There are many things that should be considered at a deeper level BEFORE considering marriage. Oftentimes we place our focus on evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the other person, but it is also important to look inward and evaluate your own emotional health. A study of once happily married couples found that there are three issues, in particular, that could lead to divorce if gone unchecked: negative emotion, negative communication skills, and negative social support. So what does this have to do with you? If you are unmarried or not yet engaged, you have plenty of time to check these areas. How? Well, you can start by asking yourself (and your significant other) three questions.
Rage and contempt are two negative emotions that can be risk factors for divorce. You might argue that you don’t get angry, but I beg to differ. Tim Keller reminds us that anger is actually a God-given response we all have when something we love is being threatened. The Bible tells us in Ephesians that we are to be angry, but not to sin. We sin when we inappropriately deal with our anger. Some people explode as a result of anger, which can quickly turn into rage or verbal, if not physical, violence. Others implode as a result of anger, which can just as quickly turn into silent contempt or resentment. What's another response to anger? Attacking the very thing that is threatening what you love. In a romantic relationship, you should not direct your anger at your significant other, who should be one of your loves. Instead you should address the issues that are threatening your feelings of connection to or security with that person.
Blaming and invalidation are two negative communication skills found to contribute to divorce. Blaming tends to occurs when someone does not take responsibility for his or her own choices and feelings. Invalidation usually occurs when someone does not respect the choices and feelings of another person. An important part of a healthy relationship is the ability to take responsibility for your own emotions and choices (and their consequences). This is not an easy feat, given that pride often arises in these situations as a shield against feelings of guilt and shame. It may be helpful to first address that pride. How do you know when you are feeling prideful? What makes your pridefulness, or need to defend yourself, rise up? Over time, as you are more honest about your pridefulness, it will become easier to take responsibility for your contributions to a relationship.
Finally, unsupportiveness (i.e., extreme pessimism, dismissing feelings, and insisting that your partner handle his or her own problems alone) can often lead to divorce. Support goes a lot further than a “You can do it!” and can be more difficult to do once your mate’s successes and failures directly impact you. Support requires one to be selfless and to trust in the intentions of their significant other. Being selfless allows you to put your concerns aside and attune to the feelings of your significant other. Trust is necessary to give you a confidence in your significant other that you can transfer to them when they are feeling doubt or downtrodden. Life’s obstacles can get more complicated as you age, making support is a very necessary asset.
This list is in no way exhaustive but a good start to thinking about deeper issues and characteristics that should be considered and strengthened before committing to marriage. The best thing you can do is to practice being appropriately angry, taking responsibility for your feelings and choices, and showing commited support. Above all do not approach this journey on your own. Invite your significant other, whether you are considering marrying them or not, to explore these areas along with you and never hesitate to seek guidance from a counselor or mentor.
Dr. Aundrea Paxton graduated with her Psy. D. in clinical psychology from Rosemead School of Psychology. Currently, she serves as staff psychologist at the Biola Counseling Center and special appointment faculty for Biola University. Aundrea and her husband Kerry are both Southern California natives and have a passion for encouraging and supporting the development of healthy relationships and families.