Q. I see too many divorces around me. This is making me commitment-phobic. How can I ever find the courage to get married?

-Ankita, Mumbai

It’s good to know that you understand the importance of marriage without getting married. :D

Marriage will remain one of the biggest decisions of your life (if not the biggest one). The first thing to understand about marriage is that it’s always a risk. There is always a chance that things will not work out – five, ten or even twenty years down the line. You can’t eliminate that chance, but you can minimize it – by minimizing the chances of error before marriage.

Let me lay down some basic principles of avoiding common marriage mistakes, for your understanding. I call them the four Golden Rules of marrying the right person at the right time.

Rule #1. Don’t jump too early

A relationship has various stages. The first stage is the mad infatuation/attraction phase when you see nothing but positives in each other. This stage can last for anywhere between two months to more than a year. 

Every relationship starts with this stage, which then gradually culminates into (or doesn’t culminate into) a stable partnership, complete with mutual understanding, appreciation of each other’s needs and some compromises (We all know there’s no perfect relationship with zero compromises from either side). 

marriage phobiaPhoto by Maria Rosaria Sannino

The effects of the infatuation phase on your brain are neurologically and psychologically very similar to those of addictive substances

Hence the first rule of marital success is NOT taking the decision of marriage during this phase, let it crystallize into a more stable relationship stage and then think about marriage. In other words, you should be together at least for 2 years before you decide someone is “The One” of your life. No, that “feeling” that you get in your guts about him/her being “The One” is not a substitute for those years of understanding, fighting and reconciling with each other. 

Rule #2. The recipe for relationship success

The second rule of gauging whether you have a potentially successful relationship is to look at the level of compatibility you share. 

Compatibility = Friendship + Empathy + Mutual Need Fulfilment

Friendship – Understanding and caring for each other as friends. (Thumbrule for gauging the depth of the friendship between two people: Ask yourself, “Would we want each other in our lives even if there were no sexual attraction between us?”) 

Empathy – Understanding where the other person is coming from. Their needs, biases, weaknesses and the roots of all these. Now of course it’s not possible for anyone to figure that out completely for their significant other (Heck! We’d all have to be psychiatrists!). But as long as you genuinely want to and try to understand each other, you’ll find your relationship is attaining new depths. 

Mutual Need Fulfilment – A follow-up step on the last one is a genuine desire to fulfil the needs that one’s partner has from the relationship. The stability of a relationship is determined by each partner’s answer to ONE moot question:  

Are My Needs From This Relationship Getting Fulfilled?

marriage phobiaPhoto by Mustafa Khayat

Rule #3. Marriage means change

The third rule of making your marriage a success is to realize that your life is going to change inside out after marriage, irrespective of how long you’ve been in  a relationship (unless you’ve been in a long live-in relationship), and to understand what these changes would mean for your life. 

Why Marriages and Relationships are like Apples and Oranges (Part 1) 
Why Marriages and Relationships are like Apples and Oranges (Part 2).

Rule #4. Questions to ask before marriage

Lastly, to determine whether you’re ready for marriage or not you need to ask yourselves some vital questions. Whether and when you go ahead with the marriage will depend on your answers.
“When Should I Get Married?” 10 Questions I Wish I Had Asked Myself Before Getting Married – Part 1
“When Should I Get Married?” 10 Questions I Wish I Had Asked Myself Before Getting Married – Part 2
 
Let me reiterate – following the 4 Golden Rules of Marriage would not ensure that you never have marital stability issues in the next fifty years. But they will ensure that you avoid the easily avoidable but alarmingly common mistakes and thereby increase the chances of success significantly. To test things out better, why don’t you run a covert survey on your divorcee friends to find out how many of them followed all the four rules? ;)