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Due Diligence (before Saying “I Do”)

By Lorrie Peniston

Love is not enough.  Many couples believe that love is the primary factor that prepares you for marriage.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Love is the outcome of a good relationship, which develops over time.

Love should not be confused with the intense thoughts, emotions and physiological reactions during the initial phase of relationships.  These experiences are chemically induced, not sustainable and ultimately not indicators that you have found your life partner.

During this initial romance phase, you and your partner are putting your best foot forward and can be blinded by passion.  The rose colored glasses will eventually come off, and you will see the not-so-perfect-parts of your lover during the discovery phase.  If you can live with any discovered “warts,” you move to the contemplative phase.

Here are eight questions to ask when considering a lifelong commitment:

Do you feel safe communicating openly with your partner?  Communication is essential to relationships and is a predictor of marital satisfaction (Diener and Biswas-Diener, 2008), but what you talk about impacts the quality of your relationship.  Do you feel comfortable expressing your thoughts and feelings?  Can you speak your “truth” (i.e., your perspective, beliefs and feelings) without fear of rebuttal, retaliation or punishment?  Feeling safe emotionally and being able to communicate openly promotes intimacy.

Do you trust your partner?  Trust is difficult to define and easy to corrupt but integral to a good relationship.  Being sure of someone includes:

  • Predictability–knowing your partner will behave as expected and knowing he will do what he says he will do.
  • Consideration–knowing your partner will think of you before acting and knowing your partner will talk to you before doing something you might question.

Do you respect your partner?  Your partner should have qualities, attributes, skills and traits you admire.  If you are with someone who is looking for the comfortable life, think again:  a comfortable life is not always the good life.  Choose a partner who manages difficulties and sees challenges as opportunities to show—and grow—character you can respect.

What is the balance between give and take with your partner?  The ability to give and accept pleasure, assistance, kindness and forgiveness is something you want in a partner.  If your significant other is unable to suspend his own needs for the needs of others (including you) he is a “taker.”  An imbalance between give and take can lead to resentment, disrespect and hurt.  Choose someone who enjoys giving as much as receiving.

Is your partner grateful?  Gratitude is one of the greatest predictors of individual well-being (Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2004).  If your partner is not thankful for what he has and what others have done for him, he will probably not appreciate you.  It is important that your partner value the small acts of kindness and thoughtfulness.  Being appreciated is one thing, but showing gratitude with words, gestures and deeds is where the rubber meets the road.  Gratitude should be reciprocal and synergistic.

Do you have similar goals?  If you plan on being with someone for the next few decades, it is important that you share something deep and meaningful.  Enjoying each other’s company while doing things together like sports, travel and eating is important; however, sharing a common purpose binds you together for a lifetime and increases well-being (Lyubomirsky, 2008).  Know what you want out of life and marry someone who wants the same thing or something compatible.

Do you share a similar mindset?  Having a partner that shares a philosophy about change and challenge is imperative to relationship success.  A person with a fixed mindset believes that talents and abilities cannot be improved over time and avoids challenges (Dweck, 2008).  A person with a growth mindset believes that with hard work and persistence, self-improvement is possible.  If your significant other has a growth mindset, he will support your personal growth and endeavor to grow alongside you.  If one partner has a fixed mindset and the other a growth mindset, you will probably grow apart.

Is there “capital” and power balance in your partnership?   Capital means resources that can affect the balance of power in a relationship.  Aside from income, capital can include intellect and time.

  • Income– having similar values about spending and saving is imperative.  Couples rarely earn equally, but a lower income should not mean less power in the relationship. Time spent taking care of the family, house and community should be valued equally.
  • Intellect–having smarts about the same subjects is not as important as having intellectual balance (i.e., each partner is considered knowledgeable about certain matters and subjects).
  • Time–for self, partner and family are all important and should be balanced within and between you and your mate.

Falling in love is an amazing feeling, but you cannot build a lifetime relationship on love alone.  Use your head, not your heart, to consider these questions honestly to make sure the ingredients are right for love to grow over the lifetime of your relationship.

References:

Diener, E. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2008). Happiness: Unlocking the mysteries of psychological wealth. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Dweck, C. (2008). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.

Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The how of happiness.  New York: The Penquin Press.

Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23, 603-619.

The elements shown under the “Do You Trust Your Partner” question above are adapted from The Operational Definition of Trust, created by Gretchen Pisano in 2008.

NOTE

** The word “he” or “him” is meant to be interchanged with “she” or “her.”  In addition, the phrase “I do” is meant to capture all types of committed relationships, not only those entered into by traditional marriage.

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