What Married People Wish Single People Knew #1: Recognize how weighty the decision to get married is.

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On to my post!

The first piece of advice given to me by my married friends was also the most often given: realize how weighty the decision to get married is.

Deciding who you marry is probably the most important decision of your life. It will affect everything. Both married and divorced people that I interviewed stressed this point again and again, especially if they made hasty decisions that they regretted later.

Turns out, most people don’t have the best judgement when first in love. There is a good reason for this: most of them are basically like drug addicts. Seriously. According to the National Public Radio Show Radio Lab in an episode called “This Is Your Brain On Love, “ scientists have looked at the brains of people who are newly in love and compared them to the brains of cocaine addicts. They looked very similar.

According to this source, there are many naturally occurring chemicals we become addicted to when we fall in love. The most prominent one is dopamine. This is a chemical that makes a person feel happy and passionate. When first attracted to someone, a person has huge surges of dopamine running through his or her body

If dopamine were a woman at a party she would be the one who is a really good kisser and who looks amazing in her skin-tight outfit but who really doesn’t want anything long-term. She comes on strong and it feels really good to be around her, but her commitment quickly fades. Her love is not the kind of love that is sustainable.

Thankfully, after six months or so of being in a relationship with someone, a hormone called oxytocin comes into the mix that starts displacing the dopamine. This chemical is marked with a sense of calm and stability rather than with unsustainable highs. It lasts much longer than dopamine, even if it doesn’t make a person as “happy.” It helps one person attach to another, and it promotes contentment in that relationship.

Oxytocin is comparable to that really nice girl next door with a southern accent. The one who is not as flashy but who has a good heart and who would probably make a really good wife some day.

Our Hollywood-saturated society often gives us the idea that love is simply having the feeling that dopamine running through our system gives us. But chemicals that make us happy and uncontrollably passionate are not what makes love last. They may help draw us to someone, but they don’t foster long-term commitment. Once we are committed to each other, dopamine will help bring a little romance, but it is not the glue that holds a marriage together. It is sobering to see how many divorces and affairs have happened because people have mistaken this chemically-induced feeling for love and have abandoned their partner when the “love” wears off.

Keep this in mind as you date someone. Remember that your brain is a bowl of hormonal soup right now. And bowls of hormonal soup do not often make good decisions.

Let yourself be in love. Be aware and appreciative of this special season where it feels so good to be in someone’s presence. Let dopamine do its job; let it attract you to someone who could be a good partner. But do not let dopamine be in the driver’s seat and propel you to make big decisions unwisely.

Give yourself a lot of time to get good information before making decisions. Let some of the chemicals wear off so you can be sober in your decision making. Remember that romance and the feeling of being high on love won’t make a marriage. However, someone you are close friends with, someone who is kind, and someone who you love being around will.

Ask yourself: “Does this person have a good track record with the way they have treated me, or do I keep telling myself that they have ‘good potential,’ that they will get better with time?” Getting married to someone with a good track record is a pretty safe choice. Marrying someone who just has potential is not very safe. And track records take time.

There is great wisdom in looking for the fruit of something even when it is still a seed. Yes, you are in love now, but what will it be like to have children with this person? What will it be like to grow old with him or her? Maybe his obsession with Super Mario Bros. is cute now, but will it be cute in ten years if he is lazy and doesn’t want to work? Maybe you are able to excuse her road rage now, but will she get angry like that with you or your children in the future? These are all questions you should consider.

Does anyone have anonymous stories about jumping into love too fast or thoughts on Hollywood’s idea of love?

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5 thoughts on “What Married People Wish Single People Knew #1: Recognize how weighty the decision to get married is.

  1. Hi Kate!
    This is such a good article!
    So spot on. Very wise.
    I left my last boyfriend because he despite having great potential, his ‘track record’, as you say, kept getting worse and worse. And no, he never showed he could be one day a good father, on the contrary. I just realized one day, that I did not want to spend time with him anymore, now, even more for the rest of my life.
    I thank God for removing from my heart the feelings I had for him, I had been praying for God to show me his will and it was amazing that he finally did.
    It does happen often that we meet someone, feel attracted and then when getting to know that person, we look specifically for things in common, trying to create an identity togeher, even if there’s not enough for that. That’s why I agree so much with you that we have to wait a while before making big decisions. We have to take a good time just getting to know each other before you are sure of things, even also to allow the dopamine wear off! And to see if the ‘cute’ things are really cute or will be unbearably annoying soon.
    This my ex-boyfriend was already yelling at me at the first week of dating because I didn’t want to turn left crossing a double yellow line. But somehow I convinced myself the potential was worth it… It turns out it wasn’t.

  2. The other thing that compounds the whole dopamine problem for Christians is the whole sex thing, of course! Your prefrontral cortex can do a great job of rationalizing in order to follow the demands of the limbic system.

    The decision to get married is so huge that it’s impossible to fully understand except in hindsight. I spent the first few days of engagement in a state like shock, not because the proposal was unexpected, but simply with the gravity of the situation, and the closing of all of the other doors. I had no idea how great a guy I was marrying, even though we had been friends for years. The longer we are married, and the more hard times we go through together, the more amazed I am by certain aspects of my husband’s character that I never knew were there before. I think that’s because when making the decision about getting married, I was focusing on whether or not I was ready to accept the negatives, which may not be helpful for other people, but worked for me.

  3. Yes!
    My friends and me, as only slightly younger gals than you, are dealing with all the media throws at college students. The pressure to find “the guy” is so ridiculous! We have had countless conversations about the rush people are putting themselves in, and the complete lack of necessity to do so. We have been challenged to trust God’s timing, and allow him to satisfy our souls in a way guys can’t… But like you said, be smart about who you choose to enter into a relationship with. Not pick the one night stand, but the friend who you know will be able to invest for the rest of your life. Thanks for the encouragement and challenge in your post!

  4. This is a great article – the flip side is that so many people pressure singles to “settle”. And when you are a single in your thirties, you really wonder if you should take their advice. The guy in front of you, that you’ve been dating, has so many wonderful qualities. Never mind that he doesn’t pray with you, doesn’t seem to hunger after God like he did when you first met him, doesn’t ….oh, it’s different in every case. But you find yourself scared to death to break up…after all, you’re thirty something and you’re running out of time, and everyone thinks you’re being petty. Marriage is a huge decision, but willingly choosing full on singlehood again is also a huge decision. It’s just as big of a decision to decide NOT to marry someone as it is to decide to do so. It can be paralyzing.

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