CNM 055: Ready For Marriage? Here’s How To Know – with Drs. John Van Epp & Morgan Cutlip

In today’s episode, we’re continuing our mini-series with Dr. John Van Epp and Dr. Morgan Cutlip. We’ll be talking about how to help ensure you’re with a suitable partner if you’re already in a serious relationship and you’re thinking about making a life-long commitment.

We’ll be talking about sex, commitment vs. entrapment, cohabitation, conflict styles, the institution of marriage, skills you should make sure your partner has before committing for life, and more.

If you’re single and looking, or if you’re in an early dating relationship and you haven’t heard the last episode yet, you might want to check out episode 54 where these same guests talked all about a model for how to approach a new relationship to minimize your chances of getting in too deep with someone who’s not right for you.

Online Courses by Dr. Van Epp and Dr. Cutlip

And by the way, Dr. John and Dr. Morgan have worked with countless individuals as well as the military, matchmakers, churches and various other institutions all across the world, teaching their work. And since they can’t be everywhere at once talking about this, they put together detailed online courses based on how to apply The Relationship Attachment Model in each of stage of a romantic relationship.

  • Head Meets Heart (a course for singles to equip you with all that you need to know to be able to follow your heart without losing your mind)
  • Rock Solid Marriage Ready (a course for engaged couples that will equip you with everything you need to know to have a happy and lasting marriage)
  • Rock Solid Marriage (a course for married couples that gives you a practical plan for a happy, healthy, and lasting marriage)
  • Please note: the links above are affiliate links, which means I’ve partnered with Dr. Van Epp and Dr. Cutlip to receive a small commission when anyone purchases one of their courses through my links. There are many courses, resources, and materials out there on relationships and codependency, but I only promote as an affiliate the resources I find particularly valuable and useful (and I like to be up front about that 🙂

Now, here’s the interview!

Interview with Dr. John Van Epp and Dr. Morgan Cutlip On Marriage Readiness

Brian: Hey, Dr. Morgan and Dr. John. Welcome back to the show. We’re so glad to have you back.

Dr. Morgan: Great to be here.

Dr. John: Yeah, we’re so happy to be here and thank you for bringing us back.

Brian: It is my pleasure. This time we’re talking about a related subject from last time. Last time we discussed taking the appropriate steps you can take (when you’re single or in a new relationship) to help make sure you end up with a partner that’s good for you. Now we’re looking at getting closer to the real commitment side here. We’re talking about engagement; knowing if and when you’re ready to commit to someone for life potentially. Let’s start the conversation.

Question: I just want to ask you the biggest most obvious question here. How do you know when it’s time to commit?

Dr. John: That’s a big question.

Dr. Morgan: That’s a really big question.

Dr. John: That’s kind of unfair, isn’t it? (laughs)

Dr. Morgan: Yeah. I think there’s a lot of individual variation that comes with that question, a lot of things to consider – where you are in your life, what your values are, and a lot of individual preference when it comes to that question. But one thing that keeps coming to mind for me is – has the relationship existed long enough for you to see patterns in your partner? Have you been together long enough to see how they react to conflict? Can they make changes when it benefits you and the relationship, and really give time for this relationship to unfold and for you to see all parts and sides of this person?

Dr. John: I would say the Three T’s are important. They’re about how to get to know somebody. You practice these Three T’s; talk, togetherness(in different situations or in a variety of situations), and time. I would kind of bring that to this area of commitment and say, ‘Have you had enough time? Have you been together in enough settings to where you see how the person acts not only in different situations but also in different moods and emotions so you know the patterns? Have you talked through a significant number of things?’ If you have that, I think then the bottom line is, ‘Are happy with what you have?’ because the likelihood that it’s going to change a lot is not very high.

It sounds terrible to say, but usually if it’s going to change, it’s in ways you don’t want it to change. You think, ‘Uh, I don’t like that. That was kind of hidden and it wasn’t there when we were dating.’ A lot of times, the bad surfaces, but the good, if anything, goes away.

So you want to say, ‘Look, do I have enough confidence in this person?’ Commitment ought to follow confidence in what I know; how reliable they are, how I trust them, how they’ve formed a consistent pattern. Do I have enough confidence in the Three T’s to really take the step of saying, ‘I’m making a commitment now to go for a life with this person? This is going to be my life partner.’

Questions: A couple of follow-up questions. You both mentioned time. Is there a guideline about time? Is there a minimum amount of time you should never consider committing before x-amount of months, years, or days?

Dr. Morgan: There are exceptions to every rule but when you look at research, the golden amount of time is about a year and a half of dating. That seems to have the lowest divorce rates.

Dr. John: I think that goes along with the fact that in the first year you can only get to know a person so well because there are calendar events that repeat in the second year. If you just think of that alone like a birthday, a Valentine’s Day, or holidays – this is not the sum total of a relationship but these things only repeat once and so you’re really not quite sure about a pattern until you start getting into the second year. As Morgan said, I would say as a rule of thumb, the minimum is to go for one and half years to two years before you make that step of commitment to engage.

Now with that being said, I’ll put the example of the exception. Years ago when I first wrote How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk, (this is at the end of the nineties and I was doing a conference), I actually was at a location where my father and stepmother lived. I went down, stayed with them, and then my dad drove me over to where the conference was and he said, “You know, I’ve never heard you present this material. I’d love to come into your workshop and hear.”

First of all, I was going to talk about getting to know a family background and used my own family upbringing which included some stories about my father so I had to delete those stories immediately (laughs) because I had to ride home with my dad. After my mother died, my dad met my stepmother and literally within three months not only became engaged but married her. I called that in my program the ninety-day probation period for just getting to know somebody, not getting engaged and certainly not getting married.

When I got done with my presentation, I asked if there are any questions. Of course, one hand in the room went up, my father’s. So I ignored it as fast as I could at any questions anywhere looking around the room, not making eye contact, he’s now waving his hand. He stands up when I call him and then he says, “I’m John’s father.” I’m like, ‘Thank you for announcing that to the world.’ (laughs) He says, “I really appreciate what John has put together. I like this material but I just want you to know that when I met my wife now after John’s mother passed away, we got married within that ninety-day probation period and we’ve been married eighteen years. Everything’s going great, so sometimes in life there’s an exception.”

I agree. Maybe you out there, you’re the exception so more power to you. But just be aware that if it’s an exception, it means that the vast majority do not work out. It worked out for my father but it was kind of a drag for me to end my workshop with romanticizing the exception which is what we usually do, we romanticize the exception. I think commitment needs to be done with the heart and the head working together after a significant amount of time.

Brian: Yup. Well, first of all, thanks dad. And second of all, if I can offer this and see how this strikes you, like you said and as your dad mentioned, there can be exceptions. This doesn’t mean that if you commit sooner that it’s destined to fail, certainly, but it seems like what you’re saying is, ‘Hey, if you want to give it a fair trial, give it the most chance for success, and really just do the diligence, then this is what we’re recommending to do. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not going to work if you don’t do this,’ is that accurate?

Dr. Morgan: Yes.

Dr. John: Oh, absolutely. I think historically, the vast majority of cultures in history practiced arranged marriages or some kind of arrangement. Commitment was done in a lot of ways by families for the individual.

We are very individualized now, which is wonderful. We can make our own choices and for most of our cultures, in American culture, in Western culture for the most part, we make our own choices and maybe just respect some input from our families, but they don’t dictate.

But there always a plan that was involved even with arrangements. The parents got to know all about the family. They did not just get their kids committed to get married to somebody blindly. They screened and vetted out other families. If you look it, historically, even where arranged marriages are done to this day, many times the families are heavily involved.

A number of years ago, I went over to Singapore. There’s a population in Singapore that actually still practices arranged marriages to some extent. I did a training with over thirty matchmakers who are hired by families to come alongside a family and the person involved that was single and help guide the process. It was basically their own personal counselor, the matchmaker. They love this stuff. They thought, “This is great stuff. We can use this because we want to help them form a commitment intelligently, a commitment based on really deeply knowing of someone.”

Morgan really nailed it when she said, “Knowing what are the predictable patterns of how a person is going to respond and act, I feel confident in knowing that. I like it and I can feel good with it as we move forward. And if there is a problem or a conflict, I know how this person handles it, they are very changeable, they work with me.” And those become super important.

Brian: Yeah, that’s great. I want to jump to a related question here.

Question: What is the difference between commitment and what you call ‘entrapment’?

Dr. John: When you’re committed to somebody, you are locking yourself into the relationship to some extent. That’s why some people care a little bit of a hang-up with commitment because they just don’t want to give up any of their freedom or take any of the risks of putting some of their self and their life in the hands of another. But that also brings security. A good commitment, a strong commitment with somebody that you love, that you know well, and that you have a good fit with, then you have each other’s backs. I mean, I don’t feel like my commitment with my wife puts me at risk.

Dr. Morgan: But some people feel it will be limiting, that commitment will limit their freedoms and their individuality.

Dr. John: They do think that, yeah. But I would say what makes it ‘entrapping’ is when you are committed to someone without all of the clarity of the relationship. For example, if you think of my RAM model, it becomes entrapping if some level is really developed and other levels are not.

I know you’re going to ask a question about this down the road but I’ll kind of introduce it because I think it’s a perfect example. My youngest daughter, Morgan’s sister, was dating a fella for about a year and a half to two years and was doing it long distance. He lived in New York City and she lived in Ohio. She decided their relationship was serious enough that she wanted to move to New York City and really kind of prove out whether they wanted to get engaged and ultimately marry.

She was pretty serious about the relationship, serious enough to pack up and move to New York City. He lived great downtown. How expensive is it to live in New York City? Outrageous, right? A lot of people would think it makes the most sense that since they’ve been together for almost two years, to move in together. She also wanted to really get to know him, so why not move in with him, save money, and then really be able to see how he lives his life?

She did not do that. largely because it would be more entrapping to move in with him. Her level of reliance would have gone way up and her commitment level would have not been matching her trust level.

So I would just ask this simple question – where would it be easier for her to identify some problems in the relationship and say, ‘I want to break up’? – if she lived with him or if she had her own place? Certainly having her own place gave her the freedom to think more objectively about the relationship.

They spent a lot of time in each other’s places, I’m sure. But that sense of independence, that’s just the perfect example of how you could become entrapped by doing something that on the surface looks like a good move but ultimately begins to get you out of balance, and could create a bond that ultimately may override your judgment.

Brian: Yeah, that makes great sense actually because it’s a phenomenon. People are moving in and cohabitating, so we say, at a higher and higher rate all the time and seemingly because, like you said, you can share expenses, you can test each other out. You get kind of a free trial of what it’s like to be married to them without the commitment, or so that’s what we tell ourselves when we do it.

Questions: You’ve just named one reason why that could have a major downside because of entrapment. Are there other things that you have to bring to the table about this cohabitating phenomenon? What else should we be thinking about besides the potential of entrapment if we’re going to think about cohabitating, or are there any upsides to cohabitating?

Dr. John: There’s a lot of research, first of all. That’s the world that we’ve lived in, to try to take what is happening in the psychosocial research realm and translate it into everyday living and practical advice and suggestions for people to think about and take the heart, rather than everybody needing to go to the library and read all this research.

There’s a study, for example, that actually looked at almost one thousand research studies on cohabitation. This was done just a few years ago. They call these ‘meta-studies’, where they summarized everything that has been done up to this point about the topic of cohabitation. What they found was so counterintuitive.

You would think if you move in with somebody, your chances of having a good successful marriage relationship go way up. What they found in these studies when they started putting them all together is that cohabitation doesn’t lead to better outcomes in marriage. If anything, under the very best of circumstances itjust leads to the same as not living together. But in the vast majority of the studies, it actually leads to detrimental problems. So researchers scratch their heads and they say, “Why is that?”

A couple of things have been happening. One is the breakup rate of people moving in together is way higher than the divorce rate. So don’t minimize moving in together. You’re making your life together, you’re living together, you’re sharing, you’re probably sleeping together, eating together, etc. You’ve created a marriage-like relationship believing that if you do break up, you won’t have any of the effects the divorce has on people. But yet they find, if you create a marriage-like relationship, when you do break up you also create a divorce-like effect.

A lot of the people that had moved in and broke up with somebody have the same kind of emotional relational outcomes or baggage that happens with divorce. We begin to see this accumulationeffect. So the idea that, ‘We can move in together and it’s risk-free because we’re not married,’ is really one of the biggest myths. I would say, ‘Listen, take a step back and be careful because that can really be misleading for you.’

I think there may be some other things. I think that another aspect of living together is that it can go along with this entrapment.

Dr. Morgan: Yeah. When you’re living together, like you said, you’re combining your lives. A lot of people combine finances, sometimes you might bring a kid into the next at this point, and so you’re really just kind of packing in all of these different barriers to exiting the relationship. At that point, you start to make all of these concessions and all of these compromises in terms of your deal breakers or what you’re looking for in a partner because you’ve already invested so much and built up all of these barriers. I think people are a lot more likely to compromise at that point.

Dr. John: And the flip side of the barriers is that you’re also creating all these bonds. You’re really doing right when you’re not sure this is the person you want to do right with. After a while, you’ve entangled so many bonds that it starts to distort your own judgment. That’s what the bulk of the researchers basically conclude, is that a lot of people that are living together that end up getting married (and then have a lower quality marriage than the people who never did live together) is that they have problems and they aren’t addressing them. Once they get married, it’s almost like the blinders are taken off, all of a sudden now they’re looking right into the face of that other person and they’re thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh. What did I do?’

The people that weren’t living together actually retained a little more clarity or accuracy of their vision because they kept their bonds (not just these barriers). I would say it’s two sides of the same coin – barriers of exiting but bonds of attachment, closeness, and intimacy with the person. It almost feels like a betrayal to then start thinking, ‘Maybe this is not the right person for me. We’ve been living together for two years but maybe I should break up.’ It is a lot to go through to do that. You reserve and protect yourself in so many ways by saying, ‘Hey, we’ll keep our own independence, build a good relationship with our own residences, our own independence, and then when we finally reach that point of being convinced and confident, we’ll take steps of commitment to get married. That’s where we’ll start our life together.’

Dr. Morgan: Just to repeat something you started with which I think is really important to hammer home – when you look at the research on cohabitation, there is reallynot only anythingto gain by cohabiting but there is a whole lot to lose. I think that’s important to remember when people are at that decision point of, ‘Are we going to move in or are we not going to move in?’

Dr. John: The biggest reasons that people move in together – number one, is because they believe that there’s no risk. That is a fallacy. There’s no doubt in the research that there are clear risks. The second is probably convenience. It’s just easy to do. There’s hardly any social taboo against it, although there used to be, but there isn’t any kind of taboo against it, so why not do it?’ They believe there’s no risk, it’s convenient, and those two go together. Probably the third is this thing of, ‘I can’t get to know a person unless I actually live with him (or her) and we get to road test it.’

Our whole program, Head Meets Heart, that online course, my book, all was trying to say, ‘Here are the ways to best get to know somebody without having to live with them. I wanted to create an alternative to living with somebody so that we minimize the risks and maximize our understanding of who the person is.’ That, I believe, can be done way better outside living together than inside living together.

Brian: Thank you for all the feedback. For those of you who might be joining this miniseries in the middle, go back and listen to episode sixteen where we dissect the Relationship Attachment Model which is a lot of what Doctor John and Doctor Morgan’s work is built on. The beginning of our previous episode also addresses it a little bit as well so have a listen to really understand what we’re talking about when we talk about this model.

Questions: I want to ask another question in relationship to what you just mentioned – “road testing”. Speaking of road testing, what would you say to someone who wants to make sure that they’re ‘sexually compatible’ with their partner before they commit?

In the last episode, we talked about dating and why it may make sense to kind of hold on with that (sex) until you’re looking like you’re ready to commit or use it appropriately because of the extreme bonding that happens when you get physically intimate. But say somebody really feels like they know, they trust, they can rely, and now they’re just saying, ‘Well, we just want to make sure we’re sexually compatible. Come on, let us do that.’ Is there any big deal for doing that before they actually commit?

Dr. Morgan: We talked a lot last episode about the chemistry behind sex and the intense bonding that occurs when a couple becomes intimate in that way, and how it has the potential to drastically override your judgment in your relationships. I think a lot of people make that argument of, ‘How do we know that we can really be sexually compatible if you don’t actually have sex?’

I think that number one, you can tell a lot from chemistry. I think if you have it, it’s obvious. If you don’t, then that is red a flag that needs to be dealt with a little bit more. I think there are a lot of compatibilities that can be determined also through having conversations, which I think some people do shy away from. They become sexually intimate and they are even uncomfortable talking about it. So delving into having some conversations about sex, what you like, what you don’t, and some of those things can be a really big factor in terms of figuring out your compatibility.

Dr. John: Yeah, I think just because you have great sex when you’re dating doesn’t mean you’re compatible and you’re going to have great sex when you marry. First, there is this misnomer that, ‘If we have a sexual relationship in dating, then it automatically is going to translate into a great relationship in marriage.’ That’s not necessarily true. I think a lot of people would tell you that they had sex, but sex that they had when they dated with that person didn’t carry on in the same way once they got married.

I would add a couple of things. I’ve worked in years past with a lot of people that believed in abstinence until marriage. They’re kind of committed to not be sexually active or ‘go all the way’ as it were with the person, and that becomes a big question for them, ‘How do we figure out our compatibility sexually?’ What Morgan said is really important which is, “Do you have good chemistry and do you have good conversations?” You have to have the right timing with some of these things. You don’t go out with somebody in the first week and start talking about some of these topic areas, right? You have to use your own good discretion in it.

But I would also say as your relationship is growing and your levels of knowing and commitment go up to the point of exclusivity, I think talking about this becomes really important. Bottom line is that when people go to sex therapy, for the most part, they engage in talk therapy and then they have things that they’re going to go do. But the bulk of sex therapy is actually talk therapy. When people get serious enough to have sex, they need to talk about their sexual relationship.

One of the biggest incompatibility issues differences is sex drive. Frequency is the number one complaint in the sexual relationship among married couples and it has been for decades. You could talk about, ‘How are we going to handle it if you are interested and in the mood or you like it frequently and something changes with me and I don’t?’ I mean just because things are great for that period of time that you’re dating in terms of your sex drive doesn’t mean that ten years down the road, something’s not going to change; your hormones, the birth of a child, stress in your job, or any number of things.

The ability to talk through how we’re going to meet each other’s needs sexually, be available and responsive to each other, how we’re going to do things that you like and the things that I like – conversations like that become way more important, I believe, than actually what you do as your relationship moves higher in commitment level.

Dr. Morgan: Rationale will really help you later on in marriage if you encounter some of those hiccups in your sex life. Because when you find yourselves up against a frequency issue or something like that, and you don’t have the ability or haven’t practiced talking about sex, it becomes a really sensitized topic. People are getting their feelings hurt, feeling inadequate, or different things like that. So to be able to enter into that level of commitment and have the skill set to really talk about some of these sensitive issues will serve you later in your relationship.

Dr. John: Let’s summarize this. A person has to determine their own sexual values. What do you believe about sex, in relationships, commitment, and marriage? We have those that say, ‘I think sex is just an enjoyable act and if two are consenting adults, they can engage in it.’ The first thing that we had said really in the last podcast was, “Okay, that’s fine. But understand the power of sex and how relational of an activity it really is. It is not just some kind of a physical act that produces some kind of pleasure, it is a very relational and a very bonding experience. Be respectful of it.”

Then second of all, we’re saying, “As you think through your values and you determine where you want to set boundaries, know that if you are not engaging in the actual act of intercourse or some sexual involvement but you have good conversations about it, that becomes extremely beneficial and important. It will probably serve you even more than those that are not having the conversations but engaging in the act.”

Know your values, sort them out, determine your boundaries, and don’t feel bad about it. I think we need to help people feel proud of having some kind of respect for the act of sex. That respect before marriage is going to benefit them after marriage because. Just because we get married doesn’t change our basic makeup. If I have a respect for the sexual act and we’ve had good conversations about it. We bring all of that respect and value into our marriage relationship. Make sure that we’re thinking this way and engaging this way because I think that is going to help enhance the marriage relationship through the decades that can really make changes in how we function and feel as a sexual person.

Brian: Thanks for all the commentary on that. That’s a really important, and sometimes uncomfortable, thing to talk about, so thanks for bringing all that to the table and letting us understand what you’ve learned from a scientific and a relationship standpoint. Let’s move into communication and conflict here since we’re talking about making a lifelong commitment.

Question: What are some important communication skills that you need to see if your partner has before you can commit?

Dr. Morgan: I think a big one is the skill of apologizing. You want to make sure you have a partner who can admit when they’ve done something wrong and who can own that and express that to you in your relationship. That’s a big one.

Dr. John: I think another one is openness, ‘Can my partner put into words their experience, their emotions, this world that they’re going through? Do they bring me into that world by conversations where they tell me about that world? What is their level of openness?’ Some of these communication items we should say are not all or nothing, black or white. In fact, most things even beyond communication are not like that. So just think of a range, ‘How open am I? How open is my partner?’

Dr. Morgan: Listening. You want a partner who is interested in you and who is a listener to what you have to say, who engages in conversation, not just somebody who kind of sits and nods but with somebody who follows up with questions, who can reflect back what they’re hearing when you talk, and who seems actively interested in what you have to say.

Dr. John: These are many times called communication skills and have been the subject of studies. Actually, lots of people’s programs are pushing out what you call a behavioral skill, ‘Okay, sit this way, face them, look in their eyes, and nod your head.’ I would say some of that’s important but I know some people like they do better talking when they’re walking so they don’t like sitting on the couch. That makes them feel weird. They would rather take a walk and have a good conversation.

So just know that the skill is a means to an end. Being able to communicate well, being open, being a good listener, and responsive to what your partner is talking about so you’re able to share your worlds; these are means to building a stronger cohesion, a feeling of, ‘I’m not alone.’

Sometimes you talk to somebody and they look like, ‘Yeah, okay,’and they move on and you walk away and feel invisible. We long to feel secure, to feel known by this person and to feel like, ‘I’m sharing in their world too.’ If you have that kind of communication going on, then you are probably practicing a lot of the skills that all those scholars say are so important, but you’re doing it with the right heart and that becomes very important.

Brian: Okay. So when we’re talking about communication, another thing that will tag along with that is conflict.

Question: I remember in part of your program, you talk about conflict types and conflict styles. I think there were three of them if I remember right, different types of conflict styles. Can you describe to us what that means and what type of conflict styles we should look for and which ones we should watch out for?

Dr. Morgan: In the program, we have three, like you said. One of them is somebody who is an avoider of conflict. You probably all know of somebody like that where you try to talk with them about something and they change the subject or don’t return your calls. That’s one that you would want to watch out for.

Another one is called an attacker, somebody who’s just really combative, not really good at owning their part of what’s going on in the relationship, and can just be real hostile in arguments.

The third is what you want to most strive to be which is an assertive affirmer. That’s somebody who can state their case, put out their perspective but then is open enough to hear what you have to say and to acknowledge your side as well.

Dr. John: If you think of the attacker, they’ve taken assertiveness to an extreme. And in a way, the avoider has taken to an extreme not asserting, or letting the other person win, or a warped view of affirming, ‘I’m going to affirm you by just disengaging,’ so that’s truly not any kind of affirming.

I think that being able to have this balance between what Morgan said about being assertive while also affirming another person does require some things. Usually, when we think of handling our conflict, we might be thinking of some kind of behavioral thing. What are we going to catch on film that this couple was doing to successfully handle their conflict? What did he say? What did she say?

But I think that deep down inside, the degree that each of them has some genuine sense of humility toward each other, openness, respect, and admiration for each other’s opinion, becomes extremely important. Being assertive and being affirming has to also be pouched with a heart of humility and admiration for your partner’s perspectives and views. You can get kind of emotional in a conflict and start to lose your humility and your admiration for your partner. So, to the degree that you can kind of run your own emotions, that becomes hugely critical.

Relationships are not just ‘between’ two people, there’s also a ‘within’ going on, ‘How do I manage myself? How do I handle my own emotions? How do I calm myself down? How do I stop my anger going into an intense feeling? Between us, do we have a timeout? That may be necessary. But timeouts are only going to benefit me if I actually take then the responsibility to calm myself down.’ I think we’ve got to put the two together and say, ‘You’ve got to have a good plan between you and your partner to have that assertive affirming approach. But you also have to have a good management of yourself each partner does and a way to make sure you get a handle on that when it starts getting out of control.’

Brian: Excellent.

Question: Taking this whole conversation that we’ve had today about getting ready to commit and knowing when it’s time to commit (or maybe when it’s not), what would be your biggest piece of advice for someone who’s trying to figure out whether their partner would make a good spouse?

Dr. Morgan: (Laughs) We’re going full circle, starting with a big question and ending with the big one.

I think that we have to do all of the things we’re talking about. You have to put in the time. You have to spend time together. You have to talk. You have to do all this overtime. You have to ask the hard questions. Do your due diligence. I think once you have discovered and unpacked all of that, do you feel happy? Do you like what you see and what you’ve gotten to know? How do you feel as a person? I think it’s all of that in totality.

Dr. John: Here’s an interesting illustration I’m thinking about. I make a lot of PowerPoints and I came across this competitor to PowerPoint called Prezi. You put everything in one picture and it just zooms in. For example, if the main image were a face, maybe one of your points is ‘pay attention to what you’re looking at,’ all of a sudden, it literally zooms into the eye and all of the notes about what you’re looking at and what that point is, and you don’t even realize you’re not seeing the face anymore, now you’re just seeing all of these details. Then all of a sudden, it zooms back out and you see the face and you’re thinking, ‘Wow, all of those details were just the eye.’ Then it goes to, ‘it’s not just what you look at, it’s what you talk about,’ and then it zooms into the mouth and then all of the details are there.

Likewise in a lot of ways, when a person is building a relationship, they zoom into certain details about this partner. They look at these details, and then they have to zoom back out and see the big picture of who this person is, how all the details fit together in the whole. Some people do that very naturally and for others it’s not their natural strength. They actually have to talk to somebody about it, get some feedback, talk to a counselor as they’re heading into the engagement, or sit down with pen and paper and try to put the big picture together.

But I think that regardless of whether you do it naturally, with the assistance of other people, or just on your own, that becomes a really important thing to do before you make that final step of faith, the confidence, and commitment to say, ‘I looked at enough of the details and I put them together in the big picture of who this person is, that I feel really confident taking a step of commitment to become engaged to them as a life partner and move toward marriage.’’

Brian: Thank you so much for that.

Question: Before we wrap up for good, is there anything else at all that you would like to add to this conversation?

Dr. John: I think one thing that I would add is that I think we live at a time when we have a lot of messages around us that are anti-commitment and anti-marriage, and yet marriage was just designed to be where two people are genuinely and mutually committed to each other, to spend their lives together, to serve each other, to love each other, to work through things together, and to stick together through thick and thin. It’s a good design. Our humanness sometimes messes it up. But we shouldn’t throw out the design just because of some human failures. It’s a good design.

I think if I end on anything, I would say, some people have been burned in relationships and it’s hard for them to think about commitment again. We need to reset our belief in the value of commitment and the value of marriage in this design of two people saying, ‘For better for worse, through the rest of our lives, we are going to love each other, we’re going to stick together, we’re going to support each other, and we belong together.’ I think that just the idea of it, the institution of it, you might say, actually needs to be rekindled with respect. That helps people enter into it with a better attitude and I think ultimately better outcomes.

Brian: Excellent. Thank you, Dr. John and Dr. Morgan for coming back on the show. This was excellent and I look forward to talking with you again in the next episode.

Dr. Morgan: Thanks for having us.

Dr. John: Yeah, it’s been great to be here, Brian. Thanks so much.

Items Mentioned In This Episode

  • How To Avoid Falling In Love With A Jerk by Dr. John Van Epp (book)
  • Head Meets Heart (a course for singles to equip you with all that you need to know to be able to follow your heart without losing your mind)
  • Rock Solid Marriage Ready (a course for engaged couples that will equip you with everything you need to know to have a happy and lasting marriage)
  • Rock Solid Marriage (a course for married couples that gives you a practical plan for a happy, healthy, and lasting marriage)
  • Please note: the links above are affiliate links, which means I’ve partnered with Dr. Van Epp and Dr. Cutlip to receive a small commission when anyone purchases one of their courses through my links. There are many courses, resources, and materials out there on relationships and codependency, but I only promote as an affiliate the resources I find particularly valuable and useful (and I like to be up front about that 🙂

What Do YOU Think?

I would love to hear from you. What did you think of this episode? Did you learn anything new? Do you agree or disagree with anything discussed? What else would you add to the conversation? Comment below!