For many people, marriage is an expected part of adult life (often taken as evidence of being ‘grown up), a natural outgrowth of love (or inevitable stage to fall into after cohabitation). Reaching a certain age, being in love, dating/living together for a while, or simply locating a willing partner do not necessarily make a person ready for the rewards and responsibilities of marriage. On the other hand, maturity—in terms of responsibility, healthy relationships, or adequate income—does not make a person ready, especially if he or she is happy and productive as a single person.
Marriage/Partners as a Gift
Think of a first birthday or holiday gift beyond your wildest dreams—and also beyond your abilities (e.g., a two-wheeler, easy-bake [burn] oven, or remote-control vehicle are popular before-you’re-ready gifts). Receiving such a present made you feel grown up like your older brother. Not being able to master use of the toy made you wish you’d waited. For months, the "gift" slumped on the shelf as an emblem of defeat, rather than standing proudly as a symbol of achievement and status.
Partners who tear into marriage—or living together—as a mindless extension of love or convenient solution to loneliness may find the same discouragement as the child with an over-age toy. Unfortunately, partners are not fond of wasting on the shelf until someone is ready to relate. When persons are able to treasure each other as gifts and be full of satisfactions, sacrifices, and surprises for the other person, they may be considered "ready" for marriage.
Positive Signs: Good Indications of Maturity
For each of the indicators above, consider first how you yourself meet each criterion (on a scale of 1-10) for maturity and for readiness. More important than your subjective rating, consider people or situations which taught you maturity or made you ready. Once you have thought through your own story, complete the same process in assessing your partner. Note not just your opinion of his/her level, but qualities of the stories they have to tell and the "fit" between their stories and your own. (Often two people can be mature, but still not compatible; they can be ready, but not for each other…or at least each other's expectations or values for the relationship)
Developed by Ben Silliman, University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service Family Life Specialist