Relationship Connection: How do I know if I’ve found the woman I should marry?

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Question

I am currently in a relationship in which we have been dating for six months. A few months ago, we were talking about marriage, and there were times I felt like it could work and times where I felt sincere doubt about that choice.

I’ve sought confirmation from God that it’s right, and I’ve felt good about the relationship. I feel like there are parts of myself that have improved as a result of the relationship and other parts that did not improve – and maybe worsened – which has caused me to truly ask about what to do. I also recognize that it may be due to either the relationship or my own fault, so I am striving to be wary of that.

I also try to keep in mind the quote by Spencer W. Kimball about it being “certain that almost any good man and any good woman can have happiness and a successful marriage if both are willing to pay the price.” But in the end, I am not always sure that I actually want to pursue this relationship into marriage.

Ultimately, I suppose my questions are, how should I be feeling when looking into the potential of a marriage relationship? How can I remedy my current feelings with the relative potential of the relationship? And what should I do if the route is to end it?

Answer

You’re wisely asking important questions about this relationship before marriage. These questions will help you move forward with greater confidence, regardless of the outcome. In fact, I wish more dating and engaged couples would more consciously align their heads and hearts as they examine the state of their relationships. 

You referenced the statement from Spencer W. Kimball about making marriage work. Before I offer my own response to his quote and your question, I’d like to provide a longer portion of the quote to help create more context for what I believe he was trying to communicate:

Two people coming from different backgrounds soon learn after the ceremony is performed that stark reality must be faced. There is no longer a life of fantasy or of make-believe; we must come out of the clouds and put our feet firmly on the earth. … One comes to realize very soon after the marriage that the spouse has weaknesses not previously revealed or discovered. The virtues which were constantly magnified during courtship now grow relatively smaller, and the weaknesses which seemed so small and insignificant during courtship now grow to sizable proportions … Yet real, lasting happiness is possible … [and it] is within the reach of every couple, every person. ‘Soul mates’ are fiction and an illusion; and while every young man and young woman will seek with all diligence and prayerfulness to find a mate with whom life can be most compatible and beautiful, yet it is certain that almost any good man and any good woman can have happiness and a successful marriage if both are willing to pay the price.

When I read his words, I don’t believe he was encouraging single people to find a decent match, clench their fists tightly, close their eyes and trust that their individual goodness will be enough to make their marriage work. I believe he was speaking to married people who are facing the troubling reality that their partner isn’t the fantasy partner they were passionately in love with during their courtship.

I believe he’s teaching that when this stark realization happens after marriage, it’s not the time to give up and assume you picked the wrong person. Instead, it’s an invitation to pay the price of learning how to work with these differences and build a strong marriage.

Even though any dating relationship that eventually turns into marriage will require a leap of faith, you’re doing the wise thing of trying to make that leap much shorter. In February 2000, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints delivered what I consider to be one of the best speeches on selecting a marriage partner.

In Holland’s speech, “How Do I Love Thee,” he outlines the qualities you’ll want to look for in a potential spouse. He also speaks clearly about the kind of feelings and experiences you should be experiencing in a healthy relationship.

You mentioned that you’ve learned some important lessons in this relationship but also realize that you’ve also regressed in some ways. While every marriage is going to stretch us in ways we can’t anticipate, these experiences should ultimately uplift both partners if it’s going to grow into a healthy marriage.

We can all individually grow through challenges when facing opposition, but if the person you’re dating becomes a constant negative force in your life, that kind of growth will only move you further away from them. Holland points out this important principle: 

If you are just going for pizza or to play a set of tennis, go with anyone who will provide good, clean fun. But if you are serious, or planning to be serious, please find someone who brings out the best in you. … Find someone who suffers when you suffer and who finds his or her happiness in your own.

Even though every relationship requires work, the dating and engagement stage of a relationship should be full of discovery, curiosity, excitement, careful observation, critical evaluation and mutual attraction.

If you’re feeling guarded and uncertain, there’s nothing wrong with slowing things down or even ending the relationship. Yes, you’ve dated six months, but recognize you’ve spent these months learning more about yourself and what’s important to you in a relationship. If this woman isn’t someone you can grow with, it’s important to allow yourself to move on. 

It’s also important to recognize that you might not be the right fit for her. Dating requires a high level of self-awareness, so make sure you’re doing everything you can to make sure you’re bringing your best self to this relationship. Even though no couple is going to be perfectly compatible in every way, if you already can tell there are areas that you struggle to resolve, you don’t have to take on those particular challenges in this relationship.

Marriage has plenty of surprises that require deep commitment and our best efforts. If you’re having to wrestle with these dilemmas in the dating phase, it’s wise to slow down and decide if these are the types of challenges you want to work through the coming decades with this person.

If you decide to end this relationship, then I recommend you follow the simple advice offered by Dr. Brene Brown: “Clear is kind.” When you’ve made your decision, stand by it and let her know that this relationship isn’t going to work for you. Don’t lead her on by offering weak invitations to “see what happens” or “give it more time.”

If you’re done with the relationship, then make it final so you can release her and allow her to heal and recalibrate for her future. There may need to be some explaining, but ultimately, if you’re done and certain you don’t want to stay in it, there won’t be an explanation long enough to reassure her. Trust that she can find healing and peace with her spiritual and relational supports in the same way you’ll seek healing. 

I’ve been married for almost 24 years, and the marriage I have today looks much different from the marriage I thought I was going to have at age 22. We have experienced thrilling highs and challenging lows. However, my wife has the same integrity, kindness, goodness and commitment to growth that I identified when I decided to marry her.

None of us can know what the future holds, but you can know right now if the person you’re with is someone who is sensitive toward others, caring, lacks self-centeredness and is committed to growth. These traits can give you more confidence that you can both work together to build a beautiful marriage. 

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

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