Help! How Do I Know If I Should Get Married?

HeadSpaces is a brand new column featuring the clever minds of psychologists Dr. Rachel Kozlowski and Dr. Naomi Ben-Ami discussing modern romance. 

This is my HeadSpace: I know I love my boyfriend and I think I’m ready to get married—conceptually and emotionally—but how do I know if he’s the one I want to spend the rest of my life with? He constantly expresses how he can’t imagine living without me, but I’m not sure I feel the same way. Should my pull towards him be stronger? Or maybe the problem is more about me? Help! I can’t get this doubt out of my head.
—Questioning in Quebec

Dear Questioning Q,

Doubt is a crazy-making emotion. And a damn complicated one too, often combining suspicion, confusion, hesitation and even self-loathing. I have to make a decision, but nothing feels right. You’re questioning yourself every step of the way as a means of avoiding perhaps the worst emotion of all—regret—and basically? It’s a rotten place to be.

Conversely, few things feels better than clarity, that proverbial a ha! moment where you slip into a warm tub of quiet resolution and know you’ve made the right decision.

But I think we also know that that feeling is elusive, slippery, almost like deja vu. Or it occurs when the stakes simply aren’t that high; like picking out a new sweater. Or a movie to watch. Yeah, your favorite Chinese food place has 45 options, but goddamn is the shrimp fried rice delicious.

These decisions are—obviously—not accompanied with the same level of gravitas, finality!, foreverness!—that choosing a life partner is.

So I guess what we’re saying is, your doubt is more-than-understandable and in truth, part and parcel of any life-altering choice. So says Dr. Kozlowski:

“It is often said about relationships and marriage that “when you know, you know,” and to an extent, that’s true. Listening to your doubt and exploring feelings of uncertainty is critical, especially when you’re facing such a major decision. The feelings you are having would not exist if they weren’t meaningful and important, and you very well might be more convinced your man were the one if he were, indeed, the person (or a person, assuming you believe there are many potential lids for your pot), for you.”

But don’t freak out yet! Just because you have some nagging doubt doesn’t mean he’s not the right person to pair off with. Dr. Kozlowski explains that some of your perceived hesitation may actually have to do less with your pending husband and more to do the way you’re hard-wired; are you even a head-over heels kind of human? Maybe you just don’t see the world in—”can’t live without you”—extremes.

Dr. Kozlowski has some suggestions to help you figure this out. “Ask yourself if you tend to have really strong, passionate feelings in relationships, and in general. Might you just be a person who experiences less intensity of feeling than you’re imagining you should experience with the one you love? Or have you just not found the one who will stimulate such intensity?”

All that being said, chemistry and the ever-elusive je ne sais quoi that is “supposed” to accompany romantic love can manifest itself in myriad ways. And while keenly listening to your heart is crucial, so is compromise.

“Your Mr. Right is not going to be Mr. Perfect, because he doesn’t exist,” says Dr. Kozlowski.

You’re about to cast off and sail away into unknown waters; seeing the land slip away into the horizon is scary, but you also can be proactive in countering that fear. “Consider using any uncertainty to guide you towards potential areas of concern you may want to work on with your partner before committing.”

Dr. Naomi Ben-Ami has additional advice to consider; she suggests pulling the camera lens a bit higher in order to examine the situation from a broader bird’s eye view, one that could reveal your views on everything from modern culture to your personal past.

“Marriage is a major life commitment. It’s worth considering if any of your doubt about this great guy has more to do with the timing of all of this or your own readiness for this big choice. Are you ready to prioritize companionship and stability over the thrill of the hunt? Are you harboring uncomfortable feelings about marriage at large because of your view of what it means in our society? Or because you haven’t witnessed successful marriages and are skeptical about whether anyone can be happily married?”

Lastly? Dr. Ben-Ami suggests that you buckle-up for a serious mulling over.

She insists that while you need not share all the same interests and hobbies (because in truth, that would be terribly yawn-inducing), “it is crucial that you are aligned in your life goals, morals and values, and plans for things like handling finances, religion, and whether or not you want children.”

Oh, and communication? Essential. Not only do you need to be able to talk openly and honestly, but if said conversations—or grocery shopping or a death in the family or a thousand other bumps in the life-road—creates conflict, you have to be able to work through it and resolve it. And move on.

OK, now we’ll try and leave you with some reassurances . . . and yes, just a couple more things for you to consider.

Firstly, do not fret and face-melt if you’ve noticed that there are indeed a few areas in which you are decidedly not aligned, says Dr. Ben-Ami. “Maybe this has something to do with the doubt you spoke of in the first place, and identifying specific causes for it may help determine whether or not these issues can be resolved. Often times some careful negotiation and hard work can be just what you need to reconcile areas of incompatibility.”

Go ahead and get your elbow grease out girl; if you want to enter this relationship (or get the hell out of it) in a healthy and informed way, you’ve got some work to do.


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