Dear Mrs. Riches:
My boyfriend and I are in our 30s and are contemplating tying the knot one of these days. We tend to be pragmatic types and have already talked about how we will handle checking accounts (separately), whether we will have children (no), and how we will divide household tasks (50/50 on a rotating schedule). On the whole, I've been really pleased by how seamlessly we've been able to decide these issues and expect the transition to married life to be very simple. Sounds like a dream, right?
The problem is that lately I've had a nagging feeling that maybe this isn't exactly how it's supposed to be when you get married. Maybe things are so seamless because our emotions are a little on the ... tepid side? For example, the two of us never argue about money because we each pay exactly half of the household expenses and go dutch when we go out. I've also never believed in the whole "we fight all the time so he must really feel passionately about me" concept, but still, this seems a little unreal. Have you ever known a happily married couple with this m.o.? Please advise.
-- Lukewarm or Love?
I've been a therapist long enough to know that it's hard to pinpoint exactly what makes a good marriage work. Sure, you can talk about the basic ingredients of good communication, respect, and sound financial judgment, but what you can't define is the "X-factor" -- that inexplicable bit of chemistry that allows one couple to defy divorce statistics.
I also know a bit about the advice column biz -- if I say that you can forgo romance and have a perfectly harmonious and lasting marriage, then the romantics will write in droves demanding a retraction. If, on the other hand, I proclaim that fluttery feelings, blushed cheeks, and passionate intensity are prerequisites for marital bliss, I'm sure to get as many indignant letters from folks arguing that tepid is the new hot.
The point is that a decision to marry isn't about statistics, majority opinion, or expert advice. It's not always about what makes sense on paper or what feels "seamless." Nor is it what throws caution to the wind. It's a highly personal and unique commitment you make to live your lives in tandem. That makes the words "supposed to" have very little relevance to the big decision facing you.
What truly matters most is how you feel. Do you feel that things are truly on the tepid side? If so, why are you choosing to get married at this point? Is marriage more of a "should" than a "want to" for either of you? What will happen when unexpected crises pop up? Are you trying too hard to control the future? Ask yourself these tough questions until you can articulate exactly what it is that's nagging at you.
Deciding how you'll deal with the big issues couples face is certainly sensible, and kudos to you both for discussing how you'll handle paying the bills. Many brides and bridegrooms give way more thought to the DJ hired for the reception than they ever give to the practical issue of how to run their financial lives. However, being so planful doesn't mean you have to give up on romance.
Before you give up on the relationship altogether, see if you can coax some romance back into the picture with a little effort. Try new hobbies together, cultivate old interests, and stay open to new things. Go away for a weekend together to a place neither of you have visited before and see if romance will flourish. Take a look at whether your desire to control the future is based on deep-seated fears or is reflective of simple preference to be organized. Only time can tell whether you'll feel that the two of you have struck the pragmatism/romance balance that is perfect for you.
Sometimes external pressures -- a milestone birthday, a ticking biological clock, an eager mother-in-law-to-be -- can make it feel like you must decide quickly. In reality, you should take as much time as you need, whether that's in weeks or years. Best of luck to you for a great (and romantic) future!
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Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp is a licensed professional counselor who regularly talks money with her honey, Robert Brokamp, editor of The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter. To get your money and relationship questions answered, send her an email .