Marriage Material?

How to discern marriage when a potential spouse is so near yet potentially so far.

I have been dating a wonderful woman for a few months now. How do I know if we are ready to take that next step toward marriage, or if it is truly the right thing at all?

Here are a few questions for you and your significant other to ask yourselves before popping the question. While not at all a comprehensive list, hopefully these points to ponder will help you discern what God is calling you to do next with this relationship.

Have we prayed about this decision? Committing yourself to another person for life is the most important, most permanent decision you will ever make. If we truly believe that our Father in heaven desires true happiness for us, then we should submit this decision to him above all others. Pray, pray and then pray some more for clarity and peace, and that goes for both of you. While praying, be open to hearing the Lord speak to you through signs that confirm your decision — and signs that contradict it.

What is the general state of your life? How is your job situation? How are your finances in general? Be confident that you have a stable-enough situation that you can manage the radical change in circumstances that marriage brings. If your “house” is not in order on a practical level, consider taking time to bring order to it, or else marriage may only complicate things and add pressure to the relationship. Communicate concerns in this area with each other; for instance, fully disclose things such as debt burden long before making a commitment.

Does your relationship improve the other important areas of your life or detract from them? If your relationship results in better productivity at work, or a greater sense of responsibility to your obligations, then your significant other is a help to you. If your other friendships and family relationships are strengthened by her being in your life, that is a great sign. However, if you find yourself drifting from people who are important to you, or you become neglectful of other responsibilities, you must consider the possibility that your significant other is not respectful of or interested in your well-being.

Do you share common goals, dreams and priorities? If you haven’t had heart-to-heart talks on these subjects yet, by all means, have them now. Make sure that your sense of mission as a couple is unified, or you could be heading for big trouble down the road. For instance, things like where to live, openness to children, careers and all that sort of thing are big-picture items that really require a common vision, or else trouble will arise. It’s nice that you like the same food and movies, but move beyond the superficial to the substantive before you make a commitment.

Do you thoroughly know your significant other in each aspect of her life? A common pitfall, especially in long-distance relationships, is that the couple will only have an experience of the other as an escape from everyday responsibilities. Be sure that your relationship hasn’t only consisted of entertainment, vacation, recreation and the like. While those things have their place, most of life just isn’t like that. Spend time with each other’s families, knowing that, in a sense, you are “marrying” them as well. Do mundane everyday type of things together, often, and get a real sense for how well you relate in most real-world situations.

Most important of all: Do you both embrace the idea of marriage as a true sacrament, a channel of God’s grace that enables you to live a permanent covenant commitment until death? Do you view yourselves as a domestic church, open to children as gifts from God? At the very heart of things, do you each desire to live virtuously for the other, in order to lead each other to heaven? If you can answer Yes to this last point, all the rest gets a whole lot easier.

The McDonalds are family-life directors for the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.