. On the other hand, if you are not sure whether you love someone, but you like and respect them, you are basically compatible, and you are sexually compatible, if you go ahead and marry them, I don’t think you’ll regret it.
I should also emphasize that it is possible for you to like and respect someone whom it would be potentially disastrous for you to be married to. That occurs if there are basic compatibility issues. My exploration of this below will take up most of this Section of this website.
2. No one has a reliable crystal ball. People can hide who they really are, or what they really think, or particular characteristics that they have, or don’t have. People can lie. People can change (but not, usually, if that’s something that you want !). People can have mental health problems: these can be diagnosed, undiagnosed, or may not be capable of being diagnosed, or be known to medical science. People can develop those sorts of problems. In other words, it’s a jungle out there, and there’s no one, including me, who can reliably give you definitive advice on the person you are about to possibly marry.
Actually, the best advice I can give you in this regard is to try to make sure that you have travelled with your prospective partner on a trip that has lasted at least a week, and preferably not just a week at a resort, although that is better than nothing, and preferably to a foreign country. Travelling with someone, particularly if you encounter any adversity while travelling, is a great quick way to find out quite a bit more about a person than you would find out by just staying at home. Of course for the next little while it may be very difficult to engage in international travel.
I recommended travel in the last paragraph because it is a great way of generating arguments. If you can’t travel, there are certainly lots of other ways for arguments to develop. I am not suggesting that you should deliberately set about to argue with your partner, but it is certainly a good idea to not even consider marrying your partner until you have had a few disagreements. How you both handled those disagreements, and the aftermath, is great knowledge to have in deciding what the future might look like if you decided to marry.
3. The perfect spouse has yet to be born. In fact, perfection would be boring if it could exist in humans, and the perfect human would likely be a very lonely person. So unless you consider yourself to be perfect, you are wasting your time looking for the perfect partner (and, actually, it is a hopeless quest, regardless of the state of your own perfection). Every potential partner you come across is going to have at least a few things that you don’t like. (I might just mention that, difficult as it is for me to believe, my wife is quite firmly of the view that I do not fall into the “perfect spouse” category despite my best efforts to do so !)
4. Following on from this third point, you should always work on the basis that whatever ‘deficiencies’ your partner has from your point of view, they are always going to be there. You are setting yourself up for disaster if you marry someone on the basis that you will be able to change whatever it is that you don’t like. It’s not going to happen. Full stop. Sure people can change, as I’ve said above, but the problem is that you cannot direct the nature or pace of the change in someone else – it’s hard enough trying to change yourself.
If you don’t accept this, you will have given yourself a point of friction in your marriage that, in some cases, has the potential to bring the whole thing crashing down, and that, in many cases, will make your marriage a lot unhappier for both parties than it should be. Thus, going into a possible marriage, if you have identified some feature of your prospective partner that you don’t like, I advise you not to go ahead with the marriage if you don’t think that you can cope with, and keep quiet about, that feature. And remember, whoever you marry is going to have some features that you don’t like.
5. Following on from that, obviously you are going to have some features that your prospective partner won’t like. If they have given you any indication that they are not going to be able to cope with, and keep quiet about, some aspect of you, you need to be very careful. As I have just said, if you can’t get your partner to realise and accept that you are a “take it or leave it” proposition whom marriage is not going to change, you will be entering a marriage that may not be particularly happy.
Clearly the way forward is to have a session where you both accept that “what you see is what you get” with respect to all perceived deficiencies. If for some reason there is resistance to either having such a session, or to agreeing to a truce, that is also not a very encouraging sign. A healthy marriage requires communication and compromise. If you can’t get that going before marriage, your prospects of that changing after marriage are pretty bleak. And, sure, lots of unhealthy marriages can limp along for quite a long while, but do you really want to be in such a marriage ?
6. One feature of your partner that should be an absolute deal-breaker, regardless of their gender, is any tendency to be violent toward you in any way. “Any way” means physical or emotional. A tendency to violence is not something that is ever going to change. Any ability by a person to inflict physical or emotional violence on you is a complete abnegation of the idea that they love, like or respect you, regardless of what they might say. If you have been following what I have said elsewhere on this website, then you will know that my view is that you can’t have a happy relationship with anyone who does not like and respect you (in case you missed it, I will repeat this later in this Section). Thus, if your partner is in any way violent towards you during your courtship, do not marry them. In any circumstances.
You should also be extremely wary if your partner, while not violent towards you, shows a tendency to be violent towards anyone, or anything, else. For instance, if your partner is into road rage, it’s a bells-ringing-lights-flashing warning sign. You enter marriage with them at extreme risk to you: it is a risk I strongly advise you not to take.
7. Finally, in assessing whether someone is right for you, don’t ever forget that marriage is a partnership, and it can only really work properly if it works for both parties to it. And that means that you each have to get something substantial out of it. That means that in approaching the question of whether someone is right for you, you are on completely the wrong track if you look at that question entirely from your own perspective. Sure, your perspective is the most important consideration, but disaster awaits if it is the only perspective you consider.
What am I talking about ?
Well, if you approach the critical question by simply looking at what your prospective spouse can do for you, you are really only looking at half the picture. Your prospective spouse will want things from you: what are they ? are they things that you are happy to give ? are there things that you might both want, but that are inconsistent or incompatible or not possible to have simultaneously ? Can your prospective spouse continue to give you things that they have been giving you ? If there has been one-way giving in relation to certain things (physical things or activities, time, energy, emotion), what has been the force sustaining that, and will it continue after marriage ? What would the marriage look like if that giving stops ?
8. Absolutely finally, I might just finish with a tongue-in-cheek observation. If you find someone who is pretty much compatible with you with respect to all of the things I look at below, I advise you to run away from them as fast as you can. You need some points of difference in a marriage, or else you are in for a boring time that you will soon want to end. However, the chances of you coming across such a person are similar to your chances of winning a lottery, so it is not a risk in real life.
What is the perfect marriage?
Before I get into the substance of this Section, I thought it might be useful to quickly examine this question, as it is relevant to what I have just been discussing.
In my view a perfect marriage is a marriage where both parties to it get enough out of it to stay with it until one of them is no longer alive. It is totally irrelevant how it appears to outsiders – the key thing is that each party gets sufficient inner contentment to make staying in the marriage worthwhile for them. Outsiders might see continual arguing, bickering, cheating and put-downs. Insiders might be completely clueless as to the dynamics of what is going on, and even the parties to the marriage themselves might share that ignorance. But deep down, they know that they are where they want to be.
So, if a marriage works well enough to meet this test, I would argue that it can’t be bettered.
If you agree with that, you will see that it means that there is a pretty wide scope for who is “right” for a person contemplating marriage, and that there’s lots of room for error. Every person is a “package” of features – some of these features you will like, others you will not. What you need to do is to assess the “package”: if there is no deal-breaker in the package, and overall there is enough for you to like in the “package”, you could well be looking at someone who is “right” for you.
In the good old days the primary purpose of marriage was to keep the human race going. Marriage has a very long history as a pretty good means of achieving that objective. However, individuals aren’t really concerned about keeping the human race going as such – it’s more about having children.
While having children is still a very important reason for marrying, these days I would suggest that probably the majority of marriages are entered into to provide companionship.
For that purpose to have any hope of success, I would argue that you need like and respect, and a fair bit of compatibility across a number of issues. To increase the chances of a happy companionship, I would also argue that, specifically, sexual compatibility is also highly desirable.
Of course like and respect and broad compatibility, in particular sexual compatibility, are also very important ingredients for those who marry and who want to have children.
Like and respect
I strongly advise you not to marry someone who you do not like and respect. Without like and respect, even the smallest argument can bring a relationship undone, as like and respect act as a cushion when a relationship is faced with adversity. And without like and respect, you can be pretty sure that there’ll be lots of arguments.
I’m not proposing to tell you what “like” is, but I thought it might be useful to mention why I have referred to “respect” as if it is a separate concept.
I mentioned it as a separate concept because, in my opinion, it is.
If someone has a pleasant personality, most people would “like” them. However, a person with a pleasant personality might be a big fool; or have views on important subjects that you disagree with and that are, in your opinion, completely misguided; or have achieved things that owe more to their personality or inherited wealth than competence in a relevant field. In other words, although you might like someone with a pleasant personality, you might not respect them.
In my view marrying someone that you do not respect is going to lead to trouble sooner, rather than later. When disagreements arise, as they invariably will, it is hard to argue effectively with someone that you do not respect.
This is an appropriate time to mention my belief that a marriage should be a mutual admiration society. The partners to a marriage, in my opinion, should like and respect each other to the extent that they openly and frequently admire whatever it is about their partners that is worthy of admiration. By “openly” I mean vocally. And I am not suggesting that you have to admire everything about your partner – just the stuff that you do admire.
There’s nothing to admire ?
Or there is, but you can’t see yourself being prepared to vocally and frequently admire whatever it is ? (In fact, hopefully there’s more than one thing.)
If so, perhaps you need to have a much closer look at this Section than you might otherwise have been planning.
Types of compatibility
I mentioned above that it is important that you be basically compatible with the person that you marry if you want to have a happy marriage.
Compatibility has 3 basic components:
1) general compatibility;
2) compatibility with respect to particular issues;
3) sexual compatibility.
General compatibility, has to do with how you and another person get on when you are together. Essentially it is the cumulative effect of all sorts of things like the various components of your personalities, your cumulative experiences and lots of X factors.
There is not a lot I can usefully say here. If you don’t know whether you are generally compatible with someone who you have been having a relationship with, I doubt that there is anything I could say to help you.
Really, if you are happy being in the presence of someone and interacting with them, you are generally compatible with them. It doesn’t matter why, and I don’t think there is anything to be gained by trying to explore that.
However, I should perhaps describe in more detail the difference between like and respect, on the one hand, and compatibility, on the other. It’s similar to the difference between like and respect. Just imagine someone with a pleasant personality and who doesn’t have any obvious things about them that would cause you not to respect them. In fact, let’s go further, let’s imagine that there are things about the person that you do respect: their achievements, their views, their intelligence, their courage, their skills, or whatever.
But then let’s assume that the person has very strong views on issues that are of importance to you, and that those views are pretty much diametrically opposed to your views on those issues. Or assume that the person has a bizarre sense of humour, or no sense of humour, or no sense of proportion, or is completely self-absorbed, or has personal habits that are like fingernails on a blackboard every time you are reminded of them.
Although you might be able to sustain a friendly relationship with the person by avoiding your points of difference or annoyance, or by agreeing to differ, essentially there is a compatibility problem between you. It is the sort of problem that marriage will quickly expose as something that will make your life together much unhappier than it should be.
In these circumstances, even though you might love and respect the person, you are asking for trouble if you marry them. And that’s because on an issue vital to a happy marriage, there is a schism between you and the person