Why Wait a Year to Get Married?

© 2017 Bill Eddy

In our book, Dating Radar, which I co-authored with Megan Hunter, we recommend that people date for at least a year before getting married. Yet people ask us why, when they know people (like parents or grandparents) who got married after knowing each other for only a month or two—and their relationships worked out just fine.

Things may have worked out for two reasons: First, there seems to be more people with high-conflict personalities now than there were 20, 40 or 60 years ago. Second, they got lucky! There has always been some people with high-conflict personalities out there finding unwitting partners and making their lives hell. We know, because we have helped some of them get divorced—even after 20 or 40 years.

The reality today is that about 15% of the United States population has a personality disorder (meaning they are stuck in dysfunctional behavior, lack self-awareness and rarely change), and a similar percentage may have high-conflict personalities (meaning they have a lot of: all-or-nothing thinking, unmanaged emotions, extreme behaviors and a preoccupation with blaming others). Of course, not everyone with a personality disorder is a high-conflict person (HCP) and not everyone who is an HCP has a personality disorder—although there’s a lot of overlap.

Over the years working with people getting divorced, we have learned that many were born this way or learned high-conflict behaviors from an abusive or indulged childhood, so we have a lot of empathy for them. But regardless, these behaviors don’t go well with a happy marriage.

So how do you steer clear of a HCP partner? Shouldn’t it be obvious: Don’t date people with these characteristics?  The problem is: these characteristics aren’t obvious! That’s why we wrote Dating Radar. HCPs often jam your radar for weeks or months. But they usually can’t avoid showing their full patterns of behavior for a whole a year. That’s why we recommend waiting.

One of the things we learned from our online survey (________) was that many people saw a switch in behavior once they made a commitment to the relationship. Whether it was getting engaged, getting married or having a child (with or without marriage), many of our survey respondents said there was an immediate change. Their partner became hostile, abusive (physically or otherwise) and a very different person. Was this a personality change? Not really. This was another side of the person which was kept well-hidden while they were dating.

How can you figure this out in less than a year? Watch for the signs we discuss in Dating Radar. Some of the early warning signs are excessive charm; trying to appear like a knight in shining armor or the life of the party; and fake compatibility (figuring out your interests and pretending that they always had the same interests). Also, watch for all-or-nothing thinking, unmanaged emotions, extreme behaviors and a preoccupation with blaming others. Some of this leaks out in their comments about other people. Keep in mind that what they say about other people may be the same things they will say about you when they show their full personality.

If you still don’t want to wait a year, we encourage you to read our book. You might be one of the lucky ones and all of this advice may be unnecessary. But are you willing to take the chance—for 20 or 40 or 60 years?

Bill Eddy is co-author with Megan Hunter of Dating Radar: Why Your Brain Says “Yes” to the One Who Will Make Your Life Hell  and co-founder of the High Conflict Institute. Bill is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator.