LATELY, it seems like you can’t open your Web browser without seeing some headline about a famous married couple calling it quits. And while it’s no surprise when Charlie Sheen’s latest union implodes, you’d think that super-together stars like Sandra Bullock and Kate Winslet would be able to pick winners. How is it that a woman can pledge eternal love in front of all her family and friends and then discover that she’s mistaken about the man?
In a recent Cosmo survey, nearly two-thirds of you reported being worried about making a bad choice and winding up divorced. But experts say you can protect yourself from that fate if you evaluate your relationship pre-engagement according to a few important elements. “There absolutely are ways to judge if a man is marriage-worthy and reduce the chances you’ll pick the wrong partner,” says marriage and family therapist Terri Orbuch, PhD, a sociology professor at the University of Michigan. “Considering these points will help you understand whether you and he have similar underlying values and whether you’d be getting married for the right reasons.” Here are six things you should do to help determine whether your boyfriend is the love of your life or possibly your future ex-husband.
Don’t Just Dismiss His Past
Is there a chapter of your boyfriend’s history that bothers you because it so doesn’t sound like the guy you know? Then you need to decide if your relationship could survive a repeat, because odds are good that old habits will return.
“The best predictor of his future behavior is his past behavior,” says Orbuch. If his relationship history is a sordid tale of flings and bitter exes, it’s tempting to think that you’re the one woman fabulous enough to reform him.
“But when a man acts poorly in multiple unions, it’s usually for deep-seated reasons that are going to persist,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, a psychologist in Wexford, Pennsylvania. “He might be able to treat you well during the ‘passionate love’ stage, which usually lasts about 18 months, but after that, he’ll likely start slipping into his old ways.”
That said, people can change — many of today’s family guys wearing Baby Bjorns at the farmers market were serious players at 22. But here’s where it gets tricky: You need to figure out if the sleazeball chapter of his past was specific to that stage of his life or if the traits he exhibited then are hardwired into his personality and just buried for now. “To find out, ask him what behaviors he considers to be a violation of trust, and tell him what your expectations are,” says Orbuch.
If he’s done things in the past that don’t meet your standards for marriage, grab the bull by the horns and bring it up. Ask him to explain why he did what he did. If the reasons he gives are related to specific situations that no longer apply (say, he used to party too much because he lived with a bunch of his frat brothers after college), that’s a strong sign that it was just a temporary thing. But if the triggers for his past bad actions could easily be present again once you’re married — he used to party too much because he was stressed — it might mean that those habits are part of who he will always be.
Own Up to What You Need
So you love that your guy is a foodie or a stylish dresser. That’s all great, as long as you’re not so dazzled by those qualities that you overlook the fact that he’s lacking more important ones.
“I tell my clients to draw a big circle with a smaller one inside it and then fill the inner circle with four or five qualities they absolutely need a husband to have, like sharing their views of religion, family, or money,” says Lombardo. “Then they fill the larger circle with nice-to-haves. You should look for a partner who has all the inner-circle qualities and a few of the outer ones, not the other way around.”
As you look over his qualities, consider whether they have downsides and if you can handle them. For instance, you might love that he has a hot career as a consultant, but if his job requires lots of travel, will his success compensate for his absence from your life? If you have a huge group of friends, it might not be an issue, but if you’re a homebody who prefers to end each day snuggled on the couch with your honey, you won’t be happy with a marriage in which he is always traveling.