Was asked recently by a student, “How long do you think a couple should be together before they get married?” There’s no way to give a full answer to this in a blog, but think it important, and would like to put out some fundamental ideas that I don’t think we can ignore. Seems to me that this is not only about “knowing” when, or even the success of a romantic relationship- would suggest that some of these ideas are about all relationships. What follows is my response:
Would offer that it’s not a question of how long. The reason we think in terms of time, is because something is supposed to happen during that period, but we never say what it is!
Oversimplifying, first and foremost, my philosophy is that both persons should be self-supporting mentally, emotionally, physically, and “spiritually” (not necessarily religious, but not necessarily excluding it). They should be able to see, and assess these things about one another. It’s much deeper than it seems- mentally: responsible for one’s own critical thinking, memory, organization, prioritization, intellectual curiosity. Emotionally: responsible not only for one’s own happiness, but one’s own sorrows and fears and shames and hurts as well (even if caused by others- this is really important). Physically: responsible at least for food, clothing, shelter, medical care, diet/sleep/exercise. “Spiritually”: responsible for one’s own connection to one or more communities, also for one’s own sense of place and purpose. Short of that, the relationship becomes responsible for one or more of these things missing, and is diminished.
In more detail, any of these things absent weighs on the relationship. One partner inevitably becomes resentful at having to “pick up the slack” for one or more of these things absent, or tries to get the other person to take up their responsibility, or withdraws, etc. This shows up a lot for instance, in these examples:
One person bears on the other due to “insecurity”/low self esteem. (emotional, “spiritual”)
One person struggles with providing their own needs for food/clothing/shelter/medical care etc. (physical)
One person depends on the other as their sole source for community or purpose (sometimes, simply by providing community when the other doesn’t have it). (“spiritual”)
One person expects or needs the other for reminders of appointments, choicemaking about how to spend money, interests about the world. (mental)
Am sure everyone can come up with many more.
It takes varying amounts of time to know if someone is able to do these things, because it takes varying kinds of circumstances to have them come up. Even discussed in a “principled” way as I’ve tried to above, there’s a lot of things to be considered. When someone dies, does the person “deal” with it gracefully (grieves), or do they get intoxicated or treat others poorly? When they get sick, do they have the means and do they do the work to do some of the effort to care for themselves? Does this person avoid talking about feelings in general, or have a maladaptive way of dealing with them? Do they have hobbies, interests, and do they occasionally get new ones? Do they provide for themselves long-term? Do they maintain relationships long-term? How do they handle their successes? These are all circumstances that often take a protracted amount of time to show up.
These things are also not simple for individuals. As such, would argue that without having/knowing these things about ourselves, these qualities are difficult to identify in other people. It takes a chunk of time, usually beyond adulthood, to really have a method and examination of knowing these things.