It’s wedding season, and thousands of couples have passed, as of the moment of engagement, the point of no return. Yes, people do break off engagements, but as likely as not, they follow through and get married, whether it makes sense to do so or not. The inevitable nature of weddings is driven by two powerful (though false) societal beliefs:
- The ultimate achievement in love (especially for women) is a once-in-a-lifetime, dream wedding.
- The most devastating thing that can happen in love is to be left at the altar–the figurative knife-in-the-heart of break-ups.
Challenge these beliefs, or you’ll wish you’d been left at the altar. Too many of us find out the hard way that a dream wedding is cold comfort (if it is remembered at all) in a nightmare marriage, and that the true ultimate achievement in love is what we call Good Love: a healthy, loving relationship of honor, esteem and respect. Here are three reasons to break your engagement now:
You believe everything will change (for the better) after you say “I do.” The truth: A wedding binds and secures what is. It bonds you to one another, but it does not change either of you; rather it affirms who you are—good, bad and ugly. That means, whatever the condition the relationship is in before marriage, it will become more so after the wedding. A strong, healthy relationship gets stronger over time; an ill-established, unhealthy, dysfunctional relationship crumbles and collapses–often with both spouses and their children (not to mention finances, careers and businesses) buried under the rubble.
Consider this powerful advice, shared by Xerox Corp. Chairperson Ursula Burns at a recent executive leadership conference for women: “Divide the things you love about him [or her] by two; multiply the things you hate by 10. Decide if you can live with them then.”
Wedding vows are not magic. Changing the terms of a relationship (from dating, to sex partners, to engaged, to married, to parents, in whatever order), does not change the nature of the people in that relationship. If something about your partner bothers you now, you’d better seriously consider whether you could stand it for the rest of your life. If not, break off the engagement, no matter how many people you disappoint.
You’ve been taught that marrying a person you don’t really know is okay, because it’s true love. You know the drill: Everything clicked right from jump. Your fiancee is perfect in every way, including in bed, or he or she offers other strong attractors (see definition here) that had you ready to put a ring on it after only a few months, or weeks, or days. Won’t it be fun spending the rest of your lives getting to know each other!
Well, probably not. Actually, HELL NO! The truth: Nothing will make you wish you’d been left at the altar more than waking up a few months, or weeks, or days after your wedding and realizing that you married a stranger. A person worth marrying is worth taking the time to know. If taking that time means breaking the engagement, so be it. The right person is worth the wait (and you’re worth the effort); the wrong person is never worth the risk. And speaking of risk:
You’re treating marriage like the lottery: You have to be in it to win it! You’re not sure this marriage is the right thing to do, and you’ve seen plenty of red flags that suggest you should at least postpone the wedding and work with your fiancee to establish a healthier foundation for marriage, if not end the relationship altogether. Maybe you’ve been dating since junior high and marriage just seems expected of you now that you’re out of college, or past the age of 30, or have a couple of babies together. What the heck, you say (with varying degrees of support from family and friends): Why not go for it? After all, there’s a 50/50 chance you won’t divorce. And no matter how unhappy you may be sometimes, married is better than single, right? (Sounds like a convict hoping for a minimum sentence with a chance for parole. How romantic.)
The truth: Treating marriage like a game of chance will bring lottery-like results—the vast majority of people end up buying losing tickets, with a few others ending up with tickets with winnings that hardly make up for what you invested to buy them. Sounds a lot like a 50 percent-plus divorce rate, with more than 80 percent of couples having at least one dissatisfied partner.
The fact that so many marriages end in divorce is not evidence that the institution itself is flawed, but testament that too many people who marry are unprepared and unqualified for it. They treat marriage as a roll of the dice, maybe with a kiss (and hot sex) for good luck. However, there are principles, guidelines and skill sets (such as identifying relationship sustainers) for establishing the kind of healthy relationship that is the best foundation for Good Love and a lasting, sustainable marriage. It may take longer and require more education and preparation (i.e. self-love and personal growth), but it will get you what most of us want—not just a dream wedding (or weddings), but a true, resilient, loving marriage that lasts a lifetime.
If you’re engaged, it may be difficult to break the engagement, or even to postpone the wedding. But we repeat what we’ve said in earlier posts: It is often necessary to treat break-ups as an act of self-love, to end unhealthy relationships in order to make time and space for healthy ones. Better to be single wishing you were married, than married wishing you were single.
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