Hindsight is indeed 20/20. But even though my marriage ended in divorce, I would not go back and change my decision to marry. Our experiences made me who I am today, and my kids are the best thing that’s ever happened to me. That said, I would absolutely pay closer attention to these pieces of great marital advice before getting married again, because I know from experience how truly important they are.
1. Get married when you actually want to — not just because everyone else is doing it.
There is no need to get married at a prescribed age or stage in life. I know people who have married their high school sweethearts and are still going strong, and other folks who didn’t meet their soul mates until they were well into their 40s or 50s. It’s hard not to succumb to the peer pressure of your 20s when it seems like you are in a never-ending rotation of bridesmaid dresses and invites to bachelorette parties. But waiting until you are very, very sure it’s the right time for you is the most important thing. Sure, the wedding is fun, but the marriage is the real adventure: I’m sure we’d all rather set sail with the person who is most suited to navigating life with us.
2. Passion doesn’t equal lasting love, even if it really, really seems like it.
We’ve all experienced the “honeymoon” phase of courtship, and we’ve all said, “No, no, but this is the real deal.” Awesome chemistry, late nights talking for hours, and can’t-breathe-without-you rushes are incredible and probably the most fun parts of falling in love, but you also need someone who will be there when you are on day three of a stomach bug and day 37 of a not-sleeping newborn — someone who is still attractive to you during the mundane day-in/day-out tasks like arguing over taking out the garbage or deciding which health insurance plan to commit to, because honestly, that’s the real stuff marriages are made of.
3. Fall for the person they are, not the person you think they could be.
People typically are who they appear to be, especially if you’ve been dating for a bit. While it’s reasonable to expect to grow together as a couple, we can’t expect our potential mate to change who they are at their core. So if you find yourself thinking, “Man, things would be a lot better if he would only…” chances are you’ll be left wishing for that for a long, long time.
4. Have the money talk. How they (and you) manage personal finances as a single person really matters.
Every couple should indeed talk about credit scores, spending habits, how you would manage household finances, and other really boring — yet critical — details. Money is typically off the table for most polite conversation, but those of us who have been through divorce know how incredibly important it is to get real about cash from the get-go. Marriage is all about compromise in the banking department, and your shoe habit and his credit card debt left undiscussed equals a recipe for disaster.
5. If you have doubts, it’s never too late to say ‘no.’
This is a big one. Even if you are way down the line in planning a wedding and your cold feet are feeling like more than just that, it is far preferable to say it as soon as you have doubts than to go through with a wedding and marriage because you feel like it’s too late to back out. Honesty and being true to yourself are paramount; do you, and the rest will follow. Will it be hard, painful, and a little embarrassing? Maybe. But divorce is all those things and more, so do yourself a favor and figure this out before you become legally bonded.
6. Religion, holidays, and celebrations are the building blocks of relationship and family.
Make sure you are on the same page about how you will include these pieces in your married life and when (if) you have children. My ex and I discovered too late how mismatched we were when it came to holiday celebrations; my expectations were often crushed, and he felt like he could do no right. We still don’t agree on Santa and this has resulted in some unfortunate holiday-time conflict.
Note: I know many, many successful, loving couples come from different religions, cultures, and traditions. Their success is because they have come to a strong compromise where everyone feels heard. Do you go overboard on birthdays and expect the same? Is having a menorah at Chanukah non-negotiable? How do you like to be surprised on a special occasion? These questions are key to ask before getting married to make sure each partner is entering an open, fun, and reciprocal relationship.
7. Listen to your gut. Red flags are red flags.
We all have it: a woman’s intuition, that small voice, our gut instinct. Whatever we call it, we should pay attention to it. If little signals start sounding more like alarm bells, it’s important to take heed. This is especially true if he is controlling, aggressive, has an addictive personality, or is physically/emotionally abusive. These behaviors may start small, but they tend to worsen with time. Pay attention and reach out if you need help.
8. You should be with someone who helps you become even more YOU.
If you feel like you are the only one compromising, or like you have to give up your hobbies or dreams to make your future partner happy, then you might want to really take a look at your relationship. My new boyfriend encourages me to take time for myself and is the reason I finally auditioned for a local theater production and got cast! You should both be the biggest cheerleaders in each other’s lives; your relationship should lift both of you up.
This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.