Sometimes, you just feel it in your bones: This is the person for me. And when that happens, you pop the question and lock it down, no reservations. But more often than not, this isn’t the case. You love your partner dearly, of course, but are unsure on if forever and ever, amen is the right thing for you. Well, fear not. That uncertainty is a completely normal feeling. To that end, we reached out to marriage experts and relationship counselors to hammer down a surefire guide to eliminating any skepticism once and for all and figuring out if your partner truly is The One. And if that turns out to be the case (lucky you!) be sure you know exactly how to nail your proposal.
This might seem obvious, but it’s something many people gloss over, according to Mark E. Sharp, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and author of Not Lonely at the Top: A Relationship Guide for the Courageous, Successful Single Who Hasn’t Found the Love They Want. “In order for someone to be marriage material, they need to be able to open up and share what is going on emotionally for them,” he explains. That’s because sharing your feelings is part of what keeps you close as a couple. A lot of people assume that marriage itself will get a person to share more by default, but this isn’t always the case says Sharp. “A good rule is that if you expect something to be different after the wedding that will make you satisfied with the marriage, but it isn’t present now, you are not going to be satisfied after the wedding either.” Now, you should make sure you’re ready to be married too before you pop the question.
It might seem like a “nice to have” rather than a requirement, but hear us out. “I’m not talking about the type of partner who is constantly making fun of you and others,” says Dr. Gary Brown, a licensed marriage counselor in Los Angeles who works with singles and couples. “I’m talking about something different: They have the ability to laugh at themselves more than anybody else,” he explains. Rather than making jokes at others’ expense,” their ability to laugh at themselves shows a degree of humility that is very desirable in a life partner.” And fellas, it’s good if you can laugh at yourself too.
Do they speak positively (but not longingly) about their exes? It’s a great sign “if they historically have had good (especially recently) relationships,” explains Laurel Steinberg, Ph.D., a New York-based clinical sexologist, relationship therapist, and professor of psychology at Columbia University “If not, you’re likely to be next in a string of failures,” she says. Although if they’ve had some bad relationships, all hope isn’t lost. “Ask questions and reflect on the answers and consider if that person has grown up from their youthfully errant ways,” she recommends. “If yes, then you’re likely good to go!” Also, we have even more advice on how to tell she’s the one here.
“Pay attention to how they fight with you and other people,” suggests Sarah E. Clark, a licensed therapist, relationship expert, and founder of Idealationship. If they hit below the belt when conflict arises, that’s not a good sign. “Marriages will inevitably have conflict, and making sure that you and your partner are both willing to fight fair is vital to the success of the relationship,” she explains. And we have even more pointers for how to plan your proposal when you do decide you’re ready to settle down.
An independent partner is a happy partner. “A good relationship requires mutuality and the ability to go back and forth in giving and seeking support,” says Sharp. “It is important that someone be able to take care of themselves emotionally and physically. If they can’t, they will never be able to provide the support they need to provide when that is called for.”
“When your partner inspires you to be the best version of yourself, that is a key factor in knowing they are marriage material,” says Rori Sassoon, dating expert and CEO and Co-Founder of Platinum Poire. “Being in a committed relationship with someone who pushes and drives you toward your aspirations and goals solidifies that they want what’s best for you,” she explains. You might not consciously think, “I want to be better,” but if you find your partner encouraging you to do things that enrich your career, home life, or health—they’re very likely marriage material. And getting engaged will push you to change even more for the better (mostly).
And not just their peers. “Pay attention to how your partner treats wait-staff in a restaurant or any other service position,” suggests Brown. “These people are a captive audience so they have to put up with anybody who enters their business. Hopefully your partner knows this and treats them well.” Brown also points out that treating other people kindly shows that they’re compassionate, which in turn improves the odds that they will treat you well for years to come.
“If you have good sexual chemistry and same level of desire for physical touch, this is a good indicator of a partner being marriage material,” says Steinberg. Of course, they should have other good qualities, too, but it makes it easier down the road if sex isn’t a sticking point in your relationship. “Sexual skills can be learned and chemistry can be built, but if they are there already, that’s one less hurdle to have to overcome,” she adds.
When your partner says they’ll do something, they actually do it. “If they can’t, you have nothing because they can’t commit to you either,” explains matchmaker Susan Trombetti. Indicators of this quality can be as small as whether or not they show up for dates on time, fulfill work obligations, or keep plans with their friends more often than not. If so, then you know they’re capable of committing fully to your relationship. If not, it could be a warning sign.
When your S.O. has a bad day, who do they talk about it with? “Make sure your partner turns towards you in times of stress or crisis,” says Clark. If they do, that means they’ll be better-equipped to weather storms with you in marriage. “People either turn toward one another or turn away when they are upset. You should both be developing a pattern of looking for support from the relationship and each other,” she says.
“Anyone considering marriage should have a set of values that are core to them and a must in a partner,” Sharp notes. That doesn’t necessarily mean you agree on absolutely everything, but your most important principles should line up. “These are values about how to treat people, prioritize resources in life, etc., not just values about what kind of entertainment is better. So make sure you have a long talk about your values before you pop the question.
Things change; it’s inevitable. Yet “so many couples marry with the expectation that if things are good in their relationship, that they will stay that way,” says Brown. Sadly, that’s far from reality. “Relationships are not static. They do change over time and it is a very good sign if your prospective partner and you both understand this,” he says. Even better if you’ve already been through some ups and downs already and seen this in action. “Having this awareness means that your partner is mature enough to adapt to new situations and challenges that will impact even the very best of marriages over time,” he adds.
If your partner goes ahead and makes your coffee since they get up earlier, picks up groceries on their way home, or runs an errand they know you’ve been meaning to get to forever, they’re actually showing you how much they care about you. “Having this as a personality trait bodes well for a happy life and loving relationship,” says Steinberg. “Things just go more smoothly when this factor is present.”
This might seem unimportant, but it matters in the long run. “Many people are forced to choose between friends and their partner and this quickly spirals a relationship downward,” says Sassoon. “When you see your partner taking an interest in the people who have helped mold your life, it is a definite indicator that they care about your happiness as a whole.” Of course, they might not get along with every single one of your friends, but it’s the overall trend that matters here.
“If you haven’t gone through a major life trauma with your partner then you don’t really know them,” says Rosalind Sedacca, an author and Dating & Relationship coach. After all, you never know what might happen during the course of your lives. “How your partner copes with challenges and crisis is a reflection of their personality on a deep level. Do they attack or blame you or others? Do they panic and lose their sense of balance or responsibility? Do they stay composed and make sensible choices? Don’t marry until you have a clear understanding of how maturely your partner reacts and how it impacts your own life,” she recommends.
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