11 Things to Ask Yourself (and Your Partner) Before You say “I Do”

by Rhonda E. Frost

I’ve been married and I’ve been divorced. I’ve now been single (in the technical sense) for 12 years. This time spent, outside of the covenant of marriage, has given me plenty of time to think about what I want and need, and what I hope to give to my husband; it has also allowed me the quiet space to think about what I will do different when I remarry. For starters, I needed an honest examination of my beliefs, behavior and choices. I wanted a clearer prism. And I needed meaningful questions to ask myself, and my partner.

Full disclosure (as one of my dear friends often says, before he tells me anything), I am no guru. In fact, I have more questions than answers. I am however, a woman who has risen from the ashes of past mistakes; a woman in full transformation mode who has had her share of painful love lessons and relationship regrets. I am also a woman who has read hundreds of relationship self-help books and articles and have had the privilege to interview married and divorced people over the years, to gain perspective.

I am wiser now.

A little back story: I was a wife at 23. It was an impromptu decision one day; we just went and got married. We were madly “in love”, and we didn’t want to lose that, or each other, so we drove to Reno, Nevada, found one of those chapels and tied the knot. And for almost two decades, we rode the wave of love and marriage dysfunction. I won’t speak on him here. I will only speak on me. I didn’t understand the gravity of the title of “wife”. I didn’t know what I wanted or needed. I did not know what to expect. I did not know how to love and give selflessly; nor did I fully understand or value commitment. I was without a point of reference. And the tumultuous events leading up to my marriage, didn’t help(that is a whole other blog). Everything was broken: my boundaries, thoughts, expectations, trust and self-esteem. What I learned is, being “in love”, isn’t enough when two people are broken and operating without a love and happiness plan.

Having said all that, if I knew at 23, or 33 what I know now at 54, about love, marriage, and commitment and how rare it is to find someone of quality who genuinely cares; who is willing to step-in, hold you up, and add value to your life, while being an “all in” partner, I would have likely still been married. but alas, we don’t necessarily grow from doing things right the first time, we learn and grow the most, through suffering.

The late great Dr. Maya Angelou said, “but when you know better, you do better”. I honor and value marriage today. I understand the work that it entails and I see the blessings and joy that come from a committed, healthy and happy union.

It’s taken years for me to even think about marriage, but now that I have begun to do so, there are questions that I deem important to ask. This list is not all-encompassing. You can certainly add to it or not entertain any of it, but the fact is, fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. That’s a five zero(50)! That means there’s a one in two chance that if you get married, it will end in divorce. Imagine hearing those odds on every flight you take. Imagine the airline staff announcing, “excuse me ladies and gentlemen, we are so glad you are flying with us today to sunny Florida, we just want to let you know there is a fifty percent chance that this flight that you are about to board, won’t make it to its destination. Some of our pilots are trained, some not so much, but we trust them to get us there. Thank you for flying with Delta, we know you have a choice, but we are glad you chose us”. Would you still fly? Or would you look for other viable ways to get to where you are trying to go, with better odds? Or perhaps, you might decide to just stay home.

The point of that imperfect analogy is: all of us want to get there successfully, and with as little turbulence as possible. So, if you are going to take the chance, and if you actually want it to work, and enjoy the beautiful journey, we have to prepare for it. These questions are just a start. The rest is up to you.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you take the marriage flight:

1. What do I want? -It’s imperative to know what you want and to examine if it’s reasonable.

2. What do I need? -Make a list of what you believe you need from your mate. Talk about those things while dating i.e., sex, communication, attention, financial help, religious connection, someone to guide you, a chef, a prayer partner, a workout partner, a parent for your children, a business partner, etc.

3. What do I expect? -Examine your expectations. Are they reality based or fairytale driven? Do you believe every day is going to be blissful, and without conflict? Do you think your mate is supposed to pay all the bills, initiate sex every night, keep the house clean, never get angry, be ready for sex on cue, look amazing waking up, cook 7 days a week, never get tired or frustrated…? I could go on, but you get the idea. Expectations can kill relationships.

4. What can I offer? -Every person needs to examine what they bring to the relationship. Ask yourself what you offer besides sex, having a six-pack stomach or being fine or sexy. Physical attributes are lovely and they add icing to the cake, but who are you without that, or in addition to that? Do you bring stability? A good credit score? Loyalty? Wisdom? An ability to plan and organize? Financial management? Humor? A good heart and loving spirit? Parenting skills? Communication skills? Another language to teach? Dreams and goals to share? Kindness and clarity? Prepare for that question. Think about how you will add value to your partner’s life. If all you have to offer someone is beauty, booty, a nice body, or a snazzy car and “things”, then you might want to beef up your relationship resume.

5. What am I willing to sacrifice? -I read this quote in a Christian article that aligns with this question. It said If we want to have a satisfying marriage, one where the passion and excitement never ends, we must be willing to sacrifice our own needs for the needs of our mate. In other words, we need to be selfless.

To that point, one of my single male friends called me recently to talk about the idea of marriage. He is 58 years old. I’ve known him for 9 years and he’s been running the streets as a single man and enjoying his freedom. But this call was different. He called to talk about marriage and how much he wants companionship now and how conflicted he is about sharing a life with someone, even though he believes it’s something he wants now. I asked him if he was fearful of sharing his money and assets (because he’s done well for himself financially and is nearing retirement) and surprisingly, he said “no, not at all, that’s the least of my worries”. He went on to say “I am more concerned with sharing my space and having to answer for my time.” There was a lot more to that conversation, but my point here is that the longer we are single, the more selfish we might be about time, resources and sharing space. And the less we want to sacrifice for someone else. Marriage is about sacrifice and caring for someone else. Think long and hard about what you are ready and willing to sacrifice.

6. Can I commit? -This is self-explanatory. It’s a yes or no question. And it’s not a convenience thing. It’s a lifetime thing. Commitment is real even when someone gains weight; even when days aren’t good, even when someone is sick, and money is tight; even when that sexy new coworker is smelling good and looking good sitting in the office right next to you, and you just had an argument with your spouse last night. Commitment, in today’s throw away, swipe left or right, effortless access to new ass, society makes this challenging. If you can’t commit and stay through a couple of forever’s, don’t commit or say “I do”. Period. You can’t straddle the single fence, in marriage. There’s no harm or foul in remaining single.

7. Will my baggage interfere? -We all have some sort of baggage, especially any of us over 40 or 50 years old. But yes, even young people can have baggage depending on what they have experienced growing up, and what they’ve experienced in love relationships. But the question is, will your baggage make your mate suffer and will it impair the relationship?

Baggage is anything you’ve been carrying from the past into the present moment that hinders you from being happy or living your best life. It is anything that will impact your relationship in a negative way. Baggage can be: trust issues, fear, low self-esteem, inability to allow your mate to feel free, inability to communicate, shutting down emotionally, violent tendencies, selfishness, non-productive financial habits etc.. You know what your past looks like. You know what issues have come up over and over again. You know what you’ve been through. It’s unfair to bring someone into your life and expect them to fix you or “just deal with it”, (though some will). And no, you don’t have to be all together to fall in love and marry (there are lots of married folks who didn’t have it all together, found a way to make it work and are still happily married), but you should have at least identified your issues and be actively working on them.

On a personal note, after carefully looking at my dating and relationship history, I sought counseling. I knew I didn’t’ want to go into my marriage(you notice that I am calling it into existence?) with baggage, and repeating old thoughts and patterns. I knew I wanted to do something different. I wanted to offer a better me. And perhaps I won’t be baggage free, but instead of having the type of baggage noted in the arrival scene of Coming to America, (only Coming to America movie watchers will get this), I will instead, enter with just a “carry on”.

8. Who am I when I am alone? -It’s been said that you have to know how to enjoy your life alone and be whole, before you get coupled up or marry. Your time being single(alone) is precious and is necessary. Being single allows you to do everything you want without accountability or sharing your time. It also is the time you learn to appreciate who you are, work on self and identify what you like about you. It’s the time when you can be completely naked. If you don’t like spending time with you, why would anyone else?

9. What is it that I think marriage will do for my life?- Ask yourself why you want to be married. Is it just to avoid feeling alone? Is it for financial reasons? Is it to have someone help with raising kids? Is it to be Facebook official; to be able to tell your friends you are married? Know why you want to be married.

10. Do I know what love is? And can I love? – Yes, I realize that is two questions in one, but both are so good! Listen, I don’t have the lock (aka the skinny) on what love is, but I do know saying “I love you” is easier than actually showing love on a daily basis to the same person. In my humble opinion, those words are over used, in feel good moments, and underperformed, in real life. I bet right now you can name some people in your circle who claim to “love” someone or who once “loved” someone and their behavior didn’t match what you thought love looked like. When is the last time you even examined what the word is and what love actions look and feel like? To “fall in love” with someone or to say “I love you” is supposed to represent the highest form of feeling for another person, and the highest level of care. So the question is, what made you say that or feel that and what will it mean to say that to someone in terms of your actions? It can’t be just emotion during good times and great sex. When I was 20 and 30 those words didn’t mean the same as they mean today.

To go a little further with this subject: What makes us “fall in love”? To “fall in love” with a person, should mean you’ve seen something good from them. You’ve seen their light and promise. Perhaps they’ve shown consistent and demonstrative behavior that shows you how much they care. In my mind, it means they’ve established that they’ve got your back; they’ve been consistent in their truth and kindness, they’ve shown an undeniable level of attention; they answer your calls and texts, they show up when you need them, they support and encourage you, they laugh and cry with you, they ask about your life and dreams and they care about what impacts you. This application applies to both parties. Also for the sake of clarity, it’s worth it to find out each other’s love language.

11. What will I do different this time? -If you’ve been married or in a long-term relationship, and it didn’t work, ask what you will do different this time. Yes, it’s easy to blame the other person and to think you were perfect in your relationship; but if you are completely honest, you will acknowledge that you probably didn’t get it all the way right and that perhaps you even did some things that were just wrong, selfish, and hurtful. The key here is not about blame or dredging up the past, but to learn from what you didn’t get right in your other life, and to avoid repeating the pattern.

There are many other questions we can ask before thinking about getting married, but these will get you started in self-reflection. What I’ve learned is that baggage, unrealistic expectations, lack of commitment, and just not knowing how to be a partner, are just as problematic for marriage, as are money and sex issues. I realize that this is a non-scientific statement, but I’d like to be proven wrong.

There is a quote that says, “to have what you’ve never had, you have to do what you’ve never done”. There is also a quote that says, “doing the same thing, and expecting different results, is insanity.” If all of your previous relationships have worked, this isn’t for you(and you should write a book that tells the world how that’s done). This is for the rest of us. We have to do what we’ve not done before, think like we’ve never thought and be open to seeing it from a different view, in order to grow in our relationships. Our future marriages depend on it.

*This is a chapter from the upcoming book: Relationship Soul Food: A Collection of Heartfelt Stories, Inspirational Quotes and Powerful Lessons about Love, Dating and Marriage, due out Spring 2019