1. Are you both over age 21? Research by David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead found that couples who marry while teenagers are more than twice as likely to divorce as those who wait until their 20s.
2. Have you finished your education? Education has been found to be an important predictor to marital success. Both men and women with college degrees are more likely to marry and less likely to divorce than those without college educations. Even a year or two of college helps.
3. Do you have similar values and life goals? Granted, opposites attract. But it's unlikely you'll have a good time on a journey together if you don't agree on the destination or what's important along the way. Discussing what you value and where you want to be in 25 years is essential before you commit to marriage.
4. Have you dated steadily and exclusively for at least three months? “Love at first sight” makes wonderful movies and risky marriages. Researcher John VanEpp explains that couples need at least three months of time, togetherness and talk before they really begin to know each other. It takes longer to know each other well enough to say, “I do.”
Consider VanEpp's point this way: Why commit to someone unless you can rely on them? Why rely on them unless you trust them? Why trust them, if you don't know them? How can you know them unless you spend a lot of time together talking about what's important in your life and watching how they deal with a wide variety of situations?
5. Have you avoided the temptation of premarital cohabitation? Researcher Scott Stanley has found that couples who cohabitate tend to “slide” into marriage rather than actually deciding on it. Most haven't even talked about the nature of their relationship before moving in together. The result: One party often sees it as a step toward marriage; the other sees it as simply “roommates with benefits.”
Popenoe and Whitehead specifically warn that “people who have multiple cohabiting relationships before marriage are more likely to experience marital conflict, marital unhappiness and eventual divorce than people who do not cohabit before marriage.”
6. Have you talked about finances? Money problems plague more marriages than any other issue. Have you agreed the basics: Who will maintain the checkbook? How much to set aside in savings and for retirement out of each paycheck? How much to set aside for charitable donations and for gifts for family and friends? What type of purchases can be made without prior discussion? Do either of you have debts (credit cards, student loans, car loans, etc.) you'll bring into the marriage? How will they be paid off?
7. Have you agreed to do a pre-marital inventory? Inventories are a research-based set of about 165 questions that help men and women find their strengths and weakness as a couple. Recognized pre-marital inventories have been shown to significantly improve your chances of marital success.
The current divorce rate for first marriages is about 40 percent to 45 percent. By waiting until your mid-20s, finishing your education, picking someone who has the same values and long-term goals, taking the time to get to know them well, not living together and taking a pre-marital inventory, you'll greatly improve those odds. The enormous benefits of a healthy marriage make these steps well worth taking.
©2012, All Rights Reserved. James Sheridan's website is www.marriagedoneright.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.