In today’s society, getting married is often looked upon as the lifetime achievement award for single ladies everywhere. For some, marriage is believed to be the cure-all for relationship problems. There are thousands of magazines, books, movies and television shows that tell you that once you get married, the frustration of dating, cheating partners and dealing with so many Mr. Wrongs is over.
With all the mixed media signals, I can understand why you would think that your future happiness is on the line if you don’t get married quickly. So you sign up for online dating, get a bikini wax and schedule a girls night out to declare that this is the year you will meet Mr. Right. Yep, this year you will meet the man you will marry, and you will truly be happy.
Then after mingling with all the single men in your area code and even having a few long-distance encounters, you meet the one. Oh yeah, he is perfect! Six months later, he proposes, and six months after that, you have an intimate marriage ceremony. Your relationship status is now officially “married.” You are a newlywed, and you have everything you wanted.
Then, just before your one-year anniversary, you find a condom in his pocket while you are doing laundry. Your breath is taken away because you guys have been trying to get pregnant for 2 months. So you think, “I thought we were happy? I was everything he needed me to be.”
This is when you realize that while all those magazines, books and romantic comedies told you everything about how to get a ring on your finger, they didn’t tell you that marriage doesn’t guarantee monogamy. And most importantly, marriage doesn’t solve all of your problems. Now I know you are thinking that marriage should be a remedy to life’s challenges, and I wish it was. But as a couples therapist, I am here to tell you that it definitely is not. And if you are faced with infidelity in your marriage, it is going to take more than the ring and the wedding to get you through it.
Which is why I don’t want single ladies rushing to the altar thinking that the ring is the start to their happiness. When the truth is that the first step to being happy is being 100% whole while being 100% single. Getting married quickly — without taking the time to build trust and commitment — means that you are learning to trust while you both are also dealing with jobs, family, finances and the realities of married life. When you do not trust someone, a little misunderstanding can get amplified into a big argument. And because you didn’t take the time to fully build a friendship and commitment, you don’t know how to recover from a big argument. You are left feeling lonely and unheard, and those seeds of frustration can open up the door to infidelity, bitterness and resentment.
Fears and insecurities can make you think, “I have to get married now! My clock is ticking. I finally found someone who loves me, so I better get married while I can.” As soon as you think this, you are basically saying to yourself, “I will do whatever it takes to keep this person.” That’s when you give all your power to your partner because you are acting as though you think you are unequal or undeserving of being in a loving relationship.
But you need to change your mindset. You have to think of yourself as strong and powerful. If you are strong and powerful, then you are not waiting until you get married to be happy. You are happy now. Titles like boyfriend and husband are not synonyms for honesty, love or happiness. This is not to scare you away from getting married because marriage can be a beautiful experience. It’s beautiful in the way that it challenges you to grow while learning how to give and receive love abundantly. But first, you must build commitment and trust.
Before Marriage, You Need Commitment
We all love to think about living happily ever after. And it is possible. I teach couples everyday in premarital counseling how to not only be happy together but to protect their happily ever after. But it takes time and patience. You must have the patience to build a commitment, not just push for marriage.
For all the single ladies out there, here is my message to you: Take your time when you are dating, be confident in yourself and when you do meet the man you are going to marry, don’t rush to the altar. Do the work to grow the commitment. This is how you know your relationship is a true union. Building a commitment in a relationship takes time. It takes time to get to know your partner’s strengths, challenges and fears (How they treat you when they are upset? Do they value family? Can you trust them? Do they do what they say they are going to do? Do they value your voice?). Give your relationship time before you get married to go through ups and downs and take the time to face those rough patches of insecurity, family drama, career frustration and financial struggles.
Commitment is more than just about exclusivity. Commitment is about being with that person for better or worse, sickness and health. When I do pre-marital counseling, I tell my clients they should live by those vows even when they are engaged. Don’t wait until you get married to learn what they mean. Because when you look hot everyday, finances are in order and family is at bay, then commitment is easy. But what happens when you lose your job, his mother gets sick and has to move in, or you get ill and can’t have sex every night. That’s when your commitment is tested.
Marriage is your way of telling your friends and family that you are committed to each other. So, you see, the commitment should already be established before the marriage. If you have the marriage before commitment, it is like building your marriage on sand. It will start sinking when pressure comes. You will feel overwhelmed quickly and won’t know how to handle the tough situations. And what do you do when you start sinking? You panic. That’s usually when bad decisions are made, allowing infidelity, lies, miscommunication and conflict to come into your relationship.
When you have a commitment before marriage, you have built a friendship and a relationship based on honesty, not perception. You have taken the time to get to know each other. You have seen the good, the bad and the indifferent, and you can still say, “I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” In these times, your trust is tested and you see the truth of who your partner is — and who you are.
Before Marriage, You Need Trust and the Truth
As part of building commitment, you build trust, and you do that day-by-day, having honest conversations and holding each other accountable. For example, if your partner says, “I am going out with the guys and I will call you when I get back in,” and they don’t call, then you should call them the next day and ask for an explanation. Don’t let that pass. You deserve an explanation of what happened and why he did not do what he said. I am not saying you should have an attitude, but you can hold someone accountable with love. You’re not after an argument, you are after the truth.
What I see so many of times is women letting this behavior go, thinking, “I don’t want him to think I am insecure or a nagger.” Think about this, you are only asking him why he did not follow through on something he told you. If he is the kind of man who cannot handle being accountable for his actions, then why would you want to marry him? If you have to quiet your truth for the relationship to continue, then the relationship is based on a lie.
Often married couples come into my office because they want to stop the behaviors that they didn’t address when they were dating. Can couples therapy help change sabotaging behaviors? Yes, it can, but why wait? Why take away time from enjoying life to correct problems that could have been solved before marriage?
Bottom line: Don’t rush into marriage. If the love is true and your partner is the one, no amount of time could take them away from you. Shoot for the stars and work for an amazing marriage.
If you need help building commitment and trust in your relationship, a couples therapist like myself can offer support and guidance. You can contact me at (864) 559-8181 to schedule your appointment. Relationship and Life Coaching Sessions are available via phone.
P.S. Need help letting go of past relationships and building confidence to prepare you for future relationships? Purchase my book “Single Woman’s Wake Up Call,” which includes 10 steps for letting go of a broken past and creating a successful future.