Have you ever been so in love with someone you were willing to go anywhere, do anything, and make any sacrifice to keep him or her happy? I have! The feeling of being in love is powerful; and, unbridled, it can lead us to make silly promises. Not only that, but feeling in love can disconnect us from reality (for some more than others). For example, suddenly, the one in love wants to go swimming every Saturday morning with his or her significant other even though he or she has never enjoyed swimming.
If you hold back who you really are, you might find yourself stuck in a marriage with someone who demands you be the person you portrayed yourself to be when dating. Instead of doing that, take the time to discover who you really are before getting married and put that foot forward. Let your real self connect with someone and get married based on truth and honesty, not what you want the other person to deceptively believe about you (even if you believe your intentions are good). Be who you are. Always work towards growth and godliness, but do not give your partner an unrealistic version of yourself.
Be upfront with yourself and your significant other about…
- Your Faith. Not only the big picture of your general faith, but diving into the details. Eric and I met at a Christian university and talked about our Christian upbringings. However, we did not go into much detail about our religious history. We both believed central Christian tenets (e.g., Jesus died to pay the debt for our sin and salvation is only through faith alone in trusting in His finished work on the cross; cf. John 14:6). So, once we got married, the fun… started. ~smile~ We discovered we believed quite differently in some decently important areas which impacted our marriage (e.g., doctrine of the church, practices of the faith, method of evangelizing, etc.). The differences we discovered in marriage may not have kept us from getting married, but knowing about them before marriage would have given us a chance to talk through them and get on the same page (before we were both caught off guard).
- Your Career Goals. If your career goal is to be a stay-at-home mom, do not pretend your career goal is something else. If your career goals require frequent travel, let him or her know. Be real about your dreams. If you have the talent to earn a six-figure income at a job you despise, but have a yearning to work in a highly fulfilling (but low-paying) job, then talk about it. Whatever career path you want will significantly affect your spouse and children.
- Your Hobbies. “Sure, I would love to climb mountains with you.” The infatuated heart of a person wants to climb mountains for the one they love (the famous oldie Ain’t No Mountain High Enough speaks to this very phenomenon). There is an initial power in the passion of limerence, but limerence does not last. After it fades, a choice needs to be made: to love sacrificially or to let the relationship fizzle. When you feel the power of “love,” it is easy to make all kinds of claims. I will shop with you! I will kayak with you! I will train for marathons with you! I will build a business with you! I will write a book with you! I will get my master’s degree with you! I will attend poetry readings with you! It is wonderful to try new activities with your partner. It is a way to bond and get to know him or her better. However, declaring your love for something you really don’t love just to be with them really is deceiving the other person – and yourself. Be truthful about what you enjoy doing, and be truthful about how much you enjoy his or her hobbies as well. You can even give his or her hobbies and activities a fair chance, but be careful not to make exhortations about enjoying them that you likely will not be able to keep later.
- Your Parental Desires. Are you on the fence about wanting children? Are you so excited to be a parent you want to rush the engagement process? Are you wanting babies, but not for a long time? Life does not always turn out the way we want it to, but where a person hopes to be is important to understand. If you want seven children, let your person know you are hoping for a house filled with children. Close to getting engaged, even talk about desired timeframes for children and steps you want to take to accomplish them. If you are having difficulty conceiving, would the other person be open to fertility treatments, medical interventions, etc.? Is adoption part of your initial plan? (Adoption should not be plan B for the sake of the children.) Holding back on discussing this topic is likely to cause some deeply emotional and heated arguments down the road; make sure you’re on the same page.
- Your Familial Desires. How much time do you want to spend with your Mom and Dad? Do you plan to continue your Friday night dinners with Grandma? Do you expect your semi-annual out-of-state shopping trips with your sister to remain on the calendar post-marriage? The marriage of someone who wants to spend a lot of time with family to someone who thinks getting together with family is generally reserved for holiday celebrations will be tense at best and horrific at worst.
- Your Financial Goals. If you have no intention of changing lifestyles, be upfront about it. If he is making a respectable $50,000 a year with little room for advancement, and the lifestyle you expect requires three times that amount, a discussion about standard of living needs to be had. Is he willing to meet those expectations? Or, are you willing to compromise your lifestyle (or, heavily contribute) to stay in a relationship with him if he chooses to stay in that career? What about savings and investment goals? Get out your calculators and have a good discussion.
- Your Struggles. I am not a naturally domestic housekeeper. I wish I naturally picked up, swiffered, and kept areas clutter-free. It is difficult for me to keep my house passable while other people’s homes appear to be effortlessly clean. I have my gifts, but having a Type A personality is not one of them. Instead of hiding your struggles from your potential partner, let him or her see where you excel and the areas you struggle. It is important to see each other in truth before marriage.
- Your Marriage Desires. What do you want out of marriage? Are you looking for a partner in fun? Are you looking for a partner in business? In parenting? In companionship? In endless romance? Are you looking for a soft place to land who greets you with a smile and warm hug after a long day, or someone more direct and focused who keeps the details of your life humming? If you do not know what you want out of marriage, really take the time to discover it rather than hazarding a guess. “I could live with…” is not the wisest way to think about the next 50 years of your life. I could live with abstract paintings in every room. I could live with my husband travelling every other week. I could live with maintaining an elaborate garden at a house in the country. In his book The Sacred Search, Gary Thomas writes, “Lying about what you want out of marriage because you’re afraid you’ll lose the relationship if you’re honest is one of the worst kinds of fraud you could ever commit.” Wow.
But what if they leave over my honesty? If they leave you because you are honest about yourself, then good. You dodged a bullet. Seriously. Right now, being without this person may seem like the biggest terror of your life, but later when the new circumstances had worn off and he or she expected you to be someone you are not, you will wish you had said, “This is the real me. And if you do not want to partner with me, then that is okay.”
It is scary to be vulnerable. We want to be adored by the person we love and opening the door to “the real me” invites the potential for losing some of that adoration – or, even losing that person. We understand. Very much. But, instead of focusing on the fear of being honest about yourself now, think about the future. Three months after you are married. Five years after you are married. Fifteen years. How might withholding who you are now negatively impact your marriage for the next several decades? How angry or betrayed might you feel if you discovered your spouse was not honest with you when you were dating and engaged about something important to you (especially, if they convinced themselves they could do it for you… and then that failed)?
When I was young and hoping to marry Eric, I still had a few years of self-exploration to do. I had an idea about myself which I presented to him; but, I honestly was not solid about who I was apart from him. Sometimes couples do not purposefully lie to each other, but one or both simply do not know themselves well enough to say, “I want these things out of life and marriage….”
Before you propose, or accept a proposal, be intentional about self-exploration and encourage your boyfriend or girlfriend to do the same. It might be uncomfortable, but the end-result is worth it. And, could it turn out your mountain hiking partner is not the best match for you and you part ways? Yes… but, you did not want to hike mountains anyway.
Are you determined to let your significant other know the real you before getting engaged?