Hindsight is 20/20
I see now that my marriage was doomed from the start. There were signs everywhere, but when you're driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in a Corvette with the wind in your hair and the radio playing at full blast, and you see a caution sign in the distance—you don't notice it! Or perhaps you choose not to. My fiancé and I dated in high school and kept in touch through college and our twenties. Though we lived on opposite coasts, we were committed pen pals and consoled each other after our respective break-ups. When I turned 30, I broke my collar bone in a bike accident. In a state of vulnerability, facing turning 30 unwed, I finally confessed that I was in love with him. He concurred. I proposed. He concurred. And then we got married. Here are some warning signs I now realize I just drove right by. If any of these ring true in your relationship, head for the hills—I mean it.
Soul mates or soul friends?
Love is gigantic. But most of us grow up with pretty limited ways to express it. So it can be a total disaster if the love you feel for your intended is soul-friend love, but you think it's soulmate love. I wonder now if this was one of the main silent signs my marriage was doomed. My ex and I had such a natural ease, an uncanny knowing of each other, but were we soulmates? Was our love destined for a lifetime of juicy, romantic, entwined bliss? Not so much. Yes, it's important to like your significant as a friend, but a passion, a hunger for one another, needs to be simmering below that.
Deals are for casinos, not wedded bliss
If your marriage hinges on a demand, you might want to reconsider. For me, it was children. My fiancé said he would marry me only if I agreed to have a child. I eventually did have a daughter, and she's the absolute light of my life. But the point is to beware of demands that require you to make sacrifices that could end up breeding resentment. (It turns out that my ex wanted four children, and he ended up remarrying and got them!) Here are some of the normal disagreements that won't spell doom for your union.
The rescue complex
Do you feel confident that you and only you will be the one to heal your partner's childhood wounds or beak him of bad habits? Are you excited at the chance to explore how your magic connection is just the medicine he or she needs? My ex had a string of unhinged romances prior to our engagement, and I was sure our love was so strong that it would break the pattern in its tracks. Well, that didn't work. Remember this: You cannot fix a person; only they can do that. New York City-based marriage counselor Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW, author of The Complete Marriage Counselor, notes, "A recipe for marital failure is going into a relationship convinced you can change someone's flaws. Accept your partner for who he is, not an idealization of who you have convinced yourself he can become."
The flip side—save me!
It's hard not to get seduced by the "waiting to exhale" syndrome. Life is hard, and when we hit a bump in the road, it's comforting to imagine that love will cure our problems and make our life perfect, or at least a whole lot easier. After all, don't most Hollywood romances end with a wedding scene or some other metaphor for happily ever after? Of course a loving relationship does make life more wonderful, but only if it's truly a loving relationship (here's what a super-solid bond looks like).
Seeing through rose-colored lenses
Hubris will cloud your vision. My ex and I were so sure that we were the perfect couple and that our marriage was destiny, that nothing could undermine this confidence. (It still amazes me that with the divorce rate over 50 percent in America, everyone is sure it's "the other guy" whose marriage won't last.) Amatenstein says, "I love when couples come to me for pre-marital counseling. It's not a sign of weakness or a sign that you don't love one another, but one of strength and faith in your bond." Amatenstein teaches couples the reality that marriage is something you need to work at. It requires honest communication, listening to one another, and recognizing when you're being "triggered" by incidents in your past rather than responding to something happening specifically to your fiancé in the present.
Strange and unusual signs from the universe
These are those weird, unexplainable obstacles that feel like omens. For me, it was when I found a perfect wedding dress at a little vintage shop in Northern California. Perfect, except for two not-so-tiny drawbacks—it was eight sizes too big, and it was the exact dress the dressmaker in the shop had worn at her wedding, which ended badly. At the time, I gave this a chuckle and marched the dress up to the register anyway. Even if you're not superstitious, some signs should at least get you thinking.
Walking off the set of your own play at the final dress rehearsal
If you aren't much into planning your wedding, maybe it's time to make other plans! "In spite of all the independence that women have gained over the past 30 years, we are still socially programmed to look to relationships to complete us. When looking for your life partner, you have to ask yourself: Is this the person I want to collaborate with on creating a beautiful marriage or do I 'need' this person in order to feel whole?" says Rebecca Weiner, MA, a therapist and educator. It's natural to feel nervous before your wedding, but if the feeling has an edge of dread, consider calling it off. These nuggets of marriage advice from divorced people can help strengthen your relationship—or guide you to the nearest exit.