Choosing the Right One to Marry

Introduction: All of my basic concepts for marriage are applicable to dating couples. If they are followed, a love relationship will certainly be created, and marriage is likely to follow. But there are important differences between marriage and all other relationships. The first and foremost difference is that in other relationships, the vows of marriage have not been made. That means that a dating relationship need not lead to love or marriage, while a marriage relationship must retain love if it is to survive.

But wedding vows are not made while dating or even at the time of engagement - they are made at the time of marriage. So until the day vows are made before God and witnesses, the rules of marriage do not apply.

The letters in this column address common problems of dating couples. But because they are not yet married, I focus more attention on whether they are right for each other than I do on how to resolve the conflicts. The first letter is from a woman who thinks she is engaged but is having quite a bit of trouble with her "fiancee." So much trouble, in fact, that she is not sure he is right for her, and I'm not either. The second letter comes from a woman who is interested in compatibility testing. I suggest a professional service that she can use, and I also offer her some of my own guidelines as to what to look for in a marriage partner. The third letter is from a woman who considers herself married to her boyfriend, but he's left her. Are they now going through divorce?

Letter #1

How to Resolve Conflicts before Marriage

Dear Dr. Harley,

I am a 19 year old college sophomore and have been dating my boyfriend for about 2 years. We have discussed marriage, but want to wait until we both finish college. Lately, however, my boyfriend has not wanted to talk about marriage, and I have wondered if I will still want to marry him when the time comes. I see several problems developing between us, and if they are not resolved soon, I wonder if I should start looking for someone else. I have dated only one other man and that was when I was still in High School.

My boyfriend does not like to show his affection for me in public. He will not hold my hand or put his arm around me. Even when we are alone, he does not do much to show his love for me. He is so involved with his job, that I sometimes have to ask him if we are going to see each other on the weekend. We haven't had a real date in I don't know how long.

Occasionally, he comes over to see me unannounced and talks to me for a few minutes, then asks me if there's anything to eat. He asks if I will fix him a sandwich or something, which I do. By the time I get it to him, he has flipped the TV channels from whatever was I was watching to something he wants to watch. After an hour or so, he'll leave. He always tells me he loves me before he goes, but nonetheless, he just leaves.

I'm afraid that if I marry him he will become like his father, who has a traditional man-watches-TV-while-woman-cooks-dinner-and-brings- man-whatever-he-asks-for attitude. It's not at all the way I was raised.

We have tried to discuss this problem, but he thinks I'm over reacting. I think that maybe his father is part of the reason he fails to show any public affection towards me--his father doesn't show any affection for his mom, either.

I don't want to lose my boyfriend because I love him with all my heart, but I don't want to be stuck in an unfulfilling marriage, either. I want to get these problems sorted out and fixed before marriage, because it may be too late afterward. Can you help me, please?


Dear K.W.,

If you were married, I would encourage you and your spouse to learn my ten basic concepts and apply them to your relationship. Some of them might be very difficult for you to apply at first, but if you were to let them guide you, your conflicts would eventually be resolved and you would have a great relationship in no time. In fact, applying these these basic concepts are often the only way that a marriage can be saved, and regardless of their difficulty they must be followed.

But in your case, there is no marriage to save and there are no children who desperately need their parents to love each other. In fact, the way you describe your relationship, I would not even consider you engaged. If you and your boyfriend were to break up, you might be sad for a while, but it would not be anything close to the disaster of divorce.

While my basic concepts would help you resolve your conflicts if you were to follow them, I am not sure that your boyfriend would be willing. Under the circumstances, I recommend that you keep looking until you find someone very attractive (meets your emotional needs) and would have an easy time following my basic concepts.

It's been my experience operating a dating service and counseling singles who want to marry that when someone has dated about 30 people, they almost always find at least one very good match among them. That experience helps them come to understand what they need most in an opposite sex relationship. The ones that they find most attractive are those who meet some of their most important emotional needs.

But dating does more than help you identify your emotional needs. It also teaches you what needs you can meet for others with relative ease. In other words, in dating you learn who is skilled in meeting your needs, and you learn how skilled you are in meeting certain needs of others.

If you were to date 30 men, you would probably develop strong feelings for at least one of them, feelings stronger than you now have for your boyfriend. That man would probably show his affection for you in public, would make sandwiches for you instead of wanting you to make them for him, would ask you what TV programs you wanted to watch, and would schedule dates with you far into the future. He would be just as serious about his job as your boyfriend is, but would give his time with you his highest priority. If that man had the same strong feelings for you, I'm sure you would be enthusiastic about marrying him.

As a sophomore in college, you probably see more available and compatible men now than you will see the rest of your life. But since you are "engaged," you are out of circulation, and may be missing many opportunities to get to know some of these eligible guys. Granted, there may not be 30 of them who are just waiting for you to be available, but there are 30 guys that would date you if you would show some interest. And you could even ask them out yourself. There's nothing wrong with asking a guy for a date or at least suggesting lunch together -- my daughter did that when she was a freshman, and ended up marrying him.

One of the most important advantages to college for both men and women is the opportunity to mix with a large percentage of potential spouses. But if you don't seize the opportunity, you will be a senior before you know it, with very little dating experience. While you can still meet and date men long after you graduate, most women find that it's not nearly as easy to do. That's because wherever you go after you graduate, there will not be as many eligible bachelors as there are in the college you attend. Besides, some of the best choices are gone by graduation. Even if you never do find your husband in college, the experience of getting to know more men while you are there will help you understand them much better, and also help you better understand what you need in a man.

But if you find someone that knocks you off your feet before you reach the magic 30, don't feel compelled to continue dating. My point is that within those 30 people there is probably someone who you would find very compatible and who would know how to meet your emotional needs. If by the fifth date you've found that person, search no longer.

If you were to marry your boyfriend the way he now treats you, and someone else comes along who is willing to give you his undivided attention, is affectionate and also very respectful, you will probably think your marriage was a big mistake, particularly if your husband is not willing to change to accommodate your emotional needs.

Dating other guys next year may mean losing your boyfriend to someone else. Or, he might make some changes to win you back. Who knows, he may be terrific at being affectionate with you in public if he had a little incentive to do so. But I'd sure encourage you to make him prove that he can meet your emotional needs before you promise to meet his for life.

As I already mentioned, after you are married it would be essential for you and your spouse to let my 10 basic concepts guide you. Of course, my primary concern for you is that your boyfriend, or whoever else you marry, will use them to guide him as well. If he fails to be guided by them, your marriage will be a huge mistake. So far, your boyfriend has failed to follow most of those concepts. With that track record, it's not too likely that he will make a good husband for you. But then, he should not feel obligated to do much of anything when he is with you. After all, he's just dating you - it's up to you to let him know that you expect to be treated much better, and to stop dating him. Otherwise, he will most surely take you for granted.

You have tried to teach your boyfriend how to meet your emotional needs, and that is fair to do when you date. You want to give each man who dates you the guidance he needs to be successful in his relationship with you. But every date is a test, and when it's over he is either given another chance to build his relationship with you, or you give someone else a chance. After two years of trying to educate your boyfriend, I say he has failed too many tests.

Don't sell yourself short. Even though my wife was 19 when I married her, she dated many other guys before we married, and broke up with me every time a potentially better prospect arrived. All is fair in love and war - before marriage, that is. And you have every right and responsibility to find the very best marriage partner for yourself. By the time Joyce married me she knew what she wanted, and didn't want to date anymore. I felt the same way, so we married quite early in life. But if we had not had experience dating others, I think we would have waited.

Marry the man who has what you want, at least at the time of your marriage. From the sound of your letter, your boyfriend falls far short of your expectations, to say nothing about your needs. I'll bet if you get to know other guys next year, you'll find at least one that has just what you want, and I wouldn't settle for less if I were you.

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