What I mean by that is if you are in a healthy secure relationship, definitely marry the person you can’t live without.
Where it gets hairy is if you are in an unhealthy, insecure relationship, and think/feel/believe you can’t live without him/her. You love him/her. Especially within the first two years of a relationship when all the happy chemicals are floating throughout your brain. There’s nothing quite like the intoxication of those chemicals. I am definitely not making fun of you, or this topic.
What I’m saying is that making long-term decisions about a relationship when you “aren’t in your right mind” due to happy chemicals can be fraught with danger to your mental health and well-being. Red flags, even pink flags, are easily ignored during the first two years.
So, what’s a person to do? What I am going to sharing with you next are not judgements, just information. Add your ideas.
Here’s a list, in no particular order (except number 1):
1. Do NOT get engaged or married until at least two years have gone by. This allows time for the happy chemicals to run their course. I have seen so many couples in distress because they didn’t wait. Even after two years, once you live together, and are not in conscious or unconscious “selling” mode, issues will begin to arise. If it’s a healthy relationship, you work through your issues and go from crazy in love to mature, secure love.
2. Look for red flags, and pink flags. Write them down. Share them with at least two of your closest friends who will hold you accountable later.
3. Meet the parents. Especially over time. How do they treat each other? Whether or not relationship behavior is healthy, most people do/say/react in the same way their parents did. Is that what you want to sign up for--for the rest of your life? If your beloved has done the hard, emotional work to recognize and change unhealthy family patterns, and chooses to live in a secure, healthy manner, it’s a different story. (I am not indicting parents--I’m a parent--I’m noting known patterns of intergenerational dysfunction.)
4. Find out what attachment styles you both have (see last week’s post about the book Attached.) Take this online attachment style profile. Once you have results, you’ll see what work you each need to do to become secure “anchors” for each other. This is good work to do throughout the first two years.
5. Take the 5 Love Languages quiz. Once you both have results, ask yourself if you can push yourself out of your comfort zone EVERYDAY to give in your beloved’s language. Since people tend to give in their own Love Language, it can be a stretch to give in his/her language. And you need to do that daily to fill his/her love tank. Empty love tanks lead to big problems in relationships. If you end up asking, “Does s/he love me?” you’re in trouble.
6. Notice how your partner treats people: at the store, in a restaurant, co-workers, customer service reps, etc. How s/he treats those people is how s/he will treat you when under duress.
7. Don’t believe everything you think. This is critical.
8. Remember that feelings are guideposts to something that needs attending to. Be both emotional and logical; each are necessary.
9. Talk about everything. See my list of premarital topics to discuss. You would be amazed how many couples don’t even talk about whether or not they want kids until after they’re married.
10. Look at and address your part in any situation. Think about Michael Jackson’s song: The Man in the Mirror. Change begins with you.
11. You have no control over anyone but yourself. If you’re waiting for your partner to change, that’s unhealthy for both of you.
12. If you have essentially the same relationship with different people over and over, seek help. Otherwise it’s likely to continue.
13. Have your eyes, ears, brain, feelings and intuition wide open. Do not put on blinders!
You might still love that person, and in long-term relationships, love actually isn’t enough. I know, it’s a weird thing for a couple’s therapist to say. Willingness to look at and do something about one’s issues and behavior are key. Try couple’s therapy. If s/he won’t participate, that’s an answer.
If, after couple’s therapy, you still don’t experience a healthy relationship with your partner, leaving may be the healthiest for BOTH of you. You are not doing him/her any favors by staying when you are unhappy, and either there can’t or won’t be changes. You are actually hurting a person you don’t want to be with by staying. You are sending negative thoughts, feelings, and/or behavior his/her way, and you’re not giving him/her the chance to find someone s/he is compatible with.
In the cycle of abuse (whether it is mental, emotional, or physical), the person treats you badly, then is apologetic, sweet, maybe gives a gift, then over time s/he builds up to doing/saying in the abusive way again. The cycle repeats and repeats. If in the end, there is too much drama, too many red flags, or too little connection, leave the relationship.
I want to acknowledge that it might not be easy to end your relationship. There is love (even if things are unhealthy), and you don’t want to be the “bad guy” by ending it. You’re probably going to be hurting for a while after ending a relationship you had high hopes for. That’s normal. Lean on your support system. Get help. Address your issues.
Please do not stay in an unhealthy relationship. It harms you mentally, emotionally and physically.
If you have worked your way to a healthy, secure relationship and more than two years have passed, and you can’t live without each other, then by all means get engaged.