When all your friends are getting engaged, planning weddings and having babies, it can be easy to compare yourself to them. At the same time, it can be really hard to know when it’s the right time to start talking about a bigger commitment with your S.O., especially if you’re yet to have the money, living together and “do you want kids?” convos. That’s why we tapped experts to find out what the rules are on how long you should be together before you walk down the aisle. Their responses might surprise you.
Dates and Deadlines
First off, there’s no hard-and-fast minimum time requirement for deciding when to get married. It totally depends on you, your partner and your relationship.”Rather than looking at time as a crucial deciding factor in regard to getting married, the quality of time and how it is spent getting to know one another might be more important,” says Dr. Iris Pachler, licensed psychologist and clinical director of New Harmony Psychological Associates.
On the other hand, Anita Chlipala, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and owner of Relationship Reality 312, says she usually recommends 12 to 18 months at minimum, “because that’s the average time it takes for infatuation to fade. Research shows that there’s truth to the adage ‘love is blind,’ where the critical thinking parts of the brain shut down during infatuation.” That maybe sounds a little familiar, right? “Even if we recognize what we don’t like about our date or partner, we can sweep those things aside and minimize their importance because of infatuation, but when it fades, that’s when those things can potentially become problematic.” So while 12 to 18 months is just an estimate, the most important thing here is that you’ve been together long enough to take off those rose-colored glasses.
And even though there are no official “rules” about how long you should date, there are some milestones you probably want to get to before taking the plunge. “One of the biggest issues as to why people end up getting a divorce is differing value systems,” says Pachler. “The couple should get to know one another at a deep level and discuss values such as wanting kids, where to live, is family involvement important, how does each person feel about money, etc.” Another thing you should definitely consider? Attachment style. “This can really only be accomplished by going through life together for awhile and seeing how each person adjusts to stress, challenges and change,” she says. “Does one person need more time and attention to feel loved than the other? Does one person hide at work or behind hobbies so he or she does not need to engage in the relationship too much?” These are things that can only really be figured out by sharing quality time together in a relationship.
Chilipala also emphasizes the importance of getting through arguments effectively. “How a couple fights is important to the success of a relationship. It’s important to have arguments to see how you both react and how you handle it. Happy couples aren’t without conflict, but they handle their arguments differently than unhappy couples.” In fact, getting through the infatuation phase can actually lead to conflicts, and those are really important to address. “What drew a person to their partner can later be a source of contention,” she says. “For instance, a planner is attracted to their partner’s spontaneity. This can be exciting and fun in the beginning of a relationship, but it can lead to frustration if they want the person to ‘settle down’ and schedule things in advance. The spontaneous person might feel that the planner is taking all the fun out of life and their relationship. And round and round we go.” Ugh, that definitely doesn’t sound fun!
Age Is Just A Number
And how does your age factor into all of this? “Considering that a younger couple might not be as developed in their values and life experiences, more time might be necessary to learn about each other and learn about themselves too,” says Pachler. While it’s logical to think that if you’re older, it might be easier to make a decision about who you want to spend your life with, this isn’t always the case. “A couple who is attempting to remarry at a later point, with or without kids, might have more challenges (merging family, past relationship trauma) to work through than a couple who lies somewhere in the middle in regard to age,” she says. When it comes down to it though, “The more you know yourself and can communicate your expectations and needs effectively, the less time you need to date someone to know if they are a good fit,” says Chilipala. “Some people, regardless of age, choose the same type of person over and over again without knowing why. If you’re going after a type that isn’t a good fit, it’s good to understand why before you commit to marrying someone. People don’t change just because they get married.” True that.
The Bottom Line
So there you have it: When it comes to marriage, there are no formulas that will tell you exactly how long you should date based on your age, past relationship experience or anything else. The most important thing is to understand your needs in a relationship, how well your partner fulfills those needs and how your value systems match up. While it might be a little stressful to think about the fact that there are no set guidelines for how to know your S.O. is “the one,” it’s also great to know that ultimately, you’re in control of your own relationship and you have no one to answer to except yourself.
How long do you think couples should date before marriage? Share your opinion with us @BritandCo!
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