Should I Marry "This One?"

Written by Lauren Long

You're happy. The relationship is good. But this time, you want to get it right. Should you tie the knot?

"So, what is it that we're doing here?"

Sooner or later most every relationship reaches that "we've been dating for a while now..." decision-making moment. At this point, change is inevitable. Is it time to move on, or are you ready to get married?

To answer that, says Jeffry Larson, Ph.D., author of Should We Stay Together?, you must first ask yourself: What are our "couple traits" and how do they influence our relationship?

Unlike individual traits, which focus on your personality or family background, couple traits focus on your relationship. They include degree of acquaintanceship, similarity of values and attitudes, communication and conflict resolution skills . They are also a good indication of whether you will be happy in marriage says Larson, a marriage and family therapist.

"Acquaintanceship is a combination of how well you know your partner and how long you've known your partner before marriage," says Larson. "The longer you become acquainted with someone before marriage, the better you know them, understand them and understand your couple strengths and weaknesses."

Marriages that endure involve spouses who know each other on many levels. Each person knows much about the other's likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes and dreams.

Much of this friendship should develop before marriage , which takes time.

To develop the acquaintanceship, "Ask your partner: What are your three most important goals in life?" says Larson. "Hear their fears, their plans. Ask him or her to tell you about their most important values."

If someone is not willing to be open, consider it a red flag.

"It would make me suspicious if, for instance, the person couldn't tell me their three biggest fears," says Larson. "Although I don't think you have to pull out all the skeletons from your closet."

In his book, Larson recommends dating for at least a year before deciding whether to marry. "Get to know someone during all four seasons because a year gives you a chance to have a crisis or two. You can see how your partner responds in a crisis and handles stress, how he relates to his family, how he deals with important dates like your birthday, how the two of you handle conflicts. All of this cannot be learned in a few months."

Use this time to get to know your partner and yourself better. Communication skills should include self-awareness. Ask yourself: What am I thinking? What I am I feeling? What do I want? And once you answer those questions, can you effectively tell your partner in a way that does not offend him or her?

Well-matched couples communicate effectively and solve problems without letting them drag out. They are each willing to accept their partner's weaknesses without becoming distraught. They learn to accept certain qualities and not try to change their partners.

Strong couples also listen actively. This means hearing the content of what someone says and also listening to the tone of voice and noticing nonverbal cues.

If there is a conflict between verbal and nonverbal messages: The nonverbal never lies. Facial expressions are a true indicator of feelings.

In the end, whether or not to marry is a cognitive decision as well as a decision of the heart.

Are your ideas about marriage based on experience or myth?

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