Marriage is one of life's biggest decisions, and needless to say, it should not be taken lightly. No, nuptials aren't for everyone, but those craving the commitment should have a few things figured out before saying "I do." In fact, there might be some very clear signs you're ready for marriage — if you know what to look for.
When you feel you've found "the one," it's certainly an exciting realization. But Tina Konkin, relationship counselor, founder and director of the counseling program Relationship Lifeline, warns that while romance is nice, it can't sustain a marriage. "Who hasn’t heard of 'love at first sight?'" she says. "Well, love at first sight might lead to divorce at first light. If you're certain you’ve found 'the one,' [be sure] this certainty is based in reality."
But before all that — and before committing for the long haul — it's imperative to do some soul-searching within yourself. "Knowing who you are and what you are, as well as who you’re not and what you don’t want to be, are some of the most valuable things you can give to your prospective mate; and they, to you," Konkin says.
Think you're ready to take the leap? Ahead, check out eight signs that you (and your significant other) are ready to get hitched, according to experts who've seen it all. If you think you've got it covered, it might be time to start wedding planning.
1. You're (Physiologically) Mature
While no one can tell you what age is "best" to get married (let alone pressure you to be on a matrimonial timeline), there may be an optimum level of maturity, physiologically speaking. According to Noah Clyman, clinical director of NYC Cognitive Therapy, a private practice in Manhattan, "The brain isn't fully developed until age 27, particularly the part of the brain associated with ability to assess long-term consequences and weigh options," he says. His advice? "Don't get married until you are working with a full, complete brain."
2. You've Done Some Soul-Searching
For a deep and lasting bond that evolves over time, your other half must love you for you ... but first, you have to know yourself. "I highly recommend people spend time truly investing in themselves," says Konkin. "This comes back to the point of self-examination: Who am I, not only on a date, but [when] I'm under pressure? Who am I when I don’t get my way? Who am I when everything doesn’t go according to plan? What baggage am I bringing into this marriage that could be the cause of its failure?"
The relationship guru adds that if you can't be honest about who you are, you certainly can't be honest to who you're not. "Start with knowing yourself, then put the time into knowing your prospective partner," she says.
3. You Understand Each Other's "Love Languages"
There are five major love languages — acts of service, giving and receiving gifts, quality time, physical touch, and words of affirmation — and it's so important for couples to learn their partner's, as well as their own. Clyman explains that love languages are "the manner in which [people] primarily receives love and affection," so knowing them can take your relationship to the next level and even prevent arguments.
4. You Accept Conflict & Do It Constructively
Konkin says that the first step of fair fighting is to take a step back and reflect on yourself. "How do you react to conflict? Confrontation? Disappointment?" she asks. "Are you an avoider or do you attack?" Another thing to note: "If your dating life is filled with stress and drama, it will not get better after you get married. The consequences and jeopardy only increase."
These are important realizations to make before tying the knot, since conflict is necessary in a relationship. And, when done right, it can even be constructive. "The goal of conflict is mutual understanding," Clyman explains. "When you dialogue about a problem, you both feel heard and understood." To that, there are things you should never say to your partner if you want to hash things out in a healthy way. "Avoid criticism, contempt, and defensiveness, which are patterns of communication that predict divorce," he points out.
5. You've Discussed The Big 3: Money, Religion, & Sex
Clyman says that money, religion, and sex are three major topics that couples must agree on — or at least, find compromises on — before making a lifelong commitment. More specifically, Konkin suggests that couples discuss their expectations in terms of love and sex, spending and income, and how they feel their children should be raised (or whether they plan on having any, at all).
6. You've Already Been Through Ups & Downs Together
Prepare as you might, you never really know how you'll deal with a situation until you face it head-on. Events like deaths, job losses, or even everyday life stresses have the potential to shatter a relationship or make it stronger. In these instances, Clyman says that the ability "to soothe yourself and your partner when one of you gets flooded" signifies a relationship that's on the marriage track.
7. You Know You're Compatible With Each Other
Yes, you should really get to know each other before saying "I do." It's a step that comes only with time and intimate conversation. But believe it or not, it's often missed by couples who aren't completely honest with each other or themselves, and instead, get caught up in the wedding whirlwind. However, knowing — and accepting — each other's inner hopes, dreams, stresses, and annoyances can help you weigh in on some serious compatibility factors.
"Once you feel you have both clearly and concisely articulated your desires, wants, needs, likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, and non-negotiables, then you could be ready to take that amazing next step in your relationship," says Konkin. If not, she continues, "emotional and physical triggers can wreak havoc if undiscovered prior to marriage."
8. You've (Both) Put In The Effort For The Best Chance Of Success
Marriage is wonderful, but it's not always a breeze, and as they say, it takes work. However, this is true for any relationship, even platonic ones; but if it's fulfilling, it's worth it. Konkin adds that one surefire sign you're both in it for the long haul is by putting in the effort for the best chance of success. In addition to honest discussions, fair compromises, and tackling challenges together, she recommends the Relationship Lifeline, an intensive weekend designed to uncover and deal with triggers that prevent you and your partner from being your best selves.
"Are you ready to do the legwork to confirm, as best you are able, compatibility?" Konkin asks. "Are you ready to sit through pre-marital counseling? And mostly, are you ready to be uncomfortably honest with your prospective mate, as well as with yourself?" If the answer is yes on all accounts, then there's a good chance you and your other half will stick together, for better or worse.