A year into my relationship with Phillip, I thought it was time to start thinking about our future together. I thought moving in together would help us take a big step toward that glorious finish line like Bruce Jenner (before becoming Caitlyn Jenner) in the Olympic decathlon, that finish line being marriage (back when I was all about it).
But there was an issue: we hadn’t even said “I love you” to each other.
Oh, we were also learning how to handle conflict, for we had different ways of coming to battle. Phillip’s style was more aggressive and confrontational, like a flame thrower, while I preferred a bittersweet mix of dramatic exits and taking time to collect myself.
Oh, and while we both had demons to fight as impressionable kids in our mid- to late 20s, I had some deep insecurities to work out, such as unrealistic expectations of how love and relationships should work in the 21st century (hence partially why I started my relationship coaching business after working out my shit).
Okay, so we both had inner dragons to slay. Five years into our relationship, I look back on that moment and think, “Wow, it’s a good thing we didn’t elope in Vegas or anything, because we just weren’t ready for that kind of commitment.”
I always say relationships are a marathon, not a sprint, like many things in life. Exceptions are when couples meet and get married seemingly milliseconds later and do just fine. I know a couple of couples who tied the knot just three months into knowing each other. One of Phillip’s cousins said “I do” only six weeks into knowing her husband.
Likewise, there are the “Hollywood romances” where people think they’re in love, but then they realize he’s a red-eyed psychopath from the depths of Hell and she’s a warty swamp witch who will curse your loins. I’ll discuss the likely reason for this horrible turn of events later. For now, let’s answer the question, “How long should my partner and I wait to get married?”
Science Saves Us from Making Bad Decisions
Many voices out there will give you different answers to this question, sometimes based on evidence and sometimes not. I’m attempting to stand out in the mosaic of talking heads by offering you a shiny 13-year study (free version for mere mortals here) that tracked 56 couples from courtship to marriage and divorce.
One of its biggest findings was that it’s possible to predict a relationship’s destiny within the first two years of marriage. So, it’s easy to argue that you should wait at least two years (but preferably more) before you tie the knot.
Why? Because relationship longevity goes beyond how well you handle conflict. In fact, you can most easily predict a relationship’s success in the first two years by assessing its genesis. Did it begin so blissfully that people around you could barf at the sight of your excessive PDA and endless compliments and baby talk, or did it begin without a hormonal deluge? In other words, did it begin with a ton of chemistry or a ton of compatibility?
“Couples whose marriages begin in romantic bliss are particularly divorce-prone because such intensity is too hard to maintain,” according to Aviva Patz, author of the Psychology Today article on the study. “Believe it or not, marriages that start out with less ‘Hollywood romance’ usually have more promising futures.”
I’ve written about the difference between chemistry and compatibility in romantic relationships. It’s one of my favorite topics about the romantic world, partially because it’s counterintuitive. Many of us grew up being told (by the media or otherwise) that love feels like hormonal highs and butterflies. However, that chemical feeling disappears over time like a man’s receding hairline. There could be too much of a good thing.
“Social science has a name for that fading dynamic—‘disillusionment,’” Patz writes. “Lovers initially put their best foot forward, ignoring each other’s—and the relationship’s—shortcomings. But after they tie the knot, hidden aspects of their personalities emerge, and idealized images give way to more realistic ones. This can lead to disappointment, loss of love and, ultimately, distress and divorce.”
Yes, when you think you’ve discovered Prince Charming, over time you realize he’s Dracula.
That’s why you need to look for compatibility, the less “exciting” but more stable relationship ingredient. It’s like skipping diabetes-loaded desserts for leafy greens instead.
Here’s what a compatible relationship can look like: My partner Phillip loves exploring conspiracy theories for fun, while I tend to stay more practical and grounded in science. He’s more impulsive, while I’m a little more calculating. He’s super extroverted, while I’m a little more introverted. He’s more mathematically inclined, while I’m a writer. We’re both adrenaline junkies with similar values. We fit together like puzzle pieces.
And no, I don’t recall ever getting that “high,” cocaine-like feeling in the beginning of our relationship. Thank goodness, or our relationship would have been a grand waste of time!
If you plan to live a long life with another person, you might as well really get to know him before you get the government involved. Follow the science and take at least a couple of years of courtship; that way, you’ll find out whether your relationship is more chemical or compatible. The last thing you want to do in this one life you get is to waste your time on the wrong mate.
In fact, a 2017 Bridebook study found that the UK’s divorce rate is at its lowest in roughly 50 years because people are taking their time to get to know their partner before meeting at the altar.
There’s no need to view marriage as an accomplishment you need for societal status or an Instagram photo. If you’re going to do it, do it for the right reasons and when it feels right.
If the time is right and you need help leaving your anxious and insecure relationship behind for some delectable peace of mind, then holler at your girl!
Interested but not ready to commit to a coaching relationship? Take this “Relationship Insecurity Quiz” to see where you stand romantically, get tailored results, and get a special surprise afterward!