A relationship psychologist reveals what you should ask yourself before getting married


Eli Finkel, author of “The All-or-Nothing Marriage,” and a professor of psychology at Northwestern University says that addressing longterm compatibility before popping — or answering — questions is a major factor in avoiding divorce down the line. Following is a transcript of the video.

Eli Finkel: When people make the decision to get married, they do it in large part because they think they’re compatible. Right? They think: This is somebody that makes me happy or that makes me feel loved and that I can love and these are the priorities for me.”

I’m Eli Finkel. I am a professor at Northwestern University and the Kellogg School of Management. 

For most people, that snapshot of two years or whatever it is that you’re dating before you decide to make a marital decision, how representative of your overall life are those two years going to be when you’re say in your late 20s and you’re you know, you’re building a career and you’re still hanging out some with your college friends but there aren’t screaming toddlers. There aren’t newborns like pooping their diapers all the time. 

So the degree to which you’re compatible right now isn’t any sort of guarantee whatsoever that you’ll be compatible even in three years or five years. 

If you have goals that misalign, if you view your ideal version of yourself, for example, is not the person that your spouse actually wants you to become then you have some amount of incompatibility. And the question is: How do we reconcile that? How can we increase our level of compatibility? Broadly speaking, there are two things that are necessary. 

The first is the motivation to do it. We have to decide: “The relationship is important enough to me that even though my goals really aren’t aligned with yours right now I’m willing to exert the effort. I’m willing to make the sacrifice in order to help us become more compatible.” 

But the second issue is ability. Right? If really what you want from your partner is intense philosophical debates or a good tennis sparring partner, you may well have a partner that’s not suited to that. And in those cases the best thing to do is not really try to become more compatible with your spouse, but to make that particular incompatibility irrelevant. By for example, having those sorts of debates or tennis matches with a friend or somebody at work or something like that.

And so there is a risk that you will marry somebody who will change in ways that become incompatible with you or that you yourself will change in ways that become incompatible with your spouse. And we know that risk, or at least we should when we decide to tie the knot.

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