Note: This is the first of a two-part series.

Dear Neil: I’m getting ready to pop the question, and wondered whether you have any guidelines about knowing whether someone would be a good choice for me. We are different in so many ways, but we enjoy many of the same things, we get along well, I’m attracted to her and I think we love each other. Is that enough? You hear of so many marriages falling apart, and I don’t want to rush into this blindly. Is there anything else you think I should consider?

Ready in Hawaii

Dear Hawaii: Good question. There are lots of things that I can recommend you examine before you consider marriage, because you absolutely want to know how compatible you will be with each other before you find out the hard way. So here are some suggestions:

  • Everyone doubts at one time or another that his partner is “the one.” The one who will make me happy, make my loneliness go away, take care of me, build me up when I’m down and who will remain hot forever. In reality we sometimes get hurt or disappointed by a partner, but we have this notion that the right person would never cause us negative emotions or pain, and therefore we start thinking that maybe s/he is “the wrong one.” So take solace in the fact that even the most loving and nurturing partners are not always there for each other. They also misunderstand each other, get angry, feel out of sorts and feel hopeless from time to time. Nobody feels like “the one” all the time. S/he is no doubt a complicated human being just like you are.
  • Let your partner see the real you, flaws and all. You want to feel accepted for who you are, not for the image you present. The paradox of this is that the more you reveal your flaws, weaknesses and less attractive qualities—and continue to be loved and accepted by your partner—the more you will feel safe and secure in the relationship. Likewise, take the rose colored glasses off and look at your partner’s less attractive qualities as well, because you will certainly get those when you marry her.
  • Look carefully at your partner’s character traits. Does s/he act with integrity toward you? At work? With friends? With family? Does she behave with others as she does with you? Does she always try to do the right thing, even when it’s at her personal expense? How trustworthy is she to you, to others and to those she has contact with? The goal is not to find someone who is perfect, but rather to find someone who’s character you respect, and who, when she contradicts herself, can either recognize it or accept feedback so she can be even better in the future. If she is very defensive, that is a bad sign, because it stops you from being able to call her on her behaviors, and her character will be with you forever.
  • Look carefully at how your partner takes care of him/herself. How does she handle stress? What are her eating habits, drinking habits, exercise habits, spending habits? When there’s a problem at work or with family or friends, does she face it head on? What is she doing to maintain a healthy body, mind and demeanor? Does she let her emotions build up and then she explodes or gets depressed, or does she address things as they arise?
  • Look carefully at his/her daily living habits. We may be on our best behavior in the beginning of a relationship, but after a couple of years, the way we live shines through, and you want someone compatible with your living habits. How neat, clean and cared for is her stuff and her place? Are dirty dishes left in the sink for days? Is bedding changed? Are floors and bathrooms dirty? Incompatible living styles create a fair amount of tension in a long term relationship. Is this an area the two of you need to discuss?

These ideas come from Michael Batshaw in the book 51 Things You Should Know Before Getting Engaged (Trade Paper Press). I will continue with these suggestions in next week’s column.

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