What to Consider Before Getting Engaged

Note: This is the second of a two-part series.

Here are things to examine before you consider marriage:

You must respect what your partner does for a living. This can be particularly challenging in today’s depressed economy when someone is more likely to accept any job they can find, even a menial one, and not one they like, are well suited for or that pays well. But it’s hard to watch someone you care about who continues to do something while s/he remains unaware that s/he is on the wrong path, or becomes too complacent in ongoing mediocrity, or who lacks motivation or ambition, or who loses all self-confidence and therefore gives up on trying to better themselves and their lot in life. It would be wise for you to openly express to your partner if you don’t have respect—or have lost respect—for his/her career path (or choices), because a lack or respect will destroy your relationship long-term.

Are there any non-negotiable issues that the two of you are not in agreement on? I’m referring to issues like whether or not to have children; how children should be treated or raised; what happens if you guys get pregnant and one of you want to terminate the pregnancy; how important is a neat, clean house is to you; personal hygiene issues; where to live; how important is travel to you; issues related to dishonesty; what constitutes a betrayal of trust; how is money to be handled (and who controls it); issues related to a prenuptial agreement, and so on. Have solid agreements in place now, so you don’t trip over these issues later. One place to start is to make an agreement ahead of time to enter relationship counseling in the event the two of you can’t agree on an issue in the future.

Are agreements made but not kept? Change doesn’t happen overnight, but if you’ve requested changes that are important to you and then fail to see consistent progress from your partner over time, confront it. Don’t accept endless excuses forever. It’s threatening to a relationship when there’s poor motivation and progress regarding things either of you identifies as important to you.

If your needs or wants are not currently being met in the relationship, are you addressing those needs (and your corresponding requests) with your partner? If not, do so, and remember to do so respectfully—and leave out anger, judgement or threats.

Money is a real issue, and it must be addressed and agreed on. How much debt do you and your partner have? Are you in default on any of your accounts where a lender could go after your spouse after you’re married? What assets are you bringing to the table? What money or assets are yours and yours only, and will not be shared? How do you feel about sharing future earnings? How about inheritances? What happens financially if one of you loses your job or becomes ill or in-firmed? What are your goals regarding home ownership? If one of you is moving into the other’s home, who’s name will be on the title to the house? Who’s more a spender, and do you want an agreement ahead of time about how much is acceptable to spend, how much is too much, and at what point should one person get the other person’s permission before making a financial decision or investment? Does anyone control the resources or get final say about them? What happens if one person feels a huge inequality or unfairness regarding the use of money or the ability to spend it? Do not ignore the power of this issue. In my experience, it has destroyed more relationships than almost any other issue.

An apology with an honest change of behavior is golden, and defensiveness is frequently a long term deal-breaker. To understand why being defensive is so destructive to a relationship, pay close attention to the effect it has on your partner. If either of you give feedback or make requests that are met with consistent denials, or turning the focus around to the other person (“Well, I don’t like it when you do such and such”), or aggressive anger, or withdrawal and withholding, or a punishing response—you are insuring that, over time, your relationship will grow distant, disconnected and cold. Relationships become icy when one person feels they don’t have a voice, or their voice is dismissed or not honored. Likewise, an apology, paired with a consistent and reliable change of behavior, will most often make your partner feel heard, understood, respected, valued and honored. Violate this advice at your own peril.

These recommendations were stimulated by Michael Batshaw in his book 51 Things You Should Know Before Getting Engaged (Trade Paper Press). The bottom line is this: don’t get engaged to someone before you’re sure you know each other very well, and do so only after you’ve done serious homework addressing some of the issues that tear other relationships asunder. Don’t prove the old adage true: “Marry in haste; repent in leisure.”

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