The most important decision you will make in life is to follow God. The second most important decision is your vocation. So make sure that God is guiding your choice. Talk to him about your dreams, your joys, your problems, and your fears. It is common to meet people who select a spouse on their own, get engaged, and then only afterward ask God and their family to bless it. Try that the other way—start with God and your family—and things tend to run more smoothly.
Here are five practical points to consider when wondering if you should marry a specific person.
One: How is your friendship? It is easy to feel close to a person if you have been physically intimate, but how well can you honestly say you know this person? The more physically involved you have been, the more you will need to step back to evaluate the relationship. This is because physical intimacy clouds our judgment—which it should. One of the benefits of total physical intimacy for married couples is that it renders them less critical of each other. However, this clouding of your thinking belongs in marriage, not before.
Be honest in examining what truly unites the two of you. Is it a desire for pleasure or emotional gain? Is there an unhealthy dependency, where one or both of you has made an idol out of marriage, expecting that it will solve loneliness? How do the two of you deal with differences? Can you disagree lovingly, or are there some issues of manipulation, anger, or guilt that need to be sorted out first? Before marriage it is easy to maintain a good image, so make sure you have seen each other with your masks down, so to speak.
Lastly, is there a real romantic interest? Some people say that romantic feelings are not that important, but there is grave reason for concern if these feelings are not present. This is not to say that you must feel constantly madly in love with each other. Most people do not struggle with the absence of feelings, but with infatuation. Just have the honesty to look at where you stand with this.
Two: Are the two of you on the same page when it comes to the size of your family? Does one of you expect one child, while the other envisions two minivans brimming with kids? Does one of you want kids right away while the other wants to wait ten years before having any children? If you have different dreams, then now is the time to be honest about your differences. More importantly, do you think that your prospective spouse would be a good parent? Or does he or she have habits that are destructive to a marriage and family, such as drug use, excessive drinking, pornography, sarcasm, anger, self-centeredness, or infidelity?
Three: Are you financially ready for a family? The book of Proverbs advises, “Prepare your work outside, get everything ready for you in the field; and after that build your house” (Prov. 24:27). We should not jump into marriage before we are able to care for a family financially. You do not need to have college money set aside for your kids before you get married, but you should be stable enough with your career that you will be able to carry the great responsibilities that come with the blessings of parenthood.
Four: How is your prospective spouse’s faith? Do you lead each other to God? Is your relationship centered on God? Do the two of you have different faiths? Does he or she have a faith at all? The Bible advises against marrying a nonbeliever (2 Cor. 6:14) because marriage is difficult enough without having differences on an issue that should be the foundation of your life together. If one goes to a Catholic and the other a non-Catholic church, then know that there will be trials as a result of this. The Church does allow mixed marriages, but advises against them because of the difficulties they present within marriage.
A husband and wife should be able to do more for God together than they can do apart. They should form a team, and to be effective they need to have the same goal in mind. So take this all to prayer, and trust that God will guide you. Some couples make the mistake of failing to ask for the Lord’s guidance, while others overspiritualize the matter and will not move forward unless they receive numerous signs from heaven. God wants you to have confidence. Trust in him. Use all the wisdom at your disposal, and then make a decision.
Five: What do your friends and families say? It is easy for a couple to become isolated and fail to consult the friends and families God has given them. They know your habits, your emotional health, your dreams, and plenty of things you probably wish nobody knew. But they love you nonetheless and can give some of the best guidance.
As I was finishing my master’s studies, I was seeing a young woman, and we were looking toward marriage. We met with her parents to discuss our hopes. The parents approved of our relationship but saw marriage as something still several years ahead of us. At the time I was frustrated that they could not see how much we loved each other, but their wisdom prevailed and the Lord took us down different paths. Her family had a great deal of wisdom, and they knew that if we were to be together we would have to be patient and prayerful, waiting for the proper time.
Finally, know that if marriage is anything, it is a carefully planned leap of faith. You will need to weigh all the above considerations and more, pray about them, and make a decision. You can only know a person so well before you marry. This is because coming to know another person is not so much a destination as it is a lifelong process. Within marriage you will see strengths and weaknesses more clearly than ever before. Because of this there are inevitably going to be disappointments, but you should anticipate them with hope.
When difficulties arise—and they will come—they will test and affirm your love. Marriage is not an endless whirling romance, and your marriage will suffer to the extent that you expect it to fit that fairy tale. When the infatuation fades, some imagine that they must not have married Mr. or Miss Right. This is partly why so many divorces happen within the first few years of marriage. It is a shame that couples are not prepared to let their relationship breathe. We often have little faith when the time comes to exhale. There is a love waiting to grow, but it is a quieter love than a couple know at the start of their relationship. It is unfortunate that so few have the patience to wait and work in sacrifice to see it blossom.
Successful marriages are not the result of finding the perfect person but of loving the imperfect person you have chosen to marry. Therefore, do not allow yourself to be discouraged when you discover faults and annoyances that you never recognized before. It is said that after marriage, the man gets upset because the woman changes, and the woman gets upset because the man will not change. But when faults do come to the surface, we should not be set on “fixing” our spouse. We marry a person, not a project. We marry a human being, not an idealized image. Only when we let go of the idealized image and begin to accept and love our spouse will the deepest and most fulfilling kind of love appear. As a friend of mine once said, “I married her because I loved her. Now I love her because I married her.”
When a couple understand these principles, they are mature enough to think about marriage. We are not eleven years old anymore, fluttering from one crush to another according to how fun the feelings are. When a relationship is based on an infatuation instead of a decision, it will last only as long as the infatuation does. We must be careful about what we base our relationships on, because finding the love that everyone longs for is a serious endeavor.
Pope John Paul II beautifully sums up all of these thoughts in his book Love and Responsibility:
“The essential reason for choosing a person must be personal, not merely sexual. Life will determine the value of a choice and the value and true magnitude of love. It is put to the test most severely when the sensual and emotional reactions themselves grow weaker, and sexual values as such lose their effect. Nothing then remains except the value of the person, and the inner truth about the love of those connected comes to light. If their love is a true gift of self, so that they belong to the other, it will not only survive but grow stronger, and sink deeper roots. Whereas if it was never more than a synchronization of sensual and emotional experiences it will lose its raison d’être [reason for existence] and the persons involved in it will suddenly find themselves in a vacuum. We must never forget that only when love between human beings is put to the test can its true value be seen.
. For financial advice before (and during) marriage, see Philip Lenahan, The Catholic Answers Guide to Family Finances and Seven Steps to Becoming Financially Free.
. Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II), Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), 134.