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, in one way or another, affect every aspect of your life: your mental health, your peace of mind, how you get through tragedies and celebrate triumphs, how your children (should you choose to have them) 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.
Still, the reasons we choose a partner are numerous and complicated. Whether you’re single or in a relationship, you’ve probably heard your fair share of unsolicited marriage advice from the well-intentioned (or sometimes jaded) wedded people in your life.
It can be difficult to filter through this advice for nuggets of wisdom, and even more challenging to take an objective look at your own motivations and see them for what they really are. Sometimes, your real intentions are buried a few layers deep, and you need something to gently shake them to the surface for you.
We turned to relationship experts to identify the most common reasons people choose to get married that can lead to relationship challenges down the road. But this list is 100 percent a guide; the person and reasons you choose for marriage are, ultimately, your choice. The goal is to help you make that choice a little more wisely!
1. Are you getting married because you don’t want to end up alone?
For someone who is afraid of ending up alone, I present this counterargument: 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 this is a common concern.
Try not to let this fear get in the way of enjoying your current season of life or how you value yourself as an individual. The fear of ending up alone is rooted in how you’re judging and valuing yourself, and your value as a person is not determined by who you’re with. Take some time to develop yourself into who you want to be first, 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 gets into motion, and it can feel like an unstoppable, runaway train. It can be easy to get swept up in excitement at first, and block out any negative, nagging thoughts a person could have,” Parisi said. “Even if a person does start to wonder if they’re making the right choice for themselves, they may feel like saying something would disappoint too many other people.”
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 just to save face.
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 awhile. Even watching your friends get married can trigger feelings of obligation.
“I think that many people feel as though they ‘should’ be getting married when the other people in their friend group are getting married,” Parisi said. Not wanting to be the third or fifth or tenth wheel all the time can affect your reasons for choosing to get married.
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 healthcare 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.
The reality is, marrying for reasons like these may cause you to overlook major value or personality differences, stick with someone who doesn’t want the same things out of life as you do, or who doesn’t have the same expectations of marriage as you.
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 said.
It can be incredibly difficult to ask ourselves these questions, let alone answer them honestly. That’s because, Parisi said, we’re emotionally invested in our relationships, which means we might not be able to see the red flags that outsiders see.
Plus, none of us can see into the future! We all want to hope for the best and believe the future will unfold that way, even with evidence to the contrary. Many of us even believe that marriage will magically fix existing problems, but in many cases, getting married prematurely can make them worse.
McBain added, “There are often positive things about the relationship, even though there are negatives, too. It can be hard to figure out if those negatives outweigh the positives. There are usually emotions around not wanting to hurt the other person as well, as you typically care about them on some level at least.”
But if you’re reading this list and something resonates with you, know that 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, both by yourself as well as with your partner, so that you have a safe space to process these emotions and figure out the best next step for you, for both of you.
Parisi recommended that you continue to ask questions: “What would things be like if I didn’t get married right now and/or to this person? If I changed my mind about getting married, how would I communicate that, or how would I handle the responses from other people?” You’ll be able to more objectively assess your situation, so that if you ever decide that you no longer want to be in the relationship, you’ll already know what to do.
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?