The Marriage Test

Wendy and I had been good friends for 20 years - since childhood - then one day we decided we could be, and should be, more than friends. During our ten-day courtship, which led to engagement, we discussed most of the questions presented below. We have now been married 26 years and counting.

To our surprise, many of our close friends and relatives have never discussed some of these important issues openly and honestly, even couples that have been married for years. So how did they decide they were compatible? I have no idea! Apparently they never made such a decision, at least not at an intellectual level. According to the songs on the radio, "Love will keep us together." But life is rarely that simple, as the Captain and Tennille found out. We believe couples planning a longterm relationship, or already immersed in one, should answer these questions separately, in writing, and then discuss their answers together. Try to understand your partner's point of view, and think of ways you can meet in the middle.

Some of these questions were taken from the two (count them two) adoption investigations we endured in two separate states. We answered these questions separately, and together, then handed everything over to the agency. Since we had discussed these points before our engagement, there weren't any surprises; merely the first hill in a mountain of paperwork. Still, I believe the exercise would benefit most couples.

If you have any feedback on this questionnaire, or you have some additional questions that would be appropriate in this context, please send us your comments.


Neither I nor my wife has a degree in psychology, counseling, or social work. If you have serious issues in your marriage or relationship, we recommend you seek professional guidance. This compatibility test is offered for entertainment purposes only.

There! That should keep the lawyers happy. After all, you can peddle astrological garbage to desperate people who can't afford it for $4.95 a minute, as long as you say it is for entertainment purposes only.

Copyright Notice

This questionnaire is copyright (c) Karl and Wendy Dahlke, 1998. You can link to it from your website, but you should not copy or redistribute this material without permission.

What Is Marriage

  1. Are you both mature adults? This is necessary for a good relationship - though it is not sufficient. Here is an interesting adultness test, to get you started. But don't assume a high score is your ticket to success, in marriage, or anywhere else. This is a very abridged survey, and it's mostly for fun; though it can give young people a good idea of what it means to be "grown up". In reality, you should probably be in your mid twenties before you consider marriage. Marriages also work better when people have more education. See this article.

  2. Could you be happy/fulfilled without marriage?

  3. Why do you want to get married? What are you hoping to gain? What can you offer your partner in return?

  4. What marriages have you experienced personally? Did they result in happiness? What was good or bad about these marriages?

  5. Should a marriage be strictly between two people, or is polyamory acceptable in certain situations?

  6. Can two gay people share a lifelong loving relationship? Should U.S. laws sanction their marriage, with the same privileges (e.g. joint healthcare and tax-free inheritance) and responsibilities (e.g. alimony) as any other couple?

  7. Do you believe the commitment takes place when you get engaged, or when you say "I do"?

  8. How important is the legal/religious institution of marriage, as opposed to a simple commitment between you and your partner?

  9. Do you believe it is helpful to live together first, before making a commitment? (Statistically, living together will neither hurt nor help your chances of success.)

  10. How do you feel about pre-nuptial agreements?

  11. Who will acquire whose last name, or will you keep your last names, or will you jointly adopt a new name? Warning, there's plenty of paperwork involved in a name change. Be sure to register your new name with DMV and with social security before you file your taxes.

Love and Support Through the Years

  1. What causes people to fall in love?

  2. How important is love to a good marriage? Can two people, who are no longer in love, have a good marriage? Can two people, who are very much in love, have a bad marriage?

  3. Do you expect to be in love for life? How might your love evolve as the marriage proceeds? (Surveys show most older couples feel like siblings, rather than sweethearts.)

  4. What will you do, years from now, when the touch of your partner's hand does not bring euphoria?

  5. How important is affection? How do you feel about public displays of affection?

  6. Can you give and receive affection even when you don't particularly feel "in love"?

  7. Does a marriage require ongoing maintenance? What kind of things should you monitor?

  8. Is a marriage "hard work"? If so, why do you want to fill your life with hard work?

  9. Can you put your partners needs ahead of your own? How will you know what your partner's needs are?

  10. Are you (generally) polite and courteous to others? Are these attributes important to a smooth-running marriage and family?

  11. How will you react when your partner does something small (or big) that you don't like? How would you want to be approached if the tables were turned?

  12. What do you do when you are frustrated or angry? How do you resolve conflicts with others? Are you a bear and sit in your cave and fume? Do you hold it in for days until something (possibly unrelated) sets you off? Do you want to get it all out right away even if it is in a public place? Warning - don't talk in the car while one of you is driving! Back away, note your discomfort to the other person (quietly), and plan to talk about it when you are in a mutually safe place.

  13. How do you react when you are sad or discouraged? Do you seek love and support, or would you rather be alone?

  14. What priority will your marriage receive throughout life? What things are more important than your marriage? Note, if your priority changes for any reason, you need to discuss and agree with your partner. If something takes focus away from your relationship, make sure you have a time limit and you get back to each other. A semester at school, running for office, etc.

  15. How might you or your partner change, that would cause your marriage to dissolve? What are some things that you simply cannot live with? Examples: infidelity, alcohol or other drugs, criminal activity. Be honest; there is no such thing as unconditional love.

Sickness and Death

  1. How would you react if your partner were seriously injured (e.g. blind, wheelchair bound, etc)? How would the marriage change? If your hobbies are primarily physical in nature, what new activities might take their place?

  2. Could you care for the physical needs of your partner, such as dressing, bathing, medications, etc?

  3. What is your attitude towards doctors and modern medicine? Do you trust your doctors? Are there certain procedures you do not believe in on moral or religious grounds?

  4. How do you feel about holistic/alternative medicine? Does a positive or negative attitude play a role in health and sickness?

  5. What steps do you take to preserve your longterm health, and what will you expect from your partner?

  6. What are your thoughts on nursing homes vurses in-home care from your partner and visiting doctors and nurses? Remember that hospice often provides in-home care if that is compatible with your needs and wishes, and is often covered by Medicare. This was a true blessing for our family when Wendy's parents died in 2013.

  7. If you outlive your partner, how will you handle his/her death? Will you look for a new partner, a companion to live with, or new friends to fill your time?

  8. Would you be secure financially? Would you have the resources to raise the children you have, or expect to have?

  9. Do you have the emotional maturity and strength of will to raise any children you have or expect to have, as a single parent? Whom could you call on for help? Extended family? Close friends?

  10. What are your wishes regarding funerals, burials, cremation, etc. Where to be buried, or what to do with the ashes? What kind of ceremony or memorial service?

  11. Are you and your partner organ donors?

  12. When is medical intervention counterproductive? Which disabilities or injuries are worse than death?

  13. Do you trust each other to make life&death decisions on your behalf? Will you codify this through power of attorney?

Dividing the Work

  1. Who will perform the for-salary work? (I'll assume you aren't independently wealthy.)

  2. How does your career rank, in priority, relative to your marriage and family?

  3. If either of you is content being a homemaker, skip this question, and the next 2. If the situation demands that somebody stay home (e.g. to care for a sick child or relative), who will stay home and who will work?

  4. If your golden career opportunity pulls you towards one end of the country, and your partner's dream job is located elsewhere, how will you reach a compromise?

  5. Who has more flexibility in finding satisfactory work wherever you might be located?

  6. If you do not work, what other activities, hobbies, or volunteer work will you be involved in? (Being a fulltime homemaker rarely sates an individual's full complement of emotional, intellectual, and social needs.)

  7. Who does the cooking, dishes, laundry, vacuuming, dusting, garbage/recycles, kitchen floors and counters, bathrooms, grocery shopping, errands, lawn maintenance, snow shoveling, gardening, and odd jobs around the house? Do you expect to hire someone to do some of these tasks, such as the lawn?


  1. Do you insist on a monogamous relationship? What are your attitudes towards infidelity? What if you found that your partner had one affair? Numerous affairs?

  2. Are you certain that you and your partner do not have any sexually transmitted diseases?

  3. Although you have (or will have) a permanent sex partner, do you still enjoy watching erotic images of others on tape or on the printed page?

  4. How important is good sex to a good marriage? How important is a good marriage to good sex?

  5. How would you handle a sexless marriage, if illness or injury prohibited intercourse? Are there other ways you could physically demonstrate your love to each other?

  6. How often would you like to have sexual relations?

  7. Ideally, how much time would you like to spend together before and after the act? What things do you like to do to prepare for, and come down from sex?

  8. Are you prepared to make drastic cuts in the frequency and spontaneity of your sex life to accommodate children?

  9. Your sex drives will almost certainly wane as the marriage progresses. If one person loses desire before the other, how will the active partner's needs be met?

  10. Do you enjoy alternate forms of sex, such as oral?

  11. What aids (e.g. lotions, video tapes) do you enjoy?

  12. What activities do you find erotic?

  13. Would you like to shower or bathe with your partner?


  1. Do you plan to keep individual funds in separate accounts? This question does not refer to legally mandated separations, such as your IRAs. We ask whether you believe some of your income(s) should be channeled into individual accounts, where its disposition is under the individual's control. If so, how much goes into each account? As your income and expenses change, how will you reapportion these distributions? Can YOU really spend YOUR money any way you want, no matter what your partner thinks? If not, maintaining separate accounts is probably a wasted exercise in paperwork. Subsequent questions refer to the money that is shared between you.

  2. What if you disagree over a large purchase or investment? Who has the final say in money matters?

  3. Who writes the checks and balances the books? Who fills out the 10-40 every spring?

  4. How much can either of you spend on a "once in a lifetime" sale or investment opportunity without consulting the other? It is best to establish a specific cap from the start.

  5. What items or services, commonly bought by Americans, seem like frivolity to you?

  6. If your income were drastically reduced, what luxuries would you give up?

  7. How important are material possessions to you? What would happen if you lost everything in a fire?

  8. How much of your income would you like to save?

  9. Do you like playing the market, or do you pay somebody else to do it for you (e.g. buy into an established fund).

  10. Would you be willing to risk some of your savings on a specific, personal venture, such as starting a new business? How much of your savings would you invest in this way?

  11. How much of your income would you like to give to charity? Which charities?

  12. Under what circumstances will you loan or give money to friends or relatives? Can you accept the risk that these loans might not be repaid?

  13. If you won the lotto, 10 million dollars, what would you do with it?

Your Nest

  1. Do you like to live in a rural setting, a city, or a suburb?

  2. Where in the country (or world) would you like to live? Are you constrained to certain climates?

  3. Is it important for you to live near family or pre-established friends?

  4. Does your career lock you into a certain location (e.g. a doctor's established practice)?

  5. Do you want a house, apartment, condo, trailer? This decision is partly dictated by financial considerations.

  6. Could you be a border in someone else's house?

  7. Can you share your home with others? If someone needed extensive care, or was having financial trouble, could you bring him into your home?

  8. Are there members of your extended family, or close friends that you would enjoy living with? Are there relatives or friends that you simply could not live with?

  9. In the range of neatnick to slob, where do you fall? Do you make your bed each morning? Keep your dirty clothes in a neat out-of-sight pile? Put dishes in the dishwasher and wipe the counters after every meal? Or do you let things accumulate and clean up as needed?

  10. Are you a packrat, storing lots of currently unused items for possible use in the undetermined future, or do you retain only those items that have immediate utility?

  11. Do you own valuable collections or equipment? Will you be able to keep young children away from your "stuff"?

  12. If you have or anticipate infants, which rooms will be safe baby-proof play areas and which rooms will be gated off? (If you have to spend every waking moment monitoring your infant for safety, you'll be a frazzled wreck in a week.)

  13. Do you have specific thoughts on how rooms should be decorated? On color schemes? (Usually the woman does and the man doesn't, so there is no trouble.)

  14. What is a comfortable in-door temperature for you? Can you go above or below this temperature to satisfy your partner?


  1. What are your religious or metaphysical beliefs? Why are we here?

  2. What happens to us after death?

  3. How do you determine right from wrong?

  4. How important is your religion to you?

  5. Should religion play a larger role in our government and its laws?

  6. Is there a system of ethics apart from religion, or common to all religions?

  7. Is regular church attendance important?

  8. Which religions are acceptable in a partner? Which religions are unacceptable?

  9. What religious training would you like your children to receive? What if your child adopts a different religion, or shows no interest in religion at all?


  1. What does your government owe you, as a resident of this country? Does it owe you more if you are a citizen? A taxpayer?

  2. What do you owe your government?

  3. Does it matter whether you vote? Why?

  4. Which current political party most closely approximates your views?

  5. Did we avoid World War III because of or in spite of the massive increases in nuclear weapons?

  6. When does the government have the right to intervene in an individual's private affairs (e.g. making drug use illegal)?

  7. When can a government take children away from parents? Is abject poverty sufficient cause? When might said children be returned to their parents?

  8. When is the death penalty warranted?

  9. When does a cell, embryo, fetus, or infant attain the rights of a separate individual?

  10. Which is the greater injustice: a guilty man acquitted or an innocent man convicted? How many of the former are needed to compensate for one of the latter? This is one of the precious few questions of philosophy that is not based on religion or metaphysics, and it tends to drive most of your opinions on the judicial system.

  11. Name a couple U.S. presidents that you admire, and a couple that you dislike. What actions or characteristics made these men good or bad presidents?

  12. Aside from the superficial physical features, are there innate differences among the races?

  13. Would it matter if your child married somebody of another race or culture?


  1. Do you smoke, drink alcohol, take illicit drugs, or gamble (to excess)? Would you accept these behaviors in your partner?

  2. If your partner developed a drinking problem, how would you handle it?

  3. Do you engage in risky behaviors such as sky-diving, hang-gliding, or motorcycle racing? Would it be prudent to suspend these behaviors while you are raising a family?

  4. How many hours a week are consumed by sports? This includes participating, watching, and reading about.

  5. Do you receive sexual stimulation from magazines or websites? does this detract from a healthy marriage?


  1. Do you like the bedroom windows open or closed?

  2. Do you snore? Can you sleep next to a snoring partner?

  3. Do you like the tv or radio on while you sleep?

  4. Do you like to cuddle with your partner through the night, or do you need your own space?

  5. Do snooze alarms drive you crazy!

  6. If your sleeping habbits are incompatible, or become so in the future, can you sleep in different rooms? (This is not unusual for older couples.)


  1. What are some of your favorite meals? What foods do you detest?

  2. How many times a week do you like to eat out? What are your favorite restaurants?

  3. Do you make an effort to cook/eat healthy, or do you eat whatever comes out of a box?

  4. Do medical conditions constrain your diet?

  5. Are you a vegetarian?

  6. If your eating habbits are quite dissimilar from your partner's, can you compromise on some common meals, or must you cook and eat separate dishes most nights?

Hobbies and Vacations

  1. What are your favorite hobbies and activities?

  2. What interests do you and your partner have in common?

  3. Are there certain activities you would rather do without your partner, spending some time apart?

  4. Do you have any hobbies that are quite expensive or time-consuming, that your partner will probably not participate in?

  5. How do you like to spend your vacation time? Are there particular places you would like to visit?

  6. When on vacation, do you like to plan every detail (a predetermined itinerary), or do you go wherever the spirit moves you that day?

  7. Do you like camping in the great outdoors, comfortable hotels, a motorhome, timeshare houses, or crashing with friends?


  1. Do you want or have pets? If not, skip this section.

  2. Which animals make good pets? Why?

  3. Does your pet sleep in your room? On your bed?

  4. If there is a fire, and your pet is still inside, do you go back in to look for him?

  5. Who is (primarily) responsible for feeding, walking (dogs), brushing, bathing, and cleaning up after the pets?

  6. Who watches your pet while you are at work, or on vacation?

  7. How do you handle a house full of fleas? Excrement in the corner? Urine in your shoes? Cat puke in your bed? (I have experienced all of these.)

  8. What behaviors are unacceptable in a pet? Can you get rid of your pet if he becomes destructive or dangerous?

  9. How much money would you be willing to spend on your pet's medical care?

  10. When should a pet be euthanized?

  11. Who takes your pets to the veterinarian? Who makes the decisions regarding any medical procedures?


If neither of you wants children, you have completed the test. If one of you wants children and the other doesn't, you just failed the test. Don't get married! If you both want children, carry on. More marital arguments are sparked by children than any other issue, including money, so these questions are even more important than the ones you have already answered.

When You Were a Child

  1. How were you raised? What did your parents do that you liked or didn't like? What aspects of their parenting will you try to emulate? What will you do differently?

  2. How did your parents discipline you? Was it effective? Counterproductive? Harmful?

  3. What did your parents say or do to show love? How did they build up your self-esteem?

  4. How did you interact with your siblings? Did you play together often? Did you fight?

  5. Describe a typical evening meal in your home.

  6. Describe some early memories. Do you remember what it was like to think as a child?

  7. What things really upset you when you were young, or even in your teens? What things frightened you?

  8. What were your responsibilities in the home? When did you start doing your own laundry? Cooking some of the meals?

  9. Did your parents place a premium on education? Did they make sure homework was done, and offer assistance when needed?

  10. How pervasive was the TV? What shows did you watch growing up? How many hours a day? Was it often background noise, or did it hold your attention? Were there arguments over TV viewing?

Prior Experience

  1. What experience do you have raising children? What ages? If none, why do you believe you will enjoy raising children? Remember, you can't send them back once they have arrived.

  2. What was fun/rewarding about childcare?

  3. What did the child do that drove you crazy? How did you handle it? Was your response effective and appropriate?

  4. Have you watched (i.e. studied) good parents in action? Have you taken any parenting classes? Remember, we aren't born knowing how to do this stuff.

  5. Do you have experience with a sick child? With a colicky baby?

  6. Have you taken a child to the hospital, or faced a medical emergency?

Quantity and Characteristics

  1. How many kids would you like?

  2. Do you have a gender preference?

  3. What age children do you especially enjoy raising? Are there ages that you don't handle well?


  1. Is it important to pass your genes on to the next generation?

  2. What if you are (as a couple) infertile? One in three couples has difficulty conceiving.

  3. If genetic propagation is important to you, but you cannot conceive, would you donate material to a sperm bank?

  4. Do you have serious medical conditions that should not be passed on to the next generation? Are there diagnostic tests for these conditions?

  5. If amnio, or some other prenatal test indicates a serious malady, such as Down's syndrome, would you be willing to abort? If not, is there any other reason to undergo the procedure? (Amnio carries a small risk of miscarriage.)

  6. What steps are you willing to take in order to conceive? (Rarely can a person be declared "infertile" with complete certainty.) Would you take Claumid, or other hormonal drugs? Undergo invasive diagnostic tests? Artificial insemination? Invitro fertilization?

  7. How much money would you be willing to spend to conceive? IVF is $10,000 a shot, with a 20% success rate, and no guarantees.

  8. How many years will you spend trying to conceive? At what age might you consider alternatives?

  9. How do you feel about surrogate parents? Do you know anyone who would carry a child for you? Would you do this for anyone else? What do you think of those who do it for money?

  10. Would you be willing to adopt children? If not, skip the next section.


  1. Have you had any experience with adoption? Do you know people who were adopted? Do you know any parents who have adopted?

  2. Would you adopt foreign children, domestic infants, or older (special needs) children? These three sectors of the industry are very different, each with its own pros and cons.

  3. Are you prepared to do a mountain of paperwork?

  4. Can you tolerate the scrutiny of a social worker who is (perhaps) half your age, and has (perhaps) half your education?

  5. Are you prepared to be treated like dirt by an entire industry? I have talked to adopting parents who place this process among the top ten worst experiences of their lives. Then again, some people say the same thing about pregnancy, morning sickness, and childbirth, so I guess there is no easy solution.

  6. Could you adopt children of other races?

  7. If you want older children, what physical or emotional handicaps can you accept? Beware of taking on this challenge; it isn't pretty.

Raising Kids

  1. How will you show your child that you love him?

  2. How do you build self-esteem in a toddler? A pre-teen? A teen-ager?

  3. If your interactions with your child are not 80% positive, the relationship is at risk. What games will you play with your child? What activities can you share as he grows up? How much time can you give to your child?

  4. How will you instill values in your child? Which is more important in this process, your words or your actions?

  5. What is your TV policy? Are there restrictions on hours per day, or channels, or shows?

  6. Should the child be given an unconditional allowance, or will all funds be tied to chores, or other tasks?

  7. What is your approach to discipline? How do you set and enforce limits? After you have answered this question in the abstract, the next section gives some concrete "what if" examples.

  8. What will happen to your marriage once children are involved? And yes, it does change.

What Do You Do When?

For each item below, the number is the approximate age of the child.

  1. Your baby spits food out at the table, or tosses food off his plate. Not out of anger or spite; he thinks it is a funny game.

  2. She throws a hard wooden block across the room, in your general direction.

  3. He refuses to put his puzzles away. He just doesn't feel like it.

  4. She throws a ball across the living room (a forbidden zone) and breaks one of the many knickknacks on your shelf.

  5. Once or twice a week he wakes up in the dead of night and calls for you. He will not go back to sleep unless you sit with him, sometimes as long as an hour. If you try to leave he cries and screams, or comes running into your room.

  6. She strolls over to a friends house without permission or supervision, crossing a street in the process.

  7. While grocery shopping, he covertly tosses his favorite candy bar into the basket. You don't notice until you get home.

  8. She asks why people have to die. She wants to know when you are going to die, and when she is going to die.

  9. He refuses to eat many of the meals you serve; especially your vegetable stir fries. Of course he still wants his snacks and deserts.

  10. She has lost all interest in her piano lessons (substitute your favorite instrument). She avoids practice sessions using every trick in the book.

  11. He wants a new bike, but you can't really afford one right now.

  12. She wants to wear make-up to school. Her best friend is wearing make-up.

  13. He comes home smelling of cigarettes. He denies it, but it is unmistakable. There are none on him, and none in his room. He must have borrowed some from a friend.

  14. She brings home a C in a subject that she is pretty good at. she should have obtained at least a B, perhaps an A.

  15. He wants an after-school or weekend job to make some extra money, but he needs you to drive him to and from work.

  16. She is on the high-school debate team, and wins the regional championships. (It is just as important to reward as to punish; probably moreso.)

  17. He has obviously had unprotected sex. The girl is pregnant.

  18. She doesn't want to go to the college you had hoped she would attend, but she still wants and needs your financial support.


Letters to My Son: A Father's Wisdom on Manhood, Life, and Love
By Kent Nerburn
Chapter 26, Partners and Marriage
Reprinted here with permission.

I have never met a man who didn't want to be loved. But I have seldom met a man who didn't fear marriage. Something about the closure seems constricting, not enabling. Marriage seems easier to understand for what it cuts out of our lives than for what it makes possible within our lives. When I was younger this fear immobilized me. I did not want to make a mistake. I saw my friends get married for reasons of social acceptability, or sexual fever, or just because they thought it was the logical thing to do. Then I watched, as they and their partners became embittered and petty in their dealings with each other. I looked at older couples and saw, at best, mutual toleration of each other. I imagined a lifetime of loveless nights and bickering days and could not imagine subjecting myself or someone else to such a fate. And yet, on rare occasions, I would see old couples who somehow seemed to glow in each other's presence. They seemed really in love, not just dependent upon each other and tolerant of each other's foibles.

It was an astounding sight, and it seemed impossible. How, I asked myself, can they have survived so many years of sameness, so much irritation at the others habits? What keeps love alive in them, when most of us seem unable to even stay together, much less love each other?

The central secret seems to be in choosing well. There is something to the claim of fundamental compatibility. Good people can create a bad relationship, even though they both dearly want the relationship to succeed. It is important to find someone with whom you can create a good relationship from the outset. Unfortunately, it is hard to see clearly in the early stages.

Sexual hunger draws you to each other and colors the way you see yourselves together. It blinds you to the thousands of little things by which relationships eventually survive or fail. You need to find a way to see beyond this initial overwhelming sexual fascination.Some people choose to involve themselves sexually and ride out the most heated period of sexual attraction in order to see what is on the other side. This can work, but it can also leave a trail of wounded hearts. Others deny the sexual side altogether in an attempt to get to know each other apart from their sexuality. But they cannot see clearly, because the presence of unfulfilled sexual desire looms so large that it keeps them from having any normal perception of what life would be like together.

The truly lucky people are the ones who manage to become long-time friends before they realize they are attracted to each other. They get to know each other's laughs, passions, sadness, and fears.They see each other at their worst and at their best. They share time together before they get swept up into the entangling intimacy of their sexuality. This is the ideal, but not often possible. If you fall under the spell of your sexual attraction immediately, you need to look beyond it for other keys to compatibility. One of these is laughter. Laughter tells you how much you will enjoy each others company over the long term.

If your laughter together is good and healthy, and not at the expense of others, then you have a healthy relationship to the world. Laughter is the child of surprise. If you can make each other laugh, you can always surprise each other. And if you can always surprise each other, you can always keep the world around you new.

Beware of a relationship in which there is no laughter. Even the most intimate relationships based only on seriousness have a tendency to turn sour. Over time, sharing a common serious viewpoint on the world tends to turn you against those who do not share the same viewpoint, and your relationship can become based on being critical together.

After laughter, look for a partner who deals with the world in a way you respect. When two people first get together, they tend to see their relationship as existing only in the space between the two of them. They find each other endlessly fascinating, and the overwhelming power of the emotions they are sharing obscures the outside world. As the relationship ages and grows, the outside world becomes important again.

If your partner treats people or circumstances in a way you can't accept,you will inevitably come to grief. Look at the way she cares for others and deals with the daily affairs of life. If that makes you love her more, your love will grow. If it does not, be careful. If you do not respect the way you each deal with the world around you, eventually the two of you will not respect each other. Look also at how your partner confronts the mysteries of life. We live on the cusp of poetry and practicality, and the real life of the heart resides in the poetic. If one of you is deeply affected by the mystery of the unseen in life and relationships, while the other is drawn only to the literal and the practical, you must take care that the distance does not become an unbridgeable gap that leaves you each feeling isolated and misunderstood.

There are many other keys, but you must find them by yourself. We all have unchangeable parts of our hearts that we will not betray and private commitments to a vision of life that we will not deny. If you fall in love with someone who cannot nourish those inviolable parts of you, or if you cannot nourish them in her, you will find yourselves growing further apart until you live in separate worlds where you share the business of life, but never touch each other where the heart lives and dreams. From there it is only a small leap to the cataloging of petty hurts and daily failures that leaves so many couples bitter and unsatisfied with their mates. So choose carefully and well. If you do, you will have chosen a partner with whom you can grow, and then the real miracle of marriage can take place in your hearts.

I pick my words carefully when I speak of a miracle.But I think it is not too strong a word. There is a miracle in marriage. It is called transformation. Transformation is one of the most common events of nature. The seed becomes the flower. The cocoon becomes the butterfly. Winter becomes spring and love becomes a child. We never question these, because we see them around us every day. To us they are not miracles, though if we did not know them they would be impossible to believe. Marriage is a transformation we choose to make. Our love is planted like a seed, and in time it begins to flower. We cannot know the flower that will blossom, but we can be sure that a bloom will come. If you have chosen carefully and wisely, the bloom will be good. If you have chosen poorly or for the wrong reason, the bloom will be flawed. We are quite willing to accept the reality of negative transformation in a marriage. It was negative transformation that always had me terrified of the bitter marriages that I feared when I was younger. It never occurred to me to question the dark miracle that transformed love into harshness and bitterness. Yet I was unable to accept the possibility that the first heat of love could be transformed into something positive that was actually deeper and more meaningful than the heat of fresh passion. All I could believe in was the power of this passion and the fear that when it cooled I would be left with something lesser and bitter. But there is positive transformation as well. Like negative transformation,it results from a slow accretion of little things. But instead of death by a thousand blows, it is growth by a thousand touches of love. Two histories intermingle. Two separate beings, two separate presence, two separate consciousness come together and share a view of life that passes before them. They remain separate, but they also become one. There is an expansion of awareness, not a closure, or a constriction, as I had once feared. This is not to say that there is not tension and there are not traps. Tension and traps are part of every choice of life, from celibate to monogamous to having multiple lovers. Each choice contains within it the lingering doubt that the road not taken somehow more fruitful and exciting, and each becomes dulled to the richness that it alone contains.

But only marriage allows life to deepen and expand and be leavened by the knowledge that two have chosen, against all odds, to become one. Those who live together without marriage can know the pleasure of shared company, but there is a specific gravity in the marriage commitment that deepens that experience into something richer and more complex.

So do not fear marriage, just as you should not rush into it for the wrong reasons. It is an act of faith and it contains within it the power of transformation. If you believe in your heart that you have found someone with whom you are able to grow, if you have sufficient faith that you can resist the endless attraction of the road not taken and the partner not chosen, if you have the strength of heart to embrace the cycles and seasons that your love will experience, then you may be ready to seek the miracle that marriage offers. If not, then wait. The easy grace of a marriage well made is worth your patience. When the time comes, a thousand flowers will bloom … endlessly.

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