Should I Marry This Girl? 3 Things That Will Minimize Your Risk of Making a Wrong Choice

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Choosing a spouse is risky. What if he’s a jerk? What if she turns out to be super controlling or unfaithful? Nothing you do will eliminate all the risk of choosing a spouse. Risk just comes with the territory. But there are a few things you can do to significantly reduce the chances that you will later regret your choice. These are really simple things to do if you’ll just be more thoughtful in the dating process.

1) Spend time with them looking for patterns. Are there inconsistencies in how they treat different people? Do they treat you one way, but your roommates another way? Are they kind to their friends but rude to strangers? If you see inconsistencies, I would slow down the relationship and investigate further. If they treat you like gold but other people like garbage, there is a really, really good chance that how they treat you isn’t going to last. If you see inconsistencies but really like the person, I wouldn’t make any serious commitments until you’ve dated them for several months (in addition to the 3 months it’s going to take to notice any significant inconsistencies). There is a great book that breaks this process down called How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk. I strongly recommend reading it. It may save you a lot of heartache.

2) Spend time just being a boyfriend or a girlfriend. I believe the best predictor of what type of spouse someone will be is what type of boyfriend or girlfriend they are. The problem is, particularly in the LDS dating culture, as soon as we start dating exclusively our mind automatically starts moving on to the next phase (engagement, then marriage). We have to learn to date exclusively for a significant amount of time without rushing to the next phase in what we do or what we say to one another (confessing your love, discussing marriage, etc.). Part of the reason this is so important is because early in a romantic relationship the brain produces an abnormal amount of chemicals that impact how we think and feel (e.g., dopamine, norepinephrine, oxytocin). For many couples, every time the relationship takes a step forward (like increasing physical touch, talking about marriage, or getting engaged), it’s like giving your relationship an extra dose of chemistry and it prolongs the blindness. You need to date them long enough to allow your brain chemistry to come down to normative levels so that you can make a decision based on what you are seeing, not just feeling. This is only going to happen if you spend a significant amount of time dating them exclusively when you are committed to keeping engagement and marriage off the table.

3) Spend time considering what you want in the long haul. Many people would avoid making a choice they later regret if they considered what they would find attractive 20 years from now. While physical attraction is important, kindness will be sexier 20 years from now than anything you could hope for physically. Focusing primarily on what you desire in the present can blind you from what you will desire in the future. Let me give you one example. In one study, researchers found that people who were engaged in more sexual dating practices (people focused on the here and now) increased the chances that they would choose a spouse with significant red flags as long as they were physically attractive. They cared less that these prospective partners were irresponsible, arrogant, and had a history of infidelity-because they were physically attractive. I can promise you that your physical attraction to somebody who has been unkind or irresponsible for 20 years is going to take a serious hit. On the other hand, someone who is persistently kind over 20 years of marriage is only going to become more attractive. Be sure to consider the long view and not get too caught up in the here and now.

The common thread here is time. As you have many difference experiences with someone over time, observing how they act in a variety of circumstances, learning who they are as a romantic partner, and considering the long view, you will gain clarity on whether or not you should marry this person. I am not suggesting that you necessarily need several years to determine if someone is marriage quality, but is several months really too much to ask? A lot of Latter-day Saints fear that waiting too long to get married is really just a lack of faith. But giving yourself enough time to be thoughtful and thorough in making the most important decision of your life can hardly be considered faithless.

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