Getting married is a big step (they don’t call it “taking the plunge” for nothing!). The person you choose as a life partner will affect every aspect of your life: your mental health, your finances, how you get through tragedies and celebrate triumphs, how children will be raised, and more. The weight of these aspects of your life (not to mention the countless others you’ll share with a partner) makes the advice to “choose wisely” seem like an understatement.
Whether you’re single or in a relationship, you’ve probably heard your fair share of unsolicited marriage advice. It can be difficult to filter through this advice for nuggets of wisdom and even more challenging to take an objective look at why you’re getting married or staying in your relationship. We turned to relationship experts to identify common reasons people choose to get married that can lead to relationship challenges down the road. Many of us even believe that marriage will magically fix existing problems, but in many cases, getting married prematurely can make them worse. If you’re thinking of getting engaged or married, ask yourself these four questions so you can feel rest assured that you picked the right one.
1. Are you getting married because you don’t want to end up alone?
What is scarier: ending up alone or choosing to marry the next person who comes along simply because you’re tired of being alone, and they wind up being a terrible match for you? Both Erin Parisi, LMHC, MCAP, a licensed mental health counselor, and Heidi McBain, MA, LMFT, LPC, PMH-C, a licensed marriage and family therapist, said that they see this concern a lot. Try not to let fear get in the way of enjoying every season of life or how you value yourself as an individual. The fear of ending up alone is rooted in how you’re valuing yourself, but guess what? Your value is not determined by who you’re with (or that you’re with someone). Find out who you want to be first, and then find someone who is excited to be with you because you’re already living your best life.
2. Do you feel obligated to get married?
“Once a couple has announced an engagement, news spreads, wedding planning starts, and it can feel like a runaway train,” Parisi said. “It’s easy to get swept up in excitement at first and block out any negative, nagging thoughts. Even if a person does start to wonder if they’re making the right choice for themselves, they may feel like they’re in too deep.” The thought of breaking your spouse-to-be’s heart, disappointing your parents, losing down payments, or feeling embarrassed about retracting an engagement on social media can create enough inner turmoil that pressures you to follow through on a marriage you’re not sure you want.
Even before an engagement, obligation can take other forms, like family members telling you “your clock is ticking” or feeling as though you “owe” your significant other a wedding date because you’ve been dating for a while. “Many people feel as though they ‘should’ get married,” Parisi explained. Obligation can also be subtle, such as thinking of marriage as a status symbol or a point on a made-up timeline that must be checked off. Whatever it is, getting married to prove something to someone else—or even to yourself—can lead you to choose someone you might not have chosen otherwise.
3. Are you getting married for monetary reasons or financial stability?
“There are other benefits that come with being married, like financial or health care benefits or being able to follow a partner deployed in the military, that may lead couples to get married before they are otherwise ready to do so,” Parisi explained. Of course, there should be more reasons to marry someone than just love (although that definitely needs to be there as well!): to build the life, family, or experiences you’ve always wanted and to be with the person who will give you the happiest life possible. Marriage is a way to form two lives together, and security should be a perk of marriage, but financial security should not be a reason. Getting married because it will fix your problems may cause you to overlook major value or personality differences and stick with someone who doesn’t want the same things out of life as you do.
4. Are concerns about your age making you want to tie the knot?
“Plenty of people have an idea of how they want their lives to look at certain ages, and one of the milestones for many people is marriage,” Parisi said. “For someone approaching an age they’ve identified as the age they ‘should’ be married, being married may become more important than who they’re marrying.” Age aside, your own mindset about getting married can also rush you down the aisle. “Feeling ready to get married and not wanting to wait any longer for the ‘right’ person can make you feel like the person you’re with is ‘good enough,’ even though you know you are settling in some important areas to you,” McBain explained.
PSA: If you’re reading this list and something resonates with you, it’s OK if you still want to get married. Only you can decide what’s right for you. Parisi and McBain both recommended counseling so that you have a safe space to process these emotions and figure out the best next step for both of you. While thinking through questions like these might not seem like a very romantic idea on the surface, what’s more romantic than staying with someone because you want to and not because you have to?