Last week, I had the pleasure of being the special guest for a live discussion titled “Almost Doesn’t Count: Settling to be Married” the dialogue was rich and left me wanting more time to discuss and explore the topic from the vantage point of preparing oneself for healthy interactions/relationships that could lead to marriage. Talking points from the live discussion included what it means to settle; why and how people settle in relationships; is reciprocity 50/50 or are there other combinations; should one “practice” being a husband or wife before assuming that role, among others. The question that intrigued me most is how does one prepare for marriage. In today’s society, there is much to be said about the age and stage by which men and women “should” be living in one’s own place; be married; have children; be established in a career, etc.
In addition to the push from society, there are the nudges from family and friends. Such as casual yet pointed questions like, “Why isn’t a nice girl/guy like you married, yet?” “When will you give me some grandbabies?” In addition, there is what seems to be the incessant push and pull of the image-conscious influence of social media, where we post only the best and brightest moments of our lives, usually with filters and after several retakes. In light of social media and its influence, which ranges from minimal to momentous, it seems fair to acknowledge that in some ways it impacts our decision making, particularly regarding matters of love and relationship. For example, there are countless pages featuring proposal videos, engagement photoshoots, wedding decor, bridal photos, maternity photo shoots, gender reveal photos/videos, and let’s not forget the hashtags: #relationshipgoals #heproposed #isaidyes #weddingphotography #ourlastnameforever #brideandgroom and the list goes on… While each of these is worthy of celebration, they may serve as a source of tension for some as they contend with their own desires.
Let’s be honest- most of us, myself included, have active profiles on social media and we care about what we post. We usually follow/like/subscribe to profiles that mirror our likes and interests. We may even search for accounts that are inspirational, as they depict aspects of the life we desire. While there is nothing wrong with being inspired, there is also a need for self-reflection about who I am, what I want and why I want it. Each of these questions apply and add value as we consider the question of readiness and/or the timing for marriage.
Who Am I? This question requires a real hard look at who I am with others and when I’m alone. What are my core values? What do I believe- about myself, others, the world around me? How does what I believe impact how I think and behave with others? The question who am I suggests that we explore the relational experience in light of the individual experience of who we are. Do you like who you are? If so, what exactly do you like? What traits or characteristics do you value most? If not, what would you like to improve upon? Are you ready/willing to do the work of improving yourself for yourself? The answer to these questions provide the framework for how you’ll show up in a committed relationship. Healthy relationships require an ongoing interest in investing oneself for the good of the union and if you are not clear about this for yourself, this may be the opportunity to evaluate your readiness to be fully present in and for a healthy intimate relationship. Again, the question, “Who Am I ?” requires an intentional look at self for the purpose of clarity about the person you are in the context of the relationship with self and others.
Following the exploration of “Who Am I?”, there is the discovery of What do I want? During the live discussion, the question of wants versus needs came up and I challenged participants to consider whether wants and needs are the same. In the realm of relationships, maybe you’ve dated someone who matched “the list” you had in mind as you prepared for a romantic relationship. This person possessed the external features and attributes you believed would make you happy or would be pleasing and somehow that wasn’t enough. You see, many times what we want is the superficial surface level expressions intended to meet our needs, yet somehow we’re faced with the reality that almost doesn’t count… we need more! I too have dated, what was then “my list” which included build, complexion, socioeconomic status, and values that were in line with my own. In dating “my list” I soon found that I neglected to include characteristics that I didn’t realize were essential to a healthy relationship in which we could both thrive. Now to be fair, no two people have the exact same list of non-negotiables, but there are indeed aspects, behaviors, dispositions, etc., that we may or may not be willing or interested in tolerating and are therefore deal breakers. Sometimes in an effort to find or keep what we believe to be love, we make concessions or allowances that are not aligned with our values or our worth. In such cases, we are faced with the question of what is it that I really want? To be with him/her? To be in a healthy loving relationship where I am nurtured and respected? To be married? To prove them wrong? To make them happy? To be chosen? Each of these questions hold different weight and meaning depending on your experience with love. They can also help you examine what you want which can provide insight into what you need in the context of an intimate relationship. So, the question “What Do I Want?” causes one to reflect upon the type of relationship and partner they want and need, all while being true to oneself in the process.
Another question for consideration is, Why do I want what I want? We are often driven by many things, and it has been said that our why is a great motivator. So I encourage you to ask that very question-Why do I want to be married? Why do I want to be married to him/her? Why do I want to be married at this time? If the answers to these questions are more about the expectations of others, including family and society, or even social media, it’s likely time to reevaluate the decision you’re preparing to make to ensure that it’s an informed one that you can live with and thrive in. There’s nothing like committing to something you really don’t want to do! Marriage is a great feat that requires an enduring sense of dedication long after the initial commitment is made. When answering the question why, you gain the clarity that reinforces the resolve to do the work required to maintain that which honors who you are, addresses your wants and needs, and sets the stage to fulfill purpose. The fulfillment of purpose, which is greater than the two individuals, is said to be a key element of a healthy marriage.
Therapy provides a safe place to discuss your feelings, wants, and needs as it relates to your relationship with self and others. Which of these questions would you like to explore? Are there other questions or topics surrounding marriage that you’d like to discuss, I’m here for you. Be Well!