Usually, when we first imagine getting married, we envision the wedding, the honeymoon, the social status provided by the ~holy union~, and the lovey-dovey moments that carry us all the way to “I do.”
I’m about to break that flowery fantasy with an unpleasant reminder (sorry) — in real life, marriage is hard work; it’s an ongoing process. If you want to have a healthy, successful, lasting marriage in a culture wherein half of all marriages end in divorce, then you have to ask both yourself and your partner some potentially uncomfortable questions before those wedding bells ring. As a couple, you and your partner deserve to protect your relationship and have those conversations.
We spoke to Michelle Crosby, CEO and founder of Wevorce, an online program that helps couples and their families get through their divorces as amicably as possible. Wevorce provides its clients with childcare and relationship counselors, attorneys, and financial professionals.
Crosby’s work allows her to have incredibly extensive insight into the reasons behind divorce — and these marital problems often stem from issues that existed before marriage.
In otherwords, if we rushed less and communicated more before saying “I do,” we would enter healthier marriages with better partners. As Crosby tells us, “Remember, marriage is a commitment — not a feeling.”
We were lucky enough to get her advice:
People often rush into marriage
As Crosby explains, social pressure to be in a relationship and get married often leads to people committing to someone before they are truly ready. If we are truly satisfied with our independent lives in the moment, we have to ask ourselves whether we really want to marry, or if we are motivated by a fear of deviating from social norms. Crosby elaborates:
“The societal pressure applied from family, friends, and media [convinces us that] marriage should be our main goal in life in order to be happy… and fulfilled. That, somehow, we are incomplete until we find that special someone to share our lives with.”
And that pressure to conform to marital expectations is even stronger as we age — making it even easier to act on a rushed decision. But Crosby explains that age is not an automatic marker for a wedding:
“It’s not about a ticking clock or our fading youth; it should be about who we are as an individual person, and who we are in a relationship.”
So what do we do to ensure we aren’t rushing into marriage, but taking an informed and positive step in our future? Well, it’s sort of simple — remember what actually matters in a relationship. Says Crosby:
“If marriage is on your to-do checklist… take the time to acknowledge that it’s more about who, and not the what, when and where. Don’t let the dream of finding ‘forever after’ make you lose sight of who you are, [or stop you from] loving the life you have and appreciating how wonderful that can be. And don’t let others pressure you into doing something you aren’t ready for. It’s your life — your decision.”
Try asking yourself these specific questions before you make a huge life decision
Why you are getting married?
When Crosby works with couples in the midst of divorce, she reports that her clients most commonly say they chose to marry because “It was what I thought we should do.” Crosby continues, “They followed the script of life, and marriage… was ‘next.’ We sing it as a nursery rhyme from the time we are kids, ‘First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.'” But that is only a nursery rhyme, not a law that you must abide by.
Is now the right time?
The “endurance phase” of a relationship refers to the time after the first two years of a romantic partnership (more on that later). And waiting for marriage until you and your partner have reached the endurance phase is a pretty smart move, says Crosby: “The longer a couple dates, the less likely [they] are to get a divorce — over three years [of dating] being the most beneficial. Making the commitment to each other is more likely to stick if you say ‘I do’ in the endurance phase of your relationship.”
What does forever mean to you?
Crosby reminds us that the phrase “happily ever after” was coined when our lives weren’t actually that long:
“When people first started believing in living happily ever after and committing to stay together till death do us part, the average life expectancy was 40 years.”
Compare that to today!!! So what should we really be thinking — instead of happily ever after?
“Perhaps a better way to begin a marriage would be to spend time talking about the changing phases of life and how we foresee them. Then define what forever means to you as a couple.”
You need to have these conversations so you can survive the “endurance phase” of a relationship
In a relationship, Crosby explains, there is a “romantic phase” and an “endurance phase.” The “romantic phase” lasts for the first two years of marriage — it is an extended “honeymoon period.” After those two years are up, says Crosby, you enter the “endurance phase” — which is basically the ~forever~ part of the marriage, or “the phase where the health of your partnership will be tested. You will either grow stronger together or you will grow apart.” Crosby continues:
“Our expectations are that marriage works automatically. That’s easy at first, because you’re in the romantic phase… [but] it takes work to maintain a healthy partnership. That’s why it’s so important to really know yourself and your partner before you say ‘I do.’ Especially if you truly believe your commitment is forever.”
A few things to consider beforehand in order to make the endurance phase a little easier: how do you communicate as a couple? Are you open and empathetic? Do you want to change your partner? Why? Is it realistic for them to change?
Since opposites do attract, you need to figure out some common ground
The old adage is frequently true — opposites attract. But if you are in it for the long haul and you are potentially starting a family with a person, having opposite qualities requires some extra communication:
“Will those things you find so adorable now — differing personalities, financial philosophies, habits, likes, religion, child rearing — turn into the very thing that can cause a rift in the future? Everyone will have a different sense of what is normal when it comes to our expectations in marriage, and as a couple, you need to be aware of these differences. If you don’t seem compatible, then you need to redefine a sense of normal for the two of you together and what is expected of each other as partners.”
Ask the awkward questions — even if they’re about divorce
I know, I know. This is not romantic, fun, or optimistic. But if you two love each other, Crosby explains, then it is extremely important to acknowledge the issue so that both of you can end the relationship amicably should it ever get to that point. So what question should you ask to broach the uncomfortable topic with your partner?
“What would your optimal outcome be should you, as a couple, decide to divorce?
Talk about how you would want to handle matters should your marriage not work. Don’t let that drug-like euphoria of love convince you that it can never happen to you — the harsh reality is, it could. Have a plan in place. Talking about it doesn’t mean it will happen, it merely means you can approach ending a relationship as adults, in a way that won’t tear you, your spouse, or your family apart.”
Michelle Crosby is a relationship expert, “legal rebel,” former attorney, and CEO of Wevorce. Founded in 2013, it is the first and only national online platform that removes the pain, time and expense of divorce — guiding users with the help of a nationwide network of more than 600 legal, financial, and child counseling professionals. Crosby previously worked in corporate and securities law before launching Wevorce. The American Bar Association has featured Crosby as a Legal Rebel and on their list of Top 25 Innovative Lawyers. She holds a mediation certification from Harvard University and a law degree from Gonzaga, and she is a Y Combinator alumni.