Asking yourself whether you want to be with someone for the rest of your life is a big question, which is why it is unsurprising that some people find contemplating it rather daunting. It is after all one of the most important decisions you will ever make and one that will have a huge impact on your future.
That's why marriage isn't something you should just 'fall into' – it is something you need to prayerfully consider.
You certainly don't want to feel pressurised into getting married because your friends or family want to buy a new hat or think that you are 'getting on' and need to speed things up. However, on the other hand it IS important that you honour your girlfriend or boyfriend and are honest with yourself (and them) about your long-term intentions.
Actively choosing and making a decision to say, 'yes' to marriage is particularly important for men. That might sound old fashioned but there's a good reason for it. Researchers from Denver University in the USA discovered that men who 'slide' into marriage are much less likely to feel committed to the relationship than those that actively choose marriage and say a definite 'yes'.
So, how do you know if you are ready and whether this is the right person for you?
In The Marriage Book Nicky and Sila Lee suggest asking yourself these seven questions:
Do I want to share the rest of my life with this person?
Does our love give me energy and strength or does it drain me?
Do I respect this person?
Do I accept this person as they are? (And not how I would like them to be!)
Are we able to admit our mistakes, apologise and forgive one another?
Do we have interests in common as a foundation for friendship?
Have we weathered all seasons and a variety of situations together?
If you answered 'no' to any or all of those questions – it may be that you aren't ready yet or it may indicate that you have some doubts about the relationship. If it is the latter you may want to talk through your concerns with a trusted friend, mentor or spiritual advisor.
But if at any stage you decide that you definitely cannot see yourself marrying your girlfriend or boyfriend – the kindest thing you can do is to tell them and to end the relationship. Breaking up is never easy but it will at least give you both the opportunity to move on and hopefully meet someone else one day.
If you answered 'yes' to most of the questions but still feel terrified – you could be afraid of commitment. Perhaps you suffered a bad experience in the past or saw your parents' relationship go through difficulties and you are worried about whether you can make a marriage work. If that sounds like you, I would recommend speaking to someone about your fears and praying through them. Is it really this person who is making you feel this way or would you feel this fear whoever you were with? Don't let that fear keep you trapped.
And finally, if you answered 'yes' and didn't feel panicked – then that is a good indication that you may be ready. The question then is – is your partner? Sometimes one partner feels ready before another – that is ok – you may just need to be patient.
If it is 'yes' all round and you both feel confident about the future – then chances are you are ready to take the plunge and to get engaged. Engagement can be a very exciting time but also a stressful one, which is why if you do take the next step – I would highly recommend that you go on a marriage preparation course. It's a great way to prepare not just for the wedding – but also for a lifetime together.
Sarah Abell is a speaker, author and relationships coach. She is the founder of www.nakedhedgehogs.com a website for those interested in living, loving and leading authentically.