As a marriage and family relations instructor, I try to keep a finger on the pulse of what is happening in the world of marriage. As divorce rates in the US have stabilized, the new trend in marriage is actually “anti-marriage.” The Pew Research Center found that a record number of adults are remaining unmarried (nearly 25% of adults are unmarried at age 50), and those who are getting married are much older than previous generations (the average age for men to marry is approximately 29, and women 27)¹. These trends are holding true across nearly all socioeconomic groups. I typically start any pre-marriage class or lecture by asking all of the single participants: “How many of you would like to get married?” As you might suppose, nearly all of the hands go up. What follows is a very candid and honest discussion on why people who want to be married, are not. Although they use a variety of words, terms, and stories, it nearly always comes down to two reasons: (1) Fear, and (2) No marriage prospects. This article will deal mostly with fear; another article will discuss ways for increasing your marriage prospects.
What about marriage strikes “fear” in the hearts of the single? Consider these oft heard statements: “What if they aren’t the ‘right’ person for me?” “What if it doesn’t work out?” “What if they don’t turn out to be who I thought they were?” “What if we ‘fall-out-of-love’ or I just stop liking them after a few years?” “What if there is someone out there better for me?” There are other “what ifs” I am sure, but this is a pretty good sampling. Add to this fear the innumerable quotes describing marriage as “The most important decision you will ever make!” and we have a generation that is in danger of contracting marital-paralysis.
Understanding the process of selecting a spouse will help single adults overcome their marital fears. Marriage enthusiast, Spencer Kimball, explained, “In selecting a companion…the most careful planning and thinking and praying and fasting should be done…Emotions must not wholly determine decisions, but the mind and the heart, strengthened by fasting and prayer and serious consideration…” Using this process, spouse selection becomes less of a “gamble” and more of a process of mental and emotional exertion. Notice that he said planning and thinking must be done. We should not rely wholly on our emotions, but on our logic and mental capacities as well.
What does marriage planning look like? Luckily for men, it doesn’t look anything like wedding planning! It isn’t about choosing colors, frostings, flowers, or formals. It is determining what qualities you want in a spouse, in a marriage, in a home, and in a family. Every person considering marriage should have the proverbial list of “things I want in a spouse” somewhere: a chalkboard, a journal, or even a sticky-note (keeping it real for the men!). Women seem to be much better at this than men. They generally have lists that include; (1) must haves, (2) really like to haves, and (3) nice to haves. Men’s lists are often summed up in two words: “a wife!” I am constantly encouraging men to expand their lists to at least three or four items. Careful planning for marriage is the epitome of being “Destination Driven.” Knowing what you want in advance makes it much easier when you come to the crossroads of decision.
We sometimes hear that “thinking” has nothing to do with being in love. Thinking, however, has everything to do with the marriage decision. Thinking is when you measure the person you are dating, and the relationship you are developing, against your “planning.” You should, of course, have some flexibility in your planning. Some of your “nice to haves” may be missing, but you might also be pleasantly surprised by some “nice to haves” you hadn’t planned for. However, if you find you are missing “must haves” from your relationship, proceed with caution.
My wife, Angela, learned these lessons about planning and thinking from her mother in an unusual way. Angie and I dated a few times after she graduated from high school and prior to my mission for the LDS Church. During those dates she decided that I had the qualities she wanted in a spouse and therefore determined that we would be married. I, like most men, was totally oblivious to all of this. I was thinking about my mission and little else. Sometime after I left for my 2 years of service, Angie was given a new set of scriptures as a gift from her parents. They wanted to inscribe her name on the front cover and were quite surprised when she requested they inscribe “Angela Eggett.” (A little creepy, I know, but she’s so cute!).
Instead of the inscription, her mother gave her some wonderful advice. She explained that during my mission I would be studying intently from my scriptures and that when I came home, I would be looking for a girl who had done the same. When my mission was completed we started to date more seriously. One day as we talked, I picked up her scriptures and began to thumb through them. I found that she had developed an elaborate marking system and written many heart-felt thoughts in the margins. It was, I believe, the first time I recognized a “must-have” in the girl that I wanted to marry. Those scriptures have become a symbol to us of our marriage planning and thinking. After our first daughter was born we decided to gift them to her and had her name, Rachel Angela Eggett inscribed on the cover.
Like Compatible Gears: Finding Someone
Speaking on the topic of marriage, Thomas Monson said, “Find someone with whom you can be compatible. Realize that you will not be able to anticipate every challenge which may arise, but be assured that almost anything can be worked out…” I like to think of couple compatibility in terms of gears. We all want to find a “gear” with whom we are compatible. There are many types of gears, big, small, lots of teeth, and practically toothless. Just because you aren’t compatible, doesn’t make either of the gears better or worse. History has proven that there are compatible gears for just about everyone on this earth. Furthermore, no two gears are exactly alike. You can plan on having some teeth that don’t quite line-up in your relationship. Beware of the myth that there is one “special, soul-mate” meant just for you. For most people, there are a number of people with whom they could find compatibility. Sometimes those involved in the “finding” stage get discouraged: “I like so-and-so, but they don’t like me.” “So-and-so likes me, but I don’t like them.” It can seem like an endless series of looking for a matching gear. To these individuals I say, “Don’t give up hope and don’t stop trying.”
Like Uncovering a Picture: The Dating Process
I have worked with couples that have dated for months and know very little about each other. I always want to ask, “What type of dating are you doing?” Remember, the eventual intent of dating is to determine your compatibility and to compare your date to your plan. I like to think of the dating process as a kind-of reverse puzzle. Instead of trying to piece together the person you are dating, you are really trying to uncover their complete picture. To do this effectively you must uncover several different pieces of their picture. If all you do is watch Netflix together at his or her apartment, you will have only uncovered one piece of the puzzle—she likes chick-flix and he likes action movies!
To really know someone you need to see them in a variety of situations and circumstances. How do they feel about the things that are “must haves” on your list? How do they behave around family, friends, strangers, alone? What are they like under stress, or at work, or in competitive situations? This type of dating will take some effort and some planning. For example, a friend once told me that he had been dating what seemed like the perfect girl. They had been out numerous times but it was always just the two of them. When they finally went out with other couples, he was surprised at how unkind she was to everyone but him.
This “Destination Driven” planning, thinking, and dating, will lead to more peaceful decision making. It is much easier for the person who has not relied wholly on emotions, but has put forth the effort to plan, think, and pray to come to conclusions that will be the foundation of a marriage full of happiness and mutual compensation. Finally, beware of endless dating. There is a point where you know enough and the rest will come as pleasant discoveries over many years of marriage.
2. Kimball, Spencer. W., “Oneness in Marriage,” Ensign, Mar. 1977, 3.
3. Thomas S. Monson, Ensign, Nov. 2011, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
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