The Dance of Connection

Rescuing women and men from the quicksand of difficult relationships.

Should You Marry Him? Ten Steps to Clarity

How to avoid marrying your future ex-husband

Choosing a life partner is one of the most important decisions you may ever make. If you're in doubt, print out these ten tips and put them on your bathroom mirror or refrigerator door.

Obviously, these ten tips are just as relevant for men. My advice below is by no means for women only.

1. Don’t confuse intimacy with intensity. Intense feelings, no matter how compelling, are not a good predictor of true and enduring closeness in the future.

2. Evaluate him with your head, not just your heart. During the Velcro stage of relationships we may automatically focus on the positive and overlook and make excuses for the negative. Be as clear and objective when evaluating a prospective partner as you would if you were hiring a candidate for an important job, or a nanny for a child.

3. Become a clear observer. Observe your partner with his family and friends, and with your family and friends. Never insulate the relationship. Watch how he treats his mother, the waiter and the dry cleaner. What kind of citizen is he in the world of work and family?

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

4. Observe yourself too. If you’re too accommodating, conflict-avoidant, eager to please, and desperate to make it work, you won’t get to know a prospective partner. Slow things down and practice having a clear, strong , assertive voice in the relationship. Use dating as an opportunity to practice having a strong voice and bringing more of your authentic self into the relationship.

5. Consider whether you’d want this person to be one of your best friends if you had no romantic interest. Don’t tolerate behaviors in a partner that you wouldn’t settle for in a good friend.

6. Pay attention to how you feel when you’re with him. Does your time with him leave you with greater self-esteem and more zest to connect with people and projects outside the relationship? If the opposite is true, consider whether the relationship is good for you. If phone calls or time together  leave you feeling diminished or down, move on.

7. Know what you can compromise on--and what you can’t. Maybe it’s not so important that he likes cheese products and he talks too loud in the movies. But some things are deal breakers. Write your own list and refer to it. It may include: addictive behaviors, dishonesty, irresponsibility, defensiveness and trouble listening, immaturity, reactivity, etc.) When it’s a deal breaker get out sooner rather than later. Ditto if you spot a big red flag waving in your face.

8. Focus on your own life plan that neither requires nor excludes marriage. Keep your primary focus on your own goals and life plan, which will put you on firmest footing whether you marry or not. Don’t forget that there are many possibilities for intimacy and connection other than pairing up .

9. Don’t be conflict-avoidant! This is not an invitation to engage in non-productive fighting and blaming that go nowhere. But don't preserve the peace by silencing yourself. Enlarge and deepen the conversation when you’re feeling disappointed or angry. You won’t know a prospective partner (or yourself) if you don’t take the conversation to the next level and test out whether he’s defensive or fair-minded when you have a legitimate request or complaint.

10. Never believe that marriage (or having a baby) is the solution to any relationship problem. It's not. Relationships get harder, not easier, after we marry and move along the life cycle. Don’t believe in the power of your love or nagging to create something later that isn’t there right now.

Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., is best known for her work on marriage and family relationships and the psychology of women. Her book The Dance of Anger has recently been reissued.

more...

Subscribe to The Dance of Connection

Current Issue

Dreams of Glory

Daydreaming: How the best ideas emerge from the ether.