What is the most important decision that you will make in your lifetime? A friend recently asked me this question. The first answer that popped into my head is one that many people would have undoubtedly said, as it is drilled into us from childhood – “the person I choose to marry and/or have children with.”
But as I considered his question a little further, I realized that it was an unintentional trick question, because it is one I could not possibly answer. And more importantly, I realized that the mindset that says choosing a partner is the most important decision you will ever make puts a lot of pressure on that decision – and on relationships.
I have no idea what will be (or has been) the most important decision of my life, because there is no way to know. It could be that the most important decision I ever make is when I choose to cross the street one day at the wrong time and get hit by a bus. The end of a life certainly seems more important to me than the end of a marriage – at least in the grand scheme of things. And of course, if I choose not to cross the street, and the truck that would have struck me just passes by, I would never even be aware of having made such a life-altering choice. Alternatively, the best decision a person ever makes could be to take a lunch meeting with someone who becomes his/her partner in a wildly successful business venture. Everyone’s most important decision may not involve love.
I do not say this to undermine the seriousness of choosing a partner. It is not a decision that I have taken lightly. But to accept the mindset that it is the most important decision we will ever make, and therefore we better not screw it up, or else we’re failures – that is a lot of pressure to put on ourselves and our relationships. Though my first marriage ended in divorce, I would not say that marriage was a bad decision, or that either of us failed at life’s most important choice. I certainly benefitted from the relationship – by the lessons I learned along the way and especially by the children we had together. So, at the end of the day, I’d have to say that was a good decision. It might not have been the best (or most important) decision of my life, but so what?
My current partner and co-parent was certainly a good decision. I love her (and like her, which is equally important), work well with her at sharing parenting and other domestic responsibilities, enjoy the time we spend together, and could not imagine being happier with anyone else. But whether or not marrying her was the most important decision I will ever make, I cannot say, nor would saying it change things one way or the other.
Bottom line: The decision to marry and/or have children with someone is a serious one. Trust me, the courts take it seriously and will try to make sure you do too. But if you tell yourself that it is the biggest test of adulthood, and that choosing “incorrectly” means screwing up your life, you are only serving to make yourself more anxious and fearful, and more likely to stay in an unhappy union to avoid admitting “failure.” Instead, consider the freedom that comes from understanding that the best (or most important) decision may still be yet to come, and that all you have to do is make the best possible decisions for yourself with the information that you do have. A resolve of this nature will assuredly make you a more Powerful Person in a Partnership.
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